-Heather McIntyreSenior Seminar17 January 2001Communism in the American Education SystemAt the height of the Cold War, a new cartoon emerged. Little blue people called Smurfs sang and skipped into the hearts of the American populace.
The good, clean antics of the Smurfs were the model of American values, or were they? One should look closely at the Smurfs, their values, their cultures. Surprise! The Smurfs were not capitalistic at all. They were Communists! Communist practices and doctrine have not only infiltrated American television, but they have also become integral parts of America itself. Communism has even become a part of the American education system.
How has communism been adopted into the American educational system? Some examples of this infiltration into the classroom include one of the Ten Planks of Communism, atheism, controlled learning, propaganda, school to work programs, and busing. Communism as it is known today was first proposed by Karl Marx in 1848 when he published The Manifesto of the Communist Party (Leone 13). Marx envisioned a Utopian society where everyone was equal. Such a society would combine growth with fairness by allowing the bureaucrats to make most of the decisions concerning the economy (Samuelson). As in The Smurfs, there would be no money, and everyone would contribute what they could and receive what they needed (Schmidt). There would be one manor source of income, and the entire collective would contribute to that source.
At the time of Marx, communism stiff fell under the category of socialism. During the last twenty-five years of the nineteenth century, there was a split in the Socialist Party, and communism began to be recognized as a movement of its own. The original Communists were small extremist groups of revolutionaries within the European socialist movement. It was not until the Russian Revolution in 1917 that socialism and communism finally parted ways (Leone 14). By 1985, over one-third of the population of the world claimed to be Marxist, including countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America (Fienberg 2).
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin seized power when he led the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution and ruled the Soviet Union until his death in 1924 (Remnick). One of Lenin’s chief advisors was a man by the name of Trotsky. After Lenin’s death, a power struggle ensued between Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. When Stalin won, he immediately started executing and exiling those who opposed him. Trotsky was forced to flee the Soviet Union and was later assassinated (Leone 46).
Somehow, between Marx’s writings and Stalin’s regime, communism had chanted from a system of beliefs for those without power to a system of beliefs brutally imposed on the working class by the government (Fienberg 6). While writing his thoughts on the perfect society in 1948, Karl Marx published his famous Ten Planks of Communism. Marx stated that any country that had all ten planks in practice was a communistic state. The tenth and final plank calls for Free education for all children in government schools.
Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc. , etc. (Courageous Lion). Stated more clearly, the tenth plank advocates free government education and a combination of schools with the marketplace. In the United States, citizens are taxed to send children to free public schools, and schools often have some program that connects the classroom to the workplace.
The NEA, Outcome Based Education, and The Department of Education itself all fall under Marx’s tenth plank of the Communist Manifesto (Courageous Lion). According to Marx, the perfect Communistic society is atheistic. In the USSR, religion was banished from all curricula and banned from all public roles (Fienberg). American schools are put in an interesting position. Due to the First Amendment, all children have the right to practice their varied religious customs. However, the clause that separates church from state ensures that the government does not favor one religion over another.
Thus, any government-funded school cannot teach religious doctrines or institute school prayers, etc. In a letter addressed to all school principals, the United States Secretary of Education said, ?School officials may not endorse or favor religious activity or doctrine, coerce participation in religious activity, or seek to impose their religious beliefs on impressionable children. . . ‘ (qtd.
in Secretary of Education). The Secretary’s statement means that while students are allowed to express their religious beliefs, teachers are not. In the same letter, the Secretary stated, ?The right to engage in personal voluntary prayer or religious discussion free from discrimination does not include the right to have a captive audience listen, or compel other students to participate’ (qtd. in Secretary of Education). It was with the former guidelines in mind that Congress banned all faculty or student-led prayers at football games, graduation ceremonies, etc.
Thus, although freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Constitution, the practice of expressing religion in a government funded education system is prohibited. Another facet of Soviet education is controlled learning. In the USSR, the State decided what and where each child would study. Courses in Marxism-Leninism were mandatory, and students in universities were required to pass an exam in Marxist ideology. Science and other fact-based fields mostly escaped politicization, but economics and social sciences were reshaped to conform with Marxist principles.
