Thursday, November 24, 2011

The President and the Teacher

The progressivist movement which attempted to take over America in the early 1900's had a number of leaders and heros. They shared a vision of a country which turned over power to a strong central government, taking rights and choices away from individual citizens, with the rationalization that the experts employed by the regime knew much more, and much better, than ordinary people - about everything from nutrition to foreign policy, from economics to road traffic. The best thing for the people to do was accept the wisdom of rulers, and not get in the way of the plans which the government wanted to implement. Historian Jonah Golberg explains:
The totalitarian flavor of such a worldview should be obvious. Unlike classical liberalism, which saw the government as a necessary evil, or simply a benign but voluntary social contract for free men to enter into willingly, the belief that the entire society was one organic whole left no room for those who did not want to behave, let alone "evolve." Your home, your private thoughts, everything was part of the organic body politic, which the state was charged with redeeming.
Among the leading progressivists we find a President, Woodrow Wilson, and a teacher, John Dewey. Not accidentally, the president was a former teacher who had been active in academic policy-making, and the teacher was involved in using federal policy to control childhood development in a comprehensive way. The progressivists saw childhood as golden opportunity to shape social and political attitudes before individuals reached an age at which they might begin to express a right to self-determination.
Hence a phalanx of progressive reformers saw the home as the front line in the war to transform men into compliant social organs. Often the answer was to get children out of the home as quickly as possible. An archipelago of agencies, commissions, and bureaus sprang up overnight to take the place of the anti-organic, contra-evolutionary influences of the family. The home could no longer be seen as an island, separate and sovereign from the rest of society. John Dewey helped create kindergartens in America for precisely this purpose - to shape the apples before they fell from the trees - while at the other end of the educational process stood reformers like Wilson, who summarized the progressive attitude perfectly when, as president of Princeton, he told an audience, "Our problem is not merely to help the students to adjust themselves to world life ... [but] to make them as unlike their fathers as we can."
The progressivist movement, then, started the educational process earlier, by adding kindergarten, and changed the purpose of universities from education to indoctrination. The goal in all of this was to ensure that citizens didn't not develop their own views, but rather accepted whatever the regime imposed.