Throughout the history of mankind there have been many diseases, many afflictions, which have debilitated and at times decimated the human species. These maladies usually existed for centuries, eliminating millions of unwary victims, before a few gifted and heroic intellects, themselves also subject to the ravages of these diseases, struggled courageously to discover the causative factors and cures for this host of disorders producing human suffering and death.
Today, as we move into the last three decades of the Twentieth century, we can note the great achievements of the men of science in determining the nature of the organisms or environments which have been responsible for the vast majority of human infirmities. But there still remains one ailment which continues to infect the entire human race, and which has been in existence since the beginning of civilization, that has never been fully identified.
This human disorder which has resulted in more pain and anguish for our species than all of the other diagnosed illnesses, this ailment which has been responsible for the loss of more human lives than all other diseases combined, is not the result of a congenital circumstance. It is not an ailment which can be traced to a hereditary factor and it is not brought about by the invasion of some microorganism. It is an environmentally induced affliction of the most horrifyingly tragic nature for it is brought about by the deliberate actions of humans.
Being victims of the malady themselves, but generally unaware of their debilitated condition, men create the environment in which the next generation will be reared in a similar manner to their own upbringing. It is this irrational environment which is the direct cause of the human ailment which could most appropriately be called Platonitis, being named for the Greek philosopher who, more than any other, delineated the manner in which men must live in order create an environment which is totally alien to man's nature—a controlled environment specifically designed to eliminate individuality.
Platonitis is not a malady which directly affects the heart, liver, lungs, or other viscera found in the body cavities. It is a disorder specifically affecting man's most vital organ: the brain. Platonitis could be considered as an unhealthiness lying in the realm of a developmental disorder and one could narrow the stage of development in which the damage is produced to that of childhood and youth. Just as there can be physical distortions to bodily parts brought about by environmental limitations or excesses during the period of child growth, so there can be physiological distortions in the development of the mind if the environment is such that it suffocates the normal functioning of this faculty.
Since all humans are mentally debilitated—since they all suffer from Platonitis to some degree because of their exposure to a perverted environment (a fact perceived by this century's most innovative educational reformer, Maria Montessori, see p. 238 of "The Secret of Childhood")—they are unable to recognize their unsoundness, for they have no way of seeing a contrast with their own condition. They are surrounded by other men who are mental cripples and thus they come to think of their own condition as being normal. Also, and most importantly, the faculty with which men must identify their infirmity, the mind, is the very faculty that is deleteriously affected, making apprehension of their faulty psychological condition extremely difficult. Thus it is no wonder that men have stumbled through millennia, forcing their own unperceived affliction on each new generation, and blindly doing this as an act of love, as an attempt to bring up their new offspring in such a manner that they would be better able to deal with the demands of living.
What are the symptoms by which we can recognize this mental malady with which we are infected? How are we to perceive that we are mentally maimed? The most revealing diagnostic tool is listening to the statements we make and analyzing them to discover their true meaning. When we hear such remarks as: "Oh I can't be bothered," or "It's just too complicated and I don't want to think about it," or "I already have so many things to keep me busy that I simply don't have the time to consider it," and when these comments are made in reference to such matters as political candidates and their platforms, significant legislation pending in or passed by congress, or any other matter, whether it be general or personal, which will seriously affect the mode of existence of the individual, what is really being said is: "I simply don't have the time to be bothered with thinking and making decisions about issues which are of major significance to my life and to the lives of those I love. I would prefer to have important decisions made by authoritative figures in positions of power,"—in other words, "I would prefer anything to the necessity of having to think," which means, "I would prefer anything to the necessity of being a full-fledged human," for thinking is being.
Another type of statement which will indicate that we are suffering from Platonitis, which reveals the pathological notion that coercion is a valid means to achieve goodness in others, is. "I have a right to force them to do it this way for it is for their own good," or "So and so should be made to do what is best for him," or "I am convinced that this is the way it should be done and we need to establish a regulation requiring that others use this method," or "There ought to be a law."
