Tag: Anti Authority

Spreading Libertarianism in the Classroom

By Glenn Verasco | Thailand

For the past six years, I have been teaching high school English in Thailand. I love what I do, and I’m good at it. My classroom, for the most part, reflects my Libertarian worldview, and it works.

I certainly don’t preach my politics to my students. This is because most students treat me as a respected and benevolent authority figure. In all scenarios, it is against my pedagogical creed to use my authoritative position to inculcate my students. Anytime my views slip out, which is rare, I take responsibility for the opinion, rather than allowing my students to believe them factual.

This does not mean my views are never a part of class discussions or activities. When we discuss and debate political and social issues, I sometimes ask questions that allude to the Libertarian thought process, if my students do not invoke them on their own. For example, when discussing pollution or other environmental issues, my students generally want to ban certain practices or subsidize solutions. Prohibiting plastic bags and limiting car usage are common suggestions. If the conversation comes to a standstill, I may try to get their brains going. I ask if society can do anything without the government’s participation. This sometimes leads them to suggest privately-organized awareness campaigns, neighborhood cleanup efforts, or innovations that can lead to profitable and environmentally-friendly business ventures.

One chapter of the textbook I use with my 11th graders focuses on the topic of food concerns. Bangkok, where I currently teach, is famous for its delicious street food, which is often less than sanitary and unhealthy. The vendors are usually low-income, so regulating their businesses could lead to them having to absorb crippling costs. This winds up being an excellent opportunity for libertarian thinking.

As a brainstorming activity, I put my students in groups. They then come up with several specific food concerns they are aware of in Bangkok. At this point, they choose one and find a solution to improve cleanliness or health.

Next, I use the Socratic Method to show students that laws and regulations do not always serve their intended purposes. I do this by asking them if drugs are legal in Thailand. They say no. I then ask whether people still use and abuse drugs in Thailand. They say yes resoundingly, often giggling as well. So, do laws always work as a means of solving problems?

I then explain our activity. Each group is to come up with a solution to their chosen food concern. However, they cannot use laws or other government-enforced methods to do so. This forces them to consider the profit motive, the fundamental motive for business. They must manipulate it so that people will make the world better and also satisfy rational self-interest. When the easy way out, prohibiting unfavorable human activity, is not an option, the creative ideas my students generate consistently amaze me. Their critical thinking ability, in an educational system as anti-intellectual and archaic as Thailand’s, blows me away.

Another Libertarian component of my classroom is the way it is governed. I make many of my rules in the spirit of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. Naturally, many are a reflection of negative rights. In honor of the First Amendment, all opinions are both welcome and subject to encouraged scrutiny.

Students are allowed to exit the room to use the restroom at will. Moreover, they are not even required to pay attention, and I make this explicit. These freedoms are retained under the condition that my students do not disrupt my teaching, or their classmates’ learning. I explain on the first day of class that they are personally responsible for themselves only. Thus, I do not allow them to make others’ decisions, such as drawing their classmates’ attention away from my lesson. This is essentially an expression of the non-aggression principle as I only treat acts that victimize others as transgressions.

Fortunately, and I do not mean to boast, I happen to be quite charismatic at the head of the classroom. The vast majority of my students find my lessons to be engaging, and they eventually respect me enough to behave relatively politely (at least as far as teenagers go). I do not know how much of this is a result of my teaching, how much is a result of my Libertarian governance, and how much is a result of their character independent of me.

There are, of course, instances in which my students break the rules. Some of my pupils seem to lack the ability to remain reasonably quiet for more than a few moments during my interactions with the class or quiet work activities.

While my students are aware of my rule against audible disruptions, I enforce it within reason. My personal view, as a so-called poor student throughout middle and high school myself, is that not all children and teenagers are predisposed to the capability of learning and behaving in a traditional classroom setting. If I could go back to my childhood and be presented with the option of working a part-time, minimum wage job instead of going to school, I’d jump at the opportunity. I have learned more at work than at school throughout my life, and my main motivation for becoming a teacher was to provide an outlet for students who, like me, do not mesh with school.

So, I do not lose my rag as soon as a student causes a disruption. I let them get away with a few shushes before taking action. Authoritarianism demands perfection; small-government libertarianism understands that that is impossible.

When shushes don’t work, I have no choice but to bring the gavel down. And this is when I do something that may seem anti-libertarian at face value. When I lose control of the class, they lose points collectively. Rather than punishing the individuals who are causing disruptions, I deem all of them guilty by association and reduce all of their scores.

Punishing many for the actions of a few is sacrilege to an individualistic philosophy like Libertarianism. But the lesson learned, not the punishment itself, is the key. What I hope the well-behaved students learn (and I explain this to them if they don’t seem to) is that failing to police one’s neighborhood autonomously eventually leads to restrictions in freedom from a higher authority. If a society (or classroom) can keep itself in order, there is little risk for strict laws, rules, or interventions to be enacted. Peaceful populations are more likely to retain self-governance than chaotic and unruly ones.

One can easily argue that a public school teacher arbitrating the way a classroom runs is a laughable attempt to illustrate libertarianism. But as of now, I think I’m practicing what I preach.

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A Man and a Monster – Short Story

By Ivan Misiura | Short Story

“Grab them all!” shouted the SS lieutenant. “Against the wall!”

