Number Eleven 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.
"Teachers' unions pose a graver long-term threat to freedom, prosperity and the future of this country than do Islamic terrorists." - Neal Boortz, radio talk show host, 2006
Needless to say, this comment by Boortz rankled a lot of teachers. How could anyone say such a thing?
Well, a lot happened in the first half of the 19th century.
The teachers' unions had their origins in 1845, when the New York State Teachers Association was formed; by 1857, it had expanded beyond New York to become the National Teachers Association, and by 1870, it had become the National Education Association (N.E.A.).
Its membership had initially been for men regularly occupied as teachers in any elementary school, college, or university or as tutors or editors of educational journals. In 1866, its membership was opened to women. By 1870, when it became the N.E.A., membership was expanded to include "any person in any way connected with the work of education." This included book publishers, salesmen, suppliers, etc. - lot of people able to exert influence! In the 1960s, the N.E.A. officially became a union.
The teachers unions were to became immensely powerful pressure groups, with enormous influence over curriculum content, teacher training, teacher certification, funding, textbook content - you name it, they were there.
That they were to become so powerful mattered a lot, because it was through their influence that they would forever change the character of the United States itself, tearing it away from its founding principles of individual rights and dropping it smack-dab into the middle of the collectivist-statist camp.
They couldn't have done this, however, unless the entire nation had adopted a government-controlled education system.
The 1830s through the 1840s were known as the "common (i.e., government-run) school decades." By that time, there were three groups that considered a system of government-run schools a "must-have" - the socialists, the religious conservatives, and the Mann Unitarians. Each group had a reason of its own for wanting a government school system.
Remember Robert Dale Owen, the British socialist who founded the New Harmony commune? He and partner Frances Wright wanted a "state-guardianship" system of government schools where the character of children could be molded to enable the establishment of a socialist society. Their plan included removing children from the home at the age of two, placing them in state-run boarding schools, and keeping them there until the age of sixteen. The reason Owen and Wright considered it so important to remove the children by age two was because they regarded the years between two and six to be critical to the "formation of character," and unless they could get them away from their parents then, they would be unable to train them and realize their socialist dream.
The religious conservatives had a different reason; in common with Unitarian Horace Mann, they greatly feared the massive influx of Catholics entering the country, and saw in the government-run schools a means of minimizing and diluting their impact.
The Unitarians saw the government-controlled schools as a means of establishing a uniform belief system; in the face of rapidly changing circumstances - the Industrial Revolution and exposure to other beliefs among them - the elimination of competing ideas would not only produce a stable society, but through education, both poverty and crime would be eliminated.
1845 was an eventful year in American education. All three groups - the Mann Unitarians, the convervative religionists, and the socialists - got their wish. By 1845, thanks to campaigns led primarily by Horace Mann and, separately, by Owen and Wright, government schools began to grow and spread rapidly.
And, of course, let us not forget that it was also in 1845 that American educators began to organize into the associations that were to become teachers unions.
But that wasn't all that happened in 1845. One of Mann's chief victories that year lay in winning $5000 in matching funds from the Massachusetts legislature for the establishment of two state-supported "normal schools." That was the name given to the forerunners of "teachers' colleges."
Control over teacher training had been a goal of the common school movement ever since 1825, when fellow Harvard man and educational activist James G. Carter had said of normal schools that they represented a powerful "...engine to sway the public sentiment, the public morals, and the public religion, more powerful than any other in the possession of government."
Carter was right; once the teachers could be taught in state-controlled schools with a state-controlled curriculum that the state, and not the individual, was what was most important, and once the government could have the sole authority to certify teachers as the only ones "qualified" to teach children, and once the school system had a controlled curriculum with compulsory attendance, then teaching obedience to, and reverance for, the state could be easily accomplished.
But Mann and his colleagues weren't the only activists seeking to have their say over the agenda of the government schools; Owen and Wright and their followers also launched a campaign.
