Thursday, September 10, 2009

Education and Indoctrination

I am on a lively Listserv with fellow alumni/ae from Grinnell College, class of '86 (with a good number of '85 and '87 thrown in). We spend our days weighing in on everything from midlife crises and what we do to try to keep our weight down to politics. Most people on the Listserv are liberals, so the two or three Republicans have a hard battle to keep us informed of how "the other side" thinks. Most of us really do want to keep in touch with what folks on the right are thinking, and sometimes there is meaningful conversation (though I can't say anyone ever changes anyone's mind on anything). This week the topic has been health care, of course, but there was a flurry of discussion about President Obama's speech to school children on the first day of school (Tuesday). Of interest was the question of whether the president should be "allowed" to make such a speech, and whether it was an "unwanted intrusion" into the school day, as our Governor Pawlenty described it. There was discussion of the controversial education aid piece suggesting teachers offer as a follow-up exercise having their students write a letter telling the president what they would do to "help the president." It was revised for them to tell him their personal goals. At issue was also whether the speech would be "indoctrination" and was inherently political-- which would be a bad thing. Given that now, all political speech is assumed to be partisan. And one poor Listserv member said that she did not trust the president.

Late in the day Phil Stewart weighed in with a post that truly got to the heart of the matter. It kind of shocked me by how "conservative" the position sounded to me. Here is an excerpt:

There is no reason at all for public schools, if they do not establish a capacity in children to learn how to become citizens of the Republic, and to participate in the political process. That is the whole Enlightenment project this country was founded in, distilled: the people are trusted to be capable of learning how to participate in government. If the people prove themselves worthy of this trust, the "divine right of kings" to rule is proven false, because they are no better, fundamentally, than the rest of us. If the people screw it up? Well, bring back the kings. Or the CEOs--or whatever you call a new autocracy--but that's the choice.

The idea that "all men are created equal" is a fundamentally psychological proposition, namely, that all are born equally capable of learning.

So the survival of the nation is bound up in the capacity of the schools to produce competent citizens. Part of this competency is understanding that we live in a Republic. When we elect a leader, he or she has the faith and trust of the people. If some individual or another does not trust him--that is immaterial to the leader's standing to address the people. Civics is the *payload* of education, as it is reasonably theorized, in a Republic. To treat the President's address to children in school as a political intrusion is an affront to the notion of the Republic itself. The Republic is founded upon the idea that the people can handle politics. The decision of who is to lead is decided at elections, not moment-to-moment in individual households. When the contrary holds, the nation *will* fall apart, and the chaos will make our heads spin. When the contrary holds, all of the evils we have held at bay on other shores will visit us, right in those same living rooms.

Given the years I spent thinking that public schools "quashed" creativity and just instructed us in how to "serve the state"-- by being obedient and maybe eventually going to an unjust war for it, but certainly not learning up to our ability, this little "rant," which I think it right on target, brought a smile to my face.

The larger question is, I think, are we interested in this project-- the Republic and the public schools? I thought of the homeschooling folks I know, who want to teach their children a different version of science and history, from an ostensibly "Christian point of view." And of charter school parents I know who want to put creativity at the forefront and also opt out of the "making good citizens" project. And it takes me ultimately to my current ruminations over "Emergent Christianity" and the issue of a crisis in authority. We are all sorting out what we believe and who is in charge-- of the church, of the state, of the Truth. Chaos indeed.

No comments: