So, there is a dystopian government called the Union of Fascist States. It controls both North and South America, the United Kingdom, and half of Africa. The NAF is the one and only party that controls everything.

The party and secret police control all of the citizens lives, and at age 4 every junior citizen is required to go to educational facilities to gain knowledge and whatnot. The problem is, why would the government want its citizens to be educated, as education could lead to gasp freedom of thought. Do, why would a dystopian government want its citizens educated?

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    $\begingroup$ Mainland China. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ The other side of the coin of education is indoctrination,propaganda, or brainwashing. Really, the only difference between education and "education" is whether what it is teaching matches your own preconceptions, the content is mostly irrelevant, that's just determined by whoever won the war. $\endgroup$
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ "education" or "state provided education" - there is a difference. If you control the knowledge... you control the populace. $\endgroup$
    – WernerCD
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ Pink Floyd sang: "We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control." Says it all, really. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ There is a different between "aquiring mental tools for careful analysis and understanding of data" or "rote regurgitation of chanted quotes and exacting application of cookie-cutter rules for passing tests" - even though both are technically "education". Lots of Universities are complaining that the modern Schooling systems focus too much on the latter, and not enough on the former. It's like the joke about the 5-yr-old who learns to add: When their parent says "if you have 2 apples and I give you 3 more, how many apples do you have?", the child replies "at school, we only add oranges". $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 12:33

26 Answers 26


Well they wouldn't want them to be "educated" in the classical sense, but they would want them to be "schooled" in the 20th-century sense.

Taking children away from their parents and making them sit in classrooms with same-age cohorts for all of their most formative years does a lot for your totalitarian government:

  • it weakens the family (the naturally strongest building block of society, hence the biggest threat to your government)
  • it breaks down independent spirits and creative thinking
  • it accustoms children to the idea that truth and validation all comes from the judgments ("grades") of authority figures they didn't elect for themselves.

Certainly the teachers will all be loyal party members, or true believers in the official ideology, so it's a way to reward the party's supporters with jobs and to reinforce party ideology as part of the curriculum. Also, it makes a lot of the victims/students grow to hate learning, so by age 18 they're ready to never read another book.

Uh... wait a minute...

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    $\begingroup$ Yup! Look up the history of the North American school system. It's descended directly from the Prussian system intended to prepare people for life in the assembly line at the beginning of the industrial age. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, as bad as you guys think you have it, you'll have to go into way more controlled school systems to get some contrast. Try working in China's system. There is a reason people pump huge amount of money to sent their children to school overseas; people know their education system is messed up. $\endgroup$
    – Nelson
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf what led you to this assumption? I thought strong family bonds make school indoctrination less effective since it requires propaganda on 2 consecutive generations instead of 1. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesfq I cannot see why a society with maternalistic focus could not have the family as the strongest building block. Could you explain? $\endgroup$
    – Orphevs
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf So your initial statement could be rephrased to "The family is only the strongest unit of societies whose members are strongly religious."(removing the gender distinction)? Being non-religious and having grown up in a non-religious household with strong family ties, I can't say I'd agree to this broader statement either. I'd argue that my paternal influences did shape my character to a similar amount that school or friends did. While this is anecdotal, it does not go well with the "only" part in your statement. $\endgroup$
    – Orphevs
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 16:38

The problem with ignorance is curiosity. When you deliberately try to hide something from a person, they tend to get curious and actively seek it out. We love mysteries, exploration and the pleasure of finding things out that we didn't know before.

What that means is that a dystopian government that deliberately hides knowledge and learning from its citizenry is actually putting itself at a disadvantage. People will seek such things out, and then the government no longer as a seat at the table, so to speak. Education and learning are driven and controlled by outlaws who seek to undermine the government, meaning that students are taught with that bias integrated into their education.

Also, education is actually necessary for a society that seeks to maintain supremacy over its neighbours. Without research and development, you don't get the advances that your enemies already have and the last thing you want to do is fall behind technologically against people you don't like or trust. So, you really need your citizens to be learning new things and focusing on STEM subjects especially.

A strong dystopian government therefore promotes education to the point of making it compulsory. What it does however is it discredits or even bans independent or private education, forcing all children and students through a state run education system that teaches people with the integrated bias the State sets. It also works through talent identification to ensure that those capable of higher learning are promoted into the right state schools and universities for their talent set, building a committed and competent workforce that knows how to apply education in a practical way to the betterment of the State.

For what it's worth, the last 300 years (if they've taught us anything at all) have taught us that making something illegal is the worst possible way to control something. Prohibition in the US and Australia only led to criminals getting rich off a completely unregulated industry. The prohibition on Marijuana and harder drugs has largely done the same thing, whether you believe it's the right thing to do or not. The reason why Australia adopted such strong plain packaging laws and restricted how cigarettes could be displayed or sold instead of simply outlawing them was because this way they can control the flow of them, rather than just creating another vector for organised crime to exploit.

