Educational Reading Vortex

I am a hands on reader. I like to underline and star passages that interest me, makes notes in the margins, keep lists of other books and events referenced in the book I am reading, and then pursue that line of reading later.

Sometimes this means I get sucked into vortex of reading ever more and more, spiraling through one booklist  and into the next; the more I read, the more books I add to my list, since the more I read the more references I find to more books I want to read.

I guess you could say that reading this way sucks one into a vortext vortex. Here’s an educational one:

John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education

It’s a very interesting read. I first checked my copy out from the library, so I can’t write in it. You can print out a few chapters at a time from this website, and then you can write in the margins to your heart’s content. Sometimes you will want to argue, sometimes you will want to agree.

A few days ago I wrote briefly about educational freedom in response to a post by Jonathan, from the blog OverEducation. My original post is here. I said that Johnathan made some good and interesting points, but that he seemed to be confused about “why the state does not get to poke its nose in the parent child relationship without some compelling evidence that the parent is committing a crime.”
Jonathan responded in the comments, kindly and understandably asking me to elaborate on that statement when I had time. I did respond in the comments at my blog, being unable to respond or even read comments at his own blog. I would also say that another portion of my answer is here, in John Taylor Gatto’s book. Begin with the prologue and go on.

Before I met Gatto, I had already been reading Richard Mitchell, an author I cannot recommend highly enough. Both authors refer to the Committee of Ten, which met in 1892 and basically established America’s high school curriculum, emphasizing traditional academics. You can read more about that here.

Both also refer to the later Commission of Reorganization on Secondary Education (Mitchell calls it the Gang of Twenty-Seven). This Commission began the process of plundering the academic content of the curriculum. You may read their report here.

Mitchell says that these

“members of the National Education Association’s Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education, a.k.a. The Gang of Twenty-seven, now long forgotten but certainly not gone. They builded better than they knew, and their souls go marching on in every school in America today. …Many of its members were functionaries of school bureaucracies, from the United States Commissioner of Education himself down through supervisors and associate superintendents and principals and even a high school inspector, whatever that was, to no less a personage than a senior educational secretary of the YMCA. Professors and assistant professors of education represented the higher learning. One of them was chairman of the committee on mathematics, naturally, while the committees on lesser disciplines, notably classical and modern languages, were directed by high school teachers. The stern sciences were served by a professor of education, while the smiling sciences like social studies and the other household arts were overseen by federal bureaucrats. In the whole motley crew there were no scientists, no mathematicians, no historians, no traditional scholars of any sort.

That was surely no accident, for it seems to have been an article of the Commission’s unspoken agenda to overturn the work of an earlier NEA task force that had been made up largely of scholars, the Committee of Ten, called together in 1892 and chaired by Charles W. Eliot, then president of Harvard University. That committee had come out in favor of traditional academic study in the public schools, which they fancied should be devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and the training of the intellect. But what can you expect from a bunch of intellectuals? The Eliot Report of 1893 was given to things like this:

As studies in language and in the natural sciences are best adapted to cultivate the habits of observation; as mathematics are the traditional training of the reasoning faculties; so history and its allied branches are better adapted than any other studies to promote the invaluable mental power which we call judgment.

Obviously, the Eliot committee did its work in the lost, dark days before the world of education had discovered the power of the bold innovative thrust. All they asked of the high schools was the pursuit of knowledge and the exercise of the mind in the cause of judgment.

The Gang of Twenty-seven, unhampered by intellectual predispositions, found that proposal an elitist’s dream. They concluded, in other words, that precious few schoolchildren were capable of the pursuit of knowledge and the exercise of the mind in the cause of judgment. That, of course, turned out to be the most momentous self-fulfilling prophecy of our century. It is also a splendid example of the muddled thought out of which established educational practice derives its theories. The proposals of the Eliot report are deemed elitist because they presume that most schoolchildren are generally capable of the mastery of subject matter and intellectual skill; the proposals of the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education, on the other hand, are “democratic” in presuming that most schoolchildren are not capable of such things and should stick to homemaking and the manual arts.

This bizarre principle is still very much with us as a generator of educationistic theory and practice. It shows, among other things, the immense power of words, especially nasty ones like “elitism,” notably abhorrent to our egalitarian society. It is certainly true (and puzzling as well, since the men who made us this egalitarian society were indubitable intellectuals) that we distrust intellectuals. They do seem to be an elite, although, thank goodness, a powerless elite. They butter little bread. Nevertheless, when we ask those intellectuals what we should do in the schools, they tell us to do everything we can to bring forth swarms of other intellectuals, which must lead us to conclude that the intellectual elitists can’t be too smart. What kind of an elitist can it be who wants to generate his own competitors, and lots of them at that? But the champions of a “democratic” public education, righteous enemies of elitism, rejoice in the profitable belief that hardly any of the children in their charge can expect to rise to the level of curriculum facilitator, to say nothing of superintendent of schools.

In the cause of “democratic” public education, the Gang of Twenty-seven compounded illogic with ignorance by deciding that the education proposed by the Eliot committee was primarily meant as “preparation for the college or university.” True, relatively few high school graduates of 1913 went on to college; but even fewer had done so in 1893. Indeed, it was just because so few would go on to more education that the Eliot committee wanted so many to have so much in high school. But the Gang of Twenty-seven decided that since very few students would go on to the mastery of a discipline and the rigorous training of the mind in college, which colleges were still fancied to provide in those days, there was little need to fuss about such things in high school. They had far more interesting things to fuss about in any case, their kinds of things. They enshrined them all, where they abide as holy relics of the cult of educationism to this day, in their final report, issued in 1918 (and printed at government expense, like all the outpourings of educationism ever since) as Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education.”

And I know this was an incredibly long post, impossibly long if any readers actually do as I hope and read some of the linked material. But I think it’s worthy reading, and I believe it might answer the questions some people apparently still have about why parents have the right to home school, and the burden of proof otherwise falls completely upon the state and its advocates.

Links for Reading (some of these are duplicated above)
Richard Mitchell’s delicious Graves of Academe.

You’ll be coming across references to the Committee
of Ten, which met in 1892. You can read more about that here.

You’ll want to know about the later Commission of Reorganization on Secondary
Education (Richard Mitchell calls it the Gang of Twenty-Seven) and you can find that out here.

 See here for more on the questionable conference

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