Ideological Hegemony Part III


1 Introduction
2 The Media
3 The Education system
4 Newspeak
5 The Objectivity Myth

The Education System

Another important part of hegemony is the education system.  This serves two functions.  Its primary function is to train and indoctrinate the populace so that it is obedient and docile, enabling political and economic elites to rule with less resistance.  A secondary function is to train skilled workers necessary for the economy and to school future members of the ruling class.

The primary purpose of the public education system, what Bob Black calls “youth concentration camps,” is not to encourage independent thought or anything like that but to make us stupid and submissive.  The whole structure of public schools is designed to train students to obey authority.  School is a hierarchically structured organization; masses of students are subordinated to a few – teachers, administrators, etc.  They are trained to follow orders from a young age, to sit in nice neat rows, to get in line, and so on.  Children are raw materials who are to be ranked, graded and processed into “respectable citizens” who do not question the dominant socio-economic system or create too much trouble for the elite.  Children who are taught from a young age to obey authority, especially in a bureaucratic setting like public schools, will be more used to obeying authority as adults.  The system does not work perfectly, and not all are one hundred percent obedient by the time they become adults but it works well enough to maintain the present system.  A school system in which many students obey the will of a few teachers and administrators is well suited to a socio-economic order in which many workers obey the will of a few bosses and capitalists.

The structure of schools encourages emotional and intellectual dependency.  Students are dependant on the teacher to decide out what is to be learned, when it is to be learned and (mostly) how it is to be learned.  They do not investigate things themselves, with control over their own intellectual development but are dependant on the teacher to determine the course of study.  Students are thus trained to allow others to do their thinking for them, which is well suited to a society in which a small minority dominates the majority.

Schools also reproduce the class structure.  Certain educations are deemed better than others and those educations are distributed along wealth lines, with the wealthier getting the better educations.  The kind of education you receive opens and closes doors for you.  Those with better educations get better jobs, better opportunities and other privileges.  “Refined” (ruling class) language and manners tend to be passed on to children of the ruling class, via school and other mechanisms, while less “refined” language and manners are passed on to children of the lower classes.  Those with the less “refined” language and manners are discriminated against in many areas.  Tests are tilted in favor of those from the top levels of American society in many ways, including the tendency to draw from examples more familiar to rich children than poor children.  This is the case even if the authors of the tests don’t intend it.  Such individuals tend to come from the higher levels of society and so tend to draw on examples from their own experience, not poor peoples’ experiences.  Schools attended by the wealthy tend to have better funding than poor schools.  Research by Ray Rist and others have shown that teachers tend to give wealthier children better treatment than poorer children, often without realizing it or intending to do so. [35]

What is taught in public schools also reflects its’ role as indoctrination center.  This is especially true with regard to those areas that affect social philosophy, such as history, economics and civics.  Decisions on what should be in textbooks, what guidelines to teach, etc. are not in the hands of teachers nor are decisions made on the basis of scholarship.  Public schools are State entities; actual power lies with the State.  In some places local school boards have a considerable amount of power, in others state governments have more power, but in all cases power lies with the State.  It, after all, owns, runs and funds the schools.  In addition several state entities not directly connected to schools, including the courts and several federal agencies (including the department of education), have influence over the schools.  A number of non-state institutions also have influence over schools.  Several private institutions, generally funded by the wealthy, have a high degree of influence over schools including the Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford foundations.  They played an important role in creating the modern public school system and continue to influence it today.  Large corporations also influence schools, both through the fact that they are usually the producers of school materials and also because they have a considerable degree of influence over all government decisions.  Frequently these corporations act through organizations like the Business Roundtable.

Power is fragmented across several different hierarchical institutions, all of which are controlled by elites that share common interests with each other.  This acts as a set of filters, insuring that schooling overall teaches ideas within the liberal-conservative spectrum and ignores or disparages ideas outside it.  Various groups can attempt to mobilize to influence school decisions on textbooks, what to teach, etc. but the structure of the system is such that overall the results end up reflecting elite ideology (remaining within liberal-conservative ideology).  Those with more resources can more easily pressure and influence school decision making centers, giving a huge advantage to those with the most resources (the wealthy and powerful).  Thus influence on schools is largely restricted to elite factions or those who can gain the backing of an elite faction.  Those outside elite interests, those outside the liberal-conservative spectrum, do not have the resources of elite factions (but are opposed by all elite factions, each with far more resources) and so have a small impact on schooling.  Thus what is taught in schools largely reflects elite interests and is restricted to ideas within a narrow spectrum, ideas outside of that spectrum are marginalized.

