It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, world!

Trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) sounds like it’s straight from the laboratories of a mad scientist-well in some respects it is. The exclusive, somewhat secretive world of psychiatry has used electricity as a form of ‘therapy’ for decades. Through applying electrical current directly to the brain Psychiatrists attempt the reconstruction of reality as experienced by their ‘patients’. The late Professor Thomas Szasz, himself a psychiatrist was a fierce opponent of such practices arguing that mental illnesses are not real diseases, except for those with quite specific physical symptoms like Alzheimers and Dementia. He claimed-rightly so I think-that there are no objective, verifiable approaches to identifying whether a mental illness is present or not. It is almost impossible to falsify the research findings of psychiatry, for the most part they become lost in a maze of data and statistical analysis with meaning hard to locate when applied to standardized views of acceptable human behavior.
Most if not all psychiatric diagnoses are based upon a perceived understanding of what is real and what is considered acceptable thinking as acted out within the realm of private, personal and social behavior in a culture or society. In his classic book on self-development and independence, ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him’, Sheldon B Kopp tells the insightful, witty and perceptive story about a man dressed in a white sheet and a funny pointed hat, speaking gibberish, being arrested by the police in a US town. He is taken off to a psychiatric institution, evaluated and assessed as quite mad. The following morning a dozen or so other similarly dressed persons appear at the institution while speaking the same strange language and seeking their lost friend. The captive man was eventually released into their custody. The moral of the story, according to Kopp, is that one man exhibiting strange behavior is a lunatic while a group of them represent an acceptable, if not slightly odd, community. And this seems to be the ever present danger within 21st century humanity today.
A recent online report (Young, 2014) claims that neuroscientists are able to change the brain function of healthy people through electric shock stimulation. Furthermore, the US military are testing this on their soldiers to improve and enhance their ability to react especially under stress and when deprived of sleep (Young, 2014). Researchers into this brave new world of mind-body manipulation observe the reactions of the brain through infra-red imaging. They stimulate the motor cortex and inhibit the prefrontal cortex to manipulate human cognitive processes and the accompanying physical responses. It is claimed that the results are extraordinary and improving performance and researchers maintain the effects last long term. According to the report researchers are also investigating ultrasound and laser light to manipulate brain wave patterns. This kind of research on human subjects raises serious ethical as well as medical concerns, especially around the long term effects and whether or not as the subjects age any long term damage will emerge. And whether the very essence and nature of a human being-our consciousness-should be manipulated to the extent that our actions are predetermined and we lose our capacity to exercise our free will. Perhaps we’ll find out in a similar fashion as we did when we had humans observe those nuclear tests in the deserts of the US and Australia during the 1950s when a horror was unleashed on humanity. It really is a mad, mad, mad, mad world!

Young, E. (2014, June 3). BBC Future. Retrieved from BBC News:

Manipulating Young Minds: American Gun Culture and the Cycle of Violence

Families are a microcosm of the communities they emanate from; subsequently issues of human behaviour and how to modify and encourage its various manifestations are among some of the most contentious issues in society. Do we live in a more enlightened age when it comes to matters relating to raising children, understanding human behaviour and promoting appropriate values and standards in our societies?
A report out of the United States of America suggests that some parents teach their children as young as 4 years old how to use a gun-not any gun mind you, but high powered weapons of mass destruction like machine guns, including high powered, rapid fire assault weapons. The parents who support teaching their children to use these dangerous weapons argue that it “demystifies guns and help children learn the dangers of them. They say that it is simply a means to an end and will help reduce gun crime and mass murders in the long term (Sawyer, 2014). Disbelief is simply an understatement when attempting to understand the kind of reasoning being used here. To argue such a case without any idea of its implications is staggering, and one needs to ask should parents who advocate and promote putting high powered assault weapons in the hands of kindergarten aged children be considered fit enough to raise a balanced, well adjusted child? To what extent are they endangering the healthy psychological and emotional development of the child? Furthermore are they manipulating the child into believing that a gun or any other weapon is simply an innocuous harmless piece of technology if used correctly? Moreover are they carrying out an act of cruelty by forcing very young children to use weapons which kill and maim humans and other creatures?
The renowned psychoanalyst Alice Miller would argue that “The conviction that parents are always right and that every act of cruelty, whether conscious or unconscious, is an expression of their love is so deeply rooted in human beings, because it is based on the process of internalization that takes place during the first few months of life…” (Miller, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, 1990, p.5) She further asserts one of the more obvious empirical conclusions one can draw from human nature, and that is if a child is nurtured with unconditional love and understanding, and without physical violence or emotional blackmail, then they in turn will practice the same kind of behaviours as fully grown human beings.
Teaching and training children as young as 4 years old how to use weapons of mass destruction, when they have yet to develop their own moral sensibilities is wrong. It is a form of emotional blackmail and manipulation. It is a form of child abuse.
Miller’s more serious assertion, and one all parents ought to take heed of, is that more often than not methods of child-rearing, including discipline and moral regulation in families, is carried out in such a manner so that a child is not aware of what is being done to him or her. Clearly parents have a choice whether to put a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of their child or a toy or game which promotes a more harmonious, civil and balanced set of values and standards.
Miller says it is generally accepted that children forget a lot of their early childhood, but the serious consequences from the trauma of harsh treatment will live on and manifest itself from mild neurosis as an adult, to the more bizarre manifestations of complex psychopathologies. There are no harmless pedagogies or ways of raising children she argues, because even when an adult is sure they are considering the best interests of the child there true motives are:
 The unconscious need to pass on to others the humiliation one has undergone oneself.
 The need to find an outlet for repressed affect.
 The need to possess and have at one’s disposal a vital object to manipulate.
 Self-defence: i.e., the need to idealize one’s childhood and one’s parents by dogmatically applying the parents’ pedagogical principles to one’s own children.
 Fear of freedom.
 Fear of the reappearance of what one has repressed, which one re-encounters in one’s child and must try to stamp out, having killed it in oneself earlier.
 Revenge for the pain one has suffered. (Miller, op.cit., pp.97-98)

Miller is not an advocate of anarchy in child-rearing, on the contrary, she argues strongly for tolerance, compassion, awareness, respect and the importance of leading children to awareness and self-knowledge, but not at the barrel of a gun. While adults are able to reproach their God, Miller says, “Children are not allowed to reproach their gods-their parents and teachers”. (Miller, op.cit, p.254)

Miller, A , For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence
Farrar Straus Giroux, 1983

Sawyer, D. (2014, January 31). Parents Argue Teaching Young Kids to Shoot Prevents Gun Accidents. Retrieved from ABC News:

