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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

63.. Munsterberg And His Disciples: The Underground HIstory of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org


True Believers And The Unspeakable Chautauqua 

A very small group of young psychologists around the turn of the century were able to 
create and market a system for measuring human talent that has permeated American 
institutions of learning and influenced such fundamental social concepts as democracy, 
sanity, justice, welfare, reproductive rights, and economic progress. In creating, owning, 
and advertising this social technology the testers created themselves as professionals. 

— Joanne Brown, The Definition of a Profession: The Authority of Metaphor in the 
History of Intelligence Testing 

I have undertaken to get at the facts from the point of view of the business men — citizens 
of the community who, after all, pay the bills and, therefore, have a right to say what they 
shall have in their schools. 

— Charles H. Thurber, from an address at the Annual Meeting of the National Education 
Association, July 9, 1897 

Munsterberg And His Disciples 

The self-interested have had a large hand conceiving and executing twentieth-century 
schooling, yet once that's said, self-interest isn't enough to explain the zeal in confining 
other people's children in rooms, locked away from the world, the infernal zeal which, 
like a toadstool, keeps forcing its way to the surface in this business. Among millions of 
normal human beings professionally associated with the school adventure, a small band 
of true believers has been loose from the beginning, brothers and sisters whose eyes 
gleam in the dark, whose heartbeat quickens at the prospect of acting as "change agents" 
for a purpose beyond self-interest. 

For true believers, children are test animals. The strongest belt in the engine of schooling 
is the strand of true belief. True believers can be located by their rhetoric; it reveals a 
scale of philosophical imagination which involves plans for you and me. All you need 
know about Mr. Laszlo, whose timeless faith song is cited in the front of this book (xiii), 
is that the "we" he joins himself to, the "masters who manipulate," doesn't really include 
the rest of us, except as objects of the exercise. Here is a true believer in full gallop. 
School history is crammed with wild-eyed orators, lurking just behind the lit stage. Like 
Hugo Munsterberg. 

Munsterberg was one of the people who was in on the birth of twentieth-century mass 
schooling. In 1892, a recent emigre to America from Wilhelm Wundt's laboratory of 
physiological psychology at Leipzig, in Saxony, he was a Harvard Professor of 
Psychology. Munsterberg taught his students to look at schools as social laboratories 
suitable for testing theory, not as aggregates of young people pursuing their own 
purposes. The St. Louis Exposition of 1904 showcased his ideas for academicians all 

over the world, and the popular press made his notions familiar to upper middle classes 
horrified by the unfamiliar family ways of immigrants, eager to find ways to separate 
immigrant children from those alien practices of their parents. 

Munsterberg's particular obsession lay in quantifying the mental and physical powers of 
the population for central government files, so policymakers could manage the nation's 
"human resources" efficiently. His students became leaders of the "standardization" 
crusade in America. Munsterberg was convinced that racial differences could be reduced 
to numbers, equally convinced it was his sacred duty to the Aryan race to do so. 
Aryanism crackled like static electricity across the surface of American university life in 
those days, its implications part of every corporate board game and government bureau 

One of Munsterberg's favorite disciples, Lillian Wald, became a powerful advocate of 
medical incursions into public schools. The famous progressive social reformer wrote in 
1905: "It is difficult to place a limit upon the service which medical inspection should 
perform," 1 continuing, "Is it not logical to conclude that physical development. ..should so 
far as possible be demanded?" One year later, immigrant public schools in Manhattan 
began performing tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies in school without notifying 
parents. The New York Times (June 29, 1906) reported that "Frantic Italians" — many 
armed with stilettos — "stormed" three schools, attacking teachers and dragging children 
from the clutches of the true believers into whose hands they had fallen. Think of the 
conscience which would ascribe to itself the right to operate on children at official 
discretion and you will know beyond a doubt what a true believer smells like. 

Even a cursory study of the history of the school institution turns up true belief in rich 
abundance. In a famous book, The Proper Study of Mankind (1948), paid for by the 
Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Russell Sage Foundation, the favorite 
principle of true believers since Plato makes an appearance: "A society could be 
completely made over in something like 15 years, the time it takes to inculcate a new 
culture into a rising group of youngsters." Despite the spirit of profound violence 
hovering over such seemingly bloodless, abstract formulas, this is indeed the will-o-the- 
wisp pursued throughout the twentieth century in forced schooling — not intellectual 
development, not character development, but the inculcation of a new synthetic culture in 
children, one designed to condition its subjects to a continual adjusting of their lives by 
unseen authorities. 

It's true that numerically, only a small fraction of those who direct institutional schooling 
are actively aware of its ideological bent, but we need to see that without consistent 
generalship from that knowledgeable group in guiding things, the evolution of schooling 
would long ago have lost its coherence, degenerating into battles between swarms of 
economic and political interests fighting over the treasure-house that hermetic pedagogy 
represents. One of the hardest things to understand is that true believers — dedicated 
ideologues — are useful to all interests in the school stew by providing a salutary 
continuity to the enterprise. 

Because of the predictable greed embedded in this culture, some overarching "guardian" 
vision, one indifferent to material gain, seems necessary to prevent marketplace chaos. 
True believers referee the school game, establishing its goals, rules, penalties; they 
negotiate and compromise with other stakeholders. And strangely enough, above all else, 
they can be trusted to continue being their predictable, dedicated, selfless selves. 
Pragmatic stakeholders need them to keep the game alive; true believers need pragmatists 
as cover. Consider this impossibly melodramatic if you must. I know myself that parts of 
my story sound like leaves torn from Ragtime. But from start to finish this is a tale of true 
believers and how by playing on their pipes they took all the children away. 

1 Forced medical inspection had been a prominent social theme in northern Germany since at least 1750. 

The Prototype Is A Schoolteacher 

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