Learning is Fun?


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By M.K. Styllinski

“Although teachers do care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic – it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.”

― John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

The word ‘school’ comes from the ancient Greek for ‘free time’ which gives you some idea how much the idea of learning has changed over the centuries. [1]  The comfortable arena of cultural studies is fast becoming a venue for salespeople and marketers to hone their skills to manipulate. The world of quasi-academia and corporate outsourcing are setting their sights on more ways to brand the young by surveying huge numbers of focus groups in order to pool vast amounts of information. This data is pored over by countless companies with no child left out of the loop and which why education is seen as ripe for exploitation under the guise of altruistic assistance.

Europe is developing the same problems as US high school classrooms which are battling with insufficient resources and a lack of teachers. Due to the financial impoverishment of education governors have often been forced to relinquish their principles and turn to corporate sponsorship to provide text books and equipment. Educational policies and curricula are also being influenced by the logic of maximum profitability that goes with it. This is inevitably leading to a demoralisation of teachers, a decrease in their autonomy and the weakening of teachers’ unions.  Advertising on campus and colleges is fast becoming normalised by poverty-stricken schools desperate for funding while the takeover of students is creating conformist, consumer identities rather than free-thinking, open minds.

American Passage Media Corporation has installed billboards in high school locker rooms where it reaches nearly three million students. These billboards, advertise a variety of commercial products ranging from Tampons to Coca-Cola. Lifetime Learning Systems allow Nike, McDonald’s and Hershey to pay for free text book covers exposing millions of students to their ad campaigns. School buses are plastered with Sprite and Burger-King ads while Exxon provides free educational videos to classroom teachers in a cynical attempt to appear environmentally conscious. This is merely more green propaganda that is mimicked right across the corporate boardroom as a strategy to infiltrate ecological consciousness.

Schools are becoming an adman’s dream, with licensing, school promotions, celebrity endorsements, kids clubs, product placements, “advertorials” (adverts disguised as puzzles and games) fusing with an already inadequate educational curriculum. They are slowly losing the battle against the corporate take-over of education. The spin is as blatant as it is ubiquitous: “A ‘Total Health’ program from NutraSweet teaches kids to use NutraSweet to control weight. “Wecology” magazine from McDonald’s teaches the ecological advantages of Styrofoam packaging. ‘Changing,’ a booklet from Proctor & Gamble, teach girls how to use Always, its brand of sanitary pads. Chef Boyardee’s ‘Good Nutrition’ program teaches kids to eat pizza and gives recipes that feature Chef Boyardee products. Colorful posters on classroom bulletin boards advertise Reynolds Wrap, Birds Eye frozen vegetables, Promise margarine, and Bakers Chocolate.”

Even children’s heroes in cinema and sport have long since been co-opted into vehicles to sell to the teenage market and siphon off the already dwindling potential for true learning.  When over 150 school districts in 29 states in US have Pepsi and Coke contracts and where math problems contain Nike logos and Oreo cookie ads it is no wonder that the only messages kids can receive in order to succeed is a commercial one.

The commoditisation of American education is worth over $650 billion and is traded on the stock exchange so it is hardly shocking that Europe is following suit.  According to the European Round Table of Industrialists “The provision of Education is a market opportunity and should be treated as such.” [2] This fits neatly into former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s long-time love affair with the United States and his determination to create one vast UK shopping mall. Blair’s solution to those failing in the global market is to “get out and sell themselves to the outside world”, [3] an ethos which has continued under present UK governments. (Blair has stepped into his own conscienceless legacy in this regard by selling himself and his Empire to any despot and war-monger willing to line his pockets and with it, his pathological narcissism).

There is nothing wrong with selling your wares if the values and basic social structure is given equal attention. Sadly, this is not the case. Politics, big business and education are now fused to the point that local authorities are fighting a losing battle in trying to promote a healthy, balanced learning experience for the next generation of children rather than the next generation of human products to market for global shareholders.  What is not usually understood is that the present state of education is the result of a purposeful and conscious doctrine. The roots of America’s educational system mimic a factory line process precisely for engineering the minds of the young towards a corporate identity that stretches across a broad arena of human endeavours.

