(This article first appeared in a recent (2003) book entitled Everything You Know Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Secrets and Lies - by Russ Kick (Editor) and Richard Metzger.)

Editor's note: John Taylor Gatto was the New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991 and has been named New York City Teacher of the Year three times.

Footnotes appear in red, and are to be found at the end of the article.
From the beginning, there was purpose behind forced schooling, purpose which had nothing to do with what parents, kids, or communities wanted. Instead, it was forged out of what a highly centralized corporate economy and system of finance bent on internationalizing itself was thought to need; that, and what a strong, centralized political State needed, too. School was looked upon from the first decade of the twentieth century as a branch of industry and a tool of governance. For a considerable time, probably provoked by a climate of official anger and contempt directed against immigrants in the greatest displacement of people known to history, social managers of schooling were remarkably candid about what they were doing. This candor can be heard clearly in a speech Woodrow Wilson made to businessmen before the First World War:
We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.
By 1917, the major administrative jobs in American schooling were under control of a group referred to in the press of that day as "the Education Trust." The first meeting of this trust included representatives of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and the National Education Association. The chief end, wrote the British evolutionist Benjamin Kidd in 1918, was to "impose on the young the ideal of subordination."
At first, the primary target was the tradition of independent livelihoods in America. Unless Yankee entrepreneurialism could be put to death, at least among the common population, the immense capital investments that mass production industry required for equipment weren't conceivably justifiable. Students were to learn to think of themselves as employees competing for the favor of management. Not as Franklin or Edison had once regarded themselves, as self-determined, free agents.
Only by a massive psychological campaign could the menace of overproduction in America be contained. That's what important men and academics called it. The ability of Americans to think as independent producers had to be curtailed. Certain writings of Alexander Inglis carry a hint of schooling's role in this ultimately successful project to curb the tendency of little people to compete with big companies. Overproduction became a controlling metaphor among the managerial classes from 1880 to 1930, and this profoundly affected the development of mass schooling.
I know how difficult it is for most of us who mow our lawns and walk our dogs to comprehend that long-range social engineering even exists, let alone that it began to dominate compulsion schooling nearly a century ago. Yet the 1934 edition of Ellwood P. Cubberley's Public Education in the United States is explicit about what happened and why. As Cubberley puts it:
It has come to be desirable that children should not engage in productive labor. On the contrary, all recent thinking ... [is) opposed to their doing so. Both the interests of organized labor and the interests of the nation have set against child labor.
The statement occurs in a section of Public Education called "A New Lengthening of the Period of Dependence," in which Cubberley explains that "the coming of the factory system" has made extended childhood necessary by depriving children of the training and education that farm and village life once gave. With the breakdown of home and village industries, the passing of chores, and the extinction of the apprenticeship system by large-scale production with its extreme division of labor (and the "all conquering march of machinery"), an army of workers has arisen, said Cubberley, who know nothing.
Furthermore, modern industry needs such workers. Sentimentality could not be allowed to stand in the way of progress. According to Cubberley, with "much ridicule from the public press" the old book-subject curriculum was set aside, replaced by a change in purpose and "a new psychology of instruction which came to us from abroad." That last mysterious reference to a new psychology is to practices of dumbed-down schooling common to England, Germany, and France, the three major world coal-powers (other than the US), each of which had already gonverted its common population into an industrial proletariat long before.
This is the same Ellwood R Cubberley, it should be noted, who wrote in his Columbia Teachers College dissertation of 1905 that schools were to be factories "in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products ... manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry."
Arthur Calhoun's 1919 Social History of the Family notified the nation's academics what was happening. Calhoun declared that the fondest wish of utopian writers was coming true: The child was passing from its family "into the custody of community experts." He offered a significant forecast, that in time we could expect to see public education "designed to check the mating of the unfit." Three years later, Mayor John F. Hylan of New York said in a public speech that the schools had been seized as an octopus would seize prey, by "an invisible government." He was referring specifically to certain actions of the Rockefeller Foundation and other corporate interests in New York City which preceded the school riots of 1917.
The 1920s were a boom period for forced schooling, as well as for the stock market. In 1928, a well-regarded volume called A Sociological Philosophy of Education claimed: "It is the business of teachers to run not merely schools but the world." A year later, the famous creator of educational psychology, Edward Thorndike of Columbia Teachers College, announced: "Academic subjects are of little value." His colleague at Teachers College, William Kirkpatrick, boasted in Education and the Social Crisis that the whole tradition of rearing the young was being made over by experts.
Meanwhile, at the project offices of an important employer of experts, the Rockefeller Foundation, friends were hearing from president Max Mason that a comprehensive national program was underway to allow, in Mason's words, "the control of human behavior." This dazzling ambition was announced on April 11, 1933. Schooling figured prominently in the design.
Rockefeller had been inspired by the work of Eastern European scientist Hermann Müller to invest heavily in genetics. Müller had used X rays to override genetic law, inducing mutations in fruit flies. This seemed to open the door to the scientific control of life itself. Müller preached that planned breeding would bring mankind to paradise faster than God. His proposal received enthusiastic endorsement from the greatest scientists of the day, as well as from powerful economic interests.
Müller would win the Nobel Prize, reduce his proposal to a 1,500 word Geneticists' Manifesto, and watch with satisfaction as 22 distinguished American and British biologists of the day signed it. The State must prepare to consciously guide human sexual selection, said Müller. School would have to separate worthwhile breeders from those slated for termination.
Just a few months before this report, an executive director of the National Education Association announced that his organization expected "to accomplish by education what dictators in Europe are seeking to do by compulsion and force." You can't get much clearer than that.
WWII drove the project underground but hardly retarded its momentum. Following cessation of global hostilities, school became a major domestic battleground for the scientific rationalization of social affairs through compulsory indoctrination. Great private corporate foundations led the way.
Thirty-odd years later, between 1967 and 1974, teacher training in the US was covertly revamped through coordinated efforts of a small number of private foundations, select universities, global corporations, think tanks, and government agencies, all coordinated through the US Office of Education and through key state education departments, like those in California, Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Important milestones of the transformation were: 1) an extensive government exercise in futurology called Designing Education for the Future, 2) the Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project, and 3) Benjamin Bloom's multi-volume Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, an enormous manual of over 1,000 pages which, in time, impacted every school in America. While other documents exist, these three are appropriate touchstones of the whole, serving to make clear the nature of the project underway.
Take them one by one and savor each: Designing Education, produced by the Education Department, redefined the term "education" after the Prussian fashion as "a means to achieve important economic and social goals of a national character." State education agencies would henceforth act as on-site federal enforcers, ensuring the compliance of local schools with central directives. Each state education department was assigned the task of becoming "an agent of change" and was advised to "lose its independent identity as well as its authority" in order to "form a partnership with the federal government."
