[Paleopsych] The Memory Hole > The Educational System Was Designed to Keep Us Uneducated and Docile

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The Educational System Was Designed to Keep Us Uneducated and Docile

[This kind of reasoning is a bit too functionalist for me. But surely, 
automatons are not what is needed in the work force in the future.]

     It's no secret that the US educational system doesn't do a very good
    job. Like clockwork, studies show that America's schoolkids lag behind
       their peers in pretty much every industrialized nation. We hear
     shocking statistics about the percentage of high-school seniors who
     can't find the US on an unmarked map of the world or who don't know
                           who Abraham Lincoln was.

           Fingers are pointed at various aspects of the schooling
     system--overcrowded classrooms, lack of funding, teachers who can't
        pass competency exams in their fields, etc. But these are just
    secondary problems. Even if they were cleared up, schools would still
                  suck. Why? Because they were designed to.

      How can I make such a bold statement? How do I know why America's
    public school system was designed the way it was (age-segregated, six
      to eight 50-minute classes in a row announced by Pavlovian bells,
    emphasis on rote memorization, lorded over by unquestionable authority
    figures, etc.)? Because the men who designed, funded, and implemented
    America's formal educational system in the late 1800s and early 1900s
                      wrote about what they were doing.

    Almost all of these books, articles, and reports are out of print and
     hard to obtain. Luckily for us, John Taylor Gatto tracked them down.
    Gatto was voted the New York City Teacher of the Year three times and
        the New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. But he became
     disillusioned with schools--the way they enforce conformity, the way
        they kill the natural creativity, inquisitiveness, and love of
    learning that every little child has at the beginning. So he began to
     dig into terra incognita, the roots of America's educational system.

     In 1888, the Senate Committee on Education was getting jittery about
    the localized, non-standardized, non-mandatory form of education that
        was actually teaching children to read at advanced levels, to
         comprehend history, and, egads, to think for themselves. The
     committee's report stated, "We believe that education is one of the
    principal causes of discontent of late years manifesting itself among
                            the laboring classes."

    By the turn of the century, America's new educrats were pushing a new
      form of schooling with a new mission (and it wasn't to teach). The
          famous philosopher and educator John Dewey wrote in 1897:

      Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for
      the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the
      right social growth.

        In his 1905 dissertation for Columbia Teachers College, Elwood
    Cubberly--the future Dean of Education at Stanford--wrote that schools
    should 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

       The next year, the Rockefeller Education Board--which funded the
    creation of numerous public schools--issued a statement which read in

      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.

    At the same time, William Torrey Harris, US Commissioner of Education
                          from 1889 to 1906, wrote:

      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

    In that same book, The Philosophy of Education, Harris also revealed:

      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.

        Several years later, President Woodrow Wilson would echo these
                    sentiments in a speech to businessmen:

      We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another
      class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the
      privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform
      specific difficult manual tasks.

     Writes Gatto: "Another major architect of standardized testing, H.H.
      Goddard, said in his book Human Efficiency (1920) that government
         schooling was about 'the perfect organization of the hive.'"

      While President of Harvard from 1933 to 1953, James Bryant Conant
        wrote that the change to a forced, rigid, potential-destroying
     educational system had been demanded by "certain industrialists and
        the innovative who were altering the nature of the industrial

      In other words, the captains of industry and government explicitly
       wanted an educational system that would maintain social order by
      teaching us just enough to get by but not enough so that we could
    think for ourselves, question the sociopolitical order, or communicate
    articulately. We were to become good worker-drones, with a razor-thin
       slice of the population--mainly the children of the captains of
        industry and government--to rise to the level where they could
                           continue running things.

       This was the openly admitted blueprint for the public schooling
    system, a blueprint which remains unchanged to this day. Although the
       true reasons behind it aren't often publicly expressed, they're
    apparently still known within education circles. Clinical psychologist
                        Bruce E. Levine wrote in 2001:

      I once consulted with a teacher of an extremely bright
      eight-year-old boy labeled with oppositional defiant disorder. I
      suggested that perhaps the boy didn't have a disease, but was just
      bored. His teacher, a pleasant woman, agreed with me. However, she
      added, "They told us at the state conference that our job is to get
      them ready for the work world...that the children have to get used
      to not being stimulated all the time or they will lose their jobs
      in the real world."

        John Taylor Gatto's book, The Underground History of American
       Education: An Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern
     Schooling (New York: Oxford Village Press, 2001), is the source for
      all of the above historical quotes. It is a profoundly important,
     unnerving book, which I recommend most highly. You can order it from
      [2]Gatto's Website, which also contains the first half of the book
                               online for free.

     The final quote above is from page 74 of Bruce E. Levine's excellent
    book Commonsense Rebellion: Debunking Psychiatry, Confronting Society
                (New York: Continuum Publishing Group, 2001).

               posted 17 July 2003


    2. http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/

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