Even slavers took advantage of Lincoln outlawing slavery in the early days by cramming as many new slaves onto boats as they could. The lot of a new slave being transported from Africa was actually far worse after it was banned than before, when there were regulations in place about food, medical care, treatment et al. Early post-ban slaves were FAR more likely to die on the boat across than they were pre-ban for that every reason.

So too would it be with education. Banning something like education will only remove your ability to control it at the State level, and that's a fundamentally silly move. Better you actually make it compulsory, and then flavour it with the bias you want to set in your culture.

Ultimately, the best way to hide something is in plain sight. In this case, by putting education high on your list of priorities, the dystopian aspects of your regime are out there for everyone to see, but they aren't noticed because you've trained your citizens in a manner that directs their attentions elsewhere.

Put simply, your dystopian society (if it wants to last) wouldn't even be asking this question because they'd be too busy designing the curriculum for the next generation.

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    $\begingroup$ In addition - it's very useful for a totalitarian government (actually, for any kind of government) to be able to boast in the high quality education their people receive - both for internal propaganda and for international relations. This doesn't mean they have to actually provide high quality education, but if they do that anyway, than they'll definitely publicize this as a another proof that theirs is the right way of doing things, and of their superiority over their neighbors. $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ This quote comes to mind to support your answer "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge" - DANIEL BOORSTIN $\endgroup$
    – Andrey
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ Slave importing was outlawed in the US in 1808, and by 1842, the US and UK were actively cooperating to stop the export of slaves from Africa. Lincoln had not part in that, and his Emancipation Proclamation would have little effect, as the US navy was stopping all imports to the Confederacy, and the Confederacy was ignoring the Proclamation. $\endgroup$
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ @prosfilaes as the Confederacy was not beholden to US Unionist law, they weren't ignoring the proclamation, it didn't even relate to them. But they too barely imported slaves as they were quite capable of breeding their own for the most part at lower cost than running slave ships past pirates and privateers. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting There's no physical way to measure "beholden". The Confederacy was a breakaway state like Transitra or Biafra or Eritrea, and generally whether they were beholden depends on whether they achieve the goal of being a globally recognized nation at peace with the state it broke away from. In retrospect, the Confederacy was a failed rebellion within the US, not an independent state. Also, they weren't running slave ships past pirates and privateers; they were running past the US and UK navies. $\endgroup$
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 18:25

IIRC from your other question regarding this Alternate Universe, it's in competition with the "Eastern Block". Are there any non-aligned nations, or nations on the periphery of the Eastern Block that could be swayed into the UFS by the UFS being technologically and economically superior?

Because -- just like in the real Cold War -- places like the USSR and GDR (German Democratic Republic) emphasized education:

  1. because citizens educated in STEM make the economy better, and
  2. those governments believed in the superiority of Communism, and so did not fear education.

Of course, what they taught in History and what American high schools call "Social Science" isn't exactly what was taught in American high schools. It was all about Communist indoctrination and how bad the West was.

The UFS will teach their students similar things for similar reasons.

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    $\begingroup$ This is important, a really good dystopian government believes itself to be utopian, they would educate the youth to be better citizens and to improve the nation. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 7:58

Education is a powerful thing. Imagine what a country could do if nearly 100% of citizens could read by the age of 15. Imagine if they could get 11 years of mandatory education and then may go on to attend a four year university. That could be an astonishing force of innovation and freedom of thought.


If we feel like keeping track, the statistics I just gave are the statistics for the North Korean school system. I think we can choose to make our assumptions regarding how much freedom of thought exists under that regime.

"Education" is a word that we toss around gently in the Western world. We assume that it is a thing you get if you go to school enough. But when we look at it closer, the part that school system focuses on is indoctrination. It is by the virtue that we appreciate the particular indoctrinations that our school system provides that we assign a positive moral value to it.

Yes, there is more to schooling than just indoctrination. Our teachers have an enormous influence on the next generation, and we should respect that. But if we focus just on the school system, the system is one built on indoctrination, just as it has been since the first schoolrooms were built thousands of years ago.

The key to "education" (put in scare quotes in this case) is to control the knowledge put into the heads of the next generation. Why would a totalitarian dystopia like the one in your novel not want to have that kind of control? It'd certainly be an oversight.

If they did have to deal with "freedom of thought," what better place to have it occur than under the watchful eyes of the teachers and other students? It would be easier to identify the troublesome individuals if they were to demonstrate their troublesome tendencies in school!

