As I considered the focus of this discourse on education, I found myself discarding more ideas than I retained. Should I write about how Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a Supreme Court Justice and former tobacco lobbyist, wrote a confidential memorandum in 1971 to the Chairman of the Education Committee stating that the “American free market system was under broad attack.” Powell’s letter was a reaction to the social justice, civil rights movements and political activism of the 1960′s and 1970′s. Nah, too easy. Maybe I could talk about how Noam Chomsky called out the Trilateral Commission, a neoliberal cabal, in a recent speech to students at East Stroudsburg University, “One leading concern of the Trilateral scholars was the failure of the institutions responsible for the “indoctrination of the young” — the schools, the universities, the churches. They’re not indoctrinating the young properly. That’s why we have these uprisings in the streets and the efforts of the special interests to press their demands in the political arena.” Nope, like shooting fish in a barrel. Well, I probably should at least discuss the scathing report from the Council on Foreign Relations, another neoliberal incubator that helps to set public facing policy, whose stated purpose was to “draw attention to the problems in America’s K-12 schools which constitute a very grave national security threat facing this country.” Not necessary, I’m sure Anderson Cooper has already taken a fine-tooth comb to the report. Well, Jeff Nguyen, what the heck are you going to talk about since we’ve come this far? Isn’t it obvious?…I’m going to talk about slavery.
Hold up, wait a minute. What exactly does education have to do with slavery? Well, since you asked, it has everything to do with that degrading state of bondage. It is the public schools that are complicit in what the ahead-of-his-time Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, illuminated in his landmark book on critical pedagogy as the captor-captive relationship, “The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom.” This dynamic is found in the traumatic bonding process experienced by survivors of Stockholm syndrome as the captive falls under the spell of the captor. Typically, it is far easier to apply this form of social control in the early, formative years than later when the genie of critical thinking and questioning of authority is out of the bottle. It is in the classroom that Pearson, a multinational company based in London, gets to tell our children that the early settlers worked in “cooperation” with the natives they encountered in the “new land”, while we conveniently forget that the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock went on to colonize the land as the rightful land dwellers were force-marched, starved, massacred, infected, reservationed, assimilated, and just plain white-peopled to death. Here is where children are taught not to think too deeply and critically of the world and its sagas but to approach in fealty the iron hand in a velvet glove of the state, of which the public schools are an extension. The former slave turned abolitionist Frederick Douglass observed in his stunning narrative, “whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceased to be a man.” In Roman times, the rulers gave out free wheat (bread) and provided extravagant spectacles (circuses) to keep the people docile and garner their patronage. Today, we get GMO milk and Honey Boo Boo.
As scholars debate and politicians pontificate on the reformation of education, there is a silent murmur in the land, a whispering in the wind that change is coming. The trees feel it and the ground rises up to meet the swell. It is an aching in the heart, a longing left unrealized. While the capitalists whistle and cluck their teeth, the children of the barrios and the parents of the dispossessed pass the word that liberación is on the way. Once a tidal wave crests there is no denying its force. So, too, will it be when the captives are set free and the jubilations commence for those who have no longer “ceased to be men”. As Freire once elucidated the importance of role models derived not from the image of their subjugators but from that of their own, “no pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption”, so, then, must we look not to our taskmasters and their self-appointed paragons but to one another for our liberation. The English word “education” is a derivation of the Latin verb educes, which means “to draw forth from within.” We must first call upon this reservoir, each in our manner, so we can then turn ourselves to the struggle that encompasses us, so we can break every yoke that would bind us and stand with our brothers and sisters who strive for a new day.