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from the archives: "they teach people ignorance"

Posted: November 18 2014

Todays post is the text of an opinion piece written by William C Gehrke and published in The Kansas Union Farmer on April 16, 1936! Gehrke does an incredible job of articulating the benefits of organizing farmers, the challenges posed by hegemonic education, and the insufficiency of "rugged individualism and the gold standard." His remarks are stunningly insightful and relevant to our situation today.
Union Farmer Editors: The following article by Mr. Gehrke contains so much that is good that we feel it is worthy of a front page position.
"They Teach People Ignorance"
William C. Gehrke
I am taking up the suggestion of A.W. Ricker of Minnesota by giving my personal reflections in the following comments.
Having lived on the farm for 27 years, only absent long enough to take my four years of college work, I still feel my interests are just as strongly with you. However, any views I hold I do so in the interests and welfare of all concerned, rather than just our particular class. I feel highly honored to be a member of the Farmers Union because of the principles for which they stand and the democratic procedure that governs the organization. In the Unions [sic] workings and philosophy, I can see the more abundant life so many desire yet I can see many of the shortcomings that prevent this attainment. I sometimes marvel at the faith, patience, and endurance of the leaders and its members knowing what the odds are against them. In spite of these known odds they struggle on slowly gaining those things necessary for the abundant life. I wish we had a better way to get more people including the farmers to see all our problems from a social viewpoint. By that I mean that every action of ours should be tested in the light as to how it will affect our fellowmen rather than the selfish motive that prompts each individual to get the better things at the expense of someone else.

There is a rather hopeless situation before the mass of people to which you and I belong. Remember there are just two classes of people—there are the ruling class and the ruled class. When we go to the records of ancient civilizations we find the grim face that most of our civilizations were built with a certain group bearing the brunt, generally known as slaves. It is common knowledge that in the United States we hear more about economic freedom, personal freedom, and freedom of the press than in most other countries, yet little realize the numerous obstacles that prevent us from really exercising these. Physical slavery, where the master drives with a long whip, is of course a scene that would be hard to find. But there are so many ways of accomplishing the same purpose; such as monetary control, real wages and monetary wages, false advertising, biased court decisions, false newspaper propaganda, and many others.

Since I have been associated with the public schools for a number of years, both as a teacher and as a superintendent, I feel I am somewhat competent to criticize the educational institutions. If the common people would awaken, especially your farmers, shake off the shackles of ignorance and quit following blindly you would become master of your own destinies. You have heard China referred to as the sleeping giant because she does not arise to liberate herself, from control, vice, superstition, and bondage, which it is possible for her to do. The same as it is possible for you to shake of the shackles of bondage, power, and ignorance, in our own beloved land. Yes, you have done well and followed suggestions to build schools in which to educate your children and thus accomplish this liberation from ignorance. You have built beautiful structures and then told those to whom you gave authority to administer and teach, that you wanted them to learn something. Then you went home and began that long intellectual slumber and allowed your enemy to come in and introduce perverting doctrines in your great halls of learning. You failed to use the greatest weapon you had for your liberation of spiritual and intellectual bondage and it was allowed to fall into the hands of your oppressor. The books and teachers that are before your children about 16 years of their lives largely determine the kind of thinking they will do in later life. Have you ever taken the time to investigate why certain things are taught and whether they are true or not? Have you ever been concerned with the source of information on vital subjects such as Economics, Money Bonking [sic] and History.

Let us consider for instance our text book in Economics as required by the State of Kansas. The authors of this book are very clever in admitting some facts concerning our less important evil but continue to keep us ignorant on the more important issues. It is also a face that these men belong to a class that believe that most of the property should belong to a few large corporations. In other words authors of many of our text books still believe it is alright for you to be enslaved and they are careful to see your children are to continue in these beliefs. These [illegible] insignificant when it is admitted that the teacher is hired locally. Remember many teachers like yourself have been reared on the same kind of thought that they perpetuate. Many consider that their text books are gospel and should not be questioned. This is one of the big reasons you do not have more supporters for the Frazier-Lemke Bill and other legislation in spite of the fact that they are the direct beneficiaries.

Perhaps we should carry our considerations a step father and take a look at our colleges, even so-called Christian colleges. We find professors with Doctor’s degrees who insist on the theory of Laissez-Faire and if a man is out of a job or men lose their farms it is only regrettable but cannot be helped. I have searched for two years to find a college that offers a Master’s degree in Economics and Political Science that will give a fair appraisal of both sides and criticize our system on vital points. Only recently I have been advised by Elsie Olson of the workers institute and small organizations in the East that are offering any real freedom of thought. The old idea of rugged individualism and the Gold Standard still prevail that only a violent social eruption will be able to bring them to their senses. Last summer, while studying in a University most of my professors ridiculed some of the greatest principles you have in your Farmers Union beliefs. Recently one of my high school students expressed the truth in a queer way by saying, “They teach the people ignorance.” Men who have or are fighting for the welfare of the masses are never given any consideration. I refer to such apostles of truth as Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Coughlin, Harvey, Long, Bryan, Simpson, Olson, and Lemke.

Another significant remark was recently made by one of my high school seniors. “If I had enough money to go to college I would like to continue to study a fair kind of social system, obtain the facts, then spend my whole life working for it!” The significance of this remark could well be copied by most any of you that read my letter by making a firm resolution to bend your every effort to perfect this world in which we live. Shake off the selfishness of natural man and begin the development of the new social cooperative man. Investigate, evaluate and then act for the welfare of all, not just for your own gain at the expense of your fellowmen. Since the burden of the maintenance of many of the public schools rests upon the farmers of our state, you should insist on having more say in what kind of material is being taught to your boy and girl. What about the vast number that graduate from your high school, are they being taught to be blind followers and that ours is the best country and the best system possible or are they convinced that there are many necessary reforms that must be worked out in our system? Being convinced there is much to be done are they fired with a zeal to work for the betterment of these conditions, keeping in kind the principles of Him who taught the way of life. Let us go forward to make this world a better and happier place to live in.

Respectfully yours,

William C Gehrke