You Have to be Carefully Taught

Napoleon Hill said that, “One comes, finally, to believe whatever one repeats to one's self, whether the statement is true or false.” Some of us are very lucky because we were brought up to think freely and creatively. We take that freedom for granted at our own peril, since things are very different for millions of the world’s citizens.

Fundamentalism doesn’t stand up well against reality or creativity. It is those most unable to think for themselves who fall easy prey to smooth-talking ideologues. When Ahmadinejad gets fired up, he can manipulate crowds, most of whom have never met an American, with hate-America rants. Our Tea Party can work up similar loathing among followers, ranting about those with differently colored skin, like our President, or with accents, or who worship a different God. Furthermore, they proudly pass their hatred down from one generation to another. They don’t strive to stimulate creativity, curiosity or passion in their children. After all, if young students looked too deeply into some of the precepts they are expected to hold sacred, they would likely see their folly. For instance, they would likely discern that the words “intelligent design” stand as a feeble attempt to cover up the fact that there is nothing intelligent about creationism, and choose to embrace science-based evolution. An intelligent society doesn’t present a biblical metaphor in a science curriculum.  

As history bears witness, the propagation of fundamentalism for political ends in the schools is pretty universal. In America the far right is supported by private and religious schools that teach history as if America the beautiful has always been in the right. So it’s not surprising that the products of this education are stunned to discover, if they ever leave the country or watch something other than FOX News, that it’s all been a lie. And across the Muslim world there are Madrasas, which propagate the study of Islamic religion and thought. Children, primarily boys, are taught to read and write through the Holy Quran, which they accept as truth and do not question or analyze. The interpretation they are given supports the politics of their local region, which can easily seem to support the destruction of all things not Muslim. In either case, education by edict and arbitrary rules is counterproductive to the healthy socialization, curiosity and learning that children need in order to grow into healthy, thoughtful adults.  

Without learning to think for ourselves, we are left with an unhealthy reflection of the brokenness of family and society. Begun early enough, “Because I said so” and other givens can eliminate the capacity for critical thinking and annihilate our ability to tune into our own conscience, our innate sense of right and wrong, and replace it with someone else’s imprint, someone else’s system of morality. This is the way many a terrorist or flag-follower shouting, “I’m standing by my country or religion, right or wrong!” is bred.  

Of course if we want to inspire other countries to let their children think for themselves, then we will have to see to it that American children are given the tools they need to do just that. Let’s support the Obama administration and his Secretary of Education, Anre Duncan, in making a fair and well-balanced system of education a national priority that treats our children’s future as the best investment an intelligent society can make, because it is. And let’s keep religion and politics out of public education. That would really be leaving no child behind.
I’ll write more about educating our children very soon, but I would really appreciate your comments and thoughts, so please add them below. To close I want to leave you with something that Nicholas Kristof said in a New York Times editorial that gets right to the point. “The dumbing-down of discourse has been particularly striking since the 1970s. Think of the devolution of the emblematic conservative voice from William Buckley to Bill O’Reilly. It’s enough to make one doubt Darwin.” Never underestimate the “Coming of the Right.” It’s still coming.  

What We Can Do:
If you have children in school at any level, and even if you don’t, please don’t fail to take an interest in your local school boards. See what you can find out about the people who are running for or sit in those seats, or who populate your local PTA. Knowing that the younger you begin to tell children what you want them to believe, the better, the Religious Right has been making a practice of getting themselves on school boards for decades. In this way their fundamentalist beliefs can seep into public school curricula—but not if our first priority is to raise generations of creative thinkers.  
  1. Think back on your education. Were you taught by rote or were you taught to dig deep and think for yourself? 
  2. How can you have input into the kind of education being offered in our schools now?  
  3. If you don’t have children in the system, just remember that what children are currently learning may impact your future, and think about what you can do to make sure that these children are getting the best and most open-minded education possible.   
  4. What might you want to tell President Obama and Secretary Duncan about your views and thoughts and needs around educating our children? Write to them:,
  5. Journalist Nicholas Kristof suggests looking up Child Education on the Citizens Foundation website ( to see how you can support education that tells a different story to children in Madrasas in Pakistan, where we definitely need to improve relations. 

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