THE CHEAPEST POLICE
Nino Langiulli and Arthur DiClementi, Brooklyn Existentialism: Voices from the Stoop explaining how Philosophical Realism can bring about the Restoration of Character, Intelligence and Taste (South Bend, IN: Fidelity Press, 2008), 220 pp, $28 List Price ($18 from Culture Wars), Softcover.
Reviewed by E. Michael Jones
“School is the cheapest police,” Horace Mann once said.
“There has never been a more exciting time to be at Harvard,” the letter continued breathlessly, especially since “the University [was now] engaged [in] . . . the study of the human genome and the formation of a center for stem cell research. . . .” At this point the letter started to sound more like the invitation Harry Potter got to attend the Hogwarts School of Magic, the modern variant of Cinderella which has become fantastically popular in cultures obsessed with academic credentials. Why the admissions department was giving potential undergraduates the impression that they might make some contribution to the genome project is anyone’s guess, but, if nothing else, it showed Harvard’s ongoing commitment to biological determinism, the successor to Calvin’s theological determinism at America’s Athens on the Charles.
If I sound ungratefully flippant, it’s because this wasn’t the first time the Jones family received a letter from Harvard. My oldest son was a student there from 1989 to 1992, graduating in three years after getting absolved from taking freshman courses because of his achievement test scores. His experiences (which I have written about at length elsewhere in these pages) taught us not to expect any magical Hogwartsian transformations as a result attending classes there. I remember a graduation ceremony there (not Adam’s) at which all of the faculty member showed up carrying black balloons with the word “diversity” written on them. As far as I could tell, diversity in this instance meant racial mixing of the sort frowned upon by Harvard men in the first decades of the 20th century. It most certainly did not mean diversity of opinion, which my son and his largely Irish-Catholic buddies from Boston discovered when they crossed the powers that be by publishing a series of articles questioning the virtue of sodomy, which at that point had just edged out gender equality as the summum bonum on Harvard’s campus.
What the summum bonum is there now I can’t say. But I can say that Sam’s letter was different than Adam’s The big news in Sam’s letter wasn’t the genome project; the big news had to do with money. Harvard had just engaged in a “sweeping overhaul of financial aid policies designed to make Harvard College more affordable for families across the economic spectrum.” That meant that “Parents with incomes of less than $60,000 [my ears perked up at this point] are no longer expected to contribute to their children’s Harvard College costs.” In addition to that, “A new initiative announced in December 2007 eliminated all student loans and removed home equity from financial aid calculations.”
As if to show that great minds all run in the same circles, Sam’s letter from Yale, made exactly the same financial concessions.
If you are considering Yale, you should not hesitate because you fear the cost will exceed your family’s means. In January we announced dramatic improvements to our financial aid policies in order to ensure that students will be able to attend Yale regardless of their families’ financial circumstances. Families with annual incomes under $60,000 are no longer asked to contribute to the cost of sending a child to Yale. Those with incomes between $60,000 and $120,000 will pay from 1% to 9% annual income, and families form $120,000 to $200,000 will pay an average of 10% income. The contributions expected from student earnings has also been reduced, eliminating the need for students to borrow money to finance their educations.
Suddenly, the Ivy League had my undivided attention. Maybe Yale was serious when it said that their aim was “gathering the most extraordinary varied of talented and promising individuals, people who challenge one another with high aspirations and significant accomplishments.” Maybe money wasn’t the second most important issue at the Ivy League.
The first indication of high seriousness, I learned while hanging out on street corners in Philadelphia, was a willingness to “put your money where your mouth is.” And here were Harvard and Yale expressing a willingness to do just that. In this, they differed from Indiana University, where my daughter Sarah Jones is a classics major, with specialization in ancient Greek. Around the same time that Sam got his letter from Harvard, Sarah got a letter from IU offering her “Congratulations!” because of her “outstanding academic performance” during her sophomore year there. Unlike most of the offerings at state universities, ancient Greek is a serious academic subject. Sarah had been placed on the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s List for the Spring Semester 2008 because of the high grades she had earned in that challenging subject, and so it was without irony that they told her “You can be proud of your accomplishment.” They even enclosed an announcement that she could send to her local newspaper “if you wish to have this achievement published.”
What IU did not do, however, was show any willingness to put their money where their mouth was. Shortly after receiving the notice that she was on the dean’s list, Sarah learned received a letter from State Student Assistance Commission of Indiana, concerning State of Indiana Grant Programs for Full-time Enrollment. Under Award Amount and Name, Sarah received the deflatingly short announcement: “You do not show financial need according to state program rules.” (To be fair to the classics department at Indiana University, they gave Sarah their department scholarship, which was an honor to be sure, but the amount, $1,000, constitutes, at today’s prices, the proverbial drop in the bucket, for which we are nonetheless grateful.)
What Indiana University, an institution created by the state of Indiana and funded by state tax money so that Indiana residents can send their children there at minimal cost is really telling us is that it’s time to take out one of those home equity loans, the kind with the hidden balloon payments in the middle that is driving the foreclosure crisis at the moment, so that we can finance our daughter’s education. Or, to state the case more precisely, so that we can finance the racket that education has become in the state of Indiana. By the mid-‘90s tuition at places like Indiana University was increasing three times faster than household income and at a rate more than three times faster than the rate of inflation. In the past ten years, those costs have continued to skyrocket, making the home equity loan a necessity for the average parent who wants to send his child to a state university, a system that was created to be affordable to the residents of the states that created them. It was public education more than anything else that created the property tax crisis in the state of Indiana.
After reading Sam’s and Sarah’s respective letters, the dirty secret in higher education in America slowly came into focus. The elites get an elite education which prepares them for the top jobs in the American empire for free, but the proles have to pay through the nose to compete for third and fourth rank jobs and positions at third and fourth ranked professional schools, burdening themselves, as John Taylor Gatto puts it, with “debt burdens which enslave them and their children for many years to come.”
And what exactly is the intellectual difference between Sarah Jones and Sam Jones? What have they done to merit such radically different fates? Neither graduated from grade school; both were taught by their mother at home during their most formative years; both attended the same Catholic high school, where they had virtually the same set of courses taught by the same group of teachers. In the realm of 20th century social science, there are two major theories which purport to explain why Sam and Sarah are what they are: nurture and nature. Yet from either of those perspectives—be it biology or environment—they are virtually identical. Given that fact, why are their educational fates so radically different?
The answer to that question is a three-letter acronym: SAT, short for Standardized Aptitude Test. The reason Sam and Adam got a letter from Harvard and Sarah did not is the same: SAT scores. Sam’s letter from Harvard said as much: “As do many other colleges, we take advantage of the search services of the College Board and the American College Testing Program to identify students whose test scores and grades suggest they may be good candidates for our college.” Sam’s letter from Yale said pretty much the same thing: “Using information obtained from the College Board and the American College Testing Program, we have identified you as a student who may be a good candidate for Yale. Many other colleges will be writing to you as well, and I expect that you have already begun to amass a sizeable collection of enticing letters and colorful brochures.”
John Taylor Gatto points out that, from 1972 to 1979 there was a 50 percent decline in the number of students who scored over 750 in their SATs. If the number of students who scored over 750 in their SATs dropped at the same rate in the period from 1994 to 2008 as they did in the period 1972 to 1994, Sam belongs to a cohort of around 900 students. If we factor in percentages out of a total population that has increased from 270 to 360 million, the size of the cohort is thrown into even greater relief. If we factor in the fact that the test is dumbed down to save the appearances, the numbers become more dramatic still.