This can be seen clearly from how history is usually taught in public schools.  History is greatly warped and slanted to reinforce the dominant socio-economic order, historical scholarship that contradicts this (and there is a considerable amount of it) is ignored.  Both racism (as distinct from slavery) and anti-racism tend to be invisible. [36]  The origins, causes and evolution of racism are rarely analyzed.  White complicity in slavery tends to be minimized, paying more attention to the slaves than the owners.  When discussing Albert Einstein, Helen Keller or Martin Luther King Jr. their socialist beliefs are usually swept under the rug, as are the White Supremacist beliefs of Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and other historical figures.  The many atrocities committed by American foreign policy (such as CIA coups in Zaire, Guatemala, Iran, Chile and elsewhere) are usually ignored or portrayed as “mistakes.”  Influences on US foreign policy are usually ignored in favor of portraying the US as an “international good guy” always acting on behalf of human rights, democracy and rational humanitarianism as a supremely moral force.  The US is portrayed as always having benevolent intentions, if the results go wrong it was a “mistake” perhaps caused by misunderstandings.  Especially when looking at recent history, government repression like COINTELPRO is downplayed or ignored in favor of portraying the United States as “the land of the free.”  The positives of the government tend to be played up while the negatives are played down.  The role of class in US history is downplayed.  The alleged “middle class” character of the United States is usually emphasized, portraying the US as a meritocracy.  Nearly the entire country is portrayed as middle class (an obvious absurdity), giving no real analysis of class structure.  Labor history is usually relegated to events fifty or more years ago, as if class had disappeared.  Overall, the picture it tends to paint is a rosy picture of a great nation progressively overcoming obstacles.  The views of professional historians are cast aside to distort history in such a ways as to foster loyalty to the government and dominant socio-economic system.  For a more in-depth look at the trash that passes for “history” in public schools, see Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen.

The central function of public schools as indoctrination centers can also be seen in the teaching and textbook guidelines passed by many states.  Texas’s education law states that, “Textbook content shall promote citizenship and understanding of the essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, emphasize patriotism and respect for recognized authority, and promote respect for individual rights.”  Textbooks “shall not encourage life styles deviating from generally accepted standards of society,” nor shall they “include selections which serves to undermine authority,” or “which would cause embarrassing situations or interference in the learning atmosphere of the classroom.”  Thus, Texas’s textbook laws explicitly state that textbooks should not teach children to think for themselves and form their own opinions but that they should believe in the dominant socio-economic system.  Most states have similar guidelines, although not all are as explicit and there are significant variations. [37]

Texas and California tend to dominate the textbook market both because they have large populations (and therefore order more textbooks) and also because of the way they select textbooks.  Some states leave textbook selections entirely up to the local school boards.  The state governments in California, Texas, and elsewhere centrally regulate what textbooks are allowed, drawing up lists of books that are acceptable to use in classrooms.  This gives them greater bargaining power that therefore gives them greater influence over textbook manufacturers.  As a result their textbook guidelines have a disproportionate influence over the textbooks used in other states.

California’s textbook guidelines are more liberal than Texas’s but it still remains well within the liberal-conservative spectrum and is oriented more towards indoctrinating children instead of enabling children to understand different theories and form their own conclusions.  California’s textbook law states that, “governing boards shall include only instructional materials which, in their determination, accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society, including … the contributions of both men and women … the role and contributions of [various ethnic groups] … the role and contributions of the entrepreneur and labor in the total development of California and the United States.”  The last part is slanted against the idea that labor did all the contributing (entrepreneurs are just parasites) and against the inverse idea.  It also says that, “instructional materials for use in the schools … shall include only instructional materials which accurately portray … Humanity’s place in ecological systems and the necessity for the protection of our environment,” [38] which is slanted in favor of liberal environmentalism.

The Content Standards for California Public Schools says that students are to:

“Explain how economic rights are secured and their importance to the individual and to society (e.g., the right to acquire, use, transfer, and dispose of property; right to choose one's work; right to join or not join labor unions; copyright and patent). … Discuss the individual's legal obligations to obey the law, serve as a juror, and pay taxes. … Understand the obligations of civic-mindedness, including voting, being informed on civic issues, volunteering and performing public service, and serving in the military or alternative service.”

