Reena Virk, a 14-year-old teenage girl, was brutally beaten and murdered on the night of Nov. 14, 1997, in the Victoria suburb of Saanich, British Columbia. Seven teens, six of them girls aged 14-16, face charges of aggravated assault.

Paradoxically, this retrogression toward gangs, violence and anarchy has occurred during the reign of Progressive Education in our schools, a philosophy that champions the “socialization” of children.

An eighth girl is charged with second-degree murder. Some, at least, apparently knew Reena through school. Reena was assaulted twice that night by two different groups — the second apparently “broke her back, her neck and her arms” and dumped her in a tidal river called the Gorge where she drowned.

According to Dr. Sibylla Artz, a University of Victoria professor and “expert on youth violence” (and author of Sex, Power and the Violent School Girl), “assaults by teenage girls on other girls are common and usually arise from competition over boys.” The typical situation, according to Dr. Artz, is: “the victim is in … competition with another girl” who “organizes a community of friends who create a network of gossip and rumours, which fuels the anger of the group, which justifies or rationalizes [an attack].”

This vicious and brutal assault highlights an ominous development with teenagers. The incidence of violence — of terrorism, gang fights, the use of deadly weapons — has risen dramatically since the 1960s (allegedly peaking only recently). Why?

According to [Progressive Education’s] founder John Dewey, “The school is primarily a social institution,” whose central purpose is not “science, nor literature, nor history nor geography . . but the child’s own social activities.”

Paradoxically, this retrogression toward gangs, violence and anarchy has occurred during the reign of Progressive Education in our schools, a philosophy that champions the “socialization” of children. According to its founder John Dewey, “The school is primarily a social institution,” whose central purpose is not “science, nor literature, nor history nor geography . . but the child’s own social activities.”

Our schools certainly embrace both parts of this doctrine: teachers now attend to the child’s “social” needs as devoutly as they dismiss his or her intellectual needs. Why, then, has social conflict — rather than social harmony — escalated?

The answer is: precisely because of this doctrine.

The Progressive philosophy maintains that the cause of social strife is the unwillingness of an individual to sacrifice his or her convictions to the group. The insistence on distinctions such as “true versus false” and “right versus wrong” generates social conflict. If only children did not hold strong ideas, disagreement and conflict would evaporate in the sunshine of social harmony. Truth, therefore, is socially fractious, while ignorance is bliss.

Hence, what the Progressives mean by “socialization” is the surrender of one’s mind, of one’s independent knowledge and judgment — to a “group consensus.” According to Dewey, “The mere absorbing of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat.”

“The mere absorbing of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat.” — John Dewey

This explains why educational standards have plummeted over the years, why Progressive teaching methods consist primarily of class discussions where everyone’s opinion is considered equally valid — and why Johnny (or Susie) can’t read, write, add or think.

Once truth and logic are dismissed, Susie is left with one fundamental guide to making choices: her emotions. Explaining the Progressive practice of engaging children in whatever “scientific experiments” they feel like doing, one teacher, according to author Andrew Nikiforuk [pg. 42 of School’s Out (1993)], said: “If students enjoyed working with science-type materials such as magnets or mirrors, I really don’t care if they learned anything.” To which a principal replied: “As an educator, I fully agree with that view. As a parent, it scares me to death.”

He and we should be scared, because a child driven solely by feelings is like a vehicle out of control. Which feelings will guide her? The fear and anxiety generated by ignorance and cognitive incompetence? The frustration and rage felt when her desires aren’t immediately satisfied? The self-hatred that gets subconsciously projected at others? The false security offered by a gang? The desire to control others by force because of an inability to control reality?

But by undermining reason, the “socialization” doctrine reduces people to the status of beasts — to slaves of their impulses — where no rational persuasion is possible.

What definitely won’t guide her is reason, which is why violence has escalated. If people disagree on a certain issue, they can discuss it logically, adhering to facts in order to determine who is correct. If they fail to resolve the issue, they can at least agree that it is rational to respect the rights of others rather than resort to violence. Rational persuasion is thus the foundation of peaceful co-existence.

But by undermining reason, the “socialization” doctrine reduces people to the status of beasts — to slaves of their impulses — where no rational persuasion is possible. Their only ultimate recourse is to deal with each other by brute force — by the law of the jungle. According to Dr. Artz, “I don’t imagine these kids set out to kill [Reena], they just set out to beat her … They don’t understand the consequences of their action.”

According to Dr. Artz, “The competition between girls usually arises from a need to be attractive to boys.” “If another girl comes along and threatens [one’s power as a sex object] by being a better sex object, she crosses a line and becomes a target for punishment.” But if self-esteem is the conviction and feeling that one is efficacious in dealing with reality, and thus worthy of love and friendship, then teenagers who lack basic knowledge and thinking skills will lack self-esteem. The result: insecure, envy-ridden misfits desperately seeking unearned love.

If students are taught that mindless conformity to the group is a virtue, is it any surprise that they gravitate toward gangs and engage in violence?

Fundamentally, schools must institute a radical reversal of policy. What they need to teach is not “socialization,” but cognition. Schools need to encourage individual, independent judgment and to provide the factual knowledge and the reasoning skills that a rational mind requires.

If children are rendered intellectually incompetent to deal with reality, is it any surprise that they will seek to rule, or to be ruled, by others? “Friends are very important to girls that age, so they feel honour-bound to participate,” according to Dr. Artz. [Participation in mindless gang violence is certainly not honourable!]

The fundamental solution to teenage gang violence is not “violence awareness” programs, or more classes in “conflict resolution,” or school uniforms, or more “socialization” skills. Fundamentally, schools must institute a radical reversal of policy. What they need to teach is not “socialization,” but cognition. Schools need to encourage individual, independent judgment and to provide the factual knowledge and the reasoning skills that a rational mind requires.

The only way to stop students from acting like animals is to regard them as thinking human beings. It’s too late to save Reena, but not to late to save future victims of teenage rage and violence.

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Glenn Woiceshyn

Glenn Woiceshyn is a freelance writer, residing in Calgary. Visit his education resources website at Powerful Minds.

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