The Celebrations & Tragedies in Art Imitating Life

The Arts for the most part imitate life. Despite all the recent hype surrounding the release of the anti-societal and violent video game ‘Grand Theft-Auto V’, there is often a genuine attempt to reflect some of the highest endeavors a civilized society is able to reach. The Arts can be a commemoration of all that is good in humanity. The gifted painters, writers, photographers, journalists, actors, actresses, singers, dancers, musicians, directors, producers, make-up artists, costume designers, and the myriad talented individual who contribute to the Arts in all its splendor are a celebration of what is good in life and are a sign post for any individual to aspire to if they seek goodness, truth and beauty in life. The Emmy Awards which took place a few hours ago are a testament to these reflections.
At the same time, the Arts remind us of our darker side. While the Emmys took place on one side of the world celebrating the make believe world of high drama, and Claire Danes a.k.a Carrie Mathison collected her Emmy for chasing fictituous terrorists, a very real life tragedy beyond measure was unfolding in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Real life terrorists, dressed in war regalia attacked a shopping mall. Inside there were no soldiers or army battalions, just people-parents and their kids, friends and families, going about their regular routine of shopping, dining, and enjoying themselves. The militants threw grenades and fired randomly at these people-none of whom they knew. Their wanton hate and destruction was aimed at an enemy in their minds- people, good people for the most part, who opposed the madness of their repressive religious ideology. As I watched in disbelief and horror at the unfolding drama on a news broadcast-it imitated so many of the violent, destructive themes which are passed off as ‘entertainment’ today. And I wondered for a very brief moment whether what I was seeing was real or fictitious, until a sickening feeling of shock and despair engulfed me for those caught up in this mindless, deplorable act of violence. It was real. I paused further to reflect on how we live in a world which has become desensitised to violence. The daily occurrences of suicide bombings, mass shootings, killings for pure pleasure, gun crime, terrorist attacks and the slaughter of innocents are packaged by among others, HBO, ABC and the corporate based film industry for peak hour viewing pleasure and during the pause in the series productions we are left with a live news coverage of similar acts to sustain us.
It used to be safe to go shopping in a mall and expect to return home. It used to be routine to go to our place of employment and do a decent days work and also expect to return home. But these are no longer givens as recent events in both Washington DC and Nairobi have shown us.
Does it appear that we are no longer safe no matter where we go? Movie theatres, schools, shopping malls, the workplace and even the home-our once upon a time last bastion of safety (if we are fortunate enough to have one) seem vulnerable to the sane madness of ordinary men and women and “wanna be terrorists” of today. Perhaps Art, in particular the multi-billion dollar a day entertainment industry could work at imitating some of the more decent human values of kindness, compassion, goodness and caring for one another-this could grow into the politics of hope for a better future, especially for the younger generations and those yet to be born.

Exorcisms & The Problem of Evil in the Modern World

In a world ravaged by war, poverty, indifference, environmental degradation, human avarice and exploitation and general uncertainty we could be forgiven for thinking that our pale blue dot in a lonely universe is an evil place, the actual personification of the dark side. But it is too easy to lump all the negatives together and apply a universal term like evil to them-especially when the root causes of these issue are to be found in our own actions and behaviors and the simple truth that all of these major problems are caused by us. So the question of evil becomes more subtle and more complex.
The term is bandied about today without any real understanding. The meaning is still associated with the actions of demons such as Lucifer or Beelzebub found in the Judaic-Christian school of belief and understanding. These traditional and culturally bound concepts of evil have long been misrepresented, misunderstood and misinterpreted, especially in literature and film. But they seem to still have a place in our demon haunted world if a recent report by Lucy Wallis of the BBC’s news magazine is credible. (Wallis, 2013)
She reports on three teenage girls in the United States of America (where else!!) who perform ritual exorcisms on people who require them. Brynne Larson and Tess and Savannah Scherkenback are middle class, white conservative Christian girls who travel throughout the US and internationally performing ritual exorcisms on people who believe they are afflicted by demon possession. The girls, according to Wallis, see themselves as ‘freedom fighters’ waging a war on evil in the world. Sound familiar? It’s the kind of rhetoric which American leaders have been using for decades-the war on drugs, the war on terror and so on, so it’s no surprise that impressionable teenage girls would pick up on such carefully constructed propaganda and turn it into their very own cause célèbre. The girls are pictured with their perfectly coiffured highlighted hair, make-up and body hugging clothing, thrusting silver crosses into the lens of the camera. It could be a still scene from a fantasy-horror movie, but more frightening than that it captures a real life event. The girls take their exorcism crusade very, very seriously.
Among their strongly held beliefs are the idea that the United Kingdom is infested with necromancy, sorcery and bewitchment because of the vast popularity of the Harry Potter books. They are convinced that every single country has a specific kind of demon and those demons possess a person and cause suffering, unhappiness and all kinds of addictions. They claim when someone sins or does something wrong this allows a demon to enter into them. They understand themselves and believe themselves to be “enforcers’ who can take on demons. Their language is the language of street gangs and talk show television where they “look forward to kicking some demon butt”. (Wallis, 2013)
So how do upper middle class all American school girls become exorcists? Firstly, they were home schooled, which means they were denied access to a balanced, liberal arts educational program which encourages critical thinking, reasoned thought processes and the development of a rational view of the world. Secondly, the man who created and groomed the youngsters is the father of one and the pastor of the other two. He argues that ‘training’ the girls to perform exorcisms is a more noble and spiritual cause in a society rampant with lewdness, drunkenness and sexual promiscuity. Moreover in asking for money for these ritual performances he further asserts that it is unacceptable for people to expect spiritual services to be free of charge. His wife shares this irrational view of a demon haunted world and supports her husband and daughter in their work as “exorcists who are making a difference…” (Wallis, 2013) The mother of one of the girls abdicates total responsibility for grooming her daughter’s delusional thinking and behavior by arguing that “I didn’t really keep her from doing deliverances, but I didn’t discourage her.” (Wallis, 2013)
The parents of these girls are considered normal solid citizens, who love God and country-good living Christian folk. They are ordinary. Yet, in their ordinariness, with its thin veil of social respectability they have acted in an evil way. They have deceived their children into believing in a demon haunted world, and have coerced them into a delusional, irrational world view in which the girls believe they have some magical, divinely inspired power which allows them to cast out fictitious demons from the minds and bodies of the lonely, poor, neurotic, depressed, addicted and worried well in our societies. The parents of these girls are evil. In their incorruptible, inflated sense of self-righteousness they see everyone else who does not hold their world view as evil. And it is precisely because of their own self-conceited blindness to the harm they have caused their children in inflating and nurturing the girls’ delusions of grandeur as exorcists, that they are evil. They have psychologically abused and manipulated their children into believing that they are above reproach and must cleanse the world of others who do not fit their image and likeness, through using their carefully crafted silver crosses and Bibles.
But perhaps what is most disturbing in this story is that the girls and their parents are not displeasing to themselves, there’s no self-recrimination or regret only a blind faith in a discredited religious practice which has no place in modernity. It is lack of critical intelligence, humility, compassion and self understanding which denotes them all as malevolent in some way. Instead of exorcising the evil out of others, they ought to be healing the sickness in themselves. The artifice which goes into protecting the self image of moral purity and righteousness of these girls and their parents and those who condone their delusional practices are not so much designed to deceive others, as to deceive themselves, and that’s why they are evil.

Wallis, L. (2013). Teen Exorcists” The girls who expel demons on stage. London: BBC News Magazine.

