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Modernism and Education part 2

page 2 Continued.... (for an in-depth examination of education see my book “Wild Children – Domesticated Dreams: Civilization and the Birth of Education” (Fernwood 2013).

In fact, I argue that the methods, in pedagogical and psychological interventions, themselves are curriculum in their own right, inculcating a specific habitus through which individuals may continually reproduce their institutions. It is this interdependence of institution and education that makes the essence of education tricky and elusive.

Today, people hardly spend time with their families and the family unit in the Western world has reached critical limits of extinctionxv. While people spend their most efficient time locked up at work away from their families, their children are rounded up for forced – usually referred to as obligatory – education in schools. The love and the life that used to be transmitted in the intimacy of family relations between the young and the old are now replaced by professionals and schedules, i.e. by what kills growth, conscience, intelligence and creativity instilling in these children the instinct of death. In North America, full time nurseries accept children as early as 1 month of age.

Although, education is compulsory ‘only’ until high-school, university is viewed as a prize to be sought after. This “uncompulsory” yet highly desired stage in the educational programme is responsible for sorting out the “information” in the already prepared “consumer” of information and reinforces the hierarchy and the methods instilled in pre-university schooling.

The founders of these institutions, according to John Taylor Gatto, a distinguished public school teacher and researcher in educationxvi, are the military in Europe and the industrial capitalists in the U.S.

“The real makers of modern schooling were leaders of the new American industrial class, men like:
Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron…
John D. Rockefeller, the duke of oil…
Henry Ford, master of the assembly line which compounded steel and oil into a vehicular dynasty…
and J.P. Morgan, the king of capitalist finance…”xvii

In Dumbing Us Down, Gatto pinpoints the goal of schooling.

“Schools were designed by Horace Mann and by Sears and Harper of the University of Chicago and by Thorndyke of Columbia Teachers College and by some other men to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce, through the application of formulas, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled…”

A more revealing detail of the nature of contemporary schooling is its historical importation from Europe.

“The structure of American schooling, 20th century style, began in 1806 when Napoleon’s amateur soldiers beat the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle of Jena… Almost immediately afterwards a German philosopher named Fichte delivered his famous “Address to the German Nation” which became one of the most influential documents in modern history. In effect he told the Prussian people that the party was over, that the nation would have to shape up through a new Utopian institution of forced schooling in which everyone would learn to take orders.

So the world got compulsion schooling at the end of a state bayonet for the first time in human history; modern forced schooling started in Prussia in 1819 with a clear vision of what centralized schools could deliver:

  • Obedient soldiers to the army;

  • Obedient workers to the mines;

  • Well subordinated civil servants to government;

  • Well subordinated clerks to industry;

  • Citizens who thought alike about major issues.”xviii


Needless to say, the institution of army is the institution of death per se. More important, it is the institution of imposed death, of murder. The deadly nature of the structure itself of education is not surprising in light of the above analysis of the physiological nature of learning discussed by Nikitina and Arshavski. In fact, it is its logical link in history. The methods developed in this case respond to the need to eliminate not only the adversary outside, but also the one inside, i.e. intelligence and will, in order to create obedience, subordination, and what Gatto calls outright “dumbness”.

“Old-fashioned dumbness used to be simple ignorance; now it is transformed from ignorance into permanent mathematical categories of relative stupidity like “gifted and talented,” “mainstream,” “special ed.” Categories in which learning is rationed for the good of a system of order…

If you believe nothing can be done for the dumb except kindness, because it’s biology the bell-curve model); if you believe capitalist oppressors have ruined the dumb because they are bad people the neo-Marxist model); if you believe dumbness reflects depraved moral fiber the Calvinist model); or that it’s nature’s way of disqualifying boobies from the reproduction sweepstakes the Darwinian model); or nature’s way of providing someone to clean your toilet the pragmatic elitist model); or that it’s evidence of bad karma the Buddhist model); if you believe any of the various explanations given for the position of the dumb in the social order we have, then you will be forced to concur that a vast bureaucracy is indeed necessary to address the dumb.

…Mass dumbness first had to be imagined; it isn’t real.

