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Public-School Indoctrination in China … and Here


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Last Saturday’s New York Times carried an interesting article about children returning to school … in China. Entitled “For China’s Children, a Resoundingly Patriotic Return to School,” the article emphasized the indoctrination that goes into the public schooling system.

During their first week in school, Chinese students were required to watch a video that extolled the Red Army as it fled the enemy during the Long March. The article pointed out that “education departments across the country also announced a broader campaign to propagate the ‘Long March spirit,’ 80 years after the end of the military trek that is a founding narrative of the Communist state.”

The Times clearly recognizes the propagandistic element in public schooling in China. The article refers to the “government’s propaganda efforts” and quotes an historian in Bejing, Zhang Lifan: “The purpose is still to brainwash. Follow the Communist Party, and you will ultimately embrace victory.”

That’s not surprising. It’s always easy to look on a foreign regime and notice the bad things it does. The problem, however, is that many people in American society, perhaps even the writers at the New York Times, are oftentimes incapable of recognizing the same sorts of things here in the United States. That is, they fail to realize that they are as much victims of indoctrination in America’s state education system as the Chinese people are of theirs, maybe even more so.

The American education system is based on the same concept as that in China. In both countries, it is a government system. We call it “public schooling” but in reality it is government schooling, both here and in China. In both systems, parents are required by law to submit their children to a state-approved education. The schoolteachers are trained by the state and employed by the state. The textbooks are selected by the state. What is taught is controlled by the state. You won’t find a course in libertarianism in any public school, either here or in China.

The fundamental goal of public schooling here in the United States is the same as it is in China: To indoctrinate children into becoming good citizens — that is, citizens who conform and submit to authority, who are unable to engage in critical thinking when it comes to the government, who develop a patriotic devotion to the government, and who develop a mindset of extreme deference to the government when it comes to war and policies toward other nations.

By the time people graduate from high school, both here and in China, most of them have absolutely no idea what was done to them. That’s the ultimate success story when it comes to indoctrination — when the person whose mind has been molded to glorify the state doesn’t even know that he has been indoctrinated.

Among the elements of indoctrination to which that American children are subjected in public schooling related to the concept of patriotism, just like in China. For Americans, patriotism means profusely thanking the troops for “their service” in faraway places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, or elsewhere and who, according to the official narrative, gave their lives in the defense of their country, for freedom, and to keep us safe. Many Americans also consider it their solemn moral and patriotic duty to support the troops and the federal government in time of war, just like Chinese citizens are taught to do. It is considered un-American to criticize the troops or question what they are doing to people in foreign countries. National security and government secrecy are paramount, both here and in China. Any American who doesn’t pay proper deference to the national anthem or stand for the Pledge of Allegiance is considered suspect and sometimes is even invited to leave the country.

That mindset is not accidental. It was inculcated into children from the first grade, and it continues all the way through high school and even college. By the time they enter the work force, many public school graduates have become full-fledged good citizens — that is, ones who defer to the authority of the national-security establishment and look on anyone who doesn’t as un-American.

Perhaps the second-most successful aspect of public-school indoctrination is how many Americans have come to conflate the federal government — and specifically the national-security branch of the federal government (i.e., the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI) — and the nation. For them, the federal government and the country are one and the same thing. Thus, if someone criticizes the government or questions its policies toward other countries or challenges what the troops are doing over there, he is seen to be attacking or even hating America.

When one points out to these Americans that the federal government and the country are two separate and distinct entities, they stare back blankly. Their minds are unable to comprehend that type of critical analysis. If you point out to them that the Bill of Rights expressly protects the country from the federal government, their brains practically short-circuit. That concept cannot be reconciled within a mind that has been molded into believing that the federal government and the country are one and the same thing.

What’s the most successful aspect of public-school indoctrination? It’s the fact that many Americans, including those in the mainstream press, are convinced that their welfare-warfare state way of life constitutes freedom and free enterprise. When Americans sing the words of Lee Greenwood’s popular song, “And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free,” they really do believe it. They embody the words of the great German thinker Johan von Goethe: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” The same holds true, of course, for many public-school graduates in China.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.