Fratricide in the House Divided: The Dark side of American Democracy

Just as a child is the manifestation of the family and cultural environment in which they are raised, and until they know otherwise, so are a people the manifestation of the country and culture in which they are raised, until they know otherwise. It’s a loose argument with many variables coming into play, but generally speaking it is basically true. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this view point. Firstly, the great immigration multi-cultural movements of the 1970s and 1980s produced large culturally homogenized immigrant communities within Western countries and their cities, rather than fully assimilated, multi-cultural societies living together in happiness, harmony and peaceful contentment.
While multi-cultural polices were intended to engage people in cultural dialogue and celebrate a kind of unity through diversity, for the most part they produced cultural isolation. For example, individuals who migrated to the West from countries like China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon, and the sub-Saharan African countries brought with them their own religious and cultural values and seldom assimilated into their new homelands, preferring to live in splendid isolation from their new found compatriots to live and raise their children firstly, as indigenous to the culture of their parents and secondly, as citizens and Nationals of their newly adopted country. This practice led several heads of State, including David Cameron of the United Kingdom, Angela Merkel of Germany and former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard to question the efficacy, success and suitability of multi-culturalism in the 21st century.
Secondly, children are shaped psychologically, emotionally, and physically through the kind of family environment and experiences they undergo in their early years and throughout their childhood and adolescence. There are many proverbs which confirm this assertion as well as evidence from psychology and psychiatry. “He’s a chip off the old block” and “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” are two popular maxims. And the ominous “The father eats sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge” has been serialized in movies, television and novels like ‘The Prince of Tides’, ‘Brothers and Sisters” and ‘Angela’s Ashes’. Freud, Jung, Reich and their subsequent protégés wrote extensively and argued that children will reflect the values, attitudes and opinions of their parents, and if you spend a few hours counseling and supporting children you get a very clear picture of what their parents are like and the kinds of events that are unfolding within the private rooms of the family home.
But can the same be said of citizens of a country? To what extent are nationals of Nation States products of their specific cultural environment and experiences? History and Religion provide quite a definitive answer here. Early Christendom under the Papal States, Germany under the National Socialists, and Japan under the Militarists produced a citizenry who showed deference if not a blind obedience to the State. Contemporary China and Vietnam under the Communists, 21st century Iran ruled by a hardline Islamic Theocracy, the Nanny State of Singapore and most Western Nations including the United States of America produce for the most part a fairly compliant and subservient citizenry. Those who rebel or are insubordinate or act in defiance of the State are sought out and punished.

It is only within this social, cultural and political context that one can begin to make any sense of the killings emerging out of the State sanctioned and supported gun ownership laws in the United States of America. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America states “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”. This amendment, part of the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, 8 years after the American War of Independence and seventy years before the American Civil War. The use of guns in this context was predicated on a belief that one will be safer with a gun rather than without one. Moreover, it was fabricated through deplorable propaganda which suggested that gun ownership fostered and encouraged personal and societal virtue. Thomas Jefferson advised his nephew thus:
“as to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun, therefore, be the constant companion of your walks.” (Foley, 1967)

It seems to me, and a great number of people throughout the world, and even perhaps in the USA that arms bearing combined with civic virtue is an erroneous and very precarious argument upon which to build a case for private gun ownership in the 21st century. More recently, the unabated carnage of adults and children going around shooting and killing supports such an opinion. The cold-blooded murder of Australian Chris Lane, by three bored teenagers as he jogged peacefully along a street in Duncan, Oklahoma, and the savage unprovoked murder of an 87 year old woman by her 8 year old grandson in Louisiana, after he’d played the violent, anti-social video game Grand Theft Auto represent a decline in the respect for life and the rise of an increasingly lawless and anarchic society held together through The Second Amendment.
Gun related deaths and massacres are much higher in the USA than in countries comparable to it in economic, social and political terms. Hand guns and high powered weaponry were used in the Virginia Tech shootings, Binghamton massacre, Fort Hood massacre, Oikos University shooting, and 2011 Tucson shooting. Assailants with multiple weapons committed the Aurora Theater shooting, and the Columbine High School and the Sandy Hook’s massacres. (Wikipedia, 2013)
Australia has almost eliminated gun related violence since it enacted tough legislation following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in the Australian State of Tasmania. 35 people were killed and many more injured by a young man armed with an assault rifle. The dark side of democracy in the United States of America seems to be its unwillingness to reflect; self examine and agree on relevant civil virtues for the 21st century. Raising citizens on civil virtues such as the right to bear arms promotes and glorifies weaponry, endorses gun violence as de rigueur and as natural way of life, and encourages lawlessness. Since the Second Amendment of 1791, the United States of America has enacted the the National Firearms Act of 1934; the Gun Control Act of 1968; the Firearm Owners Protection Act, also known as the McClure-Volkmer Act in 1986; the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993; the Violent Crime, and the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, the Lautenberg Amendment in 1997 (Wikipedia, 2013), yet mass killings and shooting continue to increase exponentially and go on unabated in the house divided. It is time to repeal The Second Amendment and work towards building a more harmonious, trusting and peaceful society, rather than one ruled by fear and a gun.

Foley, J. (1967). The Jefferson Cyclyopedia 318. New York: Russell & Russell.
Wikipedia. (2013, August 22). Gun Violence in the United States. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from

The Redefintion of Psychopathologies, or ‘ a rose by any other name would [not] smell as sweet’

Karl Jaspers founded the term psychopathology in 1913. Shakespeare wrote his line around 1594 and that’s about the only common link between the two turns of phrase.  The concept of psychopathology has been developed and redefined several times over since Jasper first coined the term, not dis-similar I suppose to the varied re- interpretations of Shakespeare’s lines in his plays. But, the comparisons stop there.  The point is psychopathologies have a much greater and more serious impact on individual behavior and how societies function than do the interpretations of Shakespeare’s lines. So why do we constantly justify the actions of dangerous sociopath behavior in terms of contemporary political and militarist jargon?  This often acts as a justification or rationalization of  an action by those who would condone any heinous deed or crime.

The recent barbarous, brutal attack which cost the life of Drummer Lee Rigby on a London street last week is a case in point. Two men attacked him with knives and machetes, killing him in full public view, while onlookers videoed and took pictures with their mobile devices (another worrying trend in the digital age). The two murderers then gave public speeches, reveling in their evil act and seizing the moment as a cause célèbre.

In terms of pathological behavior the two attackers exhibited extreme, dangerous aberrations of human behavior, which can only be described as insane or mad. Their actions demonstrated as clinical psychiatrists would argue the four Ds , which define psychopathological behavior: Dangerto others, Dysfunctionality in human relationships, Distress in maintaining normal human relationships and Deviance as their beliefs and behavior and thoughts are not acceptable in any civil society (Wikipedia, 2013). Their actions were not the acts of terrorists or acts of terrorism. They were the blatant evil deeds of hate filled, seriously disturbed individuals who hate life and all the people who contribute to the upkeep of a sane, open-minded, liberal,  civilized society. They may have thought they had a cause to hang their perverted and distorted world view on-but they did not. Yet, by labeling their actions as acts of terrorism society has given them the notoriety and infamy they desperately sought. They could quickly gather a following as the recent copycat attack  on a French soldier, patrolling the streets of his city,  to secure the safety of his compatriots has shown. Whereas who wants to follow a sociopath or psychopath hell-bent on anti social, murderous, destructive behavior?

