Watch What You’re Thinking, or Others Will Do It for You

Jean Piaget quote

Worried that your government might be controlling your thoughts? News flash: it already is.

Schooling affects cognition. We all learn various ways of thinking no matter what kind of classroom we are in. The final product, that is, what cognitive skills we acquire, can vary widely depending on the classroom, state, even country—and (and here is my point) who is running the joint.

You might think teachers are the ones who “teach” us and that’s the end of the story, but you would be wrong. Yes, teachers deliver the “product,” so to say. But what that product (read: education) is, is also determined by the administration running the school. If the administration wants you to be one of many sheep and turn out to be just like your parents and grandparents (and the administrators themselves), then teachers teach you using rote learning and multiple-choice tests. If the school wants you to be an independent thinker, then it employs instructors and chooses books that accomplish that goal. Teachers teach how the institution expects (or tells) them to teach.

But we’re not done climbing that educational food chain to determine who controls your thinking. Many educational institutions can be centralized or decentralized. In the extreme, governmental control can be absolute. Examples of highly centralized systems include North Korea, Saudi Arabia, the (now defunct) Soviet Union, and Cuba; less centralized systems would include those of the U.S. and Finland. In the highly centralized systems, the government controls who gets government funding, what to teach, how and how often to test, which books to use, how to train teachers, whom to hire, and so forth. In the U.S. many of these decisions are left to states. This control happens not just at K-12 levels: state colleges and universities also have to dance to the tune of their government’s policies if they receive federal or state dollars. If those policies say you should memorize everything or paint by numbers or imitate the great writers by copying their work, then that’s what you learn to do. That is your cognitive training.

I call it the educational system that Jack built: governmental officials write policies that inform educational institutions, who train teachers, who in turn teach our students to memorize or critically think or whatever they are told to do. So, beware of your government officials because they’ve got their hands on your brain!

Published by Nancy Burkhalter

I am in love with words. Trained as a linguist, journalist and researcher, I write, teach writing, and research everything about writing, especially how writing aids critical thinking. I've taught around the world, including three years in Kazakhstan, and a year each in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Germany.

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