Thursday, December 20, 2007

Crimes of Obedience

“The only persons who seem to have nothing to do with the education of the children are the parents.” - G. K. Chesterton

How much pain and suffering would you inflict on a fellow innocent citizen if someone in authority told you to do it? The answer was found by experiments at Yale starting in 1959, as reported in the Jan.'07 Yale Alumni Magazine. It turned out that almost anyone can be manipulated so that s/he will do virtually anything that someone tells them to do, including doing great harm to other innocent people. Such actions are called “Crimes of Obedience.”

The experiments showed how the government of Germany was able to use thousands of its normal citizens during the holocaust to systematically murder millions of other citizens. A psychology professor, Stanley Milgram, advertised for volunteers who acted as "teachers" in a "test of memory." He then used a confederate to act as a "learner." Whenever the "learner" (sitting in a separate room with arms strapped to an “electrode”) gave a wrong answer in a word-association test, the "teacher" administered a shock by pressing a lever on a control board. With each mistake, the shock intensity increased. Hearing the learner’s cries of increasing agony, most “teachers,” with the right urging, would continue to deliver shocks right up to the maximum shock level of "Extreme Danger." Unknown to the volunteers, no actual electric shocks were given.

Over the years, thousands of people have volunteered for the experiment in several countries. Sixty-five percent of the volunteers put their “pupils” to the pain limit of 450 volts. Whenever these "teachers" were told that they were not responsible for anything that happens to the "learner," or if they believed they were part of a "teaching team," the compliance rate rose to ninety percent going to the shock limit.

In essence, the finding is that blind obedience is amazingly common, even easy to get from most of us. It is characterized by the excuse made famous by Adolph Eichmann who arranged for the murder of millions of Jews, "I was only following orders."

The Yale article continues: "From all the evidence we could muster, torturers are not unusual or deviant in any way. Their brief training included being told the simple lie that they were helping research about memory; thus, their minds were carefully prepared to do what is ordinarily unthinkable. Normal men and women become transformed into true believers, capable of sacrificing others for the sake of ideologies." The article concludes: "The most dramatic instances of "mind control" are the systematic manipulation of human nature over time in confining settings." (emphasis mine)

How does this discovery relate to government school? Its teachers are trained to believe they are “change agents on an important mission” and that they are part of a “teaching team” just as we see in middle schools today. Instead of requiring teachers to have high levels of academic knowledge, they are required primarily to obey their superiors and to be familiar with methods of control, using punishments and rewards. Further research shows that the government’s goal has never been education, but training to turn out soldiers, factory workers and predictable consumers.

The psychology industry has taken over public schooling. How do we know that? Its members have found employment there in large numbers; its theories, practices and influence are felt in the words and actions of school spokespeople and even the teachers. The schools have been transformed from a source of learning to a system of manipulating human nature over time in confining spaces.

A century ago, psychology had little credibility and public schools had difficulty convincing the public that they were good places for learning. When the schoolers joined the psychs, their partnership has given both parties the sense of validity and even power that they craved. Schools use psychological methods to manipulate students and the public, while psychs gain stature from being employed by the government school establishment. But has public education improved? No. In fact, it has seen a constant slide in quality from its inception because its focus has always been obedience training, not academic learning.

Ned Vare

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