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An American Affidavit

Monday, February 20, 2017

191. Psychopathic Programming: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Psychopathic Programming 

I could regale you with mountains of statistics to illustrate the damage schools cause. I 
could bring before your attention a line of case studies to illustrate the mutilation of 
specific individuals — even those who have been apparently privileged as its "gifted and 
talented." 3 What would that prove? You've heard those stories, read these figures before 
until you went numb from the assault on common sense. School can't be that bad, you 
say. You survived, didn't you? Or did you? Review what you learned there. Has it made a 
crucial difference for good in your life? Don't answer. I know it hasn't. You surrendered 
twelve years of your life because you had no choice. You paid your dues, I paid mine. 
But who collected those dues? 

In 191 1, a prominent German sociologist, Robert Michel, warned in his book Political 
Parties that the size and prosperity of modern bureaucracies had given them 
unprecedented ability to buy friends. In this way they shield themselves against internal 
reform and make themselves impervious to outside reform. Across this great epoch of 

bureaucracy, Michel's warning has been strikingly borne out. Where school is concerned 
we have lived through six major periods of crisis since its beginning, zones of social 
turmoil where outsiders have demanded the state change the way it provides for the 
schooling of children. 4 Each crisis can be used as a stepping stone leading us back to the 
original wrong path we took at the beginnings. 

All alleged reforms have left schooling exactly in the shape they found it, except bigger, 
richer, politically stronger. And morally and intellectually worse by the standards of the 
common American village of yesteryear which still lives in our hearts. Many people of 
conscience only defend institutional schooling because they can't imagine what would 
happen without any schools, especially what might happen to the poor. This 
compassionate and articulate contingent has consistently been fronted by the real 
engineers of schooling, skillfully used as shock troops to support the cumulative 
destruction of American working-class and peasant culture, a destruction largely effected 
through schooling. 

Psychopathic programming is incapable of change. It lacks moral dimension or ethical 
mind beyond the pragmatic. Institutional morality is always public relations; once 
institutional machinery of sufficient size and complexity is built, a logical movement 
commences that is internally aimed toward subordination and eventual elimination of all 
ethical mandates. Even if quality personnel are stationed on the parapets in the first 
generation of new institutional existence, that original vigilance will flag as pioneers give 
way to time-servers. The only reliable defense against this is to keep institutions weak 
and dispersed, even if that means sacrificing efficiency and holding them on a very short 

Michel wrote in Political Parties that the primary mission of all institutional managers 
(including school managers) is to cause their institution to grow in power, in number of 
employees, in autonomy from public oversight, and in rewards for key personnel. The 
primary mission is never, of course, the publicly announced one. Whether we are talking 
about bureaucracies assigned to wage war, deliver mail, or educate children, there is no 

In the course of things, this rationalization isn't a straight line matter. There can be 
pullbacks in the face of criticism, for example. But examined over time, movement 
toward rationalizing operations is always unidirectional, public outrage against the 
immoral effects of this is buffered by purchased political friendships, by seemingly 
neutral public authorities who always find it prudent to argue for delay, in confidence the 
heat will cool. In this way momentum is spent, public attention diverted, until the next 
upwelling of outrage. These strategies of opinion management are taught calmly through 
elite graduate university training in the best schools here, as was true in Prussia. 
Corporate bureaucracies, including those in the so-called public sphere, know how to 
wear out critics. There is no malicious intent, only a striving for efficiency. 

Something has been happening in America since the end of WWII, accelerating since the 
flight of Sputnik and the invasion of Vietnam. A massive effort is underway to link 

centrally organized control of jobs with centrally organized administration of schooling. 
This would be an American equivalent of the Chinese "Dangan" — linking a personal file 
begun in kindergarten (recording academic performance, attitudes, behavioral 
characteristics, medical records, and other personal data) with all work opportunities. In 
China the Dangan can't be escaped. It is part of a web of social controls that ensures 
stability of the social order; justice has nothing to do with it. The Dangan is coming to the 
United States under cover of skillfully engineered changes in medicine, employment, 
education, social service, etc., seemingly remote from one another. In fact, the pieces are 
being coordinated through an interlink between foundations, grant-making government 
departments, corporate public relations, key universities, and similar agencies out of 
public view. 

This American Dangan will begin with longer school days and years, with more public 
resources devoted to institutional schooling, with more job opportunities in the school 
field, more emphasis on standardized testing, more national examinations, plus hitherto 
unheard of developments like national teaching licenses, national curricula, national 
goals, national standards, and with the great dream of corporate America since 1900, 
School-to- Work legislation organizing the youth of America into precocious work 
battalions. A Dangan by its nature is always psychopathic. It buries its mistakes. 

3 What I would never do is to argue that the damage to human potential is adequately caught in the rise or 

fall of SAT scores or any other standardized measure because these markers are too unreliable — besides being far too prone to strategic 
manipulation. The New York Times of March 9, 2003, reported in an article by Sara Rimer that Harvard rejects four valedictorians out of every 
five, quoting that school's director of admissions as saying: "To get in [Harvard], you have to present some real distinction..." A distinction 
which, apparently, 80 Percent of "top" students lack. 

4 Different addictive readers of school histories might tally eight crises or five, so the stab at specificity 

shouldn't be taken too seriously by any reader. What it is meant to indicate is that careful immersion in pedagogical history will reveal, even to 
the most skeptical, that mass schooling has been in nearly constant crisis since its inception. There never was a golden age of mass schooling, 
nor can there ever be. 

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