George Orwell’s name, to me, evokes memories of 10th grade as I sat, uncomfortably, in a small wooden desk on the second floor of my un-airconditioned high school in a rural farming town in eastern North Carolina, about as far away from dystopia as one could imagine.
Maria — whose curly blond hair and mischievous, inviting smile — occupied the desk in front of me and distracted me from the teacher’s droning on and on about “A Brave New World” and “1984.” Yet somehow, I retained a shallow understanding of Orwell and Aldous Huxley’s core messages. I recall thinking at the time how weird it was to read about mass consumption of “soma,” state-enforced conformity, and “Big Brother,” and concluded these crazy ideas were surely incapable of taking root in the modern West, certainly not in America.
Maria and I were not far removed from the generation that had prevailed over the evils of fascism and had re-established the underpinnings of our fundamental American value system, and it was this American model, buttressed by an unrivaled financial system, that had defeated the Axis powers.
Our high school classes taught us that it was democracy, married to capitalism, that allowed America’s unique political and economic systems to flourish and lift millions from poverty.
What kids are taught in school matters.
Looking back on the things I learned in 10th grade, I realize that Orwell and Huxley’s writings were required reading in our classrooms as a direct way of impressing on young people, like me and Maria, the dangers of the very cultural trends we see emerging today. Buried deep in the reservoir of my teenage mind was a basic understanding that true “freedom” valued and protected freedom of thought and expression, and resisted groupthink and authoritarianism.
I am not a big poetry reader but sometimes I stumble across a poem that grabs my lapel and shakes me around. Recently I read Orwell’s poem, “A Happy Vicar I might Have Been,” written in 1935, at the dawn of fascism’s rise in Germany and Europe. The first paragraph reads:
“A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow”
In 21 words, Orwell observes that a marketplace has always existed for those who seek, through theology or political demagoguery, to manipulate and benefit from controlling thought. And perhaps in some way, it is comforting to be reminded that this has always been the case.
But it feels different, today. The destructive orthodoxy of monochromatism exposes itself not so much from the pulpit or campaign speeches, but much more dangerously in our public-school classrooms, university campuses, and the internet through social media.
“Orwellian” was once invoked, pejoratively, to identify and marginalize those who sought control over our lives, yet today, thought control has been normalized through DEI and gender fluidity viruses spread from schools to governments to sports to corporate America.
Orwell was once a student in Aldous Huxley’s classroom and one can only imagine what their conversations must have entailed. Likely neither had any real expectation that their writings would have such predictive value about the future. But sadly, their insightful commentary is relevant as we watch in real-time the unfolding of the dystopia’s matrix and its linearity through the racial and gender prisms of censorship, “misinformation,” “ministry of truth,” “cancel culture”.
What does all this say about our education system? What does it say about our future?
From my view as a long-time participant in North Carolina politics and government, and now as a member of the state university governing body, it suggests to me that we face a true existential enemy to the American way of life. Previously, I have written about the dangers of indoctrination in how our future teachers are taught, and the evidence is mounting.
Just this past week in Wilmington, the New Hanover County Schools superintendent, who oversees public instruction of over 27,000 students, stated that the United States Constitution was not “written for him,” evidence that Critical Race Theory is succeeding in its efforts to re-write history and cause a new generation to question the core principles that have guided our nation.
How can a public-school leader make a statement that denies basic historical context of how the United States Constitution was the vehicle by which all people were, eventually, treated equally for the first time in human history? What could possibly be his intent in spreading such a destructive message to today’s youth?
George Orwell died in 1953, but it’s worth remembering the ideas he penned nearly 100 years ago, which, intentionally or not, predicted a new and dangerous age of government control and conformity disguised as “freedom.”
Progress in successful thought control is measured by how high its proponents rise in culture and government. If there is anything more harmful to the future of America than its educators undermining its basic foundations, I cannot think of what it could be.