The second document, the gigantic Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project, outlined teaching reforms to be forced on the country after 1967 1. The document sets out clearly the intentions of its creators - nothing less than "impersonal manipulation" through schooling of a future America in which "few will be able to maintain control over their opinions," an America in which "each individual receives at birth a multi-purpose identification number" which enables employers and other controllers to keep track of underlings and to expose them to direct or subliminal influence when necessary. Readers learned that "chemical experimentation" on minors would be normal procedure in this post-1967 world, a pointed fore-shadowing of the massive Ritalin interventions which accompany the practice of forced schooling at present.
The Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project identified the future as one "in which a small elite" will control all important matters, one where participatory democracy will largely disappear. Children are made to see, through school experiences, that their classmates are so cruel and irresponsible, so inadequate to the task of self-discipline, and so ignorant that they need to be controlled and regulated for society's good. Under such a logical regime, school terror can only be regarded as good advertising. It is sobering to think of mass schooling as a vast demonstration project of human inadequacy, but that is at least one of its functions.
Postmodern schooling, we are told, is to focus on "pleasure cultivation" and on "other attitudes and skills compatible with a non-work world." Thus the socialization classroom of the twentieth century's beginning - itself a radical departure from schooling for mental and character development - can be seen to have evolved by 1967 into a full-scale laboratory for psychological experimentation.
School conversion was assisted powerfully by a curious phenomenon of the middle to late 1960s, a tremendous rise in school violence and general school chaos which followed a policy declaration (which seems to have occurred nationwide) that the disciplining of children must henceforth mimic the "due process" practice of the court system. Teachers and administrators were suddenly stripped of any effective ability to keep order in schools since the due process apparatus, of necessity a slow, deliberate matter, is completely inadequate to the continual outbreaks of childish mischief all schools experience.
Now, without the time-honored ad hoc armory of disciplinary tactics to fall back on, disorder spiraled out of control, passing from the realm of annoyance into more dangerous terrain entirely as word surged through student bodies that teachers' hands were tied. And each outrageous event that reached the attention of the local press served as an advertisement for expert prescriptions. Who had ever seen kids behave this way? Time to surrender community involvement to the management of experts; time also for emergency measures like special education and Ritalin. During this entire period, lasting five to seven years, outside agencies like the Ford Foundation exercised the right to supervise whether "children's rights" were being given due attention, fanning the flames hotter even long after trouble had become virtually unmanageable.
The Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project, occurring at the peak of this violence, informed teacher-training colleges that under such circumstances, teachers had to be trained as therapists, they must translate prescriptions of social psychology into "practical action" in the classroom. As curriculum had been redefined, so teaching followed suit.
Third of the new gospel texts was Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, 2 in his own words, "a tool to classify the ways individuals are to act, think, or feel as the result of some unit of instruction." Using methods of behavioral psychology, children would learn proper thoughts, feelings, and actions, and have improper attitudes they brought from home "remediated."
In all stages of the school experiment, testing was essential to localize the child's mental state on an official rating scale. Bloom's epic spawned important descendant forms: mastery learning, outcomes-based education, and "school to work" government-business collaborations. Each classified individuals for the convenience of social managers and businesses, each offered data useful in controlling the mind and movements of the young, mapping the next adult generation.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, a small group of soon-to-be-famous academics - symbolically led by John Dewey and Edward Thorndike of Columbia Teachers College, Ellwood P. Cubberley of Stanford, G. Stanley Hall, and an ambitious handful of others, energized and financed by major corporate and financial allies like Morgan, Astor, Whitney, Carnegie, and Rockefeller - decided to bend government schooling to the service of business and the political State, as it had been done a century before in Prussia.
Cubberley delicately voiced what was happening this way: "The nature of the national need must determine the character of the education provided." National need, of course, depends upon point of view. The NEA in 1930 sharpened our understanding by specifying in a resolution of its Department of Superintendence that school served as an "effective use of capital" through which our "unprecedented wealth-producing power has been gained." Pronouncements like this mark the degree to which the organs of schooling had been transplanted into the corporate body of the new economy when you look beyond the rhetoric of the left and right.
It's important to keep in mind that no harm was meant by any designers or managers of this great project. It was only the law of nature as they perceived it, working progressively as capitalism itself did for the ultimate good of all. The real force behind school effort came from true believers of many persuasions, linked together mainly by their belief that family and church were retrograde institutions standing in the way of progress. Far beyond the myriad practical details and economic considerations there existed a kind of grail-quest, an idea capable of catching the imagination of dreamers and firing the blood of zealots.
The entire academic community in the US and abroad had been Darwinized and Galtonized by this time, and to this contingent school seemed an instrument for managing evolutionary destiny. In Thorndike's memorable words, conditions for controlled selective breeding had to be set up before the new American industrial proletariat "took things into their own hands."
The entire academic community in the US and abroad had been Darwinized and Galtonized by this time, and to this contingent school seemed an instrument for managing evolutionary destiny. In Thorndike's memorable words, conditions for controlled selective breeding had to be set up before the new American industrial proletariat "took things into their own hands."
America was a frustrating petri dish in which to cultivate a managerial revolution, however, because of its historic freedom traditions. But thanks to the patronage of important men and institutions, a group of academics were enabled to visit mainland China to launch a modernization project known as the "New Thought Tide." For two years Dewey himself lived in China, where pedagogical theories were inculcated in the Young Turk elements, then tested on a bewildered population which had recently been stripped of its ancient form of governance. A similar process was embedded in the new Russian state during the 1920s.
While the American public was unaware of this undertaking, some big-city school superintendents were wise to the fact that they were part of a global experiment. Listen to H.B. Wilson, superintendent of the Topeka schools:
The introduction of the American school into the Orient has broken up 40 centuries of conservatism. It has given us a new China, a new Japan, and is working marked progress in Turkey and the Philippines, The schools...are in a position to determine the lines of progress.

-Motivation of School Work (1916)...

Thoughts like this don't spring full-blown from the heads of men like Dr. Wilson of Topeka. They have to be planted there.
The Western-inspired and Western-financed Chinese revolution, following hard on the heels of the last desperate attempt by China to prevent the British government market in narcotic drugs there, placed that ancient province in a favorable state of anarchy for laboratory tests of mind-alteration technology. Out of this period rose a Chinese universal tracking procedure called the "Dangan," a continuous lifelong personnel file exposing every student's intimate life history from birth through school and onward. The Dangan constituted the ultimate overthrow of privacy. Today, nobody works in China without a Dangan.
By the mid-1960s preliminary work on an American Dangan was underway as information reservoirs attached to the school institution began to store personal information. A new class of expert, like Ralph Tyler of the Carnegie endowments, quietly began to urge collection of personal data from students and its unification in computer code to enhance cross-referencing. Surreptitious data gathering was justified by Tyler as "the moral right of institutions."
Between 1896 and 1920, a small group of industrialists and financiers, together with their private charitable foundations, subsidized university chairs, university researchers, and school administrators, spending more money on forced schooling than did the government itself. Carnegie and Rockefeller, as late as 1915, were themselves spending more. In this laissez-faire fashion a system of modern schooling was constructed without public participation. The motives for this are undoubtedly mixed, but it will be useful for you to hear an excerpt from the first mission statement of Rockefeller's General Education Board as it occurred in a document called Occasional Letter Number One (1906):
In our dreams, people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple ... we will organize children ... and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.
This mission statement will reward multiple rereadings.
At the start of WWII, millions of men showed up at registration offices to take low-level academic tests before being inducted. 3 The years of maximum mobilization were 1942 to 1944; the fighting force - both those inducted and those turned away - had been mostly schooled in the 1930s. Eighteen million men were tested; 17,280,000 of them were judged to have the minimum competence in reading required to be a soldier-a 96 percent literacy rate. Although this was a 2 percent fall-off from the 98 percent rate among voluntary military applicants ten years before, the dip was so small it didn't worry anybody.
WWII was over in 1945. Six years later another war began in Korea. Several million men were tested for military service, but this time 600,000 were rejected. Literacy in the draft pool had dropped to 81 percent even though all that was needed to classify a soldier as literate was fourth-grade reading proficiency. In the few short years from the beginning of WWII to Korea, a terrifying problem of adult illiteracy had appeared. The Korean War group received most of its schooling in the 1940s; it had more years in school with more professionally trained personnel and more scientifically selected textbooks than the WWII men, yet it could not read, write, count, speak, or think as well as the earlier, less-schooled contingent.
A third American war began in the mid-1960s, By its end in 1973, the number of men found non-inductible by reason of inability to read safety instructions, interpret road signs, decipher orders, and so on - the number found illiterate, in other words - had reached 27 percent of the total pool. Vietnam-era young men had been schooled in the 1950s and the 1960s-much better schooled than either of the two earlier groups-but the 4 percent illiteracy of 1941, which had transmuted into the 19 percent illiteracy of 1952, now had grown into the 27 percent illiteracy of 1970. Not only had the fraction of competent readers dropped to 73 percent, but a substantial chunk of even those were only barely adequate; they could not keep abreast of developments by reading a newspaper; they could not read for pleasure; they could not sustain a thought or an argument; they could not write well enough to manage their own affairs without assistance.
Consider how much more compelling this steady progression of intellectual blindness is when we track it through Army admissions tests rather than college admissions scores and standardized reading tests, which inflate apparent proficiency by frequently changing the way the tests are scored.
Looking back, abundant data exist from states like Connecticut and Massachusetts to show that by 1840 the incidence of complex literacy in the United States was between 93 and 100 percent wherever such a thing mattered. According to the Connecticut census of 1840, only one citizen out of every 579 was illiterate, and you probably don't want to know, not really, what people in those days considered literate; it's too embarrassing. Popular novels of the period give a clue: Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826, sold so well that a contemporary equivalent would have to move 10 million copies to match it. If you pick up an uncut version, you find your self in a dense thicket of philosophy, history, culture, manners, politics, geography, astute analysis of human motives and actions, all conveyed in data-rich periodic sentences so formidable that only a determined and well-educated reader can handle it nowadays. Yet in 1818, the US was a small-farm nation without colleges or universities to speak of. Could those sinple folk have had more complex minds than our own?
By 1940, the literacy figure for all states stood at 96 percent for whites, 80 percent for blacks. Notice for all the disadvantages blacks labored under, four of five were still literate. Six decades later, at the end of the twentieth century, the National Adult Literacy Survey and the National Assessment of Educational Progress say 40 percent blacks and 17 percent of whites can't read at all. Put another way, black illiteracy doubled, and white illiteracy quadrupled. Before you think of anything else in regard to these numbers, think of this: we spend three to four times as much real money on schooling as we did 60 years ago, but 60 years ago virtually everyone, black or white, could read.
In their famous bestseller, The Bell Curve, prominent social analysts Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein say that what we're seeing are the results of selective breeding in society. Smart people naturally get together with smart people, dumb people with dumb people. As they have children generation after generation, the differences between the groups get larger and larger. That sounds plausible, and the authors produce impressive mathematics to prove their case, but their documentation shows that they are entirely ignorant of the military data available to challenge their contention. The terrifying drop in literacy between World War 11 and Korea happened in a decade, and even the brashest survival-of-the-fittest theorist wouldn't argue evolution unfolds that way. The Bell Curve writers say black illiteracy (and violence) is genetically programmed, but like many academics they ignore contradictory evidence.
For example, on the matter of violence inscribed in black genes, the inconvenient parallel is to South Africa, where 31 million blacks live, the same count living in the United States. Compare numbers of blacks who died by violence in South Africa in civil war conditions during 1989, 1990, and 1991 with America's peacetime mortality statistics, and you find that far from exceeding the violent death toll in the US, or even matching it, South Africa had proportionately less than one-quarter the violent death rate of American blacks. If more contemporary comparisons are sought, we need only compare the current black literacy rate in the US (56 percent) with the rate in Jamaica (98.5 percent) - a figure considerably higher than the American white literacy rate (83 percent).
If not heredity, what then? Well, one change is indisputable, welldocumented, and easy to track. During WWII, American public schools massively converted to non-phonetic ways of teaching reading. They stopped teaching students to look at words as combinations of letters, sounding them out, and instead started using the disastrous whole-word method, which has students memorize the meanings of entire words through sheer repetition (the method used by Dick and Jane and Dr. Seuss).
On the matter of violence alone, this would seem to have an impact: According to the Justice Department, 80 percent of the incarcerated violent criminal population is illiterate or nearly so (the rate for all imprisoned criminals is 67 percent). There seems to be a direct connection between the humiliation poor readers experience and the life of angry criminals 4. As reading ability plummeted in America after WWII, crime soared; so did out-of-wedlock births, which doubled in the 1950s and doubled again in the 1960s when bizarre violence for the first time became commonplace in daily life.
When literacy was first abandoned as a primary goal by schools, white people were in a better position than black people because they inherited a 300-year-old American tradition of learning to read at home by matching spoken sound with letters; thus, home assistance was able to correct the deficiencies of dumbed-down schools for whites. But black people had been forbidden to learn to read during slavery and as late as 1930 averaged only three to four years of schooling, so they were helpless when teachers suddenly stopped teaching children to read; they had no fallback position. Not helpless because of genetic inferiority but because they had to trust school authorities to a much greater extent than white people.
