Number Twelve in the History of American Education series describing how American education went over the edge of the cliff. When the history of American education is completed, other issues such as pedagogy, subject matter, who should be responsible for education, etc. will be put up for discussion.
"An equitable distribution of income will be sought…the major function of the school is the social orientation of the individual. It must seek to give him understanding of the transition to a new social order." – Willard Givens, former Executive Secretary of the NEA, in a report presented at the 72nd annual meeting of the NEA in 1934.
The men who inspired, organized, and nurtured the National Education Association were, in one form or another, collectivists and/or statists; some, like Horace Mann, wanted a society where everyone was under the umbrella of a uniform belief system; some were admirers of proto-communist Robert Dale Owen; some, like William Torrey Harris, were Hegelian statists; some, like former Hegelian John Dewey, the "Father of Progressive Education," were frank socialists.
All of them shared the same goal. The goal differed in details, but they were fundamentally identical. The men who promoted government control over education wanted to assure the success of their visions for society, and to do that, they had to eliminate competition in the realm of ideas. The quickest way to do that was to seize control over the minds of the young.
In no case in history, from Sparta to the present, has the goal of government control over education ever been to provide academic excellence for children; it has always been to promote social change in a way that supported the state, no matter how abusive of individual rights it might become.
The founding members of the National Education Association were all of the same basic collectivist/statist mind, and they saw in the government school system an unparalleled opportunity to promote their views in large numbers of children simultaneously.
The takeover of the government schools by the education unions was an amazing process. In 1857, at the first meeting of the National Education Association, there were only twelve members present, representing twelve states, and it operated out of the private home of one of the members, who was also its secretary and responsible for most of the day-to-day work of the group.
One of the most momentous agents of change for the new government school movement – and the teachers' unions - was the outbreak of the War of Secession, the "Civil War."
The growing season in the North was short compared to that of the South, and so it was the South, not the North, where agriculture predominated. In the North, the inventions of the Industrial Age were more helpful in manufacturing than in agriculture; agriculture continued to depend more on human labor.
The industrialized, mechanized North quickly became far more productive, economically, than the South, and soon outstripped the South economically. Because there were so many machines taking the place of human muscle, any need to try to justify slavery in the North had all but disappeared. In an attempt keep its economic head above water, the South tried to provide itself with additional labor. It sought to do this partly by reviving the (by then outlawed)slave trade, as well as to more strictly enforce its fugitive slave laws. In the North, where there had long been an antipathy towards slavery, opposition to the South grew, and now, with the widening split in economic productivity of North and South, the antagonism between them also grew.
In the winter of 1860-61, the antagonism peaked, and under provisions originally made in the Constitution, seven states of the South seceded from the Union. The small federal garrison at Fort Sumter was forced to surrender, and the nation was plunged into its bloodiest conflict ever.
At the end of the war in 1865, there was a renewed determination on the part of the victorious Union to ensure that no such conflict would ever recur. Not only was government control over schools promoted with renewed vigor, but the vast majority of the compulsory attendance laws were passed between 1870-90.The reason for both was to assure that all children would be taught loyalty to the state, just as had been the case in Prussia after its defeat at the hands of Napoleon.
The growth of education included all levels, from primary school to the university level , and both private and government institutions. By war's end in 1865, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were still small colleges with limited curricula and small faculties. For example, the University of Wisconsin had only five professors and some tutors. At Columbia University, a single man taught "moral and mental philosophy," English literature, history, political economy, and logic. College libraries were small, and science was all but ignored.
During the peri-Civil War period, many sons of prominent American families went to Germany to complete their educations. In the 1880s alone, more than two thousand Americans studied there.
One of the students studying in Germany was G. Stanley Hall, who said of his experience, "Germany almost remade me…I…wrestled with Karl Marx and half accepted what I understood of him; thought that Comte…had pretty much made [his] case…"
Hall returned to the U.S. in 1871, and a year later accepted a teaching position at (the recently closed) Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This was where Horace Mann spent the last years of his life, too. Of his time spent at Antioch, Hall said, "I several times made excursions to St. Louis to spend Saturday evening with the Hegelian, William T. Harris, who had won national fame by his educational reconstruction of the St Louis schools, which was widely copied."
Hall spent 1875 teaching English at Harvard, then returned to Germany to study psychology. He returned to Harvard, where he received his Ph.D. in psychology, then moved on to Johns Hopkins to establish America's first experimental psychology lab.
One of his early students was John Dewey, a fellow admirer of Hegel.
Hall's influence was immense. He spoke nearly 150 times at NEA conventions between 1885 and the turn of the century, and helped the NEA form its "Department of Child Study," which was the prime mover of the "Progressive Movement" in education. By 1889, he had become president of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the graduate school in psychology became the leader in the "child-study" movement. Many of his students created departments of psychology at other universities, where they also promoted progressive education.
