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Thursday, February 2, 2017

174.Wundt!: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org


The great energy that drives modern schooling owes much to a current of influence 
arising out of the psychology laboratory of Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig 

in Saxony. With a stream of international assistants, Wundt set out to examine how the 
human machine was best adjusted. By 1880, he laid the basis for Pavlov's work and the 
work of Watson in America, for the medical procedure of lobotomy, for electroshock 
therapy, and for the scientific view that school was a ground for social training, 
"socialization" in John Dewey's terminology. 

Among Wundt's principal assistants was the flamboyant American, G. Stanley Hall, who 
organized the psychology lab at Johns Hopkins in 1887, established the American 
Journal of Psychology, and saw to it that Sigmund Freud was brought to America for a 
debut here. Stanley Hall's own star pupil at Hopkins was the Vermonter, John Dewey. 
Wundt's first assistant, James McKeen Cattell, was also an American, eventually the 
patron saint of psychological testing here. He was also the chief promoter of something 
called "the sight-reading method," the dreadful fallout from which helped change the 
direction of American society. Cattell was the first "Professor of Psychology" so titled in 
all the world, reigning at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1894, he founded The 
Psychological Review. Over the next twenty- five years, he trained 344 doctoral 
candidates. In these stories and many others like them, the influence of Wundt and 
Prussia multiplied. Cattell later created the reference books Leaders in Education, 
American Men of Science, and The Directory of American Scholars and, for good 
measure, founded Popular Science, all of which boosted the stock of the infant discipline. 

Other Wundtian Ph.D.s in the United States included James Baldwin who set up the 
psych lab at Princeton, Andrew Armstrong who did the same at Wesleyan, Charles Judd 
who became director of education at the University of Chicago, and James Earl Russell, 
president of Teachers College at Columbia. There were many others. 

Russell's Teachers College, the Rockefeller-sponsored, Prussian-inspired seminary on 
120th Street in New York City, had a long reign dominating American pedagogy. By 
1950, it had processed an unbelievable one-third of all presidents of teacher-training 
institutions, one-fifth of all American public schoolteachers, one-quarter of all 
superintendents. Thus the influence of Prussian thought dominated American school 
policy at a high level by 1914, and the Prussian tincture was virtually universal by 1930. 

Some parts of the country were more resistant to the dumbing down of curriculum and 
the psychosocializing of the classroom than others, but by a process of attrition 
Prussianization gained important beachheads year by year — through private foundation 
projects, textbook publishing, supervisory associations, and on through every aspect of 
school. The psychological manipulation of the child suggested by Plato had been 
investigated by Locke, raised to clinical status by Rousseau, refined into materialist 
method by Helvetius and Herbart, justified philosophically as the essential religion by 
Comte, and scientized by Wundt. One does not educate machines, one adjusts them. 

The peculiar undertaking of educational psychology was begun by Edward Thorndike of 
Teachers College in 1903. Thorndike, whose once famous puzzle box became the 
Skinner box of later behavioral psychology after minor modifications, was the protege of 

Wundtians Judd and Armstrong at Wesleyan, taking his Ph.D. under Wundtian Cattell 
before being offered a post by Wundtian Russell at Teachers College. 

According to Thorndike, the aim of a teacher is to "produce and prevent certain 
responses," and the purpose of education is to promote "adjustment." In Elementary 
Principles of Education (1929), he urged the deconstruction of emphasis on "intellectual 
resources" for the young, advice that was largely taken. It was bad advice in light of 
modern brain research suggesting direct ties between the size and complexity of the brain 
and strenuous thought grappled with early on. 

Thorndike said intelligence was virtually set at birth — real change was impossible — a 
scientific pronouncement which helped to justify putting the brakes on ambitious 
curricula. But in the vitally important behavioral area — in beliefs, attitudes, and 
loyalties — Thorndike did not disappoint the empty-child crowd. In those areas so 
important to corporate and government health, children were to be as malleable as anyone 
could want them. An early ranking of school kids by intelligence would allow them to be 
separated into tracks for behavioral processing. Thorndike soon became a driving force in 
the growth of national testing, a new institution which would have consigned Benjamin 
Franklin and Andrew Carnegie to reform school and Edison to Special Education. Even 
before we got the actual test, Thorndike became a significant political ally of the 
semicovert sterilization campaign taking place in America. 

That pioneering eugenic program seemed socially beneficial to those casually aware of it, 
and it was enthusiastically championed by some genuine American legends like Oliver 
Wendell Holmes Jr. But if you find yourself nodding in agreement that morons have no 
business with babies, you might want to consider that according to Thorndike's fellow 
psychologist H.H. Goddard at Princeton, 83 percent of all Jews and 79 percent of all 
Italians were in the mental defective class. The real difficulty with scientific psychology 
or other scientific social science is that it seems to be able to produce proof of anything 
on command, convincing proof, too, delivered by sincere men and women just trying to 
get along by going along. 

Napoleon Of Mind Science 

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