Chapter 11 of The Underground History of American Public Education
The thesis I venture to submit to you is as follows: That during the past forty or fifty years those who are responsible for education have progressively removed from the curriculum of studies the Western culture which produced the modern democratic state; That the schools and colleges have, therefore, been sending out into the world men who no longer understand the creative principle of the society in which they must live; That deprived of their cultural tradition, the newly educated Western men no longer possess in the form and substance of their own minds and spirits and ideas, the premises, the rationale, the logic, the method, the values of the deposited wisdom which are the genius of the development of Western civilization; That the prevailing education is destined, if it continues, to destroy Western civilization and is in fact destroying it.
I realize quite well that this thesis constitutes a sweeping indictment of modern education. But I believe the indictment is justified and here is a prima facie case for entering this indictment.
~ Walter Lippmann, speaking before the Association for the Advancement of Science, December 29, 1940
The Struggle For Homogeneity
In 1882, an Atlantic Monthly writer predicted a coming struggle for preservation of the American social order. European immigrants were polarizing the country, upsetting the "homogeneity on which free government must rest." That idea of a necessary homogeneity made it certain that all lanes out of the 1880s led to orthodoxy on a national scale. There was to be an official American highway, its roadbed built from police manuals and schoolteacher training texts. Citizens would now be graded against the official standard, up to the highest mark, "100 percent American."
In the thirty years between 1890 and 1920, the original idea of America as a cosmopolitan association of peoples, each with its own integrity, gave way to urgent calls for national unity. Even before WWI added its own shrill hysterics to the national project of regimentation, new social agencies were in full cry on every front, aggressively taking the battle of Americanization to millions of bewildered immigrants and their children.
The elite-managed "birth-control" movement, which culminated one hundred years later in the legalization of abortion, became visible and active during this period, annually distributing millions of pieces of literature aimed at controlling lower-class breeding instincts, an urgent priority on the national elitist agenda. Malthus, Darwin, Galton, and Pearson became secular saints at the Lawrence and Sheffield Scientific Schools at Harvard and Yale. Judge Ben Lindsey of the Denver Children’s Court, flogging easy access to pornography as an indirect form of sterilization for underclass men, was a different tile in the same mosaic, as was institutional adoption. The planned parenthood movement, in our day swollen to billion-dollar corporate status, was one side of a coin whose obverse was the prospering abortion, birth control, and adoption industries. In those crucial years, a sudden host of licensing acts closed down employment in a wide range of lucrative work — rationing the right to practice trades much as kings and queens of England had done. Work was distributed to favored groups and individuals who were willing to satisfy screening commissions that they met qualifications often unrelated to the actual work. Licensing suddenly became an important factor in economic life, just as it had been in royal England. This professionalization movement endowed favored colleges and institutes, text publishers, testing agencies, clothing manufacturers, and other allies with virtual sinecures.
Professional schools — even for bus drivers and detectives — imposed the chastening discipline of elaborate formal procedures, expensive and time-consuming "training," on what had once been areas of relatively free-form career design. And medicine, law, architecture, engineering, pharmacology — the blue-ribbon work licenses — were suddenly rigorously monitored, rationed by political fortune. Immigrants were often excluded from meeting these qualification demands, and many middle-class immigrants with a successful history of professional practice back in Europe were plunged into destitution, their families disintegrating under the artificial stresses. Others, like my own family, scrambled to abandon their home culture as far as possible in a go-along-with-the-crowd response to danger.
One of the hardest things for any present-day reader to grasp about this era was the brazenness of the regimentation. Scientific management was in its most enthusiastic public phase then, monumentally zealous, maddeningly smug. The state lay under effective control of a relatively small number of powerful families freed by the Darwinian religion from ethical obligation to a democratic national agenda, or even to its familiar republican/libertarian antithesis. Yet those antagonists comprised the bedrock antinomies of our once revolutionary public order, and without the eternal argument they provoked, there was no recognizable America.
Between 1890 and 1920, the percentage of our population adjudged "feeble-minded" and condemned to institutional confinement more than doubled. The long-contemplated hygienic form of social control formulated by eighteenth-century German social thinker Johann Frank, "complete medical policing," was launched with a vengeance. Few intimidations are more effective than the threat of a stay in an insane asylum. Did the population of crazies really double in those three decades? The answer given by one contemporary was elliptically Darwinian: "Marriage of these inferiors is a veritable manufactory of degenerates." It could no longer go unchecked.
The American Birth Control League1 left no doubt about its plans. Its position, as expressed by Yale psychologist Arnold L. Gesell, was that "society need not wait for perfection of the infant science of eugenics before proceeding upon a course which will prevent renewal of defective protoplasm contaminating the stream of life." Gesell’s The Family and the Nation (1909), a thorough product of the new zeitgeist, advocated "eugenic violence" in dealing with inferiors. According to Gesell, "We must do as with the feebleminded, organize the extinction of the tribe." [emphases added]
Here was a far different promise of American life, a Connecticut Valley Yale-style pledge. Yet governors of the Birth Control League were acclaimed heroes in every progressive assembly. With this thrust, old-line Calvinism converted its theological elements into scientific truth, supported mathematically by the new Galtonian discipline of statistics. Yale was the most important command center for the reemergence of old-time Puritan religion, now thoroughly disguised behind the language of research methodology.
The eugenics movement begun by Galton in England was energetically spread to the United States by his followers. Besides destroying lesser breeds (as they were routinely called) by abortion, sterilization, adoption, celibacy, two-job family separations, low-wage rates to dull the zest for life, and, above all, schooling to dull the mind and debase the character, other methods were clinically discussed in journals, including a childlessness which could be induced through easy access to pornography.2 At the same time those deemed inferior were to be turned into eunuchs. Galtonians advocated the notion of breeding a super race.
