“Do the Math” column originally published in Arthur No. 26
BLANK IN THE FILL by David Crosby Reeves
“For those who stubbornly seek freedom, there can be no more urgent task than to come to understand the mechanisms and practices of indoctrination.” —Chomsky
In the days of President Carter, a fluoride program went through the public schools called ‘Swish and Spit.’ First grade students were given permission slips and told to bring them back with a parent’s signature. I was a good kid then, eager to prove myself. I took my permission slip to my mother. She put it aside and didn’t sign it.
The day the ‘Swish and Spit’ program was implemented, Ms. Goldie brought out a bottle of red fluid and told everyone, ‘This is fluoride, and it tastes good.’ It looked like cherry Kool-Aid. I never got to taste it because I didn’t have my permission slip.
I was left alone while the other kids went to the sink and did the Kool-Aid. ‘Swish and Spit’ was just that. Everybody came back with red tongues like they had eaten a Slushy.
Ms. Goldie came to me, wanting to know where my slip was. I had a sense that this was one of the first tests of this new thing called School, and I was eager to be good. I wanted to drink the Kool-Aid to commune with the other kids, the kool kids, and become one with the institution.
So when I get home I told Ma, ‘I got to get this thing signed!’ ‘What is it for?’ she wanted to know. I explained that the ‘Swish and Spit’ was good for me, harmless, and probably cherry Kool-Aid.
‘What did I tell you about people coming to you with candy?’ my mom asked me. She went on about how the product was manufactured to look like candy so that I would want it, but we didn’t know what was in it.
My argument was, Sure we know what’s in it: fluoride. It makes strong teeth. But Ma wasn’t signing it because she said the government should not be giving you anything, nor should you trust them to give you anything. It sets a bad precedent. And why would a government that cares so little about your health that I can’t afford health care suddenly care so much about your teeth?