School Is Propaganda

Officials usually talk as if the point of school is to acquire useful skills and knowledge.  I often emphasize instead school’s signaling function; school lets us show off good features.  But let’s not forget another important function: propaganda.

Consider: why do we have public schools? Even if we gained from other kids’ schooling, that only suggests we subsidize schools, not that governments run them.  Strong local scale economies offer a plausible rationale for government-run municipal services like power, water, sewers, phones, and emergency services.  But schooling scale economies are pretty weak.

Long ago private schools were more common, relative to public.  But high immigration rates induced many to want to force immigrant kids, especially Catholics, to think more like protestant natives:

The common-school reformers argued for the case on the belief that common schooling could create good citizens, unite society and prevent crime and poverty. … By 1918 all states had passed laws requiring children to attend at least elementary school. The Catholics were, however, opposed to common schooling and created their own private schools.

The idea goes way back:

Aristotle believed that it is the responsibility of the government to create a public school system for all its citizens. Good virtues should still be key, strong leadership encouraged wherever possible, and excellent citizenship taught.

We can see similar forces in Holland now.

Muslims in Slotervaart are often accused of harassing gay men. Even when such conduct doesn’t rise to the level of illegality, it sins against the official Dutch compact of social tolerance.

Clearly many there want to somehow make immigrants to think more like the dominant culture.  Alex Tabarrok tells me many voice such concerns when he talks on school vouchers: too many crazies would have their own schools and teach kids to be crazies.

If one of the main functions of public schools is to affirm our cultural beliefs against opposing beliefs, then we must be teaching more than just “obvious” things.  For many things we teach our kids, substantial communities somewhere disagree.

While we give lip service to diversity and freedom of speech and thought, we in practice only allow such thoughts as can survive decades of mind-numbing public-school conformity.  Yet we hardly ever discuss what our official school propaganda should be; we almost pretend it doesn’t exist.

For example, professional historians are usually embarrassed by what passes for history in school, but they usually say little.  And my guess is that we prefer not to instead subsidize private schools and require them to teach specific things because we’d rather not be that explicit about exactly what propaganda we want taught; we’d rather that happened behind the scenes.

But to me the honest approach would be the opposite: we should publish lists of specific beliefs we teach in schools, and our best arguments supporting those beliefs against critics.  We can’t say such topics are not important enough to bother arguing for, if we are going to all the trouble to teach them.  And if we are too embarrassed by the quality of our supporting arguments, we just shouldn’t be teaching such things.

Added 11:30pSupporting evidence:

More totalitarian governments as well as those with larger wealth transfers make greater investments in publicly controlled information. … Public educational expenditures vary in similar ways to government ownership of television stations.

HT to David Friedman via Arthur B.

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  • http://t-a-w.blogspot.com/ Tomasz Wegrzanowski

    There real reason why we have public school (and public healthcare in most places) is that historically it has been much better way to have quality schooling at low cost than anything private market managed to provide – just like with healthcare it seems the more centralized is the school system, the better are the results, and at lower costs.

    Decentralized ones like American do much worse than centralized ones like Western European or East Asian systems.

    I’ll leave it up to economists to figure out why market doesn’t work here, but it doesn’t seem to.

    And with any school system, it’s hard for those in power to resist temptation of using it for a bit of propaganda, but its effectiveness is rather dubious.

    • Dan Hill

      “it seems the more centralized is the school system, the better are the results, and at lower costs.”

      I’d love to see some data to support that contention, because at first glance iI can think of several very large school districts (NY City, DC) which have very high spending per pupil and very poor results.

    • http://williambswift.blogspot.com/ billswift

      The explicit origins of public schooling, in Prussia and when Horace Mann imported it to Massachusetts, was to impose a uniformity on its victims. It had nothing to do with educational quality control. In fact something I read several years ago claimed that the literacy rate went down for several decades after the introduction of coercive schooling, before going up in the early 20th century. (Then back down again later in the 20th century.)