Humanist Scott Nearing wrote his masterpiece, The Super Race: An American Problem, in 1912, just as the drive to destroy an academic curriculum in public schools was reaching its first crescendo. By "problem," Nearing wasn’t referring to a moral dilemma. Rather, he was simply arguing that only America had the resources to meet the engineering challenge posed in creating supermen out of genetic raw stock.
Mr. Hitler Reads Mr. Ford
The "visionary" theories soon to be imposed on America belie our myth of the melting pot as some type of spontaneous sociological force. The two great mass immigration periods (1848 to 1860 and 1871 to 1914) posed a threat to the course of national development that was underway. The unique American experience of creating a particular New World culture was still too green, too recent a historical phenomenon to tolerate the sophisticated competition of pluralism. A cosmopolitan society like that of fifth-century Roman England wasn’t possible for America to accept without damaging its growth.
The possibilities inherent in a bazaar society were at once exciting and anxiety provoking to Americans, just as they were to Horace Mann. Yet beneath a sophisticated mask and a veneer of cosmopolite civility certain factions sought release from their uneasy ambivalence. There was only one realistic solution to human variability, the solution of the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner (popularly called "The Know Nothing Party"), "You must be as we are." Those who surrendered to such pressure, as many newcomers did, were ultimately worse off than those who insulated themselves in ghettos.3
Some pages back I referred to the brazenness of our new social arrangements, a sense of vulgar pushiness the reader senses radiating from various temples of reform. In some crazy way the ornamentation of the period carries the flavor of its arrogance. It prepares us to understand the future — that time in which we now live, our own age where "home cooking" means commercially homogenized food product microwaved, where an entire nation sits down each evening to commercial entertainment, hears the same processed news, wears the same clothing, takes direction from the same green road signs, thinks the same media-inculcated thoughts, and relegates its children and elders to the same scientific care of strangers in schools and "nursing homes."
A signpost of the times: in 1920, the Henry Ford Publishing Company distributed 2 million free copies of its recent best seller to all libraries and all schools in the nation. The book: The International Jew: World’s Foremost Problem. Adolf Hitler was still a poor war hero, living in Munich with Ernst Hanfstaengel, the half-American Harvard graduate whose mother was one of the legendary New England Sedgwicks. Hitler had Hanfstaengel read Ford’s book to him. In the pages of Mein Kampf, Ford is lavishly praised. Of Ford’s other efforts to define the 100 percent American, at least one more deserves special mention. Speaking and writing English had very little to do with work on a Ford assembly line, but Ford decided to make English-language classes compulsory. The first thing foreign-speaking Ford employees learned to say: "I am a good American."
Ford students were graduated in a musical extravaganza that bears close attention as an indicator of the American spiritual climate after WWI. A huge black pot took up the middle of a stage, from which hung a large sign that read "MELTING POT." From backstage an endless procession of costumed immigrants descended into the pot on a ladder reaching into its bowels. Each wore a sign identifying his former homeland. Simultaneously, from either side of the pot two other streams of men emerged, now converted into real Americans, dressed in identical clothing. Each waved a small American flag while a brass band played "America the Beautiful," fortissimo. Wives and children cheered wildly when cue cards were flashed.
It was nothing short of marvelous that world champion Jew-baiter Henry Ford, architect of the most opulent and sinister foundation of them all,4 major player in the psychologization of American schooling, was a closet impresario in the bargain! Ford completed America’s philanthropic circle. Three great private fortunes were to dominate early twentieth-century public schooling — Carnegie’s, Rockefeller’s, and Ford’s — each with a stupendous megalomaniac in charge of the checkbook, each dedicating the power of great wealth not to conspicuous consumption but to radical experiments in the transformation of human nature. The hardest lesson to grasp is that they weren’t doing this for profit or fame — but from a sense of conviction reserved only for true believers.
There was no room in America for the faint-hearted. If a man wanted to be 100 percent American, he had to reject his original homeland. Other Americanizing themes were heard, too. General Leonard Wood growled that the Prussian practice of "Universal Military Service" was the best means to make the unassimilated "understand they are American." By the time I graduated from high school in 1953, universal military training took me away to Kentucky and Texas, to become an American, I suppose. After government school, government army, and Anglican Columbia were through with me, I had lost the map to get back home.
All over the American Midwest, "Fitter Families Competitions" were held at state fairs and expositions, ranking American families by objective criteria, much as hogs or cattle are ranked. Winners got wide play in the press, ramming the point home to immigrant families that the mustard would be cut in the land of the Star-Spangled Banner by mathematical checklist attention to recipes and rules. After all, God himself had probably been a research scientist, or so William Rainey Harper, president of the University of Chicago, declared to the nation.
Francis Amasa Walker, president of M.I.T., first declared in 1891 what was soon to become an upper-class mantra: Anglo-Saxons were quietly committing "racial suicide." The insult of competing with Latin/Slav/Celtic folkways seemingly discouraged reproduction among families of the old stock. After that bombshell, an orchestrated campaign of scientific racism swept the United States and didn’t flag in public energy for forty long years. Racial suicide was the Red Scare, Fifth Column, and AIDS epidemic of its day all rolled into one. In the long history of manufactured crises, it ranks up there with the Reichstag fire, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin, the gasoline shortage of 1973, the Asian economic miracle, and corporate downsizing as a prime example of modern psychological management of public opinion. The racial suicide theme sounded at exactly the moment public schooling was transforming itself into forced government schooling.