SAT is a three-letter word meaning destiny. The score you attain in this test assigns you to your place in the American meritocracy. The people who score well at that test are invited to attend the most prestigious school in the countries. After they graduate they used to get first crack at the best jobs. Now they get first crack at the best graduate schools which lead to the most prestigious, best-paying jobs. And yet, even at this late date, long after the SATs have become an integral part of America life and a rite of passage for generations of Americans, no one is quite sure what answering word-association, parlor game questions like “flatulent is to bipolar as quixotic is to a) happy, b) sad, c) none of the above, d) all of the above” measures, other than the ability to take this test. And yet “the big test” based on answers to questions like the above has determined how destiny has been meted out for generations of Americans now and, judging from the letters from Harvard and Yale, will continue to be so into the indefinite future.
In the upside down world of higher education in America, actual achievement finishes a distant second to test-derived potential. So the fact that Sarah has actually distinguished herself in the eyes of the classics department at Indiana University by her skill in reading and writing ancient Greek means little to nothing when compared with Sam’s skill at deciphering word association games of the sort that got played in the parlors of Chestnut Hill or the Main Line from, say, 1925 to 1945. The WASP graduates of places like Groton and Yale and Harvard who designed our national intelligence test admired folks who used big words. The best example of someone who epitomized that model of intelligence was Yale graduate William F. Buckley, who regularly astounded a nation of SAT takers by his quixotic polysyllabicality. Buckley’s TV show, Firing Line, went on the air around the same time that the babyboomer cohort was starting to prepare for the big test. Buckley succeeded ‘50s paradigm Charles Van Doren of The $64,000 Question as the model of an intelligent person largely because of his use of the kind of words that would end up in the verbal section of the SATs. But since Buckley came neither from a public school nor from the Midwest, he was not typical of the type of student Yale and Harvard sought during the period following World War II. If you delve into the history of the SAT, you soon realize that it was created with people like me and my children in mind.
As the system stands now, the people with the highest SAT scores get to attend the nation’s top universities for free. Those with scores lower down on the scale get to go to universities like Notre Dame, where they learn to be the accountants and spies for the elites. For this dubious privilege, they must pay between $40,000 and $50,000 per year, a figure which few families can afford. This means crushing debt for a graduate who is armed with a degree which will allow him to compete for the third and fourth tier positions in the American meritocratic empire.
We have been asked to dedicate our lives to a system that no one, until very recently, has ever explained, and that is so for good reason, because if the system were explained clearly no one would support it.
But the system is now showing signs of strain. The decision at Harvard and Yale to change the way they charge for their degrees is a sign that money is now the main factor in higher education, and that many families were, reluctantly or not, willing to forego an education at a top-ranked school because the economics of the deal no longer made any sense. The student loans that were introduced in the early 1970s under radically different circumstances (a $5,000 government loan at 2 percent, instead of $100,000 at the credit card rates the banks are charging) allowed colleges and universities to raise their prices with no regard to the diminishing returns that college degrees were conferring. Faculties at state universities emulated their betters at elite universities by avoiding teaching and concentrating on research which became more and more controlled by grants, necessitating the hiring of more faculty, which (even at the coolie wages that an army of adjuncts earns) drove prices up even further.
At a certain point, education made no sense anymore. Harvard’s financial aid is one indication of that. Brooklyn Existentialism is another. Brooklyn Existentialism is a protest against the current intellectual state of affairs written from the other end of the educational spectrum, which is to say from two professors who have spent their lives teaching at a small, regional Catholic college in Brooklyn and in the public educational system of New York. Nino Langiulli was born in Brooklyn on October 9, 1932. He spent most of his life teaching at St. Francis College in Brooklyn but all of his life as part of the American education machine. Arthur DiClementi, his coathor, was Langiulli’s student, and like his mentor, DiClementi has spent his entire life within the American education machine, first as a math teacher in the New York public school system and then following Langiulli’s footsteps, a professor at St. Francis College. The careers of Langiulli and DiClementi paralleled that of John Taylor Gatto, another Italian immigrant three years Langiulli’s junior who was also involved in education in New York City, an occupation Gatto describes as spending his life “as a technician in the human rat cage we call public education.”
Unlike Gatto’s Undeground History of American Education, Brooklyn Existentialism is not so much an expose of bad policies as a vade mecum for students who need an antidote to the bad ideas they will contract during their four over-priced years in college. In over a half-century spent in front of students, Langiulli and DiClementi have witnessed what they describe as “The long march of radical democratization and the accompanying decline of manners in speech, courtesy, in behavior, and propriety in dress … together with the rise of vulgarity has led the seduced to imagine themselves as independent and unique.” The main bad idea the authors confront is the primacy of knowing over being that has dethroned ontology or metaphysics and put epistemology, a dwarf in a king’s robes, in its place. Cut off from being, students wander through an intellectual world that is nothing more than a hall of mirrors. Constantly told that whatever they have to say is an opinion, the students succumb to sullen withdrawal when they realize that ultimately power is the ultimate criterion of which opinions matter. All opinions, like the pigs in Animal Farm, are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Existentialism, as Langiulli and DiClementi use the term, should not be confused with the school of nihilism advanced in France after World War II by people like Sartre and Camus, and popularized in the cafes of Greenwich Village. Just as Greenwich Village is the polar opposite of Brooklyn, so Langiulli and DiClementi’s existentialism is the opposite of Sartre’s. Theirs affirms the primacy of being over thought, whereas Sartre’s uses existence as a way to attack the notion of essence. Being, according to Langiulli and DiClementi, is above all else rooted, which means being rooted in a particular place, hence the Brooklyn part of the title. But that’s not all of it. Brooklyn, by which we mean ethnic Brooklyn from, let’s say, 1890 to 1990, especially the years of its flowering in the decades around World War II, had a specific content because the largely Italian and Jewish ethnics who came from Southern and Eastern Europe to settle there in those years did not cease to be who they were when they left Ellis Island. They carried with them the household gods of Sicily and Calabria, which could trace their lineage back to the cradle of classical civilization. What Langiulli and DiClementi call Brooklyn Existentialism is both particular and universal in the same way that ancient Athens was when Socrates, Plato and Aristotle lived there.
Brooklyn Existentialism bespeaks their effort “to restore the practical and theoretical wisdom of the Hebrews, Greeks and Romans as synthesized in Christianity” in a way that could be called Brooklynesque, which is to say by treating “the ruling bad ideas with dismissive ridicule,” by affirming “the combination of street wisdom and traditional thought,” and by defending morality without being moralistic. As such, Brooklyn Existentialism is the mortal enemy of fads like “multiculturalism” and other “contemporary expressions of social studies [which] do no more than cut students off from Western civilization’s tradition rooted in ancient Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Judeo-Christian morality. Cut off from this tradition, students are set adrift on a sea of cultural relativism—a worldview that encourages them to satisfy their immediate desires and explore their narrow interests while dismissing the development of character, responsibility, and intelligence.” Brooklyn Existentialism is necessary because over the past 20 years academe in America has become increasingly hostile to every expression of anything resembling ontological stability or transcendence. Everything is a man-confected opinion. In proposing Brooklyn Existentialism as the antidote to our educational and intellectual malaise, Langiulli and DiClementi deconstruct the deconstructors, exposing the innate ontological contradictions in statements like “we can’t be sure of anything,” and its more sophisticated variants. For over 50 years in the classroom, both men have seen how the American educational elite “when confronted with critical common sense realism and with sound arguments is unable to defeat, banishes its adversaries, nay foes, to an historical reliquary that is beyond the pale of legitimate debate.” Having been assigned their place in the vast machine known as education, Langiulli and DiClementi demur, opining “We just don’t know our place!”
