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This post is a continuation of the story I started yesterday. This story, in case you’ve forgotten, is about my History teacher’s dedication to the cause of “good citizenship”, and his efforts to “indoctrinate” everyone to ensure they would agree.

As I mentioned last time, I was opposed to the slideshow, the main tool of “indoctrination”. My teacher could hardly believe it. “Why do you object to my slideshow? It’s all positive things!”

“What, all positive things like ‘following orders’?”

He conceded that this did not sound very positive, and changed it to ‘cooperation’. “See? Now you have no reason to object to my slideshow.” I still did.

I made my opposition known in various minor ways. I refused to watch the slideshow. I warned others not to watch the slideshow. I mocked “good citizenship”. Obviously this wasn’t a very vigorous protest, but it was enough to provoke a reaction. “I think you’ll have to move up to the intense indoctrination program,” my teacher warned, without elaborating as to what that actually was. I wasn’t really worried.

At the same time, my teacher was also encouraging everyone to have political opinions. And to discuss them! To this end, he founded a lunchtime group called “Controversy Café”. Attendees got free coffee in exchange for discussing issues in the media. In History class, we spent a week describing our political opinions and forming “political parties” with classmates with similar views. We also did quizzes and were assigned political labels; I was a “left-leaning libertarian”. While we were required to believe in “good citizenship”, all our other opinions were up to us — but to be a “good citizen”, we had to have them.

My teacher liked to ask random questions and ascertain people’s opinions. His favourite, for a while, was “Do you think you have too many rights? Should you have some taken away?”

Obviously, I disagreed. (I wasn’t alone either, let me assure you!) I think rights are incredibly important. People should have the freedom to do what they want, when it doesn’t impinge on others’ freedoms. If you’re not allowed to do something, I think you should always ask why not. If there’s no good reason, it’s a stupid rule, and why should you follow stupid rules?

This is pretty much the exact opposite of my History teacher’s opinion. It’s not that he’s against rights, exactly, he just thinks rights should be earned. That would make a right less of a right and more of an earned privilege, so I suppose you could say he’s against rights. His believes that the state, as the entity that grants rights, should only have to grant rights to people who serve them. Fair is fair. If you’re not going to do anything for the state, why should the state do anything for you?

We discussed the issue many times, along with the slideshow, and never came to any kind of agreement. The issues of the slideshow and rights are inextricably linked, perhaps for obvious reasons. I explained to my teacher that I thought the slideshow took away people’s freedom of belief. After all, it told them what to think.

“But people don’t want to think,” my teacher protested. “You think all those people out there, you think they want to think? No. They want someone to lead them. And all I’m saying is, that someone should be me.”

Later, upon realising this was a stupid argument, he changed his tune. The slideshow did not tell anyone what to think; it merely presented a point of view about which people could make up their own minds. Furthermore, I was the one violating human rights by opposing it.

“What about my freedom of speech?” he demanded. “You’re always trying to curtail my freedom of speech!”

“What? It’s not possible to curtail your freedom of speech! You’d never give it up.”

“Well, you’re trying to stop me playing the slideshow! Don’t I have the right to have a slideshow? Isn’t it a violation of my freedom of speech to make me not play it?”

For your information, I did not do anything to stop him playing that slideshow. All I had the ability to do was undermine it, which I did. This strategy became the basis of the big rebellion in my last week of classes.

I was not alone in objecting to the slideshow. Another teacher at my school shared my qualms about my teacher’s “authority knows best, so don’t argue” message, so we developed a plan to fight back. Our plan was quite simple. We put together a mock slide, rather like this one:

Questioning authority is part of being a good citizen.

We made a ton of copies and stuck them up everywhere. By “everywhere” I mean all over my History teacher’s office, and all over the two History classrooms. The photo above is of one of the signs that faced the corridor. Everyone walking past would know something was up.

My History teacher was furious about the signs. He ripped them all off the wall, and said to me, “I am very disappointed that you think this kind of behaviour is acceptable. You have committed a very serious violation of the school rules.”

He wasn’t able to tell me which rule I’d broken. “Well, no, you haven’t violated any rules. What’s disconcerting is that you’re encouraging violations of the rules. I mean, really, I’m concerned that you think this is okay!”

I tried to argue my point. What the signs said was true. People had to question authority. If authority was never questioned, it would be free to do whatever totalitarian things it chose — and that would clearly be unacceptable. Not sticking up a bunch of harmless signs.

Naturally, he didn’t sympathise with my point of view. He was furious with me for a whole day. Still, after that his anger subsided, and then he just complained about my apparent inability to understand the “artificial construct of school”. He rambled about how, once I’ve graduated, I can do pretty much whatever I like and get by just fine. There’s no requirement to be a good citizen in “the real world”. Consequently, he said, “The slideshow’s not the be-all and end-all.”

I did a double-take at this. I had to. “The slideshow’s not the be-all and end-all? You’re admitting it?”

“Wait, no! I misspoke. I mean it’s not the be-all and end-all in a non-school environment. Until you graduate, it still is.”

It wasn’t quite the wholehearted renunciation I might have hoped for. Considering I’d held out little hope for any renunciation, I was still impressed. We’d made progress!

However, it was my last week of classes, and he clearly reverted back to his old ways as soon as I left. My History report commented on my “citizenship”, and when I spoke to my teacher on Presentation Night, he explained that he hasn’t given up on indoctrinating me yet. Clearly we’ll have to put up some more signs this year. I guess the story isn’t over yet.

The story so far is extremely long, so if you sat through it all, thank you. I hope I’ve been fair in my summary, and not “misrepresented” anyone. If I haven’t been, Anonymous Bob may well turn up to set the story straight. It’s happened before.

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2 Comments

  1. Questioning authority IS part of being a good citizen. I couldn’t comment on your first post because I was in a hurry but I was thinking about it after I had turned off my laptop. I would be outraged if someone told me that listening/keeping quiet/following orders are all necessary to be a good citizenship and that they are trying to drill these ideas into my mind. To some extent, these things are necessary. However, this would only work if everything in this world was perfect and there is absolutely no need for questioning authority. If I were to see blatant racism going on in school/in a trial/at work, etc, am I supposed to keep my mouth shut about it because saying something would not make me a good citizen?

  2. My goodness. I still can’t believe that a professor would be… like that! I just can’t find the words for it. I’m glad that you were able to have that victory against him, even if there was nobody there to witness it.


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