Totalitarianism And Education

Between the ages of 16 and 19, virtually all Norwegians attend upper secondary school – an optional, three-year add-on to a decade of compulsory elementary education. Most opt for public schools over private ones, and a goodly chunk of that group chooses a course plan whose emphasis is on history, social science, and the humanities. As our educators admit, though, Norwegian students would be remiss to expect to actually learn anything about those subjects. This is not an accident caused by the quality of the school system, which the international body PISA has repeatedly found to be among the worst in the developed world – it is a consequence of design. The bureaucrats and intellectuals who create the curriculum for Norway's State schools, most of whom attended university during the 1960s and 1970s and partook of that era's student radicalism, agree that the goal of education is not the transmission of knowledge, but the propagation of soixante-huitardisme, relativism, and a bellyfeel hatred of white Europeans.

For influential Norwegian pedagogue Harald F. Skram, for instance, the belief that history constitutes “an objective account of what happened in the past” and the rejection of cultural relativism are both earmarks of low academic historical competence, while “an awareness of how history can be used politically” is a sign of high competence. Harald Syse, writing in the renowned quarterly Prosa, assures us that “it's been a long time since historical education has had as its only goal to communicate the truth about the past.” (Syse's piece examines whether a set of newly released history textbooks sufficiently emphasize the oppression of minority groups by ethnic Norwegians, as a State edict has recently required.) Facts, to Syse, are of secondary or tertiary value, subservient to the need for “a broad education in democracy.” In other words: Schools are not to transmit knowledge, which can be inconvenient and unpleasant and is at any rate a mere social construction of late-capitalist phallogocentrism. No, they should instead turn their students into docile paragons of “tolerance” and “open-mindedness,” “tolerance” and “open-mindedness” being acquired mostly through the memorization of a few thought-terminating cliches and the unquestioning acceptance of Cultural Marxism and the therapeutic welfare state. Like all totalitarian institutions, the Norwegian establishment starts its indoctrination as early as possible – even kindergarteners are made to sing songs about the horrors of racism and the need for world government.

Is the agenda of the curriculum reflected in practice? Here I want to resort to my own experiences. My upper secondary school should, by all accounts, be a bastion of conservative fuddy-duddiness. The municipality in which it is situated is one of the wealthiest in the country, regularly giving record electoral percentages to the center-right Conservative Party during general elections; the school's history goes back to the mid-19th century, and it had a Latin course until less than a decade ago; the faculty consists largely of people who have been with the school for decades, and has shown reluctance towards the use in the classroom of such modern luxuries as laptop computers or the Internet. By rights, they ought to also be at least somewhat reluctant to let go of the apparently outdated notion that the goal of education is to transmit knowledge, not to indoctrinate politically correct bromides. But even this conservative gerontocracy (I use the expressions fondly) seems happy to lend a leftward slant to any available subject, as my own fairly recent experiences will demonstrate.

I have heard a history teacher describe Stalinist Russia as a basically benevolent and prosperous society with a few minor problems. I have looked through a school library for a biography of Mao Zedong, only to find it populated exclusively by hagiographies written by 70s radicals. I have had philosophy teachers who have never heard of Friedrich Hayek. I have been told that dialectical materialism is an indisputable fact in which all historians believe. I have, as mentioned, read course plans which openly instruct teachers to fail students who affirm the existence of human nature or objective truth, and to give good grades to those who regard history as a political tool of the ruling classes. I have had  textbooks on 20th century philosophy with dozens of pages devoted to mediocrities like Simone de Beavouir but not a single mention of Wittgenstein or Russell. I have had lessons on the Middle Ages that have consisted almost entirely of infantile urban legends. (Angels on the head of a pin, feudalism, etc.) I have heard of teachers who openly exhort their students to vote Socialist. I have been told that it is racist to pass moral judgment on female genital mutilation.

These anecdotes only describe my experiences, and incompletely at that, but I have no reason to suspect that my peers – burdened as they are with the same curriculum, teachers, and textbooks as me – have had a significantly different experience, nor that the situation is going to improve. If the human rights fora of the EU and the UN were made for more than trendy guilt-mongering, the tendentiousness and totalitarianism of Norway's State schools would long ago have invited their censure.

Vicarious armchair revolution?

I am a frequent reader of Der Spiegel, and consider its politics to be in the center, if not right-of-center.  However, I was very surprised and disappointed by Dirk Kurbjuweit's claim that Germany "needs" Europe, as Der Spiegel had been critical of the rescue of Greece and the fiscal policies of the periphery EMU members as well as France.  After reading articles describing how China was of far more economic importance to Germany than Greece et al, I was stunned to see an article denouncing Merkel's attempts to follow the demands of German citizens, and encourage Germany to continue upholding the EU and EMU because:


  • Germans do not have a national identity separate from European and Western civilization
  • German democracy is based upon English, Scottish, French and American thought
  • The Western Allies treated Germany very graciously at the end of World War II
  • The United States no longer has any use for Germany is focused on China
  • Germany needs the expanded economy and population of Europe to compete with China and India
  • Even if Germany thrives economically outside of the EU, it will lose any political power it wields through the EU
  • The EU will provide for Germany's defense, and collective security will be more efficient and less expensive than maintaining a national military


Self-abasement and anti-American sentiment are comorbid conditions that afflict Western Europe.  It is disturbing to see Norwegians and Swedes as afflicted as Germans.  However, Germany has an advantage: its ties to the "wild east".  Although the former West Germany is clearly the economic powerhouse, Germany's social and political future will come from the former east.  Ironically, several decades of communism have preserved the desire for individual and national freedom and independence in Eastern Europe better than liberal and social democracy has in Western Europe.  


