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An American Affidavit

Friday, August 25, 2017

119. The Jewish Student Riots: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Jewish Student Riots 

Less than three weeks before the mayoral election of 1917, rioting broke out at PS 171, 
an elementary school on Madison Avenue near 103rd Street in New York City which had 
adopted the Gary Plan. About a thousand demonstrators smashed windows, menaced 
passersby, shouted threats, and made school operation impossible. Over the next few 
days newspapers downplayed the riot, marginalizing the rioters as "street corner 
agitators" from Harlem and the Upper East Side, but they were nothing of the sort, being 
mainly immigrant parents. Demonstrations and rioting spread to other Gary Plan schools, 
including high schools where student volunteers were available to join parents on the 
picket line. 

At one place, five thousand children marched. For ten days trouble continued, breaking 
out in first one place then another. Thousands of mothers milled around schools in 
Yorkville, a German immigrant section, and in East Harlem, complaining angrily that 
their children had been put on "half-rations" of education. They meant that mental 

exercise had been removed from the center of things. Riots flared out into Williamsburg 
and Brownsville in the borough of Brooklyn; schools were stoned, police car tires slashed 
by demonstrators. Schools on the Lower East Side and in the Bronx reported trouble also. 

The most notable aspect of this rioting was its source in what today would be the bottom 
of the bell-curve masses. ..and they were complaining that school was too easy! What 
could have possessed recently arrived immigrants to defy their betters? Whatever it was, 
it poisoned the promising political career of mayoral incumbent, John Purroy Mitchel, a 
well-connected, aristocratic young progressive who had been seriously mentioned as 
presidential timber. Although Teddy Roosevelt personally campaigned for him, Mitchel 
lost by a two-to-one margin when election day arrived shortly after the riots were over, 
the disruptions widely credited with bringing Mitchel down. In all, three hundred students 
were arrested, almost all Jewish. I identify their ethnicity because today we don't usually 
expect Jewish kids to get arrested in bulk. 

To understand what was happening requires us to meet an entity calling itself the Public 
Education Association. If we pierce its associational veil, we find that it is made up of 
bankers, society ladies, corporation lawyers and, in general, people with private fortunes 
or access to private fortunes. The PEA announced in 1911 an "urgent need" to transform 
public schools into child welfare agencies, (emphasis added) Shortly afterward, Mitchel, 
a member of the PEA, was elected mayor of New York. Superintendent Wirt in Gary was 
promptly contacted and offered the New York superintendency. He agreed, and the first 
Gary schools opened in New York City in March 1915. 

Bear in mind there was no public debate, no warning of this radical step. Just seventy- 
five days after the Gary trial began, the financial arm of New York City government 
declared it a total success, authorizing conversion of twelve more schools. (The original 
trial had only been for two.) This was done in June at the end of the school year when 
public attention was notoriously low. Then in September of 1915, after a net one hundred 
days of trial, Comptroller Prendergast issued a formal report recommending extension of 
the Gary Plan into all schools of New York City! He further recommended lengthening 
the school day and the school year. 

At the very time this astonishing surprise was being prepared for the children of New 
York City in 1915, a series of highly laudatory articles sprouted like zits all over the 
periodical press calling the Gary Plan the answer to our nation's school prayers. One 
characteristic piece read, "School must fill the vacuum of the home, school must be life 
itself as once the old household was a life itself." (emphasis added) Like Rommel's 
Panzer columns, true believers were on the move. At the same time press agents were 
skillfully manipulating the press, officers of the Rockefeller Foundation, a body which 
supported the Gary Plan wholeheartedly, were appointed without fanfare as members of 
the New York City Board of Education, compliments of Mayor Mitchel. 

Immediately after Prendergast's report appeared calling for total Gary-ization of public 
schooling, a book written by a prominent young protege of John Dewey directed national 
attention to the Gary miracle "where children learn to play and prepare for vocations as 

well as to study abstractions." Titled The Gary Schools, its author, Randolph Bourne, was 
among the most beloved columnists for The New Republic in the days when that 
magazine, product of J. P. Morgan banker Willard Straight's personal patronage, took 
some of its editorial instruction directly from the tables of power in America. 

In light of what happened in 1917, you might find it interesting to have your librarian 
scare up a copy of Bourne's Gary Schools so you can study how a well-orchestrated 
national propaganda campaign can colonize your mind. Even as Bourne's book was 
being read, determined opposition was forming. 

In 1917, in spite of grassroots protest, the elite Public Education Association urged the 
opening of forty-eight more Gary schools (there were by that time thirty-two in 
operation). Whoever was running the timetable on this thing had apparently tired of 
gradualism and was preparing to step from the shadows and open the engine full throttle. 
A letter from the PEA director (New York Times, 27 June, 1917) urged that more Gary 
schools must be opened. An earlier letter by director Nudd struck an even more hysterical 
note: "The situation is acute, no further delay." This Hegelian manufactured crisis was 
used to thaw Board of Estimate recalcitrance, which body voted sufficient funds to 
extend the Gary scheme through the New York City school system. 

School riots followed hard on the heels of that vote. European immigrants, especially 
Jews from Germany (where collectivist thinking in the West had been perfected), knew 
exactly what the scientific Gary Plan would mean to their children. They weren't buying. 
In the fallout from these disturbances, socialite Mitchel was thrown out of office in the 
next election. The Gary schools themselves were dissolved by incoming Mayor Hylan 
who called them "a scheme" of the Rockefeller Foundation: "a system by which 
Rockefellers and their allies hope to educate coming generations in the 'doctrine of 
contentment,' another name for social serfdom." 

The Rockefeller Report 

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