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Authoritarian Culture Caused by Schools and it May be Too Late

Editorial by Jerry Mintz

‘There is much talk and hand wringing these days about the authoritarian turn in our government and the racism that seems to be bubbling up in our society. But none of this should be surprising when you consider the environment that most Americans have experienced as they have grown up.

Perhaps 95% of Americans, in public or private schools, have experienced a basically authoritarian system for 12 years in which they were expected to sit quietly at their desks most of the time, study the things that the teachers told them to study, not veer off into other directions, and prepare to be rigorously tested on these things (rigor, as is rigor mortis).
They also, for the most part, grew up in segregated or resegregated communities, based largely on discriminatory housing and economics. Many have not had much of a chance to really get to know people of other races or ethnic backgrounds.
All of this is effective training for craving the continuation of what they became used to, of authoritarian political rule and racist beliefs. It is therefore no wonder, as some have noted, that we now have an authoritarian government with racist tendencies.
By happenstance I was in Russia for the First New Schools Festival of the Soviet Union in August of 1991. There was a lot of positive optimism there about the future. After the conference we were hosted at Yeltzin’s While House in Moscow. While I was on my way back by train to England, the very next day, Yeltzin faced down the tank during the coup, from the very spot I had been standing the day before. There was no more Soviet Union.
This ushered in a period of real experimentation and change in Russia and people hoping to work toward real democracy. But because the population was very used to authoritarian dictatorship they seem to have devolved back to it. The majority seem comfortable with that while dissidents are again squashed.
If we want to avoid a similar fate in the United States I believe it is urgent to change our schools to empower students, to have them grow up experiencing responsibility and making real decisions about their education and their lives.
But how can we do this? We’ve only found one way so far, but it is too slow. We help change or create one learner-centered school at a time.
We truly need an Education Revolution now, before it is too late, and it may already be too late.
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