Rigorous Red or Bogus Blue? Part II

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By Mike Cronin

Using the analogy of the Matrix movies, last week I posited that two philosophical traditions are vying for primacy over our minds.  One of them, the “blue pill,” offers a fantasy.  Conversely, “red pill” traditions require mental rigor.  They are not so easy to follow, but they flow from and describe the true nature of reality.

The most insidious facet of the “blue pill” is that it works best when it is proffered early in a child’s development…and its greatest efficacy lies in “armoring” the developing mind against the “red pill” before the child even knows there is an alternative. Our school system is the primary dosing mechanism for instilling “blue pill” thinking.

“Education is a system of imposed ignorance.”Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

How can that be? Our kids learn reading, math, and science, don’t they?  With those subjects, they are equipped to learn anything else, aren’t they?

Our schools certainly present those topics. It is in how they are presented that the crime lies. Our education system “standardizes” kids by teaching them facts and theories but neglecting context. It forces the “blue pill” on kids in several basic ways:

  • School as a state function, with attendance becoming compulsory.
  • Regimentation and Pavlovian conditioning (age segregation, dividing the day into lesson periods, sitting in rows, bells, uniforms, etc.)
  • Discouraging holistic comprehension by segmenting knowledge into disjointed subjects (reading, math, science, art, “social studies,” etc.) taught in incomprehensible order.
  • The “professionalization” of teaching. Aspiring teachers, themselves graduates (victims?) of the same system, are given to understand that it is their role to fill minds…instead of to remove obstacles and let young people be their own teachers. This lead to the decline of parent-as-mentor – and of kids who could already read before entering school at six or seven.
  • Employers and higher education institutions began demanding evidence that proved completion of the prescribed program (diplomas).

This model was imported from Prussia and/or instituted in the early-to-mid-1800s. The Prussians devised their system independent of any relationship to individual liberty or freedom.  The Prussian system had three tiers.  The vast majority (94%) of the population was to be adequately prepared to function and contribute, but not think for themselves or lead, at volksschulen.  The other 6%, those from elite families, were destined to rule or manage.  They received educations more geared to critical thinking.

In the US, the Prussian model was implemented in part to “Americanize” (i.e. instill WASP values in) the many Catholic immigrants coming in from Italy and Ireland.

According to former award-winning teacher turned public-school critic John Taylor Gatto:

“A small number of very passionate American ideological leaders visited Prussia in the first half of the 19th century; fell in love with the order, obedience, and efficiency of its education system; and campaigned relentlessly thereafter to bring the Prussian vision to these shores. Prussia’s ultimate goal was to unify Germany; the Americans’ was to mold hordes of immigrant Catholics to a national consensus based on a northern European cultural model. To do that, children would have to be removed from their parents and from inappropriate cultural influences.”

So, you know how we are often told that our kids are continually ranking lower on literacy and math than other developed nations, i.e. that our schools are failing?  That we must “invest” more public funding in the schools?

Understand that in the most basic sense our schools are not failing at all; they are doing exactly what they were designed to do: make the vast majority of kids swallow the blue pill and grow them into good consumers who are smart enough to run the machines and think what they are told to think by their betters, but not smart enough to think for themselves and run the businesses or lead the country.

A Hard Truth About Pay

By Mike Cronin

Some fields of human endeavor are inherently hard to learn. Medicine, for example. Becoming a doctor requires a person to study for eight or more years beyond the baccalaureate level and become an expert on the composition, functioning, and behavior of the human body. The sum of human knowledge on the subject increases greatly each year due to the efforts of scientists.  People who have acquired skill as a physician are relatively scarce, but because we all want to have our diseases cured and our injuries repaired, they are in high demand and they command high salaries.

On the other hand…some fields are made hard to enter by the members comprising them.  Consider: The Constitution of the United States is the ultimate law of the land.  It was written by well-educated men – in elegant prose that any reasonably literate reader can understand, even after two centuries of language drift.  It is about 17 pages long, and one need not become a lawyer to understand and apply it. Yet somehow that document can describe the limits and give operating instructions for three branches of government.   Now consider that the field of law grows every year. The vast majority of that growth is due to politicians making new laws, not by legal “scientists” discovering new truths.  And most of these new laws are written in “legalese,” which is often designed to be vague or confusing to the lay person.  Understanding modern law requires years of schooling not because it is inherently difficult, but because it is purposely made and kept so by legal practitioners. In other words, most of the difficulty in understanding law and becoming a lawyer is self-imposed by the field of law, not by the need to learn nature’s secrets.  Even so, the end result is a person who, like a doctor, has acquired a relatively rare ability set, so he or she can also command a high salary.

Some star athletes at the pinnacle of professional sports (specifically the NFL, MLB, and NBA in the US, and Soccer/”Futbol” throughout the world) get paid even more than doctors and lawyers – sometimes fantastically more.  Yet any able-bodied person can go out and play football, basketball, baseball, and soccer.  The difference is that the professional “star” athlete has a skill even more rare than medicine or law – the ability to entertain us and win championships.  Most professionals have to spend years at college to acquire the knowledge and skill to practice their trade; the star athlete had to be born with a greater degree of natural athleticism than the rest of us, and he had to learn his sport and hone his skills from elementary school through college. His career will likely be over by the time he gets to 40; the professionals in more intellectual and academic settings will just be hitting his or her stride by that point.

As difficult, or even deadly, as it is to be a teacher, or a first-responder, or a military member, or a tradesman, it is far easier to acquire the skills and knowledge to enter such professions  than it is to become a doctor, lawyer, or pro sports star.  And because they are easier fields to enter, there are lots more people qualified to enter them, and lots more people in them.  The skills, knowledge, and abilities just aren’t as rare, so the salary just isn’t as high.

We might like to think our priorities are all wrong because we pay people who put their lives at risk to protect us far less than pro athletes or entertainment stars. After all, isn’t protecting our lives more important than entertainment? Don’t teachers deserve more because they are preparing our children to be productive members of society? I think most of us would agree that our military and first-responders and teachers certainly deserve more. As a veteran, I certainly would have liked to earn more than I did, and I might have even deserved more than I got…but I didn’t get paid based on what I felt I deserved. But there is a hard, inescapable truth: No one really gets paid on the basis of what they “deserve” or on how difficult their job is. The real basis for pay is how rare and how in demand your knowledge skills, and abilities are. Those with the rarest, most in demand attributes will always be offered bigger salaries than the rest of us with more mundane skill sets.