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An American Affidavit

Monday, March 26, 2018

37. Bionomics: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

37. Bionomics: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org


The crude power and resources to make twentieth-century forced schooling happen as it  did came from large corporations and the federal government, from powerful, lone-  established families, and from the universities, now swollen
with recruits from the  declining Protestant ministry and from once-clerical families. All this is easy enough to  trace once you know it's there. But the soul of the thing was far more complex, an  amalgam of ancient religious doctrine, Utopian philosophy, and European/Asiatic strong-  state politics mixed together and distilled. The great facade behind which this was  happening was a new enlightenment: scientific scholarship in league with German  research values brought to America in the last half of the nineteenth century. Modern  German tradition always assigned universities the primary task of directly serving  industry and the political state, but that was a radical contradiction of American tradition  to serve the individual and the family.   
     Indiana University provides a sharp insight into the kind of science-fictional  consciousness developing outside the mostly irrelevant debate conducted in the press  about schooling, a debate proceeding on early nineteenth century lines. By 1900, a  special discipline existed at Indiana for elite students, Bionomics. Invitees were hand-  picked by college president David Starr Jordan, who created and taught the course. It  dealt with the why and how of producing a new evolutionary ruling class, although that  characterization, suggesting as it does kings, dukes, and princes, is somewhat misleading.  In the new scientific era dawning, the ruling class were those managers trained in the  goals and procedures of new systems. Jordan did so well at Bionomics he was soon  invited into the major leagues of university existence, (an invitation extended personally  by rail tycoon Leland Stanford) to become first president of Stanford University, a school  inspired by Andrew Carnegie's famous "Gospel of Wealth" essay. Jordan remained  president of Stanford for thirty years.  
     Bionomics acquired its direct link with forced schooling in a fortuitous fashion. When he  left Indiana, Jordan eventually reached back to get his star Bionomics protege, Ellwood  P. Cubberley, to become dean of Teacher Education at Stanford. In this heady position,  young Cubberley made himself a reigning aristocrat of the new institution. He wrote a  history of American schooling which became the standard of the school business for the  next fifty years; he assembled a national syndicate which controlled administrative posts     from coast to coast. Cubberley was the man to see, the kingmaker in American school life  until its pattern was set in stone. 
      Did the abstract and rather arcane discipline of Bionomics have any effect on real life?  Well, consider this: the first formal legislation making forced sterilization a legal act on  planet Earth was passed, not in Germany or Japan, but in the American state of Indiana, a  law which became official in the famous 1927 Supreme Court test case Buck vs. Bell.  Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the majority opinion allowing seventeen-year-old  Carrie Buck to be sterilized against her will to prevent her "degenerate offspring," in  Holmes' words, from being born. Twenty years after the momentous decision, in the trial  of German doctors at Nuremberg, Nazi physicians testified that their precedents were  American — aimed at combating racial degeneracy. The German name for forced  sterilization was "the Indiana Procedure."  
     To say this bionomical spirit infected public schooling is only to say birds fly. Once you  know it's there, the principle jumps out at you from behind every school bush. It suffused  public discourse in many areas where it had claimed superior insight. Walter Lippmann,  in 1922, demanded "severe restrictions on public debate," in light of the allegedly  enormous number of feeble-minded Americans. The old ideal of participatory democracy  was insane, according to Lippmann.  
     The theme of scientifically controlled breeding interacted in a complex way with the old  Prussian ideal of a logical society run by experts loyal to the state. It also echoed the idea  of British state religion and political society that God Himself had appointed the social  classes. What gradually began to emerge from this was a Darwinian caste-based  American version of institutional schooling remote-controlled at long distance,  administered through a growing army of hired hands, layered into intricate pedagogical  hierarchies on the old Roman principle of divide and conquer. Meanwhile, in the larger  world, assisted mightily by intense concentration of ownership in the new electronic  media, developments moved swiftly also. 
      In 1928, Edward L. Bernays, godfather of the new craft of spin control we call "public  relations," told the readers of his book Crystallizing Public Opinion that "invisible  power" was now in control of every aspect of American life. Democracy, said Bernays,  was only a front for skillful wire-pulling. The necessary know-how to pull these crucial  wires was available for sale to businessmen and policy people. Public imagination was  controlled by shaping the minds of schoolchildren. 
      By 1944, a repudiation of Jefferson's idea that mankind had natural rights was resonating  in every corner of academic life. Any professor who expected free money from  foundations, corporations, or government agencies had to play the scientific management  string on his lute. In 1961, the concept of the political state as the sovereign principle  surfaced dramatically in John F. Kennedy's famous inaugural address in which his  national audience was lectured, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you  can do for your country."    
     Thirty-five years later, Kennedy's lofty Romanized rhetoric and metaphor were replaced  by the tough-talking wise guy idiom of Time, instructing its readers in a 1996 cover story  that "Democracy is in the worst interest of national goals." As Time reporters put it, "The  modern world is too complex to allow the man or woman in the street to interfere in its  management." Democracy was deemed a system for losers.  
     To a public desensitized to its rights and possibilities, frozen out of the national debate, to  a public whose fate was in the hands of experts, the secret was in the open for those who  could read entrails: the original American ideals had been repudiated by their guardians.  School was best seen from this new perspective as the critical terminal on a production  line to create a Utopia resembling EPCOT Center, but with one important bionomical  limitation: it wasn't intended for everyone, at least not for very long, this Utopia. 
      Out of Johns Hopkins in 1996 came this chilling news:  
      The American economy has grown massively since the mid 1960s, but
      workers' real  spendable wages are no higher than they were 30
      years ago.  
     That from a book called Fat and Mean, about the significance of corporate downsizing.  During the boom economy of the 1980s and 1990s, purchasing power rose for 20 percent  of the population and actually declined 13 percent for the other four-fifths. Indeed, after  inflation was factored in, purchasing power of a working couple in 1995 was only 8  percent greater than for a single working man in 1905; this steep decline in common  prosperity over ninety years forced both parents from home and deposited kids in the  management systems of daycare, extended schooling, and commercial entertainment.  Despite the century-long harangue that schooling was the cure for unevenly spread  wealth, exactly the reverse occurred — wealth was 250 percent more concentrated at  century's end than at its beginning. 
      I don't mean to be inflammatory, but it's as if government schooling made people  dumber, not brighter; made families weaker, not stronger; ruined formal religion with its  hard-sell exclusion of God; set the class structure in stone by dividing children into  classes and setting them against one another; and has been midwife to an alarming  concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a fraction of the national community.   Waking Up Angry 

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