Excerpts from "Education and the Rise of the Corporate State"

I read this book a few years ago and wanted to share some of the content with you. This is an OCR scan of a few pages, so forgive any formatting or other errors. I highly recommend you purchase this book, especially if you have children which you intend to place in the public school system.

Education and the rise of the corporate state

by Joel H. Spring

Publisher: Beacon Hill Press
Date of Publication: 1973


Education and the Rise of the Corporate State : page 138

The idea of the school was first born in 1910 at a meeting of the Harlem Liberal Alliance among a mixed group of New York radicals including anarchists, socialists, single taxers, and free thinkers. The leaders of the movement were anarchists and included Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. Emma Goldman toured the country during the school’s early years raising money for its support. Until 1915 the school was at various locations in New York City and offered the beginnings of a school for young children and courses of lectures for adults on topics ranging from art and Esperanto to sex hygiene and physiology. In 1915 the Modern School established itself at Stelton, New Jersey, where it became a leading center for radical education.16 The school sent its message to radicals throughout the country in the form of an educational journal called the Modern School Magazine, published from 1912 until about 1922. Between 1929 and 1932, Alexis C. Ferm, who assumed joint responsibility with his wife for the principalship of the Modern School in 1920, contributed a regular column on education to the major anarchist journal of the 1920’s, The Road to Freedom. In 1925 the Modern School Association, having a sense of their purpose of being a model for other radical groups, published a history of their experiment.

As was suggested, the Modern School was born more out of a sentiment than a concrete plan. Harry Kelly, chairman of the first board of management of the school, recalled in 1913, “The Francisco Ferrer Association was ‘born of a wave of hysteria’. . . . A deep, underlying protest against the shooting of Ferrer, and a broad, general understanding as to the desirabil¬ity of a school such as he had started in Spain, were what brought and held us together. The radicals in New York were acquainted with many of Ferrer’s ideas about education. Some of his essays had been translated and published in Emma Goldman’s magazine Mother Earth; and Ferrer’s book, The Origin and Ideals of the Modern School, was translated and published in w York in 1913. Ferrer’s general plan of education emphasized rationalism and the scientific method. One reason for this war, a reaction to the Church’s domination of the schools in Spain. The heavy emphasis on scientific method and rationalism was not given much attention by American radicals. What American radicals gained from Ferrer’s writing was his critique of the nature of modern schooling.

Ferrer ‘s primary argument was that the modern drive for public schooling born in the nineteenth century was not the product of a desire to free men but the result of the needs of industrialized countries for trained workers so those countries could remain competitive in the international marketplace. Ferrer’s critique came to the attention of American radicals in the form of an article published in 1909 in Mother Earth. He directly connected the power of the state and industry to that of the school. For Ferrer control of the school system was one of the main sources of social power. Ferrer wrote, “Governments have ever been careful to hold a high hand over the education of the people. They know, better than anyone else, that their power is based almost entirely on the school. Hence, they monopolize it more and more.” He argued that in the past governments could maintain control of the people by keeping them in a state of ignorance. But with international industrial competition this had become impossible. Everyone’s cry in the nineteenth century had become: “For and by the School.” The current popularity of the school, Ferrer argued, rested on its ability to be used as an instrument of control by the state and of domination by industry. Ferrer claimed that “the organization of the school, far from spreading the ideal which we imagined, has made education the most powerful means of enslavement in the hands of governing powers today.” The teachers within the organization of the school, according to Ferrer, could effect little change because the power of the organization of the school constrained them into obedience. Ferrer argued that those who established public schools had one desire and that was that “Children must be accustomed to obey, to believe, to think, according to the social dogmas which govern us.” For Ferrer the answer was not reform of the school but the creation of a different type of institution. He wrote that public school advocates “never wanted the uplift of the individual, but his enslavement; and it is perfectly useless to hope for anything from the school of today.

