A few months ago, as this season’s Republican primary candidates began to seek the spotlight, I found that the loonier few had overshadowed some of the more familiar faces. Some of their views and personalities were so wild I was convinced that it didn’t matter whom I voted for as long as I was voting against them. While part of me wanted to regret the loss of productive political discourse, I was mostly happy to watch a seemingly drunk Rick Perry discredit himself at a press conference in New Hampshire.
It was this part of me that was quick to dismiss Ron Paul as just another wacko after hearing him claim that “education is not a right.” Even if I wanted to avoid a philosophical debate on the topic, I thought the whole world had been in agreement since the 18th century that government-mandated education was a good thing to have. However, Ron Paul’s repeated arguments against No Child Left Behind and the Department of Education forced me to admit that even if these really were just the ravings of a wacko, my best argument in response to his criticisms was that, c’mon, obviously the federal government should have a hand in education.
Feeling unsatisfied with my response, I decided to look a little more closely into education policy. During this process, I discovered one particularly thought-provoking comment made, again, by Ron Paul. In March 2011, he claimed in a speech that the Department of Education wants to “indoctrinate children.” There are three things that I instantly associate with indoctrination: Nazis, “Jesus Camp” and “Brave New World.”
I immediately sought to prove to myself why the American public school system was nothing like and infinitely superior to all my instinctive associations. Our schools do not teach Aryan superiority. They do not teach one faith as incontrovertible truth. They certainly do not play us recordings in our sleep, Huxley’s dystopian vision of hypnopedic indoctrination. Content I was right, I knew I had stoutly disproved Ron Paul’s claims: I was indoctrination-free. My peace of mind, unfortunately, was short-lived.
The uncomfortable thought soon popped into my mind that all the value judgments I had made about harmful indoctrination were perhaps colored by my own systematic indoctrination. Hadn’t I always been told that all men are created equal? Hadn’t I always been told that democracy was good? Hadn’t I always been told, long before I arrived at college and began to hear actual debate on the topic, that human rights exist and that they are good?
Aghast, I admitted defeat. Ron Paul was right after all. Our educational system was a detestable juggernaut of indoctrination, filling children’s minds without offering them critical analysis. But again, the resolution to my internal debate was brief. I realized moments later that my heart was filled with gratitude for whatever kind soul had decided upon my indoctrination.
Children, we all know, are impressionable; someone is going to be indoctrinating them, even if it is indoctrination in the ways of skepticism. So is the idea that our public schools are a “propaganda machine,” as Paul suggested, such a bad one? I don’t have a problem with all the children in our country being forced to learn and accept that all men are created equal, that democracy is good and maybe even that Church should be separate from State. They will grow to question and to change their minds, but wouldn’t we be starting them off in a good spot?
The questions surrounding the organization and accountability of our schools is a complex one, but if we allow the federal government no other role, perhaps letting it decide a set of principles with which to indoctrinate our children is a good idea. Would it really be a disservice to our nation to raise a generation that was steadfastly in favor of equal rights for all? If we could prove it works, I might even support some hypnopedia affirming that all humans have rights, and maybe even that one of them is a right to education.
Matt Antoszyk is a sophomore in Calhoun College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.