Back in 1952 the Army quietly began hiring hundreds of psychologists to find out how
600,000 high school graduates had successfully faked illiteracy. Regna Wood sums up the episode this way:
After the psychologists told the officers that the graduates weren't faking, Defense Department administrators knew that something terrible had happened in grade school reading instruction. And they knew it had started in the thirties. Why they remained silent, no one knows. The switch back to reading instruction that worked for everyone should have been made then. But it wasn't.
In 1882, fifth-graders read these authors in their Appleton School Reader. William Shakespeare, Henry Thoreau, George Washington, Sir Walter Scott, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Bunyan, Daniel Webster, Samuel Johnson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others like them. In 1995, a student-teacher of fifth-graders in Minneapolis wrote to the local newspaper: "I was told children are not to be expected to spell the following words correctly: back, big, call, came, can, day, did, dog, down, get, good, have, he, home, if, in, is, it, like, little, man, morning, mother, my, night, off, out, over, people, play, ran, said, saw, she, some, soon, their, them, there, time, two, too, up, us, very, water, we, went, where, when, will, would, etc. Is this nuts?"
If you have a hard time believing this revolution in the contract ordinary Americans had with their political State was intentionally provoked, it's time to meet William Torrey Harris, US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906. Nobody else who rose out of the ranks of professional pedagogues, other than Cubberley, ever had the influence Harris did. Harris standardized our schools and Germanized them. Listen as he speaks in 1906:
Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.

-The Philosophy of Education (1906)..

Listen again to Harris, giant of American schooling, leading scholar of German philosophy in the Western hemisphere, editor/publisher of The Joumal of Speculative Philosophy which trained a generation of American intellectuals in the ideas of the Prussian thinkers Kant and Hegel, the man who gave America scientifically age-graded classrooms to replace successful mixed-age school practice:
The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places.... It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.

-The Philosophy of Education (1906)..

Nearly a hundred years ago, this schoolman thought that self-alienation was the secret to successful industrial society. Surely he was right. When you stand at a machine or sit at a computer, you require an ability to withdraw from life, to alienate yourself without a supervisor. How else could that be tolerated unless prepared in advance by simulated Birkenhead drills? School, thought Harris, was sensible preparation for a life of alienation. Can you say he was wrong?
In exactly the years Cubberley of Stanford identified as the launching time for the school institution, Harris reigned supreme as the bull goose educator of America. His was the most influential voice teaching what school was to be in a modern, scientific State. School histories commonly treat Harris as an old-fashioned defender of high academic standards, but this is a grossly inadequate analysis; as a philosophical Hegelian, Harris believed children were property and the State had a compelling interest in disposing of them as it pleased. Some would receive intellectual training, most not. Any distinction that can be made between Harris and later weak-curriculum advocates (those interested in stupefaction for everybody) is far less important than substantial agreement in both camps that parents or local tradition could no longer determine the individual child's future.
Unlike any official schoolman until Conant, Harris had social access to important salons of power in the United States. Over his long career he furnished inspiration to the ongoing obsessions of Andrew Carnegie, the steel man who first nourished the conceit of yoking our entire economy to cradle-to-grave schooling. If you can find copies ofThe Empire of Business (1902) orTriumphant Democracy (1886), you will find remarkable congruence between the world Carnegie urged and the one our society has achieved.
Carnegie's "Gospel of Wealth" idea took his peers by storm at the very moment the great school transformation began - the idea that the wealthy owed society a duty to take over everything in the public interest was an uncanny echo of Carnegie's experience as a boy watching the elite establishment of Britain and the teachings of its State religion. It would require perverse blindness not to acknowledge a connection between the Carnegie blueprint, hammered into shape in the Greenwich Village salon of Mrs. Botta after the Civil War, and the explosive developments which restored the Anglican worldview to our schools.
Of course, every upper class in history has specified what can be known. The defining characteristic of class control is that it establishes a grammar and vocabulary for ordinary people, and for subordinate elites, too. If the rest of us uncritically accept certain official concepts such as "globalization," then we have unwittingly committed ourselves to a whole intricate narrative of society's future, too, a narrative which inevitably drags an irresistible curriculum in its wake.
Since Aristotle, thinkers have understood that work is the vital theater of self-knowledge. Schooling in concert with a controlled workplace is the most effective way ever devised to foreclose the development of imagination. But where did these radical doctrines of true belief come from? Who spread them? We get at least part of the answer from the tantalizing clue Walt Whitman left when he said that "only Hegel is fit for America." Hegel was the protean Prussian philosopher capable of shaping Karl Marx on one hand and J.P. Morgan on the other; the man who taught a generation of prominent Americans that history itself could be controlled by the deliberate provoking of crises. Hegel was sold to America in large measure by William Torrey Harris, who made Hegelianism his lifelong project and forced schooling its principal instrument in its role as a pee rless agent provocateur.
Harris was inspired by the notion that correctly managed mass schooling would result in a population so dependent on leaders that schism and revolution would be things of the past. If a world could be cobbled together by Hegelian tactical manipulation, and such a school plan imposed upon it, history itself would stop. No more wars, no civil disputes, just people waiting around pleasantly like the Eloi in Wells'The Time Machine. Waiting for Teacher to tell them what to do. The psychological tool was alienation. The was to alienate children from themselves so they couldn't turn inside for strength, to alienate them from their families, religions, cultures, etc. so no countervailing force could intervene.
Carnegie used his own considerable influence to keep this expatriate New England Hegelian as the US Commissioner of Education for sixteen years, long enough to set the stage for an era of "scientific management" (or "Fordism," as the Soviets called it) in American schooling. Long enough to bring about the rise of the multilayered school bureaucracy. But it would be a huge mistake to regard Harris and other true believers as merely tools of business interest; what they were about was the creation of a modern, living faith to replace the Christian one which had died for them. It was their good fortune to live at precisely the moment when the dreamers of the empire of business (to use emperor Carnegie's label) for an Anglo-American world-State were beginning to consider worldwide schooling as the most direct route to that destination.
Both movements, to centralize the economy and to centralize schooling, were aided immeasurably by the rapid disintegration of old-line Protestant churches and the rise from their pious ashes of the "Social Gospel" ideology, aggressively underwritten by important industrialists, who intertwined churchgoing tightly with standards of business, entertainment, and government. The experience of religion came to mean, in the words of Reverend Earl Hoon, "the best social programs money can buy." A clear statement of the belief that social justice and salvation were to be had through skillful consumption.
Shailer Mathews - dean of Chicago's School of Divinity, editor of Biblical World, president of the Federal Council of Churches - wrote his influential Scientific Management in the Churches (1912) to convince American Protestants they should sacrifice independence and autonomy and adopt the structure and strategy of corporations:
If this seems to make the Church something of a business establishment, it is precisely what should be the case.
If Americans listened to the corporate message, Mathews told them they would feel anew the spell of Jesus.