The American campaign against racial suicide enlisted great scientists of the day to produce a full library of books, scientific journal articles, popular magazine pieces, legislation, lectures, and indirect school curricula. It caught the attention of the entire civilized world, including Imperial Germany and Imperial Japan. Both sent official study delegations to America to observe the resourcefulness of this new industrial utopia in purging itself of its original democratic character. It is as if there exists some tacit understanding on the part of mainstream scholarship and journalism to steer clear of the shoals of this period, but even an amateur like myself finds enough to indicate that racial suicide provided a leading motive to justify the radical shift of American society toward well-schooled orthodoxy. What is intriguing in light of the relative amnesia concerning these connections is the sheer quantity of the damning data. Genetic experimentation, once teased from its hiding holes, is revealed as a master political project of the twentieth century with the United States, Germany, and England its enthusiastic sponsors. Data gathered in school surveys and social experimentation with children have been important sources of grist for this initiative.
M.I.T.’s Walker got an intellectual boost from activities of the influential American sociologist Edward A. Ross, who explained to the American Academy of Political and Social Science exactly how unchecked Asiatic immigration would lead to the extinction of the American people. Higher races, he said, will not endure competition from lower ones. After that, even Teddy Roosevelt was issuing marching orders to Anglo-Saxon mothers, asking well-bred ladies to mobilize their loins in an effort to arrest the suicidal decline. Breed as if the race depended on it, said Roosevelt. Eugenics had openly become national politics for the first time in America, but hardly the last.
Harper’s Weekly chastised Roosevelt, saying mere exhortation would have no effect as long as immigration continued to reduce the native birthrate by insulting our best breeders. From 1905 to 1909 at least one major popular magazine article on the subject appeared every single month. Books warned that race suicide would "toll the passing of this great Anglo-Teuton people," giving the nation over to Latins, Slavs, or worse, Jews and other Asiatics.
Meanwhile, the long-ignored genetic work of monk Gregor Mendel was conveniently rediscovered, adding more fuel to the fires of racial thinking. Here, presumably, a humble man of God showed mathematically that something caused transmission of characteristics from generation to generation, independent of any effect of nurture or education. Horse, dog, and rose breeders had empirically derived these insights a thousand years before Mendel, but credit passed to science for the "discovery."
Into the center of this racial excitement strode the formidable figure of Sir Francis Galton, first cousin of Charles Darwin, in line of descent from Malthus,5 possessor of incredible intellectual ability and indefatigable energy, a man of great personal wealth, a knight of the realm. Galton preached improvement of the human breed with evangelical fervor, demanding a policy of biological positivism which would produce the same genetic dividends that were being reaped by positivism in the hard sciences of chemistry and physics. The "eugenics movement," as it was now called, would save us socially by manipulating the best to breed (positive eugenics) and encouraging the worst to die out (negative eugenics). School would have a major role to play in this. Race-improvement was in the air, its method compounded out of state action and forced schooling.
Galton’s inspiration and plenty of American money — much of it Andrew Carnegie’s and Mrs. Averill Harriman’s — opened the first racial science laboratory in the world in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, in 1904. And kept it open for thirty-five years, until Hitler’s invasion of Poland made discretion seem the wiser part of zealotry for the moment at the Carnegie Corporation. In 1939, it was quietly shut down. The last president at the Cold Spring Harbor facility was M.I.T. president Vannevar Bush, often called "The Father of the Atomic Bomb." Eugenic thinking injected energy into the exploding "mental hygiene" movement, too. Word went out to the recently erected national network of hospitals that it was okay to begin sterilizing mental defectives. This green light came complete with legislative licenses to decide who those defectives were — and freedom from any legal jeopardy.
A scholarly book from M.I.T. created intellectual havoc in the year 1899 and long afterwards, lending maximum credibility to the eugenicist agenda. The Races of Europe was written by brilliant economist William Z. Ripley; it armed the racial-suicide crowd and its companion group of enthusiasts, the racial-science crowd, with information that Europe was divided into three races, easily distinguishable from one another by physical measurements. First, a race of blonde long heads (the Teutons); second, a central race of stocky round heads (the Alpines); and third, a southern race of slender, dark long heads (the Mediterraneans). Here, finally, was a way to distinguish reliably among the qualities of old immigration and new! Ripley took the 28-year-old Darwinian concept of "reversion" and charged it with new energy.
Was it possible, Ripley asked, that promiscuous breeding of Nordic peoples with Southern Europeans could doom the New England Anglo-Nordic stock? Incipient race suicide could be dealt with only by legislation. Education should be employed to raise the current immigrant’s "standard of morality," making him more tolerable to society. That would help. But nothing could be done about reversion. Subspecies of men could not be allowed to couple with 100 percent American female breeding stock.
All the pieces were now in position for full-scale national hysteria to commence, an era of sanctions buttressed by the authority of peerless scientific experts. American society would require harsh discipline after the Prussian fashion in order to meet this challenge. Thanks to men like Ripley, the experts could apply such discipline with an exalted sense of mathematical righteousness. The first requirement would be to force the dangerous classes into schools. Laws were on the books, time to enforce them.
A covert American sterilization program managed by trusted administrators in the brand new hospital network took place during the same years that forced schooling was being brought along. This sterilization initiative occasionally broke silence in highly specialized journals whose reader discretion was taken for granted. Thus Charles V. Carrington, writing in the Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science (July 1910), reported on two interesting cases of successful involuntary sterilization. One involved an "epileptic masturbator" who, after vasectomy, "ceased masturbating altogether." The other was a black man also given to masturbation and general deviltry. After sterilization, he became "a strong, well-developed young Negro, nicely behaved, and not a masturbatory sodomist," Carrington reported. Surgical intervention as social policy was given its precedents in America long before the Nazi era.
