I’ve decided never to do anything I don’t want ever again as my New Year’s resolution! I don’t like making New Year’s resolutions actually so I’ve failed quite early on there – but from now on I won’t be doing a single thing I don’t want to! I don’t do much I don’t want to as it is to be fair so there isn’t a long way to go, but I’ll extend my freedom as far as is possible within a warped social system that thrives on keeping people fearful and obedient.
And talking about fearful and obedient, I’m very happy about the seeds of independent thought I planted in college students and primary kids I’ve taught over the last few years – and having met some of their corporate minded, exam obsessed parents thank god I intervened is all I can say!! For instance, I told some ten year olds who were making up comedy sketches they could do that for a living and to start writing them down; I told another ten year old lad who had a ‘bucket list’ (I jest not) which included ‘jumping off my garage roof onto our trampoline’ that he could be a stuntman; I told a little girl with a talent for, and love of, writing that she could be a novelist or a screenwriter; another little guy I’d asked to improvise a story and who then enthralled everyone with his imagination and acting skills, I told he could be an actor or comedian.
In fact, at every turn I reminded them that they could follow their passions and dreams. I didn’t neglect my academic duties, however. No sir! But I did attempt to open up their minds and hearts beyond the narrowly academic realm which is readying them, let’s face it, for wage slavery or (as this was Surrey) a place in the elite oppressing those wage slaves. I did everything possible to undermine a blind obedience to authority which meant, of course, encouraging them to question my own, and in the case of the college kids, not accepting anything I said without testing and investigating it.
This is really what a proper education system should be doing after all, and it’s a testament to its failure to nurture the independent, creative spirit of young minds that I was viewed with much suspicion by most other staff members who could smell my rebel odour, even subconsciously. Mind you, stomping down the corridor in my knee high DM’s was a bit of a giveaway!
How I wish it were different, and that school was not a place of indoctrination into becoming what Thoreau, in his seminal essay ‘Civil Disobedience’ called ‘good citizens’; the ones who serve the state with their bodies and heads, ‘and as they rarely make any moral distinctions, are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God’. ‘In most cases’, Thoreau continued, ‘there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense.’
Teaching children to exercise their own moral sense would, in a sane culture, be the very highest priority. But it isn’t. Instead we have a corporate training programme ensuring a respect for hierarchy is ingrained in the psyche so that the child becomes a man or woman invested in conforming to the ‘values’ of whichever institution they enter, however ethically unsound those values actually are. The moral good becomes identified with the aims the institution holds, and the anchor of individual conscience is lost, that voice of truth within silenced long ago in a brightly coloured classroom full of friends, laughter and a, no doubt, caring and dedicated teacher.
Conscience dies there, unless influence from outside it intercedes and overrides the conditioning process, or an ‘enemy within’ gets to the children under the radar of the authorities. One of my proudest moments in the primary school I worked in was showing a class of ten year olds footage of the Civil Rights ‘Children’s March‘ of 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama. Thousands of young people heeded the call from movement leaders and left their classrooms at the assigned moment – without pausing to ask permission. Some even climbed out of their classroom windows. Upon leaving the church where they had gathered they were met with police who used water hoses, batons and threatened them with police dogs before hauling them off to jail. But with the eyes of the world on Birmingham this action was credited with turning the tide of the campaign: ‘thousands of children, some of them as young as 7 or 8 years old, had kept the momentum of the struggle going in its most pivotal hour.’
I wanted the children in my care to know the power they have to do good in the world, to understand their own potential to create positive change, to realize that the authorities are to be questioned, not blindly obeyed, and that the Elites institute unjust laws which, as King told the world from his cell in his Letter From A Birmingham Jail after this march: ‘“one has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Dr King echoing Thoreau’s words in Civil Disobedience, by which he had been greatly influenced: ‘law never made men a whit more just; and by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.’
We see these ‘well-disposed’ men and women operating in our corporate media; ‘good citizens’ amplifying government lies ‘daily’, making illegal wars possible and innocent casualties inevitable. We see them in every societal institution, beavering away for their company and purring under any pat on the head given them by the bosses they have pleased with their slavish obedience.
I didn’t want to send out into the world ‘well-disposed’ individuals unable to challenge the iniquity of unjust laws and institutional ‘values’ cloaked in the language of Orwellian double-speak but which, in practice, cause real suffering and crush the human spirit. As Thoreau asked: ‘must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? …It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.’
But from a pernicious propinquity to the twisted morality we are conditioned to condone, how few of us assert our own conscience in our daily lives! I have seen time and again in my working life how those at the very bottom of the hierarchy, those most oppressed, adopt a fierce loyalty to their oppressors, scathingly reacting to any dissenter acting on their behalf. It is the abused seeking the approval of the abuser, and it is the greatest barrier to social justice and personal freedom.
Would that I could flood the education system with the amazing rebels and dissenters I know! So that kids emerge as compassionate critical thinkers not the ‘obedient workers’ George Carlin warned us about and who evolve into adults not easily fooled by simplistic propaganda about ‘humanitarian’ wars and enemies de jour. Surely we want to nurture children who would rather cycle ’til sundown than sit in watching ‘celebrities’ whore themselves on shit TV, and who know that diversity and eccentricity are to be valued, not ridiculed.
Conformity is a dangerous disease in this society, and it can take enormous moral strength to assert your conscience here. Ask Ben Griffin or Joe Glenton of Veterans For Peace what that means. Ben speaks to school and college students about his experience, and how very fortunate those kids are to hear his words. Such a meeting will change the course of their lives because never again will they automatically accept the crude propaganda of warmongers. And this critical perspective will spill over into every other area of their lives meaning they will be far less likely to ever be made ‘agents of injustice’.
What do we want for our kids then? What kind of world do we want them to, not inherit – we already live in a fucked up hell – but to build? Give them a strong moral core and it will guide them through every ethical vicissitude and never steer them wrong. Inoculate them from the disease of conformity and they will withstand any onslaught from the forces of corrupt authority. It’s our only hope.