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Thursday, December 1, 2016

116. An Everlasting Faith: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

An Everlasting Faith 

Fabianism was a principal force and inspiration behind all major school legislation of the 
first half of the twentieth century. And it will doubtless continue to be in the twenty- first. 
It will help us understand Fabian influence to look at the first Fabian-authored 
consideration of public schooling, the most talked-about education book of 1900, Thomas 
Davidson's peculiar and fantastic History of Education. 

The Dictionary of American Biography describes Davidson as a naturalized Scot, 
American since 1867, and a follower of William Torrey Harris, federal Commissioner of 
Education — the most influential Hegelian in North America. Davidson was also first 
president of the Fabian Society in England, a fact not thought worthy of preservation in 
the biographical dictionary, but otherwise easy enough to confirm. This news is also 
absent from Pelling's America and The British Left, although Davidson is credited there 
with "usurping" the Fabians. 

In his important monograph "Education in the Forming of American Society," Bernard 
Bailyn, as you'll recall, said anyone bold enough to venture a history of American 
schooling would have to explain the sharp disjunction separating these local institutions 
as they existed from 1620 to 1890 from the massification which followed afterwards. In 
presenting his case, Bailyn had cause to compare "two notable books" on the subject 
which both appeared in 1900. One was Davidson's, the other Edward Eggleston's. 

Eggleston's Transit of Civilization Bailyn calls "a remarkably imaginative effort to 
analyze the original investment from which has developed Anglo-Saxon culture in 
America by probing the complex states of knowing and thinking, of feeling and passion 
of the seventeenth century colonists." The opening words of Eggleston's book, said 
Bailyn, make clear the central position of education in early America. Bailyn calls 
Transit "one of the subtlest and most original books ever written on the subject" and "a 
seminal work," but he notes how quickly it was "laid aside by American intelligentsia as 
an oddity, irrelevant to the interests of the group then firmly shaping the historical study 
of American education." 

For that group, the book of books was Davidson's History of Education. William James 
called its author a "knight-errant of the intellectual life," an "exuberant polymath." Bailyn 
agrees that Davidson's "was a remarkable book": 

Davidson starts with "The Rise of Intelligence" when "man first rose above the brute." 
Then he trots briskly through "ancient Turanian," Semitic, and Aryan education, picks up 
speed on "civic education" in Judaea, Greece, and Rome, gallops swiftly across 
Hellenistic, Alexandrian, Patristic, and Muslim education; leaps magnificently over the 
thorny barriers of scholasticism, the mediaeval universities, Renaissance, Reformation, 
and Counter-Reformation, and then plunges wildly through the remaining five centuries 
in sixty- four pages flat. 

It was less the frantic scope than the purpose of this strange philosophical essay that 
distinguished it in the eyes of an influential group of writers. Its purpose was to dignify a 
newly self-conscious profession called Education. Its argument, a heady distillation of 
conclusions from Social Darwinism, claimed that modern education was a cosmic force 
leading mankind to full realization of itself. Davidson's preface puts the intellectual core 
of Fabianism on center stage: 

My endeavor has been to present education as the last and highest form of evolution.... 
By placing education in relation to the whole process of evolution, as its highest form, I 
have hoped to impart to it a dignity which it could hardly otherwise receive or 
claim... when it is recognized to be the highest phase of the world-process. "World 
process" here is an echo of Kant and Hegel, and for the teacher to be the chief agent in 
that process, both it and he assumes a very different aspect. 

Here is the intellectual and emotional antecedent of "creation spirituality," Pierre Teilhard 
de Chardin's assertion that evolution has become a spiritual inevitability in our time. 

Suddenly mere schooling found itself elevated from its petty, despised position on the 
periphery of the known universe into an intimate involvement in the cosmic destiny of 
man, a master key too important to be left to parents. By 1906, Paul Monroe of Teachers 
College could write in his Text-book in the History of Education that knowledge of the 
"purpose of education" was to supply the teacher with "fundamentals of an everlasting 
faith as broad as human nature and as deep as the life of the race." 

This History of Education, according to Bailyn, "came to be taught as an introductory 
course, a form of initiation, in every normal school, department of education, and 
teachers college in the country": 

The story had to be got straight. And so a few of the more imaginative of that energetic 
and able group of men concerned with mapping overall progress of "scientific" education, 
though not otherwise historians, took over the management of the historical work in 
education. With great virtuosity they drew up what became the patristic literature of a 
powerful academic ecclesia. 

The official history of education: 

grew in almost total isolation from the major influences and shaping minds of twentieth- 
century historiography; and its isolation proved to be self-intensifying: the more 
parochial the subject became, the less capable it was of attracting the kinds of scholars 
who could give it broad relevance and bring it back into the public domain. It soon 
displayed the exaggeration of weakness and extravagance of emphasis that are the typical 
results of sustained inbreeding. 

These "educational missionaries" spoke of schools as if they were monasteries. By 
limiting the idea of education to formal school instruction, the public gradually lost sight 
of what the real thing was. The questions these specialists disputed were as irrelevant to 
real people as the disputes of medieval divines; there was about their writing a 
condescension for public concerns, for them "the whole range of education had become 
an instrument of deliberate social purpose." (emphasis added) After 1910, divergence 
between what various publics expected would happen, in government schools and what 
the rapidly expanding school establishment intended to make happen opened a deep gulf 
between home and school, ordinary citizen and policymaker. 

Regulating Lives Like Machinery 

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