Therefore, ideology governed how history and philosophy were to be taught. Curricula, textbooks, and instruction were related to teaching Communist values (Tift). Trying to share a broader view of history than what was officially acknowledged by the Soviet government was an ordeal. Some teachers managed to form a bond of trust with their students by smuggling forbidden information into classrooms. Others who tried this approach were reported and ended up losing their jobs or worse.
Teachers had to choose between either scrapping the government approved syllabus and living at risk or following orders by lying to their students (McMullen). Even in 1925, the American government was trying to control what could and could not be taught. John T. Scopes was a teacher in Tennessee that dared to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The state government outlawed the teaching of evolution in March of 1925. Scopes was tried for breaking that law in July of 1925. William Jennings Bryan, a former presidential candidate, prosecuted the case while the famous Clarence Darrow provided the defense. Although Bryan showed no knowledge in either the Bible or biology when he was cross-examined by Jennings, Scopes was found guilty.
His conviction was eventually overturned by the State Supreme Court, even though the court upheld the statute which Scopes had broken (The Scopes Trial). Where there is controlled knowledge, propaganda inevitably follows. Propaganda is the systematic attempt to manipulate the attitudes, beliefs, and actions of people through the use of symbols such as words, gestures, slogans, flags, and uniforms. The Soviets used propaganda in the schools to instill negative attitudes towards people living under capitalist systems (Tift 74). Textbooks were repeatedly and systematically doctored to reflect the views the government wanted expressed (McMullen). In America, it is the businesses that promote propaganda in the schools.
As early as 1953, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development wrote a pamphlet entitled Using Free Materials in the Classroom. The American Association of School Administrators followed suit in 1955 when it published Choosing Free Materials for Use in the Schools, (Molnar). Both organizations warned against unconditional acceptance of free goods but cautioned not to reject offerings outright. By 1979, half of all US teachers used materials sponsored by a wide range of organizations including banks, manufacturers, food processors, and even utility companies. Many examples of the sponsored material were filled with bias, prejudice, sexism, inaccuracies, and incomplete or outdated information. Channel 1, the popular current events program that shows twelve minutes of news and one minute of commercials, is considered by many to be an indicator of the recent expansion of commercial influence on schools.
Schools with high concentrations of poor students are twice as likely to receive Channel 1 as schools serving more wealthy students, and students who watch Channel 1 are more likely to have materialistic views like, Money is everything, (Molnar)Often, corporations use propaganda in a more subtle way. Exclusive agreements, sponsorship of programs, incentive programs, and sponsored education materials are all examples of propaganda. In an exclusive agreement, the head of a school or school district signs a contract that gives a corporation the exclusive right to promote or sell its goods or services in the school for a percentage of the profits. Such agreements rose 1,668% between 1990 and 1999. The number of corporations that sponsor school events like basketball games for the right to associate their name with the event has risen 250%.
Incentive programs that provide goods or money to schools for having children collect items like soup labels or sales receipts from certain stores have increased by 83%, and corporate-sponsored materials that claim to have some kind of instructional content have increased 963%. After factoring in a few other types of media propaganda, the overall propaganda increase between 1990 and 1999 was 303% (Molnar). The USSR also pioneered some interesting programs. One such program was a School to Work Act.
In the 1958-1959 school year, the Soviet Union passed new reform laws that required all pupils in the three senior grades of the secondary schools to work in Soviet factories or farms for one-third of their school time (Noah). In other words, every two days out of six, the students would go to work in area businesses instead of going to class. The students were required to acquire qualifications in two different trades before they could obtain their school-leaving certificates. Soviet enterprises had to provide and pay for special clothing, materials, machine time, training, tools, and space used by the students (Noah). Unfortunately, there were some major drawbacks to this project.
In order to meet the extra demands made on curriculum by labor-training, secondary education periods were increased by one year. This increase raised the direct ruble costs of education for the State budget. Also, the invasion of factories and farms by young trainees caused many disturbances in regular routines. Managers wanted to either cut down on training costs by keeping the students working at a particular job or to use pupils for jobs where regular workers were hard to find. The educational staff wanted students to enjoy the highest level and most variety of work experience available.
