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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10336/indoctrination-in-public-schools-a-personal-memory/

Indoctrination in Public Schools: a personal memory

July 22, 2009 by


My parents recently visited and left some relics of my youth. One look at this drawing sent my mind back in time.

Almost 40 years ago, it wasn’t enough for government to tell me about the evils of smoking, they also coerced me into sharing private family information — that my father smoked — in order to serve the agenda of the state.

Mind you, my father knew the dangers of smoking. Everyone did (and does). Nevertheless, after a hard day of work, my father had to face me — his smirking, deputized son — and my silly artwork and misspelled message.

At some time in our past, the state succeeded in elevating its education above all other institutions — the family included. By doing so, the state created the situation where it alone could indoctrinate the youth, and parents wouldn’t even raise a concern.

Yesterday it was smoking. Today it’s the environment. Tomorrow, who knows.

Whoever controls the minds of the youth controls the future.


Alvaro July 22, 2009 at 9:33 pm

40 years and smokes still going strong. You can see the success they are having.

On the other hand, nowadays almost everyone spells like you did…

BTW, great hairstyle!

Misesian July 22, 2009 at 9:49 pm


Guess what… now that the government has determined that people ARE still TOO stupid to stop smoking for their own good, it has resorted beyond just indoctrination, but to FORCED coercion. If you are in California and coming soon to a State near you…if you are an owner of your own restaurant and would like to include smokers…you do so at your own peril.

We can only guess when we will reach the day that YOU must either drive the NEWEST green pre-approved government vehicle or bike to work…or worse forced to sit and ride in an overcrowded, slow, and dangerous form of public transportation.

Walt D. July 22, 2009 at 10:30 pm

What is interesting is that they thought they were teaching you something new! Had they known any history, they would have known that the dangers of smoking tobacco were well known 150 years before America became independent!
“A Counterblast to Tobacco” (1604), one of the first, and surely one of the best attacks on smoking ever written. Smoking, King James tells us, is “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.”
While they eschew teaching religion, they have no trouble dishing up there own belief system – political correctness. While they ridicule the idea of teaching creation science on the ground that it is junk science, they have no compunction about laddling out their own junk science – global warming and environmmental science.
BTW produce a plot of scholastic achievement in the public school system versus the amount of money spent and you get a very strong negative correlation. Now that AaahNulled is cutting the amount of money spent on schools in California, we may see the unintended consequence of academic performance actually going up!

Statism is Violent Crime July 23, 2009 at 1:15 am

Libertarians need to put more resources into the fight against government schools if we are ever going to have a libertarian society. Fortunately, most parents regard the government schools as providing a poor education. We need only point out the cost of government school (which is usually much more than private school or homeschooling) to convince a large portion of the public to oppose government schools. There are also those who don’t have kids (or who don’t have kids in government school), yet are still forced to pay taxes to fund the local government school. They are also a strong target constituency.

School board elections typically have low turnout (which is understandable, considering that there is normally no substantive difference between the candidates, except when people waste their time trying to put religion in government schools, something which the federal judiciary will never allow). We can use this low turnout to our advantage if we were to run candidates for school board. If we target people who usually don’t vote in school board elections, we can eventually take over our local school boards and decrease funding for the schools. The teachers unions may be powerful interest groups, but they are usually a small minority and they presumably already vote in school board elections. If we take over the school boards, we can slash spending and bring down the tyrannical government schools.

Curious July 23, 2009 at 1:49 am

“the state …could indoctrinate the youth, and parents wouldn’t even raise a concern.”

Raise a concern? To the contrary, the masses applaud and keep electing those, who do this to their children.

Why try to stop it? Of course, avoid it as hell with your children, but have fun watching it. I do.

ArjimusMaximus July 23, 2009 at 2:35 am

In Oklahoma, you cannot smoke in a restaurant unless it has a dual ventilation system (one for smokers and one for non-smokers). This includes restaurant owners.

On campus (Oklahoma State University and coming soon to the University of Oklahoma), tobacco use is a fined offense.

You are not allowed to smoke in hotel bars.

I could go on forever, but I’ll spare everyone. Whatever happened to people leaving the area when they didn’t want to be around smokers? I’m a non-smoker personally, and I’m incredibly disgusted about this blatant attack on liberty.

These are just a few results of the government indoctrination. I’m terrified to see what happens with regards to health care and the environment. Even as a statistics major, the “humanitarian” requirements within my degree have subjected me to three levels of BS regarding those two issues. Even worse, many of my classmates buy it.

Marc Sheffner July 23, 2009 at 5:16 am

Holy Cow. I feel like taking up smoking!

