The Empty Child

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Chapter 13 of The Underground History of American Public Education

Walden Two (1948) B.F. Skinner. This utopist is a psychologist, inventor of a mechanical baby-tender, presently engaged on experiments testing the habit capacities of pigeons. Halfway through this contemporary utopia, the reader may feel sure, as we did, that this is a beautifully ironic satire on what has been called "behavioral engineering"…. Of all the dictatorships espoused by utopists, this is the most profound…. The citizen of this ideal society is placed during his first year in a sterile cubicle, wherein the conditioning begins…. In conclusion, the perpetrator of this "modern" utopia looks down from a nearby hill of the community which is his handiwork and proclaims: "I like to play God!"

~ Negley and Patrick, The Quest For Utopia

Miss Skinner Sleeps Scientifically

At the university people used to call Kings College before the American Revolution, I lived for a time under a psychological regime called behaviorism in the last golden moments before Mind Science took over American schooling. At Columbia, I was in on the transformation without ever knowing it. By the time it happened, I had shape-shifted into a schoolteacher, assigned to spend my adult life as a technician in the human rat cage we call public education.

Although I may flatter myself, for one brief instant I think I was the summer favorite of Dr. Fred S. Keller at Columbia, a leading behaviorist of the late 1950s whose own college textbook was dedicated to his mentor, B.F. Skinner, that most famous of all behaviorists from Harvard. Skinner was then rearing his own infant daughter in a closed container with a window, much like keeping a baby in an aquarium, a device somewhat mis-described in the famous article "Baby in a Box," (Ladies Home Journal, September 28, 1945).

Italian parents giving their own children a glass of wine in those days might have ended up in jail and their children in foster care, but what Skinner did was perfectly legal. For all I know, it still is. What happened to Miss Skinner? Apparently she was eventually sent to a famous progressive school the very opposite of a rat-conditioning cage, and grew up to be an artist.

Speaking of boxes, Skinner commanded boxes of legal tender lecturing and consulting with business executives on the secrets of mass behavior he had presumably learned by watching trapped rats. From a marketing standpoint, the hardest task the rising field of behavioral psychology had in peddling its wares was masking its basic stimulus-response message (albeit one with a tiny twist) in enough different ways to justify calling behaviorism "a school." Fat consultancies were beginning to be available in the postwar years, but the total lore of behaviorism could be learned in about a day, so its embarrassing thinness required fast footwork to conceal. Being a behaviorist then would hardly have taxed the intellect of a parking lot attendant; it still doesn’t.

In those days, the U.S. Government was buying heavily into these not-so-secret secrets, as if anticipating that needy moment scheduled to arrive at the end of the twentieth century when Richard Barnet of the Institute for Policy Studies would write for Harper’s in a voice freighted with doom:

The problem is starkly simple. An astonishingly large and increasing number of human beings are not needed or wanted to make the goods or provide the services that the paying customers of the world can afford.

In the decades prior to this Malthusian assessment, a whole psychological Institute for Social Cookery sprang up like a toadstool in the United States to offer recipe books for America’s future. Even then they knew that 80 percent of the next generation was neither needed nor wanted. Remedies had to be found to dispose of the menace psychologically.

Skinner had wonderful recipes, better than anyone’s. Not surprisingly, his procedures possessed a vague familiarity to readers listed in the Blue Book or the Social Register, people whose culture made them familiar with the training of dogs and falcons. Skinner had recipes for bed wetting, for interpersonal success, for management of labor, for hugging, for decision-making. His industrial group prepackaged hypotheses to train anyone for any situation. By 1957, his machines constituted the psychological technology of choice in institutions with helpless populations: juvenile detention centers, homes for the retarded, homes for wayward mothers, adoption agencies, orphan asylums — everywhere the image of childhood was most debased. The pot of gold at the end of Skinner’s rainbow was School.

Behaviorism’s main psychological rival in 1957 was psychoanalysis, but this rival had lost momentum by the time big government checks were available to buy psychological services. There were many demerits against psychoanalysis: its primitive narrative theory, besides sounding weird, had a desperate time proving anything statistically. Its basic technique required simple data to be elaborated beyond the bounds of credibility. Even where that was tolerable, it was useless in a modern school setting built around a simulacrum of precision in labeling.

Social-learning theorists, many academic psychiatrists, anthropologists, or other specialists identified with a university or famous institution like the Mayo Clinic, were behaviorism’s closest cash competition. But behind the complex exterior webs they wove about social behavior, all were really behaviorists at heart. Though they spun theory in the mood of Rousseau, the payoff in each case came down to selling behavioral prescriptions to the policy classes. Their instincts might lead them into lyrical flights that could link rock falls in the Crab Nebula to the fall of sparrows in Monongahela, but the bread and butter argument was that mass populations could be and should be controlled by the proper use of carrots and sticks.

Another respectable rival for the crown behaviorism found itself holding after WWII was stage theory, which could vary from the poetic grammar of Erik Eriksson to the impenetrable mathematical tapestry of Jean Piaget, an exercise in chutzpah weaving the psychological destiny of mankind out of the testimony of less than two dozen bourgeois Swiss kids. Modest academic empires could be erected on allegiance to one stage theory or another, but there were so many they tended to get in each other’s way. Like seven-step programs to lose weight and keep it off, stage theory provided friendly alternatives to training children like rats — but the more it came into direct competition with the misleading precision of Skinnerian psychology, the sillier its clay feet looked.

All stage theory is embarrassingly culture-bound. Talk about the attention span of kids and suddenly you are forced to confront the fact that while eighteen-month-old Americans become restless after thirty seconds, Chinese of that age can closely watch a demonstration for five minutes. And while eight-year-old New Yorkers can barely tie their shoes, eight-year-old Amish put in a full work day on the family homestead. Even in a population apparently homogenous, stage theory can neither predict nor prescribe for individual cases. Stage theories sound right for the same reason astrological predictions do, but the disconnect between ideal narratives and reality becomes all too clear when you try to act on them.

When stage theory was entering its own golden age in the late 1960s, behaviorism was already entrenched as the psychology of choice. The federal government’s BSTEP document and many similar initiatives to control teacher preparation had won the field for the stimulus-response business. So much money was pouring into psychological schooling from government/corporate sources, however, that rat psychologists couldn’t absorb it all. A foot-in-the-door opportunity presented itself, which stage theorists scrambled to seize.

The controlling metaphor of all scientific stage theories is not, like behaviorism’s, that people are built like machinery, but that they grow like vegetables. Kinder requires garten, an easy sell to people sick of being treated like machinery. For all its seeming humanitarianism, stage theory is just another way to look beyond individuals to social class abstractions. If nobody possesses a singular spirit, then nobody has a sovereign personal destiny. Mother Teresa, Tolstoy, Hitler — they don’t signify for stage theory, though from time to time they are asked to stand as representatives of types.

Behaviorists

To understand empty-child theory, you have to visit with behaviorists. Their meal ticket was hastily jerry-built by the advertising agency guru John Watson and by Edward Lee Thorndike, founder of educational psychology. Watson’s "Behaviorist Manifesto" (1913) promoted a then novel utilitarian psychology whose "theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior." Like much that passes for wisdom on the collegiate circuit, their baby was stitched together from the carcasses of older ideas. Behaviorism (Thorndike’s version, stillborn, was called "Connectionism") was a purified hybrid of Wilhelm Wundt’s laboratory at Leipzig and Comte’s positivism broadcast in the pragmatic idiom of the Scottish common-sense philosophers. We needn’t trace all the dead body parts pasted together to sigh at the claim of an originality which isn’t there — reminiscent of Howard Gardner’s fashion as seer of multiple intelligence theory — an idea as ancient as the pyramids.

Behaviorists read entrails; they spy on the movements of trapped and hopeless animals, usually rats or pigeons. This gives an advantage over other psychologists of standing on a pile of animal corpses as the emblem of their science. The study of learning is their chief occupation: how rats can be driven to run a maze or press a bar with the proper schedule of reward and punishment. Almost from the start they abjured the use of the terms reward and punishment, concluding that these beg the question. Who is to say what is rewarding except the subject? And the subject tells us more credibly with his future behavior than with his testimony. You can only tell whether a reward is truly rewarding from watching future behavior. This accurate little semantic curve ball allows a new discipline to grow around the terms "positive reinforcement" (reward) and "negative reinforcement" (punishment).

Behavior to behaviorists is only what can be seen and measured; there is no inner life. Skinner added a wrinkle to the simpler idea of Pavlovian conditioning from which subsequent libraries of learned essays have been written, when he stated that the stimulus for behavior is usually generated internally. In his so-called "operant" conditioning, the stimulus is thus written with a small "s" rather than with a Pavlovian capital "S." So what? Just this: Skinner’s lowercase, internal "s" leaves a tiny hole for the ghost of free will to sneak through!

Despite the furor this created in the world of academic psychology, the tempest-in-a-teapot nature of lowercase/uppercase stimuli is revealed from Skinner’s further assertion that these mysterious internal stimuli of his can be perfectly controlled by manipulating exterior reinforcements according to proper schedules. In other words, even if you do have a will (not certain), your will is still perfectly programmable! You can be brought to love Big Brother all the same.

The way I came to the attention of Dr. Keller’s teaching assistants was by writing a program to cause coeds to surrender their virginity behaviorally without realizing they had been scored, with an operant conditioning program. My blueprint delighted the assistants. Copies were prepared and sent informally to other colleges; one went, I believe, to Skinner himself. When I look back on my well-schooled self who played this stupid prank I’m disgusted, but it should serve as a warning how an army of grown-up children was and still is encouraged to experiment on each other as a form of higher-level modern thinking. An entire echelon of management has been trained in the habit of scientific pornography caught by the title of the Cole Porter song, "Anything Goes."