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    $\begingroup$ But how do we know that the DPRKs statistics are even true. Isn’t it plausible that they embellish $\endgroup$
    – DT Cooper
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 5:22
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    $\begingroup$ @robertpaul of course they embellish. That is to be expected. But they see value in educating their citizen, and that is to my point. I am sure there is value in having a citizenry that can read the illustrious written works of their dear leader. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 5:25
  • $\begingroup$ A regime may well want to keep their population illiterate and unknowing of foreign languages in order to prevent them from understanding foreign propaganda pamphlets. Their own will be geared towards it using well known (internally) glyphs and other icons children are taught at school as a kind of sign language. Only those deemed to need the skills to read and write would actually be taught (the elite, scientists, engineers, leaders). $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ "A regime may well want to keep their population illiterate and unknowing of foreign languages in order to prevent them from understanding foreign propaganda pamphlets" << Until you meet the equivalent of a Tokyo Rose. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 17:37

Because they need the parents in the workforce.

If education starts at age 4 or earlier, and if it includes lessons or other activities in the afternoon, then both parents and not just the father can contribute to the workforce. That will be important, considering how much economic friction and waste a fascist system creates.

There was a bleak joke in Nazi Germany -- "One third in the camps, one third guarding the camps, one third in the army, of course there is no more unemployment."

Because they believe they are right and want to tell it.

Good fictional villains don't act the way they do for the sake of evil. Not all of them will be stupid, either. The rest will have built a complex theoretical construct to justify what they do. If they recognize shortcomings of the dystopia, they'll tell themselves that those are necessary side effects for the greater good.

  • Civics will play a large role, justifying the current system and demonizing all others.
  • Racism can be cloaked in the mantle of science.
  • All other subjects can be used to frame the worldview.

Because common schooling builds a common society.

Fascism is about us vs. them. It is important that the oppressed workers believe that they belong to the same group as their oppressors, so they won't rebel. For that it helps if the child of the worker and the child of the mid-level party functionary went to the same preschool.

When they are a bit older the right students can be sent to schools more suitable for them.

  • $\begingroup$ "Racism can be cloaked in the mantle of science" < Won't last, unless it downgrades to some kind of religion. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ @LuisMasuelli, how much STEM study in school is really scientific? Mostly the students replicate experiments according to the textbook and then memorize explanations from the textbook. If the textbook has a very selective view on reality, the class will appear to confirm the lies. A few very clever characters in the setting might start to question their teachers. A few very brave teachers might question the textbooks in front of their students. The rest will give the "right" answers to get a decent grade and go on with more important things like booze and boyfriends/girlfriends. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ You completely forgot the College. Science (in contrast to engineering), there, becomes a double-edged weapon for any regime. In 1984, people at degree level was vaporized if using "science" without doublethinking (while O'Brien reveals that loyal scientists are kept when the other side of the doublethink is needed), but then this becomes an additional requirement. Science, by itself, is dangerous if used by the regime to spread a truth. Usually, the truth is spreaded beyond science, like the alleged miracles of Kim Il Sung in NK. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ @LuisMasuelli, there are different ways to organize secondary and tertiary education. Vocational universities focus more narrowly than traditional universities. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 5:50
  • $\begingroup$ That is totally aside, unrelated, to the point. As long as universities allow science, the danger for the regime exists. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 14:32

Because a centralized, government-controlled education system it is a great way to spread the doctrine of the regime.

  • You can control precisely what information students get exposed to, and most importantly which information they do not get exposed to.
  • You can control precisely how that information is framed.
  • You can even "inoculate" children against dissentive thought by exposing them to weak strawman versions of the arguments of the dissenters and have them practice how to counter them. "Essay Assignment: Democrats claim that even the most evil, destructive and unintelligent people of society should be allowed to influence the government and even choose its members. Explain the negative consequences for our nation if the government would do what the worst people of society want them to do."
  • You can use punishment and reward in the school environment to condition children to follow certain behaviors. This conditioning will carry on into adulthood.
  • And the most powerful effect, in my opinion, is that everyone gets exposted to the same information, which turns opinion into objective truth. This makes it much more likely that people will reject any dissenters as uneducated. "Everyone knows democracy is an inherently unstable system plagued by corruption and inefficiency. Didn't you pay any attention in school?". Any facts which contradict the doctrine of the regime will have to overcome the cognitive dissonance with the material the students learned in school.

If you look at some totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, like Nazi Germany or the USSR, you will notice that they all invested a lot of resources into educating the youth, made the educational system compulsory and used it for political indoctrination. They even tried to dominate extracurricular activities with political indoctrination. See the Hitler Youth for example.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 especially for your italicized examples. Incidentally, you can get any person of any political persuasion to agree that a benign monarchy (truly benign, not dystopian) is an excellent form of government. And then the inevitable challenge: "Ah, but how do you ensure the successor is benign?" $\endgroup$
    – Wildcard
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 2:21

Totalitarianism runs on technology

  • weapons, communications (propaganda), surveillance, for example.

