Education Episode 1: Perspective
So here we are, the official Education Episode 1. What I want to do with this series of articles is basically break down my experiences in education, especially regarding politics, economics, bias, and more. I will always be honest about my experiences as well as my observations. I will also try to point to a possible solution. Let’s go back to the beginning, and when I say this I mean the very beginning. Why is that important? Because I was born in 1992, and so I’m relatively still young. I have vivid memories of discussing politics in school. At the time I did not realize it of course, but as I look back I political discussions occurred as early as elementary school. Those discussions have a very big influence on students in regards to bias and forming a worldview.
Let’s be clear, a person's worldview is not formed by any singular thing. Worldviews are formed by number one your experiences in the real world. Number two: your environment, including your parents, social circles, and what activities you participate in. Number three, yes, the narrative you’re taught in school. None of these are isolated and each of these factors molds an individual. To be clear, this can be both in a negative light or positive. Perhaps a student is very much invested in the narrative they’ve learned from school and/or their parents. This does not mean that a certain experience, or number of experiences, cannot shift that student’s perception of the world. Or vice versa, maybe their experiences will only solidify their already held views.
Let’s examine how these factors affected myself. I was only nine years old when the tragedy of 9/11 unfolded. Overnight my life went from cartoons and bike riding to the stunning revelation that outside people wanted to hurt America. Those images remained ingrained in my mind. Then there was school. Naturally it was affected by the national and emotional response to the terrorist attacks. Teachers came to class with American flag t-shirts, moments of silence became the norm, and at the age of nine I became acquainted with the likes of FOX, CNN, MSNBC, and the like. Not long after came the next phase of the 9/11 era which was the march to war. The call to conflict infected the whole country like a virus fueled by a cascade of news articles, movies, and talking heads in the media. Not for the first time, American culture became subsumed by the idea of retribution against foreign adversaries.
As I was just learning the basic framework of American history, I was being bludgeoned over the head with comparisons to Pearl Harbor. The general consensus amongst most of my friends, family, and teachers was clear: while war wasn’t pretty, it was a necessary course of action to punish the evil doers. I was caught up in all this and easily melded with these ideas. Television broadcasted images of cities blown to bits paired with moments of silence for American troops killed in the fighting. I vividly recall at the beginning of the campaign these names would be displayed on television every so often. I was mystified a short time later when the broadcast of destroyed Iraq became sporadic and the names of American troops became something you had to dig for. My journey to breaking free of this mindset is a whole article to itself and will be explored later.
I covered all that as a counterpoint to the notion that education operates on a strict liberal bias. This is secondary to the overall atmosphere of nationalism. This is embodied in the salute of allegiance. Even the very name goes overlooked, note the keyword being allegiance. As stated before, however, education is not the only factor. Another is the environment and personal experience. I myself never had any allegiance to the flag. I was actually raised as a Jehovah's Witness and so even in elementary I never saluted the flag. This particular religion forgoes the salute because in their mind one’s allegiance is solely to God, not a nation. In turn, my exclusion from the flag ritual drew many eyeballs. I was almost always the sole student neglecting my patriotic duty, which naturally drew questions about cultism and religious dogma solely as a Jehovah Witness phenomenon. Some went as far as to say I was being indoctrinated.
Many decades later, I no longer bow to the altar of religion or nationalism, but I see the lense most Americans gaze through. I also have an understanding of how it is crafted, maintained, and ever so slightly adjusted for the modern era. Across the liberal-conservative division, there is a basic premise that, despite its flaws, America's foundation is rooted in uniquely democratic principles and allocation of power.
Matters such as slavery and segregation are covered in schools, but in my experience it was in a very loose way with a whitewashed version of Dr. King (often omitting his later focus on poverty and imperialism) and total omission of the Black Panthers or the likes of Malcom X. Nuance was not a factor. The moral of the story was that no matter what turbulence America entered (or caused), the founding fathers ultimately prevailed in creating a just nation that was unlike any on the planet. I have a particularly funny memory of a fifth-grade reading assignment. What was the book of choice? Why none other than Hardball: How Politics Is Played Told By One Who Knows The Game by pundit Chris Matthews. The same man who would later go on to compare Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada primary to the Nazi takeover of France.
