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An American Affidavit

Friday, November 22, 2019

69. An Insider's Insider: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

69. An Insider's Insider: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org
An Insider's Insider

A bountiful source of clues to what tensions were actually at work back then can be
found in Ellwood P. Cubberley's celebratory history, Public Education in the United
States (1919, revised edition 1934), the standard in-house reference for official
legends until revisionist writings appeared in the 1960s.

Cubberley was an insider's insider, in a unique position to know things neither public nor
press could know. Although Cubberley always is circumspect and deliberately vague, he
cannot help revealing more than he wants to. For example, the reluctance of the country
to accept its new yoke of compulsion is caught briefly in this flat statement on page 564
of the 1934 revision:

The history of compulsory-attendance legislation in the states has been much the same
everywhere, and everywhere laws have been enacted only after overcoming strenuous

Reference here is to the period from 1852 to 1918 when the states, one by one, were
caught in a compulsion net that used the strategy of gradualism:

At first the laws were optional., later the law was made state-wide but the compulsory
period was short (ten to twelve weeks) and the age limits low, nine to twelve years. After
this, struggle came to extend the time, often little by little. ..to extend the age limits
downward to eight and seven and upwards to fourteen, fifteen or sixteen; to make the law
apply to children attending private and parochial schools, and to require cooperation
from such schools for the proper handling of cases; to institute state supervision of local
enforcement; to connect school attendance enforcement with the child-labor legislation of
the State through a system of working permits. ...[emphasis added]

Noteworthy is the extent to which proponents of centralized schooling were prepared to
act covertly in defiance of majority will and in the face of extremely successful and
inexpensive local school heritage. As late as 1901, after nearly a half-century of such
legislation — first in Massachusetts, then state by state in the majority of the remaining
jurisdictions — Dr. Levi Seeley of Trenton Normal School could still thunder warnings of
lack of progress. In his book Foundations of Education, he writes, "while no law on the
statute books of Prussia is more thoroughly carried out [than compulsory attendance]..."
He laments that "...in 1890, out of 5,300,000 Prussian children, only 645 slipped out of
the truant officer's net..." but that our own school attendance legislation is nothing more
than "dead letter laws":

We have been attempting compulsory education for a whole generation and cannot be
said to have made much progress — Let us cease to require only 20 weeks of schooling,
12 of which shall be consecutive, thus plainly hinting that we are not serious in the

Seeley's frustration clouded his judgment. Somebody was most certainly serious about
mass confinement schooling to stay at it so relentlessly and expensively in the face of
massive public repudiation of the scheme.

Compulsion Schooling

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