Summary of the fifth Dialogues at Hanspaulka
Is the degree of indoctrination at our schools higher or lower than during late communism?
On Wednesday 19th, the halls of the Institute of Václav Klaus witnessed the fifth "Dialogues at Hanspaulka [a neighborhood in Prague]". The participants – about 20 panelists – were spending their time with the issue of our education system from a particular angle described in the title above: they were deciding whether the degree of indoctrination of our kids at schools is higher or lower than it used to be during the final years of communism. I emphasize the adjective "late" i.e., to a large extent, "stale" communism that was self-evidently displaying no powerful charge. We wanted to completely avoid discussions about our schools in the scary decade of the 1950s; communism wasn't "stale" then at all.
During the debate, the participants understood very quickly that it was necessary to sharpen the topic and make it narrower and it helped to structure the discussion in a useful way, but a more general discussion about our education system and the whole society ultimately couldn't be avoided. Our schools don't live in the vacuum; not just the children at schools, but the society as a whole is a subject of some extraordinarily intense indoctrination. Topics such as the gender equality, education towards the planetary conscience, education of Europeism, bringing up the children to see in the "green" way, and so on is affecting not only the children but even their parents, and it is doing so in a very dramatic way. Children are nevertheless more vulnerable to an indoctrination organized in sophisticated ways (we need to emphasize that indoctrination is something completely different than education) than the adults. Only one participant was defending the opinion that the young people were and are immune towards all forms of indoctrination. (It's a similar opinion as someone's bold claim that he isn't affected by advertisements!) The prevailing opinion was the opposite one: children are much more defenseless towards this indoctrination than the adults.
The dominant sentiment was the feeling of erosion, decay, and destruction of the Czech education system. The debaters were seeing it in a plethora of symptoms (which belong among more general symptoms of the decay of broader institutions – the state and the family). The first of them was the abandoning of the traditional, verified model of Czech (and in many respects Central European) education system and, as one participant said, "permanent looking abroad" to find the guides telling us what to do. Repeatedly, we could hear about the decreasing difficulty and weakening demands of our schools which expands the space for "soft", doctrinal topics. The prevailing value is the desire "not to overload kids", to primarily discuss with them, not to want them to study much and solve too much homework, and to leave lots of leisure time to them. (I would add, time to follow Facebook.) It's important to maximally reduce the amount of boring learning and to increase the entertainment value.
We are worried about the long-term pressure to leave the paradigm of the "classical education shaping a new human being", a pressure designed according to the ideals of the currently dominant European politically correct, intrinsically left-wing, progressivist reasoning. First, we liked the goal to "codify the value-neutral education system" but later we realized that the education isn't possible in the vacuum. The invitation to the value-neutral education system superficially looks nice and intriguing but we mustn't give up the values that underlie our Western (and European) civilization. The participants of the discussion had the feeling that our society is abandoning these values. Words like "gender correctness of textbooks" (explicitly mentioned in a material of our Ministry of Education from September 2013) aren't igniting the same shock and disagreement in an overwhelming majority of the parents – it seems – as they are among the participants of the yesterday's discussion.
As one debater has said, "our school system mostly reacts to the interests and opinions of the minorities only"; in other words, the opinion of the majority is absent. It's also caused by the fact that our main political parties aren't interested (and, since 1989, have never been interested) in these topics and the chair of the minister of education has always been underestimated. (The criticism was directed against me as well and I admitted that I have never found a high-quality minister of education during my tenure as the prime minister.) We didn't want to talk about details but many debaters who work at schools nevertheless emphasized a giant problem of the RVPs (framework-level education programs), the planned career rules for teachers, the role and quality of the pedagogic faculties of universities, and other things, but our debate wasn't primarily about these matters.
During the debate on the relative degree of indoctrination, participants would remind everyone not to underestimate the indoctrination of the 1980s. This was being stressed especially by those who spent those years as students or young teachers. My generation has had already figured out the truth about all these things and it was convinced that no one could have believed communism anymore. This feeling is a topic for a deeper discussion in a different forum. The dominant opinion was that the current indoctrination is stronger than it was then. In the 1980s, the indoctrination was stripped of the content and unconvincing but today, much more indoctrination than in the 1980s is coming from "below, from excited grassroot individuals". We're finally getting to the elementary classification of indoctrination to the top-down indoctrination and the bottom-up indoctrination. Even though people would mention that the actual structure of types of indoctrination is more complex, I nevertheless think that this basic classification is useful.
The top-down indoctrination means the official documents (and everyday political work) of the Ministry of Education as well as the general policies of the government that is completely mindlessly adopting the opinions and attitudes coming from Brussels. The debaters would point to an extraordinarily dangerous propagation of the belief that "the Czech education system may only be saved by the European funds". The belief is so dangerous because these European funds inseparably arrive in a package along with the inevitable indoctrination by the politically correct European topics of the present. The bottom-up indoctrination (and maybe the indoctrination from the side) was agreed to denote the activities of assorted NGOs that extraordinarily vigorously – as many directors and principals of schools were showing using numerous examples from their experience – present their promotion of certain ideological doctrines, instead of the standard education, on a daily basis, often paid by the Czech taxpayer or from the European funds. Another unusually pernicious development identified by the debaters was the mass proliferation of the new soft disciplines at our universities which basically represent "an industry to mass produce future activists". The activities of the Green Party were graded extraordinarily negatively – the influence of this party doesn't seem to fade away even though the party is no longer in the government or the parliament. The classification of indoctrination to the bottom-up and top-down types has some fuzzy boundaries and we shouldn't forget about one of the unfortunate trends of the present, namely the "privatization of the public executive power by various no-profit organizations".
If you allow me to summarize the discussion, most participants shared the opinion that the trend is deteriorating – schools spend less and less time by education and upbringing and more time by indoctrination. More than a few isolated participants have voiced the opinion that the present is only some "tickling" and that the evidence indicates that very soon, the conditions will "cool down i.e. become harsher and in the name of progress, things will cease to be just fun". The struggle for our education system is – even though an overwhelming majority of the people (and especially parents) isn't realizing this point at all – "one of the main battles of the present in which the sides are waging a silent war about the future of the young generation". This struggle for education, but also for the family, is a political battle par excellence but in our country – as opposed to some other countries – it is not being considered as a political one at all. So far, it's just a one-sided Blitzkrieg staged by one side that isn't meeting the resistance by those of us who see things totally differently. And that's why we have organized these Dialogues at Hanspaulka.
Václav Klaus, March 20th, 2014