The Jews were lined up one by one against the remnant of an old, brick wall stumbling one over the other. Scared and shaking, the Jewish mothers and children faced the soldiers with fear and tears filling their eyes; The men, in panicked disbelief, begged for mercy. “Please don’t do this!” shouted one. “Stop this; in the name of God, stop this!” pleaded another with a young SS soldier, but to no avail.

The young soldier didn’t know how to feel as he followed orders. He knew the Jews were responsible for the downfall of Germany and its economic devastation, but he didn’t know how. It was just a common axiom. He lined up the Jews, using surprising force to keep them afoot. Even the most inert of the group could not withstand the austere solder.

“Siegfried!” called the lieutenant. “This is your first raid, ja?”

“Yes, sir!” replied Siegfried.

“Pull your weapon!”

Apprehensively, Siegfried obeyed.

“I want you to have the first kill of the batch!” stated the lieutenant. After the Jews were properly lined up, he gave the order.

“Fire!”

Siegfried was terrified; he had never taken a life before. Of course, he knew it to be a possibility, but what was he to do?

“Serve your country”, he was told it was the ‘right thing to do’. He had always believed that, and still did… right? Siegfried had been raised in a good home and taught to obey authority. He was vexed.

Like a flood, his father’s wisdom rushed back to him. “Siegfried, your duty as a German is to serve. Do not be selfish with yourself and always obey the authority God placed above you. They are there for a reason, and your job is to obey.”

Moreover, in his home, nationalism was of the utmost importance. So naturally, when Chancellor Adolf Hitler came on the ballot in 1934, Siegfried and his family were part of his biggest support.

Siegfried had always wanted to become an SS soldier and had, just the year prior, become bonafide. But Siegfried had this nagging feeling he could not shake… a feeling of abhorrent guilt. He did not want to kill these people. Human beings, he did not buy the lies being sold to him through propaganda, dehumanizing the Jew. But, if he didn’t buy that, then why buy any of it? How did the Jews ruin their once great country, and as extension, economy? He had believed that it was the loss of the Great War that had done so until President Hitler had set the nation straight. But why should he believe him? He presented no new evidence. He merely gave the nation an enemy, a scapegoat. A book filled cover to cover with demagoguery.

Siegfried had suddenly remembered what his father had told him before he left for the SS.

“Son, when you go, there is no coming back as a coward. You are not yourself, but an extension of the greater good. Your thoughts are not your thoughts, but that of our nation’s. Your actions are not your actions, and God will forgive you. Do not disgrace your family and nation by disobeying.”

But how was he to reconcile that? He felt it wrong to take an innocent life but he was being ordered to do so. His mother’s voice popped into his head.

“We obey because it is the right thing to do”

But was it? Is morality really derived from authority? Am I just a piece of machinery? He asked himself. Or am I responsible for what actions I take?

Outside of the present situation, Siegfried was a very peaceful individual. It was not until his individuality had been stripped away, that he was capable of doing such a thing as to take another human beings life. Siegfried realized this was the first time he had ever questioned authority, and the result, to say the least, was eye-opening.

This, you see, was the dilemma. Does he listen and obey, therefore honoring his family, authority, and nation? Or does he disobey, following what he believes is right, that is, of course, preserving human life, therefore dishonoring his parents, authority, and nation? He asked himself the consequences of each.

If he chose to obey he would be honored for doing so, revered as a hero serving his country and making his parents proud by doing the “right thing”, and yet he would have to live with the knowledge and guilt of his actions. Conversely, if he disobeyed, he would almost certainly be shot; his family heartbroken over a coward of a son who disgraced his nation and disobeyed his authority, therefore, doing the wrong thing.

Then it hit him, an epiphany surely to be his last. He asked the questions: is morality derived from authority? He pondered the contradictions if this were the case, that morality would not only have to be fluid, but arbitrary, a mere construct devised out of the minds of rulers. He could not bring himself to believe this.

Or is morality independent of man? If it is not a construct from the ruler of man, can it be of any man? Can one man conjure up his own morality and pass judgment or take action on another?

Can there be a morality of nature? If morality is not fluid and is not an arbitrary construct of man, then where is it derived? Might it be from nature itself? Do the animals not follow some rudimentary governance of instinct? Should we not also, as higher beings of reason, be bound by a similar code of conduct?

A law of nature trumping that of man? Following his train of thought to its logical end, he concluded that, if this morality is objective, it must supersede any arbitrary dictation of man.
His answer to these premises, although not fully understood, was a resounding yes. He heard it again.

“Fire!”

It was the lieutenant. With ever more ferocity than before.
Siegfried snapped back to reality, realizing all his contemplation had taken place in an instant. He had a decision to make. He paused, and then with a shaking voice responded:

“No, sir!”

The lieutenant was taken back. He knew of Siegfried’s family and their strong support for the military. He was aware that Siegfried had greatly desired to join this elite force, and that strings had to be pulled to get him to the top of the list. Hoping to talk sense to the young man, he reinforced his order.

“I am your superior and you will obey me!”

“It’s not right sir, I will not take the life of an innocent!”

“You are no better than the filthy Jew! And so you will be shot like one!”

He turned to the nearest soldier. “Line him up with the rest!”, he commanded.

The young Siegfried was taken by the arms by his compatriots and lined up. He did not yell or struggle. He accepted his fate and firmly believed in his stand. They were acting like Animals, monsters even, and so was he. No more, he thought to himself. I will die, but I will die human.