Fighting Indoctrination with… Indoctrination?!

Recently, my friend Bruce Gerencser posted an article via FAIR, which is an organisation for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. FAIR’s post makes for a fascinating read, and quite pertinent to recent discussions I’ve been having. For a frame of reference here, I’d recommend The Parasitic Religious Right, The Dividing Line, The Dividing Line P2, The Dividing Line P3, and Morality, Money and Young Minds.

To summarise where I am coming from (we’ll get into the meat of FAIR’s article in a moment), I believe arguments over the morality – or lack thereof – of public school education are a smokescreen. The reality is one of indoctrination. The American religious right resents that their beliefs are not carrying greater influence in public schools. They dislike the uncomfortable-yet-accurate history of race relations being publicly taught. They detest the idea that the LGBT community is not being ostracised and shamed in mainstream education. There isn’t enough God in the classroom.

It gets worse. Some radical religious extremists would go as far as to suggest the teaching of science is a reason to remove children from public schools. After all, science lessons contradict the literal ‘truth’ of the Bible! For this, and other reasons, the religious right has been desperate to present arguments that show the USA’s public education system is a shambles. That way, via the use of voucher schemes, they can quietly syphon public money towards their own religious ends.

Leaving aside how this quietly subverts the First Amendment, there is the matter of the right’s hypocritical cries about choice. ‘Parents should be able to choose how their kids are educated!’ ‘We shouldn’t allow schools to indoctrinate our children!’ Quite. Why then, are so many of the alternative private schools (that the religious right wants to see publicly funded) religious in nature? 66 percent of private schools in the USA have a religious affiliation. Does the religious right not understand how indoctrination forms the core of religious thinking? Do they seriously believe the teachings at a religious school would not indoctrinate young minds to a certain point of view?

Perhaps the religious right wishes to exert greater control over education because of this. They are absolutely fine with indoctrination, as long as it favours their perspective. They then misleadingly frame this as being about choice – choice for parents for parents, choice for children – about the type of education kids can receive. Currently, some argue that parents lack choice, which ignores the existence of choice available right now.

With this fact established, the goalposts shift. I have been engaged in futile arguments about the cost of public schools versus private schools, with the argument being that private schools are less expensive than public ones. The average cost of private schools per year runs into the realm of several thousand dollars. Via taxes, the average American will pay a few hundred dollars a year, as opposed to several thousand. To the taxpayer at least, public schools are in fact considerably more affordable. This leads me to wonder several things.

Could it be that the clamour within the rank and file of the religious right for private schooling is rooted not in choice or morality or values, but in greed? Some evangelicals would have us believe that the reason private schooling is so expensive is because of the government, but it seems far more likely that private schools are expensive because their owners want it that way. They know they can charge whatever they want, and they prey upon parental fears – especially the fears of religious parents – to do so. They could take steps to lower their prices, but that would impact their profits, and profits mean more than anything in the capitalist model that some wish to be become the dominant force in US education.

Moreover, the voucher scheme idea is short-sighted. How is this to be paid for? Via taxes? Are taxes to help fund religious schools?! How would the average taxpayer feel about such a blatant Constitutional violation? Should taxpayer’s money fund schools that teach Creationism over science? Should it be funding schools that erase history for the sake of convenience?

There are also rafts of unanswered questions from previous posts and discussions. Let’s say that all public schools are converted to private schools tomorrow. Each school is now operating to make money. Each school is left to its own devices in terms of a syllabus. Even with the voucher scheme, plenty of families are going to get left behind from being able to afford the more expensive, supposedly better schools. Families from more affluent areas will inevitably be able to spend more, so the schools in that area will inevitably charge more. Contrary to the strange beliefs of those who support privatised public services without so much as batting an eye, there is no guarantee of a price war leading to better, lower prices for consumers. Financial interests will inevitably lead to cost-cutting. Some schools may be answerable to shareholders, who are almost always prioritised over quality of service. There are no guarantees of a better education.

This is where the religious right already suffers from a heavy case of indoctrination. They believe, unquestionably, that any government involvement in public services is part of an evil Socialist agenda. They also unquestionably believe that market forces and money can give them what they want. Some of them still probably believe in the infamous failure that is trickle-down economics!

None of this is to say ‘trust the government without question’. Governments operate to their own agendas too. A lot of the time they can be deceitful and power-hungry. This applies as much to right-wing governments as any other form. One need only glance at how many GOP politicians have their fingers in the money pies of major businesses to see how true that is. However, blindly trusting money, and worse, believing that it’s not really money you trust (because you have deceived yourself into thinking it’s about beliefs and choice) is no better. We’ve had vivid demonstrations of what happens what public services are placed into the hands of corporate interests. An example I’ve given before (which went totally unheeded) was from the UK’s water companies. They are making huge profits whilst overseeing crumbling infrastructure, and they want to charge customers to cover the cost of their failures, whilst continuing to award their executives pay-rises. The same is true of the UK’s energy companies.

Finally, it is worth contemplating – yet again, for it this has also been completely ignored – that state-run education can and does usually produce excellent results. Look at the Nordic countries, for example. Look to Japan. These countries know that a for-profit model for education will create a multi-tiered system of haves and have-nots. Education is not best served by corporate interests, which is inevitable if you privatise it. The religious right may wish to indoctrinate children into a specific way of thinking, but end up teaching them to love money instead, which is not an especially great look.

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