Lessons We All Learned In School: Lesson 1

If you were educated in a modern school, public or private, secular or religious, for all or most of the period from ages four to eighteen, you learned several thought- and character-altering lessons which you have carried with you throughout your subsequent life. None of these most important lessons are directly related to “school subjects” — you have likely forgotten nearly all of the overt class content, of course, almost as though you had never learned it — but in truth they have affected you far more than any of the overtly academic elements of your school life.

These indirect soul-training lessons are, in effect, the defining essence of modern schooling, to the extent that this schooling is undertaken in conformity with the precepts and principles of all compulsory education in our age, as established in the highest theory by the seminal thinkers in progressive schooling, Fichte and Dewey, and as reinforced in practice by the daily workings of any normal school system you will find, anywhere.

Due to inevitable variations in emphasis, and insertions of local color, these lessons are given different relative priority, or produced through distinct mechanisms, in different nations, or even in different regions within any given country. Nevertheless, insofar as any advanced nation’s education system is governed by the basic principles of progressive compulsory schooling — and this condition is universal today — these subterranean or subliminal teachings will be found, and found to have had their intended effect, everywhere.

I propose to isolate and examine a few of these implicit lessons, one at a time, as part of my ongoing autopsy report on modern civilization. 

Here in our first installment, let us examine one of the most comprehensive and insidious of all the lessons you ever learned, the one we all learned every day, throughout our entire school lives: Nothing you ever think about is important enough to interrupt the scheduled and socialized flow of daily life.

The teacher of this all-important lesson: the school bell.

The bell rings at the end of each “period.” Suddenly, everyone must stop thinking about whatever he was thinking about, whatever he had not yet solved, or whatever he was hoping to ask, and simply move on, immediately, to think about something else. This routine of systematically and abruptly curtailing thought in progress is repeated multiple times, several days a week, through most of the formative years.

The lesson learned from this is so obvious and universal that few of us are even aware of having learned it: Nothing really matters very much. Nothing is compelling enough to stay focused on it for an extended period of time, or even indefinitely. There is no idea, no theme, no problem so pressing that it cannot and should not be interrupted for a rest period, for a joke session, or for an arbitrary pivot to a completely different topic of inquiry.

Under the reign of the school bell, all thought is compartmentalized, reduced to its proper time slot, cordoned off from any broader reality, and thereby relativized. Every idea and theme is diminished in significance. No interest or curiosity is worth getting obsessed over. Nothing is of primary or overwhelming importance in the big scheme of things. On the contrary, that “big scheme of things” — the abstract and unfathomable realm of automatized responses and unreflecting obedience to The Clock, The Schedule, The System — becomes in itself the matter of overwhelming importance, when all thinkable ideas have been forcibly and inescapably relegated to their isolated, fenced-in corners of the mind.

A people raised in this way will never rise up, never reach a last straw, never forsake the routines and rhythms of regimented, relativized reality. They will be tame, they will do their jobs, they will accept the diversions offered to them, and they will “rebel” only on schedule, and only against the things they are permitted or ordered to rebel against by the overseers who have decided it is time for Rebellion Class. (The recent “school strikes” against global warming, orchestrated around the world by international progressive organizations — which of course also control the public school teachers’ unions in every advanced nation — exemplify this last point with a bluntness that rises to the level of parody.) But when the next bell rings, such a people will dutifully curtail their quasi-rebellious thought processes as directed, and turn, after their assigned five-minute rest period, to the next subject.

“I can’t believe what’s happening to this country. We have to stand up to these people and…”


“Who are you picking in the Nimrod Tech-Babel U. game this weekend? Man, I love Saturday afternoons!”

Meanwhile, libertarians continue to squeak about how public schools aren’t such a big problem, because adults are still free to do whatever they want in the end. No they are not. People can operate “freely” only within the confines of the world they have learned to identify as reality. Mental processes and psycho-social parameters determined through years of regimented and state-compelled habit-formation do not suddenly disappear when Milton Friedman opens his mouth.

The school bell owns the mind of man today. We kick up dirt and shake our fists occasionally, on cue, but we will stay in our pen, not because we love it, but because we have learned to comfort ourselves through our perpetual boredom with the secure knowledge that the bell is coming soon to offer us its pleasant moment of emotional release, and its promise of a safely planned bit of variety.


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