19th Century Philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill was scathing about the State education of the twentieth century and knew very well what the corporatists were up to. “A general state education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government — whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation — in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.” Despotism however, comes in many unforeseen guises away from the well-known classical forms of totalitarianism.

Perusing some of the little known documents surfacing in the early part of the last century where much of this form of social engineering was conceived, we find not much has changed. Indeed, it was all looking rosy for the Industrialist and educator alike. A passage from a 1905 dissertation written by the soon to be Dean of Education at Stanford, Elwood Cubberly illustrates the point. He believed schools should act as production lines “in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products … manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry.” [4]  He was not alone in his wishes.

In the following year that portentous mask of altruism The Rockefeller Education Board had a grand design for the New American Education system which included the funding and the creation of numerous public schools. The board issued a little known statement part of which read:

“In our dreams…people yield themselves with perfect docility to our moulding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple…we will organize children…and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.” [5]

This Rockefeller had continued to do with great gusto, its guiding principles surfacing through most of America’s social and cultural endeavours like a sickly smile and slippery hand-shakes.

In today’s culture, education and branding is one and the same. It is only now that the corporate worldview of consumption has been allowed to fuse together. With education being “dumbed down,” the erosion of children’s finer sensibilities has taken place via the “climate of cool” and the hip, post-modern, savvy world of minimalist chic, where the capacity to truly empathise for another is undergoing a process of attrition. The reason the corporate dictates are able to slide so comfortably into education is because the seeds of that partnership were so sown long ago. The school system was already dead before corporatism began picking over the bones.


Retired school teacher, author and lecturer John Taylor Gatto with over 30 years experience in the American schooling system is blunt concerning the effects of the education system. He describes the gradual adaptation and inculcation to the rise of authoritarianism stamping its mark on the young. The door to social dominators and more psychopathic dynamics which characterise various forms of overt and covert dictatorships always starts through education, something which Gatto noticed early on.

He states:

I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic — it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor. [6] [Emphasis mine]

Authoritarianism and institutional psychopathy: these are the key channels by which a long term warping of the human propensity for cooperation, compassion, responsibility and the joy of learning is taking place. Education is where children are made malleable for more pathogenic qualities to do their work. True understanding and thinking from the ordinary populace not ruled by fear and narcissism is not conducive for the propagation of psychopathological traits.

Gatto offers another reason as to why institutions of schooling fail. The prioritization of “…order and harmony over justice and academic development” is a recurrent behavioural strategy at the forefront of Elitist dreams which create docility and compliance while fostering chaos in the world at large. But this hands-off policy pays dividends according to Gatto.

A bizarre enactment of Darwinist natural selection is fostered even encouraged in many private and state run schools. A non-confrontational policy for dangerous pupils along with the terror and pain that goes with it, actually serves to keep a well-oiled, financial machine ticking over that also has: “… a powerful training function.” And it is the inculcation and acceptance of authoritarianism and the psychopathology that promotes it: “Through it, an army of young witnesses to officially sanctioned bad conduct learn how little value good conduct has. They learn pragmatism. Part of its silent testimony is that the strong will always successfully suppress the weak, so the weak learn to endure. They learn that appeals to authority are full of risk, so they don’t make them often. They learn what they need in order to be foot soldiers in a mass army.” [7]

Many schools display a veneer of respectability and operational effectiveness – even selective stats may confirm that all is well. But this “pragmatism” is a cover. The following quotation from John Taylor Gatto summarises what this blog is about. Psychopaths are very much embedded in our daily lives and if not embodied their influences is all around us and no more tragically than in the system we laughably label modern education. The potential and right for all to a receive education should be at the pinnacle of State objectives. Right now, the content and the methods by which we raise children to understand their world is not just falling far short of an ideal it has become something entirely different:

Psychopathic. An overheated word to characterize successful, pragmatic solutions to the control of institutional chaos. Isn’t this process a cheap and effective way to keep student entropy in check at the cost of no more than a little grief on the part of some dumb animals? Is it really psychopathic or only strategic sophistication? […]

Psychopathic. The word summons up flashing eyes and floating hair, men hiding gasoline bombs under their coats in crowded subway cars on the way to Merrill Lynch for revenge. But set aside any lurid pictures you may associate with the term. I’m using it as a label to describe people without consciences, nothing more. Psychopaths and sociopaths are often our charming and intelligent roommates in corporations and institutions. They mimic perfectly the necessary protective coloration of compassion and concern, they mimic human discourse. Yet underneath that surface disguise they are circuit boards of scientific rationality, pure expressions of pragmatism. […]

An older America would have had little hesitation labelling it as Evil. I’ve reached for the term psychopathic in place of Evil in deference to modern antipathies. The whole matter is in harmony with classic evolutionary theory and theological notions of limited salvation. I find that congruence interesting.

