Sunday, April 22

Stupidity Schooling: American Elite's "Mismanagement" of Public Education

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
--Pink Floyd, The Wall, "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2," 1979

It took American TV news (see video below) a century to figure out the Great American Dumb-Down. Perhaps the lag time in noticing the phenomenon reflects the purposively impaired ability to think inculcated in U.S. public schools.

That conclusion is implicit in a controversial 2003 book by a award-winning but angry New York City educator and 2006 ABC News special on public education as idiocy-making. In addition, the book and report further imply that an increasingly higher percentage of Americans since World War II fail to grasp, much less assume, responsibilities essential to democratic citizenship, a talent noticeably absent in 21st-century America.

After 30 years of teaching at some of New York City's best and worst schools, John Taylor Gatto, twice New York's Teacher of the Year, had seen enough children crushed beneath the bureaucratic machinery of public "education." Angered at the systematic death of students' intellects and spirits, Gatto took retirement to begin chronicling how public schools were less about teaching students how to read or think well, than about stifling creativity to ensure graduates became docile employees for their social betters who wanted them to aspire littler higher than compliant consumism.

In 2003, Gatto wrote The Underground History of American Education, a book dutifully panned by the mainstream press. His chilly critical reception in no small part was occasioned by his apparently radical thesis: American public education by the early 20th century had become "a servant of corporate and political management" foisted on working-class children by elite U.S families--J.P. Morgan (left) and J.D. Rockefeller (right), chief among them--who saw themselves as genetically and intellectually superior to America's monetarily unanointed masses.

Indeed, the sub-themes of racism and classism permeate Gatto's angry insights into public education as an elite tool of social control. But where is an author taking readers when he makes this generalization about public schooling:

Horace Mann had sold forced schooling to industrialists of the mid-nineteenth century as the best "police" to create moral children, but ironically, as it turned out in the twentieth century, big business and big government were best served by making schoolrooms antechambers to Hell.

Oh, my. He wants us to walk through Kansas' looking glass, doesn't he Dorothy? But Gatto's teaching experience and grasp of his historical materials make it well worth the paradigm leap he asks of us in rethinking public education's social mission.

To support his view of public schooling as compulsory class indoctrination in intellectual subservience, Gatto establishes a timeline of 20th-century educational developments he links to a cornucopia of expert quotes and excavated historical documents, to include private letters exchanged among America's elite discussing their progress in socially constructing a nation of subordinates incapable of comprehending the contours of the covert class war being waged on them, must less challenging it.

Of the Big Business ethic that imbued the thinking of leaders and scholars who crafted modern public education in support of American industrialization and empire-building (Hawaii, the Phillipines, Cuba, etc. were forcibly annexed) emerging in the 1890's, Gatto writes:

In the first decades of the twentieth century, a small group of soon-to-be-famous academics, symbolically led by John Dewey and Edward Thorndike of Columbia Teachers College, Ellwood P. Cubberley of Stanford, G. Stanley Hall of Clark, and an ambitious handful of others, energized and financed by major corporate and financial allies like Morgan, Astor, Whitney, Carnegie, and Rockefeller, decided to bend government schooling to the service of business and the political state....

In these planners' hands, public education became mind control, an institution in which "[c]hildren were literally trained in bad habits and bad attitudes! Teachers and principals, 'scientifically' certified in teachers college practices, were made unaware of the invisible curriculum they really taught."

The secret of commerce, that kids drive purchases, meant that schools had to become psychological laboratories where training in consumerism was the central pursuit.

In a pre-World War I speech to U.S. business leaders, President Woodrow Wilson reiterated public education's adjunct support status of commerce by intimating most children should become acclimated to factory work while the children of the elite attended college:

We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

Around 1917, the time of Wilson's remarks, Gatto reveals a group of elite educational administrators and policymakers, informally called "the Education Trust"--"representatives of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and the National Education Association"--sought to "impose on the young the ideal of subordination."