The most overt characteristics of a person suffering from a severe case of Platonitis are the avoidance of almost all circumstances which call for the full use of his mind, usually coupled with the vehement defense of the idea that the use of force is both necessary and moral in dealing with other human beings.
It is quite easy to determine that men have suffered, and still suffer, from Platonitis by examining the nature of the social institutions which men have established. Prior to the eighteenth century there was a single premise that served as the guiding principle for the actions of governmental, religious, and educational institutions. This premise was force. Each of these major institutions was organized in such a manner that a few individuals were either placed in, or seized, the limited authoritative positions and in these offices required the masses to comply with the already established rules or with the newly drawn up laws and regulations which they devised.
It was not until this nation came into being, with the writing of the Constitution, that one of these institutions, government, at least in theory, generally discarded the use of force as a method of requiring compliance to rules of behavior and considered the use of force as only justified in countering force initiated by others. This concept of government was never fully understood or accepted by most men, and it rapidly lost out in favor of a return to statism.
Also, with the passage of time, religious institutions have continually discarded the use of force in dealing with matters of faith, but their support of the use of governmental force in dealing with social circumstances, such as poverty (by advocating government welfare), has steadily increased. It must be noted, though, that this subscribing to governmental action (action which is limited to force or the threat of force) in the area of social needs is in total contradiction to Judeo-Christian philosophy, but this is a fact that is generally ignored by the faithful, both clergy and laity.
Educational institutions, with the very rare exceptions of the Montessori schools, and more recently the Summerhill schools, have tenaciously held to the premise of force for as long as they have been in existence.
The institutions of learning which we see today are establishments which operate on the alleged proposition that a child is born sinful and is thus evil. That he will not desire to better his condition in life by using his mind in the learning process because of his depraved nature, and thus he must be placed in an environment in which force can be applied to make him learn what others think is best for him to learn—to transform him from an evil youth into a good adult. The actual, but generally unrecognized, motive for conducting classes in a purely dogmatic manner is to place the mind of the young in an environment which will frighten the student into subservience and numb his mind, thus leaving him as a mentally enfeebled victim who will not only accept but seek to be controlled by others.
There have always been those who have realized that in order to control man's body, one must first negate man's mind, and in their psychopathological state, believing that man can only exist as a controlled animal with a limited number of individuals doing the controlling, they deliberately established an educational system that would maim the minds of the masses and allow them to retain their positions of power.
Educational institutions maintain a minuscule social structure that is specifically organized on the principles of the philosophy of Plato. In this controlled society there are a few privileged individuals who are presumed to be knowledgeable and not as evil as others and somehow have the mystic ability to know what is best for others. These masters, or teachers, are placed in positions of power whereby they can force the major segment of the society, the students, to comply with their "enlightened" directions. What one observes is a dictatorial society, pure and simple, and psychologically deadly.
Since the mind of man cannot function under compulsion, since it is a physical impossibility to force anyone to learn anything (although one may frighten another into memorizing specific data, but even this cannot be accomplished without the victim voluntarily willing to do so), the educational system as established is designed to destroy an environment in which the mind can function, in which learning can take place. Any learning which does occur in the schools, happens, as the saying goes, in spite of the system and not because of it.
It is the educational system, operating on and inculcating in the child the doctrine of force, that operates in total contradiction to reality, and it is mainly responsible for the maintenance and fostering of man's most destructive disorder—Platonitis.
There are a number of perceptive humans who have recognized the total irrationality of the philosophy of education and have attempted, in their writings and work, to expose its nature. One such individual was Claparede who succinctly noted that "Our usual pedagogy oppresses children with a mass of information which can never help them to direct their conduct; we make them listen when they have no desire to hear; speak, write, narrate, compose, and discourse when they have nothing to say; we make them observe when they have no curiosity, reason when they have no desire to discover anything. We incite them to efforts which are supposed to be voluntary without the preliminary acquiescence of their ego (their will) in the tasks imposed…"
Maria Montessori adds to this that "The children thus reduced to slavery use their eyes to read, their hands to write, their ears to hear what the teacher says. Their bodies, indeed, are stationary; but their minds are unable to dwell upon anything. They must be continually exerting themselves to run after the mind of the teacher…" (Both quotes from Spontaneous Activity in Education by Maria Montessori, p. 269).
