175. Napoleon Of Mind Science: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org
Napoleon Of Mind Science
William James wrote in 1879: [Wundt] aims on being a Napoleon.... Unfortunately he will never have a Waterloo. ...cut him up like a worm and each fragment crawls. ...you can't kill him.
From his laboratory in upper Saxony near the Prussian border, Wundt wrote 53,735 published pages in the sixty-eight years between 1853 and 1920, words which sculpted modern schooling, from a disorderly attempt to heighten human promise in individuals or to glorify God's creation, into mandated psychological
Wundt's childhood was unrelieved by fun. He never played. He had no friends. He failed to find love in his family. From this austere forge, a Ph.D. emerged humorless, indefatigable, and aggressive. At his end he returned to the earth childless. Wundt is the senior psychologist in the history of psychology, says Boring: "Before him there was psychology but no psychologists, only philosophers."
Coming out of the physiological tradition of psychophysics in Germany, Wundt followed the path of de La Mettrie, Condillac, and Descartes in France who argued, each in his own way, that what we think of as personality is only a collection of physiological facts. Humanity is an illusion.
Wundt had a huge advantage over the mechanists before him. For him the time was right, all religious and romantic opposition in disarray, bewildered by the rapid onset of machinery into society. Over in England, Darwin's brilliant cousin Francis Galton was vigorously promoting mathematical prediction into the status of a successful cult. In one short decade, bastions of a more ancient scholarly edifice were overrun by number crunchers. A bleak future suddenly loomed for men who remained unconvinced that any transcendental power was locked up in quantification of nature and humankind.
The Pythagorean brotherhood was reseating itself inexorably in this great age of Wundt, the two in harmony as both contributed heavily to the centralization of things and to the tidal wave of scientific racism which drowned the university world for decades, culminating in the racial science station maintained on the old Astor estate in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, by Carnegie interests until the events of September 1939, caused it to quietly close its doors. 12 Even at the beginning of the marriage of scholarship and statistics, its principals saw little need to broaden their investigations into real life, an ominous foreshadowing of the eugenical outlook that followed.
A friendless, loveless, childless male German calling himself a psychologist set out, I think, to prove his human condition didn't matter because feelings were only an aberration. His premises and methodology were imported into an expanding American system of child confinement and through that system disseminated to administrators, teachers, counselors, collegians, and the national consciousness.
As Germany became the intellectuals' darling of the moment at the end of the nineteenth century, a long-dead German philosopher, Kant's successor at the University of Berlin, Johann Herbart, enjoyed a vogue in school-intoxicated America. "Herbartianism" is probably the first of a long line of pseudoscientific enthusiasms to sweep the halls of pedagogy. A good German, Herbart laid out with precision the famous Herbartian Five- Step Program, not a dance but a psychologized teacher training program. By 1895, there was a National Herbartian Society to spread the good news, enrolling the likes of Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia and John Dewey. Herbart was finally laid to rest sometime before WWI when Dewey's interest cooled, but his passage was a harbinger of many Herbart-oid enthusiasms to follow as a regular procession of educational gurus rose and fell with the fashion of the moment. The Moorish dance of scientific pedagogy accelerated its tempo relentlessly, and arms, legs, heads, perspiration, cries of venereal delight, and some anguish, too, mingled in the hypnotic whirl of laboratory dervishes. By 1910, Dewey was substituting his own five steps for Herbart's in a book called How We Think. Few who read it noticed that a case was being made that we don't actually think at all. Thinking was only an elusive kind of problem-solving behavior, called into being by dedicated activity; otherwise we are mindless.
l2 America's academic romance with scientific racism, which led directly to mass sterilization experiments in this country, has been widely studied in Europe but is still little known even among the college-trained population here. An entire study can be made of the penetration of this notion — that the makeup of the species is and ought to be controllable by an elite — into every aspect of American school where it remains to this day. I would urge any reader with time and inclination to explore this matter to get Daniel J. Kevles' In The Name of Eugenics where a thorough account and a thorough source bibliography are set down. This essay offers a disturbing discussion which should open your eyes to how ideas flow through modem society and inevitably are translated into schooling. Dr. Kevles is on the history faculty at California Institute of Technology. Oddly enough, on December 11, 1998, the New York Times front page carried news that an organization in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, had deciphered the full genetic code of a microscopic round worm, a landmark achievement. The president of the National Academy of Sciences is quoted as saying, "In the last 10 years we have come to realize humans are more like worms than we ever imagined." Whether the Cold Spring Harbor facility which announced this has any connection with the former racial science station, I do not know.