If you are a regular reader of the literature of liberty, at some point you must have wondered how America acquired an empire. How did a national government based on the premise that all men are created equal, segue into the subjugation of men living in other countries? How did a people so profoundly uninterested in foreign people and foreign affairs become hoodwinked into laboring for a worldwide, fascist bureaucracy? And you must have wondered about the most amazing irony of all How can Americans be blissfully unaware of their government's empire?
A Nation of Adult School Children
I had a series of discussions ok, ok, arguments with a friend over the war in Kosovo. This friend had had a Vietnam draft number but wouldn't have gone if his number came up. He said that while traveling in Greece in the 70s, he had heard a very different story about United States Government (USG) involvement in SE Asia than the one being told at home. Yet this same man thirty years later declared that the genocide in Kosovo was so abhorrent to him that he was willing to go fight at the age of 48. He believed every story of ethnic cleansing and mass graves no matter how unbelievable. He demanded no evidence other than Tom Brokaw's word to make up his mind, or rather to have his mind made up for him, that Milosevic is a Serbian Hitler. He sincerely believed that NATO was fighting a humanitarian war and that if NATO didn't stop the slaughter of innocents, it would go on till no one was left.
"We have a responsibility to do something," he said. "It's the same as if you knew that a thug was breaking into your neighbor's house and attacking him and his family. You'd be morally bound to do something to stop it."
I looked at my friend and shook my head, trying to understand how he can so fervently believe such utter nonsense. No argument could shake him. Does 2,000 killed on both sides over two years really constitute genocide? Do mass graves really have head stones? Didn't he know about the forensic evidence found at Racak showing that the massacre was staged? Facts and logic didn't matter to him. I was at a loss to explain his tenacious grip on received opinion. Then I closed my eyes and saw my friend as he must have been forty years ago, sitting attentively at a little desk. With this image the whole of 20th century political history became clear to me.
The USG has troops stationed in 135 countries. It bombed four countries in 1999 alone. Yet few Americans are horrified at this. Any time and anywhere in the entire world there is conflict, Americans demand that the USG act, which means flex its military muscle. At any incident that can be propagandized as terrorism and before any evidence or even details are available, Pavlov's dogs flood talk radio with calls demanding that "we nuke the towel heads." Close your eyes and call up a vision of a first grade classroom and the reason will be clear to you, too.
Every night, millions of dog tired working stiffs and I don't mean only the Joe Sixpacks, but those 60 hour work week Yuppies, as well collapse onto their couches in front of their TVs, turn on the evening news and revert back to childhood as they imbibe a constant stream of lies and propaganda about, well, everything. "The most trusted men in America" read a script carefully constructed to paint just the right picture of what is happening in all aspects of 20th century American life. Expert advice is now considered essential to understanding foreign affairs or domestic politics or global warming or even the lack of safety in their own neighborhoods. Exhausted from the day's labors and mesmerized by the flashing lights before them, they take it all in the way they took in Miss Wormwood's exhortations forty years before. There is no difference.
Compulsory government schooling began in the US in 1852 in Massachusetts.1 At that time, it took guns, soldiers and the threat of bloody violence, rather than expert advice, to force parents to submit to giving up their children. After one generation of public schooling with its propaganda about the sacred nature of the union and manifest destiny, it was possible for McKinley to make the first concrete steps toward world wide rather than continental empire. By the time the last state passed its compulsory schooling law in 1918 and another generation served out its prison term in government schools, the USG was able to institute war socialism and jail war dissenters in the land of the free and the home of the brave. After three generations of compulsory schooling, the grip on the minds of institutionally schooled people was so strong that the same propaganda used on the previous generation about the Kaiser's Germany, even though thoroughly discredited, could be recycled and used against Hitler's Germany.2 By the time the number of non-institutionally schooled grandparents and even great-grandparents dwindled to zero, allowing distortions about the nature of the republic, the office of the presidency, democracy, entangling alliances, and a standing army to become common wisdom, it was possible for a USG functionary to claim straight-faced that they burned the village to save it. It may not be scientific to say it, but the cause and effect is clear to me: the road to imperialism is paved by government schooling.
Macro-Mechanisms of Tyranny
In this Era of Friendly Fascism in which we live, the ruling class is loathe to show its full-blown violent face at least not too often on the home front. From reading the literature of liberty, we know the more subtle mechanisms of their tyranny. For the modest sum of $1, anyone can buy his own copy of The Prince. Walter Karp in Indispensable Enemies updates Machiavelli to modern American democracy. In explaining the importance of the two party system to ruling class power, the good cop/bad cop routines, the purposely lost elections and the political extortion are exposed as tactics in an overarching strategy that has made American politics a shadow play. Robert Higgs' in Crisis and Leviathan has shown how various crises, particularly wars, have been used as excuses to rob Americans of their freedoms bit by bit. Yes, some of the edicts promulgated in the name of war were reversed, but never completely, yielding a ratchet effect. Etienne de la Boetie in his 16th century treatise The Politics of Obedience: Discourse on Voluntary Servitude rightly attributes habituation to serfdom as the chief means the ruling class uses to remain in power. Yet serfs must be serfs before they can become habituated to it, and for the first one hundred years or so Americans white Americans at least were not serfs.