    • http://adequatelyreserved.wordpress.com bcg

      Tomasz, what was the real reason we had public school before there was the historical results to which you’re referring?

      • http://adequatelyreserved.wordpress.com bcg

        God, I butchered that, but I think beneath my English-as-a-fifth-language you understand what I’m asking.

      • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.comItry Hopefully Anonymous

        Hack excuse?
        How improbable is it that one would end up with English as a 5th language? I could see it more probable that one is functional in 5 languages and has English as their 3rd.

    • Peter Twieg

      Decentralized ones like American do much worse than centralized ones like Western European or East Asian systems.

      Does this imply that there aren’t private school in these countries? Because they’re all outperformed by public ones?

      Don’t northern European countries tend to have strongly decentralized systems? Are they outperformed by West Europe?

    • 2999

      And homeschooling and private schools outperform public everywhere.

      • Doug S.

        That’s because private schools can choose not to admit students that are stupid and/or badly behaved. If private schools had to use the same admissions standards as public schools (i.e. none) they’d be just as bad.

      • http://www.raygardnerillustration.com Ray Gardner

        Actually you are totally wrong. When a market is opened is for education as it has been partially here in AZ, schools open up that specialize in the hard to teach students.
        Ironically these schools’ results are used against the private schools overall when the teachers’ unions try to recite just the naked statistics, but when apples are compared to apples we find that these schools specializing in troubled teens do much better than the public schools.

      • Dan

        Err inverse adverse selection… private schools are by definition discriminatory and not only with money, some only let the smart kids in… it really is just some structural cherry-picking of the best. That’s not saying they are bad quality, but most public schools is also well run, if discrimination is banned their results will be much more varied.

    • http://www.abs-usa.com Floccina

      How would you judge quality?

      The standard of living of those who went through the system? Nah.

      The output student level? Nah could be other factors, could have started with inferior material how would we know that we are testing the relevant things.

      The input student level verses output student level? Nah how would we know that we are testing the relevant things.

      I am not sure how to judge an educational system.

    • http://lorenzo-thinkingoutaloud.blogspot.com/ Lorenzo

      Quite wrong. There are almost no economies of scale in education, spending has little connection to outcomes and the biggest determinant of outcomes are the features of individual schools.

      Totalitarian governments do not abolish private schooling because they want lower cost education, they do to impose ideological conformity.

      What is the main competitor to state provided schooling? Schooling provided by religious bodies. We cannot see into people’s head, so the inculcation of belief is controlled by controlling inputs and process

  • Bill

    Actually, the history I heard is that common schooling particularly in the northeast, used the King James version of the bible in the curriculum, and this drove the Catholics to their private school.

    A good reason in itself not to have religion in the public school.

    I disagree that with the statement that mixing students in public schools doesn’t have a value in itself.

    In fact, I am concerned about public Muslim charter schools, black charter schools, and Hmong charter schools. I wonder how these kids will assimilate later, if at all, and whether, if they go to college, they will further segregate themselves. I would rather see charters develop along non-ethnic lines–charters for math, science, language arts, etc., rather than for ethnic identity.

    • Jayson Virissimo

      I also prefer a more heterogeneous educational environment, but why should our preferences trump the preferences of others? Should the state really take money from these minority groups and spend it making society fit a pattern that is closer to our liking than theirs? I’m not so sure…

      • Bill

        We live in a society where the majority rules. If you like heterogeneity but don’t want to pay for it, then its free riding.

        As to the state taking money…no, its everyone deciding to pay for their kids education over time through tax assessment. Or, do you want to pay $15-20k a year for a kid in school.

        If you look at economic performance of industrial societies, strong public education is the driver of your standard of living today and tomorrow.

      • Jayson Virissimo

        You are correct that I am a free-rider, but what you seem to have missed is that the minority groups are forced-riders.

