The Fascist Approach to Education

By Ian Hodge (from his archives, 1987).

One of the major problems of our day is getting people to understand the world in which they live. There are few writers who attempt a serious analysis of contemporary society. There are also few Christians who read such books. Consequently, most people drift along content with the status quo. Until, that is, something like the NSW Education and Public Instruction Bill appears. Or it might be a proposed Bill of Rights. Usually, however, it is when ‘they’ come knocking at the door to take away the children that most adults begin to ask: What is happening here? Then they find there has been a small band of people who had been issuing warnings for years of what was to happen, but until the present situation occurs those warnings were not heeded.

Examples of this could be repeated from history. To mention just one, there were many who warned of the dangers of Hitler and the Nazi movement. How many Christians inside Germany heeded the warning — until it was too late? It took the German Baptists, for example, a whole generation after the war before they acknowledged a grave error on behalf of Baptists who, both before and during the war, tacitly accepted the Nazi movement. Maybe, then, we can learn something from this which is applicable now, in Australia, in relation to the NSW Education and Public Instruction Bill.

Education as Propaganda

The Nazis, as have the communists, made special use of education. Adolf Hitler knew that in the building of the new society, education, and the control of children, would be a vital ingredient to his success. But he had German history to assist him. Murray Rothbard has noted that “It is hardly coincidence that the most notoriously despotic state in Europe — Prussia — was the first to have a national system of compulsory education. …” While progress towards this was disrupted to some extent by the Thirty Years War, “at the close of this conflict, however, the various state governments moved to make school attendance compulsory upon penalty of fine and imprisonment of the children.” The first national education system in Europe was the Prussian compulsory school system, inaugurated by King Frederick William I at the beginning of the eighteenth century. His son, Frederick the Great, continued the establishment of public schools, and a century later, under King Frederick William III, semi-religious private schools were abolished and placed under state control. In 1810 examination and certification of all teachers by the state, was decreed. The Prussian system thus became a model for leading professional educators elsewhere to emulate.[1]

Thus, by the time Hitler arrived, he needed to do little to establish his new society. And he well understood the place of education. He said, in a speech on November 6, 1933, “When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already . . . What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.’” A little over three years later, on May 1, 1937 he could boast: “This new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing.” As historian William Schirer noted, “It was not an idle boast; that was precisely what was happening.”[2] Marx also knew the value of education. Thus he wrote, “The education of all children, from the moment that they can get along without a mother’s care, shall be at state institutions and at state expense.”

Schirer noted:

“The German schools, from first grade through universities, were quickly Nazified. Textbooks were hastily rewritten, curricula were changed, Mein Kampf was made — in the words of Der Deutsche Erzieher, official organ of the educators — ‘our official pedagogical guiding star’ and teachers who failed to see the new light were cast out. …

“Every person in the teaching profession, from kindergarten through the universities, was compelled to join the National Socialist Teachers’ League which, by law, was held ‘responsible for the execution of the ideological and political co-ordination of all teachers in accordance with the National Socialist Doctrine.’ The Civil Service Act of 1937 required teachers to be ‘the executors of the will of the party-supported State’ and to be ready ‘at any time to defend without reservation the National Socialist State.’ An earlier decree had classified them as civil servants. … Candidates for instructorships in the universities had to attend for six weeks an observation camp where their views and character were studied by Nazi experts and reported to the Ministry of Education, which issued licenses to teach based on the candidates’ political ‘reliability.[3]

Now, before you pick up your pen to tell us that while this may be what occurred in Nazi Germany, such control is not happening in Australia, consider some of the points raised above. First, the question of compulsory education. Implicit in any law which establishes compulsory education is the idea that all children are owned by the state. As the “parent” the state must insist on the education of its “offspring.” To do so requires the establishment of schools, and more importantly, the establishment of curricula which will be used in such schools in order that the children might be “educated.”

By What Standard?