Even Hitler and Mussolini's fascist terrorizing of Europe in the early 193os inspired some of these patrons of compulsory mass education to metaphors of total authoritarian control. In the early 1930s "
an executive director of the National Education Association announced that his organization expected 'to accomplish by education what dictators in Europe are seeking to do by compulsion and force'." "You can’t get much clearer than that," Gatto quips.

The author also reminds us the elite's mass education agenda was pocked with notions of racial and class superiority, a point demonstrated by university classes for future leaders. For example, by 1900, "a special discipline existed at Indiana for elite students, Bionomics. Invitees were hand-picked by college president David Starr Jordan, who created and taught the course. It dealt with the why and how of producing a new evolutionary ruling class."

When his course for future managers of dullard laborers became a smashing success,
Jordan "was soon invited into the major leagues of university existence, (an invitation extended personally by rail tycoon Leland Stanford) to become first president of Stanford University, a school inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s famous 'Gospel of Wealth' essay. Jordan remained president of Stanford for thirty years."

In the 1920s, another pseudo biological science, eugenics (from the Greek, meaning "well born"), also was popular among America's largely white managerial student body, a development accompanying white working-class Americans' spiking membership in the Klu Klux Klan. The KKK became the antidote for their quite desperation over Eastern European immigrants they say as threatening their jobs and "racial purity" at their less exclusive end of America's gene pool.

Architects of public education believed environsed forced schooling eventually could assuage "[t]he Spectre Of Uncontrolled Breeding" by eventually supplanting the family's role in assimilating immigrant and minority children to American "ideals."

Arthur Calhoun’s 1919 Social History of the Family...declared that the fondest wish of utopian writers was coming true, the child was passing from its family "into the custody of community experts." He offered a significant forecast, that in time we could expect to see public education "designed to check the mating of the unfit."

Gatto's well-researched and -reasoned book offers additional arguments in his autopsy of middle and lower-class children's creativity he knew from experience lay murdered across New York's classrooms. For example, he deconstructs the social engineering behind continuing social inequality fortified through a tediously heartless curriculum with few details left to chance, to include uninspiring sterile classroom layout and design; he also explicates the federal, state and local educational police's ever-changing buzz words, phraseologies and philosophies de jure, all based on quasi-scientific research, used to awe concerned parents and fanagle congress out of more tax dollars for the next "reform" program to reverse students' declining ability to read, write or tame a column of numbers.

By the end of his provocative text, Gatto has peeled back the hypocrisy and revealed the Potemkin Village that is American public schooling and the "technology of subjection" making the American Dream through education so compelling a sell among the Unwealthy. But what we have in America, Gatto tells us, is essentially a thin fig leaf covering the well-born's abiding concern for deferential professional and social subordinates who subscribe to --and wish to emulate--the rituals that underscore their privileged social status they've discretely ensconced in upscale zip codes of gated communities.

Elite Payoff: The ABC's of What "Stupid in America" Looks Like

Among Gattos' most compelling evidence of this agenda's effectiveness to make the Unwealthy intellectual midgets are historical literacy rates among U.S. Army enlistees, a common entry-level vocation for the working-class.

While only 4% of World War II enlistees between 1942-1944 (those schooled in the 1930s) were turned down of the 18 million tested, by the Korean War (1952-1954) 19% were rejected for their inability to read at a fourth-grade level, though on average they had more schooling than WWII recruits. But among Vietnam War-era draftees and volunteers entering the army from the early 1960s through 1973, "the number of men found noninductible by reason of inability to read safety instructions, interpret road signs, decipher orders, and so on—in other words, the number found illiterate—had reached 27 percent of the total pool."

While this evidence may only reflect the army increasingly became attractive to enlistees with limited education and skill packages, Gattos confirms this downward national trend in functional illiteracy through states' high school achievements scores. (1)

This failure of schools to teach reading is painfully seen in a January 2006 ABC 20/20 news special titled "Stupid in America." Hosted by John Stossel, the program suggests that American public schools (academically ranked 25th internationally in 2003) indeed may have become the "antechambers to Hell" Gattos described.