The people connected with the Modern School at Stelton leveled the same type of critique at the public schools in the United States. Whether this was the result of Ferrer’s influence or just a product of conditions within the United States would be difficult to determine. For instance, Harry Kelly, chairman of the first board of management of the school, wrote ten years after its establishment in Stelton, “We saw then and we see now, that the public school system is a powerful instrument for the perpetuation of the present social order with all its injustice and inequality . . . and that, quite naturally, whatever is likely to disturb the existing arrangement is regarded unfavorably by those in control of the public schools.” Kelly, with arguments that paralleled those of Ferrer, claimed that the primary purpose of the public schools was the perpetuation of authority within society. “From the moment the child enters the public school he is trained to submit to authority, to do the will of others as a matter of course, with the result that habits of mind are formed which in adult life are all to the advantage of the ruling class.” Schools destroyed initiative and individuality “except in the narrow fields where these qualities can increase the efficiency of the capitalist machine.

The general feeling of radicals who gathered around Stelton was that the development of an alternative system of education was to be the first step toward any major social change. They became convinced that radical movements of the past had been frustrated because the power and meaning of schooling had been unrealized. James H. Dick, one of the most dedicated teachers at Stelton, wrote in 1929, “The strangest phenomenon of all is the fact that the vast majority of radicals of all shades of opinion have some sort of devout feeling for this one governmental institution, having some vague notion that education is above propaganda. Alexis Ferm, the coprincipal of the Modern School, argued that when workers had originally struggled for the establishment of schools, they were not thinking of schools in terms of education but as a means of equalizing opportunities. Consequently when workers won their schools, they thought they had solved the problem for their children. The workers failed because they turned schools over to the authorities and retained no control over the actual educational process. Ferm wrote that the workers forgot “that the authorities were the very exploiters of labor against whose encroachments upon their liberties the workers were organized to defend themselves.” Workers’ children, by being well schooled, failed to understand the reactionary role of the school and the necessity for questioning its control.

The result of failing to understand the role of the school was the continued inability of the working class adequately to question the existing social order. The schools conditioned for authority and turned out workers completely obedient to the needs of capitalism. James Dick argued that one of the powerful persuaders and controlling devices of the school was the promise of economic prosperity. The worker was convinced that the school was the ladder for his child’s economic advancement. Dick wrote that for the worker, “The seductive atmosphere of ‘prosperity’ is too much for him, and the lethal chambers of a governmental scholastic career for his child is the real solution to his salvation. The irony, of course, was that as the schools promised, they also controlled. The school represented the contradictions inherent in twentieth century institutions.

What radicals failed to realize, according to the Stelton group, was that it was not just the propaganda used in the public schools but the very process of schooling that was important. Alexis Ferm argued that the process of public schooling assumed that a course of study should be established for the student’s “own good.” This meant the student was not given a choice but depended on the advice of authorities. “It is considered,” Ferm wrote, “that his choice would not be any good anyhow and that he should be taught to accept things without question, to admire our captains of industry, our Presidents who bring us prosperity, our army and navy and our religions. What students really learned in school, Ferm claimed, individualization meant using individual methods to assure that every student achieved the same goal. This definition was used in reference to both character training and academic subjects. If one wanted children to be thrifty or learn algebra, one used different methods with each child. Somehow this form of individualization was to be democratic. Another use of individualization referred to training the individual for a specialized slot in the social system. Individual differences were in this case defined in terms of one’s particular contribution to the organization. The suggestion was not made that individualization might mean the development of an individual life style.

It might be the case that education as social control cannot allow for the development of individual life styles. To even assume that education can effectively reform society is to assume that there is a “good way to live.” This means that character molding in the school will be directed toward one particular goal defined in terms of the good society. As Ellul pointed out, this means that the individual’s personality is developed not for itself but for what it can do to improve society. Education for social control is organized, after all, in terms of controlling and improving society. The goals of individual development must be consistent with this end.