In the decade before WWI, a consortium of private foundations drawing on industrial wealth began slowly working toward a long range goal of lifelong schooling and a thoroughly rationalized global economy and society.
The most surprising thing about the start-up of mass public education in mid-nineteenth-century Massachusetts is how overwhelming ly parents of all classes soon complained about it. Reports of school committees around 1850 show the greatest single theme of discussion was conflict between the state and the general public on this matter. Resistance was led by the old yeoman class - those families accustomed to taking care of themselves and providing meaning for their own lives. The little town of Barnstable on Cape Cod is exemplary. Its school committee lamented, according to Katz's Irony of Early School Reform, that "the great defect of our day is the absence of governing or controlling power on the part of parents and the consequent insubordination of children. Our schools are rendered inefficient by the apathy of parents."
Years ago I was in possession of an old newspaper account which related the use of militia to march recalcitrant children to school there, but I've been unable to locate it again. Nevertheless, even a cursory look for evidence of State violence in bending public will to accept compulsion schooling will be rewarded: Bruce Curtis' book Building the Education State 1836-1871 documents the intense aversion to schooling which occurred across North America, in Anglican Canada where leadership was uniform, as well as in the US where leadership was more divided. Many schools were burned to the ground and teachers run out of town by angry mobs. When students were kept after school, parents often broke into school to free them.
At Saltfleet Township in 1859, a teacher was locked in the schoolhouse by students who "threw mud and mire into his face and over his clothes," according to school records - while parents egged them on. At Brantford in 1863, the teacher William Young was assaulted to the point (according to his replacement) that "Mr. Young's head, face and body was, if I understand rightly, pounded literally to jelly." Curtis argues that parents' resistance was motivated by a radical transformation in the intentions of schools-a change from teaching basic literacy to molding social identity.
The first effective American compulsory schooling in the modern era was a reform school movement which Know-Nothing legislatures of the 1850s put into the hopper along with their radical new adoption law. Objects of reformation were announced as follows: respect for authority, self-control, self-discipline. The properly reformed boy "acquires a fixed character," one that can be planned for in advance by authority in keeping with the efficiency needs of business and industry.
Reform meant the total transformation of character, behavior modification, a complete makeover. By 1857, a few years after stranger adoption was kicked off as a new policy of the State, Boutwell could consider foster parenting (the old designation for adoption) "one of the major strategies for the reform of youth." 5 The first step in the strategy of reform was for the State to become the de facto parent of the child. That, according to another Massachusetts educator, Emory Washburn, "presents the State in her true relation of a parent seeking out her erring children."
The 1850s in Massachusetts marked the beginning of a new epoch in schooling. Washburn triumphantly crowed that these years produced the first occasion in history "whereby a State in the character of a common parent has undertaken the high and sacred duty of rescuing and restoring her lost children ... by the influence of the school." John Philbrick, Boston school superintendent [ed. note: perhaps an ancestor of Herbert Philbrick, the Massachusetts McCarthy-era informer who "Led Three Lives"?], said of his growing empire in 1863, "Here is real home!" All schooling, including the reform variety, was to be in imitation of the best "family system of organization"; this squared with the prevalent belief that delinquency was not caused by external conditions - thus letting industrialists and slumlords off the hook - but by deficient homes.
Between 1840 and 1860, male schoolteachers were cleansed from the Massachusetts system and replaced by women. A variety of stratagems was used, including the novel one of paying women slightly more than men in order to bring shame into play in chasing men out of the business. Again the move was part of a well-conceived strategy: "Experience teaches that these boys, many of whom never had a mother's affection ... need the softening and refining influence which woman alone can give, and we have, wherever practicable, substituted female officers and teachers for those of the other sex."
A state report noted the frequency with which parents coming to retrieve their own children from reform school were met by news that their children had been given away to others, through the State's parens patriae power. "We have felt it to be our duty generally to decline giving them up to their parents and have placed as many of them as we could with farmers and mechanics," reads a portion of Public Document 20 for the state of Massachusetts, written in 1864. To recreate the feelings of parents on hearing this news is beyond my power.
Administrative utopias are a peculiar kind of dreaming by those in power, driven by an urge to arrange the lives of others, organizing them for production, combat, or detention. The operating principles of administrative utopia are hierarchy, discipline, regimentation, strict order, rational planning, a geometrical environment, a production line, a cellblock, and a form of welfarism. Government schools and some private schools pass such parameters with flying colors.
In one sense, administrative utopias are laboratories for exploring the technology of subjection and as such belong to a precise subdivision of pornographic art: total surveillance and total control of the helpless. The aim and mode of administrative utopia is to bestow order and assistance on an unwilling population. To provide its clothing and food. To schedule it. In a masterpiece of cosmic misjudgment, the phrenologist George Combe wrote to Horace Mann on November 14, 1843:
The Prussian and Saxon governments by means of their schools and their just laws and rational public administration are doing a good deal to bring their people into a rational and moral condition. It is pretty obvious to thinking men that a few years more of this cultivation will lead to the development of free institutions in Germany.
Earlier that year (May 21, 1843), Mann had written to Combe: "I want to find out what are the results, as well as the workings of the famous Prussian system." Just three years earlier, with the election of Marcus Morton as governor of Massachusetts, a serious challenge had been presented to Mann and to his Board of Education, including the air of Prussianism surrounding it and its manufacturer/politician friends. A House committee was directed to look into the new Board of Education and its plan to undertake a teachers college with $10,000 put up by industrialist Edmund Dwight. Four days after its assignment, the majority reported out a bill to kill the board! Discontinue the Normal School experiment, it said, and give Dwight his money back:
If then the Board has any actual power, it is a dangerous power, touching directly upon the rights and duties of the Legislature; if it has no power, why continue its existence at an annual expense to the commonwealth?
But the House committee did more; it warned explicitly that this board, dominated by a Unitarian majority of 7-5 (although Unitarians comprised less than 1 percent of the state), really wanted to install a Prussian system of education in Massachusetts, to put "a monopoly of power in a few hands, contrary in every respect to the true spirit of our democratical institutions." The vote of the House on this was the single greatest victory of Mann's political career, one for which he and his wealthy friends called in every favor they were owed. The result was 245 votes to continue, 182 votes to discontinue, and so the House voted to overturn the recommendations of its own committee. A 32-vote swing might have given us a much different twentieth century than the one we saw.
Although Mann's own letters and diaries are replete with attacks on orthodox religionists as enemies of government schooling, an examination of the positive vote reveals that from the outset the orthodox churches were among Mann's staunchest allies. Mann had general support from Congregational, Presbyterian, and Baptist clergymen. At this early stage they were completely unaware of the doom secular schooling would spell for their denominations. They had been seduced into believing school was a necessary insurance policy to deal with incoming waves of Catholic immigration from Ireland and Germany, the cheap labor army which as early as 1830 had been talked about in business circles and eagerly anticipated as an answer to America's production problems.