We don't enjoy the freedom that our ancestors had. The ruling class forbids it; Karp's party collusion, Higgs' ratchet effect and de la Boetie's voluntary servitude prevent it. No mystery here, but still there is a key missing element to understanding the current political climate. On the psychological level, how does Friendly Fascism work? How is it that the majority of the citizenry know what is expected of them to be good citizens, and willingly do it, like the Romper Room "Do Bees" of our childhood? The voluntary income tax is the quintessence of Do Beeism. So is registering for the draft. So is sending children to school, especially with homeschooling legal in every state. The question is not, "Why do people comply?" Chicanery, force and fear, habit, of course. The question is, "Why do they comply willingly?" Why do they march forward to sacrifice not only their own well being but that of their children and seem happy to do so? Why do they deny all the evidence of their senses and proclaim proudly that we Americans are free?
The previous European empires that dissolved with the world wars called themselves empires, but the American Empire can never be admitted. The American Empire ended with the Progressive Era according to court historians. Indeed, most Americans become angry when they hear the term "American Empire," particularly military personnel who labor in its service. This phenomenon cannot be explained by the macro-mechanisms of tyranny. Cognitive dissonance of this stunning depth must be the result of early and brutal brainwashing and brainwashing of such stunning breadth must take place through the only common childhood experience in the US, that is government schooling.
The American Empire is sustained in that first grade classroom.
Micro-Mechanisms of Tyranny
There can be no denying the deplorable condition of America's public schools. Most Americans agree that something must be done. Yet, our national debate about public school reform very purposefully misses the point. No amount of reform will solve the educational and social problems of public school since the schools were designed to create these very problems. They were planned as indoctrination centers and their techniques have been continually refined so that as each wave of reform takes hold, fewer and fewer children can pass through the gauntlet unscathed. Do you doubt this? Do you question the steadily declining test scores, the debasement of school textbooks and curricula, the increasing need for remedial courses at our colleges, the wide spread and growing use of drugs on young children, the universal adoption of the green, racial, anti-gun and pro-drug war agenda, the utter disappearance of personal boundaries and civility in everyday conversation, and, of course, the terror and violence?
Useful idiots such as Bill Bennett and Chester Finn rail against the hollow curricula of the public schools, yet, curriculum content is beside the point. Poor curriculum would, after all, make for merely ignorant students, not deranged, violent, suicidal or vapid one. The content of public school course work is not the major tool for indoctrination. Rather, it is what John Taylor Gatto3 calls the hidden curriculum, administrative policies and teaching techniques that do the trick. They work their magic the way the Nazi concentration camps worked theirs, as Leonard Piekoff describes in The Ominous Parallels. Reality must be looked squarely in the face and repeatedly and vehemently denied day in, day out over a long period of time for cognitive dissonance to take hold. Amazingly, public schools use the same modis operandi to accomplish this end yet without overt violence from administrators.4 Instead, they get the child early and drive a wedge between him and his parents. Parent-child estrangement: this is the goal of the hidden curriculum in a nutshell.
The Real School Wars Every Parent against His Own Child
John Holt brilliantly explains the real school wars in his book, What Do I Do Monday? Slipped among chapters of a book written to provide teachers with practical yet innovative classroom methods, Holt reveals the horrifying truth about the psychology of public schooling and I believe the key to the micro mechanism of American imperialism. This book is far more than a bag of teacher's tricks as the book jacket says, the most germane chapter being "The Killing of the Self."
Holt applies insights about human psychology from Ronald Laing's The Divide Self to show how teachers drive children to insanity, or rather, to cognitive dissonance to save what little sanity they can salvage. He points out the physical constraints imposed by schools, such as "children are not only required for most of the day to sit at desks without any chance to move or stretch, but they are not even allowed to change their position, to move in their chairs," restrictions that adults would not endure for long. Comparing public school to Black chattel slavery, he goes on to describe the psychological conditioning in which parents are unwitting collaborators:
[T]he schools are the only organization of our times that can make people accept and blame themselves for their own oppression and degradation. The parents cannot and do not say to their children, "I can't prevent your teacher from despising and humiliating and mistreating you, because the schools have more political power than I have, and they know it. But you are not what they think and say you are, and want to make you think you are. You are right to want to resist them, and even if you resist them only in your heart, resist them there." On the contrary, and against their wishes and instincts, they believe and must try to make their children believe that the schools are always right and the children wrong, that if the teacher says you are bad for any reason, or none at all, you are bad. So, among most of the poor, and even much of the middle class, when the schools says something bad about a child, the parents accept it and use all their considerable power to make the child accept it. Seeing his parents accept it, he usually does. So far I hope not much longer few parents have had the insight of · the parent who not long ago said to James Herndon, author of The Way It Spozed to Be, "For years the schools have been making me hate my kid." Even the most cruel and oppressive racists have hardly ever been able to make people do that.5
Unlike slave parents who demanded their children act with subservience to the master to save them from harm, parents today demand their children act with subservience because they believe it is right. As a result, in the school child's reality, he has no one to turn to, nowhere to go, no sanctuary even in his mother's arms from his abusers. With the time worn excuse, "It's for your own good," the wedge between parent and child that was inserted by the very fact of enrolling him in school, tantamount to pushing the young child out of his home before he is ready, is driven further with each passing school term.