Similarly, the two men who detonated bombs in Boston, timed to explode as runners crossed the line were sociopaths with severe psychopathologies which they chose to act on through killing and maiming innocent people whom the had never ever met or known.  Acts of murder are intentional, and like any other vile act underscore the infamy sought in such violent indiscriminate acts of rage.

Claims of seeking revenge for past wrongs committed against others by other people, cultures; or political or military grievances from the past, as a justification for such horrible aberrant behavior, give credence to the current victimhood era we are bridled with in the late modern age. Anyone with a grudge or hint of unhappiness about anything, or from the past,  seems to think it their right to make a claim on it no matter how devastating the consequences are for others.

Naming something (an act, a deed, a thing, a form and so on) for what it is, is a powerful way to gain an understanding or perception of it. Likewise to use euphemisms or metaphors which don’t engage or resonate with people, or obfuscates meaning and diminishes an act or deed usually results in lies and deception.

Joseph Goebbels (another rabid psychopathic murderer) once claimed that if you tell a lie big enough, and keep repeating it, people will come to believe it. Michael Adebolajo,, Michael Adebowale, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev caused grief and terror, physically, and in the hearts and minds of two nations and of many people around the world. They are deeply disturbed sociopaths who have relinquished their rights to reside in any open, liberal, welcoming civil society. To label them as terrorists  diminishes the abject evil of their acts and all the resulting consequences.

Wikipedia. (2013, May 26). Psychpathology. Retrieved May 27, 2013, from

The Secret Child Soldiers of the West

Whatever happened to the internet’s virtual avatar Joseph Kony?  The 2012 multi-media internet campaign created and promoted by the group Invisible Children described itself as a movement seeking to end the conflict in Uganda and told the story of a former child soldier called Jacob.  The campaign caught the attention of people from all walks of life, but the media specifically focused on the righteous indignation and outrage expressed by celebrities (surprised?) and high profile community representatives.  The real life Joseph Kony is alive and well of course, still waging war with the help of child soldiers, mainly in the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The former Catholic altar boy, who claims Divinity as well as being God’s spokesperson here on earth, has been fighting to install a government in Uganda based on the Bible’s Ten Commandments.  But that hasn’t happened, so for the time being Kony is still at large with his child soldiers while being wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). When his child soldiers are not fighting, they are usually high on drugs, and play violent video games. Reports suggest their life is tough and very dangerous. They are used to carry out highly dangerous tasks as message bearers and spies. Moreover, reports suggest that they are often used for sexual gratification by older soldiers.

There are several reasons why children are used as soldiers. Firstly, they are more docile and impressionable and easier to train. Secondly, during their training they have to kill and maim others. They do this willingly or have often been raised in violent circumstances or simply get a thrill out of the kill. Sometimes they are under the influence of narcotics. Finally, traumatised and fearing for their lives, they have gained a sense of belonging in a community whose only goal is to kill and maim others.

Adam Lanza was a child soldier. But he was a virtual child soldier. Before going on his killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary school, it is reported that Lanza spent hours playing a violent online video game- Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.  Since it was launched and made public this shockingly violent interactive multi-media program erroneously called a game, has grossed over $ 1Billion in sales. In its first 24 hours of release it managed sales in excess of $500 million dollars. So what’s this game all about? Essentially it is described as a First Shooter Video Game. That means the player has an assault weapon on their screen and they shoot as many people dead as he/she can. The so called kills are accompanied with explicit graphic detail of exploding heads and body parts, along with screaming obscenities. The enemies are of course of African, Latin American or European origin-so negative cultural stereotypes abound in the so called game.  The website released some astounding statistics about the game and it is worthwhile quoting here in full:

For about 3 weeks, Call of Duty Black Ops 2 has been in the hands of players. The numbers are booming and players have killed the world’s population of 7 billion people about two and a half times over, being totalled around 18 billion kills. Players have been playing for about 19,000 virtual years. Nearly 375 billion shots have been fired.

Of the 18 billion kills, 1.5 billion have been head shots, averaging out to eight percent of all fallen losing their head. Over 106 million gamers have been stabbed in the back…Call of Duty players have destroyed over 319 million cars. (Lake, A, 2012)

Family friendly stores like Toysrus sell the game alongside their cuddly toys and baby care items. While respectable, conservative online retailers like also market the game as one of their top selling items. It is estimated that over 11 million accounts have been set up to play the game, and among those 11 million accounts a high percentage of the players are in the 12-15 year old age group. Furthermore, online reviews suggest that children as young as 8 years old play the game. Here’s what some of the children have to say about the game:

Kid, 11; love it. it is on for ages 11 and up.

Kid, 12 years old

What the review fails to realize is that you can turn off the blood and cursing. The game is violent. Basically the games goal is to kill as much as possible. I mean I hear worse words at school.

Teen, 14 years old

This game might look bad in the review but you don’t really concentrate on an enemy once they’re already dead.

Kid 10 years old

Black Ops is good for 10 and older in my opinion. When you first go to the main menu, a message will pop up asking if you want to enable graphic content. If you do not want your kids to see blood, gore, or hear very bad language press no. Now the blood and gore will disappear and very dirty words such as f*** will be censored. The game should be fine under these settings. However, these settings do not apply in multiplayer and online. Only let your kids play with friends online because players can have very inappropriate conversations. Also, words such as da*n, he*l, and a**hole are used in the single player campaign and it can be too violent for younger viewers. Hope this helps!!!

Kid 11 years old

First of all. There is no specific “language filter.”  But there is a content reducer. It takes out F-Words, blood, and gore. If you play the game with the content filter, it is just like a rated T game i think. If you play without the filter, it is really profane. It has a lot; and I mean a lot of blood and language without it. It tells a really complicated story but it makes sense at the end. I guess it can be “educational” by showing all of these different places and etc… that had to do with the Cold war and such but its my opinion. The controls are very easy to pick up on. If you have played MW2, the controls are the exact same. In conclusion, it is a great game. If you are a fan of the series or not, you will like it

Kid 12 years old:

This is the best Call of Duty I have played, and not as violent as Modern Warfare 2. The violence is not very bad except for a scene where you shove glass down a man’s mouth and then punch him in the face. I got it the day it came out for my PS3. Get the game.

