Wednesday, April 22, 2015
11. No Limit To Pain For Those Who Allow It: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org
No Limit To Pain For Those Who Allow It
One of the most telling accounts of schooling ever penned comes directly from the lips of
a legendary power broker, Colonel Edward Mandel House, one of these grand shadowy
figures in American history. House had a great deal to do with America's entry into WWI
as a deliberate project to seize German markets in chemicals, armor plate and shipping,
an aspect of our bellicosity rarely mentioned in scholastic histories. When peace came,
House's behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the League of Nations contributed to
repudiation of the organization. His management of President Wilson led to persistent
stories that Wilson was little more than a puppet of the Colonel.
In his memoirs, The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, we get a glimpse of elite
American schooling in the 1870s. House's early years were school-free. He grew up after
the Civil War, near Houston, Texas:
My brother James, six years older than I, was the leader.. ..We all had guns and pistols...
there were no childish games excepting those connected with war. [House was nine at the
time.] In the evening around the fireside there were told tales of daring deeds that we
strove to emulate.... I cannot remember the time when I began to ride and to shoot.... I
had many narrow escapes. Twice I came near killing one of my playmates in the reckless
use of firearms. They were our toys and death our playmate.
At the age of fourteen House was sent to school in Virginia. The cruelty of the other boys
made an indelible impression on his character, as you can sift from this account:
I made up my mind at the second attempt to haze me that I would not permit it. I not only
had a pistol but a large knife, and with these I held the larger, rougher boys at bay. There
was no limit to the lengths they would go in hazing those who would allow it. One form I
recall was that of going through the pretense of hanging. They would tie a boy's hands
behind him and string him up by the neck over a limb until he grew purple in the face.
None of it, however, fell to me. What was done to those who permitted it is almost
At the Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven at the age of seventeen, during the
Hayes-Tilden campaign of 1876, House began to "hang around" political offices instead
of "attending to studies." He came to be recognized and was given small privileges.
When the election had to be ultimately settled by an Electoral Commission he was
allowed to "slip in and out of hearings at will." House again:
All this was educational in its way, though not the education I was placed in Hopkins
Grammar School to get, and it is no wonder that I lagged at the end of my class. I had no
interest in desk tasks, but I read much and was learning in a larger and more interesting
House's story was written over and over in the short, glorious history of American
education before schooling took over. Young Americans were allowed close to the
mechanism of things. This rough and tumble practice kept social class elastic and
American achievement in every practical field superb.
The Art Of Driving