Hall's experience was not unlike that of many other students; when they returned home, the students' new-found knowledge began to transform American universities. Six men who became the presidents of their respective schools were especially responsible for the change; five of them – Andrew White of Cornell, Charles Eliot of Harvard, Noah Porter of Yale, James Angell of Michigan, and Daniel C. Gilman of Johns Hopkins – had all studied in Europe, and the sixth, James McCosh of Princeton, had come from Scotland.
They returned not only with an appreciation for what it would take to move American universities into the company of the top-ranked institutions of learning in the world, but also infested with the statist philosophy of Hegel.
It wasn't just the universities that fell under the influence of the modern philosophy's most successful promoter of statism. In the decade preceding the Civil War, St. Louis, Missouri, was the "gateway to the west." Millions of people moving out to the American west, including many immigrants from all over Europe, passed through St. Louis. It became the greatest commercial and manufacturing center of America, quickly doubling its population, and soon became known as the "Metropolis of the West." Along with demands for cultural resources by a newly prosperous community came a demand for education, and government schools moved in quickly to fill the demand.
Among the German immigrants was Henry Brokmeyer, who came to America at the age of sixteen. He experienced a clash with the society of the eastern U.S., including its colleges (he was expelled), and began his own move west. First he went to Tennessee, where he built himself a log cabin, and living only with his dog, he began to study Hegel. After several years, he moved to St. Louis, where he found work in a foundry. He was bright, and began to rise quickly in St. Louis society, eventually becoming governor of Missouri.
In 1858, while still a foundry worker, he and William Torrey Harris, who was then a teacher of shorthand, met while attending a lecture of the St. Louis Theosophical Society. Brokmeyer worked hard to interest Harris in Hegel, and he eventually succeeded; a year later, they founded the St. Louis "Kant Club" (important here because Immanuel Kant had given philosophical birth to Hegel). One of the best known members of the "Kant Club" was Joseph Pulitzer.
The Civil War brought the Kant Club to an end, but in 1866, right afterwards, it was reborn as the "Philosophical Society" of St. Louis. Brokmeyer was its president, and Harris was its secretary. The Society published the first philosophical journal ever in the United States, The Journal of Speculative Philosophy. The journal published many translations of the works of foreign philosophers, especially German ones, and drew the attention of many American thinkers. The most famous of these was John Dewey, later known as the "Father of Progressive Education" (and who was also one of the developers of the philosophy called "Pragmatism"), who contributed to the journal.
Many of the men and women active in the so-called "St. Louis Movement" were associated with the government schools in the area; Harris himself had become the superintendant of schools. Other members were high school instructors, principals, and elementary school teachers. Hegelian statist philosophy soon permeated the entire government school system of the area.
In 1880, Harris resigned as superintendant in St. Louis and moved to Massachusetts. From there, he went to Washington, D.C., as Commissioner of Education, where his thinking influenced government education on a national level.
The collectivists of the tiny new National Education Association were enthusiastic promoters of the growth of the government school system. They were few in number, but what they lacked in numbers they made up in dedication.
At the first meeting in 1857, there were only twelve men representing twelve states; the meeting was held in the living room of one of them, who was also its secretary, and responsible for the day-to-day work of the new organization.
Initially, growth was slow, not reaching 1000 members until 1886. Membership had initially been limited to men who were directly involved with teaching. Recognizing that this sort of limitation also limited its power and influence, it opened its doors to women as well as men, and to those who stood to gain economically from education; this included superintendents, principals, publishers, suppliers, and even salesmen. A few member names from publishers that are familiar to most of us are D. Appleton & Company, Funk & Wagnalls, and Milton Bradley. There were many others.
As early as 1870, the NEA had incorporated other existing associations into itself; at the convention of that year, NEA President Hagar addressed attendees saying, "We shall thus gather all classes of educators from the lowest to the highest, co-laborers in one broad field, and that field our country."
Here's a sample of some of the "departments" created by the NEA: in 1858, the "Normal School Association" became the "Department of Normal Schools;" in 1865, the "National Association of School Superintendents" became the "Department of School Superintendence." Brand new departments began to take form too: the "Department of Elementary Education" (for elementary teachers) and the "Department of Higher Education" for college level teachers. By 1899, there were also departments of "Industrial Education," "Art Education," "Kindergarten Instruction," "Music Instruction," "Secondary Education," "Business Education," and "Child Study."
In addition to just plain getting bigger, the NEA grew in influence over the principles and philosophy of education. In 1879, a committee was created to advise state and national government school systems. In 1890, the committee was off and running as the "National Council of Education." It was made up of ten of the most respected "educational experts" of the day; among others, they included John Dewey, William Torrey Harris, and psychologist G. Stanley Hall – all admirers of German (especially Hegelian) philosophy, all collectivists/statists, and all proponents in one way or another of the "Progressive Movement" in education.
By the turn of the 20th century, the government was in control over most of the nation's schools, attendance was compulsory, and educational philosophy, curriculum content, and instructional methods were rapidly coming under the control of the NEA.
It would take another sixty years for the effects of all of this to bubble up to the surface where it was visible. The assault on the United States had begun in ernest.