Skip to main content

Social engineering in schools

My school motto
One of the things I notice often in the schools here is the deliberate social engineering that is built into the curriculum. In nearly all subjects, the raw content is subsumed to varying degrees by a social justice "context." Mathematics provides the most obvious examples—different historical number systems are supposed to be taught to Grade 4, and a Grade 9 maths test last year turned into a massive personal history project compiling the voting records of the entire village with an essay on the success of the democratic government thrown in for good measure.  These efforts seem misguided to me, as I will explain later.

I am reminded of similar efforts in the US.  Conservatives have a semi-permanent campaign to install their dogmas into the classroom, from the perennial creationist efforts to David Horowitz's program for affirmative action for conservatives at universities.  This is not to say the left doesn't do this as well (I'm thinking of a shallow veneer of foolish political correctness from my days in high school, hard to pin down), but the conservative effort is far more widespread and seems to stem from a hostility to academia in general (indeed, sometimes knowledge of any kind).

This is not to say that all such efforts are wrong or misguided.  Some are, particularly with respect to science and maths, but some are probably essential to living in the modern world.  But they stem from a similar impulse of control.  What are we teaching the children?? is such a morally loaded question that many, particularly politicians, use it to make moral statements about the country—or as a political cudgel—without regard to the educational outcomes affected.  Creationists provide probably the purest example of this—their continual meddling is a direct threat to successful education and makes various conservative states the laughingstock of the world on a regular basis.

Though I am often irritated by this social engineering, I don't think it should be wholly condemned in every case.  What I am saying is that a certain base standard of education must hold before these efforts have even a prayer of success.  If a student coming out of Grade 9 cannot read and write well, and do reasonably sophisticated maths (say basic algebra), the social engineering is utterly worthless.  A large percentage of South African schools are not meeting this standard.

Furthermore, unless such programs are well-designed, social engineering is likely to miss its target or backfire.  Though less than in the US, much of what happens in my school is contaminated by the unavoidable squareness of it being a school.  Rebelling against received wisdom is a classic way of asserting one's independence.  For example, at a presentation in Life Orientation class (basically analogous to Health) delivered in my neighboring village where the students could pick the topic, every one chose to say that the LO class should be changed to not include sex education, as it causes students to have sex more.  The mind reels. 

The best stuff speaks for itself—listening to the I Have a Dream speech is far more effective than listening to a teacher talk about it.


  1. All good points. I think that the system sadly hasn't changed much since Apartheid in that it is teaching TO not teaching with. The learner is expected to passively regurgitate facts but yet when asked a logic question that requires critical thinking is utterly lost.

    I see it with kids all the time, even preschool/pre-Grade R kids.. if they get it right, great! If they say the wrong thing, try again until the correct answer appears.

  2. Yeah, basic pedagogy and thinking before trying to pump out Jeffersonian democrats.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Why Did Reality Winner Leak to the Intercept?

So Reality Winner, former NSA contractor, is in federal prison for leaking classified information — for five years and three months, the longest sentence of any whistleblower in history. She gave documents on how Russia had attempted to hack vendors of election machinery and software to The Intercept , which completely bungled basic security procedures (according to a recent New York Times piece from Ben Smith, the main fault lay with Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito ), leading to her capture within hours. Winner recently contracted COVID-19 in prison, and is reportedly suffering some lingering aftereffects. Glenn Greenwald has been furiously denying that he had anything at all to do with the Winner clusterfuck, and I recently got in an argument with him about it on Twitter. I read a New York story about Winner, which clearly implies that she was listening to the Intercepted podcast of March 22, 2017 , where Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill expressed skepticism about Russia actually b

The Basic Instinct of Socialism

This year I finally decided to stop beating around the bush and start calling myself a democratic socialist. I think the reason for the long hesitation is the very long record of horrifying atrocities carried out by self-described socialist countries. Of course, there is no social system that doesn't have a long, bloody rap sheet, capitalism very much included . But I've never described myself as a capitalist either, and the whole point of socialism is that it's supposed to be better than that. So of course I cannot be a tankie — Stalin and Mao were evil, terrible butchers, some of the worst people who ever lived. There are two basic lessons to be learned from the failures of Soviet and Chinese Communism, I think. One is that Marxism-Leninism is not a just or workable system. One cannot simply skip over capitalist development, and any socialist project must be democratic and preserve basic liberal freedoms. The second, perhaps more profound lesson, is that there is no s

Varanus albigularis albigularis

That is the Latin name for the white-throated monitor lizard , a large reptile native to southern Africa that can grow up to two meters long (see pictures of one at the Oakland Zoo here ). In Setswana, it's called a "gopane." I saw one of these in my village yesterday on the way back from my run. Some kids from school found it in the riverbed and tortured it to death, stabbing out its eyes, cutting off its tail, and gutting it which finally killed it. It seemed to be a female as there were a bunch of round white things I can only imagine were eggs amongst the guts. I only arrived after it was already dead, but they described what had happened with much hilarity and re-enactment. When I asked why they killed it, they said it was because it would eat their chickens and eggs, which is probably true, and because it sucks blood from people, which is completely ridiculous. It might bite a person, but not unless threatened. It seems roughly the same as killing wolves that