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Table of Contents | Prologue | Comments on the Book
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The General Education Board And Friends

Reading through the papers of the Rockefeller Foundation’s General Education Board—an endowment rivaled in school policy influence in the first half of the twentieth century only by Andrew Carnegie’s various philanthropies—seven curious elements force themselves on the careful reader:

1) There appears a clear intention to mold people through schooling. 2) There is a clear intention to eliminate tradition and scholarship. 3) The net effect of various projects is to create a strong class system verging on caste. 4) There is a clear intention to reduce mass critical intelligence while supporting infinite specialization. 5) There is clear intention to weaken parental influence. 6) There is clear intention to overthrow accepted custom. 7) There is striking congruency between the cumulative purposes of GEB projects and the utopian precepts of the oddball religious sect, once known as Perfectionism, a secular religion aimed at making the perfection of human nature, not salvation or happiness, the purpose of existence. The agenda of philanthropy, which had so much to do with the schools we got, turns out to contain an intensely political component.

This is not to deny that genuine altruistic interests aren’t also a part of philanthropy, but as Ellen Lagemann correctly reflects in her interesting history of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Private Power for the Public Good, "In advancing some interests, foundations have inevitably not advanced others. Hence their actions must have political consequences, even when political purposes are not avowed or even intended. To avoid politics in dealing with foundation history is to miss a crucial part of the story."

Edward Berman, in Harvard Education Review, 49 (1979), puts it more brusquely. Focusing on Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford philanthropies, he concludes that the "public rhetoric of disinterested humanitarianism was little more than a facade" behind which the interests of the political state (not necessarily those of society) "have been actively furthered." The rise of foundations to key positions in educational policy formation amounted to what Clarence Karier called "the development of a fourth branch of government, one that effectively represented the interests of American corporate wealth."

The corporate foundation is mainly a twentieth-century phenomenon, growing from twenty-one specimens of the breed in 1900 to approximately fifty thousand by 1990. From the beginning, foundations aimed squarely at educational policy formation. Rockefeller’s General Education Board obtained an incorporating act from Congress in 1903 and immediately began to organize schooling in the South, joining the older Slater cotton/woolen manufacturing interests and Peabody banking interests in a coalition in which Rockefeller picked up many of the bills.

From the start, the GEB had a mission. A letter from John D. Rockefeller Sr. specified that his gifts were to be used "to promote a comprehensive system." You might well ask what interests the system was designed to promote, but you would be asking the wrong question. Frederick Gates, the Baptist minister hired to disburse Rockefeller largesse, gave a terse explanation when he said, "The key word is system." American life was too unsystematic to suit corporate genius. Rockefeller’s foundation was about systematizing us.
In 1913, the Sixty-Second Congress created a commission to investigate the role of these new foundations of Carnegie, Rockefeller, and of other corporate families. After a year of testimony it concluded:

The domination of men in whose hands the final control of a large part of American industry rests is not limited to their employees, but is being rapidly extended to control the education and social services of the nation.

Foundation grants directly enhance the interests of the corporations sponsoring them, it found. The conclusion of this congressional commission:

The giant foundation exercises enormous power through direct use of its funds, free of any statutory entanglements so they can be directed precisely to the levers of a situation; this power, however, is substantially increased by building collateral alliances which insulate it from criticism and scrutiny.

Foundations automatically make friends among banks which hold their large deposits, in investment houses which multiply their monies, in law firms which act as their counsels, and with the many firms, institutions, and individuals with which they deal and whom they benefit. By careful selection of trustees from the ranks of high editorial personnel and other media executives and proprietors, they can assure themselves press support, and by engaging public relations counselors can further create good publicity. As René Wormser, chief counsel for the second congressional inquiry into foundation life (1958), put it:

All its connections and associations, plus the often sycophantic adulation of the many institutions and individuals who receive largesse from the foundation, give it an enormous aggregate of power and influence. This power extends beyond its immediate circle of associations, to those who hope to benefit from its bounty.

In 1919, using Rockefeller money, John Dewey, by now a professor at Columbia Teachers College, an institution heavily endowed by Rockefeller, founded the Progressive Education Association. Through its existence it spread the philosophy which undergirds welfare capitalism— that the bulk of the population is biologically childlike, requiring lifelong care.

From the start, Dewey was joined by other Columbia professors who made no secret that the objective of the PEA project was to use the educational system as a tool to accomplish political goals. In The Great Technology (1933), Harold Rugg elucidated the grand vision:

A new public mind is to be created. How? Only by creating tens of millions of individual minds and welding them into a new social mind. Old stereotypes must be broken up and "new climates of opinion" formed in the neighborhoods of America.

Through the schools of the world we shall disseminate a new conception of government—one that will embrace all the activities of men, one that will postulate the need of scientific control...in the interest of all people.