As you view the program, notice the failure to educate extends to so-called "better" schools in American suburbs--at the four-mark mark of George Bush's 12-years vaunted No Child Left Behind education bill mandating "100% proficiency" for all U.S. public school students by 2014. Moreover, Stossel provides charts (and case reports of charter school administrators) revealing that increased government funding has had little impact on improved student performance. (2)

Post-9/11 America: Laugh at Yourself...then leave

Canadian and Australian television executives have found programming gold in capitalizing on this "stupid in America" theme, which their views apparently find to be hilarious. Camera crews have conducted the old standard "man in the street" interviews across the U.S. in which Americans are asked basic questions about geography, international leaders and their own political system.

The results? That depends on your point of view.

Check out this 24-minute clip hosted by Rick Mercer; it's a commercial-free Canadian Broadcasting Corporation TV special titled "Talking to Americans." The responses to questions Mercer gets from Americans as he travels across the nation's fruit plains are sobering, yet not without considerable humor--provided, that is, if you're an American, you can laugh at being depicted as an arrogant, moronic imbecile.

Nonetheless, the tape (as does this 3-minute Australian clip) explains how an arrogant and moronic mental midget such as George W. Bush can feel relatively comfortable in sharing his disjointed thoughts on "democracy" with millions of "fellow citizens" who remain clueless his administration has achieved that fascist state only envisioned by the Rockefellers, Morgans, Carnegies, Fords, Astors et al.

While Canadians and Australians enjoy laughing at Americans, those of us stateside able to comprehend Gattos' thesis and place it against America's evolving social and political backdrop since the 9/11 terrorist attacks should sell the house and immigrate abroad to laugh, if that's possible, with the citizens there.

The sooner, the better--the safer.

"Stupidity Schooling" Update: 30 December 2007

In June 2007, Harvard's Civil Rights Project released an 82-page report concluding that four years of George Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, his signature piece of domestic legislation, had achieved no appreciable change ("full of sound and fury signifying nothing") in narrowing historic achievement gaps among children of affluent and poor U.S. families, among white and minority students, principally Hispanics and African-Americans.

In the report's "Foreword," Gary Orfield offered the revealing passage below arguing that the intense pressures NCLB places on schools to meet annual testing benchmarks (toward 100% "proficiency" by 2014)--to avoid losing federal funding--have a deleterious effect on retention of good teachers and the instruction of traditional subjects such history and civics ("democratic institutions"):
A combination of intense pressure for gains and a narrow focus on measurement means schools at risk of being branded as failures concentrate on moving those scores that will determine their fate. One way they do this is to focus more time on preparing for those particular tests at the expense of all the other outcomes that are not measured. For example, there is no accountability for whether or not students learn anything about American history and our democratic institutions. There is significant evidence that the students receive even less instruction than previously in subjects not tested and that excessive pressure can actually undermine another goal of the law—attracting highly qualified teachers to high poverty schools and holding them there. Our survey of teachers in California and Virginia school districts show most of those teachers believe that this narrowing has happened and a recent report from the Center for Education Policy shows that this pattern is widespread across the nation. An Associated Press study shows a sharp reduction of recess in a society with children whose physical fitness is declining. As schools are branded as failures, teachers in threatened schools narrow what they are teaching, eliminate instruction on subjects not on the tests, and tend to transfer out of the schools more rapidly. Things that help keep kids attached to the school experience like recess, arts and music, and career related training as well as extracurricular activities are reduced in pursuit of goals that are not being achieved. (p. 8)


1. Mother Jones' January/February 2007 issue reported that "over the last few years" --apparently since the start of the Iraq War in 2003-- the Army has relaxed, among age and medical requirements, its educational threshold. For example, the number of high school dropouts (10% to 19%) and "cap on GIs with substandard aptitude scores" (2% to 4%) almost doubled.

2. The 110th Democrat-controlled Congress must reauthorize Bush's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 sometime this spring or summer. Preliminary reports are that the "grassroots rebellion" against the law erupting in many of states over underfunding and impossible achievement standards will be address in the Dem's subsequent allocations of funds, etc.

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