Claparede emphasizes that the essence of the pedagogical method is coercion, and Montessori shows the deplorable effects of this action on the children who are pressured into a frantic race, not a spirited contest involving progress toward the goal of knowledge and an enlightened mind but one which requires that they constantly compete with each other in the attempt to figure out the master of the class—"to run after the mind of the teacher"—in order to please the privileged personage who, if they are lucky, will reward them with some meaningless token, such as a gold star, or medal, or grade, which is their required ticket to success in the system. (The type of competition that exists in the classroom is comparable to that found in a royal court where the courtiers compete with each other for the favor of the king.)
Montessori understood the true nature of the educational system. She realized that its function was not to assist youths in the development of their minds so that they might become mature, fully independent individuals possessing strong wills and capable of making intelligent judgments, for she noted the "constant work which builds up the children's personality is all set in motion by decisions" and that it is the making of decisions that is specifically denied students. Rather than existing for the purpose of helping the child in the learning process, the real aim of the schools, as revealed by Montessori, is "to dominate the child, to bring him into subjection, to make him obedient…" (Quotes from Spontaneous Activity in Education by Montessori, pp. 129, 184.)
Any system which is based on force must have the implements necessary to apply this force to keep the victims subdued. In the educational system these implements are the grades and degrees. The grade is the scholastic gun which is placed in the hands of the instructor, thus giving him full control over his charges. Having this powerful weapon, the instructor can demand that the students follow his every command, for the students know that if they choose to do otherwise, if they should decide not to waste their time with nonsensical busy work, if they should choose to challenge a pronouncement of the teacher, if they should desire to write a composition in a manner to their own liking, i.e., if they should decide to express their individuality through independent thought and action, they can be shot down. Students also realize that if they do not go along with the system, if they do not completely submit their wills to others, that they will be denied that certificate of graduation, which in present day society is most essential in obtaining a desired position.
Thus we can see today millions of youths being forced into, or "voluntarily" entering, scholastic prisons, which we euphemistically call schools, where they are exposed to a constant environment of force and fear, where they quickly learn that hypocrisy is the name of the game, that what really counts is not what one knows or wishes to know but how to figure out and please the master of the class. Where they readily come to realize that every other student is a natural enemy who may jeopardize a student's academic standing and that the student who gains the greatest success in the system is the one who is the most subservient, the one who becomes the docile follower of rules, who jumps at every command and sacrifices his will to that of the instructors and administrators.
As John Holt (in The Underachieving School) has unmistakably clarified, "School is a long lesson in How To Turn Yourself Off." He correctly asserts that in the schools "What children really learn is Practical Slavery."
Drawn on the top of a student's desk, which is, in reality, the prison cell of the captive inmate of the educational institution, was the sketch of a tomb stone on the face of which a student had written: "In memory of all those who have died waiting for the bell." This anguished expression of despair, silently drawn during one of the long and seemingly never ending periods of boredom that all students are subjected to, vividly reveals the nature of the educational system, a system which suffocates, numbs, and, in some instances, brings about the death of the mind. It is these innumerable periods of torturous boredom that turn students into somnambulant robots ready to be led by any assertive individual who grabs a position of power.
The silent majority that is so often referred to does exist, and it is silent because it consists of humans who have been dehumanized, whose minds have been either turned down (in which case the individuals choose to restrict their thinking to a few areas—their work, hobbies, or other special interests) or turned off, and who quietly recede into their own frightened corner of our world and almost beg for some authority to tell them what they can and cannot do. It is only natural that individuals who were subjected to twelve to sixteen years of a completely controlled, dictatorial environment, as they were in school (as students, they were most assuredly the silenced majority), would continue to remain silent as adults.
