Centralization and Education: Oil and Water

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In an
article praising the original College Board examination system
begun in 1900, American education historian Diane Ravitch surveys
how the collegiate screening system has been dumbed down, first
by the original scientific examination experts of the 1930s, then
by World War II, then by more educational bureaucrats after 1948,
and finally by the U.S. government. She offers this conclusion:

the old regime of the College Board, the nation’s schools had standards
that were uniform, predictable, and elevating; they were written
and revised by those who were in the nation’s classrooms. Today
the states and the federal government have taken over the responsibility
for setting the nation’s standards. So far the results are unimpressive.
It is by no means clear that public officials, given political and
bureaucratic constraints, can accomplish what the College Board
once did — or that they even know what ought to be done.

As critics
of the Federal government enjoy saying, “Surprise! Surprise!”

All this was
predictable. And, as her article shows, it was predicted. She refers
to a pair of nameless critics of the original College Board program.

everyone was thrilled with this new plan. The president of Princeton
University worried that it would lead to a state examination system.
Eliot assured him that that was not even a remote possibility. The
president of Lafayette College complained that it might prevent
the college from admitting the sons of wealthy benefactors and faculty
members. Butler assured him that Lafayette, if it chose, could admit
“only such students as cannot pass these examinations.”

It would have
been helpful if Dr. Ravitch had gone into greater detail at this
point. But, being a member in good standing in the guild of professional
educators, she did not even bother to name these individuals. They
were clearly men of the old order, the dark ages of American higher
education. They were antediluvian.

Yet, somehow,
they were correct. They predicted exactly what has happened. Dr.
Ravitch’s tone of surprise indicates that she is unable to understand
how the national testing process deteriorated into today’s system.
She does not ask the obvious question: How was it that the two unnamed
critics saw it coming? Was there something inherent in the original
reform that caused this?

I have a suggested
answer: centralized control of the screening process by salaried
academics rather than by those who fund the system and pay their
. Such a system of centralized certification and control
is always bad for any endeavor, but for religion and education especially.
In other contexts, we refer to this process as “hiring foxes to
guard the henhouse.” It is the problem faced by civil governments
everywhere: “Who guards the guardians?” So, it is worth looking
at who the major players were and what they stood for.


The unnamed
president at Princeton was Francis L. Patton. He is long forgotten
today, especially given the fame of his successor, Woodrow Wilson,
who replaced him in 1903 after the Princeton Board of Trustees bought
Patton off with a huge retirement settlement. Patton then took over
as president of nearby, but institutionally unconnected, Princeton
Theological Seminary, Old School Presbyterianism’s last academic

Patton was
an Old School Presbyterian, the most hard core of the American Presbyterian
tradition. He had gained national attention a quarter century earlier
as the prosecutor of a heresy trial in Chicago against a liberal
pastor, who quit before he was convicted. For this service in the
defense of the official confession of the Presbyterian Church, he
was hired by Old School inventor and entrepreneur Cyrus McCormick
to run McCormick Theological Seminary. Patton at Princeton (1888—1902)
was a defender of the older system of higher education in America:
Christian, traditional, and based on the knowledge of the Bible
and the biblical languages.

Today, on Princeton’s
web site
, we read this about Patton:

accounts indicate that Patton lacked initiative in important policy
matters, resisted meaningful curriculum reform, and was lax in matters
of discipline and scholarly standards — in short, as one colleague
said kindly, he was “a wonderfully poor administrator.”

There is a
reason for this damning by faint praise: Patton resisted the inroads
of the academic humanists on the faculty.

Wilson engineered
a coup in 1902, despite the fact that Patton had hired him and had
defended him when he came under attack for being absent from his
classes, due to his many off-campus lectures, for which Wilson was
paid very large honorariums. Wilson was an ungrateful back-stabber
throughout his career. Anyone who trusted him was eventually sacked
for insubordination. Patton was his first major victim.

Patton’s chief
academic opponent was Harvard’s Charles Eliot, much praised by Dr.
Ravitch. Eliot was a humanist who spent his career at Harvard undermining
the last traces of conservative Unitarianism. He deliberately hired
known heretics, such as Crawford Toy, to undermine the religious
faith of Harvard’s students. He was also the first major defender
of the elective system: modern languages, science, math, and history
in place of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and the Bible.

Patton and
Eliot actually toured the country, debating each other over the
elective system vs. the older Christian curriculum. Eliot won that
battle. He was part of a systematic program to secularize American
higher education. The main institutional tool was the graduate seminar,
imported from Prussia, which was strictly secular. The pioneer institution
was Johns Hopkins, which produced Wilson. In 1876, in its second
semester of operation, Johns Hopkins had invited Thomas Huxley,
“Darwin’s Bulldog,” to inaugurate the first full academic year.
(This systematic process of secularization is described in George
Marsden’s detailed book, The
Soul of the American University

Nicholas Murray
Butler, identified by Dr. Ravitch as Eliot’s colleague in the College
Board’s creation, was a major figure in American higher education.
He was the co-founder in 1887 of what later became Columbia Teachers
College, the primary institutional wedge of the progressive educationists’
takeover of the American public school system. He became acting
president of Columbia University in 1901 and president in 1902,
a position that he held until 1945.