Behaviorism has no built-in moral brakes to restrain it other than legal jeopardy. You hardly have to guess how irresistible this outlook was to cigarette companies, proprietary drug purveyors, market researchers, hustlers of white bread, bankers, stock salesmen, makers of extruded plastic knick-knacks, sugar brokers, and, of course, to men on horseback and heads of state. A short time after I began as a behaviorist, I quit, having seen enough of the ragged Eichmannesque crew at Columbia drawn like iron filings to this magnetic program which promised to simplify all the confusion of life into underlying schemes of reinforcement.

Plasticity

The worm lives in our initial conception of human nature. Are human beings to be trusted? With what reservations? To what degree? The official answer has lately been "not much," at least since the end of WWII. Christopher Lasch was able to locate some form of surveillance, apprehension, confinement, or other security procedure at the bottom of more than a fifth of the jobs in the United States. Presumably that’s because we don’t trust each other. Where could that mistrust have been learned?

As we measure each other, we select a course to follow. A curriculum is a racecourse. How we lay it out is contingent on assumptions we make about the horses and spectators. So it is with school. Are children empty vessels? What do you think? I suspect not many parents look at their offspring as empty vessels because contradictory evidence accumulates from birth, but the whole weight of our economy and its job prospects is built on the outlook that people are empty, or so plastic it’s the same thing.

The commodification of childhood — making it a product which can be sold — demands a psychological frame in which kids can be molded. A handful of philosophers dominates modern thinking because they argue this idea, and in arguing it they open up possibilities to guide history to a conclusion in some perfected society. Are children empty? John Locke said they were in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store…? To this I answer in one word, from Experience; in that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself.

Are there no innate ideas? Does the mind lack capacities and powers of its own, being etched exclusively by sensory inputs? Locke apparently thought so, with only a few disclaimers so wispy they were abandoned by his standard bearers almost at once. Are minds blank like white paper, capable of accepting writing from whoever possesses the ink? Empty like a gas tank or a sugar bowl to be filled by anyone who can locate the filler-hole? Was John Watson right when he said in 1930:

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select — doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, his penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.

Do you find something attractive in that presumption of plasticity in human nature? So did Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao, two of the century’s foremost applied behaviorists on the grand scale. Taylorism sought to manage by the control of physical movements and environments, but the behaviorists wanted more certainty than that, they wanted control of the inner life, too. A great many reflective analyses have placed our own two Roosevelt presidencies in the same broad category.

The trouble in school arises from disagreement about what life is for. If we believe human beings have no unique personal essence, this question is meaningless, but even then you can’t get rid of the idea easily. Life commands your answer. You cannot refuse because your actions write your answer large for everyone to see, even if you don’t see it yourself. As you regard human nature, you will teach. Or as someone else regards it, you will teach. There aren’t any third ways.

Is human nature empty? If it is, who claims a right to fill it? In such circumstances, what can "school" mean?

If ever a situation was capable of revealing the exquisite power of metaphor to control our lives, this must be it. Are children empty? As helpless infants and dependent youth we lay exposed to the metaphors of our guardians; they colonize our spirit.

Elasticity

Among structural engineers, the terms plastic and elastic describe propensities of material; these are concepts which can also be brought to bear on the question whether human nature is built out of accidents of experience or whether there is some divine inner spark in all of us that makes each person unique and self-determining. As you decide, the schools which march forward from your decision are predestined. Immanuel Kant thought both conditions possible, a strong, continuous effort of will tipping the balance.

In structural engineering, implications of the original builder/creator’s decision are inescapable; constructions like bridges and skyscrapers do have an inner nature given them by the materials chosen and the shapes imposed, an integrity long experience has allowed us to profile. The structure will defend this integrity, resisting wind stress, for example, which threatens to change its shape permanently.

When stress increases dangerously as it would in a hurricane, the building material becomes elastic, surrendering part of its integrity temporarily to protect the rest, compromising to save its total character in the long run. When the wind abates the urge to resume the original shape becomes dominant and the bridge or building relaxes back to normal. A human analogy is that we remember who we are in school even when coerced to act like somebody else. In engineering, this integrity of memory is called elastic behavior. Actors practice deliberate elasticity and the Chechens or the Hmong express remarkable group elasticity. After violent stresses abate, they remember who they are.

But another road exists. To end unbearable stress, material has a choice of surrendering its memory. Under continued stress, material can become plastic, losing its elasticity and changing its shape permanently. Watch your own kids as their schooling progresses. Are they like Chechens with a fierce personal integrity and an inner resilience? Or under the stress of the social laboratory of schooling, have they become plastic over time, kids you hardly recognize, kids who’ve lost their original integrity?

In the collapse of a bridge or building in high wind, a decisive turning point is reached when the structure abandons its nature and becomes plastic. Trained observers can tell when elasticity is fading because prior to the moment of collapse, the structure cannot regain its original shape. It loses its spirit, taking on new and unexpected shapes in a struggle to resist further change. When this happens it is wordlessly crying HELP ME! HELP ME! just as so many kids did in all the schools in which I ever taught.

The most important task I assigned myself as a schoolteacher was helping kids regain their integrity, but I lost many, their desperate, last-ditch resistance giving way, their integrity shattering before my horrified eyes. Look back in memory at your kids before first grade, then fast-forward to seventh. Have they disintegrated into warring fragments divided against themselves? Don’t believe anyone who tells you that’s natural human development.

If there are no absolutes, as pragmatists like Dewey assert, then human nature must be plastic. Then the spirit can be successfully deformed from its original shape and will have no sanctuary in which to resist institutional stamping. The Deweys further assert that human nature processed this way is able to perform efficiently what is asked of it later on by society. Escaping our original identity will actually improve most of us, they say. This is the basic hypothesis of utopia-building, that the structure of personhood can be broken and reformed again and again for the better.

Plasticity is the base on which scientific psychology must stand if it is to be prescriptive, and if not prescriptive, who needs it? Finding an aggressive, instrumental psychology associated with schooling is a sure sign empty-child attitudes aren’t far away. The notion of empty children has origins predating psychology, of course, but the most important engine reshaping American schools into socialization laboratories,1 after Wundt, was the widely publicized work of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849—1936) who had been a student of Wundt at Leipzig. Pavlov won the Nobel in 1904, credited with discovering the conditioned reflex whereby systems of physical function thought to be fixed biologically, like the salivation of dogs, could be rewired to irrelevant outside stimuli, like bells ringing.

This had immense influence on the spread of behavioral psychology into government agencies and corporate boardrooms, for it seemed to herald the discovery of master wiring diagrams which could eventually bring the entire population under control of physiological psychology.

Pavlov became the most prestigious ally of the behavioral enterprise with his Nobel. His text The Conditioned Reflexes (1926) provided a sacred document to be waved at skeptics, and his Russian nationality aided immeasurably, harmonizing well with the long romance American intellectuals had with the Soviet Union. Even today Pavlov is a name to conjure with. Russian revolutionary experimentation allowed the testing of what was possible to go much further and faster than could have happened in America and western Europe.

Notions of emptiness turn the pedestrian problem of basic skills schooling into the complex political question of which outside agencies with particular agendas to impose will be allowed to write the curriculum. And there are nuances. For instance, the old-fashioned idea of an empty container suggests a hollow to be filled, an approach not unfamiliar to people who went to school before 1960. But plastic emptiness is a different matter. It might lead to an armory of tricks designed to fix, distract, and motivate the subject to cooperate in its own transformation — the new style commonly found in public schools after 1960. The newer style has given rise to an intricately elaborated theory of incentives capable of assisting managers to work their agenda on the managed. Only a few years ago, almost every public-school teacher in the country had to submit a list of classroom motivation employed, to be inspected by school managers.

Emptiness: The Master Theory

Conceptions of emptiness to be filled as the foundation metaphor of schooling are not confined to hollowness and plasticity, but also include theories of mechanism. De La Mettrie’s2 Man a Machine vision from the Enlightenment, for instance, is evidence of an idea regularly recurring for millennia. If we are mechanisms, we must be predetermined, as Calvin said. Then the whole notion of "Education" is nonsensical. There is no independent inner essence to be drawn forth and developed. Only adjustments are possible, and if the contraption doesn’t work right, it should be junked. Everything important about machinery is superficial.

This notion of machine emptiness has been the master theory of human nature since the beginning of the nineteenth century. It still takes turns in curriculum formation with theories of vegetable emptiness, plastic emptiness, systems emptiness and, from time to time, some good old-fashioned Lockean blank sheet emptiness. Nobody writes curriculum for self-determined spiritual individuals and expects to sell it in the public school market.

This hardline empiricism descends to us most directly from Locke and Hume, who both said Mind lacks capacities and powers of its own. It has no innate contents. Everything etched there comes from simple sense impressions mixed and compounded. This chilly notion was greatly refined by the French ideologues3 who thought the world so orderly and mechanical, the future course of history could be predicted on the basis of the position and velocity of molecules. For these men, the importance of human agency vanished entirely. With Napoleon, these ideas were given global reach a few years later. So seductive is this mechanical worldview it has proven itself immune to damage by facts which contradict it.4

A Metaphysical Commitment

At the core of every scientific research program (and forced schooling is the largest such program in history) lies a metaphysical commitment on which all decision-making rests. For instance, the perspective of which pedagogy and behavioral science are both latter-day extensions rests on six pillars:

1. The world is independent of thought. It is atomic in its basic constituents.
2. The real properties of bodies are bulk, figure, texture, and motion.
3. Time and Space are real entities; the latter is Euclidean in its properties.
4. Mass is inert. Rest or uniform motion are equally "natural" conditions involving no consciousness.
5. Gravitational attraction exists between all masses.
6. Energy is conserved in interactions.

