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An American Affidavit

Monday, January 21, 2019

23.Braddock's Defeat: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

23.Braddock's Defeat: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Braddock's Defeat  

     Unless you're a professional sports addict and know that Joe Montana, greatest  quarterback of the modern era, went to Waverly school in Monongahela, or that Ron  Neccai, only man in modern baseball history to strike out every
batter on the opposing  team for a whole game did, too, or that Ken Griffey Jr. went to its high school as well,  you can be forgiven if you never heard of Monongahela. But once upon a time at the

 beginning of our national history, Monongahela marked the forward edge of a new  nation, a wilder West than ever the more familiar West became. Teachers on a frontier  cannot be bystanders.   

      Custer's Last Stand in Montana had no military significance. Braddock's Last Stand near  Monongahela, on the other hand, changed American history forever because it proved  that the invincible British could be taken. And twenty-one years later we did take them,  an accomplishment the French and Spanish, their principal rivals, had been unable to do.  Why that happened, what inspiration allowed crude colonials to succeed where powerful  and polished nations could not, is so tied up with Monongahela that I want to bring the  moment back for you. It will make a useful reference point, you'll see, as we consider the  problem of modern schooling. Without Braddock's defeat we would never have had a  successful American revolution; without getting rid of the British, the competence of  ordinary people to educate themselves would never have had a fair test. 

      In July of 1755, at the age of twenty-three, possessing no university degrees, the alumnus  of no military academy, with only two years of formal schooling under his belt, half-  orphan George Washington was detailed an officer in the Virginia militia to accompany  an English military expedition moving to take the French fort at the forks of the  Monongahela and Allegheny, the point that became Pittsburgh. His general, Edward  Braddock, was an aristocrat commanding a well-equipped and disciplined force  considerably superior to any possible resistance. Braddock felt so confident of success, he  dismissed the advice of Washington to put aside traditional ways of European combat in  the New World.  

    On July 9, 1755, two decades and one year before our Revolution commenced under the  direction of the same Washington, Braddock executed a brilliant textbook crossing of the  Monongahela near the present Homestead High Bridge by Kennywood amusement park.  With fife and drum firing the martial spirit, he led the largest force in British colonial  America, all in red coats and polished metal, across the green river into the trees on the  farther bank. Engineers went ahead to cut a road for men and cannon.  

     Suddenly the advance guard was enveloped in smoke. It fell back in panic. The main  body moved up to relieve, but the groups meeting, going in opposite directions, caused  pandemonium. On both sides of the milling redcoats, woods crackled with hostile  gunfire. No enemy could be seen, but soldiers were caught between waves of bullets  fanning both flanks. Men dropped in bunches. Bleeding bodies formed hills of screaming  flesh, accelerating the panic. 

      Enter George, the Washington almost unknown to American schoolchildren. Making his  way to Braddock, he asked permission to engage the enemy wilderness fashion;  permission denied. Military theory held that allowing commands to emanate from  inferiors was a precedent more dangerous than bullets. The British were too well trained  to fight out of formation, too superbly schooled to adapt to the changing demands of the  new situation. When my grandfather took me to the scene of that battle years after on the  way to Kennywood, he muttered without explanation, "Goddamn bums couldn't think for  themselves." Now I understand what he meant. 

      The greatest military defeat the British ever suffered in North America before Saratoga  was underway. Washington's horse was shot from under him, his coat ripped by bullets.     Leaping onto a second horse, his hat was lifted from his head by gunfire and the second  horse went down. A legend was in the making on the Monongahela that day, passed to  Britain, France, and the colonies by survivors of the battle. Mortally wounded, Braddock  released his command. Washington led the retreat on his hands and knees, crawling  through the twilight dragging the dying Braddock, symbolic of the imminent death of  British rule in America.  

     Monongahela began as a town fourteen years later, crossing point for a river ferry  connecting to the National Road (now Route 40) which began, appropriately enough, in  the town of Washington, Pennsylvania. In 1791, leaders of the curious "Whiskey  Rebellion" met in Monongahela about a block from the place I was born; Scots-Irish  farmers sick of the oppression of federal rule in the new republic spoke of forging a  Trans-Allegheny nation of free men. Monongahela might have been its capital had they  succeeded. We know these men were taken seriously back East because Washington,  who as general never raised an army larger than 7,000 to fight the British, as president  assembled 13,000 in 1794 to march into western Pennsylvania to subdue the Whiskey  rebels. Having fought with them as comrades, he knew the danger posed by these wild  men of the farther forests was no pipedream. They were descendants of the original  pioneers who broke into the virgin forest, an evergreen and aggressive strain of populism  ran through their group character. 

      Monongahela appears in history as a place where people expected to make their own  luck, a place where rich and poor talked face to face, not through representatives. In the  1830s it became a way station on the escape route from Horace Mann — style Whiggery,  the notion that men should be bound minutely by rules and layered officialdom.  Whiggery was a neo-Anglican governing idea grown strong in reaction to Andrew  Jackson's dangerous democratic revolution. Whigs brought us forced schooling before  they mutated into both Democrats and Republicans; history seemed to tell them that with  School in hand their mission was accomplished. Thousands of Americans, sensibly  fearing the worst, poured West to get clear of this new British consciousness coming  back to life in the East, as if the spirit of General Braddock had survived after all. Many  of the new pilgrims passed through Mon City on the road to a place that might allow  them to continue seeing things their own way. 

      Each group passing through on its western migration left a testament to its own particular  yearnings — there are no less than twenty-three separate religious denominations in  Monongahela, although less than 5,000 souls live in the town. Most surprising of all, you  can find there world headquarters of an autonomous Mormon sect, one that didn't go to  Nauvoo with the rest of Smith's band but decamped here in a grimier Utopia.  Monongahela Mormons never accepted polygamy. They read the Book of Mormon a  different way. From 1755 until the Civil War, the libertarianism of places like  Monongahela set the tone for the most brilliant experiment in self-governance the modern  world has ever seen. Not since the end of the Pippin Kings in France had liberty been so  abundantly available for such a long time. A revolution in education was at hand as  knowledge of the benefits of learning to the vigor of the spirit spread far and wide across  America. Formal schooling played a part in this transformation, but its role was far from     decisive. Schooled or not, the United States was the best-educated nation in human  history — because it had liberty. 

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