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Thomas Edsall’s “Contract with Authoritarianism” Begins in Schools

April 8, 2018

Thomas Edsall’s op ed column this week, “The Contract With Authoritarianism“, provides a description of our nation’s devolution from a nurturing nation that values and supports all its citizens to the country governed by self-interest. Mr. Edsall attributes this devolution to a rise in authoritarianism, spurred in large measure by voters who favor “Strict Father” model of family life over the “Nurturant Parent”model. He summarizes these two contrasting perspectives as follows:

In 1994, Newt Gingrich, brandishing his Contract with America, led a Republican revolution that swept aside Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, initiating an epoch of conservative ascendancy that lingers on. Don Sipple, a Republican campaign consultant, declared at the time that the 1994 midterms pitted a Republican Party calling for “discipline” against a Democratic Party focused on “therapy.”

Two years later, George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at Berkeley, published “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think,” which argued that

“Deeply embedded in conservative and liberal politics are two different models of the family. Conservatism is based on a Strict Father model, while liberalism is centered on a Nurturant Parent model. These two models of the family give rise to different moral systems.”

Several approaches to contemporary politics echo the insights of Sipple and Lakoff. The crucial word now, however, is authoritarianism.

The balance of the article describes the rise of authoritarian mindset inner country but neglects to mention the role public education is unwittingly playing in promoting that mindset. As one who views the family model as a “Nurturant Parent” and sees the need for “discipline” and “therapy to be placed on equal footing, I fear that we are inculcating authoritarianism in our children in the name of “safe schools” in the wake of the horrific shootings since Columbine. Instead of investing in counseling and mental health services we are “hardening” our schools by adding armed guards, surveillance cameras, and door locks that keep “potential shooters” outside. Instead of developing school-wide plans to identify and work with alienated and troubled children we are developing school-wide plans to “shelter students” from “shooters”. Our children are learning to live in an authoritarian state where strangers are all potential “shooters”, where only good guys with guns can save them, and where 24/7 monitoring is a necessary trade-off to remain safe and secure.

We need to take a collective deep breath as a nation before we spend another dollar “hardening” our schools… for as we harden the schools, we hardening the hearts of the students who attend those schools.

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