The argument can also be made that institutional environments – in this case the schools – are not conducive to the development of a variety of life styles. The very functioning of these environments depends on social order. A school cannot function if disruptive personalities cause a breakdown of institutional order. Running and shouting in school corridors, for instance, would make communication in the classroom impossible. The only type of personality the school can support and approve is one that fits smoothly into the institutional organization. This means that for the school to survive it can nurture and develop only those behaviors which do not conflict with its institutional needs. The extension of compulsory education laws and the increased amount of time, both in terms of hours each day and in added years, has brought a greater part of the population under institutional controls. If the schools, because of their structure, nurture only one type of personality, this would mean the development of one dominant life style. Of course, in terms of the well-functioning society no objection to this condition need be raised. The type of personality needed in the school is the same as that needed in the corporation.

Education as social control therefore is not democratic if democracy means freedom to choose one’s own goals and the opportunity to develop one’s own life style. The use of education to solve social problems often results in overlooking the social conditions that originally caused the problems. As the techniques of education develop, there is the danger that the student can be taught to feel free and happy under any conditions. As Ellul suggests, human history might end with man feeling contented and happy as the world crumbles, starvation runs rampant, and political institutions collapse.

Education can become anti-democratic when social control and the rhetoric of permissiveness blend. Erich Fromm in the introduction to Summerhill argues that the transition from the discipline of the nineteenth century to the permissiveness of the twentieth has resulted not in the rejection of authoritarianism but in a shift from overt authority to anonymous authority. The overt authority of the nineteenth century frankly told the student that he would be punished. According to Fromm anonymous authority tends to hide the force that is being used. He writes, “Here, the sanction for disobedience is not corporal punishment, but the suffering face of the parent, or what is worse, conveying the feeling of not being ‘adjusted,’ of not acting as the crowd acts. Overt authority used physical force; anonymous authority employs psychic manipulation.” Fromm believes that the change from overt to anonymous authority was determined by the organizational needs of modern corporate society. In the modern industrial state the worker must become a cog that is managed and manipulated. Anonymous authority through bureaucratic procedures is the most effective means of control. The school by using anonymous authority prepares the individual for control by hidden bureaucratic authority. The worker is also prepared for the consumer market. Advertising as a persuasive form of coercion increases consumer appetites, creates new desires, and directs these desires into channels most profitable for industry. Fromm, like Ellul, believes that man becomes just a “thing” in the system and education is preparation to becoming a “thing.” “Our economic system,” he writes, “must create men who fit its needs; men who cooperate smoothly; men who want to consume more and more.

It is interesting that educational critics, such as Erich Fromm, reject socialization in education for the very reasons that it was originally supported. Fromm abhors the idea of education producing men who are “willing to do what is expected of them, men who will fit into the social machine without friction, who can be led without leaders, and who can be directed without any aim except the one to ‘make good. These were, of course, the goals of social educators. In fact the American school system in the twentieth century was built upon these very same values. Fromm’s negative reaction therefore is not toward an accidental development in education but toward a consciously sought-after goal that evolved with the industrial state.

The same is true of Jacques Ellul’s criticism of the relationship between education and technology. For instance, Frank Parsons, the father of vocational guidance, would have ap-plauded a system that matched and molded citizens for a job needed by the industrial system. Ellul finds this repulsive because man is treated like a technological “thing” and is not allowed to direct his life toward human needs. But treating humans like “things” was precisely what Parsons advocated. For him human happiness and technological efficiency were inseparable. For Ellul human happiness and technological efficiency are incompatible.