There is no obvious procedure for establishing any of these principles as true. There is no obvious experimental disproof of them either, or any way to meet Karl Popper’s falsification requirement or Quine’s modification of it. Yet these religious principles, as much metaphysics as physics, constitute the backbone of the most powerful research program in modern history: Newtonian physics and its modern fellow travelers.5

The psychology which most naturally emerges from a mechanical worldview is behaviorism, an outlook which dominates American school thinking. When you hear that classrooms have been psychologized, what the speaker usually means is that under the surface appearance of old-fashioned lessons what actually is underway is an experiment with human machines in a controlled setting. These experiments follow some predetermined program during which various "adjustments" are made as data feed back to the design engineers. In a psychologized classroom, teachers and common administrators are pedagogues, kept unaware of the significance of the processes they superintend. After a century of being on the outside, there is a strong tradition of indifference or outright cynicism about Ultimate Purpose among both groups.

Behaviorism holds a fictionalist attitude toward intelligence: mind simply doesn’t exist. "Intelligence" is only behavioral shorthand for, "In condition A, player B will act in range C, D, and E rather than A, B and C." There is no substantive intelligence, only dynamic relationships with different settings and different dramatic ceremonies.

The classic statement of behavioristic intelligence is E.G. Boring’s 1923 definition, "Intelligence is what an intelligence test measures." Echoes of Boring reverberate in Conant’s sterile definition of education as "what goes on in schools." Education is whatever schools say it is. This is a carry-over of Percy Bridgman’s6 recommendation for an ultimate kind of simplification in physics sometimes known as operationalism (which gives us the familiar "operational definition"), e.g., Boring’s definition of intelligence. This project in science grew out of the positivistic project in philosophy which contends that all significant meaning lies on the surface of things. Positivism spurns any analysis of the deep structure underlying appearances. Psychological behaviorism is positivism applied to the conjecture that a science of behavior might be established. It’s a guess how things ought to work, not a science of how they do.

B.F. Skinner’s entire strategy of behavioral trickery designed to create beliefs, attitudes, and behavior patterns in whole societies is set down in Walden Two, a bizarre illustration of some presumed uses of emptiness, but also a summary of observations (all uncredited by Skinner) of earlier undertakings in psychological warfare, propaganda, advertising research, etc., including contributions from public relations, marketing, schooling, military experience, and animal training. Much that Skinner claimed as his own wasn’t even secondhand — it had been commonplace for centuries among philosophers. Perhaps all of it is no more than that.

The Limits Of Behavioral Theory

The multibillion-dollar school-materials industry is stuffed with curriculum psychologized through application of behaviorist theory in its design and operation. What these kits are about is introducing various forms of external reinforcement into learning, based on the hypothesis the student is a stimulus-response machine. This surrender to questionable science fails its own test of rationality in the following ways.

First and foremost, the materials don’t work dependably. Behavior can be affected, but fallout is often negative and daunting. The insubstantial metaphysics of Behaviorism leads it to radically simplify reality; the content of this psychology is then always being undermined by experience.

Even some presumed core truths, e.g., "simple to complex, we learn to walk before we can run" (I’ve humanized the barbaric jargon of the field), are only half-truths whose application in a classroom provoke trouble. In suburban schools a slow chaos of boredom ensues from every behavioral program; in ghetto schools the boredom turns to violence. Even in better neighborhoods, the result of psychological manipulation is indifference, cynicism, and overall loss of respect for the pedagogical enterprise. Behavioral theory demands endless recorded observations and assessments in the face of mountainous evidence that interruptions and delays caused by such assessments create formidable obstacles to learning — and for many derail the possibility entirely.

By stressing the importance of controlled experience and sensation as the building blocks of training, behaviorism reveals its inability to deal with the inconvenient truth that a huge portion of experience is conceptualized in language. Without mastery of language and metaphor, we are condemned to mystification. The inescapable reality is that behind the universality of abstraction, we have a particular language with a particular personality. It takes hard work to learn how to use it, harder work to learn how to protect yourself from the deceptive language of strangers. Even our earliest experience is mediated through language since the birth vault itself is not soundproof.

Reality Engages The Banana

Michael Matthews’ analysis of language as a primary behavior in itself will serve as an illustration of the holes in rat psychology. His subject is the simple banana.7 Contrary to the religion of behaviorism, we don’t experience bananas as soft, yellowish, mildly fibrous sense impressions. Instead, reality engages the banana in drama: "Food!", "Good for you!", "Swallow it down or I’ll beat you into jelly!" We learn rules about bananas (Don’t rub them in the carpet), futurity (Let’s have bananas again tomorrow), and value (These damn bananas cost an arm and a leg!). And we learn these things through words.

When behaviorism pontificates that children should all "learn from experience," with the implication that books and intellectual concepts count for little, it exposes its own poverty. Behaviorism provides no way to quantify the overwhelming presence of language as the major experience of modern life for everyone, rich and poor. Behaviorism has to pretend words don’t really matter, only "behavior" (as it defines the term).

To maintain that all knowledge is exclusively sense experience is actually not to say much at all, since sense experience is continuous and unstoppable as long as we are alive. That is like saying you need to breathe to stay alive or eat to prevent hunger. Who disagrees? The fascinating aspect of this psychological shell game lies in the self-understanding of behavioral experts that they have nothing much to sell their clientele that a dog trainer wouldn’t peddle for pennies. The low instinct of this poor relative of philosophy has always been to preempt common knowledge and learning ways, translate the operations into argot, process them into an institutional form, then find customers to buy the result.

There is no purpose down deep in any of these empty-child systems except the jigsaw puzzle addict’s purpose of making every piece FIT. Why don’t children learn to read in schools? Because it doesn’t matter in a behavioral universe. This goes far beyond a contest of many methods; it’s a contest of perspectives. Why should they read? We have too many smart people as it is. Only a few have any work worth doing. Only the logic of machinery and systems protects your girl and boy when you send them off to behavioral laboratories on the yellow behaviorist bus. Should systems care? They aren’t Mom and Dad, you know.

Programming The Empty Child

To get an act of faith this unlikely off the ground there had to be some more potent vision than Skinner could provide, some evidence more compelling than reinforcement schedule data to inspire men of affairs to back the project. There had to be foundational visions for the scientific quest. One will have to stand for all, and the one I’ve selected for examination is among the most horrifyingly influential books ever to issue from a human pen, a rival in every way to Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management. The author was Jean Jacques Rousseau. The book, Émile, published in 1762. Whether Rousseau had given his own five children away to the foundling home before or after he wrote it, I can’t say for sure. Before, I’m told.

Émile is a detailed account of the total transformation of a boy of ten under the precisely calculated behavioral ministrations of a psychological schoolmaster. Rousseau showed the world how to write on the empty child Locke had fathered; he supplied means by which Locke’s potent image could be converted to methodology. It took only a quarter century for Germans to catch on to the pick-and-shovel utility of dreamy Rousseau, only a little longer for Americans and English to do the same. Once Rousseau was fully digested, the temptation to see society’s children as human resources proved irresistible to those nations which had gone furthest in developing the mineral resource, coal, and its useful spirits, heat and steam.

Rousseau’s influence over pedagogy began when empty child explanations of human nature came to dominate. With emotional religion, village life, local elites, and American tradition reeling from hammer blows of mass immigration, the nation was broadly transformed at the beginning of the twentieth century without much conscious public awareness of what was happening.

One blueprint for the great transformation was Émile, an attempt to reestablish Eden using a procedure Rousseau called "negative education." Before the book gets to protagonist Émile, we are treated to this instructive vignette of an anonymous student:

The poor child lets himself be taken away, he turned to look backward with regret, fell silent, and departed, his eyes swollen with tears he dared not shed and his heavy heart with the sigh he dared not exhale.

Thus is the student victim led to the schoolmaster. What happens next is reassurance that such a scene will never claim Émile:

Oh you [spoken to Émile] who have nothing similar to fear; you, for whom no time of life is a time of constraint or boredom; you, who look forward to the day without disquiet and to the night without impatience — come, my happy and good natured pupil, come and console us.8

Look at Rousseau’s scene closely. Overlook its sexual innuendo and you notice the effusion is couched entirely in negatives. The teacher has no positive expectations at all; he promises an absence of pain, boredom, and ill-temper, just what Prozac delivers. Émile’s instructor says the boy likes him because he knows "he will never be a long time without distraction" and because "we never depend on each other."

This idea of negation is striking. Nobody owes anybody anything; obligation and duty are illusions. Émile isn’t happy; he’s "the opposite of the unhappy child." Émile will learn "to commit himself to the habit of not contracting any habits." He will have no passionately held commitments, no outside interests, no enthusiasms, and no significant relationships other than with the tutor. He must void his memory of everything but the immediate moment, as children raised in adoption and foster care are prone to do. He is to feel, not think. He is to be emptied in preparation for his initiation as a mindless article of nature.

The similarity of all this to a drugged state dawns on the critical reader. Émile is to find negative freedom — freedom from attachment, freedom from danger, freedom from duty and responsibility, etc. But Rousseau scrupulously avoids a question anybody might ask: What is this freedom for? What is its point?