  • you can't even maintain technology without having a significant number of people who understand how things work and are able to improve them;

  • you can't predict which children will be good at what

  • plus, if you don't have world domination, you are constantly under pressure from other countries, to maintain edge in technology - at least military tech;

Therefore you place high value on STEM fields and try to give children a reasonably broad education as far as related to those fields, hoping to get the intelligent working enthusiastically on existing and new technologies. However, most of the scientific fields tie both into one another and in other aspects of life, therefore you need to give the children a more or less complete world understanding as well (skewed according to your totalitarian official worldview).

You need to have the education reasonably broad so as many children as possible get hooked on something that interests them - because for intellectual (especially scientific, but not only) work it is not very useful for somebody to do things he is not really interested in.

This is more or less how it was in the USSR.

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    $\begingroup$ The Soviet system used the Young Pioneers in school to do a lot of the education in communist values en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . As far as math and science the Soviet system ran two years ahead of the US system, my classmates from the USSR finished BC calculus at the end of high school. The USSR was very interested in good scientists and engineers more than average students and geared their system accordingly. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 20:42

It depends - do you mean education, or the kind of indoctrination we see today?

For example. In many countries there are some religious schools that require their students to memorise a certain holy book and prophetic teachings. As far as they are concerned, other forms of education is for the non-believers (who are considered worthless anyway) and thus they think they are providing the kids with a valuable (nay, essential) education in what is correct and true and authorised. They do this because they were similarly indoctrinated and actually believe that nonsense. This can be very useful to some forms of government, as this kind of education can even persuade people to perform acts of suicide terrorism. A dystopian government can replace one holy book for another - I think we use John Maynard Keyne's "holy" book today, any one will do as long as it forms the backbone of the government's ideology.

But if you want a true education, where kids are taught to think for themselves then it becomes more tricky - the problem is that the kids will see that the dystopian government is dystopian and fix it from within as they become older and work within it, unless...

One solution to this situation is to either make them clever enough to understand that any government is dystopian (ie there is no utopia, only the naive and stupid believe that) so the current form is as good as any other - and replacing it would mean massive amounts of social disruption, so best keep it chugging along and make the best of it.

Another would be for the elites to be treated differently to the peasants and even though they know its a bad situation, they don't care - they get all the benefits while the peasantry work for their benefit. This is a more feudal government, education amongst the nobles was as good as it could be. Education for the peasants though, would be reduced or restricted - possibly with the excuse that not everyone is academically gifted and so all those non-elites have to have education tailored to their ability and focused on practical education. You could also modify this to a egalitarian elitism, where those kids who do have the academic gifts are promoted to the elite and then given everything they ever wanted (or be sent to the salt mines as dissidents)

There is the technocratic form, where education is the best is can be so workers can do much more for the state, whilst not giving them any form of political power - a stratified system of government, where some work, some govern and some fight (a bit like Plato's Golds and Silvers, who form the ruling and defending bodies while the majority just get on with their lives without oppression, except for that where they have no say in government policy)

  • $\begingroup$ This would be a better answer if you removed the overt snark: "[they] actually believe that nonsense." It's not necessary and it detracts from your answer, even though you (wisely) don't name any particular religion. $\endgroup$
    – Wildcard
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Wildcard I don't know what religion you think I referred to..... but aren't they all the same with their silly books and sky fairies? Though to be fair, the new Keynesian religion doesn't necessarily believe in a sky fairy (but they do have a magic money tree they believe in instead) $\endgroup$
    – gbjbaanb
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 13:12

Education, including liberal education and critical thought, is great for a dystopian government.

I’m gonna assume since the name of the country has the word “Fascist” that we’re talking about a totalitarian system and not just a generic dystopian one. I’m also gonna use the word “dictatorship” and totalitarian system interchangeably for convenience, but these are not necessarily the same thing.

Education isn’t just compatible for a totalitarian system. It’s necessary. Furthermore, you’re not just gonna want to stuff everyone in a 20th century-style classroom and lecture them with propaganda until a gritty high school protagonist reveals the Truth About The System. That’s the statecraft equivalent of building a house out of matchsticks. It’s not about indoctrination.

You see, no one ever held on to a dictatorship by oppressing people. That just makes everyone hate your government, which in turn makes it more likely to get overthrown. Maintaining power in a totalitarian system really isn’t all that different from maintaining power in a democratic one — at the end of the day, it’s still about keeping the people who like your government as enthusiastic and motivated as possible, while doing everything you can to demotivate and delegitimize the opposition. Granted, you don’t need a majority in a dictatorship, but you still need a sizeable amount of the population that willingly and enthusiastically supports the government.

