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The thesis I venture to submit to you is as follows: That during the past forty or fifty years those who are responsible for education have progressively removed from the curriculum of studies the Western culture which produced the modern democratic state; That the schools and colleges have, therefore, been sending out into the world men who no longer understand the creative principle of the society in which they must live; That deprived of their cultural tradition, the newly educated Western men no longer possess in the form and substance of their own minds and spirits and ideas, the premises, the rationale, the logic, the method, the values of the deposited wisdom which are the genius of the development of Western civilization; That the prevailing education is destined, if it continues, to destroy Western civilization and is in fact destroying it.
I realize quite well that this thesis constitutes a sweeping indictment of modern education. But I believe the indictment is justified and here is a prima facie case for entering this indictment.
Walter Lippmann, speaking before the Association for the Advancement of Science, December 29, 1940
The Struggle For Homogeneity
In 1882, an Atlantic Monthly writer predicted a coming struggle for preservation of the American social order. European immigrants were polarizing the country, upsetting the "homogeneity on which free government must rest." That idea of a necessary homogeneity made it certain that all lanes out of the 1880s led to orthodoxy on a national scale. There was to be an official American highway, its roadbed built from police manuals and schoolteacher training texts. Citizens would now be graded against the official standard, up to the highest mark, "100 percent American."
In the thirty years between 1890 and 1920, the original idea of America as a cosmopolitan association of peoples, each with its own integrity, gave way to urgent calls for national unity. Even before WWI added its own shrill hysterics to the national project of regimentation, new social agencies were in full cry on every front, aggressively taking the battle of Americanization to millions of bewildered immigrants and their children.
The elite-managed "birth-control" movement, which culminated one hundred years later in the legalization of abortion, became visible and active during this period, annually distributing millions of pieces of literature aimed at controlling lower-class breeding instincts, an urgent priority on the national elitist agenda. Malthus, Darwin, Galton, and Pearson became secular saints at the Lawrence and Sheffield Scientific Schools at Harvard and Yale. Judge Ben Lindsey of the Denver Childrens Court, flogging easy access to pornography as an indirect form of sterilization for underclass men, was a different tile in the same mosaic, as was institutional adoption. The planned parenthood movement, in our day swollen to billion dollar corporate status, was one side of a coin whose obverse was the prospering abortion, birth control, and adoption industries. In those crucial years, a sudden host of licensing acts closed down employment in a wide range of lucrative workrationing the right to practice trades much as kings and queens of England had done. Work was distributed to favored groups and individuals who were willing to satisfy screening commissions that they met qualifications often unrelated to the actual work. Licensing suddenly became an important factor in economic life, just as it had been in royal England. This professionalization movement endowed favored colleges and institutes, text publishers, testing agencies, clothing manufacturers, and other allies with virtual sinecures.
Professional schoolseven for bus drivers and detectivesimposed the chastening discipline of elaborate formal procedures, expensive and time-consuming "training," on what had once been areas of relatively free-form career design. And medicine, law, architecture, engineering, pharmacologythe blue-ribbon work licenseswere suddenly rigorously monitored, rationed by political fortune. Immigrants were often excluded from meeting these qualification demands, and many middle-class immigrants with a successful history of professional practice back in Europe were plunged into destitution, their families disintegrating under the artificial stresses. Others, like my own family, scrambled to abandon their home culture as far as possible in a go-along-with-the-crowd response to danger.
One of the hardest things for any present-day reader to grasp about this era was the brazenness of the regimentation. Scientific management was in its most enthusiastic public phase then, monumentally zealous, maddingly smug. The state lay under effective control of a relatively small number of powerful families freed by the Darwinian religion from ethical obligation to a democratic national agenda, or even to its familiar republican/libertarian antithesis. Yet those antagonists comprised the bedrock antinomies of our once revolutionary public order, and without the eternal argument they provoked, there was no recognizable America.
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