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Psychopathic Programming

I could regale you with mountains of statistics to illustrate the damage schools cause. I could bring before your attention a line of case studies to illustrate the mutilation of specific individuals—even those who have been apparently privileged as its "gifted and talented."3 What would that prove? You’ve heard those stories, read these figures before until you went numb from the assault on common sense. School can’t be that bad, you say. You survived, didn’t you? Or did you? Review what you learned there. Has it made a crucial difference for good in your life? Don’t answer. I know it hasn’t. You surrendered twelve years of your life because you had no choice. You paid your dues, I paid mine. But who collected those dues?

In 1911, a prominent German sociologist, Robert Michel, warned in his book Political Parties that the size and prosperity of modern bureaucracies had given them unprecedented ability to buy friends. In this way they shield themselves against internal reform and make themselves impervious to outside reform. Across this great epoch of bureaucracy, Michel’s warning has been strikingly borne out. Where school is concerned we have lived through six major periods of crisis since its beginning, zones of social turmoil where outsiders have demanded the state change the way it provides for the schooling of children.4 Each crisis can be used as a stepping stone leading us back to the original wrong path we took at the beginnings.

All alleged reforms have left schooling exactly in the shape they found it, except bigger, richer, politically stronger. And morally and intellectually worse by the standards of the common American village of yesteryear which still lives in our hearts. Many people of conscience only defend institutional schooling because they can’t imagine what would happen without any schools, especially what might happen to the poor. This compassionate and articulate contingent has consistently been fronted by the real engineers of schooling, skillfully used as shock troops to support the cumulative destruction of American working-class and peasant culture, a destruction largely effected through schooling.

Psychopathic programming is incapable of change. It lacks moral dimension or ethical mind beyond the pragmatic. Institutional morality is always public relations; once institutional machinery of sufficient size and complexity is built, a logical movement commences that is internally aimed toward subordination and eventual elimination of all ethical mandates. Even if quality personnel are stationed on the parapets in the first generation of new institutional existence, that original vigilance will flag as pioneers give way to time-servers. The only reliable defense against this is to keep institutions weak and dispersed, even if that means sacrificing efficiency and holding them on a very short leash.

Michel wrote in Political Parties that the primary mission of all institutional managers (including school managers) is to cause their institution to grow in power, in number of employees, in autonomy from public oversight, and in rewards for key personnel. The primary mission is never, of course, the publicly announced one. Whether we are talking about bureaucracies assigned to wage war, deliver mail, or educate children, there is no difference.

In the course of things, this rationalization isn’t a straight line matter. There can be pullbacks in the face of criticism, for example. But examined over time, movement toward rationalizing operations is always unidirectional, public outrage against the immoral effects of this is buffered by purchased political friendships, by seemingly neutral public authorities who always find it prudent to argue for delay, in confidence the heat will cool. In this way momentum is spent, public attention diverted, until the next upwelling of outrage. These strategies of opinion management are taught calmly through elite graduate university training in the best schools here, as was true in Prussia. Corporate bureaucracies, including those in the so-called public sphere, know how to wear out critics. There is no malicious intent, only a striving for efficiency.

Something has been happening in America since the end of WWII, accelerating since the flight of Sputnik and the invasion of Vietnam. A massive effort is underway to link centrally organized control of jobs with centrally organized administration of schooling. This would be an American equivalent of the Chinese "Dangan"—linking a personal file begun in kindergarten (recording academic performance, attitudes, behavioral characteristics, medical records, and other personal data) with all work opportunities. In China the Dangan can’t be escaped. It is part of a web of social controls that ensures stability of the social order; justice has nothing to do with it. The Dangan is coming to the United States under cover of skillfully engineered changes in medicine, employment, education, social service, etc., seemingly remote from one another. In fact, the pieces are being coordinated through an interlink between foundations, grant-making government departments, corporate public relations, key universities, and similar agencies out of public view.

This American Dangan will begin with longer school days and years, with more public resources devoted to institutional schooling, with more job opportunities in the school field, more emphasis on standardized testing, more national examinations, plus hitherto unheard of developments like national teaching licenses, national curricula, national goals, national standards, and with the great dream of corporate America since 1900, School-to-Work legislation organizing the youth of America into precocious work battalions. A Dangan by its nature is always psychopathic. It buries its mistakes.

3What I would never do is to argue that the damage to human potential is adequately caught in the rise or
fall of SAT scores or any other standardized measure because these markers are too unreliable—besides being far too prone to strategic manipulation. The New York Times of March 9, 2003, reported in an article by Sara Rimer that Harvard rejects four valedictorians out of every five, quoting that school’s director of admissions as saying: "To get in [Harvard], you have to present some real distinction..." A distinction which, apparently, 80 Percent of "top" students lack.

4Different addictive readers of school histories might tally eight crises or five, so the stab at specificity
shouldn’t be taken too seriously by any reader. What it is meant to indicate is that careful immersion in pedagogical history will reveal, even to the most skeptical, that mass schooling has been in nearly constant crisis since its inception. There never was a golden age of mass schooling, nor can there ever be.

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