Our illegitimate vice president, Dick Cheney, is lying to us
again. He is lying in order to frighten us into supporting a U.S.
military invasion and occupation of yet another nation. The socialization
message that Cheney is sending to our children as they get ready
to begin another year of school is that violence is an acceptable
means of solving our "problems" in the world and that
it is okay to be dishonest to achieve that goal. Cheney is arguing
that killing thousands of people (a majority of whom are civilians)
and destroying the infrastructure (including homes and personal
property) of a nearly defenseless state is not only a legitimate
way of handling our foreign affairs, but that it is a moral way
of living in and being a part of the international community.
This is a fine example of Mr. Cheney's character.
Curiously enough, Dick Cheney's wife, Lynn, has been a tireless
advocate for the "reintroduction of character training in
the classroom." The premise of Cheney and her cultural conservative
colleagues is that socialization messages incorporated into lesson
plans, and the everyday interactions between teacher and student,
do not already influence character. They begin their approach
with the assertion that our schools are failing our students because
they no longer teach core traditional moral virtues "like
honesty, fairness, reliability, and responsibility" and "that
they now emphasize the values of cultural diversity, self-esteem,
and self-expression." However, a recent study entitled "Socialization
Messages in Primary Schools: An Organizational Analysis"
by sociologists Steven Brint, Mary F. Contreras, and Michael F.
Matthews of the University of California, Riverside, published
in the July 2001 edition of the scholarly journal Sociology
of Education, presents quite a different story while emphasizing
just how central socialization messages are in our schools.
Among other things, the article demonstrates that socialization
messages are an integral part of classroom teacher-student interaction
and that the most frequent messages have to do with "work
effort" issues such as "orderliness" and "industriousness."
"Orderliness," according to this research, makes up
a total of 71% of all messages conveyed. Messages of "self-regulation"
and relations among peers such as "respect," "autonomy"
and "cooperation" follow in frequency at a mere 3%.
The "traditional moral virtues" of "fairness,"
"justice," "responsibility," "courage,"
and "honesty" that seem to concern Cheney and her colleagues
are indeed among the least frequent messages conveyed. The messages
that are least common, however, are those messages the study labels
as "modern values" of "individual uniqueness,"
"choice, variety," "respect for group differences,"
and "respect for own group culture." These are the values
that the cultural conservatives believe are taking precedent over
the more traditional.
Along with direct teacher-student interactions, the study also
looked closely at the categories of "subject-matter curriculum,"
"routine classroom practices," "schoolwide programs,"
and "uses of public space." Their findings concerning
curriculum indicated that traditional and modern values "come
most explicitly into play" in this area. The variety of classroom
practices such as "token economies" (rewarding individual
behavior or success with food, prestigious recognition or fun),
"group projects" (emphasizing collaboration), or "activity
centers" (emphasizing student choice) all contribute to different
socialization messages, such as utilitarianism, cooperation, and
adaptability to change, respectively. The programs and use of
space socialization messages range from "verbal rituals"
that "tended to encourage deference to authority" to
social sanctions for disobeying established rules.
In the conclusion, the authors of the study reject both Cheney's
diagnosis and proposed solution as well as the more radical criticism
at the other end of the spectrum that labels schools as "disciplinary
regimes" and factories specializing in the reproduction of
social and economic inequalities. The authors assert that both
critiques are "one-sided" and have a "limited focus."
Instead, their "analysis suggests two ways in which societal
values may enter the school: through social movement activism
institutionalized by the state or through the changing expectations
of students and their parents based on changes in the organization
of adult middle-class lives."
For those of us opposed to the growing culture of militarism
that has been dominating nearly every facet of our lives - especially
since the judicial coup of our executive branch in December 2000
and the U.S. government's violent and repressive response to the
atrocities of September 11, 2001 - this study should offer a startling
reminder of just how the values of our population's youth are
effected on many different levels - not just within the curriculum
and our students' daily interaction with role models, but also
in the very structure of daily routines and organizational regiments.
With the passage of the recent so-called "no child left behind"
legislation, which denies funding to schools that do not freely
share student information with military recruiters, the U.S. government
has made it very clear that they intend to remove every local
obstacle to the military's presence and influence in our public
schools. The "organization of adult middle-class lives"
is constantly influenced by the pro-military propaganda of the
corporate media, the fear-mongering of our war-profiteering leaders,
and reactionary, chauvinistic, nationalist, and militarist "social
movement activism institutionalized by the state." Because
of this, it is a safe bet that the societal values being taught
in our schools will be the same values that form the twisted logic
of preemptive nuclear strikes or the bankrupt morality based upon
mutual slaughter of innocents.
As the anti-war and global justice movements continue to grow
on the streets and in our activist networking, we must also begin
to consider how we can best promote the values of these movements
within our public schools.
Glen Motil is a Marine Corps veteran.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org)