That the WASP ruling class had a place assigned for Italian immigrants like Langiulli and DiClementi is a matter of the historical record.
Four years after the stock market crash of 1929, and 14 years after the conclusion of America’s first war on European soil, a war which most Americans considered catastrophic for America, the esteem with which the nation held the WASP ruling class had plummeted to an all-time low. Instead of seeing them as a class of vigorous sportsmen like Teddy Roosevelt, the vast majority of Americans saw the WASP elite as fat cats in striped pants continuing to prosper financially at the same time that millions of Americans had been plunged into grinding poverty. With this in mind the Harvard overseers decided that it was time for a change at the helm of the nation’s most prestigious university. No one at that time could conceive of looking beyond the WASP gene pool for a candidate, but in choosing James Conant Bryant as Harvard’s new president, the Harvard board of overseers made a break with tradition by choosing a scientist instead of a man of letters. Bryant was a chemist who had earned his spurs during World War I by experimenting with poison gas. Now he was going to reform Harvard by applying the same scientific principles to the nation’s teenagers. One of the things that troubled Conant most was the caliber of student at Harvard, where the overwhelming majority of students were drawn from WASP academies like Groton, founded by Endicott Peabody, the scion of Puritan Boston who spent time in England as a youth and came back with the idea of recreating the world of Tom Brown’s School Days on American soil. The graduates of Groton and all of its imitators learned that sports were just as, if not more, important than academic subjects in creating that WASP ideal known as “character.”
But Conant, having been influenced by the promise of scientific testing, was more interested in “intelligence,” which as of the early decades of the 20th century was seen as an inherent, immutable, biologically conditioned attribute of the brain. The Frenchman Binet had come up with an instrument to measure the new je ne sais quoi, and it became known as the IQ test.
Shortly after taking over as president of Harvard, Conant called a dean by the name of Henry Chauncey into his office and told him he wanted to create a new kind of scholarship at Harvard. This scholarship “would be an honor based solely on academic promise” (Nicholas Lemann, The Big Test, p. 28). Conant was a radical in the mold of Thomas Jefferson, whose letter on a “natural aristocracy,” he quoted repeatedly throughout his career as one of America’s most influential educators at a time when fundamental changes were afoot in America’s educational system. In his letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote, “I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. . . . May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?” Given that fact, Jefferson and Adams were faced with a challenge. How could they guarantee that “Worth and genius would [be] sought out from every condition of life, and completely prepared by education for defeating the competition of wealth and birth for public trusts”? The answer to that question, to use Jefferson’s words, was “raking geniuses from the rubbish,” educating them at public expense, and then installing them in positions of influence in the halls of power. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson proposed that “twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually and be instructed at the public expense.” The irony here, of course, is that Jefferson’s dream has been fulfilled not at leveling state universities of the sort he founded in the University of Virginia, but at elite bastions of privilege like Harvard and Yale.
Jefferson wanted to create a natural elite, but the only way to square that circle was to ensure that it was based not on inherited privilege but on something God-given or “natural” like intelligence. According to Lemann, “The new elite’s essential quality . . . would be brains.”
At this point another question insinuates itself, namely, how do you rake the geniuses from the rubbish? Jefferson had no answer to that question, and it was not until the WASP ruling class had lost its faith in Christ and replaced it with an even more fervent faith in scientific testing that they felt emboldened enough to come up with their own answer: “Science … offered in mental testing a way of selecting the country’s deserving new leaders. The SAT, in other words, would finally make possible the creation of a natural aristocracy.”
Unfortunately, by the time James Bryant Conant had his epiphany about creating the “natural aristocracy” at Harvard, the people who had created the tests that would enable Conant to “rake through the rubbish” were having their doubts. Carl Brigham, author of A Study of American Intelligence, was one of the creators of the standardized test, as well as fervent devotee of the eugenics movement. During the 1920s, the eugenics movement and the movement for standardized testing were two sides of the same coin. People like Brigham and his friend Madison Grant feared that the wave of southern and eastern European immigration which swept over American from 1880 until 1920 was bringing about a dilution of the “native stocks” and a consequent reduction in intelligence. Proof of this could be found in the results of the IQ tests which Brigham, working under the direction of primatologist Robert Yerkes, administered to the army during World War I. Like Grant, his mentor in racial matters, Brigham believed that Europe was made up of three distinct white races, the Nordic, the Alpine, and the Mediterranean “in descending order of intelligence.” When Brigham administered his IQ test to the army, he found, mirabile dictu, that the intelligence results tracked perfectly with racial, national, and class characteristics:
On the Army IQ tests, Nordics scored higher than Alpines, who scored higher than Mediterraneans. The test results were like a photograph of American culture, so faithfully did they reproduce the social order. Officers scored higher than enlisted men, the native born scored higher than the foreign born . . . and whites scored higher than Negroes. There were ironclad natural laws at work here, Brigham felt , and he warned that wishful thinkers who pretended otherwise were deluding themselves—writing for example: “Our figures, then, would rather tend to disprove the popular belief that the Jew is highly intelligent.” Brigham’s stern conclusion was this: “American intelligence is declining, and will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial admixture becomes more and more extensive. . . . these are the plain, if somewhat ugly, facts that our study shows” (Lemann, p. 30).
If we read between the lines here, it becomes clear that the IQ test provided a perfect mirror of the social order in America. This “fact,” of course, was open to more than one interpretation. It might be seen as proof that America had the perfect social order, in which each man found the niche that perfectly suited his natural gifts. But it could be also taken to show that what the test tested was familiarity with the mores and vocabulary of the ruling-class elite who designed the tests. If that were the case, it would come as no surprise that those who were raised in that environment and most familiar with its vocabulary would score highest in standardized tests of this sort. The IQ test, it turns out, was not a test of “intelligence” or innate ability but rather familiarity with the world of the people who designed the test. If it tested for anything, it was probably conversation at the dinner table. If the conversation at your dinner table was similar to the conversation at Carl Brigham’s, your child would do well on the test. If you did not have dinner table conversation because your mother was off working somewhere, you probably would not do well on the test.
Eventually, Brigham came to the latter conclusion. In 1930 he stood up at a eugenics conference and issued a formal recantation of just about all of the fundamental beliefs of intelligence testing. At another point in the same year, he published a formal retraction of his most famous book, A Study of American Intelligence, calling it an exercise in “psycho-phrenology,” “pretentious,” and “without foundation. According to Brigham’s new view, the scores that derived from the standardized IQ test “very definitely are a composite including schooling, family background, familiarity with English, and everything else, relevant and irrelevant.” What they did not track was the Fata Morgana known as “native intelligence.” In fact, if anything, the results of his years of involvement in standardized testing proved to Carl Brigham that “The ‘native intelligence’ hypothesis is dead.”
It was at precisely this moment of maximal disillusionment when Henry Chauncey showed up at Carl Brigham’s door in Princeton University. In typically American fashion, Chauncey decided that what Brigham thought about his own test didn’t matter. And so, once again, an American institution was erected over a non-existent intellectual foundation. In order to get into Harvard in the era before the SAT, students had to take a week-long battery of essay tests, tests which showed how well the student could write, his ability to organize material, and gave a fair amount of insight into just what he knew. Essay tests were what the profession called “achievement” tests. They indicated how proficient a student was at a certain skill. State drivers license exams and fiddle contests are achievement tests. Unfortunately, given the grand schemes of the nascent testing industry, the essay exam was a labor intensive operation. It took a long time to grade, and it had to be graded by someone who was himself fairly proficient at the skill he was grading, which meant that there was a relatively small pool of graders that the testers could draw from. Grading essay exams was also “subjective,” one of the worst cusswords in the scientific testing crowd’s lexicon. Worst of all, the essay exam, as the basis for the original “College Boards,” was deemed insufficiently scientific. Moreover, it couldn’t be graded by machines, which meant that it could not be administered to millions of students at a shot and evaluated a short time later. The essay test was also inextricably bound up with content and skills. Ultimately Conant found it unacceptable because it didn’t measure “aptitude” or “intelligence,” the naked Ding an sich, which was the irreducible essence of the natural aristocrat.