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  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    A whole bunch of topics and concepts here that need empirical testing, it seems to me.
    Prof. Hanson, to be clear, do you want the entire US public education system to change to your proposal, or do you want diversified experimentation? I think diversified experimentation is the way to go (that doesn’t completely mean decentralized experimentation, by the way -some could be directed from centralized bureacracy, some could be space for regions to experiment with).
    Careful comparison with the past and other countries and regions seems reasonable, too.

    • 2999

      The standard voucher proposal is in itself an experiment in diversified experimentation, no? For example, existing public schools could still survive: if they were good enough to attract students.

      • Doug S.

        School vouchers don’t help students, at least in the short run.

        http://www.givewell.net/united-states/education/schools-are-not-the-key

      • Bill

        Doug, I agree with you. Some of the voucher and charter proposals are in effect supported by real estate developers eager to lease a building to a new charter school.
        Don’t get me wrong, I think charters can be good, but watch the public purse, because there is always someone who wants to get their hand in it.

      • http://www.abs-usa.com Floccina

        I agree with you Doug, but I think that some of us would get the same results cheaper.

  • http://adequatelyreserved.wordpress.com bcg

    My guess is that a lot of what we teach in schools is not to have common beliefs, but to have common behaviors and expectations. It’s not about which particular beliefs we all believe, so much as we all converse about them in as common a way as possible and that we all have shared understandings about nonverbal communication. What does it mean when we: elevate pitch, elevate volume, are direct instead of subtle, employ body language, etc. Having everyone “speak” a common status language minimizes tension from misinterpreting when someone is trying to be aggressive or deferential.

  • retired phlebotomist

    Certainly self deception gives an advantage, or we would not have evolved it on the individual level. Isn’t it likely it serves an advantage at the group level (to build cohesiveness thru patriotism, etc). And explicitly stating the lies you want to teach about history would make the deception difficult.

    I realize you strive for truth. But I’d assumed that was for yourself. I did not realize you were waging a war on self deception across the board.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      How do we know we are gaining self-deception benefits from our school propaganda? Surely that isn’t just something we should assume, right?

      • retired phlebotomist

        Conceded. But perhaps we shouldn’t assume it is destructive and abolish (or undermine) it either.

        I’d love to see a country where the church programs and jr high history books had warning labels: “This product may contain lies to ease your fears and foster the notion you are one of the chosen.”

        Not sure I’d feel safe bringing the wife and kid along though.

        I wonder if there’s less nationalism is more secular countries.

  • Aron

    Radio intellectual Neal Boortz would probably agree with you.

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  • Jay

    As a matter of practical politics, this suggestion is unhelpful. Rather than achieve an informed consensus, it would just open up another front in the culture war.

    • anon

      Jay, your comment is interesting but you should elaborate on it. What do you mean by “the culture war”? Also, if some of the propaganda which is currently taught in public schools is not supported by a broad consensus (though this may only be revealed under close scrutiny), where’s the “practical” helpfulness in teaching it?

  • Arthur B.

    The funny part is, defenders of public schooling are not even shy to admit it.

    “A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare.”

    Justice H. Walter Croskey, in the opinion holding that California parents do not have the right to home school their children.

    ( ht http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2008/03/purpose-of-public-schooling.html )

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      Agreed. One very obvious example is simply the daily pledge of allegiance. And in relation to

      For many things we teach our kids, substantial communities somewhere disagree.

      note that the pledge was written shortly after the civil war – “indivisible” is there for a reason, and it isn’t because everyone agreed with it…

      • Aaron Denney

        I’m not sure I’d count 1892 as “shortly after” the war between the states.

      • gwern

        Perhaps you would like better the example of the ‘under God’ clause, which was most definitely put there for political (anti-Communist) purposes?

  • improbable

    I agree that part of the purpose of fairly standardised, probably state-run, schooling is propaganda. And I don’t think this need be bad, there is some value in making sure that a given society is not too splintered, not too disconnected. Of course it has been, often, over-done.