After the failure of the commune of New Harmony in 1826 (which Owen and Wright attributed to the fact that it had been inhabited by adults not prepared for the socialist life-style through a proper education), Wright began a whirlwind lecture tour promoting government schools. They also established a newspaper, The Free Enquirer, to take the place of the defunct New Harmony Gazette. The Free Enquirer also strongly promoted the idea of a government school system, and had strong ties with another paper, The Mechanics Free Press, which was the primary publication of the newly formed Working Men's Party.
Owen and Wright created The Working Men's Party specifically to promote socialism, including a socialist agenda in the newly emerging government school system.
One of socialism's "converts" to Owen's movement was Orestes A Brownson. In his autobiography, "Convert," he revealed the reason for the creation of the Working Men's Party: "The purpose in the formation of this party was to get control of the political power of the state, so as to be able to use it for establishing our system of schools. We hoped...by expressing a great love for the people...whom we represented as defrauded and oppressed by his employer, by denouncing all proprietors as aristocrats, and by keeping the more unpopular features of our plan as far in the background as possible...we could use it to secure the adoption of our educational system." Brownson further revealed that a "secret society" was founded to organize groups all over the country to "form public opinion in favor of education by the state at the public expense, and to get such men elected to the legislatures as would be likely to favor our purposes. How far the secret organization estended, I do not know: but I do know that a considerable portion of the State of New York was organized, for I was myself one of the agents organizing it."
But it was to wait for the establishment of the teachers' unions for the final critical piece to fall into place. It would be the organization that included putting the majority of teachers into a pressure group that would have the power to implement the ideas that were to influence the direction taken by education.
The fundamental ideas behind socialism did not originate with Owen and Wright. It's important to know where they actually did came from because of their role in what's going on in American schools today.
It began with Plato, and via a long succession of philosophers through the centuries, finally flowered particularly strongly...in PRUSSIA!
The three German philosophers primarily responsible for this "flowering" were Immanuel Kant, George Friedrich Hegel, and Karl Marx; our concern right now is Hegel, who was born in 1770, just before the American Revolution, and died of the plague in 1831, just as Mann's "common school decades" were getting under way.
Hegel's philosophy was so convoluted and hard to follow that he could barely make a living at teaching until the last years of his life. Then suddenly, in part because his lecture skills improved, his courses became immensely popular. His influence then spread rapidly throughout Germany, where he was even consulted by the government about policy matters. Then it travelled to Britain (where Owen and Wright were born), and from there to the United States.
Owen and Wright were the most visible, but not the most influential, collectivists with an interest in the American educational system.
What was so problematic with Hegel? Lots and LOTS of things, but here's what the political problem of his philosophy was, in an extremely small nutshell, and it was the effects of the political problem that became particularly visible to people today.
Hegel was an intense worshipper of the state, of the collective. He said "The march of God in the world, that is what the state is." Hegel came to this conclusion because he maintained that the minds of every individual on earth were merely a part of the "cosmic mind," which he called the "Absolute." He thought that the merging of all the minds of every individual on earth into a single "cosmic mind," or "Absolute," represented a "higher manifestation of reality," and that the state represented this "higher manifestation" of reality on earth (Hegel's concept of reality was truly quirky, but this is neither the time nor the place to try to explain it).
The "state" was like an organism, and individuals were like "cells" in the organism. Alone (according to Hegel), the individual is without any importance or value. The state is everything; the individual is important only insofar as his existence contributes to the welfare of the state. This notion became known as the "Organic Theory of State," and was the foundation for collectivism of all kinds, including the American Leftists, socialists (including Owen and Wright and the Nazis), communists, etc. In each instance, the individual exists only to benefit the state.
Hegel loudly claimed to be a "champion of freedom." The problem was, that according to his philosophy, "freedom" was nothing more than the "freedom" to do what the collective, the state, willed, and what the collective, the state, wills is for the individual to obey the state. If you don't understand all this, if it sounds a bit like 1984, it is simply because you have not reached the "highest level of development," and you need to be "led" by a "hero."