In their quest for the philosopher’s stone, Conant and Chauncey ignored Brigham’s misgivings and decided to overlook the test’s shortcomings and focus instead on the fact that someone had invented a machine that could read the electrical charge on a graphite mark on a test sheet. Ignoring the warnings of the test’s inventor, Henry Chauncey announced that he now had a test that gave an accurate account of “native intelligence” which could now be administered to millions of Americans simultaneously and graded in a matter of days. The results of that test would create a national personnel pool that could be put to use rationally and effectively. The SAT was created by Harvard to find bright children in the Midwest. Those boys were to be whisked away to places like Harvard to become the administrators of the American empire. The SAT test was an IQ test of “ability” which ranked the entire nation on one numeric scale. According to Lemann, “Standardized educational tests created a ranking of Americans, one by one, from top to bottom on a single measure.” Once the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey made this claim,
intelligence tests were huckstered in school district after school district; fortunes accrued to well-placed pedagogical leaders and their political allies. Every child would now be given a magical number ranking it scientifically in the great race of life. School grades might vary according to the whim of teachers, but IQ scores were unvarying, an emotionless badge of biological honor or shame, marking innate, almost unchanging ability.
James Conant could have chosen achievement tests as the criterion of admission to Harvard, but he was totally committed to the idea of an aptitude test, an IQ test, because it corresponded so perfectly with the idea of the “natural aristocracy” he had appropriated from Jefferson. Conant was part of a generation who felt that they had placed their hands on the throat of the thing itself#8212;nature, reality, whatever you wanted to call it#8212;and that that thing itself was nothing more than little balls bumping into each other a various rates of speed. The SAT, according to this view, measured the rpms of the intellectual machine that was otherwise known as the brain. To say anything else—to say that intelligence was another word for acquired skills—was to betray the high calling of science, and Conant was not going to do that, not even if Brigham had exposed the inadequacy of his own test.
Brigham was also against granting any organization proprietary rights to a test that was this politically important, because he correctly foresaw that “Any organization that owned the rights to a particular test would inevitably become more interested in promoting it than in honestly researching its effectiveness.” Once any test became this powerful, it would have a deforming effect on school curricula across the country, which would abandon traditional disciplines in favor of tutoring for the test. That meant, in Brigham’s words, “that English will be taught for reading alone, and that practice and drill in the writing of English will disappear.”
Rather than take Brigham’s misgivings to heart and attempt to come up with a test that answered his objections, Conant and Chauncey chose to ignore the messenger who bore the bad news. This became easier to do on January 24, 1943, when Carl Brigham died at the age of 52. In ignoring Brigham’s warnings, Conant was, in a certain sense, only responding to the needs of the classes that made him head of Harvard in the first place. The WASP ruling class learned that production on a massive scale, not superior weapons or tactics, were what brought about the defeat of fascism in World War II, and now it looked as if the same thing were going to be true of the Cold War as well. Consolidation, large economies of scale, corporate socialism—turning America into the mirror image of the Soviet Union it purported to oppose, this was the only way America could triumph in the Cold War, especially after the disappointment engendered by Sputnik. And so Conant became a devoted proponent of both the consolidated high school and the standardized test. The net result of introducing these innovations into educational life in America was, according to Gatto, “the destruction of small-town, small-government America, strong families, individual liberties, and a lot of other things people weren’t aware they were trading for a regular corporate paycheck.” Local independence in educational matters was something that the United States could no longer afford, not if it wanted to defeat the Soviet Union in the Cold War. After the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, Conant announced “that it was the small size of our schools causing the problem.” The combination of standardized testing and school consolidation that Conant was proposing as the solution to that problem meant that authority was taken away from actual teachers standing in front of students from a local community and was invested in experts far away, “educational scientists” who would determine what got taught according to the interests of those who qualified as “scientific,” meaning professional organizations like the NEA and the personnel needs of burgeoning empire and not the local community. Conant had always considered the neighborhood context of most American schools as one of the main obstacles to the effective centralization of educational management. Consolidation was the wave of the future, and “Clearly,” he wrote, ‘the total process is irreversible.”
“Reading Conant,” Gatto tells us, “is like overhearing a private conversation not meant for you yet fraught with the greatest personal significance” (p. 322). One of those moments occurs in Conant’s 1949 book The Child, The Parent and the State, when he informs us that the transformation of America’s schools had been ordered by “certain industrialists and the innovative who were altering the nature of the industrial process.”
In spite of the misgivings of the man who created the test, the test went forward. In spite of Brigham’s fears that ownership of the test would lead to suppression of any evidence of its shortcomings, a corporation was founded with proprietary rights over the test that would determine the destiny of Americans for generations to come. On January 1, 1948, Henry Chauncey launched Educational Testing Services at Princeton, former home of the late Carl Brigham. Lemann sees the founding of ETS as “one of the periodic high points of faith in the power of reason”:
Expertise and logic were taken to be almost limitlessly fruitful. The first computer had just been unveiled. The new United Nations would end war. The disease that had crippled the privileged President Roosevelt was on the verge of being eliminated as a threat to even the poorest of the poor. No problem, no source of woe, no unsolved mystery, seemed immune to the miraculous good effects of human intervention through technology and organization (Lemann, p. 67).
Henry Chauncey, the man who would measure your mind, felt that humanity had “arrived at the period in Man’s history when human affairs can be studied as impartially and scientifically as physical phenomena.” ETS was going to do to the mind what the Manhattan Project had done to the atom. ETS was going to “decode the mind,” so that man could “map and code the personality.” Once the mind had been decoded, “Rational understanding would replace prejudice, hatred, emotion, and superstition. Human nature itself would be reformed.” Scientific testing would then serve as a substitute for religion, which “could never be fully effective in improving society because it was not scientific.” It is no coincidence that Henry Chauncey was the scion of Puritan ministers who came to America to create “a city on a hill,” their term for heaven on earth. Henry Chauncey was finally going to succeed where his forebears had failed because, as he put it, “the social sciences are at last freeing themselves from the bondage in which they have been held by ethics, religion, prejudices, value judgements.” ETS and its standardized tests were going to ensure that “the anarchy that presently exists to the confusion and unhappiness of most people would be replaced by a sense of order.” As the head of ETS, Chauncey had become the high priest of the new American religion of compulsory education: “What I hope to see established is the moral equivalent of religion but based on reason and science rather than on sentiments and tradition.”
In order to implement his bold new plan, Conant had to confront other daunting challenges as well. The first and most significant was the decentralized nature of American public education. In order to rake through the rubbish, Conant had to troll through students scattered among 15,000 local school boards across the country, each of which had its own standards of what was important. Secondly, Conant had to confront the precipitous decline in intellectual standards that took place in American public schools during the period beginning in the ‘30s.