    I see some conflict here between the child’s perspective and the parents. Maximising freedom for the parents means allowing them to do as they please, but if this means (for instance) sequestering their children in a no-english school in america, then surely the freedom of the child has suffered, compared to going to school with everybody else. I’m surprised that I have never seen this conflict discussed.

    For instance during the fight over headscarves in French schools 5 years ago (gasp), simplifying a lot, the French seem to believe it is every kid’s right to start out as well as his peers, while the Americans that it is the parent’s right to indoctrinate as they see fit.

    • Jayson Virissimo

      Why is teaching your own kids “indoctrination”, but the state teaching kids is “education”? Are you sure it isn’t more likely to be the other way around?

      • improbable

        I didn’t use those words.

        One point is that a democratic state’s indoctrination isn’t going to be very far from the middle of the road, in that country at that time.

        Another is that, at least from the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard, those who at present opt out of the state’s system, tend to be those with very far-from-centre views. (The strongly religious homeschoolers, etc.)

        I’m happy to call both of these indoctrination, propaganda, whatever. I don’t think you can avoid a school’s providing some set of values, some way of looking at the world, the question is only how narrow this is, and how close to the country’s average. Banning explicitly “narrowing” things, like religion classes, is a good move on that front. Having the state run the school isn’t the only way of pushing the content towards the centre.

        What I think you’re really trying to say is that you prefer to give the parents the freedom. And a large part of me agrees. But do you at least admit that it can be looked at the other way?

      • Jayson Virissimo

        “I didn’t use those words.”

        You are technically right, you used the word indoctrinate not indoctrination.

        “One point is that a democratic state’s indoctrination isn’t going to be very far from the middle of the road, in that country at that time.”

        I really don’t see why I should care if the indoctrination isn’t far from the mainstream. The mainstream of 100 years ago appears monstrous to us, and the current mainstream will appear barbarous to those of the future. What I care about is that my children (when I have them) learn things like mathematics, logic, and science. If you think kids are learning these things effectively at public schools for how much is spent on it, you probably haven’t spoken to a high school graduate recently.

        “I don’t think you can avoid a school’s providing some set of values, some way of looking at the world, the question is only how narrow this is, and how close to the country’s average.”

        I very much doubt that non-public schooling is necessarily more narrow in the set of values it teaches. I agree that it will probably be closer to the average values of the country, but I don’t believe in conformism and so this argument that the average is best just don’t impress me.

        “But do you at least admit that it can be looked at the other way?”

        You comment has demonstrated that it can be looked at another way.

      • mercyorbemoaned

        “The mainstream of 100 years ago appears monstrous to us, and the current mainstream will appear barbarous to those of the future. ”

        This idea itself is a result of relentless progressive indoctrination.

      • improbable

        Jayson,

        Oops I’m sorry, I see now I did say “indoctrinate” for one. Although I used “propaganda” for the other, trying to be equal! That is, I wasn’t trying to call one kind a bad name and the other a good name.

        I fully agree that quality of education of useful things, like science, maths, history etc, is in general very poor. I know of a few sterling exceptions, government and private. I think this is separate from the debate about what side-serving of propaganda is given.

        “I very much doubt that non-public schooling is necessarily more narrow in the set of values it teaches. I agree that it will probably be closer to the average values of the country…” (By “it” do you mean state school here?)

        Among those who opt out of public schooling for ideological / religious reasons, I would guess that the set of values acquired is more narrow, and certainly further from centre. Perhaps as much from the peer group as from the teachers.

        Among those who opt out for quality reasons, probably not.

        Which of these groups dominates, again I don’t know. I suspect you had in mind the latter and I the former? They don’t have all that much in common, and perhaps they should be discussed separately.

        — improbable

  • John Maxwell IV

    How effective can propaganda be if folks are voting on its content?

