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An American Affidavit

Thursday, August 24, 2017

118. The Gary Plan: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Gary Plan 

Frederick Taylor's gospel of efficiency demanded complete and intensive use of 
industrial plant facilities. From 1903 onwards, strenuous efforts were made to achieve 
full utilization of space by forcing year-round school on society. Callahan suggests it was 
"the children of America, who would have been unwilling victims of this scheme, who 
played a decisive role in beating the original effort to effect this back." 

But east of Chicago, in the synthetic U.S. Steel company town of Gary, Indiana, 
Superintendent William A. Wirt, a former student of John Dewey's at the University of 
Chicago, was busy testing a radical school innovation called the Gary Plan soon to be 
sprung on the national scene. Wirt had supposedly invented a new organizational scheme 
in which school subjects were departmentalized; this required movement of students 
from room to room on a regular basis so that all building spaces were in constant use. 
Bells would ring and just as with Pavlov's salivating dog, children would shift out of 
their seats and lurch toward yet another class. 

In this way children could be exposed to many nonacademic socialization experiences 
and much scientifically engineered physical activity, and it would be a bonus value from 
the same investment, a curriculum apart from so-called basic subjects which by this time 
were being looked upon as an actual menace to long-range social goals. Wirt called his 
system the "work-study-play" school, but outside of Gary it was referred to simply as 
"the Gary Plan." Its noteworthy economical feature, rigorously scheduling a student body 
twice as large as before into the same space and time, earned it the informal name 
"platoon school." 

While the prototype was being established and tested on children of the new industrial 
proletariat in Gary, the plan itself was merchandised from newsstand, pulpit, and lecture 
circuit, lauded in administrative circles, and soundly praised by first pedagogical couple 
John and Evelyn Dewey in their 1915 book, Schools of Tomorrow. The first inkling Gary 
might be a deliberate stepchild of the scientific management movement occurred in a 
February 1911 article by Wirt for The American School Board Journal, "Scientific 
Management of School Plants." But a more thorough and forceful exposition of its 
provenance was presented in the Elementary School Teacher by John Franklin Bobbit in 
a 1912 piece titled "Elimination of Waste in Education." 

Bobbit said Gary schools were the work of businessmen who understood scientific 
management. Teaching was slated to become a specialized scientific calling conducted by 
pre-approved agents of the central business office. Classroom teachers would teach the 
same thing over and over to groups of traveling children; special subject teachers would 
deliver their special subjects to classes rotating through the building on a precision time 

Early in 1914, the Federal Bureau of Education, then located in the Interior Department, 
strongly endorsed Wirt's system. This led to one of the most dramatic and least-known 
events in twentieth-century school history. In New York City, a spontaneous rebellion 
occurred on the part of the students and parents against extension of the Gary Plan to 
their own city. While the revolt had only short-lived effects, it highlights the 
demoralization of private life occasioned by passing methods of industry off as 

Bobbit was the influential schoolman who reorganized the Los Angeles school curriculum, replacing formal history with "Social Studies." Of 
the Bobbitized set of educational objectives, the five most important were 1) Social intercommunication 2) Maintenance of physical efficiency 
3) Efficient citizenship 4) General social contacts and relationships 5) Leisure occupations. My own favorite is "efficient citizenship," which 
bears rolling around on the point of one's bayonet as the bill is presented for payment. 

The Jewish Student Riots 

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