Posts Tagged ‘ education

The Bikecast Episode #8: The Big Lie

This podcast is an amalgam of a couple recordings. I think that it flows OK, but I’m afraid that I have a hard time detecting incongruities because I’ve listened to the material so many times. Due to poor use of sound editing, there’s a number of instances–especially toward the end–where words get clipped. I found a way around this, but not in time to “save” this recording. Let me know what you think.

Download this episode of the bikecast
In this episode I talk about The Big Lie. I’ve written about it before and, if you’re hunting down references, you’ll find some of them in that post. This set of show notes will be brief as they are essentially a supplement to the previous article.

When I refer to The Big Lie, I’m actually identifying a particular pattern–a subset of big lies–that I define as being the exact opposite of the truth. I see this pattern everywhere and it’s effectiveness at diverting attention or investigation is evident.

There is a weakness in the method because, once a skeptical mind grasps the pattern and begins to identify it in the narratives that surround it, the big lie loses all effectiveness. In fact, the truth–or its approximation–can now be derived from assuming the opposite of the big lie.

Here are a couple of links to get you started, should you disbelieve any of the claims I make during the podcast.

War on Drugs

A canvassing of unintended consequences of drug criminalization.

Increase in social violence due to prohibition.

War on Terror

The war on terror (and it’s undeclared predecessors) is the cause of terrorism. The war on terror (and it’s undeclared predecessors) is the cause of terrorism


For debunking the Big Lies around education, I cannot recommend these resources highly enough:
John Gatto was long-time educator. His website is a bit of a mess, but you can find his articles all over the place. Here are a couple of representative samples. The Six Lesson Schoolteacher. Why Schools don’t Educate

School Sucks podcast, also run by an educator of 10 years, is excellent.

I may get back to the other examples–religion as anti-answer and religion as enabler of immoral behavior–in future podcasts. They don’t have the same body of evidence as the other examples.

Education, Schooling, and John Gatto

“We want one class to have a liberal education.  We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” — Woodrow Wilson

Education and school have been the subject, direct or tangential, of a number of posts lately.  Most notably this fantastic, honest piece about Antigone’s school experience.  Government schooling is an emotionally charged subject since most of us attended school every non-summer weekday for 12+ years.  Many of us are sending or planning to send our children to this institution for the same duration.

The “public education” narrative is that the fabric of our civic society is founded on universal, compulsory education.  According to this narrative, the difficult and time consuming job of distilling curricula and applying it to individuals and groups of children in a scientifically validated manner should be left to state-certified professionals, freeing the parents for work more suited to their specific talents.  Deviating from this model will result in a society in which only the sufficiently wealthy and privileged will receive the education to succeed in life while the poor will not have access to the tools to remove themselves from poverty.  Additionally, many adults will not be capable of critical thought, but will instead learn about gods, ghosts, creationism, and a worldview supporting racism, nationalism, sexism and homophobia.  As with most state-centered narratives, the consequences it claims will inevitably occur are already manifest all around us.  State education has been, if not wholly responsible, at least a large component in creating the reality that we’re told we should fear.

The purpose of this post is to introduce and wildly recommend the works of John Taylor Gatto.  He was a teacher for 30 years, was awarded New York City teacher of the year 3 times and retired after winning New York State teacher of the year in 1991.  He’s got a handful of books–an online version of one is available via the prior link–plus he and his former students have been covered fairly regularly in mainstream’ish media.

My prescient partner Alisa got me a collection of his essays, A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling, during my brief stint as a high-school math teacher.  I expected it to be a motivational, Lean on Me style book.  Instead it was The People’s History of the United States, shredding everything I had previously been taught and understood about the role of state education in society.  Anyone who wants to speak authoritatively about education reform and definitely anyone who is considering how their own children are or will be educated would benefit tremendously from Gatto’s experience and research.

Well, that’s kindof it for the post–more of a slightly-too-large-for-a-comment-comment.  I am comforted by the fact that, should you read a few dozen pages of his work, your mind will be sufficiently blown to justify this recommendation.

