S chools are scenes of extreme manipulation and coercion. Our national and state interest in them is less than benign, or as the soft-hearted among us might say, less than caring. Let us, residents of our towns where our children go to school, take them over and force the issue. The State has no interest in our well-being and the charge to “guarantee” education to secure “equal opportunity” is simply our earliest and most efficient controlling mechanism. Wards of the state, unite and fight.

*********

Assimilation

“About the Carlisle Indian Industrial School,” by Barbara Landis.

Teachers were waiting at the school to begin their work. Pratt had hired a full complement of staff, both for academic and industrial instruction. They had been carefully selected and were ready to begin as soon as the children arrived. Pratt left immediately to collect the second wave of students – the Cheyenne and Kiowa recruited by his former prisoners. During his absence, Mrs. Pratt and several teachers took charge of the children to begin the process of assimilation. One of their first responsibilities was to hire a barber to cut the children’s long hair. For the Lakota, the cutting of hair was symbolic of mourning and there was much wailing and lamenting which lasted into the night.

Upon arrival of the second wave of Cheyenne and Kiowa children, the requested provisions had still not arrived but for the least important item – an organ. The children were housed in dormitories and classes began immediately. The school was structured with academics for half day and trades, the other half. Half the group learned reading, writing and arithmetic in the mornings, and carpentry, tinsmithing, blacksmithing for the boys, or cooking, sewing, laundry, baking, and other domestic arts for the girls in the afternoons. The other half learned their trades in the mornings and academics in the afternoons.

School life was modeled after military life. Uniforms were issued for the boys, the girls dressed in Victorian-style dresses. Shoes were required, as no moccasins were allowed. The boys and girls were organized into companies with officers who took charge of drill. The children marched to and from their classes, and to the dining hall for meals. No one was allowed to speak their native tongue.

Discipline was strictly enforced – military style. There was regular drill practice and the children were ranked, with the officers in command. A court system was implemented in the hierarchal style of a military justice system, with students determining the consequences for offences. The most severe punishment was to be confined to the guardhouse. The old guardhouse, built by Hessian prisoners during the Revolutionary War, still stands.

An ambitious printing program was developed at the school and the school newspapers were popular among the local folk, available at the post office (at a small cost) and by subscription throughout the country. This became a small source of income to supplement funding by the government which was always inadequate. The publications also provided Pratt with a platform from which to publicize his experiment and perpetuate his views on education….

Pratt also lobbied politicians to keep the school going. He often visited Washington or entertained dignitaries at Carlisle. One of his ardent supporters was Senator Henry Dawes, author of the General Allotment Act, the US government policy which resulted in the loss of more than 40% of tribal lands. Pratt’s assimilationist policies for education for Indians coupled with Dawes’ checkerboarding allotment legislation formed the solution for the “Indian Problem” of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

***********

‘Tis No Use Forcing People’s Tastes
William Morris in News From Nowhere:

“Well, the youngsters here will be all the fresher for school when the summer gets over and they have to go back again.”

“School?” he said; “yes, what do you mean by that word? I don’t see how it can have anything to do with children. We talk, indeed, of a school of herring, and a school of painting, and in the former sense we might talk of a school of children—but otherwise,” said he, laughing, “I must own myself beaten.”

Hang it! thought I, I can’t open my mouth without digging up some new complexity. I wouldn’t try to set my friend right in his etymology; and I thought I had best say nothing about the boy-farms which I had been used to call schools, as I saw pretty clearly that they had disappeared; so I said after a little fumbling, “I was using the word in the sense of a system of education.”

“Education?” said he, meditatively, “I know enough Latin to know that the word must come from educere, to lead out; and I have heard it used; but I have never met anybody who could give me a clear explanation of what it means.”

You may imagine how my new friends fell in my esteem when I heard this frank avowal; and I said, rather contemptuously, “Well, education means a system of teaching young people.”

“Why not old people also?” said he with a twinkle in his eye. “But,” he went on, “I can assure you our children learn, whether they go through a ‘system of teaching’ or not. Why, you will not find one of these children about here, boy or girl, who cannot swim; and every one of them has been used to tumbling about the little forest ponies—there’s one of them now! They all of them know how to cook; the bigger lads can mow; many can thatch and do odd jobs at carpentering; or they know how to keep shop. I can tell you they know plenty of things.”

