The rather graphic quote in the title of the last post is so useful because it was so upfront about the intention to condition students via education to act in disregard of their natural instincts. Today’s title is from the lead-in to a book chapter called “Education in the Service of Conditioning” from a 1971 book called The New Totalitarians by UK writer Roland Huntford. It is a book specifically on Sweden and how Huntford saw Sweden as embodying the vision laid out by Aldous Huxley in his classic book Brave New World. A place where politicians and bureaucrats used their power over media and education to “induce the requisite change in mentality, so that physical compulsion is superfluous.”
It has always bothered me how often education in Sweden comes up in the story of Radical Ed Reform in other countries. For example, it was where Benjamin Bloom and UNESCO chose to put the summer institutes that started in 1971 to shift countries all over the world towards outcomes-based education. When I researched the creation of the PISA assessment by the OECD in the 90s and what Competency really means as I wrote my book, I learned the OECD already regarded Sweden as being where it wanted PISA to drive other countries towards. When I tracked Paul Ehrlich’s work in education it pushed me towards the Scandinavian model and the UN’s World Happiness Report created in 2012 has the same effect. Recently there was a mention of new charter schools in NYC grounded specifically in the Swedish model. Can you say omnipresent, given what is in fact a small country?
Huntford laid out the reasons he said “of all people it is the Swedes who have come closest to the state of affairs” described by Huxley in the Foreword of his book of the “really efficient totalitarian state would be the one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.” We are not there yet in the West, but what I have read and listened to make it quite clear we are dealing with a conscious effort to create an electoral majority of people who do feel that way so they can then bind everyone else to the declared consensus.
To appreciate why we are dealing with what is coming in the US and elsewhere via assessments and curriculum and altered instructional practices and massive amounts of intrusive data on unconscious beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and values, let’s go back to Sweden to find out what made it such a fertile ground for education and societal change research. As Huntford pointed out Sweden was the ideal place to study what it takes to make a person servile since “the Swede has never emerged from behind the veil of the group; he is conscious of himself only through some general category, as a member of a people, a clan or a party.” As we saw in the last post, when race and ethnicity and social justice become must provide ‘lenses’ to bring into a Common Core math classroom, we are being compelled to take on the perspective of the aggrieved group, and not the individual, as well.
This is how Huntford began the chapter on education. It remains dangerously pertinent to what we are dealing with today. Since we have trouble getting officials to be honest with us on their true intentions, we will need to rely on the confessions Huntford obtained so long ago. In a 2014 world where a belief in the Common Good and an obligation for the well-being of others is to be nursed via the classroom, let’s go back to a place where the collective mentality is so strong that there were no words in the Swedish language for the concept of the individual without derogatory overtones. There also were not any words for the collective that do not have positive overtones, as in glorifying it. Sweden by 1971 was a place where Swedes were raised to have a “feeling that solidarity is a cardinal virtue.” It was a place where “Swedes are afraid of owning up to an opinion against the consensus” with a widely-held nurtured belief that it is proper to “repress the individual in order to preserve the consensus.”
As the then Swedish Prime Minister (who had once been Minister of Ed), Olof Palme stated in an address to schoolchildren: “You don’t go to school to achieve anything personally, but to learn to function as members of a group.” What Huntford described here as the need of Swedish planners now seems to be the guiding desire behind the US Common Core and what is called Competency and 21st Century Skills everywhere else. Think of it as the new mantra for the wanna-be nomenklatura all over the world:
“For their intended society, the Swedish planners require a type of person that, thinking collectively, and suppressing his individuality in favour of the group, is technologically orientated, and socially well adjusted. To this end, the educational system was profoundly altered during the 1950s and 1960s. From imparting knowledge, its aim was changed to that of guiding social behaviour.” Remarkably reminiscent then of what we are seeing as the actual implementation and the focus on social and emotional learning and assessing non-cognitive factors in each student. So let’s go back to the social engineering purposes repeatedly stated by the Swedes for comparable ed reforms.
Teaching practices and textbooks (and for us now obtained via the inherent control possible with digital learning) were all tightly controlled by State officials as a “means of controlling what was put into the minds of the population–and what was kept out.” A passage that Huntford wrote about adult education “study circles” in Sweden also reflects what I am seeing as the vision behind the Fostering Communities of Learners Mandate and the so-called Discourse Classroom:
“Participants are taught that, once a decision has been made, then all further discussion is necessarily at an end and that, whatever their feelings might be, it is their duty to submit to the will of the group.”
Huntford called attention to this intention to deliberately create submissiveness as a “kind of conditioned reflex” that is then evoked whenever needed “by this phrase: The decision has been made in a democratic manner, and accepted by the majority.” One of the speakers I heard last fall describing her version of the future and the fulfillment of King’s Beloved Community at last uttered almost verbatim that same phrase. Coming here and soon, indeed. Just like the now ubiquitous phrase of “Equity and Excellence” as the new vision of K-12 education coming from all levels of governments in the US, the Swedish reforms of the 50s and 60s were sold to the public as a “device to promote egalitarian principles.”
Today’s teachers upset over the extent to which their classroom activities are so scripted can relate to the Swedish desire to deliver instruction “in the form of discussions so guided that the pupils felt that they had themselves arrived at the conclusions.” This method ensures that “conviction was deep” within each student and is frighteningly reminiscent of the Common Core’s steady drumbeat of the now required “deeper learning.”
A university prof wrote an editorial admiring the Swedish ed system in a Stockholm paper where he pointed out precisely what we are seeing with the insistence on “authentic tasks” and relevance of curricula to real world problems. He wrote that in Sweden “we’ve got to concentrate on society today” and relate everything taught to “reality.” He noted the need for schools to produce “people predisposed to change. If they were not, they would be unhappy.” Building up on that same theme of avoiding unhappiness, the prof declared it was “useless to build up individuality, because unless people learned to adapt themselves to society, they would be unhappy.”
Reading such plans via education on malleable minds compelled to attend for years of the most impressionable time in their lives makes me unhappy. So does the intention I am also reading regularly of our now aping the Swedes by constantly pointing “out the necessity of togetherness as the only tenable way of life.” I could go on providing quotes of comparable intentions and the use of agitprop in both ed and the media so that “slogans fall on fertile ground” and people become primed to vote reliably as desired by the current political class.
Instead I will end with a warning that is pertinent to the current reworking of the nature of educational and social science research generally in the US, using students as guinea pigs in real time. Theory in practice in schools near you, including private and parochial ones. Education in Sweden then like education virtually everywhere now is being reformed with the goal as “not the advancement of knowledge, but the manipulation of society is the highest of aims.”
Therefore we need to remember what Huntford wrote so long ago and why he named his book as he did.
Because when “government and [political] party say that education is to be used to change society, it is no idle chatter.”
Now if we can only widen the circle of those listening in time.