Students are also to “Describe for at least two countries the consequences of conditions that gave rise to tyrannies during certain periods (e.g., Italy, Japan, Haiti, Nigeria, Cambodia).”  The United States is never labeled a tyranny.  They also include patriotic indoctrination: “[students are to] Understand the unique character of the American Revolution, its spread to other parts of the world, and its continuing significance to other nations.”  The standards also support the American state in foreign policy: “[students are to] Analyze the causes of the Cold War, with the free world on one side and Soviet client states on the other, including competition for influence in such places as Egypt, the Congo, Vietnam, and Chile.”  To identify one side as the “free world,” an American propaganda term, obviously indicates that the schools are to teach that the American side was the good side.  It also requires one to ignore many facts, or to completely redefine freedom, since there were numerous brutal dictatorships in the US camp during the Cold War (Pinochet’s Chile, NeoNazi Brazil, Fascist Spain, etc.).  It also identifies “Soviet client states” yet says nothing about American client states.  The view that the Soviets were the good guys, or that both sides were equally bad, is excluded.  Instead there is the standard view of the US as “international good guy.” [39]  Thus, although California is on the more liberal end of the spectrum, it is still firmly within the liberal-conservative spectrum and acts to indoctrinate students to believe in property rights, government and the other “fundamental principles” upon which the hegemony is built.

This is true of many other states as well.  Colorado’s Academic Standards state:

“In grades K-4 what students know and are able to do includes … describing the purposes of government … describing what life would be like without law and order … Explaining why the power of a government should be limited … explaining the importance of respect for individuals, property, rule of law and civic responsibility … [and] identifying important individual economic, personal, and political rights (for example, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, right to own property).”

For grades 5-8:

“what they know and are able to do includes … explaining major ideas about why government is necessary (for example, promote the common good, protect individual rights, safety, order) … explaining how the United States Constitution is a vehicle for preserving liberty, yet allows for change … explaining how law protects individual rights and promotes the common good … [and] identifying and applying criteria useful in selecting political leaders at local, state, and national levels.”

In grades 9-12 “what they know and are able to do includes … identifying the scope and limits of rights (for example, all rights have limits).”

There are many ideas about what “the purposes of government is.”  Marxists think the purpose of government is to maintain class domination, it is a means by which the ruling class suppresses the other class(es).  Anarchists think it is a means by which a minority dominates the majority.  These ideas, however, are outside the liberal-conservative spectrum and so are generally not taught.  Instead the belief that government is necessary to promote the common good, protect individual rights, protect safety and ensure order are taught.  Instead of exposing students to many different theories and encouraging them to think for themselves, beliefs that reinforce support and obedience to the state are taught while excluding beliefs that do not reinforce that obedience (such as anarchist or Marxist theories of the state).  The rationale given in the beginning of the section on economics openly admits that one of it’s purposes is to indoctrinate students into believing in capitalism:  “Students need an understanding of basic economic concepts in order to become … productive members of the workforce; and … promoters of the free enterprise system.” [40]

Occasionally, a teacher may stray from these standards and teach ideas outside the liberal-conservative spectrum, but the overall trend is to keep ideas within state-capitalist ideological hegemony.  A number of institutional constraints make deviation outside the liberal-conservative spectrum difficult for any public school teacher.  The school board and/or state government, not the teachers, selects textbooks.  As such they almost always stay within the liberal-conservative spectrum, conflicting with the attempt of a dissident teacher to break out of that spectrum.  Standardized testing also helps enforce obedience to the liberal-conservative line.  There is a large school bureaucracy that can be used to pressure and discipline a teacher if s/he starts teaching anything outside of ideological hegemony.  Most teachers themselves accept the ideas of hegemony and so don’t even consider attempting to teach anything outside it.  Allowing a small number of dissident teachers to exist, and to occasionally deviate from the liberal-conservative line in the classroom, doesn’t really threaten the system.  It’s only a threat if such things grow too fast or become too big.

Private schools usually operate within the liberal-conservative spectrum as well.  Such schools are usually for-profit operations, owned by capitalist companies, and are thus controlled by people with a vested interest in preserving the dominant economic system (capitalism).  Their main customers also tend to come from groups with more income (lower income groups usually cannot afford it), who are more likely to support the dominant socio-economic system.  Government regulations can also act to pressure private schools to reproduce bourgeois ideological hegemony.

Colleges and universities function a little differently.  Their main function with regard to students is to train highly skilled workers, future managers/coordinators and members of the ruling class.  They still act as indoctrination centers, but this is not their primary function as in k-12.  Control over teachers and what is taught is not quite as tight as in K-12.  Professors can choose what textbooks they will use and have a much greater degree of control over what they teach, unlike k-12 where local school boards and/or state governments exert a greater amount of control over textbooks and what is taught.  Tenure makes it easier for professors to take positions outside the liberal-conservative spectrum with fewer negative consequences.  As a result there is a somewhat greater diversity of views taught and dissident views are not suppressed quite as thoroughly as in K-12, although liberal-conservative ideas are still overwhelmingly dominant.  This slightly greater amount of dissent allowed within universities is still small enough that it doesn’t really threaten the system.  Whenever dissent grows too large purges are launched to suppress it, such as the infamous blacklists during McCarthyism.

