The moral argument, mentioned recently here and at Darwin Catholic, that seems most to shape True Believers in our schools: My friends and I are good people; we do X; therefore, X can’t be bad. In addition to employing grossly invalid logic, this line of thought is a drug used to suppress both our ability to assess ourselves (what did those dead white guys say? Know thyself? Waaaaay to much work!) but also provides a nice blind from reality: the people with the nicest slogans and most fervent concern for humanity are often the ones who end up shooting and starving defenseless peasants for failure to get in line fast enough, or just because, like some clueless tourist wandering onto a movie set mid-shoot, they are cluttering up their betters’ Utopian vision.
Among the required but missing terms in this pseudo-argument is the premise: Good people can’t do bad things. It’s possible that the foundationally unaware might even believe this. For example, think about the sense of abandonment children of divorce feel. Applying this rule would mean either Mom and Dad are evil, OR it’s not evil to inflict gross, crippling misery on one’s own children. Most kids, it seems, oscillate between these poles, or pick one parent as the good guy and one as the bad guy, which then, paradoxically, allows them to go with the ‘divorce isn’t so bad’ line – for the good parent. I’ve seen cases where one parent initiates the divorce, then withholds affection and otherwise tortures her own children unless they will say it’s no big deal. The kids then have to choose: if I want to hang with both my parents, I have to pretend everything is fine half the time or I’ll get emotionally beat up; if I don’t go along, I’ll effectively get cut out of one of my parent’s lives. I’ve seen kids in the same family choose differently – now, we’ve added destruction of sibling relationships to the mix.*
So, we hear the horror stories, the extreme cases: about the prison camp guard who gave candy the the Jewish kids on their way to the gas chambers, the no doubt upstanding Phoenician mothers who threw their own living children into the fire, people on a subway standing by while a man is knifed to death, doctors doing the unspeakable to babies days before their birth – all no doubt perfectly nice people, people you could have over for dinner or a beer, who might hang out at your church or Rotary Club. Monsters, it seem, most often look a lot like the guy in the mirror. Monsters often are the guy in the mirror.
The Milgram experiments are the classic revelation: almost everybody will do almost anything if people in authority are telling them to do it. Your prison camp boss, the priest of Baal, the crowd on the subway, the ascendent ‘lump of tissue’ crowd – they command or model behavior, and almost all of us almost all the time ask only how high we should jump.
A nagging question for me, after years of studying the issue, is how any remotely intelligent and honest person could teach in the compulsory schools. How do they convince themselves that what they are doing is teaching, if they themselves have ever learned anything in their lives? Every year, thousands and thousands of 6 year olds show up to first grade already able to read; every year, thousands and thousands of 10 year olds are shamed because they can’t. If schools were both necessary and worked, neither of those groups would exist.
Rather than recognize the absurdity of lumping all these individual kids together, kids with different talents and interests and maturity, the teacher dutifully prepares *a* lesson plan for all of them! The ones who can read and the ones who have no interest in reading all get the same pablum spooned out in the same predigested bits, a stone guarantee that almost all of them will be bored or stressed or shamed – and this is good practice! This is education! That reading can be mastered by most kids in a few weeks if and when they are interested is irrelevant – they MUST stay with their class and in their grade! Their whining and complaining and acting up is *their* problem, not the logical consequence of subjecting a healthy kid to heavy-handed manipulation and control.
Then, teachers complain that they spend all their time and energy on discipline, as if they are not the causes of the problem. You mean, kids don’t want to sit and stand and run around on command? The kids who know how to read and the kids with no interest are a problem because they don’t want to hear the teacher try to teach a room full of kids as if all are at the same exact point? John Taylor Gatto mentioned that the hardest kids to control in the classroom were those who were unconditionally loved at home – if mom and dad aren’t in on the browbeating, kids who don’t see the point don’t feel the need to kowtow.
Nice people can do bad things. Most teachers are perfectly nice within normal parameters. The mistake is thinking that what they are doing can’t be bad, because they are nice. Nope, doesn’t follow. Horrors are inflicted on kids, who at best suffer in quiet desperation, by the nice lady or man who is schooling them. Some act up. The most unfortunate get with the program.
* As always, Chesterton can be counted on to set things right: “There are many who will smile at the saying; but it is profoundly true to say that the glad good news brought by the Gospel was the news of original sin.” The world is good – we are good – as any look around will tell you. BUT we are also capable of the greatest ugliness and evil – as any look aroud will also reveal. It is good to know that we are good but broken, so that we can be appropriately wary of other and diligently wary of ourselves.