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The American Mind

Learning to accept servitude

William Hillman

(11/2015) Last week was back-to-school night at my sonís middle school. On my yearly calendar this is one of my favorite days. It ranking right up there with my annual dentist appointment. As a parent, I go through the motions, but ultimately, itís just a colossal waste of time.

In two hours we have to attend 10 different classes. This means weíll have 10 minutes with each teacher with a little bit of time to move between classes. Ten minutes is just enough time for teachers to welcome everybody, explain how happy they are to teach the class, and drone on about what a wonderful group of the kids, this is where trust breaks down, after all theyíre our kids, so donít lie to us. Next we hear about the teacherís background, where they went to school and why they are school teacher. Are you asleep yet? Little, if any, time is given to things you want to know like: What are the expectations of the kids? How much time am I going to have to append helping with homework? How are they graded? Whatís considered an appropriate bribe to boost "C" to an "A" or at least a "B".

In an effort to limit our misery, halfway through the night my wife and I decided to split up, ignore the schedule, and each take a different class. Realistically, the teachers donít know whoís in the classroom at any given time.

This is how I ended up in my sonís social studies class. The teacher went through all the above-mentioned formalities. He did delve into what the students will be learning, which was refreshing. Most of the year would be focused on ancient history, Mesopotamia, the fertile crescent, that sort of stuff. But each Friday the class will focus on current events. On this day one of the activities is to watch a video of the past weekís news set to rap music (Iíll save my opinion of the Rap music news for another article). He was kind enough to show us some examples of the "Rapping News" along with some School District approved news clippings. Most of it was what you expect. Headlines like, "Budget stalemate continues because Republicans will not work with President Obama" or drought continues in California because people ignore water conservation.

As I sat there, watched the video and read the news clips. I thought about how the news and current events were presented to these kids. I realized, this is where it all starts. From an early age we teach kids that there is a very simple cause and effect to everything. In second grade kids are taught one day King George woke up on the wrong side of the bed and said, " Letís be nasty and cruel to the American colonies and tax their tea." and thatís why we had to war for independence. Take any event, current or historic, and it seems that weíve created a very simple narrative to explain it and thatís what we teach our kids.

And maybe this is ok for children with a limited frame of reference. For a 4 year old the "Stork" is a perfectly acceptable answer to the question of "where do babies come from". The same answer is not acceptable for most teenagers.

As we mature and our life experiences expand our minds, our skepticism and desire for deeper answers should also increase.

It seems to me that as a society the opposite has happened as weíve developed only our acceptance of the simple narrative has grown.

This simple singular narrative mindset is strongly reinforced in todayís media. Think of the coverage of any recent news event such as the shooting of Travon Marten or the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Within seconds of the events the media goes into a frenzy to create a narrative of why it happened. And all too often these narratives are wrong. But as citizens we become addicted to quick simple answers to complex and deep events.

The danger to this is we become reactionary. Our minds are not trained to look deeper and wider.

The political class is aware of this and uses it to its own ends. For any given event both the left and the right will create their own narratives that supported their respective agendas.

We hear this every time thereís a tragic shooting. Politicians from the left tell their followers that guns and only guns are the cause. Politicians from the right may say all could have been avoided if there were more guns or that itís a mental health issue. This division repeats itself with every major issue from the environment to the budget. Each side has its narrative which is contrived, presented, then food spoon fed to the public. And since our minds have been conditioned to accept simple answers we look no deeper.

The end result of all this is political stalemate and social division. My narrative is right and yours is wrong, end of story. If the only answers are A or B, there can be no debate there can be no perspective shift.

Back to the kids in the classroom. So their minds are being conditioned for simple answers to complex social problems and to accept superficial answers. Event A happened because person B is bad. When these same children start developing prejudice towards different groups in society or easily led buy a charismatic shill, society wonders why? Because weíve wired ourselves and our children to think that way.

How did this happen? Must be the politicians and the media. Right? That would be an essay answer and would also make the point of this article. The truth is far more complex then could be explained in a thousand-word article. The solution is much easier. Train yourself and teach your children to view society and the world as a very complex system where quick and simple explanations are usually wrong.

Read other articles by Bill Hillman