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The Rockefeller Report

The Gary tale is a model of how managed school machinery can be geared up in secret without public debate to deliver a product parents don’t want. Part One of the Gary story is the lesson we learned from the impromptu opinion poll of Gary schooling taken by housewives and immigrant children, a poll whose results translated into riots. Having only their native wit and past experience to guide them, these immigrant parents concluded that Gary schools were caste schools. Not what they expected from America. They turned to the only weapon at their disposal— disruption—and it worked. They shrewdly recognized that boys in elite schools wouldn’t tolerate the dumbing down their own were being asked to accept. They knew this would close doors of opportunity, not open them.

Some individual comments from parents and principals about Gary are worth preserving: "too much play and time-wasting," "they spend all day listening to the phonograph and dancing," "they change class every forty minutes, my daughter has to wear her coat constantly to keep it from being stolen," "the cult of the easy," "a step backwards in human development," "focusing on the group instead of the individual." One principal predicted if the plan were kept, retardation would multiply as a result of minimal contact between teachers and students. And so it has.

Part Two of the Gary story is the official Rockefeller report condemning Gary, circulated at Rockefeller headquarters in 1916, but not issued until 1918. Why this report was suppressed for two years we can only guess. You’ll recall Mayor Hylan’s charge that the Rockefeller Foundation moved heaven and earth to force its Gary Plan on an unwitting and unwilling citizenry, using money, position, and influence to such an extent that a New York State Senate Resolution of 1916 accused the foundation of moving to gain complete control of the New York City Board of Education. Keep in mind that Rockefeller people were active in 1915, 1916, and 1917, lobbying to impose a Gary destiny on the public schools of New York City even after its own house analyst pointed to the intellectual damage these places caused.

The 1916 analytical report leapfrogged New York City to examine the original schools as they functioned back in Gary, Indiana. Written by Abraham Flexner,16 it stated flatly that Gary schools were a total failure, "offering insubstantial programs and a general atmosphere which habituated students to inferior performance." Flexner’s analysis was a massive repudiation of John Dewey’s shallow Schools of Tomorrow hype for Gary.

Now we come to the mystery. After this bad idea crashed in New York City in 1917, the critical Rockefeller report held in house since 1916 was issued in 1918 to embarrass critics who had claimed the whole mess was the idea of the Rockefeller project officers. So we know in retrospect that the Rockefeller Foundation was aware of serious shortcomings before it used its political muscle to impose Gary on New York. Had the Flexner report been offered in a timely fashion before the riots, it would have spelled doom for the Gary Plan. Why it wasn’t has never been explained.

The third and final part of the Gary story comes straight out of Weird Tales. In all existing accounts of the Gary drama, none mentions the end of Superintendent Wirt’s career after his New York defeat. Only Diane Ravitch (in The Great School Wars) even bothers to track Wirt back home to Gary, where he resumed the superintendency and became, she tells us, a "very conservative schoolman" in his later years. Ah, what Ravitch missed!

The full facts are engrossing: seventeen years after Wirt left New York City, a government publication printed the next significant chapter of the Wirt story. Its title: Hearings, House Select Committee to Investigate Certain Statements of Dr. William Wirt, 73rd Congress, 2nd Session, April 10 and 17, 1934. It seems that Dr. Wirt, while in Washington to attend a school administrators meeting in 1933, had been invited to an elite private dinner party at the home of a high Roosevelt administration official. The dinner was attended by well-placed members of the new government, including A.A. Berle, a famous "inner circle" brain-truster. There, Wirt heard that the Depression was being artificially prolonged by credit rigging, until little people and businessmen were shaken enough to agree to a plan where government must dominate business and commerce in the future!

All this he testified to before Congress. The transformation was to make government the source of long-term capital loans. Control of business would follow. Wirt testified he was told Roosevelt was only a puppet; that his hosts had made propaganda a science, that they could make newspapers and magazines beg for mercy by taking away much of their advertising; that provided they were subservient, leaders of business and labor would be silenced by offers of government contracts for materials and services; that colleges and schools would be kept in line by promises of federal aid until such time as they were under safe control; and that farmers would be managed by letting key operators "get their hands in the public trough."

In the yellow journalism outburst following Wirt’s disclosure, Berle admitted everything. But he said they were just pulling Wirt’s leg! Pulling the leg of the one-time nationally acclaimed savior of public education. Time magazine, The New York Times, and other major media ridiculed Wirt, effectively silencing him.

Of Wirt’s earlier New York foray into the engineering of young people, New York City mayor Hylan was quoted vividly in The New York Times of March 27, 1922:

The real menace to our republic is this invisible government which like a giant octopus sprawls its slimy length over city, state and nation.... It has seized in its tentacles our executive officers, our legislative bodies, our schools, our courts, our newspapers, and every agency created for the public protection.... To depart from mere generalizations, let me say that at the head of this octopus are the Rockefeller Standard Oil interests.

Like many of the rest of you, I was conditioned early in adult life to avoid conspiracy talk and conspiracy takers by the universal scorn heaped upon the introduction of such arguments into the discourse. All "responsible" journalistic media, and virtually all of the professoriate allowed public access through those media, respond reflexively, and negatively, it seems, to any hint of a dark underside to our national life. With that in mind, what are we to make of Mayor Hylan’s outburst or for that matter, the statements of three senators quoted later on this page?

Don’t expect me to answer that question for you. But do take a deep breath and make the effort to read Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, written back in the 17th century but easily located in every library of any size in the United States, for some enlightenment in your ruminations.

During the crucial years of the school changeover from academic institution to behavioral modification instrument, the radical nature of the metamorphosis caught the attention of a few national politicians who spoke out, but could never muster enough strength for effective opposition. In the Congressional Record of January 26, 1917, for instance, Senator Chamberlain of Oregon entered these words:

They are moving with military precision all along the line to get control of the education of the children of the land.

Senator Poindexter of Washington followed, saying:

The cult of Rockefeller, the cult of Carnegie...as much to be guarded against in the educational system of this country as a particular religious sect.

And in the same issue, Senator Kenyon of Iowa related:

There are certain colleges that have sought endowments, and the agent of the Rockefeller Foundation or the General Education Board had gone out and examined the curriculum of these colleges and compelled certain changes....

It seems to me one of the most dangerous things that can go on in a republic is to have an institution of this power apparently trying to shape and mold the thought of the young people of this country.

Senator Works of California added:

These people...are attempting to get control of the whole educational work of the country.

If it interests you, take a look. It’s all in the Congressional Record of January 26,1917.


16A man considered the father of twentieth-century American systematic medicine and a longtimeemployee of the Rockefeller Foundation.

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