By Joan R. Landes, MA AMHC
“One of many terrifying risks of the Common Core Standards is the manipulation of curriculum by political ideologues to brainwash vulnerable children.”
As you read that statement, you may not be consciously aware that the choice of emotionally triggering words attempts to escalate your feelings of fear and anger. Then, if you are properly distressed, you will likely act to oppose Common Core Standards. This technique of sensational emotionalism created “yellow journalism” and underpins the production of propaganda. Unfortunately, this writing technique is being taught to Utah first graders.
“Propaganda?” you ask. “Our little six year olds are learning how to create propaganda?”
Here’s an accepted definition of propaganda: “Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”(1)
Using that description, the unequivocal answer is “Yes.”
But it gets even worse.
Not only are students as young as six being taught how to manipulate others by using emotionally evocative words, the childrens’ cognitive processes are also being programmed to think in emotionally reactive ways. Here’s how it works (as documented in Oak Norton’s YouTube video):
Step One: Your child is told he is responsible for solving a social problem at school.
Step Two: Your child is instructed to develop a communication to you, his parents, which will create a motivation to act.
Step Three: Your child is taught the power of emotionally triggering words to foment anger, fear, and other reactions.
Step Four: Your child thinks, writes, discusses or role plays using these provocative words to create emotional reactivity. Perhaps he even uses these techniques on you, the parent.
Step Five: The teacher assesses your child’s mastery of this skill set and praises or punishes accordingly.
Step Six: Your child remembers and retains this ability to manipulate others in the future.
But here’s the sobering part: Your child has also programmed his own thoughts to be emotionally reactive and triggered.
As a clinical mental health therapist, I am trained to assess, diagnose and treat people of all ages who are suffering from mental illness. One of the best-researched, evidence-based therapies that are employed by psychotherapists world-wide is to detect and replace cognitive distortions. What’s a cognitive distortion? It is a dysfunctional way of thinking that often results in distress for clients. Some examples include black and white thinking, magnification or minimization, filtering, and one of the most common and damaging: emotional thinking.
Emotional thinking says, “I feel, therefore it’s real.” People who are stuck in emotional thinking are extremely reactive, easily triggered, easily manipulated and disconnected from logic and factual decision-making. Emotional thinking is very common in children and in people who have suffered trauma or simply suffered the trauma of a poor education. Adults who are trapped in emotional thinking are crippled by their inability to think logically when faced with emotionally triggering stimuli. If they feel depressed, then that must mean that the world is hopelessly depressing. When they feel anxious, that must mean that the world is a terrifying place to be avoided. When they feel angry, that must mean they need to engage in conflict. When cool thinking is needed, emotional thinkers melt into a “hot mess.” When logic is required, they lapse into feelings. When reason is wanted, they often fight, freeze or flee.
As thoughtful parents, teachers and mental health clinicians, we do not want to train our children into cognitive distortions like emotional thinking. The lessons documented in the video are perfect examples of attitude and behavior change strategies. They require children to choose and use emotionally triggering words in written, spoken and acted form. These are exactly the same techniques I use to change my clients’ patterns of thoughts and behavior. Unlike corrective psychotherapy, however, these Common Core aligned lessons are training children into cognitive distortions!
If our children are trapped in emotional thinking, they become targets of manipulation by their peers, media and political appeals. Unfortunately, our society is already reaping the harvest of emotional thinking in our political discourse, economies, social structures and culture. Large swaths of the population are emotional thinkers who are jerked around by their emotions and by those who can pull their emotional strings. Although my clinical practice could be enriched for years with a new generation of distressed emotional thinkers, I would happily exchange that job security for a generation of rational thinkers who can respond to genuine emotion in healthy ways.
The Common Core Standards provide cover for radical curricula as we have already witnessed. The CCSs don’t develop the curriculum, but instead provide legitimacy for manipulative courses by allowing the stamp of approval: “Common Core Aligned”. We must not allow CCSs to legitimize lessons that will train our children in propaganda techniques and cognitive distortions. We must keep local control over our children’s education so that unhealthy strategies can be easily detected and quickly corrected. Our children’s future happiness may depend upon it.
- Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda and Persuasion, 4th ed. Sage Publications, p. 7