Kid 11 years old:

Can someone tell my parents in a comment that this game is just fine? They think that just because i play it i am going to go outside and shoot someone. That’s crazy. (Common Sense Media, 2011)

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is one of a series of graphically horrific, sadistic and violent interactive multi-media manipulative experiences, and while marketed as a game for older teenagers and adults they  specifically target the innocence of children as potential users.  Users engage in simulated war like activities in which avatar like enemies, more often than not racist stereotypes, have to be killed in extremis in order for the online user to score points or win. The most worrying aspect of these kinds of online interactive controlling programs is that children are being manipulated and conditioned into negative psychological thinking, disturbing behavioural patterns and aggressive attitudes.  For example that certain races are the enemy or that killing is an integral part of life’s experiences, or that being at war is a natural state of existence. This is subtle but effective social conditioning and programming at its worst. It is highly manipulative propaganda too, with the message that killing people is fine if you have a clear mission in mind and feel compelled to do so. In one particular interactive program Modern Warfare 2 a scene is set up in an airport, and the user infiltrates a terrorist group earning their trust. The objective is to kill every civilian in the airport then get out. The graphic visuals include unarmed people in an airport running for their lives while being shot down in cold blood.
According to the American Psychological Association, violent video games increase children’s aggression. They become conditioned to react in a strong negative way, rather than responding in a discerning way.  For example they could attack something, or be mean to another person for no particular reason other than gaining personal pleasure.  Also research suggests that there’s an increased frequency of violent responses from children who engage with these interactive multi-media programs. A more disturbing aspect to these programs too is that like the child soldiers in Uganda and the DRC these interactive programs do not teach moral accountability or responsibility or the importance of an ethical worldview. The children who engage with them are rewarded for creating suffering and maiming and killing, and according to some psychologists, they inturn adopt aggressive postures, language and attitudes as normal coping mechanism in everyday life.  There’s also well researched evidence which suggests that engaging with explicitly graphic violent multi-media programs correlates with children and young people being less caring, kind and helpful towards each other and others, and that should they become addicted to these interactive media, like their child-soldier counterparts in Africa, they need to undergo a significant period of deprogramming to return to a relatively normal state of being in which they are able to engage with more healthy and positive ways of relating to their peers and significant other people in their lives.
The media, parents, care-givers, schools and other social institutions which take on responsibility for the disseminating of knowledge and information, and the education and welfare of children seem conflicted. On the one hand they argue for creating a nurturing community of children and youths, who as  learners and civil citizens will embrace positive healthy personal and social values that will create functional and sustainable communities. Yet, they shift blame away from themselves for the actions of those in their communities who have been programmed and conditioned through interactive multi-media platforms, to enjoy creating death and mayhem through killing others.

It’s time for us to recognize and act on the truism that corporate culture appropriates the innocence of children, just like Joseph Kony. It is about time that groups like Invisble Children, along with other Child Safety Organisations  and the Education profession, recognize and understand how compliant, obedient children at home and at school , when left alone or with their peers, are vulnerable to the manipulation and powerful conditioning of violent, interactive multi-media platforms which masquerade as games and entertainment.

There’s a powerful argument which asserts that the real teachers of our children are not in our schools, universities, colleges, churches, or other supportive social institutions. They reside in the boardrooms and advertising agencies of the corporate world; with its hidden agenda of offering a violent and aggressive consumer culture to children.

What are disappearing are trustful, supportive and productive bonds between adults and children. These are being replaced by a culture of suspicion, and a social consciousness endorsed through mis-trust and negative interactive multi-media platforms where everyone is a potential enemy. A nihilist social discourse is replacing the once positive hopeful social narrative  that regardless of our culture, religious and political beliefs or indivdiual life styles, humanity in general is able to work towards peaceful co-existence.


Common Sense Media. (2011, March 9). All teen and kid reviews for Call of Duty: Black Ops. Retrieved January 10, 2013, from Common Sense Media:

Lake, A. (2012, December 2). Call of Duty Black Ops 2 statistics and figures. Retrieved January 10, 2013, from

The Uncomfortable Truth about Violence, Entertainment and Violent Crime in Society.

Three weeks after the United States of America was overwhelmed with grief at the murderous rage of a 20 year old man who went on killing spree ending the lives of 26 people, including 20 children in addition to his own mother and then himself, the violent, horrific film Texas Chainsaw 3D, featuring an antagonist called Leatherface, who wears a mask made of human skin has topped the US box office making over $20 million in its first weekend release. The film is released by Lionsgate Pictures, and is directed by John Luessenhop and written by Debra Sullivan and Adam Marcus. I only mention these details because people ought to know who the purveyors of violent entertainment are. It is the 7th film in a series which portrays extreme, sadistic violence perpetrated by one human being on another.

The original movie, released in the 1970s, was refused a certificate by the British Board of Film Classification. They felt its themes of sadistic terror, extreme violence and aberrations of bizarre human behaviour unsuitable as a form of entertainment. The BBFC certainly showed a balanced duty of care for the moral well being of its society and local communities in protecting people from gratuitous, sadistic and sickening violence which masquerades as entertainment under the so-called Horror genre.  In sharp contrast the United States Supreme court ruled in 2011 that individual States did not have the right to regulate the sale of graphically violent video games to children, arguing that governments do not have the power to “restrict the ideas to which children are exposed”. Initially I was puzzled by this ruling because in in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 93 S. Ct. 2607, 37 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1973), the Supreme Court concluded that a work is obscene and can be regulated if it appeals to a viewer’s prurient interest; portrays sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. The Court further ruled that interpretations of this definition may vary across the United States and that communities may apply their own local standards to determine obscenity. ( Encyclopedia of American Law, 2008) However, the above ruling was one based on sexual behaviour not on gratuitous violent behaviour, although it can be argued that a causal link exists between the kind of violence portrayed in Texas Chainsaw 3D and sexual violence perpetrated against others. Art it seems does imitate life.  It reflects a society’s accepted standards and values and what it holds and deems sacrosanct for the well being of its members. While it might appear that in the United States of America, despite its alarming statistics of sexual violence against women, men and children, prurient, aberrant and explicit sexual behaviour is less acceptable than sadistic violent behaviour, neither is acceptable in a civil society.

Social institutions, whether they are courts of law, educational institutions, or film classification boards act as control mechanisms in our societies.  The principle being that they regulate the kind of information which makes for a functional, as opposed to a dysfunctional society. Schools are examples where the kind of information along with the flow of information are carefully regulated, and for very good reasons.  Their inclusion and exclusion of information reflects the kinds of values a society embraces and the vision it has for its future.  For example, there is much debate and argument on the standard and quality of movies, novels and stories which should or should not be included in a liberal arts program.

A film like Texas Chainsaw 3D lacks any kind of intrinsic social value and if none of the films had  ever been made we would not have suffered any great  social or cultural loss. However, the series of films have been made, along with thousands of other excessively violent films, video and online games. And communities and societies have suffered great losses. Research into the effects of violent films, television programs and video games on young children suggests that they can develop more aggressive behaviours in their teenage and late adolescent years. Jack Kornfield’s (1994) alarming statistic that our children “see on average eighteen thousand murders and violent acts on TV before they finish high school” is  astounding and alarming. He writes further “On this earth as I write today, more than forty wars and violent revolutions are killing thousands of men, women and children. We have had 115 wars since World War 2 and there are only 165 countries in the world. Not a good track record for the human species. Yet what are we to do?” (Kornfield, 1994, p.25)

It’s an urgent question. What are we to do? Wait until another deeply disturbed person-a product of a particular culture and society-goes on another murderous rampage?

It seems to me that our societies have become so dysfunctional at a bureaucratic level that urgent discussions on returning to values which uphold the dignity and respect of human life have all but been lost. In trusting the branches of governments to look after our moral, social and political affairs we have given up any sense of personal moral and social responsibility. I am reminded of Adolf Eichmann’s defence when charged with crimes against humanity. He argued that he was not responsible in any way for the deaths of millions of Jews during World War 2. His job was one of a loyal government civil servant who had to manage moving masses of people from one country to another or from one town or city to another. Any consequences, immoral or otherwise which derived from his duty statement as an employee of the State were irrelevant to him and he argued that he was innocent of the crimes against humanity and not responsible for the deaths of any concentration camp prisoners.

