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An American Affidavit

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

98. Managerial Utopia: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Managerial Utopia 

In an angry letter to the Atlantic Monthly (January 1998), Walter Greene, of Hatboro, 
Pennsylvania, protested the "myth of our failing schools," as he called it, on these 

We just happen to have the world's most productive work force, the largest economy, the 
highest material standard of living, more Nobel prizes than the rest of the world 
combined, the best system of higher education, the best high-tech medicine, and the 
strongest military. These things could not have been accomplished with second-rate 
systems of education. 

On the contrary, the surprising truth is they could not have been accomplished to the 
degree they have been without second-rate systems of education. But here it is, writ plain, 
the crux of an unbearable paradox posed by scientifically efficient schooling. It works. 
School, as we have it, does build national wealth, it does lead to endless scientific 
advances. Where is Greene's misstep? It lies in the equation of material prosperity and 
power with education when our affluence is built on schooling (and on entrepreneurial 
freedom, too, of course, for those libertarian enough to seize it). A century of relentless 
agit-prop has thrown us off the scent. The truth is that America's unprecedented global 
power and spectacular material wealth are a direct product of a third-rate educational 
system, upon whose inefficiency in developing intellect and character they depend. If we 
educated better we could not sustain the corporate Utopia we have made. Schools build 
national wealth by tearing down personal sovereignty, morality, and family life. It was a 

This contradiction is not unknown at the top, but it is never spoken aloud as part of the 
national school debate. Unacknowledged, it has been able to make its way among us 
undisturbed by protest. E.P. Thompson's classic, The Making of the English Working 
Class, is an eye-opening introduction to this bittersweet truth about "productive" 

workforces and national riches. When a Colorado coalminer testified before authorities in 
1871 that eight hours underground was long enough for any man because "he has no time 
to improve his intellect if he works more," the coaldigger could hardly have realized his 
very deficiency was value added to the market equation. 

What the nineteenth century in the coal-rich nations pointed toward was building 
infrastructure for managerial Utopia, a kind of society in which unelected functional 
specialists make all the decisions that matter. Formal periods of indoctrination and 
canonical books of instruction limit these specialists in their choices. The idea of 
managerial science is to embed managers so securely in abstract regulation and procedure 
that the fixed purpose of the endeavor becomes manager-proof. 

Managerial Utopias take tremendous effort to build. England's version of this political 
form was a millennium in the building. Such governance is costly to maintain because it 
wastes huge amounts of human time on a principle akin to the old warning that the Devil 
finds work for idle hands; it employs large numbers of incompetent and indifferent 
managers in positions of responsibility on the theory that loyalty is more important than 
ability to do the job. I watched this philosophy in action in public schools for thirty years. 

Ordinary people have a nasty habit of consciously and unconsciously sabotaging 
managerial Utopias, quietly trashing in whole or part the wishes of managers. To thwart 
these tendencies, expensive vigilance is the watchword of large systems, and the security 
aspect of managerial Utopia has to be paid for. Where did this money originally come 
from? The answer was from a surplus provided by coal, steam, steel, chemicals, and 
conquest. It was more than sufficient to pay for a mass school experiment. Society didn't 
slowly evolve to make way for a coal-based economy. It was forcibly made over in 
double time like Prussians marching to battle Napoleon at Waterloo. An entirely 
successful way of life was forcibly ushered out. 

Before anything could be modern, the damnable past had to be uprooted with its village 
culture, tight families, pious population, and independent livelihoods. Only a state 
religion had the power to do this — England and Germany were evidence of that — but 
America lacked one. A military establishment had power to do it, too. France, under the 
Directorate and Napoleon, was the most recent example of what physical force could 
accomplish in remaking the social order, but military power was still too dispersed and 
unreliable in America to employ it consistently against citizens. 

As the established Protestant religion schismed and broke apart, however, America came 
into possession of something that would serve in its place — a kaleidoscope of Utopian 
cults and a tradition of Utopian exhortation, a full palette of roving experts and teachers, 
Sunday schools, lyceums, pulpits, and Chautauquas. It was a propitious time and place in 
which to aim for long-range management of public opinion through the Utopian schooling 
vehicle Plato had described and that modern Prussia was actually using. 

It takes no great insight or intelligence to see that the health of a centralized economy 
built around dense concentrations of economic power and a close business alliance with 

government can't tolerate any considerable degree of intellectual schooling. This is no 
vain hypothesis. The recent French Revolution was widely regarded as the work of a 
horde of underemployed intellectuals, the American uprising more of the same. As the 
nineteenth century wore on, the Hungarian and Italian revolutions were both financed and 
partially planned from the United States using cells of marginal intellectuals, third sons, 
and other malcontents as a volunteer fifth column in advance of the revolutionary 
moment back home. Ample precedent to fear the educated was there; it was recognized 
that historical precedent identified thoughtful schooling as a dangerous blessing. 

The Positive Method 

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