Dr. Watson Presumes

Leapfrogging 163 years, Dr. John B. Watson, modern father of behaviorism, answered that question this way in the closing paragraphs of his Behaviorism (1925), when he appealed to parents to surrender quietly:

I am trying to dangle a stimulus in front of you which if acted upon will gradually change this universe. For the universe will change if you bring your children up not in the freedom of the libertine, but in behavioristic freedom…. Will not these children in turn with their better ways of living and thinking replace us as society, and in turn bring up their children in a still more scientific way, until the world finally becomes a place fit for human habitation?

It was an offer School wasn’t about to let your kid refuse. Edna Heidbredder was the first insider to put the bell on this cat in a wonderful little book, Seven Psychologies (1933). A psychology professor from Minnesota, she described the advent of behaviorism this way seven decades ago:

The simple fact is that American psychologists had grown restive under conventional restraints. They were finding the old problems lifeless and thin, they were "half sick of shadows" and…welcomed a plain, downright revolt. [Behaviorism] called upon its followers to fight an enemy who must be utterly destroyed, not merely to parley with one who might be induced to modify his ways.

John B. Watson, a fast-buck huckster turned psychologist, issued this warning in 1919: The human creature is purely a stimulus-response machine. The notion of consciousness is a "useless and vicious" survival of medieval religious "superstition." Behaviorism does not "pretend to be disinterested psychology," it is "frankly" an applied science. Miss Heidbredder continues: "Behaviorism is distinctly interested in the welfare and salvation — the strictly secular salvation — of the human race."

She saw behaviorism making "enormous conquests" of other psychologies through its "violence" and "steady infiltration" of the marketplace, figuring "in editorials, literary criticism, social and political discussions, and sermons…. Its program for bettering humanity by the most efficient methods of science has made an all but irresistible appeal to the attention of the American public."

"It has become a crusade," she said, "against the enemies of science, much more than a mere school of psychology." It has "something of the character of a cult." Its adherents "are devoted to a cause; they are in possession of a truth." And the heart of that truth is "if human beings are to be improved we must recognize the importance of infancy," for in infancy "the student may see behavior in the making, may note the repertoire of reactions a human being has…and discover the ways in which they are modified…. " (emphasis added) During the early years a child may be taught "fear," "defeat," and "surrender" — or of course their opposites. From "the standpoint of practical control" youth was the name of the game for this aggressive cult; it flowed like poisoned syrup into every nook and cranny of the economy, into advertising, public relations, packaging, radio, press, television in its dramatic programming, news programming, and public affairs shows, into military training, "psychological" warfare, and intelligence operations, but while all this was going on, selected tendrils from the same behavioral crusade snaked into the Federal Bureau of Education, state education departments, teacher-training institutions, think tanks, and foundations. The movement was leveraged with astonishing amounts of business and government cash and other resources from the late 1950s onwards because the payoff it promised to deliver was vast. The prize: the colonization of the young before they had an opportunity to develop resistance. The holy grail of market research.

Back to Rousseau’s Émile. When I left you hanging, you had just learned that Émile’s "liberty" was a well-regulated one. Rousseau hastens to warn us the teacher must take great pains to "hide from his student the laws that limit his freedom." It will not do for the subject to see the walls of his jail. Émile is happy because he thinks no chains are held on him by his teacher/facilitator. But he is wrong. In fact the tutor makes Émile entirely dependent on minuscule rewards and microscopic punishments, like changes in vocal tone. He programs Émile without the boy’s knowledge, boasting of this in asides to the reader. Émile is conditioned according to predetermined plan every minute, his instruction an ultimate form of invisible mind control. The goals of Rousseau’s educational plan are resignation, passivity, patience, and, the joker-in-the-deck, levelheadedness. Here is the very model for duplicitous pedagogy.9

This treating of pupils as guinea pigs became B.F. Skinner’s stock in trade. In a moment of candor he once claimed, "We can achieve a sort of control under which the controlled nevertheless feel free, though they are following a code much more scrupulously than was ever the case under the old system." Rousseau was Skinner’s tutor.10

Cleaning The Canvas

Traditional education can be seen as sculptural in nature, individual destiny is written somewhere within the human being, awaiting dross to be removed before a true image shines forth. Schooling, on the other hand, seeks a way to make mind and character blank, so others may chisel the destiny thereon.

Karl Popper’s book The Open Society and Its Enemies reveals with great clarity how old the idea of tabula rasa (erroneously attributed to John Locke) actually is. In writing of Plato’s great utopia, The Republic, Popper shows Socrates telling auditors: "They will take as their canvas a city and the characters of men, and they will, first of all, make their canvas clean — by no means an easy matter…. They will not start work on a city nor on an individual unless they are given a clean canvas, or have cleaned it themselves." (emphasis added) Popper continues:

In the same spirit, Plato says in The Statesman of the royal rulers who rule in accordance with the royal science of statesmanship: "Whether they happen to rule by law or without law, over willing or unwilling subjects;…whether they purge the state for its good by killing or banishing some of its citizens — as long as they proceed according to science…this form of government must be declared the only one that is right." This is what canvas-cleaning means. He must eradicate existing institutions and traditions. He must purify, purge, expel, banish and kill.

Canvas-cleaning frees the individual of all responsibility. Morality is voided, replaced by reinforcement schedules. In their most enlightened form, theories of a therapeutic community are those in which only positive reinforcements are prescribed.

The therapeutic community is as close as your nearest public school. In the article "Teacher as Therapist" (footnote, pages 270—271), a glimpse of Émile programmed on a national scale is available. Its innocently garrulous author paints a landscape of therapy, openly identifying schools as behavioral training centers whose positive and negative reinforcement schedules are planned cooperatively in advance, and each teacher is a therapist. Here everything is planned down to the smallest "minimal recognition," nothing is accidental. Planned smiles or "stern looks," spontaneity is a weed to be exterminated — you will remember the injunction to draw smiling faces on every paper, "even at the high school level."

An important support girder of therapeutic community is a conviction that social order can be maintained by inducing students to depend emotionally on the approval of teachers. Horace Mann was thoroughly familiar with this principle. Here are Mann’s words on the matter:

When a difficult question has been put to a child, the Teacher approaches with a mingled look of concern and encouragement [even minimal recognition requires planning, here you have a primer of instructional text]; he stands before him, the light and shade of hope and fear alternately crossing his countenance. If the little wrestler triumphs, the Teacher felicitates him upon his success; perhaps seizes and shakes him by the hand in token congratulation; and when the difficulty has been formidable and the effort triumphant, I have seen Teacher catch up the child and embrace him, as though he were not able to contain his joy…and all this done so naturally and so unaffectedly as to excite no other feeling in the residue of the children than a desire, by the same means, to win the same caresses. (emphasis added)

Children were to be "loved into submission; controlled with gestures, glances, tones of voice as if they were sensitive machinery." What this passes for today is humanistic education, but the term has virtually the same magnitude of disconnect from the historical humanism of the Erasmus/DeFeltre stripe (which honored the mind and truly free choice) as modern schooling is disconnected from any common understanding of the word education.

Therapy As Curriculum

To say that various psychologies dominate modern schooling is hardly to plow new ground. The tough thing to do is to show how that happened and why — and how the project progresses to its unseen goals. The Atlantic Monthly had this to say in April 1993:

…schools have turned to therapeutic remediation. A growing proportion of many school budgets is devoted to counseling and other psychological services. The curriculum is becoming more therapeutic: children are taking courses in self-esteem, conflict resolution, and aggression management. Parental advisory groups are conscientiously debating alternative approaches to traditional school discipline, ranging from teacher training in mediation to the introduction of metal detectors and security guards in the schools. Schools are increasingly becoming emergency rooms of the emotions, devoted…to repairing hearts. What we are seeing…. is the psychologization of American education.

Two years before I ran across that Atlantic broadside, I encountered a different analysis in the financial magazine Forbes. I was surprised to discover Forbes had correctly tracked the closest inspiration for school psychologizing, both its aims and its techniques, to the pedagogy of China and the Soviet Union. Not similar practices and programs, mind you, identical ones. The great initial link with Russia, I knew, had been from the Wundtian Ivan Pavlov, but the Chinese connection was news to me. I was unaware then of John Dewey’s tenure there in the 1920s, and had given no thought, for that reason, to its possible significance:

The techniques of brainwashing developed in totalitarian countries are routinely used in psychological conditioning programs imposed on school children. These include emotional shock and desensitization, psychological isolation from sources of support, stripping away defenses, manipulative cross-examination of the individual’s underlying moral values by psychological rather than rational means. These techniques are not confined to separate courses or programs…they are not isolated idiosyncracies of particular teachers. They are products of numerous books and other educational materials in programs packaged by organizations that sell such curricula to administrators and teach the techniques to teachers. Some packages even include instructions on how to deal with parents and others who object. Stripping away psychological defenses can be done through assignments to keep diaries to be discussed in group sessions, and through role-playing assignments, both techniques used in the original brainwashing programs in China under Mao.

The Forbes writer, Thomas Sowell, perhaps invoking the slave states in part to rouse the reader’s capitalist dander, could hardly have been aware himself how carefully industrial and institutional interest had seeded Russia, China, Japan, and the Pacific Islands with the doctrine of psychological schooling long ago, nearly at the beginning of the century, and in Japan’s case even before that. All along we have harvested these experimental growths in foreign soil for what they seem to prove about people-shaping.