The World in general, and the United States in particular did some soul searching after the Sandy Hook massacre-opinions were expressed, theories abounded and reasons were sought and offered as to why a young man would kill so many so violently. The killer’s disturbed mental health was a key argument put forward, and perhaps this was the case.  Or is it more to do with the collective mental health of a Nation or any Nation for that matter,  which seeks a high degree of gratification through various forms of violent and horrifying entertainment?


Encyclopedia of American Law. (2008, March 3). Philosophical Arguments for Censorship. Retrieved January 7, 2013, from West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2.: http://legal-dictionary.Philosophical+arguments+for+censorship

Kornfield, J.  A Path with Heart, Bantam Books, New York, 1994

Questions arising from the Process of Schooling and Societal Violence

On Tuesday 2nd October 2006, a 32 year old man held hostage a group of young students between the ages of 6 and 13 at a small rural Amish school in Pennsylvania, and later executed 3 girls and critically wounded several others. Earlier in the same year, September 26th a 25 year old man embarked on a shooting spree at Dawson College in Montreal killing a young woman and injuring up to 19 other persons. According to police sources, the man enjoyed playing a computer generated simulation game which re-enacted the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. On April 16th 2007, a disaffected student when on a shooting rampage at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg Virginia killing 32 students and wounding many more. Today, every person in the world is reeling in shock and disbelief at the willful murder of 20 children between the ages of six and seven, and 7 adults in Newtown, Connecticut. Innocent children and caring adults denied their lives by a young man who didn’t want one. Other similar incidents have occurred across the United States and in other parts of the world over the last 15 years:

October 1997: Sixteen year old boy stabs mother then shoots dead two students at a school in Mississippi and injures several others.

December 1997: Fourteen year old boy kills three students in Kentucky.

March 1998: Two boys 11 and 13 kill four girls and a teacher in Arkansas.

April 1998: Fourteen year old boy shoots dead a teacher and wounds two students in Pennsylvania

May 1998: Fifteen year old shoots dead two students in school cafeteria in Oregon

May 1998: Fifteen year old boy shoots himself in the head after taking a girl hostage.

June 1998: Two adults hurt in shooting by teenage student at high school in Virginia

April 1999: Two teenagers shoot dead 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves at Columbine high school in Colorado

May 1999: Student injures six pupils in shoot-out in Georgia

November 1999: Thirteen year old girl shot dead by a class mate in New Mexico

February 2000: Six year old girl shot dead by a classmate in Michigan

March 2001: Student opens fire at a school in California killing two students.

April 2003: Teenager shoots dead head-teacher at a Pennsylvania school then kills himself.

May 2004: Four people injured in a school shooting in Maryland

March 2005: Minnesota school boy kills nine then kills himself

November 2005: Student in Tennessee shots dead an assistant principal and wounds two other administrators.

September 2006: Gunman in Colorado shoots and fatally wounds a teenage school girl the kills himself; two days later a teenager kills the head teacher of a school in Cazenovia, Wisconsin

February 2008: 14 year old boy shoots dead a fellow student in Oxnard California because he was  Gay.

On Friday 26th April 2002, a 19-year-old German youth returned to his school in Erfurt, Germany, from where he had been expelled a few weeks earlier. He killed 13 teachers and two students before killing himself. In May of 1998, an 18-year-old High School senior, Jeremy Stroemeyer, from Orange County in Los Angeles, California, lured a 7-year-old African American girl into a toilet block, in a Nevada Casino, in the early hours of the morning. He sexually assaulted and strangled her, while his friend and classmate peered over the cubicle and did nothing to intervene. I knew Jeremy. He had been an 11th grade student in my literature class while I was on an assignment at an international school in Singapore. He was popular, well liked by his peers and the adults who worked in the school. He seemed to be amiable, perhaps a little earnest in his need for approval, but nothing out of the ordinary with regards to angst and adolescent development. He left the school at the end of the semester, and returned to the United States, and began his senior year in the fall of 1997. After his arrest and arraignment for murder, those of us who knew him – his peers and teachers – were in a state of shock; our perceptions of Jeremy had been deceived by this horrendous act of cruelty. “Why did he do it”? One of his friends asked in disbelief. “I had him stay over in my house many time, I just don’t believe it”, one of my students exclaimed with incredulity.  I attempted to explain with difficulty the shock of accepting that someone we had come to know, and perceived as a ‘good’ person, could have committed such a heinous act. We were in denial because Jeremy had been one of us. This crime caused me to reflect more deeply on the purpose of schooling, if after 12 years, a person proceeds to graduate lacking in values of compassion, tolerance, cooperation, love and understanding?

The German Psychoanalyst, Alice Miller, argues that sources of rage, hatred and anger in adolescents and adults can always be traced to violence, both physical and psychological, inflicted upon the young and very young, in the name of child-rearing, schooling and socialization processes. [Miller, 1990]. She argues that the last 200 years of socialization practices have infested generations of people all over the world with a “poisonous pedagogy”. Once a physically brutal and violent way to raise children, today it has become a psychological terror campaign, whereby the young are manipulated out of childhood, into a world of adult guilt and betrayal.

The conscious use of humiliation (whose function is to satisfy the parents’ needs) destroys the child’s self confidence, making him or her insecure and inhibited…For the purposes of self protection, it is only the adult’s friendly manner that remains in the child’s memory, accompanied by a predictable submissiveness on the part of the “little transgressor” and the loss of his capacity for spontaneous feeling…the results of this struggle against strong emotion are so disastrous because the suppression begins in infancy, i.e. before the child’s self has had a chance to develop…significantly, cause and effect are confused here and what is attacked as a cause is something that the pedagogues have themselves brought about. This is the case not only in pedagogy, but in psychiatry and criminology as well. Once “wickedness has been produced in a child by suppressing vitality, any measure taken to stamp it out is justified” [Miller, 1990, pp. 21-31].

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that people who are mistreated in their formative years will act out similar behaviors as adults. Likewise, the more subtle forms of childrearing, which involve psychological manipulation, which we are all products of, have a profound effect on our behavior as adults. More often than not this is expressed in benign forms, such as the way we brush our teeth, or arrange our clothes in the closet, or eat at a table or hold our bodies, to more neurotic behaviors like showering many times a day, checking that doors are locked repetitively, to even more disturbing behaviors such as agoraphobia, or the numerous conditions under the broad diagnostic term, schizophrenia, which need intervention by qualified practitioners.

