Education-Related 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.  The process repeats itself, naturally, in the next book, and the next, and the next- and so my book list multiplies, like pet mice.

Sometimes this means I get sucked into vortex of reading ever more and more, spiraling through one booklist 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. Here’s my rough travel journal of a short trip I took through an education-related, and an educational, vortext:

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.

In the early days of blogging at The Common Room  I wrote briefly about educational freedom in response to a post by a public school teacher who seemed not to know just how totalitarian his views were. My original post is reproduced here. I said that Johnathan (the teacher) 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.  I said (the following is slightly edited):

The short answer to why the state does not get to poke its nose into the family’s business without compelling evidence that a *crime* is being committed would be found in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I really think that burden of proof falls upon those who think otherwise, but I would be glad to discuss it further with you…
A deeper answer would be to say that my children and I belong to each other in a way that no other human bond quite compares- I am utterly and completely *theirs* in a way no institution can duplicate, and I am utterly and completely responsible for them, too- it’s parents that everybody blames when the school fails our kids, and there’s a reason for that. It’s parents that everybody blames when a child is having a public temper tantrum inappropriate for his age, and there’s a reason for that.
Parents and children simply belong to each other, my kids, my home, my family- in the same way they can say ‘my mom, my dad, my home, my family’- The terms of the Bill of Rights specifically prohibit state intervention in our home without due process, and since mandatory public schools were a very late development in our Republic, the Bill of Rights cannot be construed to have an exception for educational purposes. Indeed, parents have always been expected to ‘indoctrinate’ their children in this country- that is, to pass on their values and beliefs. It is quite recent that the state has decided that this is its job instead- and the state has lost every court case I know of where it tried to intervene (again, crimes, that is acts which would be illegal done by anybody to anybody- physical abuse, starvation, imprisoning in closets, etc. are different and by their definition outside the boundaries of this discussion).
And I recognize how really annoyingly unfair it is to say this, but… do you have children? I just don’t think you would say such things if you did. I don’t expect you to just take my word for that, because it is rather unanswerable regardless of whether it is right or wrong (I think of Persuasion, where Captain Wentworth has an opinion about traveling with wives, and the married couples tell him he shall think differently when he is married, and he says, quite truthfully, that there is no answer to that but ‘no, I shan’t’ and it really doesn’t suit, and he must give in to the married couples). But I do know that what I thought about the parent/child bond before I was a parent fell very far short of the reality. I know that I have read a very disturbing account by a social worker of the difference in her attitude toward parents after she had a child compared to her childless state. She said that she realized she had been almost perfectly *backwards* in her assessment of parent/child bonds before she was a mother- and it was very disturbing when she realized that parents she thought were emotionally stable were actually isolated and detached, while parents she’d thought emotional basket cases were actually involved, committed, and attached parents with deep and healthy bonds with their children. She also noted that this was *common* in her profession.

I would also point out… oh, many other things, but I must run, and this ‘comment’ is getting much too long to be a comment rather than a blog post.


I could easily have added that another portion of my answer is there, in John Taylor Gatto’s book. Begin with the prologue, I could say, and go on.  That’s hardly fair, though, however true it may be.

As it happens, even before I met Gatto, I had already been reading Richard Mitchell, an author I cannot recommend highly enough. What makes that interesting to me is that both of these 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.  it’s not just homeschooling of course.  So much of the political climate today is about stealing freedoms rather than protecting them.   A good defense and guard of these hard won freedoms would begin with being well informed, hence, my ever increasing recommended reading list.


To sum up- the reading assignment is:

Everything by Richard Mitchell

Everything by John Taylor Gatto

the links to the work of the two committees



P.S. Another ripple in that vortext: Oh, and fwiw- I discovered Richard Mitchell through one of Mary Pride’s books, back in the day.  As I recall, she said that his Graves of Academe made her laugh so hard that while reading it late at night in bed, she had to smother her giggles on her husband’s shoulder so as not to awaken the children.  I was living overseas at the time, and it took me at least ten years to find a copy for myself, but it was well worth it when I did find it.

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