Second, the control of teacher education and the issuance of licences to teach. Just as a driver’s licence permits you to drive on the road, so does the possession of a license to teach permit you to teach. It will be argued, however, that we must have standards. Licensure ensures standards, some say. But such is not the case. If state granted licensing ensures standards, how is it there is such a massive flight from the public schools by parents who find that standards – that is, state standards – are very poor indeed? If there is one myth firmly entrenched in the minds of many people, it is the falsehood that licensing ensures quality.

The truth is that state licensing of teachers has been used from the beginning as an excuse to suggest non-accredited (by the state) teachers were giving inferior education (See E.G. West, Education and the Industrial Revolution, B.T. Batsford Press, 1975). Proponents of state accreditation, however, forget there is another kind of accreditation: the willingness of parents to place their children under the care of a particular teacher. This also is the issuance of a license to teach, but it is conferred by the parents.
The question raised at this point is, of course, “What standard?” Or better, “Whose standard?” That is precisely the question upon which people generally, and professional educators especially, cannot agree. Whose license will prevail, that of the state or that of parents?

Rewriting the Textbooks

Third, the rewriting of the text books. Since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species there has been a massive rewriting of the textbooks. Whereas once the Bible was the basic source of information in most of the textbooks, there has been a systematic rewriting of the textbooks acceptable in public schools to eliminate any reference to God or His revelation to Man, the Bible. Unless the mention is one of ridicule or mere historical curiosity.
For instance, a teacher once informed us that he was not supposed to provide an answer (on the public school premises) to the following question: “Is it true Jesus Christ rose from the dead?” The reason he was not supposed to answer such a question is that it is a religious question, and teachers are to keep out of religious issues. Teachers do answer this question, either implicitly or explicitly, as this man would do. But the reasoning provided for not answering such a question is the heart of all real education.

Now it is true that the question of Jesus rising from the dead is a religious question. On the other hand, it is also a history question. And to exclude such questions from the history curriculum is as good a piece of rewriting the textbooks to suit one’s own beliefs as that practiced by the Third Reich. The fact that Christian parents are willing to place their children in history classes in schools which omit the most important fact in history, speaks for itself. Of course, we would not want to draw any parallels with Christian parents in Germany who also went along with the massive untruths taught in the Nazi classroom.

Fourth, try and understand the general direction in which education moved in Germany. From its inception it took approximately 250 years to come to fruition. From the beginnings of State education, the culmination was in the Nazi movement where not one area of life, including the so-called religious sphere of life, was free from controls. The only religious freedom which existed was that between the ears!

Can we find a similar direction in Australian education? The Public Instruction Act of 1880 begins, “An Act to make more adequate provision for Public Education.” Note the words “more adequate.” It would appear there was an inadequacy in the existing legislation at that time. One hundred and seven years later, the 1880 Act is insufficient. Thus, declares the Minister for Education, we need a new Act. What was wrong with the old one? Well, it did not provide the powers to enforce either compulsory school attendance or, more importantly, compulsory registration and the imposition of the public school curricula on all students in the state. Parents were choosing curricula which they thought superior. Why, they are even bringing religion into the classroom by insisting that God created the world, rather than a process of time and chance! Brainwashing, it is called. Propaganda. Our public school educators, of course, will insist that their curricula are not brainwashing or propaganda. No, theirs is the truth, and nothing but the truth. (We were tempted to add “so help me God,” but they don’t believe in Him, do they?)

Or take the Public Instruction (Amendment) Act of 1916, “An Act to amend the Public Instruction Act of 1880, to provide for certificates of efficiency to certain schools; to enforce the attendance of children at schools, and to deal with truancy. . . .” You see, they found the 1880 Act to be insufficient, just as the educators and politicians find, in 1987, that the 1916 Act is insufficient. Hence the claims by the Minister for Education, the Hon. Rodney Cavalier, that the proposed Bill is only in keeping with previous Acts. He’s right. It just ties up a few loose ends by amending certain perceived anomalies in previous legislation. The bureaucrats have no power to enforce registration. That will be changed. The 1916 Act permits the provision of “certificates of efficiency to certain schools” only. The 1987 Act will make it compulsory upon all schools to receive those certificates of efficiency. And if they don’t become registered?