LightBringer July 23, 2009 at 6:59 am

Unfortunately, the first thing they teach you in government schools is how virtuous and essential state education is. This is no joke, when I suggested to a fellow pupil at college that education should be privatised, he shouted at me ‘education should be free!’ and grappled me, almost pushing me from the (third floor) balcony. The only teacher who thought otherwise, a philosophy teacher, unfortunately walked out, saying he would never set foot in a state school again.

nate July 23, 2009 at 7:18 am

Indoctrination happens at so many levels in the public schools. Last year my kindergartner came home singing the Obama song (about two months after the final election). Lyrics such as “he will save us,” “our great leader,” and “he will unite us” gave me the chills.

I decided then and there to do what it takes to get them out of public school. I’ll decide whether my child sings the praises of our president or draws anti-tobacco pictures!

Barry Loberfeld July 23, 2009 at 8:09 am
J Cortez July 23, 2009 at 9:32 am

The way I see it, yes it is bad, but the indoctrination of children in public schools carries with it the seeds of its own destruction. I see it almost like stilted version of Mises’ calculation argument. Without real prices that reflect reality, or in this case, real education that reflects the real world, the system and its products can’t work because at some point, reality comes crashing in. Something to think about is how much damage the indoctrinated can do before reality shows up to smack them on the head.

As far as indoctrination goes. Some kids will buy it and not question at all. Others will question privately, but not put much effort into it because there are more interesting pursuits like friends, fashion, gossip, music, sports and later on, dating. Others will question openly and continue to question, because it just doesn’t make sense and also because of the understanding (based on observation) that the teachers and administrators aren’t infallible.

I remember being in elementary school and having the notion hammered into me that the mighty and great USA was the best because of the founding fathers, the constitution and the bill of rights. Yet, later in high school, being told of many necessary **cough, cough, hack, wheeze** programs that FDR created which were unconstitutional. The ideas of the wonderful constitution and the historical record of many decades of unconsitutional laws were in direct conflict with each other. And there were many, many more instances of conflicting and inconsistent ideas being taught in the curriculum. What was going on? (Years later, I know the answer.)

A kid might see inconsistencies right away or might not. But what is the real and true educator is experience. What is described by the usual public school curriculum is not representative of reality. As children leave school, the real world can’t help but destroy any utopian notions they have. There, they have to learn what the world is, without the distorting filter of a public school.

As an adult looking back, I’ve come to the conclusion that any valuable knowledge that I have, I either learned from my parents or by myself. (I have fond memories of sitting with my father in the kitchen as he taught me math and reading.) The only thing I can say to have learned in school was what it was like to waste time.

Gil July 23, 2009 at 9:38 am

But what of the ‘good old days’ when children didn’t go to school or rather went to the ‘school of hard knocks’? Would Libertarians not concede chidren need not get a regimented education but instead a ongoing of learning through work experience and tuition? Hence not only scrap public schools but also compulsory education and child labour laws?

Nick E July 23, 2009 at 9:38 am

@J Cortez: Re: “As children leave school, the real world can’t help but destroy any utopian notions they have.”

I disagree. These children simply go on to graduate school, and then into careers in academia. You’d be surprised how persistent their utopian notions are by then.

Austin July 23, 2009 at 10:58 am

Children in public schools are bombarded with anti-tobacco propaganda. Just the smell of secondhand smoke is all it takes to get kids fake-wheezing these days. Hopefully, in the correction, public schools will have to cut back on tobacco miseducation.

David Spellman July 23, 2009 at 11:20 am

We have public education because the public loves it. Despite a few complaints, public education is one of the most popular Socialist programs ever! Right up there with socialist security and righteous war for the homeland security.

Its a good thing we have an internet blog to vent our frustrations. If you complained about public education in public, you would be pilloried :)>.

Jeff Bryan July 23, 2009 at 12:50 pm

I just read Barry Loberfeld’s linked article a few posts up, and I highly recommend it. He takes the arguments of the Founders against state religion and applies them to state schooling. Their writings fit the topic so perfectly, you forget that they are writing about freedom of religion rather than education. It’s really the same subject–freedom of the individual’s mind against coerced state programming.

Timothy July 23, 2009 at 1:15 pm

I don’t know about you all, but my 5th-6th grade public school in Los Angeles was a perfect hellhole. The teachers were too few and incompetent to provide anything but minimal crowd control against a swarming tide of kids, most of whom had zero interest in learning of any sort. Vicious fighting was common even among the girls. Our typing class had typewriters that looked at least thirty years old, but they remained draped in dustcovers. We were angrily prohibited from touching them at all, even though it was a typing class. Instead we were supposed to read through our flimsy typing notebook, day after day. The overall reality was constant chaos punctuated by sudden violence, and I learned the hard way always to look over my shoulder when I walked home.