I will leave you with  a couple sample passages with links to the relevant resources to tempt your palette:

There were vast fortunes to be made, after all, in an economy based on mass production and organized to favor the large corporation rather than the small business or the family farm. But mass production required mass consumption, and at the turn of the twentieth century most Americans considered it both unnatural and unwise to buy things they didn’t actually need. Mandatory schooling was a godsend on that count. School didn’t have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume nonstop, because it did something even better: it encouraged them not to think at all. And that left them sitting ducks for another great invention of the modem era – marketing. — Harper’s Magazine (easier to read in this reprint)

Something in the structure of schooling calls forth violence. While latter-day schools don’t allow energetic physical discipline, certainly they are state-of-the-art laboratories in humiliation, as your own experience should remind you. In my first years of teaching I was told over and over that humiliation was my best friend, more effective than whipping. I witnessed this theory in practice through my time as a teacher. If you were to ask me now whether physical or psychological violence does more damage, I would reply that slurs, aspersion, formal ranking, insult, and inference are far and away the more deadly. Nor does law protect the tongue-lashed. — The Underground History of American Education (the entire book is available online)

I will tell you this – a kid who learns to read at five, and a kid who learns to read
at 9, will be indistinguishable to each other at the age of fourteen, assuming
they both like what they’re doing. On the other hand, we can say its too
inconvenient, or too expensive, to allow that and impose a learning curve in
first grade that produces this wonderful bell, we can then assign the people on
the fringes of the bell to special ed and the people in the middle of the bells
- the walls of the curve – to the dull classes and so on. And we will create a
class system by simply doing that. Inside of a year or two, the kids will impose
that kind of class system on themselves! It’s a phenomenally intricate, but
rather easy to unravel puzzle there – reading is pathetically easy to teach, you
assume that once you assemble 30 people in a room, and do it in the same
routines, that you’ll fail to teach it to some of them, that this bell will
appear, and the atmosphere in the classroom is that the humiliation of being a
dull reader or bad reader will never wear off. You can predict the rise of a
giant remediation industry.  — Interview with Jerry Brown

Moral Clarity

I’m going to go over this very slowly. I am doing this because I believe, purely by association, that you are intellectually capable individuals. I am doing this because I believe, purely by *faith*, that you will at some point in your lives realize that you once stood over a murdered woman’s body and argued about how much she deserved it.**
Violet (from

This quote demonstrates beautiful, and rare, moral clarity.  In this post we examine the opposite of moral clarity.  To very briefly recap the relevant evil position responded to above: the position was put forward that disappointed sexual expectations might be a mitigating factor in the extinguishing of a human life.

I wish to proceed with all due respect to the unique qualities of the above story and to the tender political sensibilities common at a time of societal upheaval and the transition of power.  Without comparing the nature of the crimes, here are a couple of situations demonstrating the sort of sick dehumanization that Violet was reacting against–and perhaps illustrating the destination and the source of the involved proto-lawyers and their ilk.

While reiterating his belief that CIA officers who carried out so-called “enhanced interrogations” should not be prosecuted, the President said he wanted the Attorney General to make a determination on how to procede [sic] with “those who formulated those legal decisions.”  — Daily Kos on torture prosecutions

This situation is related as if it were some kind of real ethical dilemma.  How is a college educated adult to know if he is justified torturing an Asian peasant?  Hmmmm.  I guess if he’s told to by his boss, then it must be OK.

Should the guy who ordered him to torture the peasant get in trouble?  Let’s see, if the lawyers (see Violet’s post again for insight into the humanity possessed by lawyers) said it’s alright, we’ll have to check with the Attorney General.

What do you say, AG?  Weeelll, It’s unclear how we should deal with people who set up legal structures authorizing torture.  We’ll have to check into it.

I have an idea, let’s ask a fucking kindergartner if people should torture each other.  It will save alot of time and we’re far more likely to have a morally sane verdict rendered.  Actually, the relevant public school curriculum may have to change to reflect the nature of our shared social code.

