Menckens Ghost

More About: Education: Government Schools

A lack of education explains the state of the nation

A lack of education explains the state of the nation

By Mencken’s Ghost

Sept. 28, 2012

There is a 90% probability that you attended a public school, since 90% of Americans have attended one.  And there is close to a 100% probability that you consider yourself to be educated, since virtually no one is going to admit to being uneducated--or even realize it.

I’ll admit it.  For many years after my formal schooling, I was uneducated, although I have an advanced degree and attended a college preparatory secondary school with a classical curriculum of literature, math and Latin.  I was schooled, not educated.

This was no accident.  As you will see momentarily from their own words, the educators, industrialists, and progressive politicians behind the compulsory “education” movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century wanted the masses to be schooled, not educated.

The masses were to be taught to be mindless consumers, to be good citizens who unquestionably served the state, and to be productive and skilled workers and managers in industry and government.  However, they were not to be educated to question authority, upset the status quo, discern between truth and propaganda, think for themselves about society and government, or to otherwise be critical thinkers and discerning consumers.

In fact, the Prussian school system was to be used as a model for American schooling, which is to say that schooling would be based on the Hegelian notion that the individual is subservient to the state.  We know how that turned out in Germany.   

Judging by today’s popular culture, by politics, and by curricula in primary and secondary schools (and even colleges), the elites of yesteryear not only achieved their stated goals but also passed the baton to the elites of today to carry on their mission.  That would explain why so much in the mass media and schools is vapid, inane, banal, fatuous, sophomoric, simplistic, superficial, sophistic, illogical, deceitful, ideological, doctrinaire, and biased--or in short, claptrap.  

That also would explain why the two dominant political parties that control government schools (which are by definition political institutions) have made sure that the populace isn’t taught that both parties want to make the individual subservient to the state, with Democrats wanting to do this for the purpose of collectivism and redistribution, and Republicans, for the purpose of patriotism and nationalism.  Schools are just another venue where they fight to instill their respective versions of statism and to demonize individualism.

If you don’t believe that the masses are uneducated, then you don’t have a television, don’t know what is being taught in schools, and are otherwise disconnected from the mainstream culture.

It is clear from their unsophisticated propaganda that the elites consider everyone but themselves to be either a rube, patsy, slug, drone, ignoramus, beer swiller, starry-eyed idealist, mindless consumer, guinea pig for social experiments, or cannon fodder for wars--someone who can be manipulated, molded, and brainwashed to do their bidding.

If this were not true, then Americans and their nation wouldn’t be buried in debt, asinine commercials about belly fat and erections wouldn’t be commonplace, campaign ads and speeches wouldn’t be so vacuous, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke wouldn’t be allowed to hollow out the economy, the United States wouldn’t be an empire instead of a republic, and Obama and Romney and other politicians of every stripe wouldn’t be treated with respect.  Instead, they would be met with guffaws or pitchforks whenever they appeared in public. 

Let’s look at what the elites of yesteryear said about compulsory schooling.  After that, we’ll return to the present day.

Here is what Woodrow Wilson said in 1909 in a speech to businessmen in New York City:

We want one [socioeconomic] class to have a liberal education [in the classical meaning of the word “liberal”].  We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

Industrialist John D. Rockefeller had similar views.  A big contributor to private charitable foundations, he established a General Education Board, which held this view in 1906:

In our dreams . . . people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands.  The present educational conventions fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk.  We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science.  We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets, or men of letters.  We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen--of whom we have an ample supply.  The task we set before ourselves is simple . . . we will organize children . . . and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.

Educator John Dewey was influenced in the 19th century by the scholar Charles Pierce, who wrote the following about the idea of compulsory schooling:

Let the will of the state act, then, instead of that o the individual.  Let an institution be created which shall have for its object to keep correct doctrines before the attention of the people, to reiterate them perpetually, and to teach them to the young, having at the same power to prevent contrary doctrines from being taught, advocated, or expressed.

Let all possible cause of a change of mind be removed from men’s apprehension.  Let them be kept ignorant, lest they should learn of some reason to think otherwise than they do.  Let their passions be enlisted, so that they may regard . . . unusual opinions with hatred and horror.  Then, let all men who reject the established belief be terrified into silence . . . Let a list of opinions be drawn up to which no man of the least independence of thought can assent, and let the faithful be required to accept all these propositions in order to segregate them as radically as possible from the influence of the rest of the world.


Note:  The above quotes are from Weapons of Mass Instruction, by John Taylor Gatto, the former New York State “Teacher of the Year.”  This book, as well as his other books and writings, plus the publications of other authors, provide a history and perspective about public schooling that, tellingly, would never be taught in public schools.


Now let’s fast-forward to today to see if anything has changed.


Compulsory schooling has grown to be one of the largest and most powerful institutions in the nation.  There are 4.2 million primary and secondary teachers, 1.2 million teacher assistants, over 235,000 principals, countless administrative and maintenance personnel, and approximately 15,000 school boards. 


Coupled with the political power of teacher unions, these large numbers make the institution a political force to be feared by local, state and national politicians.


Look through the lesson plans at your local school district.  You won’t find one that details the self-interest that is behind the kind and caring faces of the teachers at your neighborhood school.  Such a lesson plan is verboten, because it might result in students becoming educated and growing into adults who see the danger in the government having a monopoly over K-12 schools. 


Another harmful trend over the last century is the consolidation and centralization of schooling.  There are now about 110,000 fewer school boards than when compulsory schooling was in its infancy.  As with so many areas of American life, local control has given way to state and federal control.


Curriculum and pedagogy used to reflect local values and mores, and it was possible to thwart the goals of the elites and see that students were both schooled and educated.  Today, curriculum and pedagogy are largely standardized across the nation, reflecting the wishes of faceless bureaucrats, self-appointed experts, and the worldviews and theories inculcated in future teachers by colleges of education.  Similarly, textbooks have been stripped of intellectual content so that they meet the political criteria of California and Texas, the two biggest purchasers of textbooks.


Not only does this create a culture where everyone tends to think alike and go off the cliff together, but it increases the risk that a bad pedagogical theory will infect all schools and students across the nation, like a flu pandemic.  Debates are still raging in the education profession, for example, on whether whole language should have replaced phonics.  To me, a more interesting question is how was it possible that an entire nation as pluralistic and large as the United States adopted the same teaching technique.


Unless the masses become educated, the nation is doomed to ever-increasing statism until the system eventually collapses.  And unless the government monopoly over K-12 schools is ended, the masses won’t become educated.



Mencken’s Ghost is the nom de plume of an Arizona writer who can be reached at

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Stupid Amerkin
Entered on:

All by design. One good example is right here in Oregon. 1923 ORS 336.057 067 was put on the books and to this day has not been implemented.


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