The Underground History Of American Education - Chapter 8

Posted on 05/07/2005 in misc

In this chapter, Gatto explores the specific reasons and events behind forced schooling, or the mass production of people. The great industrialists on the late 19th and early 20th century correctly foresaw that coal, and later oil, could bring about great changes to American society. Coal put the potential for great power in the hands of just about everybody. All those everybodys were potential competitors, and the industrialists feared that competition would lead to over production and lower prices.

The very ingenuity and self-reliance that built a strong and unique America came to be seen as its enemy. Competition was recognized as a corrosive agent no mass production economy could long tolerate without bringing ruinous financial panics in its wake, engendering bankruptcy and deflation.

In the place of the traditional American family farm, where self-reliance and industrious were the roots of all success, Carnegie and his ilk saw great factories and production lines worked by people of little social consequence and even less ambition. The typical farmer was not going to go quietly into the coal mines.

Schools build national wealth by tearing down personal sovereignty, morality, and family life. We believe that education is one of the principal causes of discontent of late years manifesting itself among the laboring classes.

The traditional American education had to go, and school would be the replacement, financed in the early years primarily by men who got rich in the first wave of the coal powered economy.

Here is the crux of the difference between education and schooling? the former turns on independence, knowledge, ability, comprehension, and integrity; the latter upon obedience.

Gatto also returns to the Civil War theme again.

After decades of surreptitious Northern provocation, the South fired on Fort Sumter. Hegel himself could not have planned history better. America was soon to find itself shoehorned into a monoculture. The Civil War demonstrated to industrialists and financiers how a standardized population trained to follow orders could be made to function as a reliable money tree; even more, how the common population could be stripped of its power to cause political trouble.

Although this all looks like a conspiracy, it really wasn't. In many ways, the direction of our economy sort of forced the issue. Mass production of obedient factory workers was required if the socialistic ideals of utopia were ever to be realized. Forced schooling was simply the most efficient way to produce those workers.

Gatto also answers the basic question, why wasn't this great change noticed at the time?

There are three indisputable triumphs of mass society we need to acknowledge to understand its strength: first, mass production offers relative physical comfort to almost all; even the poor have food, shelter, television as a story-teller to raise the illusion of community; second, as a byproduct of intense personal surveillance in mass society (to provide a steady stream of data to the producing and regulating classes) a large measure of personal security is available; third, mass society offers a predictable world, one with few surprises; anxieties of uncertainty are replaced in mass society with a rise in ennui and indifference.

In summary, the American working class was sedated by a constantly rising standard of living.

This brings up another question in my mind.

Is the current interest in school reform, and the growth in home education, in any way a manifestation of the realization, maybe even only at an unconscious level, that forced schooling can not properly prepare our youth for the world of tomorrow. Those factory jobs no longer exist in this country.

It's an interesting paradox. Now that we are finally being replaced by machines in many ways we are realizing that we have been training our young to be machines all along.

Click to comment, reply, or complain via email

I like hearing from readers, all three of you! Nobody comments on blogs anymore, and I'd rather not use Facebook or Twitter as a comment system so it's back to the email.