Universities serve another function separate from its relationship to students.  They generate ideologies and theories that help to prop up the status quo.  Many of those ideologies are eventually filtered through the rest of society and used to justify the socio-economic system.  Those intellectuals who depart from the liberal-conservative line generally have a much more difficult time getting their ideas to the general public, as the media, education system, etc. tend to filter such ideas out but those within the liberal-conservative spectrum more often have their ideas spread to other parts of the population.  During the First World War the government found that if they could convince the educated classes that their war propaganda was true they would further disseminate the propaganda and help bring the rest of the country around to the government’s position.  To this day the intelligentsia acts in a similar manner.  If they can be kept indoctrinated then it will magnify the effects of ideological hegemony.

As with the media, some conservatives have alleged that colleges & universities are dominated by liberals and discriminate against conservatives, maintaining a “hostile environment” against conservatives.  David Horowitz and his “Students for Academic Freedom” (an appropriately Orwellian name) are probably the best-known conservatives pushing this view.  They have called for the hiring of more conservative teachers and for schools, and the state, to enforce rules allegedly designed to prevent this discrimination against conservatives.  There are problems with their data purporting to show that liberals outnumber conservatives, but even if we ignore that their own data undermines their position.  Their own data indicates that liberals, conservatives and those in-between constitute the overwhelming majority of professors.  Liberals believe in capitalism and the state, as do conservatives and those in-between.  Hence capitalists (and statists) are the overwhelming majority; by Horowitz’s logic colleges have an overwhelming pro-capitalist bias, one far larger than it’s alleged liberal bias.  Yet none of them have a problem with this.

The real aim of Horowitz & co.’s drive is to suppress views to their left and to make colleges more closely follow the neoconservative line.  They have no problem with the “hostile environment” that colleges have towards supporters of Stalin or Mao.  “Free speech zones” and the like are used at least as much against the radical left as against conservatives, yet they have said nothing about this.  Nor have they complained about the capitalist indoctrination in k-12 schools, which is vastly greater than in colleges. Conservative professors vastly outnumber anarchist professors; yet the same people who have called for hiring more conservatives on the grounds of “intellectual diversity” have no problem with this slant against anarchists.  Economics classes overwhelmingly teach that market capitalism is the best system and ignore or denigrate economic paradigms outside of neoclassical economics.  Political science classes overwhelmingly teach support for the state, including the idea that the United States is a democracy, and ignore or denigrate views opposed to it.  Horowitz & co. has no problem with all this.  They don’t have any objection to having a “hostile environment” towards unpopular ideologies, just so long as it isn’t conservatives who are being targeted.

They frequently group anyone to their left, including Marxists & anarchists, with “liberals” even though there’s a huge difference between liberals and these (mostly marginal) radical left groups.  The Young Conservatives of Texas, University of Texas Chapter (yct at ut) is one of the many groups campaigning against this alleged “liberal bias” on campus.  They compiled a “watch list” of professors who allegedly use the classroom for political purposes. [41]  It includes Harry Cleaver, an Autonomist Marxist – far to the left of even Lenin. [42]  In 2003 the chairman of yct at ut was Austin Kinghorn, who complained about a professor he had which claimed the United States is “a worse terrorist threat than the 9/11 terrorists."  He cites it as an example of this “liberal bias” and complains that, "there was no opposing view presented." [43]  Regardless of whether such a view is true or not, it is a small dissident viewpoint you rarely hear in the media or even from most teachers.  Austin Kinghorn doesn’t complain that the opposite view, that the United States isn’t a terrorist state, almost never has the opposing view presented when it appears in media, schools or elsewhere.  It’s only with things to their left that these neocons get upset.  If they really valued “intellectual diversity” they would be pushing for marginalized far left groups to be promoted, not suppressed, as that would increase “intellectual diversity.”  The fact that they don’t shows that this isn’t really their aim.  The driving force behind it is an attempt by neoconservatives to suppress and restrict groups to their left.  By grouping marginal dissident groups with liberals and demanding the influence of both be curtailed they are effectively attempting to suppress dissidents and narrow the spectrum.

