Jewish World Review March 28, 2003 / 24 Adar II 5763

Thomas Sowell

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Artificial stupidity

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | A recent news story about a teacher who assigned her students to write anti-war letters may have seemed like just an isolated episode, but teachers using students for their own little ego trips is by no means uncommon. Perhaps the worst recent example was a teacher who unleashed her venom on the children of military personnel who had gone off to fight in Iraq.

Just last week I received a bundle of letters from students who have apparently been given an assignment to write to me by a teacher in an English class in Flat Rock High School in Flat Rock, Michigan. This was occasioned by a column of mine that said some things that were not politically correct.

The first of these letters was from a girl who informed me, from her vast store of teenage wisdom, of things that I knew 30 years ago, and closed by telling me that I needed to find out about poverty. Since I spent more years in poverty than she has spent in the world, this would be funny if it were not so sad.

With American students consistently scoring at or near the bottom on international tests, you would think that our schools would have better things to do than tell kids to write letters to strangers, spouting off about things they know little or nothing about.

Flat Rock High School's envelopes, in which the students wrote their assigned letters, have the motto: "Where Tomorrow's Leaders Learn!" Sadly, they are learning not to be leaders but to be sheep-like followers, repeating politically correct notions and reacting with snotty remarks to anyone who contradicts them.

It is bad enough when someone takes the position that he has made up his mind and doesn't want to be confused by the facts. It is worse when someone else makes up his mind for him and then he dismisses any facts to the contrary by attributing bad motives to those who present those facts.

Creating mindless followers is one of the most dangerous things that our public schools are doing. Young people who know only how to vent their emotions, and not how to weigh opposing arguments through logic and evidence, are sitting ducks for the next talented demagogue who comes along in some cult or movement, including movements like those that put the Nazis in power in Germany.

At one time, the educator's creed was: "We are here to teach you how to think, not what to think." Today, schools across the country are teaching students what to think -- whether about the environment, the war, social policy, or whatever.

Even if what they teach were true, that would be of little use to these young people in later life. Issues and conditions change so much over time that even the truth about today's issues becomes irrelevant when confronted with the future's new challenges.

If students haven't been taught to think, then they are at the mercy of events, as well as being at the mercy of those who know how to take advantage of their ignorance and their emotions.

Classroom brainwashing is not new. I wrote about it a decade ago in my book "Inside American Education." Hearings at the Department of Education brought out the same things a decade before that.

When will the voting public get the message? Where are the parents of these children? Do parents in Flat Rock, Michigan, want their children's time in school wasted on their teachers' ideological hobby horses, instead of being used to prepare an intellectual foundation for their further education?

In the long run, the greatest weapon of mass destruction is stupidity. In an age of artificial intelligence, too many of our schools are producing artificial stupidity, in the sense of ideas and attitudes far more foolish than young people would have arrived at on their own. I doubt whether the youngsters in Flat Rock, Michigan, were brought up by their parents to say and do the silly things their teachers have assigned them to do.

Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of an avowed enemy can destroy many Americans, but they cannot destroy America, because we are too strong and too capable of counterattack. Only Americans can destroy America. But too many of our schools have for years been quietly undermining the values and abilities that are needed to preserve any society -- and especially a free society.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Controversial Essays." (Sales help fund JWR.)

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