In the early 2000s, I was still just a kid figuring out the world and its realities. Like many others my age, I came to the consensus that politics was dull and overly complicated and best left to the professionals. Most Americans, though this has changed in recent years, used to feel this way. This has been traditionally reflected in America’s low voter turnout relative to other western democracies, a trend that is only just recently beginning to shift. In my mind, college was around the corner and so was the idea of finding a full-time job. As I tossed politics and history aside, I worked a number of jobs post high school, among them a custodian, a cashier, a shelf stocker, and namely a warehouse employee for a number of Inland Empire staffing agencies.
All of this is to say I was very much inducted as a child in the idea that America as a whole was a fair system. Where you ended up was decided by your ability to push yourself. The failures deserved their misfortunes and the cream of the crop worked insanely hard to achieve their status. However, all of this began to shift around 2015. Not just for me, but for millions of Americans. We’d entered a new era, which I call the Age of Trump. This year is important because this was the backlash of the 2008 financial crisis which past presidents like Clinton and Bush egged on and Obama dealt with. There are a wide range of views about 2008 and how it was handled, but in the abstract, I would argue millions of Americans came to realize there was a whole lot of bullshit on both sides. The Obama love affair would limp on in liberal circles, but the conservatives and the left (composed of innumerable factions themselves) found a number of criticisms that would become the heated debates of the 2015-2016 years. I was in high school when Obama got elected. In fact, we tuned in live for his inauguration. This was a historic occasion and I was exposed to both sides early on in junior year of high school. Conservatives hated Obama because he was unprofessional and inexperienced, though many critiques were stretched into the realm of fantasy with birtherism and accusations of Marxism, both laughable in their own respects. Then there was the unbridled pride and triumph of simply having the first black president, one who proudly claimed change was indeed possible. There was an idea of hope.
Then came the “Yes, we can!” hangover. While there were some victories like the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (something Biden fought against unsurprisingly) and Iran Nuclear Deal, the Obama presidency oversaw the bailout of the very plutocrats who crashed the global economy, maintained the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and dropped so many bombs we quite literally ran out of bombs, the prosecution of journalists and whistleblowers with the World War I era Espionage Act, the DAPL protests, and much more malfeasance. It wasn’t until 2015, as I first became truly politically conscious, that I did my own research and discovered that Obama had actually taken more corporate money than his Republican opponent, John McCain. I was at the University of California, Riverside by this time and I noticed something striking: it was taboo to talk about corporate influence in politics. The mainstream ran two narratives: Obama was either a hero in liberal discourse or an outright monster and embarrassment in conservative discourse. This wasn’t particularly confronted in schools at the elementary, secondary, or college levels. Deeply examining any presidency wasn’t particularly the goal, especially recent presidents like Obama. Nor was the role of the media examined, something that became an acute interest of mine since 2015.
Previously, I mentioned three key factors that affected a person’s worldview. They are as follows:
Number one: your experiences in the real world.
Number two: your environment, including your parents, social circles, and what activities you participate in.
Number three: the narrative you’re taught in school.
I wish to reiterate that none of these are isolated and each plays a role in the development of a person. None of these are inherently evil, but there is a substantial factor absent. A factor that is amazingly only recently being discussed and implemented in a few schools: perspective outside of just the American story and experience.
Why is factor number four so minimized and obscured in discourse at all levels? I would argue to preserve the idea of American exceptionalism. The notion that we are a “shining city on a hill”, above all other nations in terms of economic mobility, implementation of democratic ideals, and use of military might. This idea has often been codified in the rhetoric of business moguls, politicians, and the media at large.One of the best examples of this appears in a 1996 60 Minutes interview where then U.S. ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright is confronted by the fact that U.S. sanctions have killed more Iraqis than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Albright clarifies that this is in fact “worth it” and in the full interview she goes on to explain that ultimately U.S. foreign policy is benevolent. The idea of not implementing sanctions or outright war is compared to the U.S. inaction that led to Pearl Harbor and World War II collectively. This was a tried and true tactic of the time and to this day. But what of the Iraqi perspective? What of the Japanese perspective on World War II? What of the Vietnamese perspective during the colonial struggle post Axis defeat? This discussion will be continued in the next episode, namely the idea and implementation of other perspectives in education.