Once the dumb are wished into existence, they serve valuable functions: as a danger to themselves and others they have to be watched, classified, disciplined, trained, medicated, sterilized, ghettoized, cajoled, coerced, jailed. To idealists they represent a challenge, reprobates to be made socially useful… An ignorant horde to be schooled one way or another”xix

One of the principle practices in education is therefore the cultivation of dumbness as a norm, the paradox being that dumbness as a negative affliction to be cured and avoided in its semantic rendition in practice becomes obligatory and positive – an end to be desired and which is rewarded with diplomas, certificates, and prizes.

However, if dumbness is the norm in the masses, then intelligence fulfilled becomes a rare occurrence in the realm of genius. Needless to say, the “geniuses” usually arise in conditions that do not stifle the natural passion to learn and allow dominanta to complete its cycle. If we look at the biographies of those persons deemed “genius” in Occidental civilisation, many have been home-schooled. In the case of Blaise Pascal, we can even apply the new term “unschooled”.

More important though, “genius” implies someone at the “service” of the current ideological system. Those who pick out the genius are those for whom the genius is most useful. Such thinkers as Hakim Bey, Zerzan, or Derrik Jensen – no matter how genius – are not on Nobel Prize lists. Those promoting “democracy” are.

There is another category of those who have neither risen to the rare status of genius and for the obvious reasons rarely anyone does) nor have succumbed to the dumbing and killing methods of schooling. These are the schizophrenics, the manic depressors, and other such lot that “society” attempts to cure and recycle.

My own extensive experience in the various educational systems ranging from nursery to the doctoral level on different continents has confirmed the above.

Thus, despite the fact that “Dumbing Us Down” has been an intense practice in our pre-university education, professors in masters and doctoral level seminars inadvertently and frequently remind students of their place and hierarchy not only within the system but within the classroom itself. During obligatory seminars even on the doctoral level, professors repeatedly treated students as lazy, evasive I’ll make you read, you won’t escape work, and other such statements) or as stupid and ignorant: you don’t know, is it hard for you to understand, do you get it at all, you don’t know how to write, you can’t even locate your own “problematique” in your own head let alone express it on paper, and so forth).

Ironically, the argument that “in reality students arrive at this level and still don’t know…” serves only to confirm Gatto’s “dumbing down” premise; for, if they still haven’t learnt, what was the meaning of the decades of institutionalisation in kindergarten, schools, and universities if they still don’t know? And more important, what is the point of repeating “you don’t know” for decades if, obviously, it doesn’t help them to “know” and perhaps only reinforces the “fact” that they “don’t know”. Perhaps, Gatto can help explain.

In “The 7-lesson schoolteacher”xx, Gatto confesses to teaching the following:

  • Confusion: because everything is out of context or is in abstract and imagined context.

  • Class position.

  • Indifference: “when the bell rings… they students) stop whatever it is that we’ve been working on and proceed quickly to the next work station… Indeed, the lesson of the bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Years of bells will condition… to a world that can no longer offer important work to do. Bells are the secret logic of schooltime… Bells destroy the past and future, converting every interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes every living mountain and river the same even though they are not. Bells inoculate each undertaking with indiferrence.”

  • Emotional dependancy: he teaches children to surender their will to the chain of command, using “stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors and disgraces.”

  • Intellectual dependency. The most important lesson. Children must wait for the expert authority to make all the important decisions, to tell them what to study. There is no place for curiosity, only conformity.

  • Provisional self-esteem: Because it is so difficult to make self-confident spirits conform, children must be taught that their self-respect depends on expert opinion. They must be constantly tested, evaluated, judged, graded, and reported on by certified officials. Self-evaluation is irrelevant – “people must be told what they are worth.”

  • You can’t hide. Children are always watched. No privacy. People can’t be trusted.


If Gatto talks about children in schools, the undergraduate or postgraduate university methods are based on the same principles and we can recognise them in grading, “mentoring”, “supervising”, awards, denial of funding, to list a few examples.

Gatto summarises the consequences of the seven lessons in the following way:

  • The private Self is almost non-existent; children develop a superficial personality borrowed from TV shows.

  • Desperate dependence.

  • Unease with intimacy or candor; dislike for parents; no real close friends; lust replaces love.

