Education and the Thought Police

The Thought Police are eroding history bringing us to a cultural tipping point

By Rolene Marks

There is a song that contains the following lyrics, “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control, no dark sarcasm in the classroom, hey teachers, leave them kids alone! All in all we’re just another brick in the wall.” Yes, you know the one.

The thought control police are everywhere these days. Hardly a day goes by when news hasn’t broken about some or other cultural icon being cancelled because it is “offensive”. Cartoon skunk, Pepe le Pew is a misogynist (reminder, he is a CARTOON SKUNK), M&M’s are not diverse enough (yes, I know you also think about diversity when scoffing a candy treat), Mr. Potato Head and a whole host of others, both fictional and real have been given their marching orders.

It seems that the fictional works or George Orwell in the classic book 1984 are coming to pass.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the massive whoopsie that Whoopi Goldberg made on her TV show, “The View”.  Her comments about the Holocaust not being about race but rather “two groups of white people fighting each other” exposed not just a fault line of how critical race theory is permeating news and media but also the glaring lack of education about the Shoah.

Lost Opportunity. When ABC simply suspended Whoopi Goldberg rather than engage in serious conversation about the Holocaust anchored on why her comments were false and offensive, the news network missed an opportunity to educate.

What started the brouhaha was a discussion centred on the McMinn County school board in Tennessee wanting to remove the iconic Holocaust-based book, Maus, from the eighth-grade curriculum. There were concerns about sexual content and language but also that the “US was not painted in a positive light”.

A Zoom meeting was held between the author of the book, Art Speigelman, members of the board and concerned parents. One board member commented:

What we need is a book that shows the patriotism we can proudly feel for having liberated the Jews from the camps.” Spiegelman pointed out that the US was reluctant to join the war and put a stop to the persecution of Jews, and that it was the Russians who liberated Auschwitz, where his father had been held.

Scared of a Mouse. The iconic Holocaust based book and the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, Art Spiegelman’s Maus fell foul of a school board in Tennessee, USA that wanted it removed from the school syllabus concerned that the “US was not painted in a positive light”. 

Even if they say they’re willing to teach the Holocaust, they want a fuzzier, warmer, gentler Holocaust that shows how great the Americans were,” Speigelman said.

This is a dangerous world. It’s getting more dangerous. Are you going to try to confront it in a way that’s useful, or hide your head in myths and stories that are heartwarming?” he said.

There is no “easy” way to teach the Holocaust.  This most brutal genocide of the Jews of Europe needs to be taught in all its brutality.

I am not a fan of cancel culture. I believe it destroys important opportunities to educate people by cutting off discourse. It also effectively cancels a channel for the person who has erred to learn from their mistakes and do right by those they have offended.

Brutal Revelations. From a page in Maus, which represents Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, Americans as dogs, the British as fish, the French as frogs, and the Swedish as deer.

ABC, by suspending Whoopi and not engaging in any further conversation about the Holocaust and why her comments were so offensive, missed the opportunity to educate. They effectively swept the issue under carpet and sent her to the naughty corner.

Goldberg is back at The View, promising to have those “uncomfortable discussions”. No comment whether or not she had engaged in any Holocaust based education during her suspension. What a waste of two weeks that could have involved speaking to survivors, educators and perhaps Speigelman himself.

The revision and reframing of history to push agendas is extremely worrying. Statues have been toppled in cities around the world unless the subjects have unimpeachable records. The mob have come for Thomas Jefferson, cancelled Abraham Lincoln and are gunning for Winston Churchill amongst others. No leader is absolutely perfect but now would be a good time to remind the thought police that if it weren’t for Churchill who led the defeat of the Nazis, the alternative would have been devastating.

Age of Outrage. Joe Rogan, Sharon Osbourne, Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres are just some of the celebrity talk show hosts to land in hot water in recent months. (Getty/Joe Rogan Experience/Spotify/CBS)

We only have to look at the whole discussion around Spotify podcaster Joe Rogan and those trying to deplatform him to see how divergent voices are shut down. Whether or not we agree or disagree with his views on Coved-19 or any other topic, don’t we have a right to decide for ourselves?

I recall some of my own experiences while doing my degree in International Relations when I lived in South Africa. I had to hand in an assignment in my International Law class that was a study of the Second Lebanon war. The case study in question left out pertinent points about Hezbollah firing Katyusha rockets at Israeli civilians. Basically the case study stated that Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and the response from the IDF was to flatten parts of Lebanon. When I confronted my professor, I was told “this is a South African university and we are only interested in a South African perspective”. So much for evidentiary support for my argument! Certainly explains a few things about South African foreign policy vis a vis Israel!

These are not the sole examples I can think of. Every day brings new examples of lack of education and thought control. Some days it is gender issues, other days it is the Middle East (you should hear the experts on THAT!) or the pandemic and so on.

We are at a critical juncture in education when agendas trump history and dissenting voices on certain topics are being shut down in favour of a herd think mentality.

It brings me back to the song I referenced at the beginning. We do need an education, it is not thought control, it is simply understanding and learning about the past in all its painful context so that we can reflect and move towards the future, hopefully as better, more tolerant human beings.

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