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An American Affidavit

Sunday, May 27, 2018

88. The Land of Frankenstein: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

88. The Land of Frankenstein: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Chapter Seven     The Prussian Connection  

Prussian Fire-Discipline  

     On approaching the enemy, the marching columns of Prussians wheeled in succession to  the right or left, passed along the front of the enemy until the rear company had wheeled.  Then the whole together wheeled into line facing the enemy. These movements brought  the infantry into two long well-closed lines,
parade-ground precision obtained thanks to  remorseless drilling. With this movement was bound up a fire-discipline more  extraordinary than any perfection of maneuver. "Pelotonfeuer" was opened at 200 paces  from the enemy and continued up to 30 paces when the line fell on with the bayonet. The  possibility of this combination of fire and movement was the work of Leopold, who by  sheer drill made the soldier a machine capable of delivering (with flintlock muzzle-  loading muskets) five volleys a minute. The special Prussian fire-discipline gave an  advantage of five shots to two against all opponents. The bayonet attack, if the rolling  volleys had done their work, was merely "presenting the cheque for payment, " as a  German writer put it.
      — Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 1th edition, "Prussia"  

88. The Land of Frankenstein  

     The particular Utopia American believers chose to bring to the schoolhouse was Prussian.  The seed that became American schooling, twentieth-century style, was planted in 1 806  when Napoleon's amateur soldiers bested the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle  of Jena. When your business is renting soldiers and employing diplomatic extortion under  threat of your soldiery, losing a battle like that is pretty serious. Something had to be  done. 
      The most important immediate reaction to Jena was an immortal speech, the "Address to  the German Nation" by the philosopher Fichte — one of the influential documents of  modern history leading directly to the first workable compulsion schools in the West.  Other times, other lands talked about schooling, but all failed to deliver. Simple forced  training for brief intervals and for narrow purposes was the best that had ever been  managed. This time would be different.  
     In no uncertain terms Fichte told Prussia the party was over. Children would have to be  disciplined through a new form of universal conditioning. They could no longer be  trusted to their parents. Look what Napoleon had done by banishing sentiment in the  interests of nationalism. Through forced schooling, everyone would learn that "work  makes free," and working for the State, even laying down one's life to its commands, was  the greatest freedom of all. Here in the genius of semantic redefinition 1 lay the power to     cloud men's minds, a power later packaged and sold by public relations pioneers Edward  Bernays and Ivy Lee in the seedtime of American forced schooling. 
      Prior to Fichte's challenge any number of compulsion-school proclamations had rolled  off printing presses here and there, including Martin Luther's plan to tie church and state  together this way and, of course, the "Old Deluder Satan" law of 1642 in Massachusetts  and its 1645 extension. The problem was these earlier ventures were virtually  unenforceable, roundly ignored by those who smelled mischief lurking behind fancy  promises of free education. People who wanted their kids schooled had them schooled  even then; people who didn't didn't. That was more or less true for most of us right into  the twentieth century: as late as 1920, only 32 percent of American kids went past  elementary school. If that sounds impossible, consider the practice in Switzerland today  where only 23 percent of the student population goes to high school, though Switzerland  has the world's highest per capita income in the world. 
      Prussia was prepared to use bayonets on its own people as readily as it wielded them  against others, so it's not all that surprising the human race got its first effective secular  compulsion schooling out of Prussia in 1819, the same year Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,  set in the darkness of far-off Germany, was published in England. Schule came after more  than a decade of deliberations, commissions, testimony, and debate. For a brief, hopeful  moment, Humboldt's brilliant arguments for a high-level no-holds-barred, free-swinging,  universal, intellectual course of study for all, full of variety, free debate, rich experience,  and personalized curricula almost won the day. What a different world we would have  today if Humboldt had won the Prussian debate, but the forces backing Baron vom Stein  won instead. And that has made all the difference.  
     The Prussian mind, which carried the day, held a clear idea of what centralized schooling  should deliver: 1) Obedient soldiers to the army; 2 2) Obedient workers for mines,  factories, and farms; 3) Well-subordinated civil servants, trained in their function; 4)  Well-subordinated clerks for industry; 5) Citizens who thought alike on most issues; 6)  National uniformity in thought, word, and deed. 
     The area of individual volition for commoners was severely foreclosed by Prussian  psychological training procedures drawn from the experience of animal husbandry and  equestrian training, and also taken from past military experience. Much later, in our own  time, the techniques of these assorted crafts and sullen arts became "discoveries" in the  pedagogical pseudoscience of psychological behaviorism. 
      Prussian schools delivered everything they promised. Every important matter could now  be confidently worked out in advance by leading families and institutional heads because  well-schooled masses would concur with a minimum of opposition. This tightly schooled  consensus in Prussia eventually combined the kaleidoscopic German principalities into a  united Germany, after a thousand years as a nation in fragments. What a surprise the  world would soon get from this successful experiment in national centralization! Under  Prussian state socialism private industry surged, vaulting resource-poor Prussia up among  world leaders. Military success remained Prussia's touchstone. Even before the school     law went into full effect as an enhancer of state priorities, the army corps under Blucher  was the principal reason for Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, its superb discipline allowing  for a surprisingly successful return to combat after what seemed to be a crushing defeat at  the Little Corporal's hands just days before. 3 Unschooled, the Prussians were awesome;  conditioned in the classroom promised to make them even more formidable.  
     The immense prestige earned from this triumph reverberated through an America not so  lucky in its own recent fortunes of war, a country humiliated by a shabby showing against  the British in the War of 1812. Even thirty years after Waterloo, so highly was Prussia  regarded in America and Britain, the English-speaking adversaries selected the Prussian  king to arbitrate our northwest border with Canada. Hence the Pennsylvania town "King  of Prussia." Thirty-three years after Prussia made state schooling work, we borrowed the  structure, style, and intention of those Germans for our own first compulsion schools.  
     Traditional American school purpose — piety, good manners, basic intellectual tools, self-  reliance, etc. — was scrapped to make way for something different. Our historical  destination of personal independence gave way slowly to Prussian-purpose schooling, not  because the American way lost in any competition of ideas, but because for the new  commercial and manufacturing hierarchs, such a course made better economic sense. 
      This private advance toward nationalized schooling in America was partially organized,  although little has ever been written about it; Orestes Brownson's journal identifies a  covert national apparatus (to which Brownson briefly belonged) already in place in the  decade after the War of 1812, one whose stated purpose was to "Germanize" America,  beginning in those troubled neighborhoods where the urban poor huddled, and where  disorganized new immigrants made easy targets, according to Brownson. Enmity on the  part of old-stock middle-class and working-class populations toward newer immigrants  gave these unfortunates no appeal against the school sentence to which Massachusetts  assigned them. They were in for a complete makeover, like it or not. 
      Much of the story, as it was being written by 1844, lies just under the surface of Mann's  florid prose in his Seventh Annual Report to the Boston School Committee. On a visit to  Prussia the year before, he had been much impressed (so he said) with the ease by which  Prussian calculations could determine precisely how many thinkers, problem-solvers, and  working stiffs the State would require over the coming decade, then how it offered the  precise categories of training required to develop the percentages of human resource  needed. All this was much fairer to Mann than England's repulsive episcopal system —  schooling based on social class; Prussia, he thought, was republican in the desirable,  manly, Roman sense. Massachusetts must take the same direction.   

