“The real task of the NSTL (National Socialist Teacher’s League) is to create the new German educator in the spirit of National Socialism. It is being carried out with the same methods with which the movement has conquered the whole nation: indoctrination and propaganda.”
-- Statement of the German National Socialist Teacher’s League, 1933
This past week, I had the delightful opportunity of being interviewed for a soon-to-be-released documentary, “Beyond Five Senses”, which focuses on social justice, world events, and the simultaneous, hopeful evolution of human consciousness. The interview took place on the college campus where I teach U.S. history. As the crew set up cameras near a vintage classroom building, I noticed a large display of graffiti on the corner of the building, which read: “Rethink patriotism.” I smiled, not only because it reminded me of my college years in the sixties, but because this particular campus is not known for its activism. The interviewer pitched me a number of astute questions like: Why do I think the people of the United States are in such denial about their country’s demise, how do I see history currently repeating itself, how do my students respond to what I teach them about U.S. history? The camera rolled for one hour during which time I was told to “just talk.”
On this cold, gray, winter day, I bundled my heavy coat around me and warmed myself with the stream of consciousness that seemed to flow effortlessly from my heart and mind as I watched students pass by and heard the faint chimes of the clock tower behind me. At the beginning of the interview, the cameraman filmed the graffiti on the building wall, and at the conclusion of the interview filmed the arrival of the campus maintenance crew and their application of fresh paint over the graffiti which removed all traces of it. Perhaps it had encouraged someone, somewhere to rethink patriotism. Certainly, we all did during the interview.
Little did I realize, however, that on that same day, another college professor in another state who had been teaching another subject was not being told to “just talk” but rather to shut up and leave his teaching position. That professor is Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado whose comments have been taken out of context and grossly distorted and who has now become a poster boy for “terrorist professors” by the neo-con, neo-fascist thought police of the cult which journalist Seymour Hersh recently declared has taken over America.
However, I did not need the Ward Churchill affair or Seymour Hersh’s assessment to deduce that higher education in the United States is dying a slow and tragic death. I relive that death every day in my classes as I witness students who are unable to define the word democracy, who tell me that “we did what we had to do in Iraq,” and who have little idea that when they leave college, they will discover that the job they now believe will help them repay the $30,000 student loan that allows them to attend college, will have been outsourced to a third-world country. As my classes have more students enrolled in them every semester as a result of hordes of unemployed people attending or returning to college, I wonder how long it will take for unprecedented enrollment numbers to dry up as graduates realize that no professional jobs exist and as the middle class of America is destroyed. Young people will increasingly discover that there is little purpose in going to college. After all, who needs a degree to work at Wal-Mart or Target?
Out of the corporation-dominated high school comes the graduate who received virtually no education but, rather, learned how to pass an exit test created, printed, and administered by McGraw-Hill, or some other publishing colossus with close ties to the Bush Administration. Typically, this student despises reading because he or she never had to do much of it in school, questions virtually nothing because critical thinking and questioning were discouraged in high school, and who has little curiosity and often little interest in college except the acquiring of a piece of paper -- the panacea parent-pleaser and magical employment magnet that will guarantee “infinite happiness.”
Increasingly, these young people will lack the funds for a college education, hence the “poverty draft” in which going to war will be the only way they can participate in higher education. When, not if, the general military draft is reinstated and these young people (men and women) hold draft cards in their hands, the horrors from which their corporation-dominated non-education shielded them will shatter their worlds.
Some of us who “profess” to have something to teach in higher education would like to make the demolition of these young psyches and bodies a little less traumatic by telling the truth about their world right now and teaching them how to think, question, problem-solve, and prepare for the increasingly hellish existence that their elders have allowed to evolve.
However, when we do so, we are called “terrorists”, “subversives”, “unpatriotic”, and “criminal.” The degree to which this development parallels the educational scenario of Germany in the 1930s cannot be overstated. Obviously, the Nazi approach was conformity or termination. Teachers who did not conform were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps, and Jewish professors were deported. Eventually, the Nazi Party dominated the teaching profession by dictating who entered it and who got promoted. By the 1940s, the Nazis had a completely compliant cadre of teachers and professors.
The National Socialist Teachers’ League was a professional organization for teachers to ideologically train them and make certain that their teaching conformed to National Socialist doctrine. Without membership in the NSTL, it was virtually impossible to be employed as a teacher. Aryan ancestry had to be proven, and teachers were forced to report the loyalty or disloyalty of their colleagues to the Nazi Party. Reports were then used for appointments, new positions, and promotions.
