John Taylor Gatto, a New York public educator for thirty years, resigned on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal after being named New York State’s “Teacher of the Year” in 1991. Gatto told the world he was no longer willing to “hurt children;” that the very system of public education had, since its inception, been designed to indoctrinate children in desirable attitudes and behaviors compatible with a compartmentalized industrial workforce. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling launched Gatto’s career in public speaking on the topic of school reform; selling over 200,000 copies, the book is a collection of short speeches outlining the seven underlying lessons of a public school teacher. The seven lessons are: confusion, class position, indifference, emotional dependency, intellectual dependency, provisional self-esteem, and no right to privacy.
Gatto’s other books (Weapons of Mass Instruction; The Underground History of American Education) detail the ideological and intellectual foundations of the factory schooling system. One could argue the formula for public schooling would be one part Frederick Taylor’s scientific management; one part Wilhelm Wundt’s experimental psychology; peppered with John Dewey’s philosophy of pragmatism and a mix of futurist programming for 21st century social and economic outcomes. Education would no longer be viewed as an enlightening experience but as a scientific method of behavioral and social indoctrination practiced in a state institution; attendance, mandatory.
Perhaps the most important historical evidence Gatto communicates is that the compartmentalized and compulsory system was adopted from the Prussian template. Johann Fichte’s Address to the German Nation inspired the military state to revamp its education program after an embarrassing defeat to Napoleon’s armies in the Battle of Jena. A general by the name of Carl von Clausewitz installed Wilhelm von Humboldt , a pedagogue, first Minister of Education. In The Underground History of American Education, Gatto lays out the model:
The familiar three-tier system of education emerged in the Napoleonic era, one private tier, two government ones. At the top, one-half of one percent of the students attended Akadamiensschulen, where, as future policy makers, they learned to think strategically, contextually, in wholes; they learned complex processes, and useful knowledge, studied history, wrote copiously, argued often, read deeply, and mastered tasks of command.
The next level, Realschulen, was intended mostly as a manufactory for the professional proletariat of engineers, architects, doctors, lawyers, career civil servants, and such other assistants as policy thinkers at times would require. From 5 to 7.5 percent of all students attended these “real schools,” learning in a superficial fashion how to think in context, but mostly learning how to manage materials, men, and situations—to be problem solvers. This group would also staff the various policing functions of the state, bringing order to the domain. Finally, at the bottom of the pile, a group between 92 and 94 percent of the population attended ‘people’s schools’ [Grundschule] where they learned obedience, cooperation and correct attitudes, along with rudiments of literacy and official state myths of history.
Horace Mann, a member of the Massachusetts state House of Representatives turned state senator turned U.S. congressman, was an educational reformer who lobbied heavily throughout his career for the U.S. to adopt a more effective system of public education for the purposes of indoctrinating obedience and socialization. From 1837 to 1848, Mann was appointed first Secretary of the newly created Massachusetts State Board of Education. Mann put Massachusetts on the map as the first state in the U.S. to adopt compulsory government schooling in 1852, modeled on the lowest rung of the Prussian template. By the early 1900’s, most states would adopt the compulsory government schooling system.
But why, after surveying several models, did Mann decide on the Prussian template? A variety of factors must be taken into consideration. First, the transformation of an agrarian society to an industrial society was taking place during Mann’s time, requiring a large quantity of labor to perform difficult manual tasks. Second, the individuals Mann surrounded himself with were wealthy industrialists concerned that the society of their time encouraged too much entrepreneurial activity, that a compulsory system of schooling would be needed to instill proper attitudes and behaviors compliant with industrial labor.
Perhaps this quote from former President Woodrow Wilson will deliver clarity to the intent of compulsory education:
We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.
Mark Twain once said “I’ve never let my school interfere with my education.” The problem is that most associate schooling with education. Education can be an enlightening experience realized outside the confines of an institution while schooling is the process of being taught in a school. When you ask a child why they go to school, they will tell you they go to school to learn. The institution of government schooling uses the psychological definition of learning: the modification of behavior through practice, training, or experience. Government schooling is the process of indoctrinating desirable attitudes and behaviors compatible with social, political, and economic realities determined by the authority of the state. If it is any surprise to you why children graduating thirteen years from public school are indifferent, emotionally and intellectually arrested, imaginatively distressed, morally relative, and dependent on the authority of experts to determine their actions and reactions, I would encourage you to examine the historical evidence supplied by John Taylor Gatto.
Gatto’s research opens many avenues of exploration for curious minds seeking to understand the why behind the model of compulsory government ‘education.’ To many, an introduction to this information is disturbing and the personal revelation, depressing. This is a fairly common reaction and should not detour anyone from examining the reality. Remember, the omission of this narrative is paramount to the preservation of this outdated model. In time you will find this revelation will strengthen your confidence and revive your inner dialectic, your passion to pursue intellectual and physical endeavors previously sanctioned by public schooling to be outside your potential.
For those who damn Gatto to his grave, who continue to support this perverse system of social indoctrination masking itself as education, I leave you with the words of Charles Sanders Pierce, father of American Pragmatism and mentor to John Dewey:
Let the will of the state act, then, instead of that of the individual. Let an institution be created which shall have for its object to keep correct doctrines before the attention of the people, to reiterate them perpetually, and to teach them to the young, having at the same time power to prevent contrary doctrines from being taught, advocated, or expressed. Let all possible causes of a change of mind be removed from men’s apprehension. Let them be kept ignorant, lest they should learn of some reason to think otherwise than they do. Let their passions be enlisted, so that they may regard…unusual opinions with hatred and horror. Then, let all men who reject the established belief be terrified into silence…Let a list of opinions be drawn up to which no man of the least independence of thought can assent, and let the faithful be required to accept all these propositions in order to segregate them as radically as possible from the influence of the rest of the world.