Advocates of Yaleman Gesell’s "eugenic violence" offensive against the underclasses swung from every point on the scientific compass. William McDougall, the eminent social psychologist, announced himself a champion of Nordic superiority; Ellsworth Huntington, prominent Yale geographer, wrote The Character of Races, showing that only one race had any real moral character. Henry Fairfield Osborn, president and founder of the American Museum of Natural History, gave the "Address of Welcome" to the Second International Congress of Eugenics; Osborn’s close friend Lothrop Stoddard wrote The Revolt Against Civilization: Menace of the Underman; and psychologist James McKeen Cattell, a force in the rise of standardized testing, wrote to Galton, "We are following in America your advice and example."
The famous humanitarian anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber remarked acidly to a newsman that anti-eugenic protests came only from the "orthodoxly religious," rarely from the enlightened camp of science. So there it was. Keep them all in mind: Kroeber, Gesell, Ripley, McDougall, Huntington, Osborn, great scientific humanist names whose work underscored how important a role forced schooling was designed to play. Scientific studies had shown conclusively that extending the duration and intensity of schooling caused sharp declines in fertility — and sterility in many. Part of school’s stealth curriculum would be a steady expansion of its reach throughout the century.
Two more examples will drive home the relentlessness of this long scientific campaign against American tradition. J.B.S. Haldane, a distinguished Fabian geneticist from England, issued a lurid warning about what might happen if blonde women bred with human demi-apes like Italians, Jews, and other kinds of retrograde biology: "A new type of submen, abhorred by nature, ugly as no natural product is ugly" would emerge. The new hypothesis held that female offspring of such unions would be too repulsive to look upon.
In Daedalus, or Science and the Future, Haldane said there were really only four fundamental biological innovations of prehistory: 1) Domestication of animals; 2) Domestication of plants; 3) The use of fungi for the production of alcohol; 4) The invention of frontal copulation "which altered the path of sexual selection, focused the attention of man as a lover upon woman’s face and breasts, and changed our ideal of beauty from the steatopygous Hottentot to the modern European, from the Venus of Brassenpouy to the Venus of Milo."
All evolution might be in jeopardy if there were no more pretty faces to look at, this was the thesis. Today, there is an aura of the absurd to these assertions, but it would be well to reflect on the institutional world that emerged from the other end of this same forge, for it is the new moral world you and I live in, a fully scientized and organized society, managed by the best people — people who prefer to remain out of sight of the hoi polloi, segregated in their own in walled villages and other redoubts.
The Passing Of The Great Race
No discussion of the dreamlike years of overt American scientific racism and schooling would be complete without a nod to the ghost of Madison Grant, who has mysteriously vanished from the pages of some standard biographical references, though they still carry his cousins, Grant the portrait painter and Grant the educator. No matter, I shall tell you about him. If you have ever been to the Bronx Zoo6 you have been a guest of Mr. Grant’s beneficent imagination, for he was its founder and the founder of its parent, the New York Zoological Society. The Bronx Zoo, its fame and good works inspire worldwide gratitude. Grant’s legacy to us, as free libraries were Carnegie’s.
Grant was a lifelong bachelor, a childless man. Like many people associated with public schooling on a policy level, Grant came from a patrician family which had graced society from colonial days. No Grant ever held a menial job. Madison Grant was considered a leading scientific naturalist of his time. His monographs on the Rocky Mountain goat, the moose, and the caribou are little classics of their kind, still consulted. Men and women related to Grant have been directors of American society since the Age of the Mathers.
Grant was deeply disgusted by the mixing of European races underway here; he believed the foundation of our national and cultural life lay in racial purity and backed this opinion with action. It is hardly possible to believe some of this attitude didn’t enter into the museum’s presentation of data and even into those hundreds of thousands of school field trips. In Grant’s competent hands, the boldness and sweep of old Anglo-Saxon tradition was fused into a systematic worldview, then broadcast through books and lectures to the entire planet. His magnum opus appeared in 1916 bearing the epic title The Passing of the Great Race, with an introduction by Museum of Natural History luminary Henry Fairfield Osborn — a man who wrote one of the texts I used myself as a junior high school student.
The Passing of the Great Race warns that the ruling race of the Western world is beginning to wane because of a "fatuous belief" that environment can alter heredity.7 The clear connection to the predestination canon of Calvin and to the great Norse tradition of implacable Fate is unmistakable. Grant’s own genealogy came from both these strains in European history. Whatever else he was, Grant was neither dull nor commonplace. Using Darwin and Mendelian genetics to support his argument, Grant said flatly that different races do not blend, that mixing "gives us a race reverting to the more ancient and lower type." A "cross between any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew."
Grant argued that culture is racially determined. Alpines have always been peasants, Mediterraneans, artists and intellectuals; but "the white man par excellence" was the Nordic blonde conqueror of the North: explorers, fighters, rulers, aristocrats, organizers of the world. In early America the stock was purely Nordic, but now swarming hybrids threatened it with destruction except in a few zones of racial purity like Minnesota.
Madison Grant felt democracy as a political system violated scientific facts of heredity the same way Christianity did, by favoring the weak. This led inexorably to biological decadence. Even national consciousness might confuse one’s rational first loyalty, which had to be race. This was the codex of the Bronx Zoo’s founder. Six years after its publication, The Passing of the Great Race was still in print and Grant’s New York Zoological Society more respectable than ever. Eventually Margaret Mead was beneficiary of considerable patronage from Grant’s Museum of Natural History, as indeed the whole shaky new community of anthropological thought became. Although Mead’s work appears to contradict Grant’s, by the time the academic world began to push the relativism of Mead, Ruth Benedict, and other interpreters of primitive culture, a double standard had settled in on intellectual life in the United States and Europe.
