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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

173.To Abolish Thinking: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

To Abolish Thinking 

Dewey's Experimentalism 10 represented a new faith which was swallowed whole in 
Watson's behaviorism. According to Childs, the unavowed aim of the triumphant 
psychology was "to abolish thinking, at least for the many; for if thinking were possible 
the few could do it for the rest." For Dewey as for the behaviorists, the notion of purpose 
was peculiarly suspect since the concept of conditioning seemed to obsolete the more 
romantic term. A psychological science born of physics was sufficient to explain 
everything. The only Utopia behaviorism allowed was one in which the gathering of facts, 
statistical processing, and action based on research was allowed. 

It is tempting to bash (or worship) Dewey for high crimes (or high saintliness), depending 
on one's politics, but a greater insight into the larger social process at work can be gained 
by considering him as an emblem of a new class of hired gun in America, the university 
intellectual whose prominence comes from a supposed independence and purity of 
motives but who simultaneously exists (most often unwittingly) as protege, mouthpiece, 
and disguise for more powerful wills than his own. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew 
Brzezinski are prime examples of the type in our own day. 

Dewey was determined his experimental subjects would be brought to actively participate 
in the ongoing experiments, not necessarily with their knowledge. All education was 
aimed at directing the responses of children. Orwell is really satirizing Deweyists and 
Fabians in his post- WWII dystopian nightmare, 1984, when Winston Smith's execution 
is delayed until he can be brought to denounce the people he loves and to transfer his love 

to Big Brother. In Dewey's world this is only bringing Smith into active participation. 
That it is in his own degradation is final proof that private purposes have been 
surrendered and the conditioning is complete. 

"[We] reject completely the hypothesis of choice. We consider the traditional doctrine of 
'free-will' to be both intellectually untenable and practically undesirable," is the way 
Childs translates Dewey. The new systems theorists, experimentalists, and behaviorists 
are all Wundt's children in regarding human life as a mechanical phenomenon." But they 
are polemicists, too. Notice Childs' hint that even if free will were intellectually tenable, 
it would only cause trouble. 

l0 The best evidence of how intensely the Zeitgeist worked on Dewey is found in the many mutations hisphilosophy underwent. After an early 
flirtation with phrenology, Dewey became a leader of the Young Hegelians while William Torrey Harris, the Hegelian, presided over the 
Federal Department of Education, then for a brief time was a fellow traveler with the Young Herbartians when that was voguish at Columbia 
Teachers. Soon, however, we find him standing in line of descent from Pierce and James as a pragmatist. Thereafter he launched 
Instrumentalism (crashed) and Experimentalism (crashed). And there were other attempts to build a movement. 

His long career is marked by confusion, vaunting ambition, and suspicious alliances with industrialists which earned him bitter enmity from his 
one-time acolyte, the brilliant radical Randolph Bourne. In retaliation against Bourne's criticism, Dewey destroyed Bourne's writing career by 
foreclosing his access to publication under threat that Dewey himself would not write for any magazine that carried Bourne's work! 

1 'The bleak notion of mechanism first appears unmistakably in recorded Western history in the Old Norse Religion as the theology of ancient 
Scandinavia is sometimes called. It is the only known major religion to have no ethical code other than pragmatism. What works is right. In 
Old Norse thinking, nothing was immortal, neither man nor gods; both were mere accidental conjunctions of heat and cold at the beginning of 
time — and they are destined to pass back into that state in an endless round. 

Old Norse establishes itself in England after the Norman Conquest, locating its brain center at Cambridge, particularly at College Emmanuel 
from which the Puritan colonization of New England was conceived, launched, and sustained. Old Norse was slowly scientized into rational 
religion (various unitarian colorations) over centuries. It transmuted into politics as well, particularly the form known in England and America 
as Whig. An amusing clue to that is found in the history of the brilliant Whig family of Russell which produced Bertrand and many more 
prominent names — the Russells trace their ancestry back to Thor. 

Understanding the characteristics of the Old Norse outlook in its rampant experimentalism and pragmatic nature allows us to see the road the 
five thousand year old civilization of China was put upon by its "New Thought Tide," and to understand how the relentlessly unsentimental 
caste system of Old Norse history could lead to this astonishing admission in 1908 at a National Education Association national convention: 

How can a nation endure that deliberately seeks to rouse ambitions and aspirations in the oncoming generations which... cannot possibly be 
fulfilled?. ...How can we justify our practice in schooling the masses in precisely the same manner as we do those who are to be leaders? Is 
human nature so constituted that those who fail will readily acquiesce in the success of their rivals? 

The speaker was a Russell, James Russell, dean of Columbia Teachers College. No pussy-footing there. 

The Old Norse character, despising the poor and the common, passes undiluted through Malthus' famous essay (Second edition, 1803), in 
which he argues that famine, plague, and "other forms of destruction" should be visited on the poor. "In our towns we should make the streets 
narrower, crowd more people into the houses and court the return of the plague." No pussy-footing there, either. Over a century later in Woman 
and the New Race (1920), Margaret Sanger wrote, "the most merciful thing a large family can do to one of its infant members is to kill it." 
Great Britain's Prince Philip said that if he were reincarnated he would wish to return as "a killer virus to lower human population levels." 
Even the kindly oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau , writing in the UNESCO Courier, (November 1991) said "we must eliminate 350,000 
people per day.. .This is so horrible to contemplate that we shouldn't even say it. But the general situation. ..is lamentable." The eugenic 
implications of this prescription go unremarked by Cousteau. Suppose you were among the inner circle of global policymakers and you shared 
these attitudes? Might you not work to realize them in the long-range management of children through curriculum, testing, and the procedural 
architectonics of schooling? 


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