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Monday, June 5, 2017

44. False Premises: The Underground HIstory of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

False Premises 

The religious purpose of modern schooling was announced clearly by the legendary 
University of Wisconsin sociologist Edward A. Ross in 1901 in his famous book, Social 
Control. Your librarian should be able to locate a copy for you without much trouble. In 
it Ed Ross wrote these words for his prominent following: "Plans are underway to replace 
community, family, and church with propaganda, education, and mass media.... the State 
shakes loose from Church, reaches out to School.... People are only little plastic lumps of 
human dough." Social Control revolutionized the discipline of sociology and had 
powerful effects on the other human sciences: in social science it guided the direction of 
political science, economics, and psychology; in biology it influenced genetics, eugenics, 
and psychobiology. It played a critical role in the conception and design of molecular 
biology. 

There you have it in a nutshell. The whole problem with modern schooling. It rests on a 
nest of false premises. People are not little plastic lumps of dough. They are not blank 
tablets as John Locke said they were, they are not machines as de La Mettrie hoped, not 
vegetables as Friedrich Froebel, inventor of kindergartens, hypothesized, not organic 
mechanisms as Wilhelm Wundt taught every psychology department in America at the 



turn of the century, nor are they repertoires of behaviors as Watson and Skinner wanted. 
They are not, as the new crop of systems thinkers would have it, mystically harmonious 
microsystems interlocking with grand macrosystems in a dance of atomic forces. I don't 
want to be crazy about this; locked in a lecture hall or a bull session there's probably no 
more harm in these theories than reading too many Italian sonnets all at one sitting. But 
when each of these suppositions is sprung free to serve as a foundation for school 
experiments, it leads to frightfully oppressive practices. 

One of the ideas that empty-child thinking led directly to was the notion that human 
breeding could be enhanced or retarded as plant and animal breeding was — by scientific 
gardeners and husbandmen. Of course, the time scale over which this was plotted to 
happen was quite long. Nobody expected it to be like breeding fruit flies, but it was a 
major academic, governmental, and even military item generously funded until Hitler's 
proactive program (following America's lead) grew so embarrassing by 1939 that our 
own projects and plans were made more circumspect. 

Back at the beginning of the twentieth century, the monstrously influential Edward 
Thorndike of Columbia Teachers College said that school would establish conditions for 
"selective breeding before the masses take things into their own hands." The religious 
purpose of modern schooling was embarrassingly evident back when Ross and Thorndike 
were on center stage, but they were surrounded by many like-minded friends. Another 
major architect of standardized testing, H.H. Goddard, said in his book Human Efficiency 
(1920) that government schooling was about "the perfect organization of the hive." He 
said standardized testing was a way to make lower classes recognize their own inferiority. 
Like wearing a dunce cap, it would discourage them from breeding and having ambition. 
Goddard was head of the Psychology Department at Princeton, so imagine the effect he 
had on the minds of the doctoral candidates he coached, and there were hundreds. We 
didn't leave the religious purpose of modern schooling back in the early years of the 
century. In April of 1996, Al Shanker of the AFT said in his regular New York Times 
split-page advertisement that every teacher was really a priest. 

A System Of State Propaganda 

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