The students wanted either easy assignments or high paying jobs and did not want to change duties. Even the money that funded the program was wasted because the training turned out hundreds of thousands of poorly-skilled students who had no intentions of ever going into the field in which they had been engaged. In 1964-1965, the Soviet Minister of Education announced that the program would be cut from three years to two years (Noah). Meanwhile, in the United States School to Work ideas were beginning to flourish. A Nation at Risk broadcast in 1983 announced that schools were not adequately preparing students for the workplace.
The broadcast portrayed America as being uncompetitive in the global marketplace. Students were being trained for 1940s and 1950s workplaces. Employers complained that graduates lacked basic reading, writing, and communication skills. The report asked for a policy that would address the needs of both the employers and the students. Congress responded by passing the School to Work Opportunities Act of 1994, which was expressed in fourteen parts.
The goal of Congress was to implement a sustainable School to Work system that required key stakeholders to plan and implement a system as well as to support the system’s continuation. This system was to be designed in a way that provided for both state and local discretion in implementing the system as long as it addressed local capacity building, minimized overlap, used resources effectively, established clear goals, and provided flexibility (Glass). States were required to come up with plans that showed how their resources would be linked together within five years to establish a statewide School to Work program. Plans had to show how each state would fund its program, and federal policy makers had to be critical partners in the program. Any federal funding would be dependent on how well the system implementation plan built upon previous School to Work initiatives (Glass). Eight states received funding in the first year.
New York received the largest grant of eight million dollars for the first year and more than sixty million dollars over five years. New York’s system included skill standards, skill assessments, skill certificates, and performance-based assessments. Parents, teachers, employers, etc. were required to be involved in determining proper preparation for the workplace.
Efforts supported by allocated funds were required to provide equal opportunities for all students. Today, School to Work initiatives in the United States are seen as commonplace (Glass). Another idea instituted by the Soviet Union was busing. While the Soviet Union was still young, Lenin announced that he was upset that the government was doing almost nothing for the rural districts outside official budgets or channels.
At this time, relationships between town and county were showing positive effects throughout the country. Lenin wanted to methodically, systematically, and consciously improve the relationship between town and country by getting the government involved. Lenin’s idea was to attach urban groups to village groups in order to give everyone the same cultural experiences so that everyone would have equal opportunities in life (Basgen). Busing took a slightly different approach in the United States. An outgrowth of Brown v.
Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954, busing was introduced in the early 1970s as a way of achieving racial balance in the schools (Craver and Ozman). In Bradley v. School Board of the City of Richmond, a 1972 Virginia Supreme Court decision, the court of appeals overturned a court-ordered consolidation of Richmond schools because the segregated schools were not a result of legal actions. Rather, the segregated conditions were caused by residential patterns. This pattern held true in many states. In cities including Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis, courts ordered schools to bus black students from the cities to white suburban schools in order to desegregate the school systems.
Compulsory busing ended in Los Angeles after state courts ruled that a 1981 referendum banning busing unless the segregation was intentional was Constitutional. In 1986, the Supreme Court declined to review a busing issue case from Norfolk, Virginia. The court was thought to have been signaling that a city can end court-ordered busing once the schools have been integrated. In 1991, the Supreme Court ruled that court-ordered busing in Oklahoma City could end short of integration if everything practicable had been done to eliminate discrimination and segregation. Busing backfired in the sense that compulsory busing to achieve integration accelerated the flight of white families to the suburbs, thus resegregating urban schools; however, it is interesting to note that the academic performance of minority children improves when they are in classes where middle-class white pupils are the majority (Craver and Ozman). Communism is a part of every country.
Marx’s ideas of the perfect society were not far off. The problem is that the human race is corrupt. The Soviet Union and other Communist countries corrupted a brilliant idea with their greed. It is in no way wrong to share some good ideas with other people.
However, it is wrong to not admit to these similarities. The American school system still has a long way to go before it will realize its full potential. Maybe a touch of Communism is just what this ailing country needs. After all, the Smurfs managed rather well. BibliographyWorks CitedBasgen, Brian.
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