The real difference is in the model used to evaluate the world. Among the groups that have been considered at the beginning of the twentieth century, the model used was that of a machine-like corporate organization. Like the earlier members of the eighteenth century enlightenment many post–Civil War Americans have been enthralled with the idea of a clockwork universe. The industrial developments after the Civil War further impressed their minds with the potential value of a well-working machine. Social and economic problems organized into a machine model were reduced to problems of mechanical adjustment. It was found that the one limiting factor in making society work like a machine was the human being. Government and business companies could be organized into an efficient structure, but the organization was not functional unless human beings fulfilled their assigned roles. The ideal organization was that of a machine with specialized parts and coordinated activity. According to this model the health and happiness of any organization depended on smooth and efficient operation.

On a grand scale this model represented the well-working society as a series of interlocking corporate structures all humming away. Within the scheme the public schools became the central mechanism of social control feeding trained and conditioned workers and citizens into the whirring gears. Man as a natural resource was considered in the same terms as iron and timber. Education was to shape and mold raw humanity into the cooperative and specialized cog. This view of society was not the result of a conspiratorial plot. Immense social and economic problems did exist and there was need of some way to surmount them. This model was chosen because at the time it promised the best results. That education as social control meant limitation of freedom was immaterial to the needs of the social system. Humanitarian reformers made education a part of the corporate model because they believed that it would end poverty and industrial turmoil. Industrialists applied the model because they needed workers for their corporations and because it justified their own activities. The model promised to do good and make money at the same time.

By the middle of the century a certain pessimism developed about this type of social model because of a feeling that it was making money and not doing much good. Technology itself was dropped from its humanitarian pedestal when it was found that technology in war could destroy as well as build. The general feeling that runs through the writing of critics like Fromm and Ellul is that the model of human desires and needs must be imposed on the world and not vice versa.

Their attitude assumes that these can provide deeper satisfaction and meaning for each individual. It also assumes that there is something beyond the purely chemical and biological in man. The rejection of the idea that man can feel happiness to the full through conditioning and mechanical devices attached to nerve centers suggests that there is more satisfaction in self-conscious choice of ends and a struggle for their accomplishment. Being human, rather than a thing, would appear to mean experiencing life in its every dimension. Feeling happy is not enough. One must touch the low levels of despair and climb to the ecstasies of joy. Only through contact and living can one truly be human. These ideas do rest on the assumption that being human is in this sense worthwhile.

Faith in the traditional values of technology has continued through the twentieth century. By traditional is meant a non-McLuhanese concept of technology. Fromm’s and Ellul’s pessimism is not shared by the systems-analysis and computer- oriented educators. The new phenomenon is that of the computer’s determining the model that will be used and that model’s being applied to social organizations and individuals. This approach is considered good because like previous developments it is believed to promise a more efficient and productively rewarding system. The computer now provides the model because all data have to be arranged so that they can be handled by the computer mechanism. This is one of the revolutionary facts of the second industrial revolution. Because the computer is so rapid and efficient, all aspects of technology are made to fit it. This means that they have to be organized in certain limited ways to be utilized by the computer. Therefore to gain the benefits of the computer, the computer’s pattern has to be used to organize experience. In other words, the functioning pattern of the computer provides the new organizational model.

The model borrowed from the computer, and one that horrifies Fromm and Ellul, is the systems analysis approach. This method, choosing from several models, organizes descriptive data into flow charts so that predictions and recommendations can be made from the original set of data. In a sense it is a streamlined form of scientific management. Applied to education it results in the same type of organization hoped for by previous educators. A predictive chart is constructed to show how the child can flow smoothly through the schools with his interests and aptitudes matched to appropriate courses that will lead to an appropriate job. On example of the application of systems technology to education is a project conducted by the Systems Development Corporation with a grant from the United States Office of Education. Five high schools were selected for intensive study. Flow diagrams of the schools were made to suggest new combinations of media and personnel to “accomplish the task of education more efficiently.” One innovation was the surveillance and detection system, a system that would have delighted the early vocational guidance counselors. The computer center of the system would constantly receive data on the performance of each student. These data would include both academic test scores and teachers’ reports on the student’s interests, social and emotional conditions, and learning problems. The computer would survey these data and compare them with stored information concerning performance expectancies and past achievement. If the computer detected anything wrong, it would notify the appropriate personnel. The machine and model therefore would both diagnose and prescribe remedies. One of the leaders of the project states that the computer “would indicate the names of students who might need help, the kind of help that might be needed, and the names of the persons who should be alerted. Teachers, students, counselors, or administrative personnel might be alerted by the system . The surveillance and detection system would create the clockwork world dreamed of in the enlightenment.