In 1995, Lynne Cheney and so-called liberal Senator Joseph Lieberman founded the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. According to Roberto Gonzalez of the San Jose Mercury News, the Council’s report “Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America,” appears to protect academic freedom but actually resembles a blacklist. “In a chilling use of doublespeak,” says Gonzalez, “it affirms the right of professors to speak out, yet condemns those who have attempted to give context to Sept. 11, encourage critical thinking, or share knowledge about other cultures. Faculty are accused of being ‘short on patriotism’ for attempting to give students the analytical tools they need to become informed citizens.”
“Many of those blacklisted are top scholars in their fields, and it appears that the report represents a kind of academic terrorism designed to strike fear into other academics by making examples of respected professors.”
“The report might also function to extend control over sites of democratic debate -- our universities -- where freedom of expression is not only permitted but encouraged.”
Only a few hours after my interview, I entered a class where we have been working on a critical thinking project on September 11, 2001. For several weeks, students have been researching both mainstream and alternative press reports of the event and the issues surrounding it. For that particular class session, I showed an excellent documentary “Hijacking Catastrophe”, which carefully explains and substantiates the evidence for the Bush Administration’s political exploitation of the 9-11 event as a pretext for the Iraq War. During that hour, my students saw and heard information to which they had never been exposed in mainstream media.
As I approached the class for discussion after the viewing of the documentary, I noticed faces in the audience that were pale and seemingly in shock. As I invited questions, I found the students to be almost speechless. They were unable to comprehend how it was that they had never seen or heard this information in print or electronic media. It was as if the truth came flooding in faster than they could process it, and I momentarily reflected on the question asked me in the interview a few hours earlier: “Why do you think the people of the United States are in denial?” One student became visibly enraged and began pounding on his desk and cursing and almost shouting: “I want to know why we aren’t allowed to see this kind of information in mainstream news. I feel betrayed, used. I feel like my government is more dangerous than the terrorists.” Other students began sharing painful stories of friends who had died in the Iraq War or those who had come back from it psychologically decimated. Still other students expressed anger and frustration that their high schools had never taught them critical thinking skills but only required them to pass competency tests in order to graduate.
Each time I have this kind of discussion with students, I remind them of something else they have never been taught -- what our founding fathers believed about government. Almost without exception, they have never heard that Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and the majority of the founding fathers passionately distrusted government, believing that it is a necessary evil -- that government is necessary for the protection and well being of citizens, but that inevitably, it will betray them. For this reason, the fathers insisted, citizens must be educated, informed, and highly vigilant. Therefore, mistrust of government is not unpatriotic, but rather, the essence of what our founding fathers believed as they constructed our Constitution, and that very mistrust dictated the kind of Constitution they created.
Referring to her book America: A Patriotic Primer, Lynne Cheney states: “It seems to me that the most important thing to do now is to look at the neglected area of American history teaching.” I couldn’t agree more, but then she adds, “When you know the story of this country, that makes it pretty clear what it is we're standing for.”
Apparently, she has never read what our founding fathers actually said about government:
“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”
-- John Adams
“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence -- it is force.”
-- George Washington
“The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.”
-- Thomas Jefferson
“It is to secure our rights that we resort to government at all.”
-- Thomas Jefferson
Inherent in the founding of our nation was an implicit distrust of government and the guiding principle that government should serve human beings, instead of human beings serving government. Higher education in the United States has provided an arena for the free discussion and interchange of ideas. As I frequently remind my students, college is not church. In church, we recite creeds and confess ideologies; in college we explore and discuss diverse ideas.
What makes higher education “higher” is that it is a venue for considering all ideas, no matter how bizarre, how ridiculous, or how blasphemous. If one wishes to guarantee uniformity and conformity in higher education, then it is no longer “higher”, and the First Amendment of the Constitution is dead.
The intellectual skills of questioning, critical thinking, problem-solving, and imagination are inimical to the ideology of the neo-fascist, Christian fundamentalist cultists who now dominate the current administration and American culture. I submit that they would not espouse such ideology if they permitted themselves to think critically. Whether one is a follower of Jim Jones, David Koresh, or Lynne Cheney, one cannot and will not think critically when enslaved by ideology.
The neo-conservative, neo-fascist standard for higher education is a mirror-image of German education in the 1930s. It is indeed time to “rethink patriotism.” It is indeed time to hear what Ward Churchill actually said. If one cannot do so, then one can neither call oneself “American” nor “educated.”
Carolyn Baker lives in New Mexico and is a Professor of US History. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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