The reason Germany, and not England, provided the original model for America's essay into compulsion schooling may be that Mann had a shocking experience in English class snobbery while in Britain, which left him reeling. Boston Common, he wrote, with its rows of mottled sycamore trees, gravel walks, and frog ponds, was downright embarrassing compared with any number of stately English private grounds furnished with stag and deer, fine arboretums of botanical specimens from faraway lands, marble floors better than the tabletops at home, portraits, tapestries, giant gold-frame mirrors. The ballroom in the Bullfinch house in Boston would be a butler's pantry in England, he wrote. When Mann visited Stafford House of the Duke of Cumberland, he went into culture shock:
Convicts on treadmills provide the energy to pump water for fountains. I have seen equipages, palaces, and the regalia of royalty side by side with beggary, squalidness, and degradation in which the very features of humanity were almost lost in those of the brute.
For this great distinction between the layered orders of society, Mann held the Anglican Church to blame. "Give me America with all its rawness and want. We have aristocracy enough at home and here I trace its foundations." Shocked from his English experience, Mann virtually willed that Prussian schools would provide him with answers, says his biographer Jonathan Messerli.
Mann arrived in Prussia when its schools were closed for vacation; he toured empty classrooms, spoke with authorities, interviewed vacationing schoolmasters, and read piles of dusty official reports. Yet from this non-experience he claimed to come away with a strong sense of the professional competence of Prussian teachers! All "admirably qualified and full of animation!" His wife, Mary, of the famous Peabodys, wrote home: "We have not seen a teacher with a book in his hand in all Prussia; no, not one!" This wasn't surprising, for they hardly saw teachers at all.
Equally impressive, he wrote, was the wonderful obedience of children; these German kinder had "innate respect for superior years." The German teacher corps? "The finest collection of men I have ever seen - full of intelligence, dignity, benevolence, kindness and bearing Never, says Mann, did he witness "an instance of harshness and severity. All is kind, encouraging, animating, sympathizing." On the basis of imagining this miraculous vision of exactly the Prussia he wanted to see, Mann made a special plea for changes in the teaching of reading. He criticized the standard American practice of beginning with the alphabet and moving to syllables, urging his readers to consider the superior merit of teaching entire words from the beginning. "I am satisfied," he said, "our greatest error in teach-
ing lies in beginning with the alphabet."
The heart of Mann's most famous Report to the Boston School Committee, the legendary Seventh, rings a familiar theme in American affairs: It seems even then we were falling behind! This time behind the Prussians in education. In order to catch up, it was mandatory to create a professional corps of teachers, just as the Prussians had. And a systematic curriculum just as the Prussians had. Mann fervently implored the board to accept his prescription ... while there was still time!
That fall, the Association of Masters of the Boston Public Schools published its 150-page rebuttal of Mann's Report. It attacked the Normal schools proposal as a propaganda vehicle for Mann's "hot bed theories, in which the projectors have disregarded experience and observation." It belittled his advocacy of phrenology and charged Mann with attempting to excite the prejudices of the ignorant. Its second attack was against the teacher-centered, non-book presentations of Prussian classrooms, insisting the psychological result of these was to break student potential "for forming the habit of independent and individual effort." The third attack was against the "word method" in teaching reading, and in defense of the traditional alphabet method. Lastly, it attacked Mann's belief that interest was a better motivator to learning than discipline: "Duty should come first and pleasure should grow out of the discharge of it."
Sixty years later - amid a well-coordinated attempt on the part of industrialists and financiers to transfer power over money and interest rates from elected representatives of the American people to a "Federal Reserve" of centralized private banking interests -George Reynolds, president of the American Bankers Association, rose before an audience on September 13, 1909, to declare himself flatly in favor of a central bank modeled after the German Reichsbank. As he spoke, the schools of the United States were being forcibly rebuilt on Prussian lines.
On September 14, 1909, in Boston, the President of the United States, William Howard Taft, instructed the country that it should "take up seriously" the problem of establishing a centralized bank on the German model. As the Wall Street Journal put it, an important step in the education of Americans would soon be taken to translate the "realm of theory" into "practical politics," in pedagogy as well as finance.
Dramatic symbolic evidence of what was working deep in the bowels of the school institution surfaced in 1935. At the University of Chicago's experimental high school, the head of the Social Science department, Howard C. Hill, published an inspirational textbook, The Life and Work of the Citizen. It is decorated throughout with the fasces, symbol of the Fascist movement, an emblem binding government and corporation together as one entity. Mussolini had landed in America.
The fasces are strange, hybridized images - one might almost say Americanized. The bundle of sticks wrapped around a two-headed axe, the classic Italian Fascist image, has been decisively altered. Now the sticks are wrapped around a sword. They appear on the spine of this high school text, on the decorative page introducing part one, again on a similar page for part two, repeating on part three and part four, as well. There are also fierce, military eagles hovering above those pages.
The strangest decoration of all faces the title page, a weird interlock of hands and wrists which, with only a few slight alterations of its structural members, would be a living swastika 6. The legend announces it as representing the "united strength" of Law, Order, Science, and the Trades. Where the strength of America had been traditionally located in our First Amendment guarantee of argument, now the Prussian connection was shifting the locus of attention in school to cooperation, with both working and professional classes sandwiched between the watchful eye of Law and Order. Prussia had entrenched itself deep inside the bowels of American institutional schooling.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, as the new school institution slowly took root after the Civil War in big cities and the defeated South, some of the best minds in the land, people fit by their social rank to comment publicly, spoke out as they watched its first phalanx of graduates take their place in the traditional American world. All of these speakers had been trained themselves in the older, a-systematic, non-institutional schools. At the beginning of another new century, it is eerie to hear what these great-grandfathers of ours had to say about the mass schooling phenomenon as they approached their own fateful new century.
In 1867, world-famous American physician and academic Vincent Youmans lectured the London College of Preceptors about the school institution just coming into being:
School produces mental perversion and absolute stupidity. It produces bodily disease. It produces these things by measures which operate to the prejudice of the growing brain. It is not to be doubted that dullness, indocility, and viciousness are frequently aggravated by the lessons of school.
Thirteen years later, Francis Parkman (of Oregon Trail fame) delivered a similar judgment. The year was 1880, at the very moment Wundt was founding his laboratory of scientific psychology in Germany:
Many had hoped that by giving a partial reaching to great numbers of persons, a thirst for knowledge might be awakened. Thus far, the results have not equaled expectations. Schools have not borne any fruit on which we have cause to congratulate ourselves,
In 1885, the president of Columbia University said:
The results actually attained under our present system of instruction are neither very flattering nor very encouraging.