But it gets worse, this psychological torture via denial of reality, for at one time, many teachers were overt, undeniable sadists, wielding sticks at their recalcitrant charges. Today, America has therapeutic education with "caregivers" that wear smiles while meting out their abuse. They claim to love your child, to have only his welfare at heart and to be working toward world peace6 while denigrating and humiliating him. It used to be that parents knew schools were unpleasant and could sympathize with their children while unable to rescue them. Today, parents, all adults, constantly send the message to children that school is fun. Many children believe school is fun because they want to believe and please their parents. They need to believe that school is fun to be able to get through the next day. But do an experiment as I did. Ask children who claim they love school to list what they love about it. I guarantee you will get answers such as pizza parties, field trips, lunch, being with their friends, after school sports, that is, everything unschoolish about school, everything that is outside the classroom, everything except school itself.
In the truly Orwellian circumstances of their daily academic lives, either children are unable to develop any true self esteem so that they adopt the strategy of gaining the approval of others in its stead, or they fight back and live a grim life in constant battle with everyone in authority. The former become the Do Bees, dutifully memorizing the material in their government approved textbooks, filling in government approved answers on their endless, meaningless worksheets, turning in their parents to the DARE cops, and unconsciously blinding themselves to any reality that doesn't jibe with the national, imperial curriculum:
Without the ability to recognize reality, the Do Bees absorb this packaged collection of received opinions very willingly and quite happily, the last vestiges of their sanity depending on it. They become unwitting though avid agents of American imperialism, each generation more unwitting and zealous than their parents before them.
The children with spirit who can salvage their self esteem, who recognize their oppressors for what they are and choose to fight them are increasingly unable to escape through truancy or without graduating. They are branded with various labels that will haunt them throughout their academic lives,8 prescribed psychiatric drugs to make them docile, enrolled in more intensive brainwashing programs. The push to deny drivers licenses to truants, the Goals 2000 School to Work system whereby occupations will be closed to unfavored students and universal preschool are the latest "reforms" to control these children and stamp out dissention.
The Antidote to Imperialism
The best hope for rejection of the American Empire and a resurgence of a love of liberty is homeschooling.
Homeschool families live their lives with a level of intimacy that families used to enjoy before the massive interference of government programs and policies in this century. Family intimacy is the first principle in building a healthy emotional foundation for our children.
Homeschool families live their lives immersed in the real world. They are not held in the confinement of a strange, Kafkaesque world, surreal in the uniformity of age of its inmates, its false and meaningless rewards system, its wholly arbitrary rules, its distorted social conventions. Being in the real world mitigates the extremes of denial that eventuate cognitive dissonance.
Homeschool children are not separated from their parents too early and plunged into a Lord of the Flies environment to fend for themselves without their family for security and guidance. They are neither fed a constant stream of propaganda, prevented from learning to read, inculcated with a loathing of learning, nor psychologically manipulated and drugged into obedience.
It may take time for homeschool families to emerge from their parents' public school brainwashing, but with intellectual freedom will come the inevitable rejection of government lies and statist sophistry. I predict that homeschoolers will dominate the minority that brings about the next American revolution, just as homeschoolers dominated that minority in the first American revolution.9 And I expect my homeschool family to be part of it.
Cathy Cuthbert is a homeschool mother and editor of The School Liberator, published by the Alliance for the Separation of School & State
1. There was a mandatory schooling law in colonial times that wasn't uniformly enforced and became generally unenforced. The 1852 law stuck.[back]
2. See Falsehood in Wartime: Propaganda Lies of the First World War by Arthur Ponsonby.[back]
3. See Dumbing Us Down and the audio tape "The Tyranny of Government Schooling" both available from Laissez Faire Books.[back]
4. Although with metal detectors, armed cops (read guards), drug sniffing dogs, surveillance cameras and lockdowns, the difference between the two is narrowing.[back]
5. What Do I Do Monday, first edition, page 56-7.[back]
6. I was once reprimanded for shouting at a bully in the act of grabbing a fistful of my son's hair. This new age, pop psychology flunky who denied my right to protect my three year old said that the reason she teaches children martial arts is to foster world peace.[back]
7. We overheard a public school teacher say this to her class during a museum field trip.[back]
8. And if that isn't Orwellian enough, now parents are asking that their children be labeled ADD to receive government handouts from SSI and adults are labeling themselves to receive preferential treatment in the workplace under the Americans with Disabilities Act.[back]
9. Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Madison, Henry and one third of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States were educated at home.[back]