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education and thought control

We Don’t Need No Thought Control

‘We Don’t Need No Thought Control’ — a catchy second-line of Pink Floyd’s 1979 release of ‘The Wall’ became an instant hit spanning multiple boundaries and reaching an audience that had never heard of the band before. The album’s popularity reached new heights with the release of “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” in the early 1980s, so much so that numerous schools had to issue a ban on the song.

Roger Waters, the band’s lead bassist and lyricist, wrote the three-part song lyric, expressing his personal experiences as a story of a character called Pink. The song captured not only the reality of educational institutions but also deep-seated human beliefs and the authoritative institutionalisation of individuals.

The song’s essence could be captured in “We don’t need no thought control,” which expresses rebellion towards school education and its indoctrination and conformity towards a rigid, predefined path of learning and knowledge. And such an institutional indoctrination makes us just “another brick in the wall.” Much of these ideas echo Orwellian sentiment towards a system that constantly feeds you with what to think and feel.

In the book Pink Floyd and the Philosophy, George A. Reisch succinctly says: “It is not an attack on education per se.” It attacked certain teachers, who torment their students with ridicule.

And it attacks education when it becomes indistinguishable from ‘thought control.’ For instance, in History, the teacher becomes a tool for producing correct citizens who hold ‘right’ opinions and ‘patriotic’ beliefs who do not question the status quo. In this context, Norman Douglas wrote: “Education is a state-controlled manufactory of echoes.”

Modernity and Thought Control

With the “Birth of Modernity,” the school system introduced a particular form of mannerism. It taught the students ways to express the most profound human emotions. It developed a new standard of behaviour – where self-discipline over desires and emotions became a civilised form of conduct.

The Enlightenment project gave the modern world the pedagogy of learning, which established a uniform grading system, a certain doctrine of teaching-learning, merit, and examinations.

In the words of Dennis O’Keeffe, “Modernity is the combination of capitalism and democracy. Its economic core is based on property rights, which mobilise the organisation of resources. It also requires mass education to select intellectual talent for a complex division of labour.”

As a result, our education system tends to create individuals suited to benefit the capitalist structure. In the process, the school system indoctrinates us into what makes good and bad students.

All day long, the students do nothing but follow instructions – solve so and so questions, add these numbers, multiply the other, do their homework, and stop talking. The industrial-age mentality of mass production and mass control is deep-seated in our school system. At schools, one is awarded for doing exactly as you are taught.

As children, our aspirations are destroyed to fit in a system our society deems us to be. In the process, a child is taught to learn the alphabet as A-for-Apple, B-for-Ball, and C-for-Cat, instead of A-for-Apple, B-for-Big Apple, and C-for-Custard Apple, for an Apple-loving child.

The creativity of a child is suppressed in such an education system. The students have become products in a factory – with labels of a good and bad product –  that are evaluated by a standard grading system.

Another Brick In The Wall by Pink Floyd.

Critique of Modern-Day Thought Control

In his work, The One World Schoolhouse, Sal Khan refers to a phenomenon known as “Swiss-cheese gaps.” We are taught multiple subjects in our prime days of schooling and never really learn anything inquisitively. When a child is taught multiple subjects at school, he might show interest in one particular subject more than the other. Since the evaluation is based on a minimum score required to pass, the student may only learn things in bits and pieces.

The students have been constantly pushed ahead regardless of their mastery of a topic. And when this process is continued for several years, all the knowledge a student might have acquired makes little sense. Examinations – a mechanism that evaluates what gets written, how it gets written, and how not to write something – legitimise such education and its values.

The education system based on imitation rote learning, staying up all night to memorise useless facts forgotten the next day, and evaluating children based on their test scores is an acutely inhumane exercise. Thus, some children are tagged as ignorant, and others are praised as intelligent.

We are all a product of such a system. A system that judges a fish by its ability to climb a mountain. It rigidly curtails one’s interests, their ability to think critically and propose a pre-defined path that most likely results in ‘another brick in the wall.’

Our society is changing rapidly, but our education system hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years. It is mired by an industrial-age mentality of churning out factory workers. However, we live in an Information Age. Our education system must also tailor to individual needs and interests in the rapid unabated information flow era.

In the years that follow, there is a need for a digitised, automated, interactive and individual-centric education with the learner’s pace. There must be increased encouragement towards peer-to-peer learning in the school system. Ceteris paribus, we don’t need any education that controls our thoughts.

Cover Photo: MsSaraKelly, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

6 thoughts on “We Don’t Need No Thought Control”

  1. I am former teacher of 13 years and a fan of Pink Floyd and The Wall. I appreciate many of your insights on this topic. In my opinion the song serves as a glimpse of what education was in the mid to late 20th century, and what it can be, when submitting to authority is the primary focus. But today the number of schools and variety if schools ensures anything but consistency. Progressive teachers do incorporate social learning where students talk to each other and share their thinking. There is also social justice based education where students explore human rights, oppression, and ways to challenge the status quo.

    I think the lasting message is the need to move away from blind authoritarianism. We no longer need to have power over others, but in fact we become more powerful when we empower each other.

  2. Interesting observation. Ironic that you identify capitalism as the culprit though, when the reality is that thought control is actually ultimately tailored toward the socialist, or communistic ideology and has nothing to do with capitalism. The reason why America has been so successful in the past is because of it’s freedom of thought and it’s honoring of individual thought, which is now threatened by the very thing your article points out…, thought control. Good observations, you write well, however, I don’t agree with your conclusions that it is the product of a capitalistic society. True capitalism, although not perfect, frees the individuals creativity and unleashes the human spirit, while socialism and communism corrals the human spirit and forces everyone into collective thought. That’s why it is called collectivism. Read Adam Smith’s, the Wealth of Nations and you will get a better idea of what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, the reason why America is currently in the struggle for it’s existence is because socialistic and communistic thought have taken root in our education and we no longer encourage individualism, but are ourselves knee deep in thought control. Thanks!

    1. Hello Bob, Thank you very much for your interesting insights! I don’t have any dismay for capitalism as such. In fact, I am more inclined to believe in Althusserian “Interpellation” – ideologies make humans subjects. And that is precisely my argument. In fact, Communist and authoritarian regimes create a society that is trained to believe in what is right and wrong, and that, to me, is thought control. If one carefully reads the article, it becomes evident that it is a critique of very beliefs we hold sacrosanct — and follow. Happy Reading!

      Have a good day 🙂

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