The SATs had become necessary for elite universities like Harvard because during Conant’s tenure there, public high schools had become less and less reliable as educational institutions. The Second World War had, as WWI had a generation earlier, granted the psychometricians another opportunity to measure the American mind, but what they discovered when they did proved to be unsettling. During the ten-year period between 1941 and 1951, when expediture in public education was on the rise, literacy in the draft pool dropped from 96 to 81 percent (By 1970 it would drop to 73 percent.) in spite of the fact that America was spending four times as much money in real dollars on education than it had when World War II encouraged more government funding of education. The ominous trend that emerged during the testing of GI’s during the forties, quickly became a rule of thumb. The more money the nation spent on public education, the fewer the people who learned how to read. Murray and Herrnstein, the authors of The Bell Curve, claimed that “black illiteracy (and violence) [were] genetically programmed,” but this failed to explain the concomitant (if less dramatic) rise in white illiteracy over the same period of time. Gatto, however, traces the decline to another source: “During WWII, American public schools massively converted to nonphonetic ways of teaching reading.” Blacks were more affected than whites by this change because they had the lowest cultural reserves of any group in the nation. Blacks, Gatto tells us, “were helpless when teachers suddenly stopped teaching children to read, since they had no fallback position. Not helpless because of genetic inferiority but because they had to trust school authorities to a much greater extent than white people” (Gatto, p. 54). Black illiteracy then led to Black rage:
80 percent of the incarcerated violent criminal population is illiterate or nearly so (and 67 percent of all criminals locked up). There seems to be a direct connection between the humiliation poor readers experience and the life of angry criminals.
The schools had become unreliable because they were in the business of control not education. Before long it had become apparent that public schools didn’t teach children how to read and write; they taught them how to be docile cogs in a big machine. America’s schools had been re-engineered in the late 19th early 20th century by the captains of industry, and the test results showed that the chickens were coming home to roost:
In the first decades of the 20th century, a small group of soon-to-be famous academics symbolically led by John Dewey and Edward Thorndike of Columbia Teachers College, Ellwood P. Cubberly of Stanford, G. Stanley Hall of Clark, and an ambitious handful of others, energized and financed by major corporate and financial allies like Morgan, Astor, Whitney, Carnegie and Rockefeller, decided to bend government schooling to the service of business and the political state—as it had been done a century before in Prussia. (Gatto, p. 44).
1) obedient soldiers to the army; 2) obedient workers for mines factories and farms; 3) well-subordinated civil servants, trained in their function; 4) well-subordinated clerks for industry; 5) citizens who thought alike on most issues; 6) [and exhibited] national uniformity in thought, word and deed.
This sort of strip-mining of local, ethnic, and lower class human resources, however, was programmed into the new industrialized American educational system from its inception. In exchange for the few geniuses that got to go to Harvard and Yale, America’s lower classes and despised ethnic groups had to accept the fact that the overwhelming numbers of their groups were consigned to America’s public schools, where social control and not literacy or independent thinking was the purpose of the curriculum. As early as the mid-19th century, following the great waves of German and Irish immigration, public education was portrayed by people like Horace Mann as the most effective way of socially engineering the children of the Catholic immigration:
Protestant denominations in Massachusetts . . .had been seduced into believing school was a necessary insurance policy to deal with incoming waves of Catholic immigration from Ireland and Germany, the cheap labor army which as early as 1830 had been talked about in business circles and eagerly anticipated as an answer to America’s production problems (Gatto, p. 143).
After the labor unrest of the 1890s, America’s industrial leaders decided to retool America’s educational system and change it from local schools under local control into quasi-factories whose purpose was the successful (from their point of view) mobilization of human resources. In response to the threat a mobilized Catholic ethnic labor force posed, schools changed dramatically, as did science, and social services, which rose to meet the same challenge: “Between 1890 and 1920 the percentage of our population adjudged ‘feeble-minded’ and condemned to institutional confinement more than doubled.”
James Bryant Conant was one of the architects of that change. He carried the principles of industrialization—standardization, consolidation, economies of scale, scientific management-- which Henry Ford and Frederick Winslow Taylor pioneered in the nation’s factories at the turn of the 20th century and brought them into the nation’s schools. Schools got the way they were at the start of the 20th century as part of a vast, intensely engineered social revolution in which all major institutions were overhauled to work in harmonious managerial efficiency. One of the seminal texts that provided the blueprint for that overhaul was Principles of Scientific Management, written by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911. Taylor became famous among Irish immigrants by inventing a shovel that doubled each load and the soreness of their backs at the end of a long day of work at places like Philadelphia’s Midvale steel plant. Taylor got his first taste of “scientific management” of human resources when his parents shipped him off to spend the years from 1869 to 1872 at one of Germany’s elite Prussian boarding schools. “Scientific management or Taylorism,” Gatto tells us, was designed to make the worker “an interchangeable part of an interchangeable machine making interchangeable parts” in four easy steps: a mechanically controlled work pace; 2) the repetition of simple motions; 3) Tools and technique selected for the worker; 4)Only superficial attention is asked from the worker, just enough to keep up with the moving line (Gatto, p. 173).
Eventually, Taylor’s principles came full circle by traveling from Prussian schools to American factories and then from American factories to American public schools. From there they spread to the Soviet Union, where they were endorsed by Lenin in an article which appeared in Izvestia in April 1918. In each instance, Taylorism or Fordism, as the Soviets called it, was seen as the most effective way of mobilizing the work force in the interests of state and empire. “The war taught us,” Lenin wrote, “that those who have the best technology, organization, discipline and the best machines emerge on top. . . . It is necessary to master the highest technology or be crushed.”
During the summer of 1911, around the same time that Taylor’s magnum opus on scientific management appeared, the drumbeat urging that its principles be transposed from the factory to the school began to be heard in journals like The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal.
The Taylorization of America’s Schools and the Eugenics Movement were two sides of the same coin. Both were conceived as ways of keeping native American stock from being polluted by the waves of largely Catholic immigrants arriving by the boatload to provide captains of industry like Carnegie and Rockefeller with cheap labor. Once academe succumbed to the theories of Darwin and Galton, it was only a matter of time before the schools followed suit. The eugenics movement was the Darwinian response to the waves of immigration which the captains of industry brought to America in the years between 1880 and 1920. Fearing the social unrest that the largely Catholic immigrant population posed, the wealthiest capitalist families along with the tax-exempt foundations they controlled re-structured education from a local institution that taught literacy at minimal expense to a national network whose goal was control of the masses. Public education was applied Darwinism.
In the state of Indiana that meant taking a course at Indiana University taught by university President David Starr Jordan, a eugenicist who hand-picked the students to this course to ensure that only the best stock got taught the how and why of producing a new evolutionary ruling class. The state of Indiana also gave us the famous Supreme Court sterilization course, Buck v. Bell, in which chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes opined “three generations of imbeciles is enough” in giving his approval to the forced sterilization of Carrie Buck of Indiana. According to Gatto, “The German name for forced sterilization was ‘the Indiana Procedure,’” some indication that the elites of the state of Indiana, ensconced at state institutions like Indiana University, had declared war on their own people. If anything, the situation was worse at place like Yale, where
Old-line Calvinism converted its theological elements into scientific truth, supported mathematically by the new Galtonian discipline of statistics. Yale was the most important common center for the reemergence of old-time Puritan religion, now thoroughly disguised behind the language of research methodology.
In his 1909 book, The Family and the Nation, Yale psychologist Arnold L. Gesell contributed to Carrie Buck’s forced sterilization by urging state authorities to “prevent renewal of defective protoplasm contaminating the stream of life” through “eugenic violence” in dealing with inferiors (Gatto, p. 203).
Besides destroying lesser breeds (as they were routinely called) by abortion, sterilization, adoption, celibacy, two-job family separation, low-wage rates to dull the zest for life, and, above all, schooling to dull the mind and debase the character, other methods were clinically discussed in journals, including a childlessness which could be induced through easy access to pornography.
Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? . . . To this I answer in one word, from Experience; in that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself.