Also key is making sure everyone thinks the government is competent. Modern dictatorships live or die by the living standards of their populace.

Dictators survive not because of their use of force or ideology but because they convince the public—rightly or wrongly—that they are competent.

How Modern Dictators Survive: An Informational Theory of the New Authoritarianism

This is why, for example, rulers with authoritarian tendencies tend to disparage foreigners and paint lands outside their borders as impoverished lawless hellscapes. It makes them look like they are doing a good job by comparison. People, even educated ones, don’t really care who is in power as long as the trash gets picked up and the trains run on time. Believe it or not, (some) Iraqis have fond memories of ISIS rule because, unlike the secular government, they got things done. Democracy for democracy’s sake hasn’t really been in vogue since the 1820s.

Omar Bilal Younes, a 42-year-old truck driver whose occupation allowed him to crisscross the caliphate, noticed the same improvement. “Garbage collection was No. 1 under ISIS,” he said, flashing a thumbs-up sign.


We see that these factors are really two sides of the same coin. To maintain a dictatorship, you need to:

  1. Tell a narrative (or perhaps a national myth) that gets the pro-government people excited about upholding the system.

  2. Appear competent enough so that the anti-government people won’t bother overthrowing the system.

If you think about it, these goals aren’t really incompatible with the idea of education, or even the broader idea of free access to information and critical thought. China has been doing some very interesting things with gamifying party loyalty — think Duolingo, but for nationalism!

Mass education — including what we think of as “liberal education” attacks both sides of the problem.

1. It creates an elite class that convincingly sees itself as superior.

As history advances, this is a harder and harder thing to accomplish. Old frameworks like racism and religious bigotry aren’t really fashionable anymore.

Saying “I should be in charge because I’m white and you’re not” will get you real odd looks in any part of the world today.

Saying “I should be in charge because I’m muslim and you’re not” will get you real odd looks in most of the world today.

But you know what no one ever disputes?

I should be in charge because I’m educated and you’re not.

Mass education also gives you an automatic out-group: the people with lower grades (or who didn’t go to school at all). Those who did well “get it” and we should probably listen to them. Those who didn’t are a bunch of ignorant rubes who ought to be sidelined. The ruling faction will even point to statistics that people with more education are more likely support them as evidence of their legitimacy, a circular but nevertheless accepted form of reasoning.

A liberal education (as opposed to a traditional one) is even more effective because it shuts off the “calculated cruelty” rebuttal. Your educated class considers itself both smarter and more empathetic and humane than the out-group. Since this group is also going to be the group that controls the mass media, and produces your culture’s art and writing, you effectively get to rewrite the values of your society. This will create social pressure, isolating the opposition as hateful, ignorant relics clinging to a long-gone era. Why spend the effort to trick or force your troops to be “evil” when you can redefine “good” instead?

2. It fosters low expectations for public services and living standards.

I Alone Can Fix It

Donald Trump, RNC 2016

One of the rather overlooked effects of education is it teaches people why the things that are sh*t are the way they are. Almost every revolution in history ran on masses of people angry about “the way things are” and demanding someone “fix everything”. The average protester thinks Bad Guys Somewhere are stealing water from honest hardworking folk because They Get Off on making Guys Like Me miserable. (For a more US-centric example, replace ‘Cochabamba’ with ‘Flint’.) An educated person has a more nuanced view of the situation, knows the complexity of the problem, and understands there are no boogeymen or magic solutions, and is thus slower to anger.

Education also requires a significant investment in time, effort, and often money, on the part of the student. In return, the student receives a chance at a better job, and higher social status. This gives your people a stake in the stability of the system. If a revolution occurs and things go south (and they always go south), they will lose all that hard work.


Freedom of thought and the attitude of challenging any statement coming from anybody has to be learned.

Dogmatism and the attitude of accepting any statement coming from an authority has also to be learned.

If you control the educational system, you can easily decide which of the two you can teach to your students. Plus you can add the daily dose of adulation toward the great leader and all the achievement the government has made.

Once you have settled that, you can afford to educate people, as they will contribute to the nation more as educated and trained mass than as uneducated and untrained.


The question can be answered in two words, by example: Mainland China.

To expand on this, education allows people to create things. This might be a strong economy, which allows your Union to out-compete the economies of other states. Or it might be new weapons systems, which keep those other states from attacking you.

I'm dubious about education leading to freedom of thought. Certainly we have plenty of counter-examples: "faith-based" Christian schools in the US, Islamic madrassas, the almost slavish adherence to socialism & political correctness in university liberal arts programs...


Subliminal messaging taught to children early makes for a compliant populace. As well as, knowledge is power, therefore an intelligent populace makes a stronger nation.