1. Machiavelli had clearly identified this as a necessary strategy of state in 1532, and even explored its choreography.  

 2. "For an ironic reflection on the success of Prussian educational ideals, take a look at Martin Van Creveld's   Fighting Power (Greenwood Press, 1982). Creveld, the world's finest military historian, undertakes to explain why German armies in 19 14  1918 and 1939-1945, although heavily outnumbered in the major battles of both wars, consistently inflicted 30 percent more casualties than  they suffered, whether they were winning or losing, on defense or on offense, no matter who they fought. They were better led, we might  suspect, but the actual training of those field commanders comes as a shock. While American officer selection was right out of Frederick     Taylor, complete with psychological dossiers and standardized tests, German officer training emphasized individual apprenticeships, week-  long field evaluations, extended discursive written evaluations by senior officers who personally knew the candidates. The surprise is, while  German state management was rigid and regulated with its common citizens, it was liberal and adventuresome with its elites. After WWII, and  particularly after Vietnam, American elite military practice began to follow this German model. Ironically enough, America's elite private  boarding schools like Groton had followed the Prussian lead from their inception as well as the British models of Eton and Harrow.   German elite war doctrine cut straight to the heart of the difference between the truly educated and the merely schooled. For the German High  Command war was seen as an art, a creative activity, grounded in science. War made the highest demands on an officer's entire personality and  the role of the individual in Germany was decisive. American emphasis, on the other hand, was doctrinal, fixated on cookbook rules. The U.S.  officer's manual said: "Doctrines of combat operation are neither numerous nor complex. Knowledge of these doctrines provides a firm basis  for action in a particular situation." This reliance on automatic procedure rather than on creative individual decisions got a lot of Americans  killed by the book. The irony, of course, was that American, British, and French officers got the same lockstep conditioning in dependence that  German foot soldiers did. There are some obvious lessons here which can be applied directly to public schooling. 
   3.  Napoleon assumed the Prussians were retreating in the direction of the Rhine after a defeat, but in truth they were only executing a feint. The  French were about to overrun Wellington when Blucher's "Death's Head Hussars," driven beyond human endurance by their officers, reached  the battlefield at a decisive moment. Not pausing to rest, the Prussians immediately went into battle, taking the French in the rear and right  wing. Napoleon toppled, and Prussian discipline became the focus of world attention.   The Long Reach Of The Teutonic Knights 

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