For those whose status was secured by birth, theories of inherited quality were available. For the great mass of others, however, the body of theory which paid off in foundation grants, the one driving modern political and economic development, was that corpus of studies exploring the notion of extreme plasticity in human nature, a pliability grading into shapelessness. If mankind were seen to be clay, radical social action justifying continuous intervention could surely bring utopia within reach, while providing expanding opportunities to academics. The academic marketplace eagerly supplied evidence that quality was innate to the powerful, and evidence that human nature was empty to the rest of us.
The Poison Of Democracy
The spring used to classify the U.S. population in an unprecedented and very radical way was WWI. Prior to the war, eugenicists evaluated racial and national groups by comparing numbers of one group or another on "lists of distinction,"8 but they had no way of penetrating the secret inner spaces of consciousness. On the verge of the world war the new social discipline of psychology, struggling to attain a status of hard science, claimed to be able to change all that. It boasted of a power to go deep into the hidden regions of the brain. The new techno-miracle of the day was the invention of a mysterious "intelligence test," an "IQ" score which allegedly could place secrets of intellectual power at the disposal of managerial science.
The just assembled American army of WWI was soon subject to mass intelligence measurement under the direction of Robert M. Yerkes, president of the American Physiological Association, an organization recently invented by Wundtian protégé G. Stanley Hall. Results published after the war showed remarkable correlation with similar tests on American school children. While Yerkes was reporting these findings to the National Academy of Sciences, famous psychologist Dr. William McDougall was summarizing the civilian studies for the general public in his book, Is America Safe for Democracy? Latins and Slavs in fair mental competition scored significantly lower than native whites, he said. How, then, could they be given a vote equal to white men?
McDougall claimed that hard data unmistakably revealed that a racial interpretation of history was the correct one. In his book A Study of American Intelligence, psychologist Carl Brigham concluded in 1923 that "the intellectual superiority of our Nordic group over Alpine, Mediterranean and Negro groups has been demonstrated."
After 1922, racism was a truth of science. Word quickly spread into every corner of Europe; but particularly in defeated Germany, ancient Teutonic barrier against Slavic incursion, these new truths were enthusiastically discussed. General agreement confirmed Nordic superiority. The popular writer Kenneth Roberts (Northwest Passage) took up the cry. One of America’s foremost novelists, he lectured American book dealers from the pages of the specialist journal Bookman that "the Alpine school of fiction" spread the poison of democracy through the whole culture. School texts were appropriately adjusted. Roberts identified himself, as you may already have guessed, as 100 percent Nordic.
Now intelligence tests were huckstered in school district after school district; fortunes accrued to well-placed pedagogical leaders and their political allies. Every child would now be given a magical number ranking it scientifically in the great race of life. School grades might vary according to the whim of teachers, but IQ scores were unvarying, an emotionless badge of biological honor or shame, marking innate, almost unchanging ability. Millions of tests administered annually to primary and secondary students would prove the "value rank" of the American peoples. Mental ages were dutifully entered on permanent record cards with as much assurance as Horace Mann, Barnas Sears, William Torrey Harris, John Dewey, and G. Stanley Hall had accepted skull maps drawn by their favorite phrenologists.
Every day science seemed to make it clearer and clearer that forcing everyone to fit the Anglo-Saxon mold was indeed doing humanity a mighty favor. If children couldn’t be biologically Anglo/Nordic, they could be so acculturated at least partly that way, through regular drill. After all, hadn’t psychology proven how malleable human nature was? Henry Fairfield Osborn stepped forward from his duties at the American Museum of Natural History to announce portentously that Christopher Columbus — always a choking point (as a Latin) for America’s cultural leadership — was actually Nordic.
The American Protective League
By the first year of WWI, American political leadership was ferreting out disloyalty and enforcing scientific conformity. Any number of private and secret societies appeared to forward this cause. The "Anti-Yellow Dog League" was one of these, composed of schoolboys above the age of ten, who searched out disloyalty each day from one of its thousand branches nationwide, barking like German shepherds when a disloyal yellow dog, otherwise someone looking like you or me, was flushed from cover and branded. Schools enthusiastically cooperated in "Dog Hunts," as they were called.
The U.S. Justice Department secretly empowered private associations as volunteer spy-hunters. One, the American Protective League (APL), earned semi-official status in the national surveillance game, in time growing to enormous size. Founded by a Chicago advertising man, the APL had twelve hundred units functioning across America, all staffed by business and professional people. It was a genuine secret society replete with oath and rituals. Membership gave every operative the authority to be a national policeman. The first location placed under surveillance in every neighborhood was the local public school. Assignments were given by the old (Federal) Bureau of Investigation and by the War Department’s Intelligence Division to report on "seditious and disloyal" conversation. From the authorized history of the APL comes this specimen case:
Powers County, Colorado: investigated fifty cases of mouth-to-mouth propaganda, a notable cause being that of a German Lutheran minister who refused to answer the questions as to which side he wished to win the war. He asked for time. The next day he declared very promptly that he wanted the United States to win. He was instructed to prove this by preaching and praying it in private as well as in public, which he agreed to do.
The APL checked up on people who failed to buy Liberty Bonds. It spotted violators of food and gasoline regulations, rounded up draft evaders in New York, disrupted Socialist meetings in Cleveland, broke strikes, threatened union men with immediate induction into the army. The attorney general of the United States reported to Congress, "It is safe to say never in history has this country been so thoroughly policed." (emphasis added) Nor, he might have added, the training of the young so well regulated.