He was also
a major figure in the American political establishment. From its
inception in 1905, he was on the Board of the Carnegie Foundation
for the Advancement of Teaching. He persuaded Carnegie to establish
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1910. He ran it
as president from 1925 to 1945, after which Alger Hiss took over.
(Hiss was the hand-picked successor by liberal Presbyterian elder
John Foster Dulles — one of “Wilson’s boys” at Princeton —
who was Chairman of Carnegie at the time.)

From his early
days as a graduate student in Berlin, Butler became a close friend
of Elihu Root, who is deservedly identified as the original “Chairman
of the American Establishment,” the predecessor of Henry L. Stimson
and John J. McCloy. Butler was powerful enough to win the Republican
Vice Presidential nomination under Taft in 1912, the year Wilson

In short, Butler
and Eliot were by far the biggest academic players in the undermining
of the American higher education system’s independence from the
people who actually financed it: alumni, parents, and the State.

There was another
necessary step: the takeover of college faculties. This process
accelerated in 1902 with the creation of the General Education Board,
funded by John D. Rockefeller, Sr. This organization gave great
wads of money to colleges, but only if the college hired Ph.D. graduates
of the secularized university system. The strategy worked. In response,
colleges began to hire Ph.D.s, who replaced the theologians and
pastors who had staffed the faculties in the nineteenth century.

The General
Education Board was the first organization to call for the accreditation
of colleges, which heretofore had been independent. It promoted
the accreditation system of America’s medical schools, the first
great success in the move toward centralizing control over higher
education in America.

Let us now
look at the career of the second unnamed opponent of the College
Board. The president of Lafayette College in 1900 was E. D. Warfield.
He was the brother of Old School Presbyterian’s leading theologian,
B. B. Warfield. He served as president from 1891 to 1914. He understood
Eliot’s game plan.

In 1905, Warfield
hired a professor who then began reading William James and John
Dewey. He began to teach the higher criticism of the Bible — what
Crawford Toy had been hired by Eliot to teach at Harvard in 1880.
This was in opposition to the confessional standards for the faculty
at Lafayette, so Warfield went to the Board of Trustees and advised
that the professor be fired. The professor quit under fire in 1913.

This decision
by Warfield was an affront to the professorate’s concept of academic
freedom, a concept promoted effectively by university professors
in Prussia in the 1820s to protect them from interference from state
bureaucrats, despite the fact that the professors were on the state’s
payroll. In America in 1900, private universities were still governed
by boards that represented the alumni and donors. The boards actually
exercised power, unlike boards today. The professors chafed under
the reign of the old fogies, who attended back when the faculties
were staffed by Christians and former pastors.

In reaction
to Warfield’s assertion of a board’s lawful control over the content
of education taught in a privately funded college, a group of professors
at Johns Hopkins came together in 1913 to discuss a plan of self-defense.
This led to the creation of the American Association of University
Professors in 1915. Its goal was to force the tenure system onto
colleges, so that college presidents could not interfere with “academic
freedom.” The first president of the AAUP was John Dewey of Columbia
University, the major figure in the American progressive education
movement in the twentieth century. The AAUP soon became the primary
trade union lobbying organization for the American professorate.
(A summary of this story, favorable to the AAUP, is found

Step by step,
the centralization of higher education and tax-funded lower education
has marched forward since 1900. The creation of the College Board
in 1900 was part of this systematic, comprehensive effort.

What we need
is a detailed study of the accreditation process, whereby the General
Education Board’s plan to gain control over higher education in
America became the licensing system that the U.S. government now
exercises over higher education. This story has yet to be told.
With the Internet undermining the mainstream media, the academic
accreditation system is part of the last bastion of control by the
Establishment over the transmission of knowledge in the United States.


Dr. Ravitch
laments the erosion of the natiinal exam-based screening process
of 1900. That process was done in the name of educational performance.
That was the bait. The hook was centralized power over the content
of higher education. The line was money — Rockefeller’s initially,
then the State’s. From 1902 forward, the academic community on campus
fell for this: hook, line, and sinker.

let us not lament the loss of the good old days of 1902. Step by
step, those days became the bad new days, just as Francis Patton
warned — not merely in 1900, but as early as 1888, when he took
over as president of the College of New Jersey. (It was under Patton
in 1896 that the school got its new name: Princeton University.)
He saw it coming, and he warned against it.

To avoid such
errors in the future, let us adopt and then enforce this principle:
“He who pays the piper calls the tune.” It is the defection of the
tune-payers that is the heart of the problem.

13, 2006

North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible

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