Back in the 1980s, before memes were memes, a popular meme circulated on mimeographed sheets called “All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” It later became a best-selling book.
It was a list of a dozen or more rules based on the teachings of kindergarten classrooms. The gist of these were that you should share, play fair, don’t hit people, and some Hallmark moments. The point of the meme was that people had forgotten how to behave toward one another and the solution was, essentially, “sharing” and avoiding conflict.
The meme caught on for two reasons. First, our society had become horribly crass and financially-motivated, which had obliterated culture and replaced it with a kind of universal productization and emptiness. Second, people generally melt for simplistic answers to complex problems, and the “just treat everyone nicely” meme was picked up by the assorted discontented as well as by suburban moms who just “meant well.”
The list belonged uniquely to kindergarten because it comprised a series of techniques for learning to get along with people. It oozed with well-meaning and social helpfulness. Its proponents would like you to believe that these simple answers would save the world, and they’re ignored because we’re selfish.
The truth is simpler: “getting along” has very negative consequences.
Kindergarten teachers instill in us bad knowledge because it makes their job easier and makes them look better. If a parent — and the distracted, casual, but panicked demands of parents are the bane of education — looks into a classroom and sees a mass of kids fighting or tossing each other around, they’ll freak out and complain. But if they look in and see kids in perfect harmony, sharing and caring and all that, they think they’re getting the most of their education dollar.
As a result, these teachers have a vested interest in having everyone “get along.” Even more, it makes their jobs easier. Why try to get to the bottom of disputes and squabbles when you can just demand they go away? Why pay attention to who started the fight, when you can merely punish the kid who hit back? That way, he’ll think twice, and order will resume and you’ll look good, get favorable treatment from administrators and parents, etc.
Authoritarianism begins in kindergarten, but it’s a kind of “individualistic authoritarianism,” where the goal is to keep each person happy and safe and comfortable so that the system as a whole looks good to all individuals, and thus is not subject to criticism. More like Nurse Ratched than Josef Stalin, this system is based on the accountability of teachers. But it’s that same accountability that makes them act quickly to suppress things that look bad, instead of fixing the underlying problems.
The “get along” policy has a number of negative consequences.
Inability to make decisions. Compromise as a goal is based on the notion that it’s better to have a resolution that does not involve conflict, than to reap the rewards of conflict. Looking at history, we can see that conflict is good. It forces one side to prove supremacy over the other, whether by direct means (strength) or through proof of concept. However, when the goal becomes “getting along,” compromise takes precedent over finding the better solution. As a result, it creates a situation where decisions are not made, but people gather in committees and talk out issues until boredom forces compromise. In kindergarten, this means that nothing changes for these kids since change requires strife. If little Johnny decides it might be more interesting to play soccer, the wise all-knowing teacher will sweep in and crush that impulse quickly because it might cause conflict.
Victimization by the manipulative. Angry and/or stupid people have a major advantage in society in that they stand for nothing. Their goal is to see what smarter people value, which is obvious, and then attack it indirectly. Because they’re delusional and/or stupid, they think this is a brilliant move because it works in the short-term. When teachers punish people for hitting back, as is inevitable in kindergartens across the world, the teachers are in effect giving those who provoke — the stupider, more delusional, etc. people — a free pass and a privilege. The kindergarten teacher mentality makes the aggressors into victims, and punishes those who would restore order by punching the lights out of the angry idiot so that normal people could go on enjoying life.
Learned helplessness. The sum total effect on smart children is a sense of learned helplessness. It’s not a stretch to imagine that kindergarten teachers, not all of whom were at the top of their classes, might enjoy a certain revenge through this process. Nobody likes a smart kid except other smart kids. Everybody likes a kid who is below average, because he’s not a threat. He’s a pet, or someone you pity and help along who makes you look like a good guy because you’re caring for the demi-retarded person. Learned helplessness occurs when smart kids realize that if they try to do anything different, if they defend themselves, or if they have any ideas other than what Dear Teacher wants, they’ll be squashed like bugs and demonized as troublemakers. Thus, as in the Soviet Union, the best policy is to keep your mouth shut and just do what everyone else is doing. This encourages you to see dysfunction and a lack of planning as the norm.
No attention span. The problem with “get along” as a theory is that it relies on interrupting things. Suppose that little Sara has the blocks, and is using them to build a castle. Along comes little Donna who wants to build a series of huts. What’s the rule? “Share everything.” Like, now. Sara has to stop building her castle and start using the blocks to build huts. Soon they will need more blocks; where to get them? Why, from the castle of course, because it’s not finished. Share everything. In reality, this means that whoever shows up late or clueless will get to sabotage those who started early and had bigger plans. It legitimizes the short attention span and demonizes those who wish for something more than the average.
The people who wrote “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” were probably right, but not in the way they intended. The kindergarten teacher policy of get along has sowed the roots of a destructive and pervasive mentality that is both against nature, and every bit as brain-numbingly conformist as that mental palsy which gripped the French Revolution and Bolsheviks as they guided their respective countries into irrelevance.