Prior to 1860 Americans didn’t demand a high level of national solidarity — a loose sort of catch-as-catch-can unity satisfied the nation in spite of the existence even then of patriotic special interest groups like Know-Nothings. Neither by geography, culture, common experience, or preference was the United States naturally a single country although it did possess a common language. But conformity had been ordered by corporate and banking interests from the Northeast, so one country it would become.
Stupendous profits accrued to these interests from the Civil War, and its great lesson of national regimentation into squads, platoons, brigades, companies, regiments, and army corps was not lost on the winners. Warfare by its nature forces men to wear "value-ranks" openly for all to see, forces everyone to subordinate themselves to higher ranks, and higher ranks to subordinate themselves to invisible orders. War conditions men to rule and to be ruled. Modern war creates a society far different in type and scale from the ragged and bizarre individuality which emerged out of the American Revolution. With everyone dressing alike, eating alike, and doing everything else alike, maximum profit can be derived from the use of mass-production machinery in an ideal environment where the goods of production are swiftly wasted, and military "consumers" are literally forbidden the right to refuse to consume! A soldier must wear his uniform, eat his food, fire his rifle. To guaranteed customers through psychological drills is the very essence of the corporate world about to come into being.
After the Civil War, the guaranteed customer was not a thing prudent businessmen were willing to surrender. Could there be some different way to bring about uniformity again without another conflict? Vast fortunes awaited those who would hasten such a jubilee. Consolidation. Specialization. These were the magical principles President Harper was to preach forty years later at the University of Chicago. Whatever sustained national unity was good, including war, whatever retarded it was bad. School was an answer, but it seemed hopelessly far away in 1865.9
Things were moving slowly on these appointed tracks when a gigantic mass of Latin, and then Slavic, immigrants was summoned to the United States to labor, in the 1870s and afterwards. It came colorfully dressed, swilling wine, hugging and kissing children, eyes full of hope. Latin immigration would seem to represent a major setback for the realization of any systematic utopia and its schools. But a president had been shot dead in 1865. Soon another was shot dead by a presumed (though not actual) immigrant barely fifteen years later. Rioting followed, bloody strikes, national dissension. It was a time tailor-made for schoolmen, an opportunity to manage history.
The Americanization movement, which guaranteed forced schooling to its first mass clientele, was managed from several bases; three important ones were social settlement houses, newly minted patriotic hereditary societies, and elite private schools (which sprang up in profusion after 1880). Madison Grant was a charter member of one of the patriotic groups, "The Society of Colonial Wars." All compartments of the Americanization machine cooperated to rack the immigrant family to its breaking point. But some, like settlement houses, were relatively subtle in their effects. Here, the home culture was inadvertently denigrated through automatic daily comparison with the settlement culture, a genteel world constructed by society ladies dedicated to serving the poor.
Hereditary societies worked a different way: Through educational channels, lectures, rallies, and literature they broadcast a code of attitudes directed at the top of society. Mainline Protestant churches were next to climb on the Americanization bandwagon, and the "home-missions" program became a principal gathering station for adoptable foreign children. By 1907 the YMCA was heavily into this work, but the still embryonic undertaking of leveling the masses lacked leadership and direction.
Such would eventually be supplied by Frances Kellor, a muckraker and a tremendous force for conformity in government schooling. Kellor, the official presiding genius of the Americanization movement, came out of an unlikely quarter, yet in retrospect an entirely natural one. She was the daughter of a washerwoman, informally adopted out of poverty by two wealthy local spinsters, who eventually sent her to Cornell where she took a law degree through their generosity. After a turn toward sociology at the University of Chicago, Kellor mastered Harper’s twin lessons of specialization and consolidation and set out boldly to reform America’s immigrant families.
Her first muckraking book, Out of Work, was published in 1904. For the next two years she drafted remedial legislation and earned her spurs lobbying. By 1906, she had Teddy Roosevelt’s personal ear. Six years later, she was head of the Progressive Party’s publicity department and research arm. Kellor, under William Rainey Harper’s inspiration, became an advocate of industrial efficiency. She despised waste and disorder, urging that "opportunity" be rationalized and put under control — the first hint of School-to-Work legislation to follow in the waning decades of the century. Work and licenses should be used as incentives to build national unity. Discipline was the ticket, and for discipline, carrots were required as well as sticks.
Charles Evans Hughes, then governor, made Kellor the first woman ever to head a state agency, appointing her director of the Bureau of Industries and Immigration in New York. By 1909, supported by prominent allies, she organized a New York branch of the North American Civic League, a Boston-based, business-rostered outfit intended to protect the national status quo from various foreign menaces. Under her direction, the New York branch developed its own program. It isn’t clear how much of the Boston agenda they carried on — it had mainly involved sending agents into immigrant communities to act as industrial spies and to lead anti-strike movements — but in any case, by 1914 Kellor’s group was writing its own menu.
It opened by demanding centralized federal action: Americanization was failing "without a national goal." Her new "Committee for Immigrants in America" thereafter proclaimed itself the central clearinghouse to unify all public and private agencies in a national spearhead to "make all these people one nation." When government failed to come up with money for a bureau, Miss Kellor’s own backers — who included Mrs. Averill Harriman and Felix Warburg, the Rothschild banker — did just that, and this private entity was duly incorporated into the government of the United States! "The Division of Immigrant Education," while officially federal, was in fact the subsidized creation of Frances Kellor’s private lobby. Immigrant education meant public school education, for it was to compulsion schooling the children of immigration were consigned, and immigrant children, in a reversal of traditional roles, became the teachers of their immigrant parents, thus ruining their families by trivializing them.