It could be that simple and doesn't need to be more than that. To control the minds of the populace by teaching them exactly what they want, and nothing more. Teaching them how to think, how to react, how to be complacent, and how to not stand up to the government.

The facilities as we know it would be different entirely. From what you describe I would expect it to be a military facility with dormitories for each age group, where they are cleansed into the perfect citizen through education.

The government could even take it a step further and using schooling and its testing to isolate the best of the best while they are still young. Then implement those few into super soldier programs, or scientist programs to bolster their power, or even to add to the loyal secret police force.

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    $\begingroup$ there's this SciFi novel where they take away the most critically thinking children from schools. everyone think it's to punish them, but they are actually made high ranking members of the hidden ruling elite. $\endgroup$
    – Will Ness
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 11:49

It's pretty simple, really. Primary threats for a totalitarian government aren't just abstract "free thought". It's irrational believes, acting out on emotions, not caring about consequences.

So, teach them to be proper engineers. Teach them about adherence to procedure and regulations, about following standards and trusting machines more than humans. And keep telling them cautionary tales about all the ways things may go wrong when you flaunt the system. Injuries, sicknesses, deaths. Emphasise that it's not the machines fault when that happens, but human's.

Explain them that the State is the ultimate machine. It leads your society to the greater good, and it doesn't care for individuals and their struggles. Just like a wheel-saw won't notice your hands no matter your defiance. Educate them on all the carefully designed safeguards of the State, so they know for sure that they can't do anything about it, unless they get to the control panel.


The fact is that if you control the information the people receive, you control how they think. Schools are great at this.

If you want the next generation to think that Vaccines do not contain mind control substances (when they do). Then while in school (a place of "learning" and "truth") you teach them that believing that "myth" will make you a conspiracy nut.

Or take one from the real world: Milk. Dairy products did not make any significant portion of a normal healthy person's diary needs. However in one of the World Wars (I can't be bothered to look it up) a large portion of farmers switched to dairy farming so the front lines could get powdered milk to suplement their nutrition. After the war you had a bunch of milk farms doing nothing. So there was a big campaign where the populous "learnt" that milk would make them healthier and stronger.

If you tell people that Cable is a trusted source and YouTube can't ever be used as a source, they will naturally distrust the YouTube reporters.

The earlier you can get to someone the more solid you'r "truth's" will become.


Why would a dystopian government want its citizens educated?

To drive a debt cycle, and thus perpetuate the system.

I'm sure many of the us are familiar with the fact that higher education is really very expensive in many parts of the real world. This causes young people to take out a number of massive loans from the government. In order to have any hope of upward mobility, one has to petition the state for funds, this style of funding creates a debt that the student pays off for the rest of their working life.

Sure education opens minds, and may even plant the seeds of dissent, but who really wants to rage against the machine when it ruins their credit score and prevents them from obtaining secure employment, a home, car, and the ability to afford to pay for their children's educational debts.

There will be no revolution provided that people have the illusion of choice, a reasonably comfortable living arrangement, and some small modicum of hope that by playing well with the system they can get ahead.

Why bother to strictly control the curriculum, when you can give people false hope and then slowly crush it under mounting debt?

This also gives the benefit of a built in class structure. There will be those who take on the debt, get some education, and then get slowly ground down by the reality of the economics... But you also have the lower classes who won't even try to become educated because they simply can't afford it, or be approved for loans. You'll also get enough true believers, anecdotal cases, who pulled themselves from the lower classes to the middle classes, with the help of crushing debt, that will loudly proclaim that the system works.

Seems like this already works in the real world... Why reinvent the wheel?


The question why would a government want their citizens to be educated has a lot of credible answers in this thread. I will try concentrating on the other problem you have stated here:

education could lead to gasp freedom of thought

So how does a dystopian government avoids this undesirable outcome?

By making education as specialised as possible, while preventing critical thinking

People only get the education they will need to further the NAF causes! Generally speaking, NAF educational program should try avoiding the concept of harmonious holistic education as much as possible and only focus on practical things, leaving out as much of subjects like Arts, Philosophy, Real History, etc. as possible. Basically anything that promotes critical thinking may only be required for the education of the elites.

These subjects do not even need to be banned (which would inevitably make them seem more appealing) but rather they need being portrayed as boring, unfashionable and above all impractical. This should help reducing the numbers of dangerous intellectuals outside of the power structures.

Making the fashionable (practical) subjects as fragmented and as specialised as possible will further help to distract practitioners from wandering off and thinking of something outside their area of expertise.

All that would work even better if NAF assign professions at the early age, so that an educational program could be made more efficient at transforming people to tools of the state.

If you think about it something quite similar was observed in Huxley's 'Brave New World', where a society literally produced super-specialists, who were conditioned to only be happy while doing what they were meant, prepared and educated to do (which may not sound too dystopian after all!)