    • Jayson Virissimo

      Why would people voting on its content diminish its effectiveness?

      • John Maxwell IV

        There will be a public discussion regarding what propaganda to vote for, and arguments against the propaganda that is eventually chosen will be well known.

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LVsiP0s33A Jonas

      How effective can propaganda be if folks are voting on its content?

      A placebo can be effective, even though the person who is taking it knows that it is a placebo.

      “Decentralized propaganda” – interesting concept to cogitate about.

      • josh

        Come on, John. Where do you think the content comes from? In the age of the New Deal, University affiliation is an absolute requirement for a person to perform history. Universities, of course, are composed of a self-selecting elite.

  • kebko

    Imagine how different this country would be if black Americans hadn’t been forced into sub-par schools for generations. That legacy was made possible by public education. I think it’s telling that Southern rasists burned down black Main Streets, but they fought to keep Southern blacks right in the pubic schools where they had them.
    James Tooley has fascinating insights into private vs public education all over the world:http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=5224

    • hmm

      Lamarckism?

    • Doug S.

      Were the sub-par schools better than no schools at all? Because, for a long time, that would have been the alternative. (Many places in the South didn’t have any public schools at all before Reconstruction, and if the schools weren’t going to be segregated, they weren’t going to be allowed to exist.)

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  • josh

    Great post. This is a HUGE problem. In fact, the rise of the public school system as a means of promoting the ideas devised in puritan and other protestant seminary colleges and its post Civil War dissemination in the south and west, may explain much of the seeming “zeitgeist” that has moved public opinion steadily to the left (ie toward the opinions of the intellectual caste) for more than 200 years. This is one of those undiscussed topics that has determined the course of the history of the world.

    • John Maxwell IV

      Hey, people on the right have more babies. The left has to fight back somehow!

      • mercyorbemoaned

        “The right” includes a lot of people who are neither Puritan nor Protestant. We have a lot of babies, too.

  • Bill

    Robin,
    I think you should think about the propaganda issue a different way…one that may surprise you.

    One of the interesting things that is happening now is how in post-communist societies curriculum are being written to discuss the past–issues about totalitarianism, denial of the Holocaust, development of democratic habits in the classroom in formerly command and control societies, etc.

    Now, I suppose you could have private schools for the kids of former Nazis or communist party leaders so their children could be prepared for a future.

  • Jackson

    Let me just refer ye to Free Market Missionaries by Sharon Beder
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAQKXmUnc4Y

  • Anne Wakeman

    Schooling is about conformity and control first. That’s why homeschoolers are so unsettling and “weird”. We look, act and sound different. The problem is that homeschooling is like Hong Kong for some kids/families, but like North Korea for others. But, the same can be said for any childhood, I guess.

    Dissatisfaction with school is going more “mainstream” :
    http://www.racetonowhere.com/sign-petition
    http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/

    But, as John Holt (who went from “left” to libertarian) said about school a couple of decades ago, as long as it’s compulsory it doesn’t have to be good.
    http://www.holtgws.com/johnholtpage.html

  • Jackson

    Today I had (they say it takes one to know one, so I’m not sure) a very intelligent (accomplished actually) person expound on rights in the UK, and how they don’t work. I said Theodore Dalrymple has written on this endlessly. But unfortunately some time back, this person was reading a bit of Dalrymple and got quite defensive, the ad hominems came out and I almost dare not mention him anymore. My point is, thousands of ‘experts’ may have the solutions, but they, in their vanity, council each other out and make the common folk feel inferior.
    I (key expert) think we need to devolve responsibility to individuals. Wikipedia is an extraordinary phenomenon, check out Wikichains… the more visual, the easier to understand for informed desicions (God, I hate that word)… a few success compelling storys and we’re on role baby.