For example, the current push for School-to-Work deep-mines specific practices of the former Soviet Union, even to the point of using identical language from Soviet texts. School-to-Work was a project installed in Russia by Americans in the 1920s to test the advice of the nineteenth-century Swiss aristocrat von Fellenberg that manual labor should be combined with academic schooling. Fellenberg’s doctrine was a short-lived fad in this country in the 1830s, but ever after it had a place in the mind of certain men of affairs and social theorists. The opportunity afforded by Russia’s chaos after WWI seemed too promising to pass up.

The New Thought Tide

The great forced-schooling plan even long ago was a global movement. Anatomizing its full scope is well beyond my power, but I can open your eyes partway to this poorly understood dimension of our pedagogy. Think of China, the Asian giant so prominently fixed now in headline news. Its revolution which ended the rule of emperors and empresses was conceived, planned, and paid for by Western money and intellectuals and by representatives of prominent families of business, media, and finance who followed the green flag of commerce there.

This is a story abundantly related by others, but less well known is the role of ambitious Western ideologues like Bertrand Russell, who assumed a professorship at the University of Peking in 1920, and John Dewey, who lived there for two years during the 1920s. Men like this saw a unique chance to paint on a vast blank canvas as Cecil Rhodes had shown somewhat earlier in Africa could be done by only a bare handful of men.

Listen to an early stage of the plan taken from a Columbia Teachers College text written in 1931. The author is John Childs, rising academic star, friend of Dewey. The book, Education and the Philosophy of Experimentalism:

During the World War, a brilliant group of young Chinese thinkers launched a movement which soon became nationwide in its influence. This movement was called in Chinese the "Hsin Szu Ch’au" which literally translated means the "New Thought Tide." Because many features of New Thought Tide were similar to those of the earlier European awakening, it became popularly known in English as "The Chinese Renaissance."

While the sources of this intellectual and social movement were various, it is undoubtedly true that some of its most able leaders had been influenced profoundly by the ideas of John Dewey…. They found intellectual tools almost ideally suited to their purposes in Dewey’s philosophy…. Among these tools…his view of the instrumental character of thought, his demand that all tradition, beliefs and institutions be tested continuously by their capacity to meet contemporary human needs, and his faith that the wholehearted use of the experimental attitude and method would achieve results in the social field similar to those already secured in the field of the natural sciences.

At about the time of the close of the World War, Dewey visited China. For two years, through lectures, writing, and teaching, he gave in-person powerful reinforcement to the work of the Chinese Renaissance leaders.

It’s sobering to think of sad-eyed John Dewey as a godfather of Maoist China, but that he certainly was.

To Abolish Thinking

Dewey’s Experimentalism11 represented a new faith which was swallowed whole in Watson’s behaviorism. According to Childs, the unavowed aim of the triumphant psychology was "to abolish thinking, at least for the many; for if thinking were possible the few could do it for the rest." For Dewey as for the behaviorists, the notion of purpose was peculiarly suspect since the concept of conditioning seemed to obsolete the more romantic term. A psychological science born of physics was sufficient to explain everything. The only utopia behaviorism allowed was one in which the gathering of facts, statistical processing, and action based on research was allowed.

It is tempting to bash (or worship) Dewey for high crimes (or high saintliness), depending on one’s politics, but a greater insight into the larger social process at work can be gained by considering him as an emblem of a new class of hired gun in America, the university intellectual whose prominence comes from a supposed independence and purity of motives but who simultaneously exists (most often unwittingly) as protégé, mouthpiece, and disguise for more powerful wills than his own. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are prime examples of the type in our own day.

Dewey was determined his experimental subjects would be brought to actively participate in the ongoing experiments, not necessarily with their knowledge. All education was aimed at directing the responses of children. Orwell is really satirizing Deweyists and Fabians in his post-WWII dystopian nightmare, 1984, when Winston Smith’s execution is delayed until he can be brought to denounce the people he loves and to transfer his love to Big Brother. In Dewey’s world this is only bringing Smith into active participation. That it is in his own degradation is final proof that private purposes have been surrendered and the conditioning is complete.

"[We] reject completely the hypothesis of choice. We consider the traditional doctrine of ‘free-will’ to be both intellectually untenable and practically undesirable," is the way Childs translates Dewey. The new systems theorists, experimentalists, and behaviorists are all Wundt’s children in regarding human life as a mechanical phenomenon.12 But they are polemicists, too. Notice Childs’ hint that even if free will were intellectually tenable, it would only cause trouble.

Wundt!

The great energy that drives modern schooling owes much to a current of influence arising out of the psychology laboratory of Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig in Saxony. With a stream of international assistants, Wundt set out to examine how the human machine was best adjusted. By 1880, he laid the basis for Pavlov’s work and the work of Watson in America, for the medical procedure of lobotomy, for electroshock therapy, and for the scientific view that school was a ground for social training, "socialization" in John Dewey’s terminology.

Among Wundt’s principal assistants was the flamboyant American, G. Stanley Hall, who organized the psychology lab at Johns Hopkins in 1887, established the American Journal of Psychology, and saw to it that Sigmund Freud was brought to America for a debut here. Stanley Hall’s own star pupil at Hopkins was the Vermonter, John Dewey. Wundt’s first assistant, James McKeen Cattell, was also an American, eventually the patron saint of psychological testing here. He was also the chief promoter of something called "the sight-reading method," the dreadful fallout from which helped change the direction of American society. Cattell was the first "Professor of Psychology" so titled in all the world, reigning at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1894, he founded The Psychological Review. Over the next twenty-five years, he trained 344 doctoral candidates. In these stories and many others like them, the influence of Wundt and Prussia multiplied. Cattell later created the reference books Leaders in Education, American Men of Science, and The Directory of American Scholars and, for good measure, founded Popular Science, all of which boosted the stock of the infant discipline.

Other Wundtian Ph.D.s in the United States included James Baldwin who set up the psych lab at Princeton, Andrew Armstrong who did the same at Wesleyan, Charles Judd who became director of education at the University of Chicago, and James Earl Russell, president of Teachers College at Columbia. There were many others.

Russell’s Teachers College, the Rockefeller-sponsored, Prussian-inspired seminary on 120th Street in New York City, had a long reign dominating American pedagogy. By 1950, it had processed an unbelievable one-third of all presidents of teacher-training institutions, one-fifth of all American public schoolteachers, one-quarter of all superintendents. Thus the influence of Prussian thought dominated American school policy at a high level by 1914, and the Prussian tincture was virtually universal by 1930.

Some parts of the country were more resistant to the dumbing down of curriculum and the psychosocializing of the classroom than others, but by a process of attrition Prussianization gained important beachheads year by year — through private foundation projects, textbook publishing, supervisory associations, and on through every aspect of school. The psychological manipulation of the child suggested by Plato had been investigated by Locke, raised to clinical status by Rousseau, refined into materialist method by Helvetius and Herbart, justified philosophically as the essential religion by Comte, and scientized by Wundt. One does not educate machines, one adjusts them.

The peculiar undertaking of educational psychology was begun by Edward Thorndike of Teachers College in 1903. Thorndike, whose once famous puzzle box became the Skinner box of later behavioral psychology after minor modifications, was the protégé of Wundtians Judd and Armstrong at Wesleyan, taking his Ph.D. under Wundtian Cattell before being offered a post by Wundtian Russell at Teachers College.

According to Thorndike, the aim of a teacher is to "produce and prevent certain responses," and the purpose of education is to promote "adjustment." In Elementary Principles of Education (1929), he urged the deconstruction of emphasis on "intellectual resources" for the young, advice that was largely taken. It was bad advice in light of modern brain research suggesting direct ties between the size and complexity of the brain and strenuous thought grappled with early on.

Thorndike said intelligence was virtually set at birth — real change was impossible — a scientific pronouncement which helped to justify putting the brakes on ambitious curricula. But in the vitally important behavioral area — in beliefs, attitudes, and loyalties — Thorndike did not disappoint the empty-child crowd. In those areas so important to corporate and government health, children were to be as malleable as anyone could want them. An early ranking of school kids by intelligence would allow them to be separated into tracks for behavioral processing. Thorndike soon became a driving force in the growth of national testing, a new institution which would have consigned Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Carnegie to reform school and Edison to Special Education. Even before we got the actual test, Thorndike became a significant political ally of the semicovert sterilization campaign taking place in America.

That pioneering eugenic program seemed socially beneficial to those casually aware of it, and it was enthusiastically championed by some genuine American legends like Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. But if you find yourself nodding in agreement that morons have no business with babies, you might want to consider that according to Thorndike’s fellow psychologist H.H. Goddard at Princeton, 83 percent of all Jews and 79 percent of all Italians were in the mental defective class. The real difficulty with scientific psychology or other scientific social science is that it seems to be able to produce proof of anything on command, convincing proof, too, delivered by sincere men and women just trying to get along by going along.

Napoleon Of Mind Science

William James wrote in 1879:

[Wundt] aims on being a Napoleon…. Unfortunately he will never have a Waterloo…. cut him up like a worm and each fragment crawls…. you can’t kill him.

From his laboratory in upper Saxony near the Prussian border, Wundt wrote 53,735 published pages in the sixty-eight years between 1853 and 1920, words which sculpted modern schooling, from a disorderly attempt to heighten human promise in individuals or to glorify God’s creation, into mandated psychological indoctrination.

Wundt’s childhood was unrelieved by fun. He never played. He had no friends. He failed to find love in his family. From this austere forge, a Ph.D. emerged humorless, indefatigable, and aggressive. At his end he returned to the earth childless. Wundt is the senior psychologist in the history of psychology, says Boring: "Before him there was psychology but no psychologists, only philosophers."

