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Saturday, February 11, 2017

182. Codes Of Meaning: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Codes Of Meaning 

This unique moral chronicle led to an everyday behavioral code which worked so well 
that in a matter of centuries it became the dominant perspective of Europe, and soon it 
made inroads into every belief system across the planet. But the sheer extent of its 



success caused it to run afoul of three other competing systems for producing meaning, 
each of which held common people in contempt or worse. These competing codes viewed 
Christianity antagonistically because of its power to liberate ordinary people from the 
bondage of fear and envy. 

Those competing codes of meaning gave us formal schooling, public and private. The 
first competitor, the aristocratic code, comes out of pagan traditions. It is still the 
philosophy taught in upper-class boarding schools like Middlesex and Gunnery, and 
through home training and particular class institutions. Its operating principles are 
leadership, sportsmanship, courage, disdain for hardship, team play, self-sacrifice (for the 
team), and devotion to duty — as noble traditions define duty. The boardrooms of certain 
global corporations are one of the great preserves of this exclusive but universally 
attractive pagan attitude. 

The second code in competition with Christianity was taken from the practice of great 
commercial civilizations like the Hanseatic League of medieval times or the society of 
Holland in the seventeenth century. This behavioral code makes security, comfort, health, 
and wealth the central purpose of life. The main thrust of this kind of seeking is radically 
anti-Christian, but the contradiction isn't obvious when the two come into contact 
because commercial cultures emphasize peaceful coexistence, tolerance, cooperation, and 
pragmatism. They reject the value of pain, and take principled behavior with a grain of 
salt, everything being relative to security and prosperity. Pragmatism is the watchword. 

The wealth that a commercial perspective delivers produced a dilemma for Puritan 
society to wrestle with, since the intense neo-Christianity of Puritanism was yoked to an 
equal intensity of business acumen, a talent for commercial transaction. In the Calvinist 
vein, this contradiction was resolved by declaring wealth a reliable sign of God's favor, 
as poverty was a sign of His condemnation. Both pagan and mercantile ethical codes 
operated behind a facade of Christianity during the Christian era, weakening the gospel 
religion, while at the same time profiting from it and paying lip service to it. Proponents 
of these different frames called themselves Christians but did not live like Christians, 
rejecting certain tenets of Christianity we've just examined, those which interfered with 
personal gain. Yet in both cases, the life maps these competing theories tried to substitute 
were not, ultimately, satisfying enough to stop the spreading influence of Christian 
vision. 

Stated more directly, these competing moral codes were unable to deliver sufficient 
tangible day-to-day meaning to compete against the religious prescription of a simple 
life, managed with dignity and love, and with acceptance of the demands of work, self- 
control, and moral choice, together with the inevitability of tragedy, aging, and death. 
Neither the pagan outlook nor the commercial philosophy was equal to overthrowing 
their unworldly rival. Because the commercial code lacked sufficient magic and mystery, 
and the aristocratic code, which had those things, froze out the majority from enjoying 
them, it fell to yet a third scheme for organizing meaning to eventually cause the major 
sabotage of spiritual life. 



I refer to the form of practical magic we call Science. Kept rigorously and strictly 
subordinate to human needs, science is an undeniably valuable way to negotiate the 
physical world. But the human tendency has always been to break loose from these 
constraints and to try to explain the purpose of life. Instead of remaining merely a useful 
description of how things work, great synthesizing theories like Big Bang or Natural 
Selection purport to explain the origin of the universe or how life best progresses. Yet by 
their nature, these things are beyond proof or disproof. Few laymen understand that the 
synthesizing theories of Science are religious revelations in disguise. 

In the years around the beginning of the twentieth century, the scientific outlook as a 
substitute religion took command of compulsion schools and began to work to eradicate 
any transcendental curriculum in school. This happened in stages. First was the passage 
of compulsion school legislation and invention of the factory school (isolated from family 
and community), appearing in conjunction with the extermination of the one-room 
school. That job had been largely accomplished by 1900. The second stage was 
introduction of hierarchical layers of school management and government selected and 
regulated teaching staff. That job was complete by 1930. The third stage comprised 
socialization of the school into a world of "classes" and de-individualized individuals 
who looked to school authorities for leadership instead of to their own parents and 
churches. This was accomplished by 1960. The fourth and last stage (so far) was the 
psychologizing of the classroom, a process begun full scale in 1960, which, with the 
advent of national standardized testing, outcomes-based education, Title I legislation, 
School-to-Work legislation, etc., was accelerating as the last century came to a close. 

All these incremental changes are ambitious designs to control how children think, feel, 
and behave. There had been signs of this intention two centuries earlier, but without long- 
term confinement of children to great warehouses, the amount of isolation and mind- 
control needed to successfully introduce civil religion through schooling just wasn't 
available. 

The Scientific Curriculum 

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