The Goslings:
A Study of
the American
Schools

Upton Sinclair
(Upton Sinclair)

This volume is a sort of continuation of the author's previous work, The Goose Step, and is devoted to the elementary, grammar and high schools of the Republic, chiefly but not exclusively those maintained at the public cost. It presents an engrossing, instructive, and, if allowance be made for the author's indignation, highly amusing record of chicanery and imbecility --- a vast chronicle of wasted money, peanut politics and false pretenses.

The theory behind the public schools, which cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions every year, is that they manufacture hordes of enlightened and incorruptible voters, and so safeguard and mellow democracy. The fact is that they are mainly manned by half-wits and bossed by shysters, and that their actual tendency is to reduce all their pupils to the level of Kiwanis.

Mr. Sinclair proves all this by an immense accumulation of facts. He not only toured the country, inspecting innumerable schools himself; he also entered upon relations with many rebellious school-marms, male and female, and so heard the details of the sad story from the inside.

Furthermore, he threw himself into a scientific study of the inner operations of the National Education Association, the trades union of the higher pedagogical functionaries, and digested whole shelves of reports, statistical tables, volumes of graphs, and other such fearful documents.

The result is a tale that lacks nothing in the way of circumstantial corroboration. It is, in truth, overwhelming in its plausibility, and I doubt that anyone will ever challenge successfully any essential feature of it But under the telling of it, alas, there is erroneous assumption, and there springs therefrom a great deal of false reasoning and vain indignation.

That erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and make them fit to discharge the duties citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be from the truth.

The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever pretensions of politicians, pedagogues other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.

If any contrary theory is cherished among us it is simply because public schools are still new in America, and so their true character and purpose are but little understood. The notion that they were invented by American patriotism and ingenuity, and go back, in fact, to the first days of the New England Puritans --- this notion is, of course, only hollow nonsense.

The early Puritan schools were not public schools at all, in modern sense; they were what we now church schools; their aim was to save young from theological heresy --- the exact aim of the Catholic parochial schools and the Jewish Cheder schools today. The public schools, which originated in Prussia during the Eighteenth Century and did not reach the United States, save sporadically, until the middle of the century following --- even in Masachusctts there was no Board of Education until 1837 ---, have the quite different aim of putting down political and economic heresy.

Their purpose, in brief, is to make docile and patriotic citizens, to pile up majorities, and to make John Doe and Richard Doe as nearly alike, in their everyday reactions and ways of thinking, as possible. How they succeeded in Prussia is well known to every student of the war papers of George Creel, Woodrow Wilson, Newell Dwight Hillis, Owen Wister and other such eminent experts.

How they are succeeding in the United States is archly revealed by the current bulls of the American Legion, the National Security League, the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, and the Ku Klux Klan. These great organizations are all made up of their graduates, as are, in fact, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the United States Senate.

Thus Mr. Sinclair is contumacious to the Holy Ghost when he protests against the harsh intransigence, the organized stupidity, the Tammany discipline that he finds everywhere in the public schools. He seems to believe, Liberal that he is, that every schoolmarm should be free to handle her little flock of morons in her own way, and teach them whatever she happens to believe, congenitally or transiently, herself. He even goes so far as to argue that what is taught in the schools in general should be largely determined by schoolmarms sitting in congress --- that they should have a voice in fixing the curriculum, and even in fixing their own salaries and promotions.

This is Bolshevism in its most extravagant and accursed form. The schoolmarm actually has no more right to her own ideas than a deacon in holy orders has to his. She is sworn to propagate only such ideas as happen to be official, and no others. When she departs from that oath in the slightest way, if only in petto, she deserves to be handed over to the American Legion for punishment according to its chivalrous rites. Her prime duty is not to serve the enlightenment, but to serve the Republic, which is to say, to serve whoever happens to be running it at the moment, and deciding what it shall think.

I thus find it impossible to share Mr. Sinclair's ire. What he sets forth so wrathfully was already known to me before I read his book, and I had got used to it. He is, as usual, on the wrong track, and pursuing a chimera. The Liberals have many tails, and chase them all.

But I'd be recreant to my vows at ordination if I did not commend his volume unqualifiedly as excellent reading. It is, in fact, one of the most interesting books I have got through for months. It presents a vast mass of scandalous and amusing facts, it sorts them out very deftly, and it is very well written. Why he has had to publish it himself I can't make out. Are all the regular publishers idiots?

--- H. L. Mencken
from "The American Mercury"

 

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