Taking his cue from the same source, John B. Watson wrote in 1930: “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, his penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”
Flush with Rockefeller money, the General Education Board of the Rockefeller Foundation established goals for the nation’s public schools, goals which indicated that 1) there is a clear intention to reduce mass critical intelligence while supporting infinite specialization, 2) there is a clear intention to weaken parental influence, 3) there is a clear intention to overthrow accepted custom
In 1954, one year after James Conant had retired from his position as president of Harvard University, Carroll Reece, Congressman from Tennessee, opened hearings on the effect of tax-exempt foundations on American Life. Reece devoted much of his attention to Alfred Kinsey’s use of Rockefeller money to undermine the sexual morals of their fellow Americans, but he was handicapped by lack of inside knowledge about the extent of Kinsey’s efforts largely because of the propaganda barrage the surrounded the publication of the Kinsey reports. Kinsey’s studies were largely a front for his homosexual obsessions, but the media insisted on portraying him as a “straight arrow” from Indiana, perhaps because every reporter who wrote about Kinsey had to give the professor his sexual history, which could be later used as blackmail if the reporter decided to write something unflattering.
The effect that Rockefeller money had had on education was easier to discern important attacks on family integrity, national identification, religious rights and national sovereignty, and Reece spent a large amount of the hearings denouncing “elements of thought control” and “invisible coercion.” In fact, “such a concentration of foundation power in the US operating in education and the social sciences, with a gigantic aggregate of capital and income . . . has come to exercise very extensive practical control over social science and education.” Foundation money, using “science” of the sort Kinsey promoted as its front, promoted “‘moral relativity’ to the detriment of our basic moral, religious, and governmental principles”; it also promoted “the concept of ‘social engineering,’” which is to say, the belief “that foundation-approved ‘social scientists’ alone are capable of guiding us into better ways of living, substituting synthetic principles for fundamental principles of action.” The foundations used their money and influence “ 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.” Man was a machine, and the Rockefellers could control that machine by controlling man’s behavior, according to the program prescribed by Watson and Skinner, as implemented by the nation’s public schools.
By the time my wife got hired as a teacher in Philadelphia’s public school system in the early ‘70s, Skinnerian behavior modification was the rule. The way to get Negro children to behave like human beings was to treat them like rats. M&Ms for every correct answer! But if that were the principle, why not a much more radical application. Why not Cocaine and electric shocks to the genitals? What tenet of Watsonian or Skinnerian behaviorism prohibited this sort of application of their principles? John Taylor Gatto had been teaching in New York for ten years by the time my wife showed up at the Mary McLeod Bethune school in North Philadelphia. During his tenure in New York, Gatto had seen Behaviorism flow
like poisoned syrup into every nook and cranny of the economy, into advertising, public relations, packaging, radio, press, television in its dramatic programming, news programming, and public affairs shows, into military training, “psychological” warfare, and intelligence operations, but while all this was going on, selected tendrils from the same behavior crusade snaked into the Federal Bureau of Education, state education departments, teacher training institutions, think tanks and foundations. . . . The prize: colonization of the young before they had an opportunity to develop resistance. The holy grail of market research.
Every child entering school at the age of five is mentally ill because he comes to school with certain allegiances to our founding fathers, toward our elected officials, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being, and toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It’s up to you as teachers to make all these sick children well—by creating the international child of the future.
Any system which does this much violence to human nature was bound to cause a reaction. Since the system was created for the social engineering of the immigrants who came to this country from Southern and Eastern Europe, it is not surprising that they would be in the forefront of the rebellion. Ethnic Brooklyn is where the rebellion first broke out. As the rest of the nation succumbed docilely to Rockefeller sponsored social engineering, Ethnic Brooklyn, i.e., the Brooklyn populated by Jews and Catholics during the great immigration wave lasting from 1880 to 1920, resisted in ways characteristic of those two American ethnic groups. The Italians were the first to react. When
Immigrant public schools in Manhattan began performing tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies in school without notifying parents. The New York Times (June 29, 1906) reported that “Frantic Italians”—many armed with stilletos—“stormed” three schools, attacking teachers and dragging children from the clutches of the true believers into who hands they had fallen.
When William A. Wirt attempted to implement his “work-study-play” school, otherwise known as “The Gary Plan,” (He had previously implemented his system among the children of steel workers’ children in Gary, Indiana.) in 1917, riots broke out in the Williamsburg and Brownsville sections of Brooklyn. Schools were stoned, police car tires slashed by demonstrators. Three Hundred students were arrested, most of them Jewish. Mayor Hylan denounced the Gary Plan as “a scheme” of the Rockefeller Foundation “by which Rockefellers and their allies hope to educate coming generations in the ‘doctrine of contentment,’” which the mayor considerd “another name for social serfdom.” Mayor Hylan denounced the plan and removed it from the city’s schools, explaining that “The real menace to our republic is this invisible government . . . . To depart from mere generalizations, let me say that at the head of this octopus are the Rockefeller Standard Oil interests.”
If phase one of Brooklyn’s resistance was launched by “frantic Italians,” Phase Two was launched by the Jews. If phase one was direct resisistance, phase two was subversion. In the early 1950s Stanley H. Kaplan, a graduate of City College of New York, who in spite of his good grades couldn’t get a job, set up a small tutoring operation in a modest building in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Kaplan capitalized on Jewish educational aspirations at a time when the SAT had firmly established itself as the official rite of passage for entry into the colleges that granted access to the top positions in the American meritocracy. The WASP ruling class under Henry Chauncey’s direction had created what it thought was an uncoachable test that measured pure mental ability. The Jew Kaplan was smart enough to see through WASP pretentions and come up with a system that guaranteed better test results. The system was so simple that it hardly qualifies as a system at all. In the days when the blueprint for building the atomic bomb was an open secret compared to the questions on the SAT test, Kaplan came up with a simple but ingenious way to subvert the system. After each class graduated from Kaplan’s school and took the test, he would invite them back to celebrate with hot dogs and root beer; admission to the party was gained by having each student tell Kaplan one question he remembered from taking the test. The net result of Kaplan’s parties was a list of the questions that his students would face when taking the SATs. If Kaplan tutored five classes of fifty students in one year, at the end of that year he had 250 questions. By the time Kaplan sold his test-prep business to the Washington Post company in the ‘70s, for $50 million he had over 30 years experience in gathering questions, which meant he could tell his students with increasing accuracy the answers to those questions as well. Jewish scores on the SATs rose accordingly, as did Jewish admission to the prestigious colleges that had established quotas to keep them out in the early 20th century. It is unlikely that people like Conant and Chauncey and Brigham considered Jews from Brooklyn the candidates most likely to fulfill Jefferson’s ideal of the natural aristocrat, but they were the main beneficiaries of the system that Chauncey and Conant put in place to rescue nature’s aristocrats from the rubbish that the SAT was raking through in the period following World War II. The WASP faith in “science,” based as it was on the idea of noblesse oblige they had learned at schools like Groton, proved no match for clever Jews from Brooklyn, who quickly filled the slots the WASPs had reserved for nature’s aristocrats in the meritocracy. Harvard University can now boast of a faculty and student body that is between 30 and 40 percent Jewish. The type of people that Carl Brigham thought his test would exclude, because they weren’t particularly intelligent, ending up using his test to take over America’s elite universities. Once that happened it was only a matter of time before they took over American culture as well, something that occurred in the mid-‘70s, just as opposition to the SATs was reaching a fever pitch. Perhaps the most visible Jew at Harvard is Alan Dershowitz, who grew up in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and is currently the world’s foremost apologist for Zionism, torture, and targeted assassination. Dershowitz was recently involved in a knock-down-drag-out fight with Norman Finklestein, another Jew from Borough Park, when he waged a nation-wide publicity campaign to deny Finkelstein tenure at DePaul University in Chicago.
