Coincidentally, today I ran into a passage from Jonathan Kozol's book The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home that I'd saved somewhere that says a lot of the same things; no doubt, the ideas in it incubated in my head for five years, then came out in another form. I'm just going to copy and paste all of it because it's that good. Emphasis added.
Thoreau wrote in 1854: "I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be _extra-vagant_ enough. ... I desire to speak somewhere _without_ bounds." In terms of syntax, style, and word-preference, the message of the public school is the exact reverse. Children come to realize, early in their school careers, the terrible danger to their own success in statements that give voice to strong intensities or to extravagant convictions. Instead, they are instructed, in a number of clear ways, not only not to speak but also not to think or feel or weep or walk beyond the clearest bounds laid out by public school. They learn whole sequences of moral obviation. They learn to abhor and to distrust what is known as "unconstructive" criticism. They learn to be suspicious of "extreme" opinion, most of all if it is stated with "extreme emotion." They learn to round off honest judgments, based upon conviction, to consensus-viewpoints, based solely on convenience, and to call the final product "reason." Above all, they learn how to tone down, cushion and absorb each serious form of realistic confrontation.
Anger between two parties, conflict starting up between two sides, is not accepted as the honest manifestation of irreconcilable interests (power and its victim; exploitation and its cause; victimization and the one who has the spoils) but solely as a consequence of poor communication, bad static on the inter-urban network, poor telephone connections between Roxbury and Evanston, or Harlem and Seattle. Nobody _really_ disagrees with someone else once he explains himself with proper care. Confrontation, in the lexicon of public school, is a perceptual mistake. It is the consequence of poorly chosen words or of inadequate reception: "We have to learn not just to talk, but also how to listen, how to understand ..." The message here is that, if we once learn to listen well, we will not hear things we do not like. To hear things that we do not like is not to hear correctly. (The teacher tells us that we need more exercise on "listening skills.")
The level of speech which is accepted, offered and purveyed within the public schools is the level appropriate to that person who has no reason to be angry, or no mandate to be brave. The implication is conveyed to kids that almost anything they ever say, or hope to say, will, by the odds, be "somewhat stronger," "somewhat less temperate," than the limits of the truth require; that there will be, in every case, a heightened likelihood of untruth in a statement that appears to carry strong conviction, _more_ truth in a statement that appears to carry _less_ investment of belief. Conviction in itself, as children come to understand, is the real enemy; but it is the presentation, not the content, which is held up to attack.
"Linda," says the teacher, in the classic formula of admonition, "isn't that a bit strong?" The teacher seldom comes right out and says the sort of thing that might be true, or at least half-true: "Look, we're going to have a much less complicated day if you can learn to cut into your sense of conscience and integrity a bit."
Instead he asks the children, "Aren't we overstating?"
As the first assertion is restated to conform to satisfactory limits of conviction, the viewpoint it conveys begins to seem "more true," and finally wins the badge of mild approval: "That sounds more sensible ...." In practice, as there comes to be less to believe, it comes to seem more readily believable. It is rare indeed, during twelve years of school and four of college, that pupils get back papers from their teachers with the comment, "Be more angry! Go further! You have stated this with too much caution!" Emphasis is all the other way.
Equally distrusted is unique opinion which has not been rounded off to fit the class consensus. "Okay ... David's said the Negro people have been fighting for their rights ... and Susan says that we need law and order ... Well, there might be truth in _both_ of their positions ... Let's see if we couldn't find a _third_ position ... " It is not argued in a candid manner by the teacher that the third position may well prove to be _convenient_; rather, there is the implication that the third position will be more "true" than either of the two extremes, that truth dwells somehow closer to the middle.
It is an easy step from this to the convenient view that all extremes of action end up in the same place, that radical change must bring inevitable repression. The phrase "EXTREMISTS AT BOTH ENDS" is, for this reason, a manipulative phrase. Its function is to tell us: (a) There is, in every case, a "greater truth" residing some place in the middle; (b) There _is_, in every case, a "middle situation" --- one which is not artificial, or dishonest, or contrived.
-- Jonathan Kozol, _The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home_. Continuum (New York), 1975.