Schools act as surrogate parents, reinforcing disciplines, or exercising new forms of power and control over children. Miller quotes the following example “In school, discipline precedes the actual teaching. There is no sounder pedagogical axiom than the one that children must first be trained before they can be taught. There can be discipline without instruction…but no instruction without discipline” [Miller, 1990, p. 31]

Issues with regard to human behavior and how to modify and encourage its various manifestations contribute to some of the most contentious debates in education. Indeed, discipline in all its various guises has been labeled as ‘normative practices’ (Rousmaniere, Dehli and de Coninck-Smith, 1997). Are we living in a more enlightened age when it comes to matters relating to understanding human behavior and implementing procedures for behavior modification? Discipline and punishment is about controlling minds and bodies and affecting human behavior. The social sciences stand as a testament to human endeavors to understand the way people behave, and there is ongoing argument and debate about the benefits of a systematized imposition of order on the human condition. Alice Miller’s training and practice as a psychoanalyst has enabled her to hear firsthand accounts of child-rearing practices, which in most instances can only be recognized as acts of cruelty, and of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. She argues that “The conviction that parents are always right and that every act of cruelty, whether conscious or unconscious, is an expression of their love is so deeply rooted in human beings, because it is based on the process of internalization that takes place during the first few months of life…” [Miller, 1990, p.5] She further asserts one of the more obvious empirical conclusions one can draw from human nature, and that is if a child is nurtured with unconditional love and understanding, and without physical violence or emotional blackmail, then they in turn will practice the same kind of behaviors as fully grown human beings. Nelson Mandela describes this basic human experience in detail in recalling a sadistic and brutal Commander of Robben Island prison, where he was held for 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment. Mandela writes:

Badenhorst had perhaps been the most callous and barbaric                                  Commanding officer we had had on Robben Island. But that  day in the office, he had revealed that there was another side that had been obscured but that still existed. It was a useful reminder that all men, even the most seemingly cold-blooded, have a core of decency, and if there hearts are touched, they are capable of changing. Ultimately, Badenhorst was not evil; his inhumanity had been foisted upon him by an inhuman system. He behaved like a brute because he was rewarded for brutish behavior. (Mandela, 1994)

This is not a new idea and tends to be reflected in spiritual beliefs across cultures, which encourage love, tolerance, compassion and the value of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

Miller’s more serious assertion, and one we as educators ought to take heed of, is that more often than not methods of child-rearing, including discipline and moral regulation in schooling, are carried out in such a manner so that a child is not aware of what is being done to him or her. Miller addresses several complex, yet important questions throughout her text: “How were our parents brought up? How were they permitted-even forced-to treat us? How could we, as young children, have become aware of this? How could we have treated our own children differently? Can this vicious circle ever be broken? And finally is our guilt any less if we shut our eyes to the situation?” (Miller, 1990, p.9) She cites some classic examples from texts dating back to the 16th century to back up her claims. The following passage by J.Sulzer, written in 1748 serves as an illustration:

If wickedness and willfulness are not driven out, it is impossible to

give a child a good education. The moment these flaws appear in a child

it is high time to resist this evil so that it does not become ingrained through

habit, and the children do not become thoroughly depraved…if parents are

fortunate enough to drive out willfulness from the every beginning by means

of scolding and the rod, they will have obedient, docile and good children…

as soon as a child develops awareness, it is essential to demonstrate to

them by word and deed that they must submit to the will of the parents…”

(Miller, 1990, p.13)

Miler asserts that it is generally accepted that children forget a lot of their early childhood, but the serious consequences from the trauma of harsh treatment will live on and manifest itself from mild neurosis as an adult, to the more bizarre manifestations of complex psychopathologies. There are no harmless pedagogies she argues, because even when an adult is sure they are considering the best interests of the child, their true motives are:

  • The unconscious need to pass on to others the humiliation one has undergone oneself.
  • The need to find an outlet for repressed affect.
  • The need to possess and have at one’s disposal a vital object to  manipulate.
  • Self-defense: i.e., the need to idealize one’s childhood and one’s parents by dogmatically applying the parents’ pedagogical principles  to one’s own children.
  • Fear of freedom.
  • Fear of the reappearance of what one has repressed, which one re-encounters in one’s child and must try to stamp out, having killed it in oneself earlier.
  • Revenge for the pain one has suffered. (Miller, 1990)

Miller is not an advocate of anarchy in child rearing, on the contrary, she argues strongly for tolerance, compassion, awareness, respect and the importance of leading children to awareness and self-knowledge.

She chooses three case studies to support her arguments. Firstly, Christiane F, an adolescent drug addict, who was the victim of child abuse, sexual, physical and emotional. Secondly, the childhood of Adolf Hitler is analyzed in detailed and thirdly the formative years of Jurgen Bartsch, a child killer, is scrutinized. Each case is studied meticulously and Miller’s claim that the upbringing of the respondents affected their behavior as adolescents and adults is convincing. Her analysis of the suffering of Sylvia Plath as an example of a child reassuring the parent in a role reversal of child-rearing practice ends the book on a poignant note. While adults are able to reproach their God, Miller says, “Children are not allowed to reproach their gods-their parents and teachers”. (Miller, 1990)

The regular explosions of violence in schools throughout the world can also be attributed to a poisonous pedagogy- an approach to socialization practices through teaching and learning- which has become separated from important spiritual and psychological characteristics of human development. Moreover, no matter how innovative a curriculum nor how prestigious a school is held by its local community, until we as teachers, administrators and teacher trainers come to understand the subtleties of our own psycho-social development, and the nuance with which it interacts on a conscious and unconscious level in our lives as educators, then the psycho-dynamic of power relationships, played out daily in the process of schooling, will continue to cause inexplicable aberrations of behavior, and explosions of murderous rage by those who have become lost to themselves in the process of schooling.

This view is supported by Gatto, who argues convincingly that schools, rather than educate, create severe social and psychological pathologies that are irreversible, because they are symptomatic of a wider and deeper cultural malaise. Schools he asserts are the problem not the solution [Gatto, 1992]. Illich identified a similar argument over 30 years ago [Illich, 1962] According to both educators; schools are not about educating our children. Schools create confusion and reinforce notions of inequality through justifying a particular economic code. They create emotional and intellectual dependency, together with an indifference to everything. They instill a conditional self esteem into children which says, “you’re only as good as your report card” and through their competitive values and collective surveillance codes [everybody is alerted to be watching everyone else] impart to all children and young people that any kind of privacy equals subversive behavior, and a private life is a negative value and leads to anti-social behavior [Gatto 1992]. Like Illich, Gatto argues that we need less schooling not more.

It is evident that we need to renew the idea of schooling through curriculum reforms. Overburdened and irrelevant curricula, selective knowledge and regulated behaviors are creating toxic environments in schools. They are fertile grounds for cultivating murderous rage and violence of a kind, which schools deny, could ever happen, and for which the wider community seeks to find a scapegoat and shift blame. We are confronted with this scenario in a chilling report on the profiles of the young men responsible for the Columbine massacre:

“Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris seem to have been shrouded in presumptions of innocence. After professing their love for Hitler, declaring their hatred of Blacks, Asians and Latinos on a public website no less, down loading instructions for making bombs, accumulating the ingredients, assembling them under the protectively indifferent gaze (or perhaps with the assistance) of parents and neighbors, stockpiling guns and ammunition, procuring hand grenades and flak jackets, threatening the lives of class mates, killing thirteen and themselves, wounding numerous others and destroying their school building –still the community can’t believe it really happened “here”. Still their teachers and classmates continue to protest that they were good kids, good students, solid citizens.” (Williams, 1999, cited in Giroux, 2000)

This is a sad and tragic example of two young men blending into a system, seemingly subordinated to its history and traditions, and complacent with its own definition of success. It is also about the serious ramifications for boards of studies, curricula designers, schools, and indeed all educationalists, who adhere unflinchingly to a theory of limited intelligence; one comprising of affective, cognitive and psychomotor domains with predetermined limited powers of ability, function and performance.  In such a model of human potentiality, the body becomes a docile vessel for an imposed curriculum. Children are the passive respondents in a controlled learning process. Schooling is something ‘done’ to them, rather than an experience of cooperation, and active participation. In the process of schooling, we forget that human beings are more than the sum of their parts.