You see, the "Organic Theory of State" wasn't the only theory of Hegel's that left its mark on the political scene. He had another theory in addition to the "Organic Theory of State." This was his "Theory of Heros." He conceived of the notion that throughout history, there have always been certain individuals who are elevated above the rest of us by the "cosmic mind," or Absolute, to be its agents here on earth. Some people who achieved "hero" status were Alexander, Caesar and Napoleon.
The job of the "heros" is to carry out the "will of God" by "bursting the world to pieces" - things like slaughtering thousands upon thousands of those pesky individuals who didn't "get it." These "heros," according to Hegel's "theory," are exempt from moral judgement, since they are the agents of the Absolute, or "cosmic mind," which is the sum total of the will of every individual in existence.
It is of some interest here that Marx, who was 13 when Hegel died, used Hegel's thinking to justify his economic ideas, "proving" that state ownership of property and the means of production is the "highest form of reality" that economics could take. Stalin, of course, was one of the "heros."
It wasn't just Owen and Wright who acted as a conduit through which statism would enter the U.S; German immigrants brought it with them, and Americans travelling to Germany to explore the Prussian educational system also fell under the influence of Hegel and brought the philosophy back with them.
One of the Americans who became a devout Hegelian was William Torrey Harris. In addition to Horace Mann, Hegelians William Torrey Harris, Susan Blow, and the early John Dewey (a devoted Hegelian who moved on to Pragmatism, a philosophy he helped found), are considered to have had the most important influence on the direction - including Progressivism - taken by American education.
Harris was a founder of the St. Louis Philosophical Society, a strictly Hegelian club. Denton J. Snider, the Society's historian, reflected the sentiments of the rest of the membership when he said, "I not only thought Hegel, but lived Hegel, was Hegel. All that I had ever known or done I Hegelized with a sort of desparation."
Harris was extremely devoted to Hegel's philosophy; he became especially active after the Civil War, and Like Mann, he spread his views around by every means possible; articles, essays, speeches, associations, journals, and also as editor of the Appleton series of school readers and fifty-seven volumes of Appleton's International Education Series. He was such a prolific writer that when his daughter contributed his works to the Library of Congress, they took up an unprecedented 19.8 feet of shelf space!
Harris was not well known outside the educational community; his publications, like those of Hegel himself, were specialized to the point where only those in the "inner circle" were able to appreciate them.
Harris' writings proclaimed that education was an effective instrument to assure that "...the individual is led to attain his freedom." Of course, Harris' concept of "freedom" was completely Hegelian; it meant that the individual's freedom was completely dependent on his association with groups and institutions, including the state. Groups and institutions were the ultimate tool of freedom; no individual is free on his own. "Education practices the youth in the habits and activities which are necessary to social life...It must make the individual obedient to the requirements of the social institutions under which he lives." The goal of a Hegelian education is to produce an individual whose only true freedom comes to him from his involvement in the larger institutions of humanity.
Can you see the beginnings of John Dewey and Progressive education in all this? Dewey also maintained that the collective, society, was all that was important.
Harris' influence became greater when he became Superintendant of the St. Louis government school system, and greater yet when he became U.S. Commissioner of Education. With the advent of Teachers Colleges, his was the philosophy that was passed on to the teachers of our children all across the nation, generation after generation after generation, via the pressure exerted by the teachers unions.
For the last 150 years, most of our children have passed through the government school system; is it any surprise that so many of our politicians, our publishers, our entertainers, our professors, our elementary and high school teachers, our military, our businessmen, our jurists and lawyers - well, you get the picture - are leaning ever further to the Left, in the direction of destroying our nation in favor of a collectivized society?
Thanks Plato, thanks Luther, thanks Frederick the Great, thanks Hegel, thanks Owen and Wright, thanks Horace Mann, thanks N.E.A!
The teachers' unions hold our children hostage in a iron grip; Boortz was right: "Teachers' unions pose a graver long-term threat to freedom, prosperity and the future of this country than do Islamic terrorists."