  • Indifference to the adult world; very little curiosity about anything; boredom.

  • A poor sense of the future; consciousness limited to the present.

  • Cruelty to each other.

  • Striking materialism.

  • The expectation to fail; the idea that success has to be stolen.


These conclusions have a remarkable resonance with Arshavski’s warnings in the above outlined principles of love and respect for dominantas. The instincts of love and life are being murdered in institutions of teaching. This also resonates with Douglas’ observation that when raised in a cultural system, individuals will re-enact their institutional roles even when these lead to their own destruction. Like the aliens of Hollywood films, these institutions acquire a life of their own, independent of and concurrently living off their victim’s habitus and praxis – while the victims themselves willfully submit to rearing the Institution rather than their own and their children’s Dominanta.

The Verdict

Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts… Whoever takes that right away from us, by trying to ‘educate’ us, attacks the very center of our being and does us a most profound and lasting injury. He tells us, in effect, that we cannot be trusted even to think…

Education… Seems to me perhaps the most authoritarian and dangerous of all the social inventions of mankind. It is the deepest foundation of the modern and worldwide slave state… My concern is not to improve ‘education’ but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves.”

John Holt from Instead of Education

A precursor of Gatto, John Holt observed that we learn best from “doing – self-directed, purposeful, meaningful life and work.” He describes school education as “learning cut off from active life and done under pressure of bribe, threat, greed and fear.”

There seems to be a parallel between Holt’s description of education and of war, colonialism and globalism at the basis of which too lies the drive for bribery, threat, greed, and fear. I define globalism as the colonisation of many cultural logics by a dominant one. Needless to say, the cradle of today’s globalism is Europe. After all, it is from there that colonisers of the American Wild West and other territories emerged, efficiently sweeping over and destroying aboriginal cultures and logics.

As I discussed in this paper, the logic of the Institution re-enacts itself through the habitus and praxis of individuals regardless of their place in the hierarchy of individual or of ethnic or national groups and regardless of their own personal interests. Daily, we witness the confirmation of conformation to the logic of the Institution when parents succumb to forced “education” and the educated then accept the murder of their dominanta.

This conformation is also at the basis of habitus in the teacher’s praxis or the teacher’s economy of effort. The teacher exercises this economy in grading where s/he automatically looks for the institution in the work of the student, marking as “right” when s/he finds it and “wrong” when s/he does not. And this is exactly what s/he has been hired to do.

In reality, right and wrong can only be moral judgments religious or natural) – in terms of correctness, there are infinite possibilities. Even 2+2= 4 is not obvious, for it depends on what goes into the definition of the twos and the four. If I choose to consider the uncountable and the invisible soul in counting 2 visible pregnant women and their 2 visible husbands, I may end up with 6 or 7 or…. Finally, it all depends on what, how, and, most important, why are we counting.

Hence, when a teacher judges a student’s work as right or wrong, grading it according to a scale of rightness, it is not “correctness” that is being looked for, but rather an expression of values, which are not absolute, but battled for and battling. That is why, grades tell more about the one who grades than about the one being graded.

In the final score, the content of what is being said means little – it is the method that creates the result. In this way, a teacher’s talking – referred to as lecturing – is not what really affects a person.

It is the fact of the teacher’s talking that confirms the hierarchy and forces the student to conform that has the ultimate result. It is the fact of the constant bells and interruptions that kill the dominanta. It is the fact of being coerced into wanting good grades and believing that they in themselves determine the quality of the life that the person is going to live and the quality of the person that the teaching is to produce. It is the outright threat and danger capable of crushing one’s future, one’s personality and dominanta – threats that descend from those who create the “curriculum” of what we are “obliged” to learn in our obligatory schooling and seminars. What type of habitus can such methods instill?

To return to the opening quote from John Holt: Adults don’t love their children and school is the institutional confirmation of that fact. What love can we talk about in the context of self-destruction? This crucial and fragile aspect of human life we call Love and its distortion to Death we find at all levels of educational hierarchy. The institution does not love its children – it needs only to confirm its own logic. Institution needs obedience and it uses all the means and methods available: grades, policing, threatening, buying, all these are only the tools of bullying that educators – wittingly or not, from nursery to doctoral level programmes – use on behalf of the interests of the hierarchy we call Civilisation.