“Most schools that engage in strip searches do it because they are acting in good faith,” said Francisco Negron of the National School Boards Association. “They are doing it because they feel an intense need to protect the safety of the students.” — Some Asshat defending the strip searching of a 13 year old student thought to possess advil.

Before everyone flees down their pre-programmed mental escape routes, let me state again that I’m am not comparing the severity of these crimes.  We, as a species need to battle through the layers of complicated exceptions, mitigating factors, and fear of apocalyptic outcomes and look at these events for what they are.  If we want to live in a better world, we must call these events, and all such events, by their proper name: crimes against humanity–and perhaps more importantly, crimes against a human.

At some point, if we are ever to evolve beyond the savage barbarism that has been the hallmark of the human experience, we will have to reach a point of moral clarity.  When is it OK to strip search a 13 year old?  Never.  When is it understandable to butcher another human being?  Never.  When can we excuse one individual for torturing or ordering torture of another individual?  Never.

A civilized society, if one is ever to exist, will require a fabric of human dignity and of an expectation of respect for persons.  This needs to replace the current and historic toxic environment of routine abuse, humiliation, degradation and inequality.

Have a lovely weekend.

(crossposted @

Government Failure?

The right wing, and previously the left wing, go on and on about how badly government has failed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Government has been an overwhelming success. Trillions of dollars have been stripped from voluntary production for peaceful consumption and shoveled to the politically connected financial aristocracy. Trillions more has been printed up for the same purposes, radically devaluing the few dollars that the poorest workers among us receive.

The military industrial complex gets to provide for the occupation of 100+ countries, 2 endless hot wars, countless bush wars, clandestine operations, and protection of shipping lanes. Military deployments provide employment for the lowest socio-economic classes. Along with section 8 concentration centers, low-cost access to toxic food, and a booming police and prison system, this keeps the masses of the powerless and oppressed from outright revolt.

Pharmaceutical companies get to have tens of thousands of competitors jailed for distributing alternative, low cost medication (yes, I mean weed). Teams of government lawyers and diplomats travel the world shutting down generic competitors for patent infringement saving “big pharma” huge amounts of money at the cost of an equally huge amount of human suffering and death. The ways in which government pillages the 99% of regular citizens–not to mention fer’ners–and enriches the 1% ruling class are boundless.

So why all the nay-sayers claiming that government isn’t doing it’s job? If you talk to them, you’ll quickly discover the crux of the issue: they think that the unassailable and frequently unleashed hurricane of state violence is somehow helping or protecting them. An uninformed observer might wonder how something so precisely opposite of the truth could roll so easily from the tongues of otherwise intelligent people. One answer, of course, is 12+ years of state “education” that, for most working families, is pretty difficult to avoid. Secondarily, the products of this near-universal public education produce the media and cultural artifacts that we are immersed in.

An Experiment

As an experiment, adopt the mindset that the purpose of government is to redistribute wealth from the poor, productive classes to a very small group of extremely wealthy people. Imagine that government is designed to shield existing corporations from competition, to grant monopoly privileges, and to prevent new products and services from entering the marketplace. Put yourself in the position of a politically connected oligarch. Would you prefer to cooperate peacefully with foreign merchants, buying raw materials at the price they offer? Or would you collaborate to send the national army to occupy the land and take the resources at a fraction of the price?

I’m not claiming this as bullet-proof evidence, but don’t many of the puzzles and mysteries of government action suddenly evaporate? Doesn’t it make sense that the apparatus that enforced slavery, exterminated the native population, subjugated women and children to male family members, bombed union picket lines, and drafted the poor into endless foreign blood-baths for the enrichment and benefit of themselves and their wealthy friends–doesn’t it make sense that they would continue to do so?

Try it out, if you can, for as long as is manageable and let me know how it feels.

See also

The Big Lie

Die Grosse Luege (The Big Lie)

… in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; Even though the facts . . . may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world . . .

