The Inherent Nature of Compulsory Schooling

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For almost a century, all the states in the United States have enforced compulsory education laws that permit the state to extort parents at gunpoint, taking their money and children away from them to fund and fill indoctrination camps for a third of the day, 5 days a week, 9 months a year, and 12 to 13 years of their children’s formal development.

The layperson or the pseudo-intellectual may believe that calling schools “indoctrination camps” seems quite far-fetched, and it does until you realize the inherent nature of what schools are. Most schooling options look very similar to each other regardless of whether they are public district schools, public charter schools, or traditional private schools.

They all are very reminiscent of the Prussian schooling system, which inspired the US education system to follow its course in developing a top-down “learning environment” where teachers teach subject matter and content that is predetermined and chosen for them by bureaucrats and higher-up district or network administrators. Schools create an illusion that the learning of information and concepts is taking place, but that is far from the reality.

Within a short period of time, students, on average, tend to forget most of what was covered, so what is actually being learned? As the late John Taylor Gatto, an award-winning NY public school teacher, describes in his book Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, the inherent nature of compulsory schooling teaches the following seven lessons: Confusion, class position, indifference, emotional dependency, intellectual dependency, provisional self-esteem, and the idea that one cannot hide, which all serve to develop compliance and conformity in students.

In schools, confusion takes place in the classroom whereby teachers cover too many different subjects without making any explicit connections between any of them. Students rarely come to understand the value and utility in learning because nothing ever makes any sense. One does not ever know why they are learning anything nor do they know why any of it is relevant or important. At best, they remember isolated facts and are able to regurgitate information or vocabulary without having a deep and profound understanding of concepts or ideas. These experiences of confusion suggest to students that, as Gatto states, “it is better to leave school with a tool kit of superficial jargon derived from economics, sociology, natural science, and so on than with one genuine enthusiasm.”

Schools breed, on average, a mediocre jack of all trades, reinforcing compliance and conformity.

Throughout students’ educational experience, they also come to understand where they stand in the social and intellectual hierarchy. Gatto describes this lesson as class position, which consists of two components.

The first one is authority. Over the years in school, students recognize their position relative to that of their teacher. The students are submissive to the authoritarian in the classroom, the teacher, who teaches students to behave in uniform ways and accept commands. The other component is archetypes.

Over the years, students ascribe themselves to a specific archetype: The smart kid, the average kid, the dumb kid, and others due to the grades and scores they get on assignments and standardized tests, the classes they are put in (e.g., remedial, general education, honors, etc.), and the type of feedback they get. Students learn where they stand in the educational hierarchy and eventually accept their perceived fate, coming to believe that they are not capable of critical thinking. The more students lack confidence in their intellectual capability, the easier it is to have them conform and comply.

The first two lessons of schooling cause students to learn the third lesson of schooling: indifference. Throughout their schooling experience, students start to believe that if what they were doing or learning at school was all that important, they would continue indefinitely until the task or lesson was complete as opposed to ceasing all activities when an arbitrary bell rings. This inevitably creates indifference in students, which breeds nihilism and a sentiment that things in general lack importance or meaning. Students develop this particularly when teachers cut lessons short or have them skip chapters in a textbook because they are “running out of time”. Just like you train animals with bells through the process of classical conditioning, schools do the same with our children. We are being trained to be indifferent about knowledge and learning, which reinforces compliance and conformity.

In the classroom, students are not free to make decisions for themselves. All actions must be permitted by the teacher, which serves to develop emotional dependency, the fourth lesson of compulsory schooling. Students are subjected to the will of the teacher. Every aspect of each individual’s personhood has to go through the teacher – to get out of their desk, to get a resource, to go to the restroom, to do anything. There is no trust. Students are emotionally dependent on their teacher. The teacher commands the classroom to behave in a uniform fashion and whenever students are out of line, they are reprimanded. The teacher instills fear in the students by threatening them with consequences, driving them to conform and comply to avoid being punished by their parents.

Similarly, a major byproduct of schooling is that students do not engage in critical thinking; they do not ever think for themselves. This is the outcome of the fifth lesson: intellectual dependency.

Throughout several years of schooling, students begin to understand that there is no genuine space for critical thinking because there is a limited time and “all the content needs to be covered” since that is what is going to be on the test.

This reinforces students to not think critically about ideas and concepts and not challenge any of it. They simply take in the information they are told and regard it as valid. This is the epitome of what school is. In schools, all information and ideas come from a top-down system, filtering out all contrarian thought and ideas. Students, over time, learn to not question things, accept the status quo, and simply meet requirements, becoming compliant, conforming pupils.

This all seeps into students’ mindsets throughout their educational experience and manifests itself in adulthood. Adults show symptoms of low confidence and lack a healthy understanding of who they are and what they aspire to do. One can fairly easily root this phenomenon in schools where students receive the lesson of provisional self-esteem. There is no genuine regard for how students evaluate their own learning or how they feel about the progress they have made. The teacher, the school, the district, and the state determine how you should feel about your development via grades and scores.

There is a large population of students that learn to believe they are stupid, not good enough, and not worthy enough of learning, growing, and doing something positive with their lives. Even those that know school is bullshit will experience this; the shame from all authority figures around them still manages to seep into their psyche. If students do not know how to measure their own progress and success, they will become reliant on those in authority – teachers, media, and politicians – to know how to feel about themselves and others, conforming to and complying with what they preach.

Schools also attempt to micromanage students to the nth degree to narrow the parameters of individual personhood and thought. To support its establishment, schools teach its last lesson: One cannot hide. Students are never trusted to take agency for themselves. They have to ask the authoritarian in the classroom, the teacher, for permission to do anything. Class and school rules are never up for negotiation or criticism regardless of their purpose or idiocy. They all are meant to develop uniformity among students – all individual curiosity, interests, and passions are slowly ripped apart over the years of experiencing mass instruction. One learns to not question things or stand up for themselves or others. One accepts the status quo because one does not want to be viewed as an outsider or a nonconformist, especially when other subjects of this system will be vocal against them. Doing anything outside the norm is a threat to the system.

The seven lessons that Gatto describes are all a part of the hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling to deliberately train students to conform and comply. There is no doubt that schools disguise themselves as learning centers, hiding their true nature as indoctrination camps. Schools, by design, are training children to become dependent because it makes it easier to control them, how they feel, what they think, and what they do. School is not about learning. It is about training you to be controlled and dependent on others. Unless one critically challenges all information and ideas, the products of schools will never truly leave the classroom; the only thing that changes is the schoolmaster, the teacher, which then becomes the State.

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Eric Barajas

Eric Barajas has a BA in psychology and a minor in education studies from UCLA. He has participated in a teaching program through Teach for America, which enabled him to work as a salaried teacher at any one of their affiliated K-12 public schools as an intern-credentialed teacher. He worked as a resource specialist teacher/special education teacher. He is an anarchocapitalist and seeks to become involved in the self-directed learning movement.

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