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Saturday, February 4, 2017

176. What Is Sanity?: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

What Is Sanity? 

What we today call the science of child development grew out of the ambition of G. 
Stanley Hall, Wundt's first assistant at Leipzig, Dewey's mentor at Hopkins, and a man 
with a titanic ego. Hall inserted the word "adolescence" into the American vocabulary in 
1904. If you wonder what happened to this class before they were so labeled, you can 
reflect on the experience of Washington, Franklin, Farragut, and Carnegie, who couldn't 
spare the time to be children any longer than necessary. Hall, a fantastic pitchman, laid 
the groundwork for a host of special disciplines from child development to mental 

Hall told all who listened that the education of the child was the most important task of 
the race, our primary mission, and the new science of psychology could swiftly transform 
the race into what it should be. Hall may never have done a single worthwhile scientific 
experiment in his life but he understood that Americans could be sold a sizzle without the 
steak. Thanks in large measure to Hall's trumpet, an edifice of child development rose 
out of the funding of psychological laboratories in the early 1900s during the famous Red 
Scare period. 

In 1924, the Child Welfare Institute opened at Teachers College, underwritten by the 
Rockefeller Foundation. Another was opened in 1927 at the University of California. 
Generous donations for the study of all phases of child growth and development poured 
into the hands of researchers from the largest foundations. Thirty- five years later, during 
what might be thought of as the nation's fourth Red Scare, the moment the Soviets beat 
America into space, the U.S. Education Office presided over a comprehensive infiltration 
of teacher training and schools." Judiciously applied funds and arm-twisting made certain 
these staging areas would pay proper attention to the psychological aspect of schooling. 

Dewey, Hall, Thorndike, Cattell, Goddard, Russell, and all the other intellectual step- 
children of Wundt and the homeless mind he stood for, set out to change the conception 
of what constitutes education. They got powerful assistance from great industrial 
foundations and their house universities like Teachers College. Under the direction of 
James Earl Russell, president (and head of the psychology department), Teachers College 
came to boast training where "psychology stands first." Wherever Columbia graduates 
went this view went with them. 

The brand-new profession of psychiatry flocked to the banner of this new philosophy of 
psychological indoctrination as a proper government activity, perhaps sensing that 
business and status could flow from the connection if it were authoritatively established. 
In 1927, Ralph Truitt, head of the then embryonic Division of Child Guidance Clinics for 
the Psychiatric Association, wrote that "the school should be the focus of the attack." 

The White House appeared in the picture like a guardian angel watching over the efforts 
this frail infant was making to stand. In 1930, twelve hundred child development 
"experts" were invited to the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, an 
event with no precedent. One primary focus of attendees was the role "failure" played as 
a principal source of children's problems. The echo of Rousseau was unmistakable. No 
attempt was made to examine how regularly prominent Americans like Washington or 
successful businessmen like Carnegie had surmounted early failure. Instead, a plan to 
eliminate failure structurally from formal schooling was considered and endorsed — 
failure could be eliminated if schools were converted into laboratories of life adjustment 
and intellectual standards were muted. 

By 1948, the concept of collective (as opposed to individual) mental health was 
introduced at an international meeting in Britain to discuss the use of schools as an 
instrument to promote mental health. But what was mental health? What did a fully sane 
man or woman look like? Out of this conference in the U.K. two psychiatrists, J.R. Rees 
and G. Brock Chisholm, leveraged a profitable new organization for themselves — the 
World Federation for Mental Health. It claimed expertise in preventative measures and 
pinpointed the training of children as the proper point of attack: 

The training of children is making a thousand neurotics for every one psychiatrists can 
hope to help with psychotherapy. 

Chisholm knew what caused the problem in childhood; he knew how to fix it, too: 

The only lowest common denominator of all civilizations and the only psychological 
force capable of producing these perversions is morality, the concept of right and wrong. 

Shakespeare and the Vikings had been right; there's nothing good or bad but thinking 
makes it so. Morality was the problem. With WWII behind us and everything adrift, a 
perfect opportunity to rebuild social life in school and elsewhere — on a new amoral, 
scientific logic — was presenting itself: 

We have swallowed all manner of poisonous certainties fed us by our parents, our 
Sunday and day school teachers, our politicians, our priests, our newspapers.... The 
results, the inevitable results, are frustration, inferiority, neurosis and inability to enjoy 
living.... If the race is to be freed from its crippling burden of good and evil it must be 
psychiatrists who take the original responsibility. 

Old Norse pragmatism, the philosophy most likely to succeed among upper-crust thinkers 
in the northeastern United States, was reasserting itself as global psychiatry. 

The next advance in pedagogy was the initiative of a newly formed governmental body, 
the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). In 1950, it arranged the White House 
Conference on Education to warn that a psychological time-bomb was ticking inside the 
schools. An epidemic of mental insufficiency was said to be loose among Americans, 
imperiling the advances that industry and the arts had given America. Barbarians were 
already through the gates and among us ! 

'The story of the BSTEP document and the Delphi Technique, two elements in this initiative, is told in 
Beverly Eakman's Educating for the New World Order, by a former Department of Justice employee. The 
book offers an accessible, if somewhat breathless, passage into the shadow world of intrigue and corporate 
shenanigans behind the scenes of schooling. Also worth a look (and better edited) is Eakman's Cloning of 
the American Mind. Whatever you think of her research, Miss Eakman rums over some rocks you will find 

Bending The Student To Reality 

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