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Friday, February 24, 2017

197. Two Social Revolutions Become One: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Chapter Sixteen 



A Conspiracy Against Ourselves 

A lower middle class which has received secondary or even university education without 
being given any corresponding outlet for its trained abilities was the backbone of the 
twentieth century Fascist Party in Italy and the National Socialist Party in Germany. The 
demoniac driving force which carried Mussolini and Hitler to power was generated out 
of this intellectual proletariat's exasperation at finding its painful efforts at self- 
improvement were not sufficient 
— Arnold Toynbee, MA Study of History 

Two Social Revolutions Become One 

Solve this problem and school will heal itself: children know that schooling is not fair, 
not honest, not driven by integrity. They know they are devalued in classes and grades, 1 
that the institution is indifferent to them as individuals. The rhetoric of caring contradicts 
what school procedure and content say, that many children have no tolerable future and 
most have a sharply proscribed one. The problem is structural. School has been built to 
serve a society of associations: corporations, institutions, and agencies. Kids know this 
instinctively. How should they feel about it? How should we? 

As soon as you break free of the orbit of received wisdom you have little trouble figuring 
out why, in the nature of things, government schools and those private schools which 
imitate the government model have to make most children dumb, allowing only a few to 
escape the trap. The problem stems from the structure of our economy and social 
organization. When you start with such pyramid-shaped givens and then ask yourself 
what kind of schooling they would require to maintain themselves, any mystery 
dissipates — these things are inhuman conspiracies all right, but not conspiracies of people 
against people, although circumstances make them appear so. School is a conflict pitting 
the needs of social machinery against the needs of the human spirit. It is a war of 
mechanism against flesh and blood, self-maintaining social mechanisms that only require 
human architects to get launched. 

I'll bring this down to earth. Try to see that an intricately subordinated 
industrial/commercial system has only limited use for hundreds of millions of self-reliant, 
resourceful readers and critical thinkers. In an egalitarian, entrepreneurially based 
economy of confederated families like the one the Amish have or the Mondragon folk in 
the Basque region of Spain, any number of self-reliant people can be accommodated 
usefully, but not in a concentrated command-type economy like our own. Where on earth 
would they fit? In a great fanfare of moral fervor some years back, the Ford Motor 
Company opened the world's most productive auto engine plant in Chihuahua, Mexico. It 
insisted on hiring employees with 50 percent more school training than the Mexican 
norm of six years, but as time passed Ford removed its requirements and began to hire 



school dropouts, training them quite well in four to twelve weeks. The hype that 
education is essential to robot-like work was quietly abandoned. Our economy has no 
adequate outlet of expression for its artists, dancers, poets, painters, farmers, filmmakers, 
wildcat business people, handcraft workers, whiskey makers, intellectuals, or a thousand 
other useful human enterprises — no outlet except corporate work or fringe slots on the 
periphery of things. Unless you do "creative" work the company way, you run afoul of a 
host of laws and regulations put on the books to control the dangerous products of 
imagination which can never be safely tolerated by a centralized command system. 

Before you can reach a point of effectiveness in defending your own children or your 
principles against the assault of blind social machinery, you have to stop conspiring 
against yourself by attempting to negotiate with a set of abstract principles and rules 
which, by its nature, cannot respond. Under all its disguises, that is what institutional 
schooling is, an abstraction which has escaped its handlers. Nobody can reform it. First 
you have to realize that human values are the stuff of madness to a system; in systems- 
logic the schools we have are already the schools the system needs; the only way they 
could be much improved is to have kids eat, sleep, live, and die there. 

Schools got the way they were at the start of the twentieth century as part of a vast, 
intensely engineered social revolution in which all major institutions were overhauled to 
work together in harmonious managerial efficiency. Ours was to be an improvement on 
the British system, which once depended on a shared upper-class culture for its 
coherence. Ours would be subject to a rational framework of science, law, instruction, 
and mathematically derived merit. When Morgan reorganized the American marketplace 
into a world of cooperating trusts at the end of the nineteenth century, he created a 
business and financial subsystem to interlink with the subsystem of government, the 
subsystem of schooling, and other subsystems to regulate every other aspect of national 
life. None of this was conspiratorial. Each increment was rationally defensible. But the 
net effect was the destruction of small-town, small-government America, strong families, 
individual liberty, and a lot of other things people weren't aware they were trading for a 
regular corporate paycheck. 

A huge price had to be paid for business and government efficiency, a price we still pay 
in the quality of our existence. Part of what kids gave up was the prospect of being able 
to read very well, a historic part of the American genius. Instead, school had to train them 
for their role in the new overarching social system. But spare yourself the agony of 
thinking of this as a conspiracy. It was and is a fully rational transaction, the very epitome 
of rationalization engendered by a group of honorable men, all honorable men — but with 
decisive help from ordinary citizens, from almost all of us as we gradually lost touch with 
the fact that being followers instead of leaders, becoming consumers in place of 
producers, rendered us incompletely human. It was a naturally occurring conspiracy, one 
which required no criminal genius. The real conspirators were ourselves. When we sold 
our liberty for the promise of automatic security, we became like children in a conspiracy 
against growing up, sad children who conspire against their own children, consigning 
them over and over to the denaturing vats of compulsory state factory schooling. 



The labels, themselves, are an affront to decency. Who besides a degraded rabble would voluntarily present itself to be graded and classified 
like meat? No wonder school is compulsory. 

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