Jewish subversion of the SATs continued throughout the ‘70s. Stanley Kaplan was a vocal supporter of standardized aptitude testing, insisting that it promoted democratic leveling of the sort that both Jefferson and Conant would have approved of. Perhaps because of that fact, his subversion of the assumptions of the test-makers was even more devastating to their scientific pretensions that those who challenged its intellectual assumptions. Kaplan “made the SAT look like a series of parlor tricks and word games, rather than a gleaming instrument of scientific measurement; and it presented the test as a pitiless determiner of individual worldly success or failure.”
As the ‘70s progressed the subversion continued, but because ETS refused to acknowledge what was going on, they played into the hands of Jews like Kaplan and his successor, the founder of Princeton Review, John Katzman. By refusing to acknowledge that people like Kaplan and Katzman could in fact raise test scores by their coaching, ETS unwittingly allowed a generation of cheaters into the meritocracy. This was most certainly not what Conant and Chauncey had in mind when they began promoting the test, but intention is no match for the cunning of reason or the cunning of history, which has its own laws that function according to ways high above human intention.
In 1977, David Halperin, a state senator from Brooklyn introduced the New York State truth-in-testing bill because, as “one of the striving Jewish boys tutored for the SAT by Stanley Kaplan,” he felt that it was unfair that he not only recognized many of the questions but also knew the answers to them when he took the SATs. Halperin’s solution was to make the questions public, something which happened when the bill he co-sponsored was passed by the New York legislature. In doing that, Halperin effectively kicked over the secret ladder that had been used to subvert the tests and insured that no one else who took the prep courses after 1977 would have the advantages that the Jews had had up until that time.
If one person symbolized the Hegelian synthesis of Jewish and Italian resistance to WASP Utopian educational schemes it was Mario Savio, hero of the 1964 Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. Savio was educated by the Christian Brothers in Queens, but his mind was formed by reading a slim book by a Jewish communist from Brooklyn. David Horowitz’s seminal New Left tract Student is what convinced Mario Savio to enroll at Berkeley in the first place. When Savio arrived at Berkeley, Clark Kerr, the chancellor of the University of California system was at the height of his power. Kerr was inaugurated as president of the University of California in 1958 one year after Sputnik at the height of the consolidation craze, with the two behemoths America and the Soviet Union locked in a titanic struggle for world dominance. Educators like Kerr and Conant were convinced that America’s universities were the key to winning that struggle. Kerr was also convinced that education had become “one of the principal means of vertical social mobility in the technical world.” Kerr was convinced that “universities today are at the vital center of society” and that they could give birth to “a new era in the history of mankind” by training “an elite of talent,” that would rule over “the new technological complex, highly organized society” which was America in the 20th century.
It was sentiments like this that landed Kerr on the cover of Time magazine, shortly after Governor Pat Brown signed “the master plan” for California’s universities on April 20, 1960. As Lemann points out, Time magazine, Lemann points out, considered the headline “Master Planner” “a great compliment at the time.” Kerr was a whole-hearted and sincere believer in the new democratic religion of education because he himself had been raked out the rubbish of Reading (Pennsylvania) High School and sent off to Swarthmore College (where he converted to Quakerism) solely on the basis of the score he had achieved in an IQ test the high school had administered.
When Mario Savio arrived at Berkeley, he realized that his generation, as well as the huge, up-and-coming babyboomer generation saw things differently. After spending the summer of 1964 working for the overthrow of the apartheid regime in Mississippi, Berkeley’s largely Jewish activists returned to put in practice the lessons they had learned down South. The children of Brooklyn were tired of social engineering masquerading as education, and responded dramatically when Savio took the podium on the steps of Sproul Hall and announced that:
There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels and upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you’ve got to make it stop.
Savio articulated the misgivings of the generation that had grown up as guinea pigs in a massive but unacknowledged experiment in education as social engineering. What was the point of educational opportunity, this generation began wondering out loud, if all that it provided was the possibility of becoming a meaningless cog in an evil machine? That question haunted the consciousness of the babyboomers and begot another protest movement when most of that cohort reached the age when their children began to attend school in significant numbers.
All of this brings us back to Langiulli and DiClementi’s claim that “We [i.e., America’s ethnics] just don’t know our place!” Just what is the place of the Catholic ethnic in American intellectual life? Just what is a Harvard education? As far as I can tell, it is a try-out, or better, a try-out for a try-out, a try-out for a life-long series of try-outs. After spending a lifetime peeling that onion, the Catholic ethnic learns that there is no kernel waiting for him at the end of his efforts. As WASP hero Bertrand Russell once said, it’s turtles all the way down.
When Adam was at Harvard, he got invited to lunch by a member of the Porcellian, the most pretigious club at Harvard, the Harvard equivalent of Yale’s Skull and Bones. During the course of lunch, Adam was asked what he thought of Charles Darwin, and as a result of his answer, lost his chance to become a member of the Porcellian club. Which brings up the question, “Just what are Catholic ethnics allowed to say?” Suppose you get into Harvard and you do well there? That allows you to go on to graduate school where your ideas will be more intensely vetted. If you succeed, there you may get a job at a university, in which case your ideas, will get vetted even more rigorously. At that point, you may write the book which will get you tenure. And once you have tenure, you will probably end up like Professor John McGreevey of Notre Dame, the man who did everything right, the man with the perfect career trajectory. McGreevey landed at Notre Dame as a result of his book Parish Boundaries, a book which made many good points, but in which McGreevey had to ultimately demonize his own people because of their failure to succumb graciously to the social engineering of their neighborhoods. In order to maintain that thesis, McGreevey had to suppress any curiosity he might have had about the role of Quakers in putting black residents in Catholic neighborhoods.
Then like the typical rock group of the ‘60s, McGreevey came out with a second album that bombed. Catholicism and American Freedom was a tendentious and hastily put together plea for Catholic assimilation in America. In this book, McGreevey mentioned the Rockefeller-sponsored secret conferences on contraception which took place at Notre Dame from 1963 to 1965 without mentioning the fact that the Rockefellers sponsored them, something that struck me as similar to doing a remake of King Kong without the ape. When I brought this omission to his attention at a gathering of the leading lights of the American Catholic Historical Society, McGreevey opined that he omitted the Rockefeller funding connection from his narrative because “it wasn’t important.” Important to whom? I suspect it was important to Professor McGreevey career, which is why it got omitted from his narrative. In fact, the only way that Professor McGreevey can maintain his thesis that assimilation is good for American Catholics is by omitting details of this sort. The most devastating moment at the meeting already mentioned was when the professor from Harvard that McGreevey invited to praise his book dismissed it condescendingly as a “deeply aspirational book.” So much for your aspirations, Professor McGreevey.
So don’t expect any more books from Professor McGreevey. As if in tacit admission that what Catholics are allowed to say in America isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit, Professor McGreevey cashed in his career chips at the Notre Dame casino and became a dean there during the 2007-2008 academic year. Dean’s offices, in case you didn’t know this, are where minds go to die.
