America’s threat-centric education system out of date and out of time
by John Stanton
"History is a story. That's why we fight over history. We make sense of ourselves, the world and ourselves in the world through the struggle to tell the truth through stories. Facts have to be contextualised to become the truth. And that truth is a struggle that is constantly fought over. It is not given. And telling stories helps to create debate about that truth. That is why working people should tell their stories. Truth is a class issue. I would appeal to all your readers, especially to young ones, to make their own political films; shoot interviews, especially with older comrades, and dare to express themselves on the screen. Film making is for everybody. I would be looking at the new technologies. They are disruptive and a problem in capitalist society...That's why they want to close down the Internet if they can. Politicians don't like allowing people to communicate anonymously with each other. They want to restrain freedom ... But still for a while there is a window of opportunity and freedom. They monitor you, but don't yet stop you. That will come, of course...[But] it's where people ought to be, where creative people and political people ought to be." Tony Garnett interviewed by the editors of WSWS
How can young people be encouraged and coached to narrate a "true" history of their lives and times in the world-and the events, people and geography that influence them-for the bulk of their literate existence (i.e., 21st Century literate to include visual and technological literacy)? How can they be motivated to bypass the standard historical corporate media sanctioned fare of Steven Ambrose, Doris Kearns-Goodwin or David McCullough? How can they be motivated to collaborate and push against forces that seek to program them to accept "austerity" and "it is what it is"? How can America's threat-centric, industrial education system be changed?
The answer to those questions is in the hands of many in America's legacy generation who have sickened on the state of American education, now a mish-mash of public, private and charter schools each on its own divergent mission. They clap and cheer at the latest TED speech, or adopt a fad like 1-to-1 learning, but that's where their concern for actually coaching, facilitating and teaching Americans ends. Their safety-in-silence stance has allowed provincial interests (money, pseudo-intellectuals) to trump the needs of the generations-after-next, generations that require interconnected, non-stovepipe interdisciplinary studies from the moment they long on to the Internet or set foot in a brick and mortar setting. More's the pity. These legacy educators who dominate policy and curriculum development from kindergarten, college and professional education fear the diffusion of their own power with academic departments, school districts, unions and ivory towers.
Surely there must be some evolutionary/revolutionary minds that remain in the legacy generation that created the educational mayhem that exists in the USA. If they exist, they owe it to new generations to begin the process of opening fronts and building barricades.
One front would include the destruction of the industrial education practices that dominate in America. Assembly-line educational practices that segment into K-8, 9-12, 13-16, 17+ must be eliminated. For example, at the K-12 level, common campus settings that allow older students to interact closely with younger students should be the norm. The notion that "I am a senior and you are just a freshman," needs to go away. This is training for corporation management, not mentoring/teaching. Another front would see the destruction of non-interdisciplinary studies. Humanities and the Sciences, integrated and competently taught, would provide a far more dynamic learning environment for students who government and industry typically malign. A barricade around the Internet and World Wide Web must be built before dominant corporations, politicians, academics and technocrats manage to kill the flow of uncensored information undercuts their power.
Proposed national education standards such as the Common Core Standards supported by President Obama (and Bill Gates) or those represented in the No Child Left Behind Act (President Bush) are nonsensical in a world where both global corporations and the US national security community are, themselves, asking for people who can act and think across time, place and culture. Teaching to a multiple choice test in these times is about as relevant as an IBM punch card. For what purpose is a fact without context and framing?
US Military as Leader in Education: No One has a Better Idea
Standardized testing administered by the American College Board/ETS (SAT) and its rival the ACT must, at some point, be abolished. The genesis of the SAT dates back to World War I and the US Military's need to develop standardized testing to rapidly assess skillsets necessary for Anglo Saxon war fighting abilities: flying, killing, repairing and commanding.
The first official SAT was administered in 1926, according to War Play by Colin Mead (Eamon Dolan, 2013). Eugenicists would use the results of those 1926 tests to cast out Blacks, Asians, Women and assorted White Trash from participating fully in American society. Equally damaging was the near full adoption by America's education leaders--from universities to local school houses--of US military standards of scientific education.
The public and private educators of yesteryear had nothing to offer in place of war and threat based education. The nation was on a mission to conquer all foes. Diverging from that mission was, for many, suicide. Indeed, as Mead reports, such educational and technology transfer from the US military to the population at large was inevitable. World War I, World War II, the Cold War and the War on Terrorism focused all of America's instruments of national power (diplomatic, information, military, economic, financial, law enforcement, intelligence and people) on the goals and objectives necessary to counter or destroy the threat of the day. That included inoculating American minds from the evils of "foreign" thinking. Thus trillions of US dollars were made available to any group or individual who could contribute to the war effort.
And for the most part, over the past 100 years or so the national security based education system has worked out for Americans and, arguably, much of the world. The common core standard running through American educational practice during this time has been threat-centric: a constant threat to America's collective and individual existence, real or imagined, exists and there is a sense of urgency to defeat that threat through education and technology. Even America's instruments of national power are based on threat-centric thinking. In this view the world is trying to take something from every American even though, in reality, Americans have everything the world does not currently have.
The United States remains ascendant today because of, not in spite of, past educational practices that were heavily influenced, if not created, by America's national security enterprise. And there is not a field of study untouched by the US national security machinery. Computer science, telecommunications, anthropology, political science, space science, entertainment, physics, literature and medical practices all owe their beginnings or prosperity to the Department of Defense. This worked for a time.
Bullshit Centric Country: The United States of America
America's threat-centric education paradigm-these days dangerously close to paranoia-- can't be allowed to survive. Recent revelations of the extent of American penetration into the thoughts and dreams of the world-and its own citizens (via the National Security Agency) demonstrate just how out of sync America is with the world and how close its government mirrors the practices of the once feared Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
It took a long time but the world, and American citizens, have recently learned just how totalitarian the United State happens to have been and is now. There was a time when corporations and government officials would claim that they could not compete with foreign corporations because of subsidizes provided to them by their own governments. It was all BS of course. Thanks to the NSA--and its collusion with American companies--Americans had access to the bid cost/price, marketing tactics and even a foreign government's support strategy for a particular product.
There is a laundry list of American historical bullshit: Some gems include "we do not torture," "in god we trust," "we have no more important goal than the protection of the American people," "we want to compete in a free and fair market," "we care about the middle class," "our atomic bombs broke the back of the Japanese," "we must protect ourselves from cybersecurity attacks because we are under threat," "we hold our officials accountable," "Google and Verizon value your privacy), "your vote matters", and "we take care of our women and men in uniform."
Secretary of State John Kerry once said that the Internet makes it difficult to govern. Damn straight it should! Without bright, interdisciplinary minds and the Internet and World Wide Web (created by the American defense community and US, British and French scientists/researchers) American government, corporate and academic leaders would have us all believe that they are the "true" champions of freedom. Nothing is further from the truth. Cross disciplinary minds, the Internet and the World Wide Web are the only tools available to counter the false and damaging historical narrative that exists and the one that will surely come in the future if American leaders have their way.
John Stanton is a Virginia based writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org