The sensationalistic charge that all large corporations, including school corporations, are psychopathic becomes less inflammatory if you admit the obvious first, that all such entities are nonhuman. Forget the human beings who populate corporate structures. Sure, some of them sabotage corporate integrity from time to time and behave like human beings, but never consistently, and never for long, for if that were the story, corporate coherence would be impossible, as it often is in Third World countries. Now at least you see where I’m coming from in categorizing the institutional corporation of school as psychopathic. Moral codes don’t drive school decision-making. That means School sometimes decides to ignore your wimpy kid being beaten up for his lunch money in order to oil some greater wheels. School has no tear ducts with which to weep. [8] [Emphasis mine]

So, if the foundations are so detrimental to the psyche of schoolchildren what is it that this system actually teaches and which supplants the idea of a mentally and emotionally healthy, nourished human being?

Gatto comes up with eight psychologically hidden “lessons” that are learned by the young and which are carried into the populace to be seeded in the minds of their own children:

1)        Forgetfulness – “…forcing children to forget how they taught themselves important things like walking and talking. This is done so pleasantly and painlessly that the one area of schooling most of us would agree has few problems is elementary school—even though it is there that the massive damage to language-making occurs.” […] “If we forced children to learn to walk with the same methods we use to force them to read, a few would learn to walk well in spite of us, most would walk indifferently, without pleasure, and a portion of the remainder would not become ambulatory at all.”

2)       Bewilderment and confusion – “Virtually nothing selected by schools as basic is basic, all curriculum is subordinate to standards imposed by behavioral psychology, and to a lesser extent Freudian precepts compounded into a hash with “third force” psychology (centering on the writings of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow). None of these systems accurately describes human reality, but their lodgement in university/business seven-step mythologies makes them dangerously invulnerable to common-sense criticism.”

3)       Assignment of social class – […]The class system is reawakened through schooling. So rigid have American classifications become that our society has taken on the aspect of caste, which teaches unwarranted self-esteem and its converse—envy, self-hatred, and surrender. In class systems, the state assigns your place in a class, and if you know what’s good for you, you come to know it, too.”

4)      Indifference – “By bells and other concentration-destroying technology, schools teach that nothing is worth finishing because some arbitrary power intervenes both periodically and aperiodically. If nothing is worth finishing, nothing is worth starting. Don’t you see how one follows the other? Love of learning can’t survive this steady drill. Students are taught to work for little favors and ceremonial grades which correlate poorly with their actual ability.” […]

5)       Emotional dependency – “By stars, checks, smiles, frowns, prizes, honors, and disgraces, schools condition children to lifelong emotional dependency. It’s like training a dog. The reward/punishment cycle, known to animal trainers from antiquity, is the heart of a human psychology distilled in late nineteenth-century Leipzig and incorporated thoroughly into the scientific management revolution of the early twentieth century in America.” […]

6)      Intellectual dependency – “Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. Good people do it the way the teacher wants it done. Good teachers in their turn wait for the curriculum supervisor or textbook to tell them what to do. Principals are evaluated according to an ability to make these groups conform to expectations; superintendents upon their ability to make principals conform; state education departments on their ability to efficiently direct and control the thinking of superintendents according to instructions which originate with foundations, universities, and politicians sensitive to the quietly expressed wishes of powerful corporations, and other interests.” […]

7)       Provisonal self-esteem – “Self-respect in children must be made contingent on the certification of experts through rituals of number magic. It must not be self-generated as it was for Benjamin Franklin, the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, or Henry Ford. The role of grades, report cards, standardized tests, prizes, scholarships, and other awards in effecting this process is too obvious to belabor, but it’s the daily encounter with hundreds of verbal and nonverbal cues sent by teachers that shapes the quality of self-doubt most effectively.”