In similar fashion, the work of the Social Science Research Council culminated in a statement of Conclusions and Recommendations on its Carnegie Foundation–funded operations which had enormous and lasting impact upon education in the United States. Conclusions (1934) heralded the decline of the old order, stating aggressively that "a new age of collectivism is emerging" which will involve the supplanting of private property by public property" and will require "experimentation" and "almost certainly...a larger measure of compulsory cooperation of citizens...a corresponding enlargement of the functions of government, and an increasing state intervention... Rights will be altered and abridged." (emphasis added)

Conclusions was a call to the teachers colleges to instruct their students to "condition" children into an acceptance of the new order in progress. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were to be marginalized as irrelevant, even counterproductive. "As often repeated, the first step is to consolidate leadership around the philosophy and purpose of education herein expounded." (emphasis added) The difficulties in trying to understand what such an odd locution as "compulsory cooperation" might really mean, or even trying to determine what historic definition of "education" would fit such a usage, were ignored. Those who wrote this report, and some of those who read it, were the only ones who held the Rosetta Stone to decipher it.

In an article in Progressive Education Magazine, Professor Norman Woelfel produced one of the many children and grandchildren of the Conclusions report when he wrote in 1946: "It might be necessary for us to control our press as the Russian press is controlled and as the Nazi press is controlled....", a startling conclusion he improved upon in his book Molders of the American Mind (1933) with this dark beauty: "In the minds of men who think experimentally, America is conceived as having a destiny which bursts the all too obvious limitations of Christian religious sanctions."

The Rockefeller-endowed Lincoln Experimental School at Columbia Teachers College was the testing ground for Harold Rugg’s series of textbooks, which moved 5 million copies by 1940 and millions more after that. In these books Rugg advanced this theory: "Education must be used to condition the people to accept social change....The chief function of schools is to plan the future of society." Like many of his activities over three vital decades on the school front, the notions Rugg put forth in The Great Technology (1933), were eventually translated into practice in urban centers. Rugg advocated that the major task of schools be seen as "indoctrinating" youth, using social "science" as the "core of the school curriculum" to bring about the desired climate of public opinion. Some attitudes Rugg advocated teaching were reconstruction of the national economic system to provide for central controls and an implantation of the attitude that educators as a group were "vastly superior to a priesthood":

Our task is to create swiftly a compact body of minority opinion for the scientific reconstruction of our social order.

Money for Rugg’s six textbooks came from Rockefeller Foundation grants to the Lincoln School. He was paid two salaries by the foundation, one as an educational psychologist for Lincoln, the other as a professor of education at Teachers College, in addition to salaries for secretarial and research services. The General Education Board provided funds (equivalent to $500,000 in year 2000 purchasing power) to produce three books, which were then distributed by the National Education Association.

In 1954, a second congressional investigation of foundation tampering (with schools and American social life) was attempted, headed by Carroll Reece of Tennessee. The Reece Commission quickly ran into a buzzsaw of opposition from influential centers of American corporate life. Major national newspapers hurled scathing criticisms, which, together with pressure from other potent political adversaries, forced the committee to disband prematurely, but not before there were some tentative findings:

The power of the individual large foundation is enormous. Its various forms of patronage carry with them elements of thought control. It exerts immense influence on educator, educational processes, and educational institutions. It is capable of invisible coercion. It can materially predetermine the development of social and political concepts, academic opinion, thought leadership, public opinion.

The power to influence national policy is amplified tremendously when foundations act in concert. There is such a concentration of foundation power in the United States, operating in education and the social sciences, with a gigantic aggregate of capital and income. This Interlock has some of the characteristics of an intellectual cartel. It operates in part through certain intermediary organizations supported by the foundations. It has ramifications in almost every phase of education.

It has come to exercise very extensive practical control over social science and education. A system has arisen which gives enormous power to a relatively small group of individuals, having at their virtual command huge sums in public trust funds.

The power of the large foundations and the Interlock has so influenced press, radio, television, and even government that it has become extremely difficult for objective criticism of anything the Interlock approves to get into news channels—without having first been ridiculed, slanted and discredited.

Research in the social sciences plays a key part in the evolution of our society. Such research is now almost wholly in the control of professional employees of the large foundations. Even the great sums allotted by federal government to social science research have come into the virtual control of this professional group.

Foundations have promoted a great excess of empirical research as contrasted with theoretical research, promoting an irresponsible "fact-finding mania" leading all too frequently to "scientism" or fake science.

Associated with the excessive support of empirical method, the concentration of foundation power has tended to promote "moral relativity" to the detriment of our basic moral, religious, and governmental principles. It has tended to promote the concept of "social engineering," that foundation-approved "social scientists" alone are capable of guiding us into better ways of living, substituting synthetic principles for fundamental principles of action.