The only reason that the entire world today is not a complete dictatorship is the saving fact that students are only in school five or six hours a day, and thus in their free time, when they are released from these scholastic cages, a number of them are capable of developing some degree of independence and self-esteem, which means, some degree of mental maturity. And it is these few individuals who are responsible for maintaining those vestiges of freedom that remain in the world.
The key issue which must be considered in any human endeavor is not the desired end, which in the case of pedagogy is the educated child, but the means used to achieve this end. Life is a series of steps involving the gaining of goals and the selecting of new goals to be aimed for in the future. These goals, once achieved, are relatively static points along the way which generally serve as stepping stones to higher ambitions. Actual living, though, involves the methods, the means, the actions taken to reach those specific aims, and it is this crucial matter that will determine whether or not humans live as civilized creatures or as barbarians.
There are but two ways in which one can act in order to achieve a goal. One can deal with other human beings by means of voluntary action, respecting the rights of all that one comes in contact with and only dealing with others as a trader, exchanging value for value, or one can turn to the use of force, either as a personal act, which is generally regarded as criminal, or as a means to an end which is accepted as proper behavior by institutionalized organizations, such as a government which uses legalized force.
The educational institution is one association which has adopted the method of coercion in the attempt to reach its goals, and it is this means, this method of action, that has resulted in a mentally maimed, psychologically crippled barbaric society that has been thoroughly indoctrinated with the concept that the only way to survive in this world is to dominate others by any means available, to either rule or be ruled, to control or be controlled, to be one of the privileged few, or one of the victimized masses, to be on one side of the desk where one has all the rights and can give all the orders and not be subject to any judgments or be on the other side of the desk where rights are non-existent and where one remains in a constant state of fear and is required to obey the slightest whim of the authoritative figures. (Students often vehemently defend the present educational system and its use of force in the learning process. They believe that most of the classes they attend and the vast majority of the work that they are required to do would never be done unless it was demanded of them. Many students consider the taking and memorizing of notes and the feedback of this information on a test as a learning experience, without realizing that these purely mechanical practices can occur without any learning at all taking place. Their thinking has been so distorted by the present educational system that they are unable even to identify a situation in which they are really using their minds.)
A classroom is one of the most immoral, the most inhuman, environments in existence, for it ignores the chosen, the understood, and the rational and simply demands compliance of the students to the master and his commandments. The proceedings of a dogmatic classroom are mystic rituals devoted to the slaughter of man's mind.
In order to put an end to the use of force in dealing with the minds of the young, completely to eliminate the hostile environment in which students are victimized and their mental development greatly distorted so that they cannot help but become mentally crippled adults suffering from Platonitis, it will be necessary to conduct the business of education in an identical manner to other free enterprises.
It is not simply sufficient to get the agency of force, the government, out of the business of education—to eliminate politics from the schools—and have all institutions of learning privately owned. This is an important and necessary matter, but it will not in any way alter the irrational pedagogical practices which now exist in both private and public schools.
All one need do is consider the name used to designate the individuals in charge of the new private schools that are springing up throughout the South, i.e., headmaster, to realize that the essence of the philosophy to be applied to these schools is identical to that which has existed for centuries (for where there are masters there are also those who are mastered).
Before businesses of education can be established, there are a number of widely held views and practices that must be disposed of.
Our present institutions of learning completely ignore the biological fact of the individuality of every human being. The placing of students in grades according to age, based on the false notion that children who have completed a set number of years are at an identical point of mental maturity, and assuming all children of a certain age have identical interests must be abandoned.
The incredibly irrational idea that learning is something that only occurs in school, and that it can take place only on Monday through Friday during a specific time of the year, must also be given up, for learning is a never ending process which begins at birth and does not cease until life itself ends.
The maintenance of the medieval implements of torture, the grades and degrees, must also be dissolved, and, when they are, other practices of scholastic institutions which are based on the existence of these weapons of power will vanish, such as required attendance, courses, assignments, and tests.
