And here we are – the conclusion of a speech I gave in 2007. I have spent the past ten installments expanding on my thoughts and experiences from fifteen years ago. I enjoyed the process because I could directly see how so many of the problems we are seeing in education today were obvious much longer ago. And seeing where we are today, I would have to say that my concerns were warranted!
This will be the last installment, and I look forward to hearing others’ thoughts on this topic and on what they are seeing in their children’s and grandchildren’s schools. Thank you for joining me on this journey!
If you would like to go back to the beginning, you can find the FIRST essay in the series here.
I wanted to speak here today for a couple of reasons.
One is simply to spread the word about what is going on at our college campuses. Why does this matter, you might ask? Unfortunately, this continued promotion of the importance of group identity and the vilification of individualism has crippled higher education in this country and created a generation of easy-to-control, unthinking followers sent out into the workplace and into politics.Speech
Wow. Here we are, and guess what? Those easy-to-control, unthinking followers are now in the workplace and in politics.
These are not only the people who end up running for city council or mayor. They are also the people demanding we eliminate incandescent light bulbs in our homes so that we can save New York City from global warming and a watery grave. The same people who continue to vote more tax money to pour into education. The same people who answer your call to the cell phone company to straighten out your bill; the same people who teach your children. The people we depend upon daily.Speech
They are in leadership positions, in decision-making positions. They fill HR departments, hiring new employees and setting policies. They hold staff positions throughout the DC bureaucracy. They are the speech writers in the White House and the lawyers filling law firms.
However, I think I was too kind. I would also add that these graduates have become easy-to-manipulate, which certainly seems to be an institutional goal.
Another reason is to get you to act. If you are an educator, I want to express the importance of exposing your students to the importance of Individualism and rational thought.
My own philosophy as a teacher has gone through a radical change over the last five years. When I first started teaching, I was determined that I would not become one of those teachers who uses the classroom as a bully pulpit, taking advantage of a captive audience that is dependent on my approval, to preach my view of the world. I saw my collogues do this, and I remember taking classes from such teachers, and it was infuriating.
I did not want students simply spitting my own opinion back to me. I did not want students who disagreed with me to be afraid to voice their opinion or to suppress their views for an entire semester. So my goal was to keep my opinions out of the classroom. I became an expert at playing devil’s advocate. I could point out strengths and weaknesses on both sides of any discussion. After all, I saw my job as simply teaching students how to read critically and write effectively. As long as you argue your opinion well, with adequate support, what did I care what the opinion was, I figured.
But after years of that, I began to realize what a disservice I was actually doing to my students. The great majority of my colleagues were busy filling my students’ minds with the promotion of group identity, collectivism, and socialism, as well as the inherent racism in people like, well, me. And the students bought it all, spitting it all back to me in their essays and class discussions. It was then that I realized I had to adopt a new strategy.
My class could not simply be about nouns and verbs, subordinating clauses and semicolons. Students were fed a very one-sided education, and I could provide them with a viewpoint they may have never heard before, ideas they had never considered. I did not necessarily have to convince them. But I must expose them to a different view of the world.
I am happy to say that this has turned out to be a very positive experience. The ideas of collectivism and socialism sound all nice and fuzzy, compassionate and fair, loving and tolerant. But most people know in their hearts, when it is actually practiced, that it is anything but fair.
All I have to do is ask how many students have jobs. And how many of those students have had to take on an extra workload, for the same wage, to cover those who cannot, or even refuse to, keep up. And every single one of them is angry about that situation. The real world is a good place to start.Speech
It is pretty easy to get students to see that they are each individuals, who are unique in their thoughts, dreams, and opinions. And it is pretty easy to see that they want to hold on to that individuality. But sadly, this has been discouraged to such an extent that today, individualism is considered…wait for it…racist.
Around the time I gave this speech, the website of the Seattle Public School District made clear that “only whites can be racist in America and that it was ‘cultural racism’ to ‘emphasiz[e] individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology’” (source). And the author of White Fragility, Robin D’Angelo, explains this in her 2010 article “Why Can’t We All Just Be Individuals?: Countering the Discourse of Individualism in Anti-racist Education.”