  • Jackson

    Sometimes I wonder if reading and commenting on this forum is a bit like wearing glasses in Pol Pot’s Cambodia

  • Vladimir

    Robin Hanson:

    Alex Tabarrok tells me many voice such concerns when he talks on school vouchers: too many crazies would have their own schools and teach kids to be crazies.

    Many indeed do, but to me it’s especially interesting that most people don’t realize that a perfectly analogous argument can be used to argue in favor of an established state church backed by inquisition. Otherwise, too many crazies would have the liberty to start and operate their own insane cults, with all sorts of pernicious consequences, not just for the children.

    The example of churches can also be used as an interesting challenge to the idea that absent taxpayer-funded, state-operated education, people who aren’t wealthy would not be able to afford it. Any place in the U.S. with more than a handful of inhabitants is guaranteed to have at least one church, and anyone who is not a hermit has the opportunity to attend church services and participate in all sorts of church groups, of numerous different denominations, at no cost at all except perhaps some reasonable voluntary donation that will be judged according to one’s means. Churches in the U.S. are not built, financed, maintained, or staffed by the government; they emerge purely as a result of voluntary association. So, why assume that the same could not be the case for education if it was left to the people to deal with it however they can?

    (I have to credit this last idea to a participant in some internet discussion I read years ago, where I unfortunately don’t remember the names and URLs.)

  • Evans

    |” Consider: why do we have public schools ? “| RH

    _____

    …more precisely: why do we have ‘compulsory’ schools ?

    ____

    American compulsory schooling/truancy ‘laws’ force you hand over your children to the government on weekdays.

    Such compulsory loss of personal liberty is totally non-constitutional (fundamentally illegal) in every state of the union, but few notice or care.

    90% of American children attend K-12 government youth-internment camps; the rest attend private
    camps directly regulated by the government.

    By simply abolishing the non-constitutional truancy laws in America — the stranglehold of government indoctrination on the citizenry would be easily broken.

    All types of schools would still exist (including free schools), but freedom and choice would be restored to the great benefit of the citizeny.

    Why is government coercion in child education so readily accepted in America ??

    {…of course, because all Americans are indoctrinated in school to thoroughly accept compulsion as perfectly normal, legal, and beneficial}

  • John Pertz

    To my untrained eye we can either have public school kids or not have public school kids. In the end it probably does not matter.

    There is such a small minority of human beings who exist within a so called free society who think the kinds of thoughts that can truly expand a nations productions possibilities curve that I hardly think public school education matters.

    Many of the kids who graduate from public high schools can not read at a decent level, can not write at a decent level, and can not reason at almost any level(anyone ever scrolled through the myspace or facebook profiles of 14-28 year olds?) However, many can still find productive work being mere cogs in the machine.

    The big fortune for the US economy has been the immigration of top flight minds, the ascension of the few truly brilliant native minds to the top of the educations system at places like MIT, the Ivy Leagues and other top universities and the opportunity this country affords them to pursue their ideas. We have a somewhat more open entrepreneurial climate and as a result this is an attractive country for the cutting edge. Of course, only a few cities like Silicon Valley, Houston-Dallas, Boston, NYC, and Chicago benefit but this class is still driving GDP numbers regardless.

    Personally, I view public schools as an extremely negative form of socialization. We could deregulate and have these kids learn trades, avoid being around their peers(which to me is a tremendous path to building a more just society) or families could chose to send their loved ones to slightly better parochial or infinitely superior preparatory institutions.

    The idea that decent chunks of disadvantage children are benefiting from their public school experience is a gentle narrative but it is largely being fostered to further the interests of an inside group.

  • Nick Tarleton

    avoid being around their peers(which to me is a tremendous path to building a more just society)

    Could you elaborate?

  • Ben

    I spent most of the noughties in public schools.

    The propaganda is not pro-American. I personally experienced anti-colonialist guilt-tripping, units on the horrors of the industrial revolution, and perpetual reminders of American crimes against the Native Americans. History lessons equated illiterate and authoritarian cultures with liberal democracies.