Compulsory education laws must be repealed so that no individual can be required to attend any specific school for any specific number of years. Also, no government licensing of schools or teachers can exist, no subsidies or franchises, no special tax exemptions, in short, none of the features which would distort the operation of schools as full-fledged profit making free enterprises, subject only to the laws of supply and demand.
Since schools have but one service to sell—the service of offering direction or instruction to those who desire it—they would thus operate like any other service business. An educational business would advertise those areas of instruction which it wished to offer for sale and prospective buyers would select from these offerings according to their interests, desires, and financial means. (The few who would be unable to afford even the most inexpensive forms of instruction would be able, in a free society, to gain the necessary funds from any individual or group that might desire voluntarily to provide these funds. Under no circumstances could the government use its power to plunder the property of the defenseless citizens and use this expropriated revenue to finance the education of the poor or anyone else. Such an act of force in an adult society is just as immoral and damaging as is the use of force in a youthful society found in the school.) The paying customer would attend classes or participate in the directed activities of the courses and would be in a position to judge whether or not he was receiving satisfactory instruction. If the customer, the student, or his parents in the case of a very young child, decided at an early point in the course, perhaps after two classes, that there was little or no value to be gained from the director of the class or the subject matter, then he could withdraw from the course and receive a full or partial refund, depending on the agreement initially entered into by the customer and the business firm.
In a free enterprise business of education there would be no possibility for instructors to require students to do any assignments—there could be no required reading, compositions or any form of busy work. All an instructor could do would be to recommend, to suggest, to encourage, to direct the learning of the customer; and it would be up to the student to determine what and how much he wishes to do.
Of course, the instructor, who is selling his service to the customer, has a right to refuse to direct the learning of a student, for in any relationship between humans involving a trade, both parties have the choice of deciding whether or not they wish to engage in the trade. But once an instructor has accepted a student, he is then an employee of that individual, and it is the paying employer, the student, who must judge the quality of the service for which he is paying. If the student decides that he is wasting his time and efforts in an educational pursuit, or if the instructor determines that he does not wish to continue his direction of a student, circumstances which could exist for a host of reasons, then either or both parties could dissolve the relationship, provided an agreement or contract is not broken in the process.
Just as in any completely open, competitive, free enterprise, only the most efficient, the most talented, the most innovative instructors and entrepreneurs would survive. There would no longer be any need to spend billions of dollars on innumerable educational "experiments" or "projects" in the frantic but hopeless attempt to discover methods of instruction that would work (and what curriculum should be offered). This matter would be solved promptly by educational businesses which would only be able to sell services that customers found to be of value and for which they would be willing to pay. The pedagogical techniques that would, and would not, work (sell) would be established with great swiftness and accuracy. Undoubtedly a torrent of new ideas would flood the market with numerous businesses attempting to discover new approaches to learning that could be offered for sale and which would bring in a profit on the energy expended.
Educational businesses would not be concerned with accreditation. Their qualifications for selling their services would be determined by the individual judgment of each customer, and the reputation which a business was able to build up over the years would be the significant factor that would attract new students.
Entrance requirements would also be abandoned. If students were only taking courses for the sole purpose of gaining assistance in the learning process in subjects of genuine interest, many of the classes which exist today would vanish. Educational businesses would not need to restrict individuals from buying their services—undoubtedly they would have to actively seek customers as do other private service businesses.
No individual teacher or educational business would grant a certificate, diploma, degree, or any other document, for it is the power to grant such artificial rewards that places the club in the hand of the instructor allowing him dictatorial power over his students whereby he can demand, "Either you do the following or I will not pass you in this course and therefore you will be unable to obtain the certificate of graduation." The real rewards in the free enterprise educational experience will be the gaining of new knowledge and the understanding of how to further pursue subjects of interest.
