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Schools, Conformity and the Totalitarian Mindset

May 11, 2011

Do you ever wonder how a society can fall for an ideology as poisonous as the Nazi party, the fascists or the communists?  A high school student did in 1967.  He naturally asked his history teacher – and the rest of the story is a lesson we all need to be mindful of.

The teacher, Ron Jones, decided to find out how easy it would be to turn students into totalitarians:

Jones reorganized his classroom that week into a simulation of a
prototypical fascist youth group. He enforced physical discipline and
uniformity in the students’ posture and speech per his first-day dictum,
“Strength Through Discipline.” He meant it to end there, he now avers,
but students were eager for more. He added more simplistic, effective
sloganeering on the following days: strength through community, through
action, through unity and finally through pride. Strength through
Community meant, for instance, that students were to share grades. Top
students helped the lower students. Jones was heartened by the
increased level of participation of the weaker students, while he
banished to the library for the remainder of the semester some more
successful students – who of course resented lowering their grades so
students who did not do the work could get higher grades. Similarly,
anyone who spoke against The Third Wave faced a mock trial and
banishment. At Jones’s urging, students secretly “informed” on other
students who spoke against the Third Wave, and the car club guys
appointed themselves as Jones’s bodyguards. Jones found out only at the
reunion that a few of these guys beat up a student journalist who was
writing a non-flattering article on The Third Wave. When an outsider
student asked a Third Waver to explain what they stood for, he could not
give an answer.

The obvious lesson is that we are more easily persuaded into a groupthink mindset than we would normally like to believe.  However, a more specific lesson to take away from this experiment is that classrooms are very ideally set up to propagate this form of mind control.  Consider the fact that a classroom is already designed to enforce conformity, that it sets up a power structure where children are conditioned to obey a central authority figure implicitly and that it sets up a microcosm where perceptions are limited and even warped to fit the vision of the “Teacher” – whatever that vision may be.

Whatever issues homeschoolers have, conformity and groupthink are NOT among them!


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