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Challenging Assumptions in Education & Pandemics
The roots of my skepticism and wariness about trusting authority
One morning about 45 years ago, a man appeared at our apartment door. He'd lied to get into the building and he lied when I opened the door. Once he got inside, he disclosed that he was a truant officer with the local school board and that our four- and six-year-old home educated children would be taken into the custody of Children's Aid if we didn't enroll them in school within 24 hours. He told me – another lie, more improbable than the first two – that there had already been a Family Court ruling against us. What's worse, he said all of this when our children were present.
I knew he was wrong and quickly sent him on his way, our copy of the Education Act in hand, with assurances that homeschooling was (and still is) legal there and informing him that one of our children wasn't even of required school age. After I reassured our children and fired off a letter of complaint to the school board, I realized that education officials and the general public had to be educated about the law and the benefits of school-free learning. And, with that, I embarked on what would become a lifetime mission. (As the years went by, I heard many stories of even worse treatment by those who had decided that home educating parents were damaging their children and that forcing them into school was for their own good. Sadly, I still occasionally hear those stories.)
At any rate, that experience reinforced something that life had already begun to teach me: that people in authority don't always tell the truth or care about me and my loved ones, even if they think they are acting in our best interests.
In addition, I began to develop a healthy skepticism about the powers of indoctrination and ideology to prevent people from questioning the status quo. Aside from the fact that one must have a certain personality to work as an enforcer, that truant officer may have been what society calls a “good man.” He was just doing his well-paid job and probably felt he was doing it well. He no doubt believed that children belong in school and that those who aren't where they belong are being abused. He was, I imagine, a product of the school system and didn't question its worth. In fact, he might not have thought about children and learning much at all.
The orthodoxy that school is the best place for all children, that learning doesn't happen elsewhere, and that children and their parents must be forced to use the system's services for their own good are well baked. We learned them in school, after all, along with many other ways of being that are proving to be flawed. Moreover, there are powerful vested interests in control of the idea that compulsory schooling is the best and only way for children to learn.
Fast forward to the year 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic. For the first while, I accepted what we were told about the virus and dutifully followed all the rules created by our governments and public health officials. But my habits of questioning what I was told and examining what was behind the answers soon kicked in. Some of the assumptions that were being presented as fact didn't ring true. I saw that there were other possibilities for dealing with the virus that weren't being presented and that were, in fact, being actively disparaged. As time wore on and the various mandates kicked in, it became clear to me that, just like many other times when someone in authority has ordered me to do something for my own good, there was more to this situation than met the eye.
I began to feel that governments were managing the Covid-19 pandemic in a way that was manipulative, intrusive, and coercive; that sought to remove individual bodily autonomy; that had negative physical and psychological effects on many people, notably children; that wasn't as effective as claimed; and that was highly lucrative for certain corporations and individuals.
Why has this happened? I quickly saw some similarities to our long ago truant officer episode. As Charles Eisenstein has written, “The more deeply someone is embedded in the system, the more they rely on the information that the system produces, filters, and interprets, the harder it is for them to be aware of what lies outside the official numbers.” That's the compassionate way of explaining the situation, and I think that stance is important. But I have also long advised to “follow the money” when examining motives, and the “the system” and its influencers have massive financial interest in the pandemic.
So, I have been watching in bemusement and dismay at how governments and the formerly sensible World Health Organization seem to have marched in step with corporations (including corporate media) and perhaps other entities to enforce measures that they assure us is for our own good and that of our communities. At the same time, they have been shutting down discussion about their tactics and demeaning, discrediting, delicensing, and otherwise sidelining those in the medical and science communities who dare to question lockdowns, masking, or vaccine mandates, or who suggest other ways of dealing with Covid-19. (As for the rest of us? Well, we're just unable to understand complexity, let alone qualified to discuss or challenge the situation. Or we're dismissively stereotyped under certain labels.)
This arrogance of the medical "experts" reminds me of similar turf defence by the educational "experts” and those who choose to believe their every dictate, in spite of the harm their techniques may cause. Goodness knows I've debated enough of the latter over the past four decades!
At any rate, and aside from what agendas you might believe are in play, I don't think we can blindly trust those who tell us they are experts or authorities about education, health, or anything else in life. Too many of those people are victims of orthodoxies and/or lust for power or money, leading to manipulation and outright lies created to get us to do their bidding. And many of us are losing trust. If those advising us on such matters want to restore that trust, I think they must behave more ethically and transparently, engage in robust discussion, and acknowledge their errors. We, as individuals, must use our ability to research, discern, evaluate what we've been told, and then reevaluate.
If nothing else, I hope that we can think clearly about mandates. When choosing to keep our children out of school, we don't demand that others do the same. As strongly as I feel about the dangers of schooling for children and society, I believe that rejecting it is ultimately a personal decision. In the same way that there are many paths to learning, there are alternatives to the way of thinking about health that has been mandated during the pandemic. Some of them might require reorganizing society, including dismantling capitalism's profit motive and redirecting funds, power, and our collective energy, but that is not impossible for me to imagine. And maybe those of us who have already challenged one orthodoxy can lead the way!
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