The recent tragic killings of five students in Jonesboro, Arkansas, by fellow students highlights an ominous development in American schools. Although we don't know what led these two particular boys, aged eleven and thirteen, to commit such heinous crimes, the phenomenon of school violence, of classroom terrorism, gang fights, the use of deadly weapons is growing dramatically.
Paradoxically, this retrogression toward anarchy has occurred during the reign of Progressive education, a philosophy that champions the "socialization" of children. According to its founder, John Dewey, "The school is primarily a social institution," whose central purpose is not "science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography . . . but the child's own social activities." Our schools certainly embrace both parts of this doctrine: teachers now attend to the child's "social" needs as devoutly as they dismiss his intellectual ones. Why, then, is social conflict--rather than social harmony--escalating?
The answer is: precisely because of this doctrine.
The Progressive philosophy maintains that the cause of social strife is the unwillingness of an individual to sacrifice his convictions to the group. Dewey maintained that it is the insistence on distinctions such as "true versus false" and "right versus wrong" that generates social conflict. If only children did not hold strong ideas, disagreement and conflict would evaporate in the sunshine of social harmony. Truth, therefore, is socially fractious--while ignorance is bliss.
Hence, what the Progressives mean by "socialization" is the surrender of one's mind--of one's independent knowledge and judgment--to a "group consensus." According to Dewey, "The mere absorbing of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat." This explains why educational standards have plummeted over the years--why Progressive teaching methods consist primarily of class discussions where everyone's arbitrary opinion is considered equally valid--and why Johnny can't read, write, add or think.
Once truth and logic are dismissed, Johnny is left with one fundamental guide to making choices: his emotions. Explaining the Progressive practice of engaging children in whatever "scientific experiments" they feel like doing, one teacher said: "If students enjoyed working with science-type materials, such as magnets or mirrors, I really don't care if they learned anything." To which a principal replied: "As an educator, I fully agree with that view. As a parent, it scares me to death."
He, and we, should be scared, because a child driven solely by feelings is like a vehicle out of control. Which feelings will guide him? The fear and anxiety generated by ignorance and cognitive incompetence? The frustration and rage felt when his desires aren't immediately satisfied? The self-hatred that gets subconsciously projected at others? The false security offered by a gang? The desire to control others by force because of an inability to control reality?
What definitely won't guide him is reason--which is why violence is on the rise. If people disagree on a certain issue, they can discuss it logically, adhering to facts in order to determine who is correct. If they fail to resolve the issue, they can at least agree that it is rational to respect the rights of others rather than resort to violence. Rational persuasion is thus the foundation of peaceful co-existence.
But by undermining reason, the "socialization" doctrine reduces people to the status of beasts--to slaves of their impulses--where no rational persuasion is possible. Their only ultimate recourse is to deal with each other by brute force--by the law of the jungle.
If students are taught that mindless conformity to the group is a virtue, is it any surprise that they gravitate toward gangs? If they are rendered intellectually incompetent to deal with reality, is it any surprise that they will seek to rule, or to be ruled, by others?
The solution to school violence is not school uniforms, as President Clinton proposes, or better computers, as the "technocrats" suggest. And it is assuredly not more "socialization" skills, as Attorney General Reno advocates. Instead, schools must institute a radical reversal of policy. What they need to teach is not "socialization," but cognition. Schools need to encourage individual, independent judgment and to provide the factual knowledge and the reasoning skills that a rational mind requires.
To stop students from acting like animals, we must start regarding them as thinking human beings.
Glenn Woiceshyn develops curriculum materials for schools and homeschoolers, and is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.