“Yes, but their mental education, the teaching of their minds,” said I, kindly translating my phrase.

“Guest,” said he, “perhaps you have not learned to do these things I have been speaking about; and if that’s the case, don’t you run away with the idea that it doesn’t take some skill to do them, and doesn’t give plenty of work for one’s mind: you would change your opinion if you saw a Dorsetshire lad thatching, for instance. But, however, I understand you to be speaking of book-learning; and as to that, it is a simple affair. Most children, seeing books lying about, manage to read by the time they are four years old; though I am told it has not always been so. As to writing, we do not encourage them to scrawl too early (though scrawl a little they will), because it gets them into a habit of ugly writing; and what’s the use of a lot of ugly writing being done, when rough printing can be done so easily. You understand that handsome writing we like, and many people will write their books out when they make them, or get them written; I mean books of which only a few copies are needed—poems, and such like, you know. However, I am wandering from my lambs; but you must excuse me, for I am interested in this matter of writing, being myself a fair-writer.”

“Well,” said I, “about the children; when they know how to read and write, don’t they learn something else—languages, for instance?”

“Of course,” he said; “sometimes even before they can read, they can talk French, which is the nearest language talked on the other side of the water; and they soon get to know German also, which is talked by a huge number of communes and colleges on the mainland. These are the principal languages we speak in these islands, along with English or Welsh, or Irish, which is another form of Welsh; and children pick them up very quickly, because their elders all know them; and besides our guests from over sea often bring their children with them, and the little ones get together, and rub their speech into one another.”

“And the older languages?” said I.

“O, yes,” said he, “they mostly learn Latin and Greek along with the modern ones, when they do anything more than merely pick up the latter.”

“And history?” said I; “how do you teach history?”

“Well,” said he, “when a person can read, of course he reads what he likes to; and he can easily get someone to tell him what are the best books to read on such or such a subject, or to explain what he doesn’t understand in the books when he is reading them.”

“Well,” said I, “what else do they learn? I suppose they don’t all learn history?”

“No, no,” said he; “some don’t care about it; in fact, I don’t think many do. I have heard my great-grandfather say that it is mostly in periods of turmoil and strife and confusion that people care much about history; and you know,” said my friend, with an amiable smile, “we are not like that now. No; many people study facts about the make of things and the matters of cause and effect, so that knowledge increases on us, if that be good; and some, as you heard about friend Bob yonder, will spend time over mathematics. ’Tis no use forcing people’s tastes.”

Said I: “But you don’t mean that children learn all these things?”

Said he: “That depends on what you mean by children; and also you must remember how much they differ. As a rule, they don’t do much reading, except for a few story-books, till they are about fifteen years old; we don’t encourage early bookishness: though you will find some children who will take to books very early; which perhaps is not good for them; but it’s no use thwarting them; and very often it doesn’t last long with them, and they find their level before they are twenty years old. You see, children are mostly given to imitating their elders, and when they see most people about them engaged in genuinely amusing work, like house-building and street-paving, and gardening, and the like, that is what they want to be doing; so I don’t think we need fear having too many book-learned men.”

*******

Modern Improvements
Henry David Thoreau in Walden:

I will endeavor to speak a good word for the truth. At Cambridge College the mere rent of a student’s room, which is only a little larger than my own, is thirty dollars each year, though the corporation had the advantage of building thirty-two side by side and under one roof, and the occupant suffers the inconvenience of many and noisy neighbors, and perhaps a residence in the fourth story. I cannot but think that if we had more true wisdom in these respects, not only less education would be needed, because, forsooth, more would already have been acquired, but the pecuniary expense of getting an education would in a great measure vanish. Those conveniences which the student requires at Cambridge or elsewhere cost him or somebody else ten times as great a sacrifice of life as they would with proper management on both sides. Those things for which the most money is demanded are never the things which the student most wants. Tuition, for instance, is an important item in the term bill, while for the far more valuable education which he gets by associating with the most cultivated of his contemporaries no charge is made. The mode of founding a college is, commonly, to get up a subscription of dollars and cents, and then, following blindly the principles of a division of labor to its extreme—a principle which should never be followed but with circumspection—to call in a contractor who makes this a subject of speculation, and he employs Irishmen or other operatives actually to lay the foundations, while the students that are to be are said to be fitting themselves for it; and for these oversights successive generations have to pay. I think that it would be better than this, for the students, or those who desire to be benefited by it, even to lay the foundation themselves. The student who secures his coveted leisure and retirement by systematically shirking any labor necessary to man obtains but an ignoble and unprofitable leisure, defrauding himself of the experience which alone can make leisure fruitful. “But,” says one, “you do not mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of their heads?” I do not mean that exactly, but I mean something which he might think a good deal like that; I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living? Methinks this would exercise their minds as much as mathematics. If I wished a boy to know something about the arts and sciences, for instance, I would not pursue the common course, which is merely to send him into the neighborhood of some professor, where anything is professed and practised but the art of life;—to survey the world through a telescope or a microscope, and never with his natural eye; to study chemistry, and not learn how his bread is made, or mechanics, and not learn how it is earned; to discover new satellites to Neptune, and not detect the motes in his eyes, or to what vagabond he is a satellite himself; or to be devoured by the monsters that swarm all around him, while contemplating the monsters in a drop of vinegar. Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month—the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this—or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the meanwhile, and had received a Rodgers’ penknife from his father? Which would be most likely to cut his fingers?… To my astonishment I was informed on leaving college that I had studied navigation!—why, if I had taken one turn down the harbor I should have known more about it. Even the poor student studies and is taught only political economy, while that economy of living which is synonymous with philosophy is not even sincerely professed in our colleges. The consequence is, that while he is reading Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Say, he runs his father in debt irretrievably.

As with our colleges, so with a hundred “modern improvements”; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance. The devil goes on exacting compound interest to the last for his early share and numerous succeeding investments in them. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.

*********

Now You Know What a Horse Is
Charles Dickens in Hard Times:

Thomas Gradgrind, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir—peremptorily Thomas—Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all supposititious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind—no, sir!

In such terms Mr. Gradgrind always mentally introduced himself, whether to his private circle of acquaintance, or to the public in general. In such terms, no doubt, substituting the words ‘boys and girls,’ for ‘sir,’ Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.

Indeed, as he eagerly sparkled at them from the cellarage before mentioned, he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge. He seemed a galvanizing apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away.

‘Girl number twenty,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, ‘I don’t know that girl. Who is that girl?’

‘Sissy Jupe, sir,’ explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.

‘Sissy is not a name,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.’

‘It’s father as calls me Sissy, sir,’ returned the young girl in a trembling voice, and with another curtsey.

‘Then he has no business to do it,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘Tell him he mustn’t. Cecilia Jupe. Let me see. What is your father?’

‘He belongs to the horse-riding, if you please, sir.’

Mr. Gradgrind frowned, and waved off the objectionable calling with his hand.

‘We don’t want to know anything about that, here. You mustn’t tell us about that, here. Your father breaks horses, don’t he?’

‘If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break horses in the ring, sir.’

‘You mustn’t tell us about the ring, here. Very well, then. Describe your father as a horsebreaker. He doctors sick horses, I dare say?’

‘Oh yes, sir.’

‘Very well, then. He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier, and horsebreaker. Give me your definition of a horse.’

(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)

‘Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. ‘Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.’

The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer, perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sunlight which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely white-washed room, irradiated Sissy. For, the boys and girls sat on the face of the inclined plane in two compact bodies, divided up the centre by a narrow interval; and Sissy, being at the corner of a row on the sunny side, came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer, being at the corner of a row on the other side, a few rows in advance, caught the end. But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired, that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun, when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contrast with something paler than themselves, expressed their form. His short-cropped hair might have been a mere continuation of the sandy freckles on his forehead and face. His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white.

‘Bitzer,’ said Thomas Gradgrind. ‘Your definition of a horse.’

‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.’ Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

‘Now girl number twenty,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘You know what a horse is.’

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Douglas Storm is a host and producer for Interchange on Bloomington, Indiana's community radio station WFHB. "Why then do you try to 'enlarge' your mind? Subtilize it..."

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