State Controlled Religion!

The all-pervading controls of the Nazi state knew no limits. Now we find a similar attitude in the New South Wales Department of Education. In a memorandum sent to public school principals, dated November 13, 1986, the Director-General of Education set forth “New Procedures for Special Religious Instruction.” These are the religious instruction (RI) classes conducted in public schools by clergy and many lay folk. Under the heading “Responsibilities of Schools” it says: “The school should reserve the right to intervene in the event of unreasonable disruption to the school, alleged teaching inefficiency, or alleged distortion of religious doctrine. Such matters should be pursued by the principal in collaboration with the relevant Special Religious Instruction authorities and, if necessary, officers of the Department of Education” (emphasis added).

It might help to go back and read the previous paragraph once more. No, we didn’t make a mistake in quoting from the memorandum. And yes, it does say what you think it says. The Education Department will now determine religious doctrine. So the question now arises: “What is a distortion of religious doctrine?” Maybe we can guess a few of the more popular ones. When you teach in the RI class that evolution is untrue and the children begin to question in their normal classes the evidence (of which there is none) given to support the evolutionary hypothesis. Or, when you insist that the Triune God of Scripture demands that all men, including those in public office, live in obedience to His commandments. Or when you insist that abortion is murder, pre-marital sex is wrong, homosexuality is not an alternate life-style, and AIDS is the judgment of God upon a sinful generation.

Now it is not too long ago that public officials would not have taken upon themselves the prerogative of determining when a distortion of religious doctrine had occurred. But time marches on, and we progress towards the goal of all humanists: complete control. Totalitarianism, it is called. Fascism. Communism. Socialism. Admittedly, they will “collaborate” with the “relevant Special Religious Instruction authorities.” The operative word, though is and. “And, if necessary, officers of the Department of Education.” If necessary? One suspects they do not think that the “relevant Special Religious Instruction authorities” — that means, presumably, the local clergy and their respective churches — are capable of resolving any dispute. Not to worry, education officers, the new breed of religious instruction authorities, will settle any argument.

Now an interesting question arises here. Who is going to determine when an “alleged distortion of religious doctrine” has occurred? We presume those taking the classes know what they believe and are teaching the same. Well, then, can a Presbyterian claim a “distortion of religious doctrine” has occurred if a Baptist teaches his view of baptism? Or can the Baptist claim a “distortion of religious doctrine” if an Anglican teaches his view of Church government? One suspects that the only people who will claim a “distortion of religious doctrine” are the authorities themselves, those employed by the Department of Education. After all, attendance at the special Religious Instruction classes is not compulsory, so parents who don’t like what is being taught can simply keep their child out of those classes. Or, if they don’t happen to agree with the doctrine taught in one class, could choose another.

Are we exaggerating? Consider paragraph 6 under the same section of the Memorandum. “Special Religious Instruction periods should be consistent in length with the operation of normal periods, and be in accord with the age and attention span of the children, as well as the nature of the material being presented.” Does that mean they can cut down the allotted time if they think the nature of the material is not in accord with the age and attention span of the children? It would appear so. Again, the question arises, “What constitutes appropriate material?” So many questions which will be answered by the public education specialists. We hear that enrollments at many theological and bible colleges are down this year. Maybe herein lies a solution: Active recruitment of officers of the Department of Education. At least this way public educators might gain some competence to determine when a “distortion of religious doctrine” has occurred.

If you’re still in doubt that educators will control Christian teaching, remember that those who called for the establishment of public schools last century did so because they wanted to stop Christianity being taught in the schools of that time, which were predominantly Church operated. State schooling and the abolition of Christianity go hand in hand!