Arshavski, I.A.; Vash Rebionok u Istokov Zdorovja. API TS ITP Moscow 1992.

Arshavski in Nikitina, L.A.; Roditeljam XXI go Veka. Izdatel’stvo Znanije, Moscow 1998.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Logic of Practice. Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA 1990.

Douglas, Mary. How Institutions Think. Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd. London, 1987.

Freud, Sigmund transl. From German by James Strachey. Civilization and its Discontents. Norton, London & New York, 1961.

Gatto, John Taylor; Dumbing Us Down. New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, Gabriola Island BC 1992.

Gatto, John Taylor; The Underground History of American Education. The Odysseus Group, NY, 1000 92 000-2001.

Internet references:

Family Statistics on http://www.childstats.gov/

Gilman, R. Interview with John Holt. Incontext – summer 1984 at: http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC06/Holt.htm

iSkills include habitus as well as the values and knowledge about the world and one’s place and role in it. I shall disuss the role of habitus further in the paper.

iiI use the term global to denote any colonizing practices that have taken place before in history or are taking place now.

iiiIn an interview with Robert Gilman, summer 1984.

ivFreud, S. Civilization and its Discontent.


viNikitina, L.A. To the Parents of the XXIst century.

viiCooperative Association for Workers and Peasants.

viiiBourdieu, The Logic of Practice.



xiIn Nikitina, L.A.; To the Parents of the 21st Century.

xiiI discuss specific examples that illustrate this point more thoroughly in my essay on Objects, Love, and Objectifications

xiiiDouglas, Mary; How Institutions Think.


xvFamily Statistics for 2001.

xviEach year from 1989 to 1991 he was named New York City Teacher of the Year. In 1991 the New York Senate named him State Teacher of the Year.

xviiGatto, J.T.; The Underground History of American Education.

xviiiGatto from: The Public School Nightmare: Why fix a system designed to destroy Individual Thought.

xixGatto. Dumbing Us Down.


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  1. Comment by Alec:

    Your criticism of education is absolutely right in most respects. I agree that it should not be a “mandated right.” I also agree that it destroys various intelligences and strengthens others (kills interpersonal relations, reinforces machine-like processing powers). My only question is this – what has schooling (or our current social paradigm) contributed to humanity as a whole? I dislike using the term “the greater good,” but it is applicable here. It seems like a criticism of the system should be accompanied by its pros and cons to allow people who have been damaged to see your logic (pardon me if I could not find the proper article on your site). Presenting both sides of the story would let people decide to change instead of seeing one viewpoint that contradicts their own. That contradictory stance can create minds more deeply closed to truths in your writing. “The truth is not a stick to beat people with. It is a powerful tool that must be used with great care.”

    March 8, 2012 @ 10:21 am
  2. Comment by layla:

    Alec, your question: “what has schooling (or our current social paradigm) contributed to humanity as a whole? I dislike using the term “the greater good,” but it is applicable here” is anthropocentric as it excludes the devastation of the biodiverse communities of life and focuses on the “greater good” for humans (even if you dislike the term). It would help you to explore deeper why is it that you feel uncomfortable with this term, as you might be agreeing with me more than you suspect. I explore this point and various possibilities and socio-economic paradigms in my dissertation “Order and the Literary Rendering of Chaos”, which is available in PDF on my homepage and that is getting published by Routledge.

    As to your other concern regarding the necessity of presenting different and contradictory stances, I agree with you, but, please, keep in mind that this is only the second essay in a trilogy, and the three essays comprise a book that is coming out with Fernwood Publishing end of this year under the title: “Wild Children – Domesticated Dreams: Civilization and the Birth of Education”. For the time being, you can read “On Objects, Love, and Objectifications”, which is the first essay in this trilogy. In addition, my work entitled: “Genealogies of Wilderness and Domestication” also explore the different possibilities of forging meaningful relationships and providing happy childhoods, parenthoods, and other cultural practices and experiences that are enhancing of the “greater good” for life, which necessarily means encompassing other species in our epistemological construct of “personhood”.

    March 9, 2012 @ 11:27 am
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