Posted by: Staff | 03.04.2008

Passive Acceptance: Beaver’s Liberal Ideology

SAM O’REILLY ’09

“The progressive school teaches the child to think for himself instead of passively accepting stereotyped ideas. It keeps always in mind that each child is different from every other, and that what makes an educated person useful in his particular walk of life, what makes him interesting, what makes him an individual, is not his resemblance to other people, but his differences.”
-John French

It’s the convocation day. I walk into Bradley Hall with a snazzy shirt Mr. Manning let me borrow and a bowtie from Mr. Greenberg’s room. Just before I take my seat in the back row, I say to a teacher, “Above or below five minutes when the word ‘Progressive’ is used for the first time.” She laughs and answers, “Below.” I promptly take my seat next to Clay and have some time to marvel at his beard. Mr. Gow walks on stage. Guess what word was in his first sentence?

I am not saying that the fact that Beaver defines itself as a “progressive” school is a bad thing. In fact, it is something to be proud of. Beaver was one of the first so-called “progressive” schools to be founded. Some people may not realize how revolutionary the progressive education movement was at the time. Traditional education generally followed a script in which the teacher would talk, and the students would listen. This idea of progressive education centered on students thinking as individuals.

The progressive education movement was a success, and Beaver was an innovator in this entirely new field of thought. Progressive education today is immensely popular and helps many young independent thinkers. Progressive education has spread and is now extremely popular all across the country and the world. Much like any revolution, the progressive movement evolves. Such change is necessary for the progressive movement to remain progressive…to progress. Yet, how can Beaver continue to be progressive in a time of increased awareness of progressive values across the nation? In today’s world, what can Beaver do to further facilitate independent thought?

Do not get the ideas of being liberal and being progressive mixed up because they are completely different. Beaver is a particularly liberal school in a politically liberal region of the United States. I find the curriculum in the English and History departments have a very liberal slant. Take History, for example: there is too much history to cover, so the department must choose which parts are important for kids to understand. That’s understandable, but these issues are presented in a biased way. In the 10th grade, I was educated about the huge injustice of Americans driving Native Americans off their land. I could not help but think that the curriculum had an agenda of making students disagree with the expansion. One thing that was not presented to us was what our country would be like if we had not taken that land. Would we be as powerful as we are? We are generally taught to disagree with a capitalist conservative ideology. This is all rather ironic because that same ideology helps to pay for our cars, houses, private school tuitions, and video game systems.

I decided to go to Beaver because I agreed with the basic ideals. My parents did not suggest that I go to Beaver; I took the initiative to say that I wanted to go to this kind of school. Beaver is a very liberal school and there is nothing wrong with that. It is important, however, that we address this reality. I have been at Beaver since the 6th grade. I am currently experiencing my 6th year of Beaver curriculum and culture. When I first came to Beaver, I ate it all up. I ate every bite. I loved the idea of thinking for myself and learning from liberal minded people. Keep in mind I was an intensely opinionated sixth grader, whether I was informed or not. Bush was the devil, and Republicans ruled the world, and Michael Moore was the man.

I evolved over my middle school years. I can’t really pinpoint one moment when everything changed. I do know that it was around 8th grade when I came to the conclusion that the liberal agenda of Beaver was not always a good thing. I became concerned that the liberal mindset was too institutionalized. The ideology of Beaver generally attracts a very liberal staff. Kids do not appreciate how many teachers come to Beaver over potentially higher paying jobs because they agree with the core standards of the school. A generally liberal staff grouped with a generally liberal curriculum has created an institutionalized liberal ideology. The funny thing about it was that I agreed with all of the ideals that the curriculum was teaching. Nonetheless, the widespread passive acceptance of these ideas alarmed me.

I think that Beaver has unintentionally become a place that does not truly harbor independent thought. Throughout my years at the school, I felt as if I was being led in a general direction. Whether teachers realized it or not, they were leading students towards liberal ideals in the way they were presenting information. For example, when I was in the eighth grade, a writer for The Simpson’s spoke at our school. He gave a very interesting and funny speech about his experiences, and just so happened to call something “gay” and referred to Steven Hawkins as a nice “cripple.” I can understand that there would be some controversy after that, although what did people expect from a Simpson’s writer? For the next week, I think we talked about the issue in every class. In English, we even had to write an editorial about what we thought of the issue. All of the teachers were obviously offended and continued bringing up the issue. We were expected to be offended. We were supposed to view his comments as highly offensive. If we did not share the same disgust, then we were ignorant.

I saw some of my peers molded into a uniform liberal teenager. Perhaps they all would have come to this conclusion about the world in due time. I began to see people agree with everything that I generally agree with. The majority of my class hated Bush, but could not give a good reason why. Many people supported gay marriage, but had not stopped to consider the opinions and concerns of many other religious Americans. When I was assigned to put together a debate together for science about abortion, every member of my class supported it. About 57% of Americans share the same sentiment. This is just one example of how students have become products of their environment. I support abortion as well, but I am alarmed by the conformity of opinions.

I am not the only one who is aware of the institutionalized liberalism. It is hard to disagree with uniformly accepted liberal ideas. I know lots of kids that accept these ideas, but do not care about them. Many students do not actually believe in an opinion unless they are genuinely allowed to come to it own their own. I feel like so many people at Beaver have given up trying to oppose the common opinion. These liberal ideas, righteous as they may be, are such constants in our lives that they don’t matter anymore.

I know a handful of kids at Beaver who do not agree with some very liberal ideas. They do not argue for them however because it is difficult to defend such an opinion. It is much easier to argue for gay marriage rather than against it because the “correct” opinions have already been implied to us through every class diversity day we have ever attended. It is logical to write a liberal minded paper because the ideas have already been laid out to us. Liberal thought used to challenge the general consensus, but now it is institutionalized.

Beaver is an environment where it is just much easier and much more rewarding to agree with liberal ideals. Although some teachers try to keep their opinions secret, it does not take a genius to deduct which side he or she is on. A friend once commented to me after a class, “Beaver does not teach you to think, it teaches you to reiterate ideals in an attempt to mold your personality.” Unlike other schools, Beaver does not emphasize the memorization of facts and dates. However, it does focus on the memorization and reiteration of ideals. Such uniformity in core ideas can be very dangerous.

Beaver needs to be a more self-reflective institution. It needs to take a hard look at itself and judge if it is a progressive institution in today’s world. I personally believe that the school would do itself a great service in attempting to eliminate passive acceptance of liberal idealism. Even if a student disagrees with the war in Iraq, along with the teacher and the rest of the students, it is the job of everybody to ask the question, “why?” It is the responsibility for every teacher, student, and administrator to challenge the common belief. Those of us that consider ourselves liberals must challenge our core ideals on a daily basis to remind ourselves of why they are our ideals. I believe that it is our responsibility, as students and citizens of the world, to guard against this habit of passive acceptance. If we cannot do this, then we can never expect to progress.

“Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favour of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes man to seek and to accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position.”
-Bertrand Russell

CORRECTION 5/Apr/08: Mr. Gow’s Cum Laude speech, read every year, does not mention progressive anything. His convocation day speech, though, does “proudly connect Beaver’s heritage to the extraordinary work of the early Progressive Education movement.” We are very sorry for the mistake.

Image from: http://www.bcdschool.org/

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Responses

  1. I agree, Beaver’s Ideology is Liberal. Yet, I also believe the school encourages students to become independent thinkers, so in this aspect I disagree with the article. The author of this article is a good example of an independent thinker, and the fact that there is a medium for him to express his ideas proves how Beaver’s Liberal non-censoring ideology is actually a very good thing.


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