Sacred Duty

Now if you were to ask whether the present officials are going to control religion right at this moment, the answer would probably be no. But we ask you, which direction are we headed?

In one of the most important books ever written, Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich Hayek outlined the economic Road to Serfdom (University of Chicago Press, 1944). Hayek shows how Hitler came to power. It was a gradual process. Little by little, over the centuries, Germans accepted the idea of more state control in every area of life. Eventually someone arrived who said all power belonged to him, and he abolished free elections to prove the point.
We mentioned above the rewriting of history books. One of the interesting facts of history is that every revolution towards despotism for the past 300 years or more has followed the same pattern. But do they teach us that in the school history books? No! Those who do not know history cannot learn from the past and are destined to repeat the errors of their forefathers.

Hayek’s book has a chapter entitled “Why the Worst Get on Top.” It’s vital reading for anyone concerned with freedom. Essentially, Hayek argues, as power centralizes upward, it attracts people who are obsessed with power, their own power. Freedom has only been achieved in the past as power was decentralized. We have frequently heard Christians defend compulsory education with the argument that perhaps sinful parents won’t educate their children. Now that may be so. But what makes them think public educators aren’t also affected by sin? If sin means parents cannot be trusted, it means bureaucrats cannot be trusted either.

But sinful men, having accepted the tempter’s lie to “…be like God” (Gen. 3:5), do precisely that. They attempt to take the place of God and begin to dictate to their fellow men what should and should not be done. All in the name of the new community, or new humanity, of course. No, they are not despots or tyrants. It’s just that the rest of us misunderstand their true benevolence. If you don’t believe us, ask them. They claim, as has the Hon. Mr. Cavalier, to have “a sacred duty to protect the education of all children in this state.” One wonders from whom they are determined to protect the children. The children’s parents?

Six Rs of Public Education

But who will “protect” the children from the public educators? Who will protect our children from the Six Rs of public education: Remedial Reading, Remedial ‘Riting, and Remedial ‘Rithmetic? The Minister for Education claims that standards in the public schools are not declining. Yet the massive growth of private schools (over 180 in NSW and 500 Australia wide since 1980) is indication that parents don’t agree with him. Now we are not against remedial classes for special cases. But too often, the public school remedial classes exist because there is a fundamental failure in the normal classroom teaching the Three Rs.

Who Owns Your Child?

This is the question and the issue at the heart of the Public Instruction Bill, whether it is the 1880 version or the proposed 1987 model. It is, of course, a religious question. It is also a legal and moral question. Who has delegated to the state the “sacred duty” to “protect” the education of all children? Does the fact that a number of people has voted for the politicians who introduce such legislation provide the basis for the Minister to claim a “sacred duty?” The answer must be no. Implicit in this statement by the Minister is a claim to a Higher Authority for the state to become the legal guardian of all children within its borders. Thus the question is: “Has God given the state a ‘sacred duty’ to protect the children within its borders?” Writing in 1886, Zachary Montgomery, who became Assistant Attorney-General in the US, penned the best defense of parental controlled education we have ever seen. I leave you with this challenge:

Therefore, in our humble opinion, the true and proper course to be pursued by the friends of education reform is to keep prominently before the people as the fundamental, the vital issue, this question, namely: Shall the parent or the political State determine for a child who shall be its teacher, its companions, and what books it shall or shall not study? Let all other issues be made subordinate to this.[4]

Postscript

Some of the proposed legislation spoken of in this article never made it past the next State election in New South Wales when the Labor Party was soundly defeated at the polls. The education issue was a big factor in their defeat.

Footnotes    (back returns to text)

  1. (Murray Rothbard, Education, Free and Compulsory, Center for Independent Education, pp. 23ff.)↵back
  2. William L. Schirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Nationwide Book Service [1959] 1980, pp. 248-256.↵back
  3. Shirer, p. 249.↵back
  4. Zachary Montgomery, Poison Drops in the Federal Senate (Gibson Brothers, 1886) p. 81.↵back

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