These foundations and their intermediaries engage extensively in political activity, not in the form of direct support of candidates or parties, but in the conscious promotion of carefully calculated political concepts.

The impact of foundation money upon education has been very heavy, tending to promote uniformity in approach and method, tending to induce the educator to become an agent for social change and a propagandist for the development of our society in the direction of some form of collectivism. In the international field, foundations and the Interlock, together with certain intermediary organizations, have exercised a strong effect upon foreign policy and upon public education in things international. This has been accomplished by vast propaganda, by supplying executives and advisors to government, and by controlling research through the power of the purse. The net result has been to promote "internationalism" in a particular sense—a form directed toward "world government" and a derogation of American nationalism. [emphasis added]

Here we find ourselves confronted with the puzzling duty of interpreting why two separate congressional committees convened fifty years apart to study the workings of the new foundation institutions, one under a Democratic Congress, one under a Republican Congress, both reached essentially the same conclusions. Both adjudged foundations a clear and present danger to the traditional liberties of American national life. Both pointed to the use of foundation influence to create the blueprint of American school life. Both saw that a class system in America had emerged and was being supported by the class system in schooling. Both called for drastic action. And both were totally ignored.

Actually the word "ignored" doesn’t begin to do justice to what really occurred. These congressional investigations—like Sir Walter Scott’s difficult to obtain Life of Napoleon Bonaparte—have not only vanished from public imagination, they aren’t even alluded to in press discussions of schooling. Exactly as if they had never happened. This would be more understandable if their specific philanthropies were dull, pedestrian giveaways designed to distribute largesse and to build up good feeling toward the benevolence of colossal wealth and power. But the reality is strikingly different—corporate wealth through the foundations has advanced importantly the dumbing down of America’s schools, the creation of a scientific class system, and important attacks on family integrity, national identification, religious rights, and national sovereignty.

"School is the cheapest police," Horace Mann once said. It was a sentiment publicly spoken by every name—Sears, Pierce, Harris, Stowe, Lancaster, and the rest—prominently involved in creating universal school systems for the coal powers. One has only to browse Merle Curti’s The Social Ideas of American Educators to discover that the greatest social idea educators had to sell the rich, and which they lost no opportunity to sell, was the police function of schooling. Although a pedagogical turn in the Quaker imagination is the reason schools came to look like penitentiaries, Quakers are not the principal reason they came to function like maximum security institutions. The reason they came to exist at all was to stabilize the social order and train the ranks. In a scientific, industrialized, corporate age, "stability" was much more exquisitely defined than ordinary people could imagine. To realize the new stability, the best breeding stock had to be drawn up into reservations, likewise the ordinary. "The Daughters of the Barons of Runnemede" is only a small piece of the puzzle; many more efficient and subtler quarantines were essayed.

Perhaps subtlest of all was the welfare state, a welfare program for everybody, including the lowest, in which the political state bestowed alms the way the corporate Church used to do. Although the most visible beneficiaries of this gigantic project were those groups increasingly referred to as "masses," the poor were actually people most poorly served by this latter-day Hindu creation of Fabian socialism and the corporate brain trust. Subsidizing the excluded of the new society and economy was, it was believed, a humanitarian way to calm these troubled waters until the Darwinian storm had run its inevitable course into a new, genetically arranged utopia.

In a report issued in 1982 and widely publicized in important journals, the connection between corporate capitalism and the welfare state becomes manifest in a public document bearing the name Alan Pifer, then president of the Carnegie Corporation. Apparently fearing that the Reagan administration would alter the design of the Fabian project beyond its ability to survive, Pifer warned of:

A mounting possibility of severe social unrest, and the consequent development among the upper classes and the business community of sufficient fear for the survival of our capitalist economic system to bring about an abrupt change of course. Just as we built the general welfare state...and expanded it in the 1960s as a safety valve for the easing of social tension, so will we do it again in the 1980s. Any other path is too risky.

In the report quoted from, new conceptions of pedagogy were introduced which we now see struggling to be born: national certification for schoolteachers, bypassing the last vestige of local control in states, cities, and villages; a hierarchy of teacher positions; a project to bring to an end the hierarchy of school administrators—now adjudged largely an expenditure counter-productive to good social order, a failed experiment. In the new form, lead teachers manage schools after the British fashion and hire business administrators. The first expressions of this new initiative included the "mini-school" movement, now evolved into the charter school movement. Without denying these ideas a measure of merit, if you understand that their source is the same institutional consciousness which once sent river ironclads full of armed detectives to break the steel union at Homestead, machine-gunned strikers at River Rouge, and burned to death over a dozen women and children in Ludlow, those memories should inspire emotions more pensive than starry-eyed enthusiasm.

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