Schools should be places for positive learning experiences. We should gain insights and knowledge about ourselves, so as we grow and develop we can enjoy the knowledge and wisdom gathered along the way. How can this take place?  It could begin with the recognition of one another’s uniqueness, and progress with the inclusion of usas the living embodiment of the curriculum in day-to-day school life. Pablo Casals expresses this suggestion with sensitivity and insight:

“Every second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe; a moment that     never was before and never will be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two are four and that Paris is the capital of France. We should say to them, “Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been another child like you.” (Casals, 1970)

The American educator David Purpel breaks down the layers of meaning in the debates, discussions and arguments about educational reform, to reveal our human vulnerability and fear to bringing about serious change in education. He argues that human beings have to work towards goodness. It is not innate. Our capacity for self-deception can lead us into all sorts of trouble as a species. If education is for the betterment of humanity why, Purpel asks, are we facing catastrophic consequences through the human development of our planet? Purpel argues convincingly that our mechanistic metaphor of the universe enables us to deceive ourselves into believing we can conquer and subdue all of nature [including human nature] with little if any consequences.

“We as educators have for the most part been able (willingly) to separate

our concern for education from our discussion of our most serious and profound

matters. What is the meaning of life? How do we relate as a family, nation people?

What is a just and fair way of distributing rights and responsibilities? How do we

make appropriate moral choices?” (Purpel, 1989, p.5)

Notwithstanding the extraordinary efforts made by most students and teachers, questions always remain: What difference do we really make in society? How are we contributing to positive social transformation? If we look through the lens of compartmentalization we can see that some domains of human effort are a testament to what we are able achieve. Aspects of the arts, sports, sciences, humanities, and religion, to name a few, shed light on our capacity for goodness, compassion, tolerance, understanding, love and cooperation. But, if we adjust our lens we see the whole picture. A landscape ruined through war, conflict, greed, deforestation, conflict and savage competition.

Purpel argues that there are no simple solutions to the crisis facing humanity. He points out that opportunists are seizing the moment to push their own social and political agenda in educational reform. In particular he argues that a vacuum left by the rejection of any sound moral and spiritual understanding is leading the way for Rightist groups, together with conservative politicians, to set the agenda for changes in the process of schooling. These changes, insofar as they have any impact are superficial and deal more with textual authority/power/control issues, rather than seriously analyze the assumptions, which underpin our educational aims and objectives. Only a critical inquiry, founded upon an incisive analysis of these assumptions will enable us to reform our schools.

Purpel shows us the inherent contradictions in post modern educative values:

    Transformative Values   Institutionalized Values
Community Individual
Worth Achievement
Equality Competition
Compassion Sentimentality
Democracy Authority/Power/Coercion/Control
Humility Arrogance
Commitment Alienation/Displacement/Complacency
Faith Reason
Professional   Responsibility Self Deception

(Purpel, 1989 pp.31-61)

His analysis of the dichotomy produced through the inherent contradiction in values promoted and institutionalized in schools, and those made manifest through actions and behaviors, is perceptive, insightful and instructive about the consequences of our actions as teachers and administrators.  He argues that such contradictions create confusion and frustrations for all involved in the process of schooling. We end up applying simple solutions, to complex problems. It is easier to discuss curriculum reform, electives, student behavior, codes of conduct, assessment procedures, exam results, sporting prowess, student and staff morale and building maintenance, rather than address the core issues confronting people daily like, unemployment, environmental degradation, spiritual impoverishment, war, famine, and poverty to name a few. When we deny reality we legitimate a false consciousness, which leads us into self-deception and the delusion that we really are masters of our own destiny.

The tragedies of Connecticut, Blackburg Virginia, Columbine and Erfurt; to single out a few suggest we pay a high price for such folly. Yet, schools are sites of potentiality, and our future can be quite different from the past if we embrace knowledge inclusiveness, founded upon sound ethical and spiritual principles. I am not advocating a dogmatic or doctrinal approach here; rather the multiple spiritual traditions of humanity have a lot to offer us, and could be the way forward in addressing the myriad problems humanity is facing today. The abandonment of spiritually and morally based philosophies, for those of the humanist tradition, have created a crisis of meaning in people’s lives. We need a broad moral, spiritual and educational framework as ” a point of departure that focuses on principles, priorities and orientation” [Purpel, 1989, p 156].

Human history is barely of a ten thousand year duration, and the

concept of justice, love, and compassion is perhaps four thousand

years old. The fact that those ideas have been developed and affirmed

is in itself miraculous and the related fact that we have not nearly accomplished

other commitments is not at all surprising. If it took millions of years to go

from stone to energy (as in the example of coal) what would be a reasonable

expectation for a people to go from animal-like to God-like? [Purpel, 1989, p.165]

Inclusive school curriculums, which will promote, support, and develop the emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of a person’s life. Healthy people transform an unhealthy society. An inclusive school curriculum will value:

  • the production of one’s own knowledge over textbook knowledge.
  • the inclusion of autobiography over depersonalized  ‘objective’ histories.
  • ecological and ecumenical world-views over authoritarian and dogmatic discourses
  • thinking about the assumptions, which underlie thinking processes, over memorization and rote learning
  • reflection and rumination in learning over simple recall of information and data
  • the value of intuition as an integral part of rational processes
  • eclecticism over linear thinking
  • spirituality, mystery, cosmology and the spirituality of science over scientism
  • an acknowledgement of gender ambiguity over stereotypes
  • the inclusion of race and ethnic differences over nationalism and global culture
  • the development of interpersonal skills over institutionalized roles
  • the development of a defensive logic over the art of reasoning, to help youngsters face and deal with fear, prejudice, bigotry, racism and social injustice
  • love, tolerance, compassion and cooperation over competitiveness  (Slattery, 1995)

For the most part these subject-matters and themes are under-represented or excluded from the a 21st century school curriculum

Knowing through systems of information, data and knowledge like information technology, computer science, general sciences, social sciences, mathematics, humanities and the arts is acquired knowledge. But the journey of the individual learner is different. There is the revelation of an inner knowledge, an intuitive awareness if you like of the world and ones place in it. One feels this more than knows it, and I think it is part of the ever-increasing understanding of what it is to learn. The linking themes in all of this are autobiography, learning, understanding and knowing. This merging of two experiences of knowledge enables one to understand how separated and fragmented learning cultivates ignorance. “Where is the life we have lost in living?” Eliot writes, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” [Eliot, T.S. 1971].


Apple, M.W & Beyer, L.E. (eds) The Curriculum: Problems, Politics and Possibilities, State University of New York  Press, New York, 1998, pp.6-7

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