    The details, however, are irrelevant to over 90% of students, who don’t pay attention, don’t care about “political discourse”, and get their information from pop culture.

    Indoctrination has displaced every other objective that schools might pursue, so for the majority, it just means that they are exposed to a decade of useless misinformation that wouldn’t help them (or society) even if they could understand it.

    I lived this reality: an aimless curriculum, a total lack of clear objectives, and a choking bureacracy consuming half the funding.

    The frustration and social chaos of the public schools spawn extremist politics and authoritarian street gangs. They do not care about democratic values. They will sooner kick your head in than “engage in political discourse.”

    • http://lorenzo-thinkingoutaloud.blogspot.com/ Lorenzo

      You might appreciate this book then.

      The nature of the propaganda in public schools has to do with producer capture.

  • Jeremy Poynton

    The purpose of schooling is very simple. It is to produce free and responsible adults.

    • http://lorenzo-thinkingoutaloud.blogspot.com/ Lorenzo

      So, having had the statement about the ideal world, what is the purpose of governments and others actually engaging in spending on, and providing, schooling?

      The rest of us benefit from having literate and numerate fellow citizens. States and Churches benefit from inculcating belief. And so on.

  • Tracy W

    This discussion misses an obvious question – are public schools at all successful in passing on the values that the people in power would like?
    Since the invention of public schools we have seen the civil rights movement and the generally-accepted view that racism is a bad thing, most obviously in the US electing an African-American president – while if you go back to writings in the late 19th century/early 20th many educated white people took it for granted that blacks were inferior (there were many exceptions too amongst educated white people).
    We have seen a massive revolution in attitudes about homosexuality, again going back to the 1950s and homosexuality was treated as a bad thing just as obviously by authors as the extinction of human life.
    Another example comes to mind is the second wave of feminism. A fourth example is Milton Friedman’s influence and the rise of market-orientated economics in the 1970s/1980s.

    I don’t see any signs that public schools have created mind-numbing conformity in practice, whatever their founders may have intended. I think it’s quite plausible that increasing literacy gave students and ex-students the ability to access the writings of original thinkers by themselves, and this amply offset any intentions to conformity.

    So, going back to your original blog post, okay, perhaps schools do intend to encourage conformity, but why should we worry about it, if in practice they have no real effect?

    • http://www.cmp.uea.ac.uk/~jrk Richard Kennaway

      That attitudes have changed over time does not speak to how uniform they are in space.

      You even contrasted the generally accepted view of racism today with a diversity of views a century ago. How is this evidence of a lack of conformity in the present?

      • Tracy W

        Richard Kennaway – so you are arguing that even though people’s views have changed drastically from what many members of the elite would have supported when public schooling was introduced, they might have also become more conformist overall?

        Do you have any reason to believe that views have become more conformist overall, as opposed to example for anti-racist views becoming dominant because of the quality of the arguments for it?

      • http://www.cmp.uea.ac.uk/~jrk Richard Kennaway

        [Tracy W] No, I’m just pointing out that the historical changes you mentioned don’t speak against current conformity, and one speaks for it. Are you presupposing that earlier views on the subjects you mentioned, being wrong, must have been accepted because of conformism, while present views, being right, are accepted because they are right? I can’t make any sense of your bringing up the history otherwise.

        How to separate the quality of the arguments from the fact that everyone asserts their conclusion is an interesting question. I suppose it would begin by examining the quality of the arguments made on these matters in public school classes. But I have no contact with the American education system.

      • Tracy W

        Richard Kennaway, but three of the historical changes I mentioned do speak against current conformity.
        Attitudes to homosexuality – currently there is a controversy over same-sex marriage, back 70 years ago and nearly everyone agreed that homosexuality was sick. So we’ve moved from conformity to diversity.
        Descriptions I’ve heard from older economists is that when they were trained government failure was not mentioned, while market failure was. Now market economists are locked in fierce ideological battle with the interventionists who always assume that governments are perfect. Again, an increase in diversity on this topic.
        In the case of feminism, it used to be generally accepted that women should stay home with kids, now this is generally up for dispute, with more househusbands and long debates about the correct terminology. Increase in diversity.

