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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

90. The Prussian Reform Movement: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Prussian Reform Movement 

The devastating defeat by Napoleon at Jena triggered the so-called Prussian Reform 
Movement, a transformation which replaced cabinet rule (by appointees of the national 
leader) with rule by permanent civil servants and permanent government bureaus. Ask 
yourself which form of governance responds better to public opinion and you will realize 
what a radical chapter in European affairs was opened. The familiar three-tier system of 
education emerged in the Napoleonic era, one private tier, two government ones. At the 
top, one-half of 1 percent of the students attended A kadamiensschulen,' where, as future 
policy makers, they learned to think strategically, contextually, in wholes; they learned 
complex processes, and useful knowledge, studied history, wrote copiously, argued often, 
read deeply, and mastered tasks of command. 

The next level, Realsschulen, was intended mostly as a manufactory for the professional 
proletariat of engineers, architects, doctors, lawyers, career civil servants, and such other 
assistants as policy thinkers at times would require. From 5 to 7.5 percent of all students 
attended these "real schools," learning in a superficial fashion how to think in context, but 
mostly learning how to manage materials, men, and situations — to be problem solvers. 
This group would also staff the various policing functions of the state, bringing order to 
the domain. Finally, at the bottom of the pile, a group between 92 and 94 percent of the 
population attended "people's schools" where they learned obedience, cooperation and 
correct attitudes, along with rudiments of literacy and official state myths of history. 

This universal system of compulsion schooling was up and running by 1819, and soon 
became the eighth wonder of the world, promising for a brief time — in spite of its 
exclusionary layered structure — liberal education for all. But this early dream was soon 
abandoned. This particular Utopia had a different target than human equality; it aimed 
instead for frictionless efficiency. From its inception Volksschulen, the people's place, 
heavily discounted reading; reading produced dissatisfaction, it was thought. The Bell- 
school remedy was called for: a standard of virtual illiteracy formally taught under state 
church auspices. Reading offered too many windows onto better lives, too much 
familiarity with better ways of thinking. It was a gift unwise to share with those 
permanently consigned to low station. 

Heinrich Pestalozzi, an odd 2 Swiss-German school reformer, was producing at this time a 
nonliterary, experience-based pedagogy, strong in music and industrial arts, which was 
attracting much favorable attention in Prussia. Here seemed a way to keep the poor happy 
without arousing in them hopes of dramatically changing the social order. Pestalozzi 
claimed ability to mold the poor "to accept all the efforts peculiar to their class." He 
offered them love in place of ambition. By employing psychological means in the 
training of the young, class warfare might be avoided. 



A curiously prophetic note for the future development of scientific school teaching was 
that Pestalozzi himself could barely read. Not that he was a dummy; those talents simply 
weren't important in his work. He reckoned his own semiliteracy an advantage in dealing 
with children destined not to find employment requiring much verbal fluency. Seventeen 
agents of the Prussian government acted as Pestalozzi's assistants in Switzerland, 
bringing insights about the Swiss style of schooling home to northern Germany. 

While Pestalozzi's raggedy schools lurched clumsily from year to year, a nobleman, von 
Fellenberg, refined and systematized the Swiss reformer's disorderly notes, hammering 
the funky ensemble into clarified plans for a worldwide system of industrial education for 
the masses. As early as 1808, this nonacademic formulation was introduced into the 
United States under Joseph Neef, formerly a teacher at Pestalozzi's school. Neef, with 
important Quaker patronage, became the principal schoolmaster for Robert Owen's 
pioneering work-utopia at New Harmony, Indiana. Neef's efforts there provided high- 
powered conversational fodder to the fashionable Unitarian drawing rooms of Boston in 
the decades before compulsory legislation was passed. And when it did pass, all credit for 
the political victory belonged to those Unitarians. 

Neef's influence resonated across the United States after the collapse of New Harmony, 
through lectures given by Robert Owen's son (later a congressman, then referee of J.P. 
Morgan's legal contretemps with the U.S. Army 3 ), and through speeches and intrigues by 
that magnificent nineteenth-century female dynamo Scottish emigre Fanny Wright, who 
demanded the end of family life and its replacement by communitarian schooling. The 
tapestry of school origins is one of paths crossing and recrossing, and more apparent 
coincidences than seem likely. 

Together, Owen and Wright created the successful Workingman's Party of Philadelphia, 
which seized political control of that city in 1829. The party incorporated strong 
compulsion schooling proposals as part of its political platform. Its idea to place working- 
class children under the philosophical discipline of highly skilled craftsmen — men 
comparable socially to the yeomanry of pre-enclosure England — would have attracted 
favorable commentary in Philadelphia where banker Nicholas Biddle was locked in 
struggle for control of the nation's currency with working- class hero Andrew Jackson. 
Biddle's defeat by Jackson quickly moved abstract discussions of a possible social 
technology to control working class children from the airy realms of social hypothesis to 
policy discussions about immediate reality. In that instant of maximum tension between 
an embryonic financial capitalism and a populist republic struggling to emerge, the 
Prussian system of pedagogy came to seem perfectly sensible to men of means and 
ambition. 



I've exaggerated the neatness of this tripartite division in order to make clear its functional logic. The system as it actually grew in those days 
without an electronic technology of centralization was more whimsical than I've indicated, dependent partially on local tradition and resistance, 
partially on the ebb and flow of fortunes among different participants in the transformation. In some places, the "academy" portion didn't occur 
in a separate institution, but as a division inside the Realsschulen, something like today's "gifted and talented honors" programs as compared to 
the common garden variety "gifted and talented" pony shows. 



Pestalozzi's strangeness comes through in almost all the standard biographical sketches of him, despite universal efforts to emphasize his 
saintliness. In a recent study, Anthony Sutton claims Pestalozzi was also director of a secret lodge of "illuminated" Freemasonry — with the 
code name "Alfred." If true, the Swiss "educator" was even stranger than I sensed initially. 

During the Civil War, Morgan sold back to the army its own defective rifles (which had been auctioned as scrap) at a 1,300 percent profit. 
After a number of soldiers were killed and maimed, young Morgan found himself temporarily in hot water. Thanks to Owen his penalty was 
the return of about half his profit! 

Travelers' Reports 

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