In The Declaration of Educational Independence I wrote: "One will surely ask—If the current educational standards are abandoned, what will take their place? If there are no degrees awarded, how would an employer know the intellectual qualifications of a prospective employee? One can immediately answer that, at present, the employer cannot discern that which an individual knows when he accepts a degree as the criterion of judgment, for the degree does not in any way reveal the actual knowledge that the individual possesses. Any employer is acting on faith when he takes on an employee simply because he has completed a course of study and has obtained a degree.
"Logically, there is but one person who can judge the knowledge possessed by a hopeful employee, for it is only this person who can determine exactly what the employee must know in order to function in the position available. This person is the employer. The intellectual standards which he establishes are objective standards, for they are based on the facts of reality which he alone can determine by his knowledge of what must be known by an individual to handle a particular job. It is not only his right but his duty to test the applicant, for he is trading a value (money) for a value (the applicant's knowledge and ability) and he must be sure that he is receiving an equal value in the exchange if justice is to prevail."
Today, as we observe the actions of men throughout the world, as we note the widespread acceptance of the use of force as the means to any end, it. must be realized that the adults who operate on this premise are mental cripples. They are dehumanized creatures who have been taught from early youth that life is a battleground and that the only way to succeed is to gain the upper hand, to dominate and control others. The most specialized and lengthy indoctrination in this way of thinking takes place in school, from grammar school through the university. Thus, having escaped from the scholastic prisons as frightened, guilt ridden, semi-humans whose minds have never properly developed, these psychologically diseased ex-students stumble through life attempting to achieve that ever-illusive happiness which they have been told is possible, wondering why neither a position of power nor of subservience brings the satisfaction which they so desperately seek and need.
To attempt to explain to such mentally afflicted creatures that there is another approach to life, that it is possible to use one's mind maximally in making one's own decisions, choices, and judgments in the guidance of one's own life and in dealing with other humans in a fully rational manner is an almost impossible task. Just as one could not hope to encourage a man to remove the bindings from his legs and begin to run and jump if these limbs had been bound for several hours a day for a period of twelve years during which time the muscles had degenerated, so one could not hope to convince an individual to begin to use his mind to its full capacity when it has been shackled for several hours a day for over a decade, leaving it in a maimed and weakened condition. Only the rare few would struggle to regain the strength of their minds and fight their way back to some degree of normalcy, while the remaining masses would shrink in fear from the challenge and tenaciously cling to their debilitated condition.
If there are those who have wondered why there has never existed a free society on this earth, why the human race has been unable to establish a rational and sane existence, it is because the foundation upon which freedom is built has never been established. The most important aspect of this foundation is a philosophy, an approach to life based on the facts of reality as received by man's senses and grasped by man's rational faculty, an understanding of man's true nature and the correct actions which must be taken in order to comply with this nature. At this point in time such a philosophy exists (Objectivism), but it is of limited value if the other essential aspect of the foundation is missing: the presence of a human race that is mentally whole and healthy, a species of men possessing fully developed minds that is aware of the excitement, the exhilaration, the sheer joy of using the mind to its fullest.
Such a race of men has never existed and will never come into being until the youth of the world are recognized as human beings. Until the largest oppressed minority in the world, the children, are granted their rights as members of the human species. Until the children's prisons, the schools, are completely abolished—leaving each child free to develop his own mind, according to his own interests, at his own rate of speed, in a psychologically healthy environment.
We, in our debilitated condition, possessing minds which have been stunted in their functional development, must admit our infirmity and strive to remove those conditions which continue to warp the minds of the young. If we are to eliminate the world's most devastating affliction—Platonitis—we must begin by abandoning the institutions of learning as they are presently structured and which are mainly responsible for its existence and replace them with the only type of institutions that will prevent its recurrence—free enterprise businesses of education.
Having done this, we will have created the environment in which full mental development can take place. We will have made possible the completion of the foundation of freedom.
Thomas Johnson teaches at the Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia in Fredericksburg. He is the author of THE DECLARATION OF EDUCATIONAL INDEPENDENCE, a detailed indictment of the history and consequences of educational coercion, and a call for an educational renaissance. Copies are available from the author at $1 each.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Foundation of Freedom".