        I brought up the case of racism because as far as I can tell, the people who introduced public schools were often people who thought that racism was perfectly all right, and would have been horrified by a black man being president of the USA. That we now have a black man president of the USA implies that the views of public school founders didn’t win out. And when we went from racism-is-fine to racism-is-evil, there was a time where there was a lot more diversity on the view than there is now, which is incompatible with the argument that public schools enforce conformity.

        I will note that back in the 1890s there was a lot of diversity about whether heavier-than-air flying machines were possible. Now there’s a lot of conformity in rich countries around the belief that they are possible. Is this conformity because people have come to value conformity a lot more, or is it just because most people in rich countries have actually flown in an aeroplane so the evidence is overwhelming? We can’t just attribute all conformity in belief to a desire for conformity, we need to look at other reasons like the quality of the evidence and arguments.

        This is not to say that all modern views are right, for example I notice, Richard, that you didn’t answer my question as to what reason you have to believe that views have become more conformist over time, and this in my experience is typical of people who argue that public schools enforce conformity, they just can’t support their claims (which is not to say that the view is wrong, all it implies is that the people holding this view are holding it for reasons other than because they’ve carefully and open-mindedly considered the evidence for and against).

        So I certainly don’t presuppose that earlier views were only accepted because of conformism while present views are accepted because they are right. Back before the Wright brothers there was more space for diversity of views about whether aeroplanes were possible, while whatever reason drives the belief that public schools cause conformity appears to be something other than the evidence supporting it. (There are a myraid of other factors driving beliefs which I haven’t mentioned here because of space issues).

  • Jaakko Ojala

    Hey Robin!

    I agree with You that there should be more discussion about the “propaganda” we teach our children and perhaps even more private schools. But there is one other thing I would like to draw Your attention to. You say:

    “Consider: why do we have public schools? Even if we gained from other kids’ schooling…”

    Whereby You seem to imply that we as private individuals should have only those things that are beneficial to ourselves as private individuals. If You really think so, You must be a very immoral person indeed. And if You don’t, then why use such a criteria.

    Yours,
    Jaakko

  • http://x frank

    school is bullshit you got to school for 14 fucking years. to work in a factory. unless you are smart enough to get a job fucking other people to get rich.school is just to get you use to getting up every day so when you are done you are ready to get up evey day and go to work. it doesnt take 14 years to learn to read add and subtract and to learn lies about history.what a waste of fucking time.for a small pecentage of people school is necessary doctors lawyers etc. but for the majority its a waste of time.keep the little bastards in school and out of trouble.george washinton chopped down the cherry tree. who gives a shit.they lie to you in school.religion lies to you. the government lies to you. your parents lie .santa clause. easterbunny jesus etc.they should change the name of this planet to bullshit.

    • komponisto

      You know, the above may not look like a high-quality comment, but it’s actually not that far off the mark…

      • Corey Fucking Hebb

        i agree i am in grade 10 and some of the teachers are so currupt i am in canada i don’t know if it is diffrent in the US of A

    • Corey Fucking Hebb

      they should at middle school have diffrent jr. and high schools for diffrent acupations

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  • Kate

    It’s brain washing. history textbooks are the worst we’re tough that the civil war was over slavery not states wrights. We’re taught that reconstruction was a good thing. Abe Lincoln,acording to the books is some sort of saint.it makes me sick the complete bullshit thay force apon us.

  • http://essay-writing-services-online.blogspot.com/ essay writing websites

    It’s actually a good thing to raise especially that there might really be schools who are like that and sometimes just do the usual things that they do in teaching their students.