Chapter 5 is a tough chapter. Gatto returns to the idea that forced schooling was a planned and deliberate attempt to separate the few worthy of an education from the masses that would be happier just being told what to do each day. He ties together several seemingly disparate movements and the personalities behind them. It’s a little tough to grok on the first reading.
Here in a brief progression is one window on the problem of modern schooling. It set out to build a new social order at the beginning of the twentieth century (and by 1970 had succeeded beyond all expectations), but in the process it crippled the democratic experiment of America, disenfranchising ordinary people, dividing families, creating wholesale dependencies, grotesquely extending childhoods. It emptied people of full humanity in order to convert them into human resources.
We are introduced to many of the players of the early 20th century. Gatto refers to them as true believers, ideologues who believed humans were malleable, and under their grand direction, a Utopian society could be formed if just everybody could be kept in their place. It was the schools job to sort them out.
One in particular who had maybe more influence on the direction of forced schooling that anybody else is William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906.
Harris believed that children were property and that the state had a compelling interest in disposing of them as it pleased. Some would receive intellectual training, most would not.
Harris was inspired by the notion that correctly managed mass schooling would result in a population so dependent on leaders that schism and revolution would be things of the past. If a world state could be cobbled together by Hegelian tactical manipulation, and such a school plan imposed upon it, history itself would stop. No more wars, no civil disputes, just people waiting around pleasantly like the Eloi in Wells? The Time Machine. Waiting for Teacher to tell them what to do. The psychological tool was alienation. The trick was to alienate children from themselves so they couldn?t turn inside for strength, to alienate them from their families, religions, cultures, etc., so that no countervailing force could intervene.
Notice how they present this as being good for everybody. After all, who could be against no more wars, or civil disputes? It sounds perfectly reasonable.