But the short and abortive career of Professor McGreevey as a Catholic intellectual brings up the further question, “what is anyone allowed to say?” What is the tattered remnant of the WASP ruling class allowed to say? What are Harvard professors allowed to say? John McGreevey was a professor at Harvard before he cast his lot with Notre Dame, the Realschule where Catholic bean-counters and FBI agents get their marching orders. But he was a Catholic, you say? Well, what about Professors Walt and Mearsheimer, certified members of the academic establishment who teach at Harvard and the Rockefeller-endowed University of Chicago. What are they allowed to say? What about Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States? What is he allowed to say? What about Norman Finkelstein, the Jewish pariah? What is he allowed to say? The answer to that question is, “Anything that Alan Dershowitz finds acceptable.” The answer to all of the other questions is “Anything powerful Jews find acceptable.” But even that falls short by way of explanation because the American imperial juggernaut at this point in time is the closest thing the human mind has come to creating the perpetual motion machine. Jews most certainly are “masters of discourse,” as Israel Shamir claims, but the empire is a runaway locomotive with no one at the throttle. Think of public education for a moment. It is a juggernaut that has grown so big and powerful that no one is powerful enough to reform it. It has become a cancer in the American body politic and will only stop growing when the body nurturing it dies. This is John Taylor Gatto’s verdict. Nicholas Lemann, whose political and cultural views differ dramatically from Gatto’s shares a similar sort of fatalism when it comes to the SATs. Lemann tells us that by 1990, which is around the time Adam was being felt out by a representative of the Porcellian,
The SAT and the other ETS tests had worked their way deeply into the fabric not just of higher education but of the whole life of the American upper middle class, which was substantially oriented around trying to ensure that its children got high SAT scores and therefore berths in the better colleges. Stanley Kaplan and the Princeton Review and the other test-prep courses, which comprised a substantial industry, were only a part of it. Much of the curriculum in American elementary and secondary education had been reverse-engineered to raise SAT scores. Even first graders were being drilled on the art of answering multiple-choice reading comprehension questions. . . . If [SAT scores] dropped in a particular community, real-estate values would fall … the SAT had become a powerful totem. To the taker it was a scientific, numeric assignment of worth which, no matter how skeptical one tired to be about testing, lodged itself firmly in the mind never to be forgotten. It symbolized access to higher education at a time when higher education was becoming synonymous with opportunity, just as the founders of the American meritocracy had hoped it would.
Lemann’s solution is more of the same. More imperial supervision of the system that has already betrayed the trust of the nation’s citizens by offering them the stone of social engineering when they asked for the bread of literacy. Since “Decent schooling,” Lemann reasons, “is the absolute prerequisite to a decent life in America today. . . . It shouldn’t be left to local authorities to screw up, anymore than flight safety should” (p. 349). We are left to infer here that something this important needs federal authorities to screw it up. But Lemann continues blithely down the same path that has led to the problem in the first place: “To get more people through college, we shall have to establish greater national authority over education. High schools should prepare their students for college by teaching them a nationally agreed upon curriculum.” And who, pray tell, will determine the content of “a nationally agreed upon curriculum”? The question reminds us of the maxim of all vocations directors: “Reject the first ten people who apply.” Who, one is tempted to ask, would be willing to waste his time attempting to come up with a “nationally agreed upon curriculum” other than the villains which have created the mess it is supposed to remedy? Should Planned Parenthood have a say in designing it?
Will the “nationally agreed upon curriculum” contain instructions on how to put a condom over a banana? What about the NEA? Having input into something this utopian is probably the only thing that would tempt them to get their front hooves out of the feeding trough. And how will a “nationally agreed upon curriculum” deal with ethnic diversity? Will the Amish be forced to take courses in auto mechanics? The answer to that question is yes, because that is precisely what happened when James Bryant Conant orchestrated the last “nationally agreed upon curriculum,” otherwise known as school consolidation.
No, neo-Taylorism for the schools is an idea whose time has come and gone. What we need now is what might be called the Brooklyn Solution to our problems. We need fewer grandiose utopian schemes and more wisdom from the stoop explaining to us how all true culture is simultaneously universal and local and ethnic. We need more students at more places like St. Francis College in Brooklyn reading antidotes to bad ideas, like Brooklyn Existentialism. During America’s Civil War, Brooklyn’s soldiers had their own distinctive uniforms. It’s high time places like Brooklyn started wearing their own uniforms again. This is not a foreign idea. It corresponds to the original American conception of itself, before the WASP ruling class betrayed the ideal of its forebears and sold the rest of us—the progeny of cheap labor—down the river to build their empire. That empire, like the Roman Empire before it, is condemned to fall under the weight of its own wretched excess. The defeat of the forces of the neocon puppet Saakashvili in Georgia is a sign that the American-Israeli empire has reached its fullest extent and is now in the process of receding—or collapsing. Empires tend to dissolve quickly when they go.
Carroll Quigley, Bill Clinton’s teacher at Georgetown, foresaw this moment decades ago. “The fundamental, all-pervasive cause of world instability,” he told his students when they invited him back for one last lecture, “is the destruction of communities by the commercialization of all human relationships and the resulting neuroses and psychoses . . .” Drawing on his Catholic roots, Quigley saw hope because
Out of the Dark Age that followed the collapse of the Carolingian Empire came the most magnificent thing . . . the recognition that people can have a society without having a state.
What happened when Rome fell can happen again when the American Empire follows it into the dustbin of history. The ethnics will realize that they have no power to save the empire even if they wanted to, but they do have to power be true to each other and form communities that will help them weather the coming storms. From inside the heart of the establishment, a Catholic professor found his voice and had the courage to articulate the Brooklyn alternative, the one Benedict had articulated when the Roman empire collapse:
The final result is that the American people will ultimately ... opt out of the system. ... we are already copping out of military service on a wholesale basis; we are already copping out of voting on a large scale basis. ... People are also copping out by refusing to pay any attention to newspapers or what is going on in the world, and by increasing emphasis on the growth of localism, what is happening in their own neighborhoods. … When Rome fell, the Christian answer was, “Create our own communities.”
Is Sam Jones what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he advocated raking through the rubbish? Is he what James Bryant Conant had in mind when he asked Henry Chauncey to develop a test that would come with the talented midwesterners whom Conant wanted to bring to Harvard? As of this writing Sam Jones has no plans to pursue his education beyond graduation from high school in June 2009. He plans to pursue a career in dance.
E. Michael Jones is the editor of Culture Wars.
This review was published in the October 2008 issue of Culture Wars.
Brooklyn Existentialism: Voices from the Stoop explaining how Philosophical Realism can bring about the Restoration of Character, Intelligence and Taste by Arthur DiClementi and Nino Langiulli. Immortalized by Hollywood, Italian Brooklyn became an icon of American culture. But the culture was more than just an icon. The oxymoronic combination of uprootedness and ethnic solidarity in Brooklyn in the mid-20th century takes us not just back to Italy, not just back to Europe, but back to the sources of philosophical realism that made Italy, Europe, and America possible. Brooklyn Existentialism is ethnophilosophy with a vengeance: a take-no-prisoners attack on the bad ideas that corrupted the academy over the last century combined with an equally frank discussion of the moral mischief those bad ideas caused. Ethnophilosphy is not an oxymoron; it is the only philosophy worth doing. What were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle if not residents of an ethnic neighborhood, who became skeptical of the ruling ideas of their day and decided to do something about it by speaking out? DiClementi and Langiulli provide the same service today. List price: $28. Your price: $18 + S&H, Paperback. [When ordering for international shipment, the price will appear higher to offset increased shipping charges.] Read More Read Reviews
Niggas in Denial: Pimping the System and The System of Pimping by E. Michael Jones, is the story of Caroline Peoples, who is serving seven consecutive life sentences for murders she committed on the South Side of Chicago. Caroline is one of the monsters created in American ghettos - drug and alcohol abuser, thief, "dancer", prostitute, and murderer - but a human being too, who decided to tell the truth about life in the ghetto no matter what it cost her, a truth E. Michael Jones shares in this e-book. $2.99. Read More/Buy
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