There is much talk today among the chattering class about fascism and how we are are on the road to a fascist dictatorship. We’ve been told in the news media of 2016 -2018 that fascism has come to America. New York Times journalists claim they are tracking our descent into fascism with the election of Donald Trump as President. What if I told you that the qualities of the fascist state were already here, alive and well, long before Trump became President, and are displayed in every community in America?
In 1995 author Umberto Eco wrote an essay for the New York Review of Books entitled Ur-Fascism about his experience growing up in fascist Italy in the 1940’s. Eco’s premise that “even though political regimes can be overthrown and ideologies can be criticized and disowned, there is always a way of thinking and feeling, a group of cultural habits, of obscure instincts, and unfathomable drives.” It is this “way of thinking and feeling, a group of cultural habits” that can create a culture where the total submission of every action of the individual is to the state and it’s ideology. Here’s how public schools do it. Consider this the recipe and the (unwritten) direct orders for how public schools run.
Thirteen Qualities of Ur-Fascism (Eternal Fascism) Related to Public Schooling*1
1. The cult of tradition
Here’s how the thinking goes: We have a long history of free public schooling for everyone in America and we must respect and maintain that tradition. The school day has class periods, in which each period there is a subject studied, and students sit in desks with a teacher in the front of the room. Each student must work individually on exactly what is presented to him, and be graded and ranked according to the work. Each subject must have a set of standards everyone needs to meet to be considered learned. This is the cult of tradition.
2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism
The last twenty years have revealed so much about how the brain works in terms of learning, memory and motivation, and none of this is incorporated into public schooling. Any sort of new methods or approaches to school, such as: incorporation of team projects, time spent outdoors, and unstructured time to pursue interests deeply, must immediately be labeled as “too expensive”, “not focused on core learning”, or “require staff training”. While you may think that children playing independently outside really doesn’t require any adult assistance, you are mistaken. Public school tradition requires that all activity of children during the day must be directed, time-bound, logged, and evaluated (see #1 above).
3. The cult of action for action’s sake
“Action being beautiful unto itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection.” Empty actions being taken over and over again for the sake of the action is the definition of school. Each day you show up to school and do the work given to you because it is what you are to do. Do the work and get a grade. Wash, rinse, repeat. Do it for 180 days because that is how long you do it until you can get the next level of work. The work doesn’t tie into anything in your life or the current world.
4. Disagreement is treason
To question a teacher means punishment. To refuse to do the work assigned means punishment. To not attend school means punishment. For parents to question teachers, administration or school boards means retribution against their children. There is no disagreement or even questioning of school that has an impact on the ways schools function.
5. Disagreement is also a sign of diversity of thinking
Schools focus on consensus. Those who are outside of the public school are to be feared and scorned. Parochial schools study religion at school and are labeled as “backwards”. Charter schools we are told steal funding and the best students from public schools. Homeschoolers who can not be typed and explained easily, are viewed are weirdos to be pitied. Anything outside the consensus must be squashed.
6. Schools focus on the frustration of the middle classes
Individuals and groups feel like they are struggling to get ahead economically and they are told that the answer to their struggle is more education. Children must be in classes over the summer to get ahead, get tutoring at night, enroll in college level courses, and stay on track to get into a good college. The solution to any social issue is “more school”.
7. Obsession with a plot
The advocates and attendees of public school are caught in a narrative of both being a superior power competing with the world, and a victim teetering on the edge of disaster. Public schools are held up as an example of world class standards and the best of America. Public schools are also talked about as struggling, desperately in need of funding and more teacher talent, and dangerous places to be. Both these views can not be true at the same time, yet we all hold these two completely opposite narratives in our head and accept it as normal. In fact, we are obsessed with these narratives of public school and reject any other. It’s fascist ideology at its finest where the people are both the model of the nation and under attack from all sides at the exact same time.
