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October 11, 2020

My American Indoctrination

By Stephen Lyons

This essay responds to President Trump's proposed plan to re-educate us about America's "lofty principles." Trump remarked that our education system has a "left-wing agenda."


My American Indoctrination

"President Trump pressed his case Thursday that U.S. schools are indoctrinating children with a left-wing agenda hostile to the nation's Founding Fathers, describing efforts to educate students about racism and slavery as an insult to the country's lofty founding principles."

The Washington Post, September 17, 2020

I remember my initial indoctrination. I was an average student in Dewitt Clinton Grade School, on Chicago's northwest side. Above the blackboard in our home room hung an ancient loud speaker that blared the impossible-to-sing Star Spangled Banner every morning at eight o'clock sharp. We were ordered by our teacher to place our hands over our hearts and face the music, so to speak. Afterwards, we had to pledge allegiance to the flag. ""one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Our assembly hall had two portraits: one of a slave holder, George Washington; one of a slave emancipator Abraham Lincoln. We were taught that all white founding fathers were beyond reproach, almost saintly. Thomas Jefferson's Black mistress was never mentioned. Nor were his, or Washington's slaves, ever referenced in the history books we were required to read, memorize and then parrot in our homework essays.

Pounded into our young, impressionable brains was the tale of Columbus "discovering" America, even though there were millions of native Americans residing here at the time of his amazing discovery. Manifest Destiny was sold to us as a necessary pacification of those hostile Indians. No one mentioned the wholesale slaughter or the rapes. The courageous General Custer was ambushed at Little Big Horn by red savages, but we never learned about the battle of Big Hole, when 90 members of the Nez Perce tribe were slaughtered by U.S. troops.

Air raid drills were also a regular feature of our indoctrination in public school. We were told to put our heads down on our desks as if somehow that would protect us. We believed it would. Sometimes we were made to quietly march"single file, Indian style"downstairs to the air raid shelter and wait for the all clear signal.

Never was it explained in terms we could understand why we had such air raid shelters. Something about a potential bomb and a mushroom cloud. No one explained to us that the only country ever to employ the dreaded atomic bomb was our own United States, and that the dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed tens of thousands of innocent Japanese men, women, infants and babies. Later, our indoctrination excused the slaughter as indispensable to ending World War II. We were left with no other choice. The pilots who dropped the bombs were to be thanked for their service to democracy and for preserving America's exceptionalism.

The urban riots in Chicago that followed Martin Luther King's assassination were sold to us by our mayor as proof that Blacks were by nature violent and that they were a threat to our way of life. Mayor Daley refused to "build back better" those neighborhoods. I do not recall anyone explaining how those neighborhoods were systematically deprived of basic necessities like access to healthy foods, decent housing and functional schools. Nor was I told why drugs were intentionally funneled into those parts of the city I dared not enter.

Presidents Johnson and Nixon sent thousands of our young soldiers to their death and addictiongutting the potential of an entire generationto Vietnam because of the "domino theory." If Vietnam liberates itself from the control of France and the United States then all the countries in southeast Asia (and beyond!) will fall to the communism.

After 9/11 we invaded Iraq because of phantom "weapons of mass destruction." We had to bomb the poor sovereign nation of Afghanistan because Osama Bin Laden was hiding there. (Turned out he was chilling in Pakistan, our well-financed ally in the War on Terror.) OK, collateral damage of innocent Afghans was unfortunate but, hey, stuff happens in war.

Today, the indoctrination continues apace with new ways on social media to sway those who would dare to break ranks. President Trump warns that the street protests against police brutality and racial injustice in Portland, Minneapolis, Kenosha and elsewhere are perpetuated by "disgraceful anarchists" and are a real threat to "suburban housewives."

We are further instructed that, "The only way you will stop the violence in the high crime Democrat run cities is through strength!"

Or by joining your local armed militia. Example: Kyle Rittenhouse.

Finally, I do hope that whatever re-education plan the president draws up (and I'm confident that, like so much of what he creates, it will be like nothing we've ever seen before) will define with precision America's "lofty founding principles." Perhaps I am a slow learner, but given our country's checkered history of genocide, conquest and racism I am more than a little confused.


Stephen J. Lyons is the author of four books of essays and journalism. His most recent book is "Going Driftless: Life Lessons from the Heartland for Unraveling Times." His prose chapbook "West of East" will be published next March by Finishing Line Press.

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Authors Bio:

Stephen J. Lyons contributes commentary and journalism to a variety of national and international newspapers and magazines. He the author of five books of essays and journalism. His most recent book is "West of East," published by Finishing Line Press, available everywhere.