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I Can Tell You How All of this Happened
One day, when I was in high school – a government high school, in California – I'd finished getting dressed after dance class well before the bell rang. If you're fortunate enough to have never been inside a government school, let me explain what that means. The "bell' is a signal the administrators use to let the students know when it is OK for them to move from one place in the school to another. If you're in one place, and the bell hasn't rung yet, you're not supposed to move from that place until it does.
Only, on this day, when I was all dressed and ready to go get my lunch from my locker and go sit on the bleachers and eat in peace, it struck me how stupid this was. I was ready to go, there was no good reason why I shouldn't go, and the more I stood there in the locker room waiting, the stupider I started to feel. So finally, I walked off.
Very quickly, one of the gym teachers was after me.
"You can't leave yet! The bell hasn't gone off!"
Now I can't remember my exact words at this point, but I think "ridiculous" was one of them. And in that moment, with this teacher yelling at me, and adrenaline pumping through my body, I had to make a choice. Do I keep going? Or do I back down and go back to the locker room? What I do remember is the overwhelming feeling that going along with what she was asking me to do was just too stupid. I couldn't bring myself to do it.
And so I went on to my locker.
"You're going to be in big trouble!" She called after me.
And here's where it gets fun.
Because to the people who use bells to control children and teenagers, "big trouble" means being suspended from school for a day and having your parents called in with you to meet with the vice principal.
These people had no idea who my parents were.
This is my dad. He passed away in 2019, right before the "pandemic." He was a self-described anarchist who loved his grandchildren and humanity. And he always said that if he could only get rid of one federal agency, it would be the Department of Education.
My mom doesn't have a website, and she also has no love for government schools. (How we ended up in them is its own story, but for myself, I'm grateful for the experience.) She trained to be a Montessori teacher back in the 1970s, and taught Montessori when my sisters and I were kids.
So the next day, the three of us went in to meet with the vice principal. It started out friendly and professional, and I'm quite certain that the vice principal thought she was going to scold me in front of my parents and get them to join her in scolding me.
What happened instead was that my parents spent about half an hour lecturing the woman about the irrationality and maliciousness that lay at the heart of the system she was complicit in administering. They talked about the societal dangers of blind obedience, about what real education could look like, and about how it was clear to them that what was being practiced at this particular institution was something other than education, something that was in fact damaging to the students in her care. They gave examples from history, and yes, I'm afraid the word "Nazi" was used.
The vice principal seemed unsettled. I'm guessing this was her first meeting with anarchist parents. She came back with the predictable, rote responses that one finds in her world, including one of my favorites: "Just imagine if everyone ignored traffic lights! We'd have chaos!"
Now it just so happens that many years after this meeting, my father discovered and wrote about cities in Europe and the UK that were experimenting with removing traffic signs and lights – with the result being that streets became not more dangerous, but less:
"The thought that city streets — upon which we depend for daily functioning — could ever become disorderly, leads most people to accept a governmental policing function of such avenues without much question. We imagine that without speed limits, traffic lights at busy intersections, and all of the varied warnings plastered on tens of thousands of signs that encumber streets in our cities, driving would become a turbulent and destructive undertaking.
"For a number of years now, a number of cities in Europe have been experimenting with the removal of all traffic signs — including traffic lights, stop signs, speed limit directives — and with surprising results. Various towns in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, New Zealand — even the UK! — have joined in the experiment. Contrary to the expectations of those who might expect multi-car pileups throughout the cities, traffic accidents have been dramatically reduced (in one town, dropping from about eight per year to fewer than two). Part of the reason for the increased safety relates to the fact that, without the worry of offending traffic sign mandates, or watching for police speed-traps, or checking the rear-view mirror for police motorcycles, drivers have more time to pay attention to other cars and pedestrians."
So take that, Nazi government-school vice president!
The meeting wrapped up with the threat of sending me to juvenile hall if I kept doing this sort of thing, and my parents telling the vice principal that they were going to make a special day of my suspension, and take me out to a museum, which they did. Afterwards, I just avoided these kinds of confrontations for my remaining few months at that school. I don't remember the specifics of how I did that, but I remember that it didn't feel good.
Only later did it occur to me that, while the school administration may have "won" that battle with me and my family, they hadn't won in the same way that they did with all the other kids at that school. They hadn't captured my mind. If anything, they had given me an important lesson about the nature of what they were up to.
Nearly everyone else at that school (I like to think there were a few others who understood what was going on) came away from it conditioned precisely as those administrators want them to be: Conditioned to obey those in authority at all times; conditioned not to question authority; conditioned to identify themselves with authoritarian structures, and to believe at a deep level that those structures represent their best interests, in the same way that parents do.
These are not beliefs that these kids are taught. Rather, it is conditioning, at a deep, deep, level, and it shapes who they are in fundamental ways that are much more profound than mere intellect. It is why arguing with them about the principles of liberty rarely makes a difference.
How do I know that this conditioning worked on most of those kids? Because they have grown up to shape the society in which I live. When I left high school, I really thought I was leaving high school. I thought that the world of mindless, group-think, authority-worshiping, government schooling was behind me. And for a while – for the many years I spent living outside of the US – it was. But what I discovered when I came back was that Americans never really leave high school. What comes next is simply another iteration of the same thing. Like when you move from elementary school to junior high, and are "given a little more freedom."
The results of this have been on display in sickening Technicolor for the past three years – sorry, "two weeks". There has been a lot of insightful discussion about our human tendencies to go along with the crowd, or to obey those in authority even when it is clear what they are asking is wrong. Much has been written about the psychology of fear and how it can be used to manipulate great masses of people into supporting horrifying acts they might otherwise oppose.
All of this is extremely valuable, and important to understand. What is also important to understand though, is that these tendencies have been given a big push by our educational system. I know, I've seen it up close.
My experience that day after dance class was just one example of the conditioning that is central to the government education model. And it wasn't even one of the worst. The kids this stuff really works on are the ones who are steeped in this conditioning from early childhood. The ones who know nothing else.
I did know something else. I had experienced Montessori, and other alternative education models. I knew that what the vice principal told me and my parents that day was a pile of nonsense. And in that one conversation, it became crystal clear to me what that system was all about, and what it demands of those who participate in it: Control at all costs. Obedience at all costs. This conditioning is no accident. It is systematic, it is deliberate, and it works very, very well.