—Adolf Hitler , Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X[1]

The big lie may be the most successful stand-alone propaganda technique in history.  We swim everyday in a sea of such lies and yet we rarely, if ever, notice them.  Like an optical illusion, we focus our entire attention on it while it jumps and squirms and evades our ability to bring it fully before our senses.  And so we must bring reason to bear in addition to our senses to detect the big lie.  What to do with one once we’ve found it, we’ll leave for another time.

Protection from Islamo-facism

Since the big lie is as difficult to pin down in the abstract as it is to detect in reality, let’s start with an example.  I choose this example because it’s the easiest for us anti-imperialists to grasp.  The lie is that we need a large and powerful globe-spanning military to protect us from rabid, suicidal foes who want nothing more than to kill us and take our stuff.  We’re told that our freedom will end the minute we stop razing villages, imprisoning farmers and shepherds, overthrowing democratically elected foreign governments, and supplying firepower to brutal dictators.  Reality, in this case, is available to anyone with a few hours of research and some very basic critical thinking skills.  In reality, the U.S. military has spent the last 100 years, conservatively, creating an army of rabid, suicidal foes bent on revenge.  It has swelled the number of those willing to fight by starving, torturing and killing legions of mothers, sons, brothers, daughters, sisters, fathers, and friends.

As we see from the above example, the big lie is not simply not true.  It is the opposite of the truth made difficult to detect by its over-the-top audacity.  Even now, having stated what is real, my mind wanders in search of scenarios in which an Army-less America is overrun by . . . somebody from somewhere.  These are the ‘traces’ of the big lie, the result of imperfect deprogramming after dozens of years of propaganda.

Just Say “No”

Let’s look at the big lie around drug prohibition–anti-imperialists are also frequently opposed to jailing people who’ve committed no crime.  The big lie is that the war on drugs exists to decrease drug dependency, drug related crimes and the violence of the drug trade.  The staying power of the big lie is illustrated by the drug war.  Even with a prison system overflowing with non-violent drug users, hundreds of thousands of bodies littering Central and South America and billions of dollars “up in smoke,” this choice piece of propaganda persists.  Even those who would legalize marijuana can’t understand that society would not erupt into madness if “hard” drugs were legalized.  The primary effect, guaranteed by iron-clad laws of economics, would be to radically decrease the price of drugs.  The 99% markup that allows for the marketing of drugs to kids, the arming of the most violent criminals, and the need to steal and trick to get a fix would vanish.  And with it, the distinction between legal and illegal drugs–so crystal clear to the propagandized mind–would dissolve  away.

Compulsory Schooling

Here’s a hard one we might not have noticed.  We who believe that human beings are all valuable understand that denying someone an education is the surest way to limit their potential for self-fulfillment.  Literacy is key to economic freedom and human progress, and we look back with shame at the times when society attempted to deny this ability to women, slaves, and various immigrant groups.

Our genuine and honorable feelings about the value of education pave the way for a big lie: without public education, the poor would be uneducated.  Non-labor jobs would be the domain of the males of the dominant ethnic group.  Illiteracy and the resulting stratification of society would lead to massive injustice as the poor languished, the rich thrived and the middle class desperately sought some way to scrimp and save in order to educate their kids.

Of course, government schools do not educate the poor.  They do guarantee that white men dominate the non-labor workforce.  They result it the highest illiteracy rates in the history of this continent.  The rich thrive in carefully gerrymandered school districts or private schools.  The poor endure 12+ years of boring, degrading and brutal  “child” care, and the middle class scramble to locate themselves in the districts of the wealthy or budget for private school.

The very circumstances we fear above all others–those we are told to fear by “experts”–are precisely the outcomes of the government remedies we are told we must accept.  Financial chaos, lack of  healthcare, oppressed minorities, suffering of the elderly; whenever we’re told to be afraid and that only the coercive might of the state can protect us from a dismal outcome, we must attempt to escape our programming and look for the big lie.