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Monday, November 28, 2016

113. The National Press Attack On Academic Schooling: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The National Press Attack On Academic Schooling 

In May of 191 1, the first salvo of a sustained national press attack on the academic 
ambitions of public schooling was fired. For the previous ten years the idea of school as 
an oasis of mental development built around a common, high-level curriculum had been 
steadily undermined by the rise of educational psychology and its empty-child/elastic- 
child hypotheses. Psychology was a business from the first, an aggressive business 
lobbying for jobs and school contracts. But resistance of parents, community groups, and 
students themselves to the new psychologized schooling was formidable. 

As the summer of 191 1 approached, the influential Educational Review gave educators 
something grim to muse upon as they prepared to clean out their desks: "Must definite 
reforms with measurable results be foresworn," it asked, "that an antiquated school 
system may grind out useless produce?" The magazine demanded quantifiable proof of 
school's contributions to society — or education should have its budget cut. The article, 
titled "An Economic Measure of School Efficiency," charged that "The advocate of pure 
water or clean streets shows by how much the death rate will be altered with each 
proposed addition to his share of the budget — only a teacher is without such figures." An 
editorial in Ladies Home Journal reported that dissatisfaction with schools was 



increasing, claiming "On every hand signs are evident of a widely growing distrust of the 
effectiveness of the present educational system..." In Providence, the school board was 
criticized by the local press for declaring a holiday on the Monday preceding Decoration 
Day to allow a four-day vacation. "This cost the public $5,000 in loss of possible returns 
on the money invested," readers were informed. 

Suddenly school critics were everywhere. A major assault was mounted in two popular 
journals, Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal, with millions each in 
circulation, both read by leaders of the middle classes. The Post sounded the anti- 
intellectual theme this way: 

"Miltonized, Chaucerized, Vergilized, Shillered, physicked and chemicaled, the high 
school.... should be of no use in the world — particularly the business world." 

Three heavy punches in succession came from Ladies Home Journal: "The case of 
Seventeen Million Children — Is Our Public-School System Providing an Utter Failure?" 
This declaration would seem difficult to top, but the second article did just that: "Is the 
Public School a Failure? It Is: The Most Momentous Failure in Our American Life 
Today." And a third, written by the principal of a New York City high school, went even 
further. Entitled "The Danger of Running a Fool Factory," it made this point: that 
education is "permeated with errors and hypocrisy," while the Dean of Columbia 
Teachers College, James E. Russell added that "If school cannot be made to drop its 
mental development obsession the whole system should be abolished." [emphasis mine] 

The Fabian Spirit 

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