Coming out of the physiological tradition of psychophysics in Germany, Wundt followed the path of de La Mettrie, Condillac, and Descartes in France who argued, each in his own way, that what we think of as personality is only a collection of physiological facts. Humanity is an illusion.

Wundt had a huge advantage over the mechanists before him. For him the time was right, all religious and romantic opposition in disarray, bewildered by the rapid onset of machinery into society. Over in England, Darwin’s brilliant cousin Francis Galton was vigorously promoting mathematical prediction into the status of a successful cult. In one short decade, bastions of a more ancient scholarly edifice were overrun by number crunchers. A bleak future suddenly loomed for men who remained unconvinced that any transcendental power was locked up in quantification of nature and humankind.

The Pythagorean brotherhood was reseating itself inexorably in this great age of Wundt, the two in harmony as both contributed heavily to the centralization of things and to the tidal wave of scientific racism which drowned the university world for decades, culminating in the racial science station maintained on the old Astor estate in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, by Carnegie interests until the events of September 1939, caused it to quietly close its doors.13 Even at the beginning of the marriage of scholarship and statistics, its principals saw little need to broaden their investigations into real life, an ominous foreshadowing of the eugenical outlook that followed.

A friendless, loveless, childless male German calling himself a psychologist set out, I think, to prove his human condition didn’t matter because feelings were only an aberration. His premises and methodology were imported into an expanding American system of child confinement and through that system disseminated to administrators, teachers, counselors, collegians, and the national consciousness.

As Germany became the intellectuals’ darling of the moment at the end of the nineteenth century, a long-dead German philosopher, Kant’s successor at the University of Berlin, Johann Herbart, enjoyed a vogue in school-intoxicated America. "Herbartianism" is probably the first of a long line of pseudoscientific enthusiasms to sweep the halls of pedagogy. A good German, Herbart laid out with precision the famous Herbartian Five-Step Program, not a dance but a psychologized teacher training program. By 1895, there was a National Herbartian Society to spread the good news, enrolling the likes of Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia and John Dewey. Herbart was finally laid to rest sometime before WWI when Dewey’s interest cooled, but his passage was a harbinger of many Herbart-oid enthusiasms to follow as a regular procession of educational gurus rose and fell with the fashion of the moment. The Moorish dance of scientific pedagogy accelerated its tempo relentlessly, and arms, legs, heads, perspiration, cries of venereal delight, and some anguish, too, mingled in the hypnotic whirl of laboratory dervishes. By 1910, Dewey was substituting his own five steps for Herbart’s in a book called How We Think. Few who read it noticed that a case was being made that we don’t actually think at all. Thinking was only an elusive kind of problem-solving behavior, called into being by dedicated activity; otherwise we are mindless.

What Is Sanity?

What we today call the science of child development grew out of the ambition of G. Stanley Hall, Wundt’s first assistant at Leipzig, Dewey’s mentor at Hopkins, and a man with a titanic ego. Hall inserted the word "adolescence" into the American vocabulary in 1904. If you wonder what happened to this class before they were so labeled, you can reflect on the experience of Washington, Franklin, Farragut, and Carnegie, who couldn’t spare the time to be children any longer than necessary. Hall, a fantastic pitchman, laid the groundwork for a host of special disciplines from child development to mental testing.

Hall told all who listened that the education of the child was the most important task of the race, our primary mission, and the new science of psychology could swiftly transform the race into what it should be. Hall may never have done a single worthwhile scientific experiment in his life but he understood that Americans could be sold a sizzle without the steak. Thanks in large measure to Hall’s trumpet, an edifice of child development rose out of the funding of psychological laboratories in the early 1900s during the famous Red Scare period.

In 1924, the Child Welfare Institute opened at Teachers College, underwritten by the Rockefeller Foundation. Another was opened in 1927 at the University of California. Generous donations for the study of all phases of child growth and development poured into the hands of researchers from the largest foundations. Thirty-five years later, during what might be thought of as the nation’s fourth Red Scare, the moment the Soviets beat America into space, the U.S. Education Office presided over a comprehensive infiltration of teacher training and schools.13 Judiciously applied funds and arm-twisting made certain these staging areas would pay proper attention to the psychological aspect of schooling.

Dewey, Hall, Thorndike, Cattell, Goddard, Russell, and all the other intellectual step-children of Wundt and the homeless mind he stood for, set out to change the conception of what constitutes education. They got powerful assistance from great industrial foundations and their house universities like Teachers College. Under the direction of James Earl Russell, president (and head of the psychology department), Teachers College came to boast training where "psychology stands first." Wherever Columbia graduates went this view went with them.

The brand-new profession of psychiatry flocked to the banner of this new philosophy of psychological indoctrination as a proper government activity, perhaps sensing that business and status could flow from the connection if it were authoritatively established. In 1927, Ralph Truitt, head of the then embryonic Division of Child Guidance Clinics for the Psychiatric Association, wrote that "the school should be the focus of the attack."

The White House appeared in the picture like a guardian angel watching over the efforts this frail infant was making to stand. In 1930, twelve hundred child development "experts" were invited to the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, an event with no precedent. One primary focus of attendees was the role "failure" played as a principal source of children’s problems. The echo of Rousseau was unmistakable. No attempt was made to examine how regularly prominent Americans like Washington or successful businessmen like Carnegie had surmounted early failure. Instead, a plan to eliminate failure structurally from formal schooling was considered and endorsed — failure could be eliminated if schools were converted into laboratories of life adjustment and intellectual standards were muted.

By 1948, the concept of collective (as opposed to individual) mental health was introduced at an international meeting in Britain to discuss the use of schools as an instrument to promote mental health. But what was mental health? What did a fully sane man or woman look like? Out of this conference in the U.K. two psychiatrists, J.R. Rees and G. Brock Chisholm, leveraged a profitable new organization for themselves — the World Federation for Mental Health. It claimed expertise in preventative measures and pinpointed the training of children as the proper point of attack:

The training of children is making a thousand neurotics for every one psychiatrists can hope to help with psychotherapy.

Chisholm knew what caused the problem in childhood; he knew how to fix it, too:

The only lowest common denominator of all civilizations and the only psychological force capable of producing these perversions is morality, the concept of right and wrong.

Shakespeare and the Vikings had been right; there’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so. Morality was the problem. With WWII behind us and everything adrift, a perfect opportunity to rebuild social life in school and elsewhere — on a new amoral, scientific logic — was presenting itself:

We have swallowed all manner of poisonous certainties fed us by our parents, our Sunday and day school teachers, our politicians, our priests, our newspapers…. The results, the inevitable results, are frustration, inferiority, neurosis and inability to enjoy living…. If the race is to be freed from its crippling burden of good and evil it must be psychiatrists who take the original responsibility.

Old Norse pragmatism, the philosophy most likely to succeed among upper-crust thinkers in the northeastern United States, was reasserting itself as global psychiatry.

The next advance in pedagogy was the initiative of a newly formed governmental body, the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). In 1950, it arranged the White House Conference on Education to warn that a psychological time-bomb was ticking inside the schools. An epidemic of mental insufficiency was said to be loose among Americans, imperiling the advances that industry and the arts had given America. Barbarians were already through the gates and among us!

Bending The Student To Reality

Twice before, attempts had been made to tell the story of an Armageddon ahead if the government penny-pinched on the funding of psychological services. First was the great feeble-mindedness panic which preceded and spanned the WWI period, word was spread from academic centers that feeble-mindedness was rampant among Americans.

The "moron!" "imbecile!" and "idiot!" insults which ricocheted around my elementary school in the early 1940s were one legacy of this premature marketing campaign. During WWII, this drive to convince keepers of the purse that the general population was a body needing permanent care was helped powerfully by a diffusion of British psychological warfare bureau reports stating that the majority of common British soldiers were mentally deficient. Now that notion (and its implied corrective, buying protection from psychologists) made inroads on American managerial consciousness, producing monies to further study the retarded contingent among us.

Reading the text "Proceedings of the Mid-Century White House Conference on Children and Youth," we learn that school has "responsibility to detect mental disabilities which have escaped parental or pre-school observation." Another huge duty it had was the need to "initiate all necessary health services through various agencies." Still another, to provide "counseling services for all individuals at all age levels."

The classic line in the entire massive document is, "Not only does the child need to be treated but those around him also need help." A hospital society was needed to care for all the morons, idiots, and mental defectives science had discovered lurking among the sane. It would need school as its diagnostic clinic and principal referral service. Western religious teaching — that nobody can escape personal responsibility — was chased from the field by Wundt’s minimalist outlook on human nature as mechanism. A complex process was then set in motion which could not fail to need forced instruction to complete itself.

The NIMH used the deliberations of the 1950 conference to secure government funding for an enormous five-year study of the mental health of the nation, a study conducted by the very people whose careers would be enhanced by any official determination that the nation faced grave problems from its morons and other defectives. Can you guess what the final document said?

"Action for Mental Health" proposed that school curriculum "be designed to bend the student to the realities of society." It should be "designed to promote mental health as an instrument for social progress," and as a means of "altering culture."

What factors inhibit mental health that are directly in the hands of school authorities to change? Just these: expectations that children should be held responsible for their actions, expectations that it is important for all children to develop intelligence, the misperceived need to assign some public stigma when children lagged behind a common standard. New protocols were issued, sanctions followed. The network of teachers colleges, state education departments, supervisory associations, grant-making bodies, and national media inoculated the learning system with these ideas, and local managers grew fearful of punishment for opposition.