The one academic project I remember from that time was spending hours in the library for a DARE project, carefully cataloging the psychoactive properties of countless illegal drugs.

A few years later, it was a dawning realization of the futility of the war on drugs, and the counterproductive nature of giving children a detailed indoctrination in controlled substances, that first led me to question seriously the morality of forced schooling.

Later still, I read Hannah Arendt, who wrote that the defining feature of totalitarian education is not that it teaches students the wrong conclusions, but that it deprives them of the ability to reach any conclusions at all. To this day I am amazed that anyone ever manages to survive public school with their critical thinking faculties and essential humanity intact. But perhaps my experience was not typical.

Jeff Bryan July 23, 2009 at 1:34 pm


The exact thing you describe–a typing class where students are forbidden to touch the typewriters–is described in “Underground History of American Education” (free at johntaylorgatto.com). The author is a former public school teacher, so you might find it interesting from his perspective. (He got in trouble for disobeying orders and having the students type in typing class, of all the crazy things…)

Ben Ranson July 23, 2009 at 1:56 pm

I agree with Mr. Cortez that, “without real prices… the system and its products can’t work because at some point, reality comes crashing in.” Young people eventually enter the job market. When they do, the jobs available to them and the wages that they earn are determined by supply and demand, which takes into account skills and willingness to work.

Socialized public education teaches few marketable skills and no work ethic. Pupils of the public education system are unskilled laborers without work experiece. Employers are willing to pay only a small amount for their labor.

After graduation, many young people realize that they cannot get the jobs they would like, and will not be able to earn the high wages they desire. Unfortunately, in my experience, “the real world” does not usually “destroy any utopian notions they have.” Instead of blaming the public education system, these poor souls blame themselves, the wealthy, big business or racial prejudice.

One of the chief forms of indoctrination in public schools is training young people to blame others for problems which are caused by the government.

Ben Ranson July 23, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Jeff and Timothy,

I teach private music lessons at a music store. Most of my students were educated in, or are in the public education system. Usually, they will have had several years of “Music” class in elementary school and several years of “Music”, “Band” or “Choir” classes at the high school level.

When I begin teaching them, most are unaware of the existance of chords. Very few have ever attempted to improvise. Most can not count measures. Some are even unable to keep time. Most are unfamiliar with scales and unaware of the existance of modes. Not a one has ever been taught to perform a basic practice regimen of any kind.

When a new student knows some theory, or is able to play, they always tell me the same thing, “My dad (or mom, grandpa, brother, uncle, etc…) taught me how.”

JoeShmoe July 23, 2009 at 2:23 pm

I don’t see public schools as the problem – I see central control of public schools as the problem.

Even then, if by some miracle a judge could be convinced to undo some gov’t power, I think the average American is no longer capable of adequately discharging his/her duty regarding oversight because THEY WERE TAUGHT to let the gov’t (meaning someone else, really) do it. The libs won – through control of the schools.

Timothy July 23, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Jeff, thanks for the tip. I am acquainted with John Taylor Gatto, but I had no idea that he also encountered “forbidden typewriters”. I thought that bit of lunacy was unique to my own school. I can’t wait to read about it from a teacher’s perspective.

Of course, the rule makes sense. With thirty or more hyperactive kids to one elderly teacher, the typewriters would have been smashed to bits within a week. They were simply background props, implying that some useful training might someday take place. No doubt the dustcovers were removed when parents toured the classrooms (if any of the parents were that motivated, which would admittedly have been unlikely).

We had not education, but education theater. Many of the students didn’t speak the language in which classes were conducted; how could they help but become disruptive? Another revealing detail was the twelve-foot-tall iron fence surrounding the school, the sharpened points of which were bent outward — as if to suggest that the fence was meant to keep trespassers out, rather than children in.

Ben, your experience mirrors my own. The people I know personally who write well, read for pleasure, or understand music theory have learned those skills in spite of school, not because of it.

JoeSchmoe, I would suggest that the problem is not so much central control of public schools, but the fact that they are compulsory. Stuffing classrooms with children who don’t want to be there turns a school into a prison, no matter how it is administered. If students could refuse school altogether when faced with such options, even a centrally controlled school would have to improve or dissolve. Personally, I would have been much better off in those years studying computers at home and taking a part-time job. But statutory students have no say in shaping their own education.

These days, you could simply put a kid in a room with Wikipedia for two hours a day and end up with a much better educated, and indeed much better socialized, 18-year-old.

