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Friday, July 14, 2017

78. Producing Artificial Wants: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Producing Artificial Wants 

Beginning about 1840, a group calling itself the Massachusetts School Committee held a 
series of secret discussions involving many segments of New England political and 
business leadership. 1 Stimulus for these discussions, often led by the politician Horace 
Mann, was the deterioration of family life that the decline of agriculture was leaving in its 
wake. 2 

A peculiar sort of dependency and weakness caused by mass urbanization was 
acknowledged by all with alarm. The once idyllic American family situation was giving 



way to widespread industrial serfdom. Novel forms of degradation and vice were 
appearing. 

And yet at the same time, a great opportunity was presented. Plato, Augustine, Erasmus, 
Luther, Calvin, Hobbes, Rousseau, and a host of other insightful thinkers, sometimes 
referred to at the Boston Athenaeum as "The Order of the Quest," all taught that without 
compulsory universal schooling the idiosyncratic family would never surrender its central 
hold on society to allow Utopia to become reality. Family had to be discouraged from its 
function as a sentimental haven, pressed into the service of loftier ideals — those of the 
perfected State. 

Mann saw that society's "guards and securities" had to increase because an unsuspected 
pathological phenomenon was following the introduction of mass production into life. It 
was producing "artificial wants." It was multiplying the temptation to accumulate things. 
But the barbarous life of the machine laborer made family ideals a hollow mockery. 
Morality could no longer be taught by such families. Crime and vice were certain to 
explode unless children could be pried away from their degraded custodians and civilized 
according to formulas laid down by the best minds. 

Barnas Sears, Mann's Calvinist colleague, saw the rapid growth of commercial mass 
entertainment catering to dense urban settlements as "a current of sensuality sweeping 
everything before it." Former bucolics, who once looked to nature for entertainment, 
were now pawns in the hands of worldly wisemen vending commercial amusement. 
Urban confinement robbed men and women of their ability to find satisfaction outside the 
titillation of mechanical excitation. Whoever provided excitement became the master. 

Mann's other colleague, George Boutwell, who would inherit the leadership of New 
England education from Sears, argued that a course must be selected from which there 
could be no turning back. Urbanization spelled the collapse of worker families; there was 
no remedy for it. Fathers were grossly diverted by nonagricultural labor from training 
their own children. Claims of a right to society and fashion led to neglect by mothers, too. 
"As in some languages there is no word which expresses the true idea of home," said 
Boutwell, "so in our manufacturing towns there are many persons who know nothing of 
its reality." 

Mann proclaimed the State must assert itself as primary parent of children. If an infant's 
natural parents were removed — or if parental ability failed (as was increasingly 
certain) — it was the duty of government to step in and fill the parent's place. Mann noted 
that Massachusetts had a long tradition of being "parental in government." His friend 
Sears described the State as "a nourishing mother, as wise as she is beneficent. Yet, 
should difficulties arise, the State might become stern — as befits a ruling patriarch." 
(emphasis added) 



Much light on these developments is shed by Michael Katz's The Irony of Early School Reform and by 

Joel Spring's historical writings. Both writers are recommended for a dense mine of information; both strike a good balance between the 
perspective supplied by their personal philosophies and reportage without allegiance to any particular dogma. 

"The decline of American agriculture was part of a movement to replicate the centralized pattern found 

in Britain, which had deliberately destroyed its own small farm holdings by 1800. Agriculture had been conducted on a capitalist basis in 
Britain since the notorious enclosure movement prompted by the growth of farming. In its first stage, peasants were displaced to make room for 
large-scale pasture farming. The second displacement transformed the small farmer into the "farm hand" or the factory worker. 

Capitalist farming was established in Britain side by side with a growing manufacturing industry which made it possible to rely on the import 
of foodstuffs from abroad. Freely imported food meant cheap food. Cheap food meant cheap labor. The development of factory farming in 
America (and Australia) provided an outlet for the investment of surplus capital at good rates of interest; hence the decline of small farming in 
America was hastened considerably by direct inducements from its former motherland. Although as late as 1934, 33 percent of American 
employment was still in agriculture (versus 7 percent in Great Britain), the curriculum of small farm, which encouraged resourcefulness, 
independence, and self-reliance, was fast giving way to the curriculum of government education which called for quite a different character. 

The Parens Patriae Powers 

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