It is difficult to define and delineate this constellation of social movements that from the 1960s onward have led to political correctness and multiculturalism.  If socialism, communism and their various sects can be distinguished from communitarian and egalitarian ideas that came before Marx and influenced him, than this phenomenon is likewise stand-alone.  It has proliferated more through mass media than academia, as - if this article is any indication - Norwegian youth probably identify more with American history than their own.  The Vietnam War and CIA operations in Latin American are no doubt more salient than Norway's resistance to Germany during the war.  Even Germany youth were busy protesting the occupation of Iraq, while neo-fascism and xenophobia was quietly gaining ground in the eastern states.  Western humanities students spend most of their time criticizing developments in the United States, and only deal with their own domestic issues if a politician or party is thought to be aping American positions.  I assume Swedes are proud of their new immigrant ghettoes, so that they can pretend they are part of a civil rights movement that happened in another country decades ago.

Norwegian publishing?

The American educational system is, on average, better than the Norwegian system, but I recognize many of the same problems here.  (I am an English professor in the United States.)  Indeed, I have long maintained that one's education in history or philosophy must come almost entirely from outside reading.  Luckily, the American publishing industry is diverse enough that one can still find many legitimate historical and philosophical sources of information.  Is the Norwegian publishing industry similarly diverse, or do the same leftards who run the schools run the publishing houses?

Re: Norwegian publishing

The major publishing houses are just as bad, as are the major media outlets. The advent of the Internet has improved things, though, as people can now seek out opposing views there.

Det var en gang, da jeg

Det var en gang, da jeg studerte dansk litteratur, skrev jeg en "research paper " om Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783 – 1872), grunnlegger av "folk skolen" bevegelse i Danmark, og som også utøvet stor innflytelse i Norge i Nittende århundre. Grundtvig var en nasjonalistisk i beste forstand av ordet. Han mente at folk trengte å vite hvem de var historisk sett. Derfor var en nasjons historie og litteratur naturgrunnlaget av utdanning. Kanskje det er på tide å gjenopplive Grundtvig konsept utdanning.

[Once upon a time, when I was studying Danish literature, I wrote a “research paper” on Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783 – 1872), founder of the “folk school” movement in Denmark and who also wielded great influence in Norway in the Nineteenth Century. Grundtvig was a nationalist in the best sense of the word. He believed that people needed to know who they were in historical terms. Therefore, a nation’s history and its literature were the natural basis of education. Perhaps it is time to revive Grundtvig’s concept of education.]

Svein Sellanraa tells a

Svein Sellanraa tells a story that might be told all over the Western world by sufficiently acute – I like to say literate – people.  Rotten education is both a chief symptom and a major contributing cause of social deliquescence.  The dissident American teacher John Taylor Gatto has it right: The dumbing down of education began with the institution of mandatory “public education,” which, in the United States, happened (where else?) in Massachusetts late in the eighteenth or very early in the nineteenth century.  Once education becomes a function of the state rather than a function of the community or of the family, its purpose will soon become assimilating students to the state rather than to the community or the family.  As it turns out, “public education” is inimical to the formation of an educated public.  As the latter, not the former, is what we need, we should strive to abolish the former.  The genuinely educated people whom I know are largely self-educated even if it might be the case that they attended public schools and state colleges and universities; they are educated despite that.

Norway is obviously very advanced...

It sounds as if Norway is very advanced. Back in the day, when I was an undergrad at a not very prestigious state school we had four philosophy instructors:

An older Jewish man whose method of instruction was to tell stories, often from the OT. The idea was, I think, to instruct us in the moral life. He would often smoke a pipe in class. He would be arrested for it, today.

Another older guy taught Marx, and even looked like the German-but his personality was not as petulant as the real Marx. He was the "radical" of the group.

An Indian (or maybe Pakistani) that had studied in Germany, and was supposed to have once read Being and Time. He knew all about Kierkegaard, Sartre, and the problems of modern existence, but no one could very well understand him because of his accent. Nevertheless, he was a true gentleman, from all appearances.

A younger guy, mathematically inclined, that could teach two semesters of logic. We actually used Quine's Methods of Logic. He was serious.

After spending a few years in class, and if one read the books, a pretty solid foundation in Western thinking could be had. There was not much filler.

Now, they are all gone. But things are much better, because instead the department has hired professors interested in and offering courses on: contemplative education; African philosophy; animal ethics; queer theory, deconstruction, feminist ethics and so on. Students are undoubtedly much better served than hitherto.