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Friday, February 3, 2017

175. Napoleon Of Mind Science: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Napoleon Of Mind Science 

William James wrote in 1879: 

[Wundt] aims on being a Napoleon.... Unfortunately he will never have a Waterloo. ...cut 
him up like a worm and each fragment crawls. ...you can't kill him. 

From his laboratory in upper Saxony near the Prussian border, Wundt wrote 53,735 
published pages in the sixty-eight years between 1853 and 1920, words which sculpted 
modern schooling, from a disorderly attempt to heighten human promise in individuals or 
to glorify God's creation, into mandated psychological indoctrination. 

Wundt's childhood was unrelieved by fun. He never played. He had no friends. He failed 
to find love in his family. From this austere forge, a Ph.D. emerged humorless, 



indefatigable, and aggressive. At his end he returned to the earth childless. Wundt is the 
senior psychologist in the history of psychology, says Boring: "Before him there was 
psychology but no psychologists, only philosophers." 

Coming out of the physiological tradition of psychophysics in Germany, Wundt followed 
the path of de La Mettrie, Condillac, and Descartes in France who argued, each in his 
own way, that what we think of as personality is only a collection of physiological facts. 
Humanity is an illusion. 

Wundt had a huge advantage over the mechanists before him. For him the time was right, 
all religious and romantic opposition in disarray, bewildered by the rapid onset of 
machinery into society. Over in England, Darwin's brilliant cousin Francis Galton was 
vigorously promoting mathematical prediction into the status of a successful cult. In one 
short decade, bastions of a more ancient scholarly edifice were overrun by number 
crunchers. A bleak future suddenly loomed for men who remained unconvinced that any 
transcendental power was locked up in quantification of nature and humankind. 

The Pythagorean brotherhood was reseating itself inexorably in this great age of Wundt, 
the two in harmony as both contributed heavily to the centralization of things and to the 
tidal wave of scientific racism which drowned the university world for decades, 
culminating in the racial science station maintained on the old Astor estate in Cold Spring 
Harbor, Long Island, by Carnegie interests until the events of September 1939, caused it 
to quietly close its doors. 12 Even at the beginning of the marriage of scholarship and 
statistics, its principals saw little need to broaden their investigations into real life, an 
ominous foreshadowing of the eugenical outlook that followed. 

A friendless, loveless, childless male German calling himself a psychologist set out, I 
think, to prove his human condition didn't matter because feelings were only an 
aberration. His premises and methodology were imported into an expanding American 
system of child confinement and through that system disseminated to administrators, 
teachers, counselors, collegians, and the national consciousness. 

As Germany became the intellectuals' darling of the moment at the end of the nineteenth 
century, a long-dead German philosopher, Kant's successor at the University of Berlin, 
Johann Herbart, enjoyed a vogue in school-intoxicated America. "Herbartianism" is 
probably the first of a long line of pseudoscientific enthusiasms to sweep the halls of 
pedagogy. A good German, Herbart laid out with precision the famous Herbartian Five- 
Step Program, not a dance but a psychologized teacher training program. By 1895, there 
was a National Herbartian Society to spread the good news, enrolling the likes of 
Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia and John Dewey. Herbart was finally laid to rest 
sometime before WWI when Dewey's interest cooled, but his passage was a harbinger of 
many Herbart-oid enthusiasms to follow as a regular procession of educational gurus rose 
and fell with the fashion of the moment. The Moorish dance of scientific pedagogy 
accelerated its tempo relentlessly, and arms, legs, heads, perspiration, cries of venereal 
delight, and some anguish, too, mingled in the hypnotic whirl of laboratory dervishes. By 
1910, Dewey was substituting his own five steps for Herbart's in a book called How We 



Think. Few who read it noticed that a case was being made that we don't actually think at 
all. Thinking was only an elusive kind of problem-solving behavior, called into being by 
dedicated activity; otherwise we are mindless. 



l2 America's academic romance with scientific racism, which led directly to mass sterilization experiments 
in this country, has been widely studied in Europe but is still little known even among the college-trained 
population here. An entire study can be made of the penetration of this notion — that the makeup of the 
species is and ought to be controllable by an elite — into every aspect of American school where it remains 
to this day. I would urge any reader with time and inclination to explore this matter to get Daniel J. Kevles' 
In The Name of Eugenics where a thorough account and a thorough source bibliography are set down. This 
essay offers a disturbing discussion which should open your eyes to how ideas flow through modem 
society and inevitably are translated into schooling. Dr. Kevles is on the history faculty at California 
Institute of Technology. 

Oddly enough, on December 11, 1998, the New York Times front page carried news that an organization in 
Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, had deciphered the full genetic code of a microscopic round worm, a 
landmark achievement. The president of the National Academy of Sciences is quoted as saying, "In the last 
10 years we have come to realize humans are more like worms than we ever imagined." Whether the Cold 
Spring Harbor facility which announced this has any connection with the former racial science station, I do 
not know. 

What Is Sanity? 

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