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Monday, February 6, 2017

177. Bending The Student To Reality: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Bending The Student To Reality 

Twice before, attempts had been made to tell the story of an Armageddon ahead if the 
government penny-pinched on the funding of psychological services. First was the great 
feeble-mindedness panic which preceded and spanned the WWI period, word was spread 
from academic centers that feeble-mindedness was rampant among Americans. 

The "moron!" "imbecile!" and "idiot!" insults which ricocheted around my elementary 
school in the early 1940s were one legacy of this premature marketing campaign. During 
WWII, this drive to convince keepers of the purse that the general population was a body 
needing permanent care was helped powerfully by a diffusion of British psychological 
warfare bureau reports stating that the majority of common British soldiers were mentally 
deficient. Now that notion (and its implied corrective, buying protection from 
psychologists) made inroads on American managerial consciousness, producing monies 
to further study the retarded contingent among us. 

Reading the text "Proceedings of the Mid-Century White House Conference on Children 
and Youth," we learn that school has "responsibility to detect mental disabilities which 
have escaped parental or pre-school observation." Another huge duty it had was the need 
to "initiate all necessary health services through various agencies." Still another, to 
provide "counseling services for all individuals at all age levels." 

The classic line in the entire massive document is, "Not only does the child need to be 
treated but those around him also need help." A hospital society was needed to care for 



all the morons, idiots, and mental defectives science had discovered lurking among the 
sane. It would need school as its diagnostic clinic and principal referral service. Western 
religious teaching — that nobody can escape personal responsibility — was chased from the 
field by Wundt's minimalist outlook on human nature as mechanism. A complex process 
was then set in motion which could not fail to need forced instruction to complete itself. 

The NIMH used the deliberations of the 1950 conference to secure government funding 
for an enormous five-year study of the mental health of the nation, a study conducted by 
the very people whose careers would be enhanced by any official determination that the 
nation faced grave problems from its morons and other defectives. Can you guess what 
the final document said? 

"Action for Mental Health" proposed that school curriculum "be designed to bend the 
student to the realities of society." It should be "designed to promote mental health as an 
instrument for social progress," and as a means of "altering culture." 

What factors inhibit mental health that are directly in the hands of school authorities to 
change? Just these: expectations that children should be held responsible for their actions, 
expectations that it is important for all children to develop intelligence, the misperceived 
need to assign some public stigma when children lagged behind a common standard. New 
protocols were issued, sanctions followed. The network of teachers colleges, state 
education departments, supervisory associations, grant-making bodies, and national 
media inoculated the learning system with these ideas, and local managers grew fearful of 
punishment for opposition. 

In 1962, an NIMH-sponsored report, "The Role of Schools in Mental Health," stated 
unambiguously, "Education does not mean teaching people to know." (emphasis added) 
What then? "It means teaching them to behave as they do not behave," a clear echo of the 
Rockefeller Foundation's "dream" from an earlier part of the century (See page 45). 
Schools were behavioral engineering plants; what remained was to convince kids and 
parents there was no place to hide. 

The report was featured at the 1962 Governor's Conference, appearing along with a 
proclamation calling on all states to fund these new school programs and use every state 
agency to further the work. Provisions were discussed to overturn resistance on the part 
of parents; tough cases, it was advised, could be subjected to multiple pressures around 
the clock until they stopped resisting. Meanwhile, alarming statistics were circulated 
about the rapid growth of mental illness within society. 

The watershed moment when modern schooling swept all competition from the field was 
the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 (ESEA). The Act 
allocated substantial federal funds to psychological and psychiatric programs in school, 
opening the door to a full palette of "interventions" by psychologists, psychiatrists, social 
workers, agencies, and various specialists. All were invited to use the schoolhouse as a 
satellite office, in urban ghettos, as a primary office. Now it was the law. 



Along the way to this milestone, important way stations were reached beyond the scope 
of this book to list. The strand I've shown is only one of many in the tapestry. The 
psychological goals of this project and the quality of mind in back of them are caught 
fairly in the keynote address to the 1973 Childhood International Education Seminar in 
Boulder, Colorado, delivered by Harvard psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce. This quote 
appears to have been edited out of printed transcripts of the talk, but was reported by 
newspapers in actual attendance: 

Every child in America entering school at the age of five is mentally ill because he comes 
to school with certain allegiances to our founding fathers, toward our elected officials, 
toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being, and toward the sovereignty of 
this nation as a separate entity. It's up to you as teachers to make all these sick children 
well — by creating the international child of the future. 

Perhaps it's only a fortuitous coincidence that in the ongoing psychologization of schools 
from 1903 onwards, the single most prominent thread — the nearly universal prescription 
for better-ment offered by every agency, analyst, and spokesperson for mental health — 
has been the end of competition in every aspect of training and the substitution of 
cooperation and intergroup, interpersonal harmony. In Utopia, everyone has a fixed place. 
Envy and ambition are unwelcome, at least among the common classes. The prescription 
should sound familiar, we've encountered it before as the marching orders of the Prussian 
volksschulen. Unfortunately we know only too well how that Pestalozzian story ended. 

Paying Children To Learn 

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