School Is Propaganda & Know Your Propaganda
“When propaganda is written down, saved, and organized, we have a better chance to confront and overcome it. It is sad and suspicious that we are not in the habit of knowing and confronting our propaganda in this way.” – Taleb
Officials usually talk as if the point of school is to acquire useful skills and knowledge. I often emphasize instead school’s signaling function; school lets us show off good features. But let’s not forget another important function: propaganda.
If one of the main functions of public schools is to affirm our cultural beliefs against opposing beliefs, then we must be teaching more than just “obvious” things. For many things we teach our kids, substantial communities somewhere disagree.
While we give lip service to diversity and freedom of speech and thought, we in practice only allow such thoughts as can survive decades of mind-numbing public-school conformity. Yet we hardly ever discuss what our official school propaganda should be; we almost pretend it doesn’t exist.
For example, professional historians are usually embarrassed by what passes for history in school, but they usually say little. And my guess is that we prefer not to instead subsidize private schools and require them to teach specific things because we’d rather not be that explicit about exactly what propaganda we want taught; we’d rather that happened behind the scenes.
We are built to rationalize. That is, our minds often unfairly defend our most deeply held beliefs; when we sense such beliefs being threatened, our minds distract us, refuse to comprehend alternatives, and grab onto weak excuses as if they were timber. La-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you.
This makes it especially hard for those of us who want to overcome our biases to identify and question such beliefs. But like many parasites, our unfairly held beliefs are most vulnerable when they are young, i.e., when we first acquire them, and when they must come up to a surface, rather than staying buried deep.
Now beliefs that we learn implicitly, from gestures and expressions of others, can still be a lot of work to identify; you may have to watch a lot of behavior up close to notice the belief transmission. Fortunately, many deeply held beliefs are transmitted out in the open, in explicit words, and even written down in books.