When WWI began, Americanization took over as the great national popular crusade. A drive for national conformity pushed itself dramatically to the forefront of the public agenda. Kellor and her colleagues swiftly enlisted cooperation from mayors, school authorities, churches, and civic groups; prepared data for speakers; distributed suggested agenda and programs, buttons, and posters; and lectured in schools. When Fourth of July 1915 arrived, 107 cities celebrated it as "Americanization Day," and the country resounded with the committee’s slogan "Many Peoples, but One Nation."
Now Kellor’s organization transmuted itself into "The National Americanization Committee," shifting its emphasis from education to the breaking of immigrant ties to the Old World. Its former slogan, "Many Peoples, But One Nation," was replaced with a blunt "America First." In this transformation, children became the sharpest weapon directed at their parents’ home culture. Kellor called Americanization "the civilian side of national defense." She appeared before a group of industrialists and bankers calling itself the National Security League to warn of coming peril from subversion on the part of immigrants. One of the most distressing anomalies confronting Kellor and the NSL was an almost total lack of publicizable sabotage incidents on the domestic front in WWI, which made it difficult to maintain the desired national mood of fear and anger.
In 1916, the year of Madison Grant’s Passing of the Great Race, Kellor published Straight America. In it she called for universal military service, industrial mobilization, a continuing military build-up, precisely engineered school curricula, and total Americanization, an urgent package to revitalize nationalism. America was not yet at war.
President Wilson was at that time reading secret surveys which told him Americans had no interest in becoming involved in the European conflict. Furthermore, national sympathy was swinging away from the English and actually favored German victory against Britain. There was no time to waste; the war had to be joined at once. John Higham called it "an adventure in high pressure salesmanship."
Thousands of agencies were in some measure engaged: schools, churches, fraternal orders, patriotic societies, civic organizations, chambers of commerce, philanthropies, railroads, and industries, and — to a limited degree — trade unions. There was much duplication, overlapping, and pawing of the air. Many harassed their local school superintendents.
At the end of 1917, Minnesota’s legislature approved the world’s first secret adoption law, sealing original birth records forever so that worthy families who received a child for adoption — almost always children transferred from an immigrant family of Latin/Slav/Alpine peasant stripe to a family of northern European origins — would not have to fear the original parents demanding their child back. The original Boston adoption law of 1848 had been given horrendous loopholes. Now these were sealed sixty-nine years later.
Toward the end of the war, a striking event, much feared since the Communist revolutions of 1848, came to pass. The huge European state of Russia fell to a socialist revolution. It was as if Russian immigrants in our midst had driven a knife into our national heart and, by extension, that all immigrants had conspired in the crime. Had all our civilizing efforts been wasted? Now Americanization moved into a terrifying phase in response to this perceived threat from outside. The nation was to be purified before a red shadow arose here, too. Frances Kellor began to actively seek assistance from business groups to build what she called "the new interventionist republic of America." (emphasis added)
At an unpublicized dinner meeting at Sherry’s Restaurant near Wall Street in November 1918, Frances Kellor addressed the fifty largest employers of foreign labor, warning them that Americanization had been a failure — that really dangerous times were ahead with Bolshevik menace concealed in every workplace. Kellor proposed a partnership of business and social work to "break up the nationalistic, racial groups." The easiest way to do that was to weaken close family life. Miss Kellor, whose upbringing had itself been an ambiguous one, was the perfect person to lead such a charge.
At the Wall Street meeting, plans were laid for a semi-secret organization of Americanizers to be formed out of interested volunteers from major industrial corporations. An impressive amount of money was pledged at the initial meeting, the story of which you can follow in John Higham’s classic account of our immigration years, Strangers in the Land. "The Inter-Racial Council" presented the external aspect of an eclectic public-spirited enterprise — it even recruited some conservative immigrant representatives as members — but, in fact, it was controlled by Kellor’s backers.
The IRC acted both as intelligence gathering office and propaganda agency. In its first year of existence, Kellor put together an association of advertisers to strong-arm the immigrant press into running anti-radical propaganda. Using this muscle, immigrants could be instructed from far away how to think and what to think about, while remaining unaware of the source of instruction because immediate pressure came from a familiar editor. Advertising revenue could be advanced, as well as withdrawn, providing both carrot and stick, the complete behavioral formula.
A New Collectivism
By 1919 a deluge of state legislation appeared, specifically designed to counteract rampant Bolshevism. Idaho and Utah established criminal penalties for failure to attend Americanization classes. Fifteen states ordered English to be the only language of instruction in all schools, public and private. Nebraska demanded that all meetings be conducted in English. Oregon required every foreign language publication to display prominently a literal English translation of its entire contents. In 1922, Oregon outlawed private schools for elementary school children, a decision reversed by the Supreme Court later in the Pierce vs. Society of Sisters case (1925).
At the same time, or just a bit later, a new biology began to emerge — a molecular vision of life under the direction of the Rockefeller Foundation, a vision in which scientific interventions could and should be used deliberately, by the best people, to control biological and social evolution. With Rockefeller as a principal engine, the shared social view of corporate thinkers was comprehensively imposed, bit by bit, on academic science. Elite universities, with Caltech as leader, became sites for implementation of the Rockefeller project. It was, in the words of Lily Kay in (The Molecular Vision of Life), "a potent convergence of social agendas and scientists’ ambitions."