It didn’t always work this way.  Previous class societies had different systems of thought control but the modern public education system in the United States didn’t really come about until the late 19th century.  Although flawed, the school system that grew in the first seventy years after independence was capable of teaching literacy and basic skills.  “Abundant data exists to show that by 1840 the incidence of complex literacy in the United States [among the non-slave population] was between 93 and 100 percent wherever such a thing mattered.” [44]  Children are not the inherently incompetent people modern Americans assume they are.  The U.S. Navy’s first Admiral, David Farragut, got his first command when he was twelve years old.  Such things were not uncommon; people were considered adults at an earlier age two hundred years ago.  Adolescence is a relatively recent construction, a production of the rise of the modern public school system.

That system arose not because the old system was ineffective at teaching basic knowledge and skills but because new forms of control were needed.  After the civil war the last remnants of pre-capitalist systems were wiped out and industrial capitalism grew The rise of industrial capitalism brought with it intense class struggle between the capitalist class and the rapidly enlarged, and impoverished, working class.  Numerous waves of strikes repeatedly spread across the nation, militant labor unions like the Knights of Labor and the I.W.W. arose and powerful socialist & anarchist movements spread.  In 1888 the Senate Committee on Education stated, "We believe that education is one of the principal causes of discontent of late years manifesting itself among the laboring classes." [45]  Several mechanisms emerged to control the working class, one of which was the creation of todays forced, rigid, potential-destroying education system as a means of training workers to be uneducated and docile.  Schools were made compulsory (everyone is to be indoctrinated) and consolidated into much larger units for mass schooling.  Major changes were made to course content (including the replacement of history with “social studies”), “scientific management” & social Darwinist ideas were applied to schools, as were ideas based on Pavlovian conditioning & the Taylor system, and a large school bureaucracy grew to control the students & teachers.  Sections of both the right and the authoritarian left, including liberals and Fabians, played a major role in the creation & evolution of this system.

The liberal thinker John Dewy, who played a significant role in the creation of this system, in 1897 said, “Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the right social growth.” [46]  President Woodrow Wilson expressed a similar goal in a speech to businessmen: “We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” [47]  William Torrey Harris, US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906, wrote in his book The Philosophy of Education, “Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.” [48]  In the same book he wrote, “The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places.... It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.” [49]

Large corporations, various business associations and corporate-funded foundations such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Civic Foundation, the Ad Council, the Business Roundtable, the Carnegie foundation and the Rockefeller foundation played a significant role in bringing about the modern public school system.  James Bryant Conant, President of Harvard from 1933 to 1953, wrote that the change to the modern public school system had been demanded by, "certain industrialists and the innovative who were altering the nature of the industrial process." [50]  One of these foundations, the Rockefeller Education Board, spelled out its goals:

“In our dreams...people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple...we will organize children...and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.” [51]

In 1913, after a year of testimony, a congressional investigation into the role of corporate foundations in education found that:

“The domination of men in whose hands the final control of a large part of American industry rests is not limited to their employees, but is being rapidly extended to control the education and social services of the nation. … The giant foundation exercises enormous power through direct use of its funds, free of any statutory entanglements so they can be directed precisely to the levers of a situation; this power, however, is substantially increased by building collateral alliances which insulate it from criticism and scrutiny.” [52]

In 1954 another congressional investigation into the same issue began, but pressure from big business and a hostile media campaign forced it to end prematurely.  Before it was shut down, it came to these tentative conclusions:

“The power of the individual large foundation is enormous.  Its various forms of patronage carry with them elements of thought control.  It exerts immense influence on educator, educational processes, and educational institutions.  It is capable of invisible coercion.  It can materially predetermine the development of social and political concepts, academic opinion, thought leadership, public opinion.  The power to influence national policy is amplified tremendously when foundations act in concert.  … This Interlock has some of the characteristics of an intellectual cartel.  … It has ramifications in almost every phase of education.  It has come to exercise very extensive practical control over social science and education.  …  The power of the large foundations and The Interlock has so influenced press, radio, television, and even government that it has become extremely difficult for objective criticism of anything the Interlock approves to get into news channels – without having first been ridiculed, slanted and discredited. … These foundations and their intermediaries engage extensively in political activity, not in the form of direct support of candidates or parties, but in the conscious promotion of carefully calculated political concepts.” [53]

These investigations were conducted when two different parties were in power and separated by many decades.  Both had similar findings, were ignored, led to no action or change in the system and have now been effectively erased from history.  In contemporary debates about education these investigations and their conclusions are completely ignored outside dissident circles.

Once again, none of this is some giant conspiracy.  It is the outcome of the way the education is set up.  The very structure of the education system causes it to act this way.  Most of the people who originally set it up were quite open about what they were doing and believed that setting up schools like this was the right thing to do.