This approach does in fact turn man into a thing. The theory of human action which is most easily utilized in a systems method is behavioral psychology. Based on the theory that human actions are the result of stimulus-response conditioning and that all emotions are physically measurable, it provides a logical model that can be handled by the computer, probably the reason for the widespread popularity of the theory during the 1960’s. The theory has resulted in lists of specific behavioral objectives which are used to determine the goals and the results of teaching. These lists reflect the idea that education should teach only those things that are measurable. The behavioral measurements can be easily used in a systems flow chart or in a computer. Behaviorists also define survival as the only innate goal for man. All other interests and desires are the result of related conditioning. This means that the behaviorist, in determining what specific behavior should be developed, has only. survival as a criterion for deciding. Put in these terms, conditioning for the technological system is logical. As Ellul points out, it appears absolutely necessary because if the individual were not adapted to the system, social maladjustment and suffering might result.

Behavioral psychology also fits into the technological and automated system because it denies human freedom. Frazier, a main character in B. F. Skinner’s utopian novel about a community based on behavioral engineering, tells his guests that freedom is only a feeling that results from doing what you have been conditioned to do. “We can achieve,” he explains, “a sort of control under which the controlled, though they are following a code much more scrupulously than was ever the case under the old system, nevertheless feel free. The basic assumption of behaviorism is that there is no human freedom for, if there were, scientific laws about behavior would be impossible. The belief that happiness and freedom are just feelings that can be manipulated is the most frightening part of the present direction of our technological society.

Socialization in the context of behavioral psychology plus systems analysis becomes a process of encouraging personalities that fit into the model. Like any institutional organization, certain behavioral patterns are required for its operation. A student showing an unwillingness to operate within this con¬text, such as refusing to follow directions on programmed learning machines, would have to be viewed as a deviant. Indeed, since he would not be getting along in his environment, he would probably be showing all the psychological stresses of social maladjustment. For the further functioning of the educational system and the mental health of the student, social adaptation must take place. Man truly becomes a “thing” in this situation because the needs of the system determine the form of his behavior.

The combination of behavioral psychology and systems analysis also provides support for the traditional idea of education as social control. The denial of states of happiness or freedom as anything but feelings that are most easily achieved through manipulation of the personality confirms any predisposition on the part of educators to think that the good society will result from shaping human character. Skinner’s utopian community, Walden Two, uses education as the essential form of control. Horace Mann probably would have been quite pleased with Skinner’s ideas. For both, the ideal society would require only a few restrictive laws because everyone would be trained to be “good.”

Even McLuhan’s analysis of the present trend of technology results in a deterministic psychology. Man might be heading toward a global village but it is not through self-conscious actions. The driving forces, in McLuhan’s terms, are the changes in technology. In fact, for McLuban, man’s history is nothing but the history of psychological and social changes caused by technological changes. Man truly does become a “thing.” He organizes his experiences in a manner taught to him by his media and acts according to that organization.

Within the context of these present developments the continued use of concepts of socialization in the schools takes on a nightmarish quality. After all, the original purpose of social education at the turn of the century was to fit man into the industrial world. Education did turn men into things that had to be trained and molded for the requirements of society. Computers and automation are making these goals even more possible and inevitable. Even Dewey’s original concern about creating a community has become irrelevant to modern conditions. This means, of course, that the sole function of socialization is now just social adaptation. The solution is not to change the goals and direction of socialization and social control. This is impossible.


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