In 1962, an NIMH-sponsored report, "The Role of Schools in Mental Health," stated unambiguously, "Education does not mean teaching people to know." (emphasis added) What then? "It means teaching them to behave as they do not behave," a clear echo of the Rockefeller Foundation’s "dream" from an earlier part of the century (See page 45). Schools were behavioral engineering plants; what remained was to convince kids and parents there was no place to hide.

The report was featured at the 1962 Governor’s Conference, appearing along with a proclamation calling on all states to fund these new school programs and use every state agency to further the work. Provisions were discussed to overturn resistance on the part of parents; tough cases, it was advised, could be subjected to multiple pressures around the clock until they stopped resisting. Meanwhile, alarming statistics were circulated about the rapid growth of mental illness within society.

The watershed moment when modern schooling swept all competition from the field was the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 (ESEA). The Act allocated substantial federal funds to psychological and psychiatric programs in school, opening the door to a full palette of "interventions" by psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, agencies, and various specialists. All were invited to use the schoolhouse as a satellite office, in urban ghettos, as a primary office. Now it was the law.

Along the way to this milestone, important way stations were reached beyond the scope of this book to list. The strand I’ve shown is only one of many in the tapestry. The psychological goals of this project and the quality of mind in back of them are caught fairly in the keynote address to the 1973 Childhood International Education Seminar in Boulder, Colorado, delivered by Harvard psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce. This quote appears to have been edited out of printed transcripts of the talk, but was reported by newspapers in actual attendance:

Every child in America entering school at the age of five is mentally ill because he comes to school with certain allegiances to our founding fathers, toward our elected officials, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being, and toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It’s up to you as teachers to make all these sick children well — by creating the international child of the future.

Perhaps it’s only a fortuitous coincidence that in the ongoing psychologization of schools from 1903 onwards, the single most prominent thread — the nearly universal prescription for betterment offered by every agency, analyst, and spokesperson for mental health — has been the end of competition in every aspect of training and the substitution of cooperation and intergroup, interpersonal harmony. In utopia, everyone has a fixed place. Envy and ambition are unwelcome, at least among the common classes. The prescription should sound familiar, we’ve encountered it before as the marching orders of the Prussian volksschulen. Unfortunately we know only too well how that Pestalozzian story ended.

Paying Children To Learn

As it turned out, my own period of behaviorist training came back to haunt me thirty years later as garlic sausage eaten after midnight returns the next afternoon to avenge being chewed. In 1989, to my delight, I secured a substantial cash grant from a small foundation to pay kids for what heretofore they had been doing in my class for free. Does that sound like a good idea to you? I guess it did to me, I’m ashamed to say.

Wouldn’t you imagine that after twenty-eight years of increasingly successful classroom practice I might have known better? But then if we were perfect, who would eat garlic sausage after midnight? The great irony is that after a long teaching career, I always made it a major point of instruction to actively teach disrespect for bribes and grades. I never gave gold stars. I never gave overt praise, because I believe without question that learning is its own reward. Nothing ever happened in my experience with kids to change my mind about that. Soaping kids, as street children called it then, always struck me as a nasty, self-serving tactic. Addicting people to praise as a motivator puts them on a slippery slope toward a lifetime of fear and exploitation, always looking for some expert to approve of them.

Let me set the stage for the abandonment of my own principles. Take a large sum of money, which for dramatic purposes, I converted into fifty and one hundred dollar bills. Add the money to a limited number of kids, many of them dirt poor, some having never eaten off a tablecloth, one who was living on the street in an abandoned car. None of the victims had much experience with pocket money beyond a dollar or two. Is this the classic capitalist tension out of which a sawbuck or a C-note should produce beautiful music?

Now overlook my supercilious characterization. See the kids beneath their shabby clothing and rude manners as quick, intelligent beings, more aware of connections than any child development theory knows how to explain. Here were kids already doing prodigies of real intellectual work, not what the curriculum manual called for, of course, but what I, in my willful, outlaw way had set out for them. The board of education saw a roomful of ghetto kids, but I knew better, having decided years before that the bell curve was an instrument of deceit, one rich with subtleties, some of them unfathomable, but propaganda all the same.

So there I was with all this money, accountable to nobody for its use but myself. Plenty for everyone. How to spend it? Using all the lore acquired long ago at Columbia’s Psychology Department, I set up reinforcement schedules to hook the kids to cash, beginning continuously — paying off at every try — then changing to periodic schedules after the victim was in the net, and finally shifting to aperiodic reinforcements so the learning would dig deep and last. From thorough personal familiarity with each kid and a data bank to boot, I had no doubt that the activities I selected would be intrinsically interesting anyway, so the financial incentives would only intensify student interest. What a surprise I got!

Instead of becoming a model experiment proving the power of market incentives, disaster occurred. Quality in work dropped noticeably, interest lessened markedly. In everything but the money, that is. And yet even enthusiasm for that tailed off after the first few payments; greed remained but delight disappeared.

All this performance loss was accompanied by the growth of disturbing personal behavior — kids who once liked each other now tried to sabotage each other’s work. The only rational reason I could conceive for this was an unconscious attempt to keep the pool of available cash as large as possible. Nor was that the end of the strange behavior the addition of cash incentives caused in my classes. Now kids began to do as little as possible to achieve a payout where once they had striven for a standard of excellence. Large zones of deceptive practice appeared, to the degree I could no longer trust data presented, because it so frequently was made out of whole cloth.

Like Margaret Mead’s South Sea sexual fantasies, E.L. Burtt’s fabulous imaginary twin data, Dr. Kinsey’s bogus sexual statistics, or Sigmund Freud’s counterfeit narratives of hysteria and dream,15 like the amazing discovery of the mysterious bone which led to the "proof" of Piltdown Man having been discovered by none other than Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (who, after the fraud was exploded, refused to discuss his lucky find ever again),16 my children, it seemed, were able to discern how the academic game is played or, perhaps more accurately, they figured out the professional game which is about fame and fortune much more than any service to mankind. The little entrepreneurs were telling me what they thought I wanted to hear!

In other unnerving trends, losers began to peach on winners, reporting their friends had cheated through falsification of data or otherwise had unfairly acquired prizes. Suddenly I was faced with an epidemic of kids ratting on each other. One day I just got sick of it. I confessed to following an animal-training program in launching the incentives. Then I inventoried the remaining money, still thousands of dollars, and passed it out in equal shares at the top of the second floor stairs facing Amsterdam Avenue. I instructed the kids to sneak out the back door one at a time to avoid detection, then run like the wind with their loot until they got home.

How they spent their unearned money was no business of mine, I told them, but from that day forward there would be no rewards as long as I was their teacher. And so ended my own brief romance with empty-child pedagogy.

Notes

  1. The whole concept of "socialization" has been the subject of a large library of books and may be considered to occupy an honored role as one of the most important ongoing studies (and debates) in modern history. In shorthand, what socialization is concerned with from a political standpoint is the discovery and application of a system of domination which does not involve physical coercion. Coercion (as Hegel is thought to have proven) will inevitably provoke the formation of a formidable counter-force, in time overthrowing the coercive force. The fall of the Soviet Union might be taken as an object lesson.

    Before Hegel, for 250 years along with other institutions of that society the state church of England was a diligent student of socialization. The British landowning class was a great university of understanding how to proceed adversarially against restive groups without overt signs of intimidation, and the learnings of this class were transmitted to America. For example, during the second great enclosure movement which ended in 1875, with half of all British agricultural land in the hands of just two thousand people, owners maintained social and political control over even the smallest everyday affairs of the countryside and village. Village halls were usually under control of the Church of England whose clergy were certifiably safe, its officials doubling as listening posts among the population. All accommodations suitable for meetings were under direct or indirect control of the landed interests. It was almost impossible for any sort of activity to take place unless it met with the approval of owners.

    Lacking a long tradition of upper-class solidarity, the United States had to distill lessons from England and elsewhere with a science of public opinion control whose ultimate base was the new schools. Still, before schooling could be brought efficiently to that purpose, much time had to pass during which other initiatives in socialization were tried. One of these, the control of print sources of information, is particularly instructive.

    After the Rockefeller disaster in the coal fields of southeastern Colorado in April of 1914, ordinary counter-publicity was insufficient to stem the tide of attacks on corporate America coming from mass circulation magazines such as Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, McClures’s, Everybody’s, Success, Hampton’s, Collier’s, The Arena, The Masses, and others. A counterattack was launched to destroy the effectiveness of the magazines: West Virginia Pulp and Paper bought McClure’s, Butterick Patterns bought Everybody’s, bankers folded Success by calling in its loans and ordered the editors of Collier’s to change its editorial policies, the distributor of Arena informed the publisher that unsold copies would no longer be returned, and Max Eastman’s Masses was doomed by the passage of legislation enabling the postmaster to remove any publication from the mails at his own discretion. Through these and similar measures, the press and magazines of the United States had been fairly effectively muzzled by 1915 with not a single printing press broken by labor goons. These midrange steps in the socialization of American society can best be seen as exposing the will to homogenize at work in this country once the entire economy had been corporatized.