8. There is no learning for life, but life is lived for school
Learning is touted as “continual”, “everywhere”, “life long”, in other words, an eternal struggle. Yet schools emphasize that you must graduate and a degree is necessary, and often a thesis or senior project demonstrating a final culmination of all you have learned. School leaders have never solved this contradiction of learning being ongoing and at the same time final. Perhaps those who drop out of school and go to work getting training from their employer or on their own through online courses have figured something out.
9. Schools advocate a popular elitism
To paraphrase Eco, “Every citizen in our area belongs to the best people in the world, and every student in our school is among the best of the citizens, and everyone wishes they could go to our school.” Schools are not egalitarian places for students; they are informally organized hierarchies. Students form themselves into cliques, each with its own leader. The followers in each clique are subordinate to the leader, and the leader despises her underlings. Cliques are subordinated to each other , and the lower, weaker cliques are inferior. These dynamics all feed into the sense of mass elitism.
10. Everyone is taught that they are a hero
The hero is given exceptional powers, sometimes hidden even from himself, and to find them he must endure much pain. Schools provide the painful world to endure day-after-day. The hero knows the world is waiting for him to unleash his specialness and when he does, they will rejoice and be thankful. This hero mythology is written into the autobiography of every successful person. Everyday people crave their “15 Minutes of Fame” to demonstrate to all just how special they are.
11. Student bodies
In a democracy, citizens have individual rights through which they make choices. But in schools, individuals have no individual rights, the students are seen as a collective “class” under one teacher or a “student body” of the whole school. It is then the teacher or principal’s role to interpret what is seen as the common will of the collective and make one choice for everyone. Since the students have no representative voice to which to speak on their behalf, and to individually speak on one’s on behalf is seen as treason, the school staff’s interpretation of the student mood or student thinking is accepted as the voice of students. When someone speaks on behalf of a school, it is often the school superintendent. The superintendent is five levels removed from the students (student -> teacher -> assistant principal -> principal -> assistant superintendent -> superintendent) yet knows what they want and need.
12. Selective populism
Certain gatherings are permitted to show support of the school and the students. This is the role of school sports, band, and theater. These games and performances are where those at school have the opportunity to come together and support the school. Only school approved games and performances are allowed. A gathering of students outside of the approved groups is forbidden and punished.
13. Schools speak NewsSpeak
NewsSpeak was the language invented by George Orwell in 1984 as the official language of the English Socialists. Socialists are not Fascists but they share a few similarities in the power resting in the government and not the people as individuals. Schools use textbooks and materials full of NewsSpeak, with its simplified vocabulary and dumbed down explanations of complex concepts. Everything presented has only one view, or two opposing views, so students never learn to make a reasoned argument. You either believe in one thing or its opposite, nothing in the middle or outside so those two view points is presented. To enhance the NewsSpeak cartoonish graphics and caricatures of people are included. This is intended to make the material more engaging. The effect is one of repulsion. Serious people who really want to know a topic don’t use materials with cartoons in them. Students are seen as completely unserious people.
So that is fascism in public schools. Do you see it now?
It would be easier on everyone if schools just took a hard look at themselves and admitted that the system they have doesn’t work. Admit they have failed in providing an education, and dismantled the swollen, necrotic administrative layers of experts ordering people around from afar. People could then offer classes and small schools that parents and communities could own and love. Parents and children to choose from a banquet of options knowing that there is no one perfect way to grow up.
But schools won’t do it. They won’t ever stop. Like all fascists they know only proselytizing and punishing. The expectation is we all must comply and be a part of public schools, defend them, and keep them going at all costs. No statistic, no result, no score, no story will be enough to end public schooling as it is today.
So you must do it on your own. Find the others who reject what schools offer and join up with each other. Resist the fascists, break away from the collective. Experience the freedom of choice. Create your own life. Write your own script and really be a hero.
Copyright ©2019 Denys Allen – Free to share as long as you link to this original post.
1 Umberto Eco, Ur-Fascism, New York Review of Books, July 22,1995 https://www.pegc.us/archive/Articles/eco_ur-fascism.pdf
All quotes in this article are by Umberto Eco from Ur-Fascism.