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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

179. The Problem Of God: The Underground History of Amerccan Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Chapter Fourteen 



Absolute Absolution 

The leading principle of Utopian religion is the repudiation of the doctrine of Original 
Sin. 

— H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (1905) 

Everything functions as if death did not exist. Nobody takes it into account; it is 
suppressed everywhere. ...We now seem possessed by he Promethean desire to cure death. 

— Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950) 

Education is the modern world's temporal religion... 

— Bob Chase, president, National Education Association, NEA TODAY, April 1997 

179. The Problem Of God 

The problem of God has always been a central question of Western intellectual life. The 
flight from this heritage is our best evidence that school is a project having little to do 
with education as the West defined it for thousands of years. It's difficult to imagine 
anyone who lacks an understanding of Western spirituality regarding himself as educated. 
And yet, American schools have been forbidden to enter this arena even in a token way 
since 1947. 

In spite of the irony that initial Protestant church support is the only reason we have 
American compulsion schools at all, the rug was pulled out from beneath the churches 
quite suddenly at the end of the nineteenth century, under the pretext that it was the only 
way to keep Catholicism out of the schools. When the second shoe dropped with the 
Everson decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1947, God was pitched out of school on 
His ear entirely. 

Before we go forward we need to go back. The transformation businessmen wrought in 
the idea of education at the end of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the 
twentieth is the familiar system we have today. Max Otto argued in his intriguing book- 
length essay Science and the Moral Life (1949) that a philosophical revolution had been 
pulled off by businessmen under everybody's nose. Otto described what most college 
graduates still don't know — that the traditional economy, where wants regulate what is 
produced, is dead. The new economy depends upon creating demand for whatever stuff 
machinery, fossil fuel, and industrialized imagination can produce. When this reversal 
was concluded, consumption, once only one detail among many in people's lives, became 
the most important end. Great consumers are heroes to a machine society; the frugal, 
villains. 



In such a universe, schools have no choice but to participate. Supporting the economic 
system became the second important mission of mass schooling's existence, but in doing 
so, materiality found itself at war with an older family of spiritual interests. In the general 
society going about its business, it wasn't easy to see this contest clearly — to recognize 
that great corporations which provided employment, endowed universities, museums, 
schools, and churches, and which exercised a powerful voice on important issues of the 
day — actually had a life-and-death stake in the formation of correct psychological 
attitudes among children. 

It was nature, not conspiracy, Otto wrote, that drove businessmen "to devote themselves 
to something besides business." It was only natural "they should try to control education 
and to supplant religion as a definer of ideals." The class of businessmen who operated 
on a national and international basis, having estranged themselves from considerations of 
nation, culture, and tradition, having virtually freed themselves from competitive risk 
because they owned the legislative and judicial processes, now turned their attention to 
cosmic themes of social management. 

In this fashion, minister gave way to schoolteacher, schoolteacher became pedagogus 
under direction of the controllers of work. 

Spirits Are Dangerous 

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