In 1895, the president of Harvard said:
Ordinary schooling produces dullness. A young man whose intellectual powers are worth cultivating cannot be willing to cultivate them by pursuing phantoms as the schools now insist upon.

When he said this, compulsion schooling in its first manifestation was approaching its forty third year of operations in Massachusetts and was running at high efficiency in Cambridge, where Harvard is located.

Then the great metamorphosis to an even more efficient scientific form of pedagogy took place in the early years of the twentieth century. Four years before WWI broke out, a well-known European thinker and schoolman, Paul Geheeb, whom Einstein, Herman Hesse, and Albert Schweitzer all were to claim as a friend, made this commentary on English and German types of forced schooling:
The dissatisfaction with public schools is widely felt. Countless attempts to reform them have failed. People complain about the "overburdening" of schools; educators argue about which parts of curriculum should be cut; but school cannot be reformed with a pair of scissors. The solution is not to be found in educational institutions.
In 1930, the yearly Inglis Lecture at Harvard made the same case:
We have absolutely nothing to show for our colossal investment in common schooling after 80 years of trying.
Thirty years passed before John Gardner's Annual Report to the Carnegie Corporation in 1960 added this:
Too many young people gain nothing [from school] except the conviction they are misfits.
The record after 1960 is no different. It is hardly unfair to say that the stupidity of 1867, the fruitlessness of 1880, the dullness of 1895, the cannot be reformed of 1910, the absolutely nothing of 1930, and the nothing of 1960 have been continued into the schools of 2000 and beyond. We pay four times more in real dollars than we did in 1930, and thus we buy even more of what mass schooling dollars always bought.
The most candid account we have of the changeover from old-style American free-market schooling to the laboratory variety under the close eye of society's managers is a book long out of print. But the author was famous enough in his day that a yearly lecture at Harvard is named after him, so with a bit of effort on your part, and perhaps a kind word to your local librarian, in due time you should be able to find a hair-raising account of the school transformation written by one of the insiders. The book in question bears the soporific title Principles of Secondary Education. Published in 1918 near the end of the great school revolution, Principles offers a unique account of the project written through the eyes of an important revolutionary. Any lingering doubts you may have about the purposes of government schooling should be put to rest by Alexander Inglis, The principal purpose of the vast enterprise was to place control of the new social and economic machinery out of reach of the mob 7.
The great social engineers were confronted by the formidable challenge of working their magic in a democracy, the least efficient and most unpredictable of political forms. School was designed to neutralize as much as possible any risk of being blindsided by the democratic will. Nelson W. Aldrich Jr., writing of his grandfather, Senator Aldrich - one of the principal architects of the Federal Reserve System which had come into being while Inglis' cohort built the schools, and whose intent was much the same, to remove economic machinery from public interference - caught the attitude of the builders perfectly in his book Old Money. Grandfather, he writes, believed that history, evolution, and a saving grace found their best advocates in him and in men like him, in his family and in families like his, down to the close of time. But the price of his privilege, the senator knew, "was vigilance - vigilance, above all, against the resentment of those who never could emerge." Once in Paris, Senator Aldrich saw two men "of the middle or lower class," as he described them, drinking absinthe in a cafe. That evening back at his hotel he wrote these words: "As I looked upon their dull wild stupor I wondered what dreams were evolved from the depths of the bitter glass. Multiply that scene and you have the possibility of the wildest revolution or the most terrible outrages."
Alexander Inglis, author of Principles of Secondary Education, was of Aldrich's class. He wrote that the new schools were being expressly created to serve a command economy and command society, one in which the controlling coalition would be drawn from important institutional stakeholders in the future. According to Inglis, the first function of schooling is adjustive, establishing fixed habits of reaction to authority. This prepares the young to accept whatever management dictates when they are grown.
Second is the diagnostic function. School determines each student's "proper" social role, logging it mathematically on cumulative records to justify the next function, sorting. Individuals are to be trained only so far as their likely destination in the social machine, not one step beyond. Conformity is the fourth function. Kids are to be made alike, not from any passion for egalitarianism, but so future behavior will be predictable, in service to market and political research.
Next is the hygienic function. This has nothing to do with individual health, only the health of the "race." This is polite code for saying that school should accelerate Darwinian natural selection by tagging the unfit so clearly that they drop from the reproduction sweepstakes.
And last is the propadeutic function, a fancy word meaning that a small fraction of kids will slowly be trained to take over management of the system, guardians of a population deliberately dumbed down and rendered childlike in order that government and economic life can be managed with a minimum of hassle.
And there you have the formula: adjustment, diagnosis, sorting, conformity, racial hygiene, and continuity. This is the man after whom an honor lecture in education at Harvard is named. According to James Bryant Conant - another progressive aristocrat from whom I first learned of Inglis in a perfectly frightening book called The Child, the Parent, and the State (1949) - the school transformation had been ordered by "certain industrialists and the innovative who were altering the nature of the industrial process."
President of Harvard from 1933 to 1953, Conant himself is a school name that resonates through the central third of the twentieth century. His book, The American High School Today (1959), was one of the important springs that pushed secondary schools to gigantic size in the 1960s and forced consolidation of many small school districts into larger ones. His career began as a poison gas specialist in WWI, a task assigned only to young men whose family lineage could be trusted, with other notable way stations on his path being service in the secret atomic bomb project during WWII and a stint as US High Commissioner for Germany during the military occupation after 1945.
In his book Conant brusquely acknowledges that conversion of oldstyle American education into Prussian-style schooling was done as a coup de main, but his greater motive in 1959 was to speak directly to men and women of his own class who were beginning to believe the new school procedure might be unsuited to human needs, that experience dictated a return to older institutional pluralistic ways. No, Conant fairly shouts, the clock cannot be turned back! "Clearly, the total process is irreversible." Severe consequences would certainly follow the break-up of this carefully contrived behavioral-training machine: "A successful counter-revolution ... would require reorientation of a complex social pattern. Only a person bereft of reason would undertake [it]."
Reading Conant is like overhearing a private conversation not meant for you yet fraught with the greatest personal significance. To Conant, school was a triumph of Anglo/Germanic pragmatism, a pinnacle of the social technocrat's problem-solving art. One task it performed with brilliance was to sharply curtail the American entrepreneurial spirit, a mission undertaken on perfectly sensible grounds, at least from a management perspective. As long as capital investments were at the mercy of millions of self-reliant, resourceful young entrepreneurs running about with a gleam in their eye, who would commit the huge flows of capital needed to continually tool and retool the commercial/industrial/financial machine? As long as the entire population could become producers, young people were loose cannons crashing around a storm-tossed deck, threatening to destroy the corporate ship; confined, however, to employee status, they became suitable ballast upon which a dependable domestic market could be erected.
