This is the first official review of the (Lord willing!) many I will be doing for Mind and Media.
Contra the laudatory comments about her book she (understandbly) puts on her website, Preskar’s writing style is downright bad. Preskar includes a small taste of the kind of writing to come on the back of her book: “The journey of one woman, asking why, discovers mind control of our American youth.” It reads like some of the sentences from my high school students at the beginning of the year. The bad writing style isn’t just limited to grammar. Preskar attempts to frame her findings within her process of discovering them. Rather than gaining a deep compassion or understanding of Preskar’s experiences, I found myself laughing out loud at the awkward self-awareness of her comments: “I turned off the computer. My body was not mine. I felt numb. Anita Brayant where are you? (sic) I thank you for your courage” (100). At times, Preskar’s book sounds more like a rally than an investigative work: “Make sure sex Ed values are like your family values. Get out of thought revolution and in touch, once again, with traditional values. Parents need to be in control, no the schools. Parents need to check whether classes teach that life begins at contraception and not birth” (89).
The lack of clarity that this almost-english teacher despises transfers over to her argument. What is Preskar’s point? Preskar’s general thesis (I think) is that the educational program Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity is secretly subverting traditional morality and society and replacing them with “global sovereignty, moral relativism, unisex, abortion, assisted suicide, redistribution of wealth, humanist religion, homosexuality, and court decisions and laws that meet the situational needs of the person or persons at the moment” (from the website). Preskar can’t restrain herself to simply addressing SEED and it’s effects–rather, she manages to take on many of the issues in the above list as well as some that aren’t (such as “White Privilege”). She even has sections dedicated to outlining the occultic influences on Hitler as well as the association of the Third Reich with the homosexual cause. Presumably she is attempting to argue against both homosexuality and paganism by association with the Third Reich, as well as point out the similarities between the culture that bred Naziism and our own. However, much of Preskar’s “research” rests on rather dubious sources such as The Pink Swastika.”
However, if Preskar is right about SEED, then she is right to be concerned. From the SEED website above comes excerpts from this article by Emily Style, on of the co-directors for SEED:
For me, the beauty of the classroom gathering lies in its possibilities for seeing new varieties of Beauty. This multiplicity, in turn, enables both students and teachers to be engaged in conversation about an evolving definition of the beautiful. Such dialogue requires the practice of both/and thinking as participants acknowledge the varied experiences of reality which frame individual human perspective.
Now, the common sense of needing to provide both windows and mirrors in the curriculum may seem unnecessary to emphasize, and yet recent scholarship on women and men of color attests abundantly to the copious blind spots of the traditional curriculum. White males find, in the house of curriculum, many mirrors to look in, and few windows which frame others’ lives. Women and men of color, on the other hand, find almost no mirrors of themselves in the house of curriculum; for them it is often all windows. White males are thereby encouraged to be solipsistic, and the rest of us to feel uncertain that we truly exist. In Western education, the gendered perspective of the white male has presented itself as “universal” for so long that the limitations of this curriculum are often still invisible.
The proponents of SEED just happen to be behind everything I think is destroying America. If this is what SEED promulgates, then Preskar and I agree. I’ll be more charitable to Preskar: drawing off the “scholarship” (see here and here and here) of Dean Gotcher, Preskar identifies Hegelian influences in SEED’s pedagogy. From the language of the website, this actually seems a tenable claim to make. Judging from the context, “dialectic” doesn’t mean a discussion directed toward finding a normative truth, but a discussion aimed at discovering other people’s “personal truths” and learning to accept them as equally valuable. As a philosophy of education, I think this straight from the pit of hell (to join Preskar in her over-the-top language!).
That being said, Preskar’s argument (if there actually is one!) suffers from her tenuous claims and odd associations. For instance, she argues that the prevelence of circles in the classroom comes from pagan beliefs that time is circular, not linear (page 45). “Schoools increasingly are using the circle, and in Elk Grove it is reported that high school teachers are using it regularly in certain classes. The students report to parents they do not like it.” Additionally, rejects any sort of discussion classes, claiming that it is a tool for brainwashing (the facilitator leads the class to the ‘evolving higher truth’). She even manages to reject critical thinking, spurning the California Civic Book for it’s purpose statement: “The primary purpose of this textbook is not to fill your head with a lot of facts about American history and government. Knowledge of facts is important but only in so far as it deepens your understanding of the American constitutional system and its development.” Never mind that I come from an evangelical Christian institution where we sit in circles, have discussions, and attempt to think critically about the world, while still affirming absolutes. Preskar routinely demonstrates an inability think critically or carefully about the associations she draws, as in the above examples. She even accuses Rick Warren and his seeker-sensitive methodology as being a part of this pernicisous movement.
The problem with Preskar’s work is that fundamentally, when discussing allegedly secretive institutions, the arguments rest heavily upon personal anecdotes. It becomes a matter of whether we trust the authors giving the anecdotes, and Preskar destroyed this reader’s trust that she is actually making true claims about SEED and it’s method. One of Preskar’s like-minded compatriots confirms her claims (in much more clear, systematic fashion!) here, but the problem of trust remains the same. The method of inquiry doesn’t lead to highly persuasive arguments–Preskar and her ilk seem to operate in a closed circle of accusations that are impossible to argue with and rest on testimony.
Fundamentally, there is no arguing with a position like this. Proofs or arguments that contradict hers are proofs or arguments that I’ve been brainwashed. This type of water-tight position isn’t an indicator of truth, though if Chesterton is right, it may be an indicator of madness (something I am NOT accusing Preskar or her associates of). Regardless, her project of raising awareness would be more successful in certain non-extremist corners (like mine) if she tempered her over-the-top alarmist language with more rigorous argumentation and careful expression.
I began the review by Saying Preskar’s book is worth reading, if only once, and I still stand by that, though I will admit that it is a borderline case. Much of Preskar’s research comes from other sources, and while reading it I often wanted to inquire for myself from the original sources. However, Preskar’s book is a litany of interesting theories, many of which I had never come in contact before. For that reason, I would Seeds of Deception, but with the caution that it may be laborious to the critical reader.