Instead, the collective group, students from a very young age are taught, should be prioritized over the individual, and quite frankly, what this means is also over themselves. This is easy to accomplished when an interest in individualism is labelled racist, a label nobody wants to be branded with.
The rest of the semester I focus my efforts on introducing my resistant students to the radical idea that they can and should think for themselves.Speech
In more recent years, I taught a business writing class to university juniors and seniors. I quickly learned that these students had literally been conditioned to NOT think for themselves. Instead, they were paralyzed without extensive direction.
For example, one assignment I gave was for students, most of whom had jobs in addition to attending college, to write a report addressing a problem at their place of employment and to then propose a solution. I loved this assignment for a couple of reasons. For one, it was personal (dare I say, individual?). Rather than writing about some random problem that I come up with that they have no connection to, they choose something from their own lives that they deal with regularly.
The other reason I liked this assignment, is that it included a lesson in working too. I strongly encouraged students to write their reports for their actual boss or the decision maker at the company. And to then actually give it to that person! After all, they might get the problem solved. But more importantly, they are letting their bosses know that they are leaders, that they are problem solvers, that they are invested in their jobs. What a fantastic lesson!
Finally, they learned that they would have to make decisions. They did have to have the problem they were going to write about approved by me. It didn’t have to be an earth-shattering problem. In fact, the best report I got for this assignment was about a dirty kitchen in an office. But sometimes students picked problems that simply weren’t easily solvable: move the office building, build a parking garage across the street, etc.
But that was my only instruction. The questions would immediately be hurled at me: “How long should it be?” “Should there be charts?” “What format should it be?” “Should I have section headings?” “What font?” “What should the margins be?”
I had the same answer for each question” “I don’t know.” And boy did they HATE that. I had some students who were downright angry. I explained that if they were actually writing such a report for work that nobody would be telling them all of those details. And they would drive a boss crazy needed to be so over-managed. They would need to make all of these decisions themselves, deciding what would best serve their particular report. They fought me like hell on this.
But every semester, no exception, when they finished the project, they were astonished at what they produced. They thanked me for believing that they could figure it out on their own. And they were shocked to realize that no other teacher/professor had ever asked them to make their own decisions without having points deducted or grades dropped. And they all felt a sense of accomplishment at having taken the risk of making their own decisions and then putting them out in the world.
They were empowered to believe they were capable, all on their own.
THAT is what educators should be doing in the classroom every day.
And if you are not an educator? All of us can spread the word. Writers can pen articles and books exposing people to the dangers of group identity. Politicians can focus their efforts on bills and policies that support individualism and actively lobby against those that promote group identity. Business people can let employees know that they will be evaluated on their individual production, and then actually do so.
The rest of us can live our lives practicing the values of individualism. We must resist the lure of relying on group identity or segregating ourselves based simply on race.
And thank all of you for coming with me on this journey. I hope my experiences and thoughts have enlightened you one sliver of the dangerous ideology that is practiced on our campuses today. And I would like to add some advice to those of you still have children in school, whether they are in K-12 or are a attending college: get involved.
Talk to your kids about what is happening in their classrooms, what they are learning and discussing. What are they reading? Many parents do this naturally when they are in elementary school, but this needs to continue in high school and even in college. College students often don’t want parents asking a lot of questions about what is happening while they are away at school. But you would be surprised how much information you can find online. Know what courses your student has registered for. Course descriptions are online, and often the course syllabus is also available. Plus, a university’s policies and ideology can also be found online with a bit of work. Do the work.
But it doesn’t end there. Attend school board meetings and vote in school board elections. Pay attention to what local politicians are saying about education. Don’t give in to the cultural dictate or to the Twitter mob to believe that people’s group identity, whether as a man or a woman, as white, black, or brown, as gay or straight or some other sexual identity is the most important aspect of you or of our society.
And of course, model a life celebrating your individualism.