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An American Affidavit

Monday, June 22, 2015

93. The Technology Of Subjection: The Underground History of Amercian Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Technology Of Subjection 

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 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, on 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 and 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, 1 82 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 out 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, while in Britain, had had a shocking 
experience in English class snobbery 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 table tops at home, portraits, tapestries, giant gold-frame mirrors. 
The ballroom in the Bulfmch 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 stratified 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 nonexperience 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!" 
(emphasis added) 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 teaching 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 and a systematic curriculum, just as 
the Prussians had. Mann fervently implored the board to accept his prescription... while 
there was still time! The note of hysteria is a drum roll sounding throughout Mann's 

entire career; together with the vilification of his opponents, it constitutes much of 
Mann's spiritual signature. 

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 vehicle for 
propaganda 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 nonbook 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." Thus was framed a 
profound conflict between the old world of the Puritans and the new psychological 
strategy of the Germans. 

The German/American Reichsbank 

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