Most people have already answered this question to an excellent degree, so I'm not going to go into much depth here. But your question makes me look back at history -

Let's understand what England did when they came to rule over South East Asia, particularly India. They opened schools, forced education and textbooks to be written in English and made it compulsory to get any government jobs. Then, they made this huge deal about students going to England to study. All of this created an environment of assumed superiority and 'class' which the English rulers could lord over their aboriginal subjects.

So history teaches us that education is important to get work done and to propagate a myth of "why are we letting these people rule over us?" "Oh, because they're better than us."

You see this even today. Today's politicians may be pushing to reduce education, and today's fictional villains may be trying to do the same, but they all want a basic level of education which allows them to keep people busy. When you don't have a basic level of education, you can't put people up for useless jobs, or as David Graeber calls them, "b*llshit jobs" (I don't know if this site allows profanity).

That is the purpose of education for a dystopia - create an feeling of inferiority as well as a rat race of work that allows the rulers to rule and live lavishly while the subjects fight among themselves for a meager amount of money and resources.


If you teach children things that aren't correct, things that they are taught that are correct are taught in a very hard manner, you will end up with children and later adults with very little knowledge and with little selfesteem.

In other words a good workforce of model citizens.

Teach the children that they are not worth much, that they cannot do anything other than what they are told to do.


First of all:

There are two kinds of education

Lets call them school-education and university-education. This is a little bit simplified, but I think it works as a name.

1. School

Someone stands in front of a class and tells them, what is right and what is wrong.
There is not much independent thought here and the little bit there is can be used to steer the pupils into the right direction. The German Nazis in the 3. Reich gave math-examples like "How much does each handicapped person cost the state per year".
Think about school and how often the background of information was questioned when a teacher stated something as a fact.
This is something, an authoritarian state will want to control and start as early as possible, since children are very easy to influence. You can teach them nearly everything and they will believe at least most of it.

2. University

This is where the independent thought starts. Because, this is what is needed to do research. If you only teach people, how machines (etc.) are used, but want them to be able to repair or even improve them, you have to teach understanding, not just facts. And if you want people to understand, you have to encourage thinking.
This can still be forced into specific directions, away from real independent thought, but it is hard and it will reduce real creativity. If you want your scientists to invent actual new technology and not just improve the existing ones, you have to encourage them to have new ideas, and that leads to ideas, you don't want.

The Solution

Luckily, you only need the smartest heads to apply themselves in real science. So you can apply the mindforming school-education to everyone, especially children, and allow university-type education only for a small number of very smart people, that can be easily controlled. Most of them will comply anyway, since they are now part of the elite and better then the rest. If they start spreading unwanted ideas and those ideas catch on, they will certainly loose their privileges.


Of course in modern schools, some independent thought is encouraged (depending on country and school) and universities teach a lot of school-type stuff, especially if you only go for a bachelor-degree. But I needed names for the different types of teaching people, and I couldn't think of better ones.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Actually, you can absolutely teach people to understand and improve machines while simultaneously indoctrinating them with socio-economic garbage and regurgitated failed political theories. There are plenty of examples of this in history (and perhaps modernly as well). $\endgroup$
    – Wildcard
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 2:26
  • $\begingroup$ If you want them to be able to improve them, you have to encourage them to question the current way it works. And that may lead to them questioning other theories as well. You can of course still teach those theories, but they are more likely not to just swallow what you tell them. $\endgroup$
    – Till
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 8:25

I would argue that education could be used to suppress freedom of thought. Teach people not to question things, and most wont.

So create an environment that teaches the values that you you want. And the people will be shaped into the roles you design.


In order to find the most intelligent and curious children. Those children who will grow into the sort of adults who will question what they are taught.

When they have found such children, they can kill them and their parents, in order to eradicate those intellectual traits from the gene-pool.


There have been various kinds of (arguably dystopian) 20th century dictatorships that have striven for national strength. For instance, the USSR had always sought exceptional performance in the Olympic games. Cuba has striven for dominance in Olympic boxing. Russia, North Korea, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and China have liked to parade around their large and well-regimented military. They have all striven for great strength and to be prepared to crush their enemies militarily or economically. They have wanted to prove their doctrine superior through achievement so that other nations reflect on their system of government and believe it must be a superior system if it produces superior results. Achievement in games and in war are like a form of propaganda for advocating the system's virtues of strength. This is especially the case when a nation is attempting to spread its doctrine to other countries. These sort of countries are also often autarkic, and autarky requires a skilled and varied labor force, and good productivity at everything.