David July 23, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Hmm, so teaching the results of smoking is indoctrination?

I would consider peer pressure as indoctrination, as it is PP that cause people to start smoking, along with advertising. Public schools are saturated with this mess.

clark July 24, 2009 at 12:35 am

Peer pressure didn’t affect me, and I never really noticed a smoking ad until around the time they started to ban it in the 1990′s. The Marlboro Man was just a cowboy, not a reason to smoke, duh. The success of The Drug War is what got me and my friends to start up smoking in the 1980′s. With the relentless M.A.D.D. mothers of America having stopped our ability to catch a thrill from a quart of beer without stealing it, and unable to enter a bar due to being behind a constantly upwardly raised drinking age (18, then 19, then 21) unless you enjoyed shoplifting, the ONLY thing we had left for fun and a buzz was filterless cigarettes. Pathetic how the action of the State caused such behavior in youths. Driving under the State set speed limit for endless boring hours was why I kept smoking later on. If I could have driven 75mph instead, I would have gotten to my destination quicker and had less opportunity to lite up, plus, I would have had to keep both hands on the steering wheel. I can only imagine what the actions of State and their mindless minions with their limitations they produce drives kids to do nowadays.

mushindo July 24, 2009 at 4:50 am

smoking is economically no different from any other consumption activity. The anti-smoking lobby will not acknowledge that there are benefits to smoking, but that denial does not explain the fact that millions upon millions of people do it. If they subjectively experienced no benefit, they would not smoke.

The health risks are legion and abundantly clear. But they are not immediate health risks – they take decades to manifest themselves. The same goes for a high-sugar or high fat or red meat diet. ( and isnt it odd how some of the people who abuse these foodstuffs demand that airlines give them larger seats at no extra charge, citing fat-ist discrimination………)

So each smoker reaches his decision to smoke, or to continue to smoke, or to stop, on the simple and universal economic trade-off between the present and the future. the smoker values the benefit he gets in the present more highly than he fears the health cost later. That choice is no-one else’s to make but the individual’s.

I have no quibble with anti-smoking advocacy provided their agenda is not given the force of law – making information available and attempting to change peoples minds through reasoned argument is well within the spirit of liberty. But the most obvious shortcoming in the entire anti-smoking advocacy field is that its information is not credible. It might (of course) have good data proving the health effects on smokers themselves, but the shrill denial of any sort of benefit at all is simply not true, and the effects negligible amounts of second-hand smoke are far from proven and the risks heavily overplayed. And that erodes the credibility of the entire message.

john July 24, 2009 at 11:25 am

It finally worked. Its like all things in society, they take a long time to work. Even GM has finally admitted they have to make better cars.

straightener chi July 25, 2009 at 8:53 am

The health risks are legion and abundantly clear. But they are not immediate health risks – they take decades to manifest themselves. The same goes for a high-sugar or high fat or red meat diet. ( and isnt it odd how some of the people who abuse these foodstuffs demand that airlines give them larger seats at no extra charge, citing fat-ist discrimination………)

Lucas M. Engelhardt July 25, 2009 at 10:40 am

Actually, awhile back, I was going through some of my old journals from elementary school – we had to keep them for English assignments and such. I found one where I’m pretty sure our writing prompt had something to do with coming up with political slogans. One of mine: “Don’t complain about useful taxes!”

I don’t recall whether I wrote that in jest or not, but looking at the other slogans nearby (generally about saving the environment and such), I’m guessing I was a very serious 2nd grader suggesting that people shouldn’t complain about being taxed so that our school could build a new playground.

What gives me hope is looking at how far I’ve come. That suggests that indoctrination’s effects are temporary.

BioTube July 25, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Indoctrination can be overcome, but only with reasoned thought – which is probably why education is being continually debased.

Ball July 25, 2009 at 9:59 pm


Indoctrination happens at so many levels in the public schools. Last year my kindergartner came home singing the Obama song (about two months after the final election). Lyrics such as “he will save us,” “our great leader,” and “he will unite us” gave me the chills.

…the fu–

Not to Godwin the thread, but is this 1930s Germany?

Speaking for myself, I, too, have been a victim of Publik Skools (or as I called them, holding pens for hooligans). I still hold deep resentments about those times, and to those who made me go. It saddens me that so many are being fed through that system today.

I’m also deeply doubtful that most can rid themselves of the indoctrination they were put through. Some people can escape, just like some people escape N. Korea and don’t believe that Dear Leader is a god. Most do not, will not, or cannot. It takes too much effort, and most don’t see any benefit, especially in a society nearly completely defined in granted benefits by authority.

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