The Educational System Was Designed to Keep Us
Uneducated and Docile
It's no secret that the US educational system doesn't do a very
good job. Like clockwork, studies show that America's schoolkids
lag behind their peers in pretty much every industrialized
nation. We hear shocking statistics about the percentage of
high-school seniors who can't find the US on an unmarked map of
the world or who don't know who Abraham Lincoln was.
Fingers are pointed at various aspects of the schooling
system—overcrowded classrooms, lack of funding, teachers who
can't pass competency exams in their fields, etc. But these are
just secondary problems. Even if they were cleared up, schools
would still suck. Why? Because they were designed to.
How can I make such a bold statement? How do I know why
America's public school system was designed the way it was
(age-segregated, six to eight 50-minute classes in a row
announced by Pavlovian bells, emphasis on rote memorization,
lorded over by unquestionable authority figures, etc.)? Because
the men who designed, funded, and implemented America's formal
educational system in the late 1800s and early 1900s wrote about
what they were doing.
Almost all of these books, articles, and reports are out of
print and hard to obtain. Luckily for us, John Taylor Gatto
tracked them down. Gatto was voted the New York City Teacher of
the Year three times and the New York State Teacher of the Year
in 1991. But he became disillusioned with schools—the way they
enforce conformity, the way they kill the natural creativity,
inquisitiveness, and love of learning that every little child
has at the beginning. So he began to dig into terra incognita,
the roots of America's educational system.
In 1888, the Senate Committee on Education was getting jittery
about the localized, non-standardized, non-mandatory form of
education that was actually teaching children to read at
advanced levels, to comprehend history, and, egads, to think for
themselves. The committee's report stated, "We believe that
education is one of the principal causes of discontent of late
years manifesting itself among the laboring classes."
By the turn of the century, America's new educrats were pushing
a new form of schooling with a new mission (and it wasn't to
teach). The famous philosopher and educator John Dewey wrote in
Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart
for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing
of the right social growth.
In his 1905 dissertation for Columbia Teachers College, Elwood
Cubberly—the future Dean of Education at Stanford—wrote that
schools should be factories "in which raw products, children,
are to be shaped and formed into finished
products...manufactured like nails, and the specifications for
manufacturing will come from government and industry."
The next year, the Rockefeller Education Board—which funded the
creation of numerous public schools—issued a statement which
read in part:
In our dreams...people yield themselves with perfect docility to
our molding hands. The present educational conventions
[intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and
unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a
grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these
people or any of their children into philosophers or men of
learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among
them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not
search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor
lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we
have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very
simple...we will organize children...and teach them to do in a
perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an
At the same time, William Torrey Harris, US Commissioner of
Education from 1889 to 1906, wrote:
Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to
walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed
custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial
education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of
In that same book, The Philosophy of Education, Harris also
The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark,
airless, ugly places.... It is to master the physical self, to
transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power
to withdraw from the external world.
Several years later, President Woodrow Wilson would echo these
sentiments in a speech to businessmen:
We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another
class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the
privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform
specific difficult manual tasks.
Writes Gatto: "Another major architect of standardized testing,
H.H. Goddard, said in his book Human Efficiency (1920) that
government schooling was about 'the perfect organization of the
While President of Harvard from 1933 to 1953, James Bryant
Conant wrote that the change to a forced, rigid,
potential-destroying educational system had been demanded by
"certain industrialists and the innovative who were altering the
nature of the industrial process."
In other words, the captains of industry and government
explicitly wanted an educational system that would maintain
social order by teaching us just enough to get by but not enough
so that we could think for ourselves, question the
sociopolitical order, or communicate articulately. We were to
become good worker-drones, with a razor-thin slice of the
population—mainly the children of the captains of industry and
government—to rise to the level where they could continue
This was the openly admitted blueprint for the public schooling
system, a blueprint which remains unchanged to this day.
Although the true reasons behind it aren't often publicly
expressed, they're apparently still known within education
circles. Clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine wrote in 2001:
I once consulted with a teacher of an extremely bright
eight-year-old boy labeled with oppositional defiant disorder. I
suggested that perhaps the boy didn't have a disease, but was
just bored. His teacher, a pleasant woman, agreed with me.
However, she added, "They told us at the state conference that
our job is to get them ready for the work world…that the
children have to get used to not being stimulated all the time
or they will lose their jobs in the real world."
John Taylor Gatto's book, The Underground History of American
Education: An Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern
Schooling (New York: Oxford Village Press, 2001), is the source for
all of the above historical quotes. It is a profoundly important,
unnerving book, which I recommend most highly. You can order it from
Gatto's Website, which
now contains the entire book online for free.
The final quote above is from page 74 of Bruce E. Levine's
excellent book Commonsense Rebellion: Debunking Psychiatry,
Confronting Society (New York: Continuum Publishing Group, 2001).
published at the Memory Hole.
The Educational System Was Designed to Keep Us Uneducated and Docile
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