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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

34. The Dangan: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Dangan 

In the first decades of the twentieth century, a small group of soon-to-be-famous 
academics, symbolically led by John Dewey and Edward Thorndike of Columbia 
Teachers College, Ellwood P. Cubberley of Stanford, G. Stanley Hall of Clark, and an 
ambitious handful of others, energized and financed by major corporate and financial 
allies like Morgan, Astor, Whitney, Carnegie, and Rockefeller, decided to bend 
government schooling to the service of business and the political state — as it had been 
done a century before in Prussia. 

Cubberley delicately voiced what was happening this way: "The nature of the national 
need must determine the character of the education provided." National need, of course, 
depends upon point of view. The NEA in 1930 sharpened our understanding by 
specifying in a resolution of its Department of Superintendence that what school served 
was an "effective use of capital" through which our "unprecedented wealth-producing 
power has been gained." When you look beyond the rhetoric of Left and Right, 
pronouncements like this mark the degree to which the organs of schooling had been 
transplanted into the corporate body of the new economy. 



It's important to keep in mind that no harm was meant by any designers or managers of 
this great project. It was only the law of nature as they perceived it, working 
progressively as capitalism itself did for the ultimate good of all. The real force behind 
school effort came from true believers of many persuasions, linked together mainly by 
their belief that family and church were retrograde institutions standing in the way of 
progress. Far beyond the myriad practical details and economic considerations there 
existed a kind of grail-quest, an idea capable of catching the imagination of dreamers and 
firing the blood of zealots. 

The entire academic community here and abroad had been Darwinized and Galtonized by 
this time and to this contingent school seemed an instrument for managing evolutionary 
destiny. In Thorndike's memorable words, conditions for controlled selective breeding 
had to be set up before the new American industrial proletariat "took things into their 
own hands." 

America was a frustrating petri dish in which to cultivate a managerial revolution, 
however, because of its historic freedom traditions. But thanks to the patronage of 
important men and institutions, a group of academics were enabled to visit mainland 
China to launch a modernization project known as the "New Thought Tide." Dewey 
himself lived in China for two years where pedagogical theories were inculcated in the 
Young Turk elements, then tested on a bewildered population which had recently been 
stripped of its ancient form of governance. A similar process was embedded in the new 
Russian state during the 1920s. 

While American public opinion was unaware of this undertaking, some big-city school 
superintendents were wise to the fact that they were part of a global experiment. Listen to 
H.B. Wilson, superintendent of the Topeka schools: 

The introduction of the American school into the Orient has broken up 40 centuries of 
conservatism. It has given us a new China, a new Japan, and is working marked progress 
in Turkey and the Philippines. The schools. ..are in a position to determine the lines of 
progress. {Motivation of School Work,\9\6) 

Thoughts like this don't spring full-blown from the heads of men like Dr. Wilson of 
Topeka. They have to be planted there. 

The Western-inspired and Western-financed Chinese revolution, following hard on the 
heels of the last desperate attempt by China to prevent the British government traffic in 
narcotic drugs there, placed that ancient province in a favorable state of anarchy for 
laboratory tests of mind-alteration technology. Out of this period rose a Chinese universal 
tracking procedure called "The Dangan," a continuous lifelong personnel file exposing 
every student's intimate life history from birth through school and onwards. The Dangan 
constituted the ultimate overthrow of privacy. Today, nobody works in China without a 
Dangan. 



By the mid-1960s preliminary work on an American Dangan was underway as 
information reservoirs attached to the school institution began to store personal 
information. A new class of expert like Ralph Tyler of the Carnegie Endowments quietly 
began to urge collection of personal data from students and its unification in computer 
code to enhance cross-referencing. Surreptitious data gathering was justified by Tyler as 
"the moral right of institutions." 

Occasional Letter Number One 

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