Strong education can help achieve many of these goals, including the development of advanced military technology, being a world leader in educational achievement, and having a highly productive economy. The only caveat is that, as a dystopian dictatorship, you would want to suppress free-thinking, liberal arts, and social studies. In order to maintain a better-controlled population, you would want authoritarian discipline in schools, co-opted religious dogma to provide simple and possibly paradoxical answers to moral / philosophical questions (preferably answers that always put the nation's needs first), speed drills and algorithms over abstract problem-solving, and an overemphasis on job skills, life skills, and STEM classes. Ultimately, the goal is to turn students into useful robots who can strengthen the state without questioning it.


I don't think I saw it put this way, but my first thought was that there are almost an infinite number of reasons TO educate your entire populous and only one reason to avoid/outlaw it--because educating them makes them harder to control. If you can control educated people then you should certainly educate them, it's great for the economy and will keep feeding you wonderful military inventions!

As for controlling all these educated people, why are they so easy to control? 100% monitoring and analysis by AIs. You don't even have to crack down on every possible violation, you can have AIs monitor for root causes (dissidents with certain traits, I'd guess) and eliminate those few. Others will gripe but not do anything.

When every single inch of space is monitored by drone cameras the size of flys or ants, how will you fight back? Even gun ownership isn't going to help much (They can ignore that along with education)--you won't be able to fight off even one ant-sized drone covered in poison that crawls into your mouth in the middle of the night, let alone a thousand...

You think you'll figure something out in your secret hidden base? They will notice when you are gone almost instantly and they will know exactly where you were when you vanished. If they can't send drones after you for some reason you'll just be apprehended the second you reappear on any camera.

You probably won't even know you are in a totalitarian dystopian government--and you probably won't care :) In fact, it needn't even be dystopian, you'd have to almost go out of your way to make that many people unhappy. The only reason for the dystopian part is that it was part of the question's premise.


An ideal citizen is one which is most productive. The most productive is one which is least likely to disrupt (ie. well integrated and socialised) and one whose work has the highest value. For both goals, education is key to created a citizen that can perform high-level work and also completely buys into whatever ideology the government sells.


Most answers address the practical benefits of promoting education (indoctrination and ensuring skilled workers), so I am going to offer an alternate reason why a dystopian government wants an education system:

Creating a class system

The book 1984 lays down a frame the 'ideal' class system for a dystopia. The lower class (the proles) are too apathetic and disorganized to change their situation, the middle class (the Outer Party) is under continuous surveillance, making it impossible to step out of line without somebody noticing and the upper class (the Inner Party) has absolute power. By having a fiercely competitive education system which results decide the the rest of ones life (like China), the population can be neatly sorted in classes, which guidance from the Party of course. By placing importance of the results of this education, the lowest class should be demotivated enough, as long as they have bread and circuses.

Ensuring class conflict

If the middle class is too big to be monitored and might pose a threat, the education system can be used to split them and let them quarrel instead of unite against the Party. This can be done by creating three education tracks (slum, normal & elite) and ensuring that the middle class is evaluated in such a way that they would end up in a different track if they did slightly better or worse. This would result in the following classes:

(Slum education)

  • Proles: The lowest of the low and they know it.
  • Lower class: Could have had an higher education if they were a bit better and are therefore hostile to the lower middle class.

(Normal education)

  • Lower middle class: Are lucky that they have a normal education and they don't know this and are therefore disdainful towards the lower class.
  • Middle class: Could have had an higher education if they were a bit better and are therefore hostile to the upper middle class.

(Elite education)

  • Upper middle class: : Are lucky that they have an elite education and they don't know this and are therefore disdainful towards the middle class. Ensure this class is relatively small in order to make them fear the middle class as well.
  • The Party: Are large and in charge.

By using this system, the middle class is too fragmented to make any change. Add some demographic differences between the middle classes, and even more internal conflict will arise. Thus, a stable system is created where envy, fear and distrust counterbalance any freedom of thought that an education introduces.

There are other systems to create a class system, but an education based one has the advantage of appearing meritocratic which gives the system more legitimacy. If the evaluations are (mostly) fair, this also ensures that the Party is not based on nepotism but are the best of the best.


Maybe because the dystopian government wants to create people knowledgeable enough to realize the futility of dissent, instead of foolish enough to revolt.

Intelligent, educated, rational people calculate the odds and restrain themselves from rash actions, while foolish people act on their impulses and take actions which the government considers to be "revolting".

And maybe the dystopian government wants to create a population that is actually useful for something, a population that is educated and creative and can make their dystopian society a better dystopian society.

And if the dystopian government rules part of the world, it will want an educated and creative population to keep up with the Joneses - or the Nakamuras, the Changs, the Chandras, etc., etc. - in the lands they don't rule. Otherwise the dystopian state might be defeated and conquered by a foreign state which has advanced too much ahead of the dystopian one.


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