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Close Your Eyes And Think Of Prussia

Stateside With Rosalea

Close Your Eyes And Think Of Prussia

By Rosalea Barker

I must say this past week has been very Austro-Hungarian. First, there was the T-shirt I saw someone wearing which featured a pastel drawing of Arnold Schwarzenegger's noggin looking euphorically skyward and the words "California Uber Alles".Then the Hungarian immigrant who was the cheerleader for fission and fusion as a way of dealing with fussin' and fightin' - Edward Teller - died.

You have to wonder about someone who said of a talk he heard from President Roosevelt: "And I had the irrational, strange, but powerful feelings that he was talking to me. That is when I made up my mind, and I have not changed it since." Are universities around the world still churning out theoretical physicists and researchers of similar ilk? The good doctor sounds like he was more in need of psychiatric counselling than research funds.

Teller lucked out and got his second wind in the eighties when Ronald Reagan became president. On the day the commander-in-chief was given a presentation about Teller's satellite-based strategic defence initiative, Reagan got so bored he fell asleep. Nudged awake at the end of the presentation by an aide, and asked if he thought the plan should go ahead, the President of the United States grunted, "Yeah, sure." in the manner of someone who didn't know a thing about the subject so was content to rely on anyone who had muscled their way into being considered the expert.

Let's hope Californians remember that before they decide not to bother voting on October 7. Schwarzenegger's sound bite of the week was to the effect that he didn't need to give details - "there's a whole warehouseful of details up in Sacramento" - what California needs is "leadership". He's gonna leave the details to the experts. What a sap! Or is he a cunning ploy by the Republicans to get even Democrats voting for the other major Republican, Tom McClintock, just to make doubly sure that on October 8 we don't wake up to the rise of the machines?

Someone who *has* woken up to the rise of the machines is John Taylor Gatto, with his fascinating article in September's Harper's Magazine about "how public education cripples our kids, and why." I saw Gatto speak several months ago at a seminar for people who homeschool their children, which is a circle in which he has quite a following. He was also seeking funding for a documentary film series called "The Fourth Purpose".

The gist of Gatto's message is that the whole of the US public education system is based on a theory that came out of Prussia and was much admired in the early years of the nineteenth century. Under that theory only a few elite get what might be called a classical education - being taught to think - while the public school system is used to teach the vast majority of people *not* to think, so they can be the producers and consumers of goods and services that sustain the fortunes of the elite.

Before you dismiss Gatto as faded-in-the-wool communist, you should know that one of the largest constituencies of the homeschooling movement is the religious right. It's not just that those parents think public schooling is immoral and doesn't impart proper values, they see it as not enabling their children how to learn to make discerning choices. The public school system is even more widely seen - not just by homeschoolers - as being boring and stultifying to minds eager to grow.

That, Gatto argues, isn't a failure on the part of the school system; it's the precise outcome the creators of the school system desired. In the Harper's article, he lists the six functions of the education system as set out in a 1918 book by Alexander Inglis - functions which combine to "wash the dirt down the drain" and ensure that "a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage the continuing project," Gatto says. Inglis's book inspired a revolution, according to the educator James Bryant Conant - president of Harvard for twenty years - in his 1959 essay "The Child the Parent and the State."

I'm sure none of Gatto's essay is news to the people here in the States who have managed to become independent thinkers despite the odds, but, frankly, what can you do about it? Maybe a film series will help. You can read more about this subject at

At the very least, if you're reading this in California, don't be one of the dregs washed down the drain - get out and vote. And think "Roosevelt-Teller-Reagan" before you do so. No, scratch that. Do your own thinking and then make up your own mind who to vote for! (If they're still in the race by the end of the week.)

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