Occupying the Minds of Our Youth

 A friend of mine is employed by a public elementary school in Santa Cruz, California.  In the teacher's lounge he found some troubling materials stacked on a table dedicated to the California Teachers Association.

"Considering Democracy in Occupy Wall Street," was the title of a teaching guide recommended for grades 4-7.  The lesson plan was assembled by the Morningstar Center, a leftwing organization that teaches "social responsibility."

In the guide we read,

"...there are some ways that our country isn't always democratic, even though people do have rights such as a vote and free speech. Ask students if they can think of some examples. (Examples include: people and corporations with lots of money can make political contributions that give them more influence over our government than other people. Another: people who have a lot of power and resources can pay to have their opinion heard.)"

What's ironic is that this material is being offered at a resource area sponsored by a very wealthy teachers union.  Unions are corporations, and influence politics as much, or more, than most other organizations -- especially in California!

As for people "who have a lot of power and resources," ask gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman how that worked out for her.  She spent nearly $100 million of her own money in her quest to become the governor of California, but was defeated by union-backed Jerry Brown.

The guide goes on to describe the Occupy movement for the school children:

Occupy Wall Street is a group of activists who want to change the way money, wealth, and income are distributed in the U.S. They want to change the fact that there is a very big difference between how much money and wealth rich and poor people have.  Also, they want to make our country more democratic so that even people with little money and power can have more of a voice.

Morningstar's tactic to assist the students as to "the way the money, wealth, and income are distributed in the U.S." is to have the pupils participate in a group activity:

...divide the students into small groups of 4-5 students each. Ask each group to draw a picture of what a democratic classroom might look like. What would be in the classroom? How would it be arranged? How would students feel? How would students, teachers, administrators relate to each other? How would the class be organized?

The teachers then ask the students, "What are your ideas for making our class more democratic?"

A suggested list of acceptable answers includes:

  • Decide what we will learn in class and make curricula decisions.
  • Create the classroom rules and consequences as a group.
  • Have a student council in the class to create and enforce rules.
  • Students decide the menu for school lunch.
  • Have students take turns teaching the class.

Not only is this pure democracy in action, but it's an example of the inmates running the asylum.  Additionally disconcerting is the fact that a generation of school kids is being fed this dangerous poppycock.

The guide concludes with the recommendation that students "try to determine which ideas could actually be implemented, and which are the best one or two ideas.  Make a plan for implementing them."

Also on the resource table was another lesson entitled, "Ten Chair Simulation of the Distribution of Wealth."  The plan was produced by Polly Kellogg, a teacher at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota (her specialty is "neocolonialism and global consequences of corporate capitalism").

Kellogg contends that, "The corporate elite who own the majority of the wealth not only control our economy, but also own most of the media and influence government policies. When students become aware of this concentration of wealth and power they begin to see the necessity of thinking critically about the system in which we live."

Kellogg uses a musical chairs theme to illustrate the collective net worth of those in the United States, as if the amount of money in America is a zero-sum game.

To begin the simulation I ask ten students to volunteer to line up at the front of the room seated in their chairs, facing the rest of the class. I explain that each chair represents ten percent of the wealth in the U.S. and each occupant represents 10% of the population, so that when each chair is occupied by one student, the wealth is evenly distributed. I explain that wealth is what you own: your stereo, the part of your house and car that are paid off, savings like stocks and bonds, vacation homes, any companies you own, your yatchs [sic], villas on the Riviera, private jet airplanes, etc. Then I ask students to estimate how much wealth each family would have if the wealth were equally distributed. Students usually guess about $50,000 and are surprised to hear that the answer is $250,000. I ask them what it would feel like if every family could have a $100, 000 home, a $10,000 car paid for and $140,000 in savings.

I invite the class to guess how many chairs belong to the richest student, let's call her Sue. Students are dismayed to hear that in 1976, the richest 10% of the population had five chairs or 50% of the wealth. I tell the four students sitting nearest to Sue to give up their chairs to her and to move to the poorer end of the line up. Then I point out, "But with tax breaks and a skyrocketing stock market Sue is getting richer. By l996 she increased her share of the wealth from 50% to 70%, so the next two students in the line up have to give up their chairs to her." If students have not yet begun to get upset, I provoke them by telling them that the standing students can sit on the laps of the three students seated at the end, and I invite Sue to sit in the middle of her seven chairs, to stretch out, relax, or even lay down across the chairs.

To upset them further I announce that Sue's arm represents the wealthiest 1% of families and that her arm's share of the wealth doubled from 2 chairs (22% of the wealth) to 4 chairs (42%) during the years from l979 to l992. I solicitously help Sue find a comfortable position with one arm stretched over four chairs. To engage Sue in clowning and playing up her role, I might offer her food or drink. I ask the other nine students who are crowded around three chairs what life is like at their end of the line. "We're pissed and tired of working all the time." "I want a revolution." Working class students tell stories of financial stress they have experienced. "My mother had to work two jobs to support us." "My family was really poor when my dad was laid off. We lived on macaroni and cheese." Often one student, usually a white male, will say he has hopes that he can work hard and join Sue.

The Occupy movement illustrates why the founders of the United States crafted a republic, and not a democracy.  As John Adams stated, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.  There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide."

Brian Sussman is the author of, "Climategate," and host of the morning show on San Francisco radio station KSFO.