There’s a reason some have called former White House official Cass Sunstein “the most dangerous man in America.”
Consider his recent Bloomberg column, titled “Open Brain, Insert Ideology:”
Suppose that an authoritarian government decides to embark on a program of curricular reform, with the explicit goal of indoctrinating the nation’s high school students. Suppose that it wants to change the curriculum to teach students that their government is good and trustworthy, that their system is democratic and committed to the rule of law, and that free markets are a big problem.
Will such a government succeed? Or will high school students simply roll their eyes?
Questions of this kind have long been debated, but without the benefit of reliable evidence. New research, from Davide Cantoni of the University of Munich and several co-authors, shows that recent curricular reforms in China, explicitly designed to transform students’ political views, have mostly worked. The findings offer remarkable evidence about the potential influence of the high school curriculum on what students end up thinking — and they give us some important insights into contemporary China as well.
Here’s the background. Starting in 2001, China decided to engage in a nationwide reform of its curriculum, including significant changes in the textbooks used by students in grades 10, 11 and 12. In that year, China’s Ministry of Education stated that education should “form in students a correct worldview, a correct view on life, and a correct value system.”
In his piece, Sunstein treats this university study as something that could guide U.S. policy, though it has its current limitations.
As Cantoni and his co-authors summarize their various findings, “the state can effectively indoctrinate students.” To be sure, families and friends matter, as do economic incentives, but if an authoritarian government is determined to move students in major ways, it may well be able to do so.
Is this conclusion limited to authoritarian nations? In a democratic country with a flourishing civil society, a high degree of pluralism, and ample room for disagreement and dissent — like the U.S. — it may well be harder to use the curriculum to change the political views of young people. But even in such societies, high schools probably have a significant ability to move students toward what they consider “a correct worldview, a correct view on life, and a correct value system.” That’s an opportunity, to be sure, but it is also a warning.
A warning for whom? Parents of unsuspecting students who will have socialist world views impressed upon them in government schools?
For the controllists, compulsory government schooling is the prime place to teach naive students to love the state, despise capitalism and make the individual secondary to the collective. It’s happening in schools across the nation, due to the “social justice” movement that’s become so popular among educators.
And now they have proof – from China, of all places – that such an effort will prove effective.
Wise parents should think twice about enrolling their children in government schools. And if they do, they should keep close tabs on what they’re being taught.
Reading, writing and arithmetic are not as important anymore in many classrooms.
Learning the evils of private ownership and “white privilege” are the main lessons they want children to learn.