  2. Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709—1751) was the earliest of the materialistic writers of the Enlightenment. His conclusion that religious thought was a physical disorder akin to fever forced him to flee France. In the middle of the eighteenth century his two master works, Man a Machine and Man a Plant, stated principles which are self-evident from the titles. The ethics of these principles are worked out in later essays. The purpose of life is to pleasure the senses, virtue is measured by self-love, the hope of the world lies in the spread of atheism. De La Mettrie was compelled to flee the Netherlands and accept the protection of Frederick of Prussia in 1748. The chief authority for his life is an eulogy entitled "The Elegy," written by Frederick II himself.
  3. Ideologue is a term coined by Antoine Destuit de Tracy around 1790 to describe those empiricists and rationalists concerned to establish a new order in the intellectual realm, eradicating the influence of religion, replacing it with universal education as the premier solution to the problem of reforming human shortcomings. They believed that Hume’s rationalized morality (after the methods of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and astronomy) was the best way to accomplish this.
  4. For instance, the serious problems encountered by mechanists in the nineteenth century when developments in electricity revealed a cornucopia of nonmechanical, nongravitational forces and entities which eroded the classical conception of matter. In optics, the work of Young and Fresnel on diffraction and refraction made Newton’s particle theory of light untenable, yet it was still being taught in senior physics at Uniontown High School when I got there in the 1950s. The earth might move, but human nature only accepts the move when it suits human purposes.
  5. My discussion here is instructed by the lectures of Michael Matthews, philosopher of science.
  6. Physics professor, Harvard. He won the 1946 Nobel Prize. Perhaps the most influential American writer on the philosophy of science in the twentieth century.
  7. While fact-checking the book in March 2003, I had occasion to contact Professor Matthews in Australia, who had no memory of ever using bananas in his scholarly prose! Fortunately, he found the reference in his works several days later and was gracious enough to contact me, or this lovely critique of psychobabble would have been lost to the Underground History.
  8. The creepy tone of this authorial voice reminded me of a similar modern voice used by a district school psychologist for the Londonderry, New Hampshire, public schools writing in an Education Week article, "Teacher as Therapist" (October 1995):

    "Welcome…. We get a good feeling on entering this classroom…. M&M’s for every correct math problem [aren't necessary]. A smile, on the other hand, a "Good Job!" or a pat on the back may be effective and all that is necessary. Smiling faces on papers (even at the high-level) with special recognition at the end of the week for the students with the most faces…can be powerful…. By setting appropriate expectations within a system of positive recognition and negative consequences, teachers become therapists."

  9. The "problem" with English phonics has been wildly exaggerated, sometimes by sincere people but most often by those who make a living as guides through the supposed perils of learning to read. These latter constitute a vast commercial empire with linkages among state education departments, foundations, publishers, authors of school readers, press, magazines, education journals, university departments of education, professional organizations, teachers, reading specialists, local administrators, local school boards, various politicians who facilitate the process and the U.S. offices of education, defense and labor.
  10. Mitford Mathews, Teaching to Read Historically Considered (1966). A brief, intelligent history of reading. A number of other good treatments are available for the newcomer.
  11. The best evidence of how intensely the zeitgeist worked on Dewey is found in the many mutations his philosophy underwent. After an early flirtation with phrenology, Dewey became a leader of the Young Hegelians while William Torrey Harris, the Hegelian, presided over the Federal Department of Education, then for a brief time was a fellow traveler with the Young Herbartians when that was voguish at Columbia Teachers. Soon, however, we find him standing in line of descent from Pierce and James as a pragmatist. Thereafter he launched Instrumentalism (crashed) and Experimentalism (crashed). And there were other attempts to build a movement.

    His long career is marked by confusion, vaunting ambition, and suspicious alliances with industrialists which earned him bitter enmity from his one-time acolyte, the brilliant radical Randolph Bourne. In retaliation against Bourne’s criticism, Dewey destroyed Bourne’s writing career by foreclosing his access to publication under threat that Dewey himself would not write for any magazine that carried Bourne’s work!

  12. The bleak notion of mechanism first appears unmistakably in recorded Western history in the Old Norse Religion as the theology of ancient Scandinavia is sometimes called. It is the only known major religion to have no ethical code other than pragmatism. What works is right. In Old Norse thinking, nothing was immortal, neither man nor gods; both were mere accidental conjunctions of heat and cold at the beginning of time — and they are destined to pass back into that state in an endless round.

Old Norse establishes itself in England after the Norman Conquest, locating its brain center at Cambridge, particularly at College Emmanuel from which the Puritan colonization of New England was conceived, launched, and sustained. Old Norse was slowly scientized into rational religion (various unitarian colorations) over centuries. It transmuted into politics as well, particularly the form known in England and America as Whig. An amusing clue to that is found in the history of the brilliant Whig family of Russell which produced Bertrand and many more prominent names — the Russells trace their ancestry back to Thor.

Understanding the characteristics of the Old Norse outlook in its rampant experimentalism and pragmatic nature allows us to see the road the five-thousand-year-old civilization of China was put upon by its "New Thought Tide," and to understand how the relentlessly unsentimental caste system of Old Norse history could lead to this astonishing admission in 1908 at a National Education Association national convention:

How can a nation endure that deliberately seeks to rouse ambitions and aspirations in the oncoming generations which…cannot possibly be fulfilled?… How can we justify our practice in schooling the masses in precisely the same manner as we do those who are to be leaders? Is human nature so constituted that those who fail will readily acquiesce in the success of their rivals?

The speaker was a Russell, James Russell, dean of Columbia Teachers College. No pussy-footing there.

The Old Norse character, despising the poor and the common, passes undiluted through Malthus’ famous essay (Second edition, 1803), in which he argues that famine, plague, and "other forms of destruction" should be visited on the poor. "In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses and court the return of the plague." No pussy-footing there, either. Over a century later in Woman and the New Race (1920), Margaret Sanger wrote, "the most merciful thing a large family can do to one of its infant members is to kill it." Great Britain’s Prince Philip said that if he were reincarnated he would wish to return as "a killer virus to lower human population levels." Even the kindly oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, writing in the UNESCO Courier, (November 1991) said "we must eliminate 350,000 people per day…This is so horrible to contemplate that we shouldn’t even say it. But the general situation…is lamentable." The eugenic implications of this prescription go unremarked by Cousteau. Suppose you were among the inner circle of global policymakers and you shared these attitudes? Might you not work to realize them in the long-range management of children through curriculum, testing, and the procedural architectonics of schooling?

  1. America’s academic romance with scientific racism, which led directly to mass sterilization experiments in this country, has been widely studied in Europe but is still little known even among the college-trained population here. An entire study can be made of the penetration of this notion — that the makeup of the species is and ought to be controllable by an elite — into every aspect of American school where it remains to this day. I would urge any reader with time and inclination to explore this matter to get Daniel J. Kevles’ In The Name of Eugenics where a thorough account and a thorough source bibliography are set down. This essay offers a disturbing discussion which should open your eyes to how ideas flow through modern society and inevitably are translated into schooling. Dr. Kevles is on the history faculty at California Institute of Technology.

    Oddly enough, on December 11, 1998, the New York Times front page carried news that an organization in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, had deciphered the full genetic code of a microscopic round worm, a landmark achievement. The president of the National Academy of Sciences is quoted as saying, "In the last 10 years we have come to realize humans are more like worms than we ever imagined." Whether the Cold Spring Harbor facility which announced this has any connection with the former racial science station, I do not know.

  2. The story of the BSTEP document and the Delphi Technique, two elements in this initiative, is told in Beverly Eakman’s Educating for the New World Order, by a former Department of Justice employee. The book offers an accessible, if somewhat breathless, passage into the shadow world of intrigue and corporate shenanigans behind the scenes of schooling. Also worth a look (and better edited) is Eakman’s Cloning of the American Mind. Whatever you think of her research, Miss Eakman turns over some rocks you will find useful.
  3. When you come to understand the absolute necessity of scientific fraud, whether unintentional or deliberate, to the social and economic orders we have allowed to invest out lives, it is not so surprising to find the long catalogue of deceits, dishonesties, and outright fantasies which infect the worlds of science and their intersection with the worlds of politics, commerce, and social class. The management of our society requires a stupefying succession of miracles to retain its grip on things, whether real miracles or bogus ones is utterly immaterial. To Mead, Burtt, Kinsey, Freud, and de Chardin, might be added the recent Nobel laureate James Watson, double-helix co-discoverer. Watson’s fraud lies in his presumption that having solved one of the infinite puzzles of nature, he is qualified to give expert opinion on its uses. As The Nation magazine reported on April 7, 2003, Watson is an energetic advocate of re-engineering the human genetic germline. In a British documentary film, Watson is shown declaring that genetic expertise should be used to rid the world of "stupid" children. And "ugly" girls! It is only necessary to recall the time when corporate science presented the world with DDT as a way to rid the world of stupid and ugly bugs, and the horrifying aftermath of that exercise in problem-solving, to reflect that we might be better off ridding the world of Watsons and keeping our stupid kids and ugly girls.
  4. One of the most amazing deceptive practices relating to science has been the successful concealment, by the managers of science and science teaching, of the strong religious component shared by many of the greatest names in science: Copernicus, Galileo, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Kelvin and many more. Even Galileo had no doubt about his faith in God, only in the established church’s interpretation of His will. Newton’s Principia is unambiguous on this matter, saying "He must be blind who…cannot see the infinite wisdom and goodness of [the] Almighty Creator and he must be mad, or senseless, who refused to acknowledge [Him].

A.P. French quotes Albert Einstein in his Einstein: A Centenary Volume (1979) on the matter this way:

You will hardly find one among the profounder sort of scientific minds without a religious feeling….rapturous amazement of the natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work. It is beyond questions closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages.

But neither Newton nor Einstein cut the mustard, where their spirituality might raise embarrassing questions among shoolchildren. School science is almost purely about lifeless mechanics. In the next chapter we’ll see why that happened.

Chapters of The Underground History of American Public Education:

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.

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