How to mute competition in the generation of tomorrow? That was the cutting-edge question. In his take-no-prisoners style, acquired mixing poison gas and building atomic bombs, Conant candidly tells us that the answer "was in the process of formulation" as early as the 1890s. By 1905 the nation obeyed this clarion call from coast to coast: "Keep all youth in school full time through grade twelve." All youth, including those most unwilling to be there and those certain to take vengeance on their jailers.
President Conant was quick to acknowledge that "practical-minded" kids paid a heavy price from enforced confinement. But there it was - nothing could be done. It was a worthy trade-off. I suspect he was being disingenuous. Any mind sophisticated enough to calculate a way to short-circuit entrepreneurial energy, and ideology-driven enough to be willing to do that in service to a corporate takeover of the economy, is shrewd enough also to have foreseen the destructive side effects of having an angry and tough-minded band of prisoners forced against its will to remain in school with the docile The net result on the intellectual possibilities of class instruction was near total wipe-out.
Did Conant understand the catastrophe he helped cause? I think he did. He, of course, would dispute my judgment that it was a catastrophe. One of his close friends was another highly placed school man, Ellwood P. Cubberley, the Stanford education dean. Cubberley had himself written about the blow to serious classwork caused early experiments in forcing universal school attendance. So it wasn't as if the destruction of academic integrity came as any surprise to insiders. Cubberley's house history of American education refers directly to this episode, although in somewhat elliptical prose. First published in 1919, it was republished in 1934, the year after Conant took office at Harvard. The two men talked and wrote to one another. Both knew the score. Yet for all his candor, it isn't hard to understand Conant's reticence about discussing this procedure. It's one thing to announce that children have to do involuntary duty for the State, quite another to describe the why and how of the matter in explicit detail.
Another prominent Harvard professor, Robert Ulich, wrote in his own book, Philosophy of Education (1961): "[We are producing] more and more people who will be dissatisfied because the artificially prolonged time of formal schooling will arouse in them hopes which society cannot fulfill.... These men and women will form the avant garde of the disgruntled. It is no exaggeration to say [people like these] were responsible for World War II."
Although Ulich is parroting Toynbee here, whose Study of History was a standard reference of speculative history for decades, the idea that serious intellectual schooling of a universal nature would be a sword pointed at established order has been common in the West since at least the Tudors, and one openly discussed from 1890 onwards.
Thus I was less surprised than I might have been to open Walter Kotschnig's Unemployment in the Leamed Professions (1937) - which I purchased from a college graduate down on his luck for 50 cents off a blanket on the street in front of Columbia University - to find myself listening to an argument attributing the rise of Nazism directly to the expansion of German university enrollment after WWI. For Germany, this had been a short-term solution to postwar unemployment, like the G.I. Bill, but according to Kotschnig, the policy created a mob of well-educated people with a chip on their shoulder because there was no work - a situation which led swiftly downhill for the Weimar Republic.
A whole new way to look at schooling from this management perspective emerges, a perspective which is the furthest thing from cynical. Of course there are implications for our contemporary situation. Much of our own 50 to 60 percent post-secondary college enrollment should be seen as a temporary solution to the otherwise awesome reality that two-thirds of all work in the US is now part-time or short-term employment. In a highly centralized corporate workplace becoming ever more so with no end in sight, all jobs are sucked like debris in a tornado into four hierarchical funnels of vast proportions: corporate, governmental, institutional, and professional. Once work is preempted in this monopoly fashion, fear of too many smart people is legitimate, hard to exaggerate. If you let people learn too much, they might kill you. Or so history and Senator Aldrich would have us believe.
Once privy to ideas like those entertained by Inglis, Conant, Ulich, and Kotschnig, most contemporary public school debate becomes nonsense. Without addressing philosophies and policies which sentence the largest part of our people to lives devoid of meaning, we might be better off not discussing school at all.
1. If you ever want to hunt this thing down, it bears the US Office of Education Contract Number OEC-0-9-320424-4042 (1310).
2. A fuller discussion of Bloom and the other documents mentioned here, plus much more, is available in the writings of Beverly Eakman, a Department of Justice employee, particularly her book The Cloning of the American Mind (Huntington House, 1998).
3. The discussion here is based on Regna Lee Wood's work as printed in Chester Finn and Diane Ravitch's Network News and Views (and reprinted many other places). Together with other statistical indictmentsfrom the National Adult Literacy Survey, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and a host of other credible sources-it provides chilling evidence of the disastrous turn in reading methodology. But in a larger sense the author urges every reader to trust personal judgment over "numerical" evidence, whatever the source. During the writer's 30-year classroom experience, the decline in student ability to comprehend difficult text was marked, while the ability to extract and parrot "information" in the form of "facts" was much less affected. This is a product of deliberate pedagogy, to what is the burden of my essay.
4. A particularly clear example of the dynamics hypothesized to cause the correlation can be found in Michael S. Brunner's monograph "Reduced Recidivism and Increased Employment Opportunity Through Research-Based Reading Instruction," United States Department of Justice (June 1992). Brunner's recent book, Retarding America (Halcyon House, 1993), written as a Visiting Fellow for the US Department of Justice, is recommended. A growing body of documentation causally ties illiteracy to violent crime. A study by Dennis Hogenson, "Reading Failure and Juvenile Delinquency" (Reading Reform Foundation), attempted to correlate teenage aggression with age, family size, numbers of parents present in home, rural versus urban environment, socioeconomic status, minority group member ship, and religious preference. None of these factors produced a significant correlation. But one did. As the author reports: "Only reading failure was found to correlate with aggression in both populations of delinquent boys." An organization of ex-prisoners testified before the Subcommittee on Education of the US Congress that in its opinion illiteracy was an important causative factor in crime, "for the illiterate have very few honest ways of making a living." In 1994 the US Department of Education acknowledged that two-thirds of all incarcerated criminals have poor literacy.
5. The reader will recall such a strategy was considered for Hester Prynne's child, Pearl, in Hawthorne's Scariet Letter. That Hawthorne, writing at mid-century, chose this as a hinge for his characterization of the fallen woman Hester is surely no coincidence.
6. Interestingly enough, several versions of this book exist - although no indication that this is so appears on the copyright page. In one of these versions, the familiar totalitarian symbols are much more pronounced than in the other.
7. A Harvard professor with a Teachers College Ph.D., Inglis descended from a long line of famous Anglicans. One of his ancestors, assistant Rector of Trinity Church when the Revolution began, in 1777 fled the onrushing Republic; another wrote a refutation of Tom Paine's Common Sense and was made the first Bishop of Nova Scotia in 1787; and a third, Sir John Inglis, commanded the British forces at Lucknow during the famous siege by the Sepoy mutineers in 1857. Is the Inglis bloodline germane to his work as a school pioneer? You'll have to decide that for yourself.
Back to the Gatto page