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Monday, January 23, 2017

164. Emptiness: The Master Theory: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Emptiness: The Master Theory 

Conceptions of emptiness to be filled as the foundation metaphor of schooling are not 
confined to hollowness and plasticity, but also include theories of mechanism. De La 
Mettrie's 2 Man a Machine vision from the Enlightenment, for instance, is evidence of an 



idea regularly recurring for millennia. If we are mechanisms, we must be predetermined, 
as Calvin said. Then the whole notion of "Education" is nonsensical. There is no 
independent inner essence to be drawn forth and developed. Only adjustments are 
possible, and if the contraption doesn't work right, it should be junked. Everything 
important about machinery is superficial. 

This notion of machine emptiness has been the master theory of human nature since the 
beginning of the nineteenth century. It still takes turns in curriculum formation with 
theories of vegetable emptiness, plastic emptiness, systems emptiness and, from time to 
time, some good old-fashioned Lockean blank sheet emptiness. Nobody writes 
curriculum for self-determined spiritual individuals and expects to sell it in the public 
school market. 

This hardline empiricism descends to us most directly from Locke and Hume, who both 
said Mind lacks capacities and powers of its own. It has no innate contents. Everything 
etched there comes from simple sense impressions mixed and compounded. This chilly 
notion was greatly refined by the French ideologues^ who thought the world so orderly 
and mechanical, the future course of history could be predicted on the basis of the 
position and velocity of molecules. For these men, the importance of human agency 
vanished entirely. With Napoleon, these ideas were given global reach a few years later. 
So seductive is this mechanical worldview it has proven itself immune to damage by facts 
which contradict it. 4 



2 Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751) was theearliest of the materialistic writers of the Enlightenment.His conclusion that religious thought 
was a physical disorder akin to fever forced him to flee France. In the middle of the eighteenth century his two master works, Man a Machine 
and Man a Plant, stated principles which are self-evident from the titles. The ethics of these principles are worked out in later essays. The 
purpose of life is to pleasure the senses, virtue is measured by self-love, the hope of the world lies in the spread of atheism. De La Mettrie was 
compelled to flee the Netherlands and accept the protection of Frederick of Prussia in 1748. The chief authority for his life is an eulogy entitled 
"The Elegy," written by Frederick II himself. 

3 Ideologue is a term coined by Antoine Destuit de Tracy around 1 790 to describe those empiricists and rationalists concerned to establish a new 
order in the intellectual realm, eradicating the influence of religion, replacing it with universal education as the premier solution to the problem 
of reforming human shortcomings. They believed that Hume's rationalized morality (after the methods of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and 
astronomy) was the best way to accomplish this. 

For instance, the serious problems encountered by mechanists in the nineteenth century when develop- 
ments in electricity revealed a cornucopia of nonmechanical, nongravitational forces and entities which eroded the classical conception of 
matter. In optics, the work of Young and Fresnel on diffraction and refraction made Newton's particle theory of light untenable, yet it was still 
being taught in senior physics at Uniontown High School when I got there in the 1950s. The earth might move, but human nature only accepts 
the move when it suits human purposes. 

A Metaphysical Commitment 

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