8)      The Glass-House Effect – “It teaches how hopeless it is to resist because you are always watched. There is no place to hide. Nor should you want to. Your avoidance behavior is actually a signal you should be watched even more closely than the others. Privacy is a thought crime. School sees to it that there is no private time, no private space, no minute uncommanded, no desk free from search, no bruise not inspected by medical policing or the counseling arm of thought patrols.” […] [9]

The psychic gross national product of all this is an increase in social pathologies, in particular narcissism, where there is an inability to feel empathy and compassion for our fellow man and woman.  The past is past, and anticipation of the future materialist gain determines the present; intimacy and honesty becomes “uncool” and children’s common genius is only glimpsed through the bars of a veritable cage erected over their potential.

That is the reality of state education today.


Update 2014:

I think this passage from a teacher thoroughly disillusioned with the whole system sums our state of affairs, where bureaucratic inhumanity erases any hope from pupils, students and teachers alike, that they might experience creativity and joy from learning:

“My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.”

[Read the whole letter here]

See also: Bureaucratic Insanity: The American Bureaucrat’s Descent Into Madness

World State Policies V: Common Core


[1] http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=school
[2] European Round Table of Industrialists, November 1998, Job Creation and Competitiveness through Innovation, ERT, Brussels.
[3] ‘Growing social divide in Britain’ By Simon Wheelan, 11 December 1999. World Socialist Website.www. wsws.org.
[4] Quoted in The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern Schooling By John Taylor Gatto, New York: Oxford Village Press, 2001.
[5] Ibid. Author’s note: The Rockefeller Empire has had a major effect on American history and society. It has been one of the most influential players in shaping the pathology now inherent in The United States of America.  There are many who say that they represent the best in American Capitalism and philanthropy however contradictory that may be. The German roots of the Rockefeller family include Nazi collaboration, a vast oil empire, the creation of the “super-economy” and the dubious penchant for supporting eugenics and depopulation research. For more information read War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race by Edwin Black, Published by Four Walls, Eight Windows in 2003.The Rockefellers mind-set and actions have all the hallmarks of psychopathy the concerns of which were voiced most clearly by Congressman Lawrence P. McDonald, in November of 1975: [“The most important issue of our time is the] drive of the Rockefellers and their allies to create a one-world government, combining super-capitalism and Communism under the same tent, all under their control.” Such a statement may sound like a kooky conspiracy theorist ravings but the actions to date cement such a possibility.A long-time admirer of the Chinese totalitarian communist state David Rockefeller offers this self-aggrandizing passage which amounts to both a confession and declaration of intent:“My lifetime pursuits as an internationalist might best be summarized by one rather extraordinary day in 1995. October 23 was a busy day at the Council on Foreign Relations. The fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations had drawn almost two hundred heads of government to New York, and many had asked to speak at the Council. but even then the day was unusual for the diversity of the speakers: Jiang Zemin, president of the People’s Republic of China and heir apparent to Deng Xiaoping; Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic… Yasser Arafat… and, finally, Fidel Castro…. With the exception of Havel, these men had vowed to fight to the death against imperialist America. Now, with the end of the Cold War, they flocked to the center of world capitalism, eager to meet and close deals with American bankers and corporate executives, or at least to be seen with them — even Castro….”    “For more than a century ideological extremists at either end of the political spectrum have seized upon well-publicized incidents such as my encounter with Castro to attack the Rockefeller family for the inordinate influence they claim we wield over American political and economic institutions. Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as ‘internationalists’ and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure–one world, if you will. If that’s the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it.” David Rockefeller’s Memoirs (Random House, New York, 2002) Chapter 27, pages 404 and 405.To see this hybrid of “super-capitalism and communism” working together it has been necessary to place an “invisible but guiding hand” over education and the psychology of the masses the results and methods of which are heavily  biased towards ensuring that ideological outcome of global governance with a singularly feudalist framework.
[6] The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern Schooling By John Taylor Gatto, New York: Oxford Village Press, 2001.Online edition. Chapter 15: ‘The Psychopathology of Schooling.’
[7]   Ibid
[8]   Ibid
[9]   Ibid

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