Eugenic goals played a significant role in conception and design of the new Rockefeller biology, to such a point that open discussion of purposes had eventually to be kept under wraps as a political liability, particularly when the great dictators of Europe appeared to be taking some of their cues from America. Molecular biology promised a politically safer, and even a more certain path to an eventual utopia of social planning by elites, and one now properly "scientific," completely free of the embarrassing candor of eugenic selection.
The experience of these times gave reformers a grand taste for blood. Government intervention everywhere was proclaimed the antidote for dissent. Intervention took many unexpected shapes. For instance, the "Athlete’s Americanization League" agitated intensely to provide free sports equipment for every public school with its battle cry: "Sports are the logical antidote for unrest." By the time national passion cooled, in every nook and cranny of American life new social organizations with powerful government or private sponsorship flourished. All fed on intervention into families for their nourishment, all clamored to grow larger, all schemed to produce political testimony of their value. A new republic was here at last, just as Herbert Croly10 had announced, and government school was to be its church.
- The early manifestation under Margaret Sanger’s influence of the organization, which eventually changed its name to Planned Parenthood.
- As mentioned previously, this was Judge Ben Lindsey’s idea; Lindsey was the man often credited with perfecting Children’s Court procedures, particularly suspension of defendants’ customary legal rights.
- This process of very slow assimilation into settled groups is a pattern everywhere, particularly noticeable in smaller communities where it may take two or three generations or even longer for a new family to be incorporated into the most intimate society. Ghettos often serve well as mediators of transition, while the record of professional social agencies in this regard is disastrous.
- Many people I meet consider the Ford Foundation a model of enlightened corporate beneficence, and although Jesse Jackson’s "Hymietown" remark ended his serious political prospects in America, Ford’s much deeper and more relentless scorn for those he considered mongrel races and religions, particularly the Jews, has long been forgiven and forgotten. On July 30, 1938, the Hitler government presented Henry Ford with the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle. Only three other non-Germans ever got that honor and Benito Mussolini was one of them.
- Not quite as sinister as it sounds. Virtually all distinguished English names bear a family relationship to one another; its privileged classes, like those of other nations like Germany (or Japan) constitute a protected breeding stock in which intermarriage is not just common, but de rigeur, one might say with only a trace of mischief. Indeed, in a genealogy text whose title I’ve long forgotten, I learned from the author (alas forgotten, too) that two thirds of all American presidents stood in an easily traceable family relationship to one another. See Chapter Twelve for more enlightenment on this score. Or simply ponder the meaning of this: After the 2004 presidential nominations have been decided, if Senator Kerry of Massachusetts is the Democratic nominee and George W. Bush the Republican, then five presidential terms in a row will have been served by men with a Yale degree when the eventual victor’s term is complete! And three if those terms will have featured a president who was a member, while at Yale, of a tiny secret society, Skull & Bones, which only accepts fifteen members a year. On this score, either Bush or Kerry will serve equally well as both are Yale graduates and both Skull & Bones initiates.
- As five hundred thousand school trips to date have been.
- Simplified, the belief that human nature could be changed, complicated enormously by a collateral belief that there are a variety of such natures, correlated with race and other variables. As I warn elsewhere, these men used the concept "race" in a more intimate way than contemporary ears are used to. As Grant would have viewed things, "white" or "Caucasian" is subject to many subdivisions, each of which has a value rank. The "great race" in America is Aryan. One very influential tome of the 1920s, for instance, was Joseph Widney’s two-volume Race Life of the Aryan People. Widney was a founder of the University of Southern California.
- An invention of Galton.
- There is some evidence American social engineering was being studied abroad. Zamiatin’s We, the horrifying scientific dystopia of a world government bearing the name "The United State," was published in Russia a few years later as if in anticipation of an American future for everyone
- The new republic we were driving toward, according to Croly, bore little resemblance to either a republic or a democracy. It was to be an apolitical universe, a new utopia of engineers and skilled administrators, hinted at by Bellamy, spun out further by Veblen in The Engineers and the Price System, and The Theory of Business Enterprise. A federal union of worldwide scope was the target, a peculiar kind of union of the sort specified in Cecil Rhodes’ last wills, which established the Rhodes Scholarships as a means to that end. Politics was outdated as a governing device. Whatever appearances of an earlier democratic republic were allowed to survive, administrators would actually rule. A mechanism would have to be created whereby administrators could be taught the new reality discreetly so that continuity and progress could be assured. De Tocqueville’s nightmare of an endlessly articulating, self-perpetuating bureaucracy had finally come to life. It was still in its infancy, but every sign pointed to a lusty future.
Chapters of The Underground History of American Public Education:
- Chapter 1: The Way It Used To Be
- Chapter 2: An Angry Look At Modern Schooling
- Chapter 3: Eyeless In Gaza
- Chapter 4: I Quit, I Think
- Chapter 5: True Believers and the UnspeakableChautauqua
- Chapter 6: The Lure of Utopia
- Chapter 7: The Prussian Connection
- Chapter 8: A Coal-Fired Dream World
- Chapter 9: The Cult of Scientific Management
- Chapter 10: My Green River
- Chapter 11: The Crunch
- Chapter 12: Daughters of the Barons of Runnemede
- Chapter 13: The Empty Child
- Chapter 14: Absolute Absolution
- Chapter 15: The Psychopathology of EverydaySchooling
- Chapter 16: A Conspiracy Against Ourselves
- Chapter 17: The Politics of Schooling
- Chapter 18: Breaking Out of the Trap
John Taylor Gatto is available for speaking engagements and consulting. Write him at P.O. Box 562, Oxford, NY 13830 or call him at 607-843-8418 or 212-874-3631.
John Taylor Gatto is the author of Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling, and Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. He was 1991 New York State Teacher of the Year. Visit his website.