When trying to get a deeper understanding of a social system, its helpful to look at it through different lenses. Last post was looking at public schooling through a political defintion of fascism. This post is looking at schools through the lense of religious cults.
Religious cults are easily to identify for those outside of the organization. Some would consider all religions a cult. Others would consider the more removed from mainstream Judaeo Christian religions a cult, such as The Jehovah’s Witnesses. A more nuanced observer would consider any organization with a charismatic leader a cult, such as the People’s Temple with its leader Jim Jones.
Several qualities of cults can be found in public schooling:
School requires the complete, almost unquestioned trust in the teachers and administrators of the school. The school has a plan for the year for everyone and the students’ role is to follow it.
Teachers are powerful individuals with connections who can get students special privileges or arbitrarily punish students who don’t conform. They have complete control over students in classrooms. Students have to submit themselves over psychologically to the teachers they have and trust that they have their best interests. Increased submission to the leadership is rewarded with additional responsibilities, increasing the importance of certain student within the school.
If ‘submission’ is the front of the hand, then ‘control’ is the back of the hand. One can’t exist without the other. Control of students’ actions and thinking comes threats of punishment – a constant driver of behavior during the school day, or threats of loss of “privileges”, such as recess or the opportunity to talk with others during lunch or in the hallways. Students are not permitted to say “no” to anything teachers or administrators ask them to do at any time. If a teacher tells a student to take off a jacket or hat, she must do it. Teachers even control when students go to the bathroom, how long they have to do it, and issue special hall passes to do it. Students are expected to be under the control of a teacher or staff person at all times they are in the school building.
Instructions are sometimes said to be received by school leaders and passed on for students to follow. School calendars are filled with random celebrations of food, colors, cultures, sports, and national events. Everyone is expected to participate in let’s say “Dr. Seuss Day” or “School Spirit Day” regardless of personal feelings or beliefs. If school is an academic institution focused on learning math, English, history, and so on, these random celebrations are non-sensical.
Students in public schools are completely isolated from their communities and what many refer to as “the real world.” The only adults interacting with students are teachers and staff. For decades schools have said they are going to do internships or bring adults into schools to mentor students, and it never happens. Why? Because the cult of school would shatter if outside adults came in and interacted with students.
Showing great attention and love to certain students in class. Everyone in a any class can name the teacher’s favorite students. This attention creates emotional dependence.
Those who do not keep in step with school policies are put in detention, separated from their peers in dramatic fashion. Often times the reasons for removing students from classes are trivial, but the effect is to shun them which works.
The persecution complex is a cycle. Here’s how it works: Public schools use the media both locally and nationally to tell us that teachers are selfless heroes working long hours and spending their own money to provide the best education possible to their students. When the public criticizes or questions what is going on in schools, the teachers immediately cry that they are being persecuted. This perceived persecution is twisted in the medica as a validation of teachers as heroes and the cycle is complete. So there is no correcting or changing what happens in schools, because any criticism is seen as proof that teacher’s are heroes doing a thankless job.
Preparing for college and later adult life can only be done through the public school system. There is no other possibility then the courses and exams proscribed. Of course this is not true, but everyone in public schools acts as if it is.
Take a look for yourself back to your days in public schools for examples of cult dynamics. Who were the “good students”? Who were the “bad students”? What rules did you have to follow that made no sense? Who were the terrible teachers there year-after-year? How many real-word adults did you interact with during your high school years? Were you surprised when the adult-world was so different than the school-world?