Public Education as Social Engineering

Weapons of Mass Instruction

by John Taylor Gatto

New Society Publishers (2010)

Book Review

Free PDF: Weapons of Mass Instruction

This book is the culmination of decades of research into the history of universal compulsory education in the US. It confirms my long held intuitive sense that the primary purpose of public schools is to produce obedient and compliant factory workers. In Weapons of Mass Instruction, Gatto unequivocally establishes that public education was deliberately designed this way – mainly by Andrew Carnegie, John D Rockefeller, George Peabody, and other Wall Street oligarchs through their charitable foundations.

Gatto leaves absolutely no doubt that public schools go beyond suppressing the truth about slavery, Native American genocide, and US empire building. From the beginning, US educational planners have consciously engaged in social engineering that discourages resistance to authority and deliberately conditions American children to become compliant workers and consumers. According to Gatto, the primary tools used are continuous enforced boredom and punitive regimentation that prevents children from developing the  self-awareness necessary for maturation. The end result is a society where most people remain perpetual children.

He traces what he refers to as the “Prussianization”* of US education to the 1840s. He also identifies Darwin and his cousin Dalton (founder of modern eugenics) as having a major influence over US public schools.

Gatto quotes from Harvard education professor Alexander Inglis in his 1918 book Principles of Secondary Education, regarding the six specific functions schools must perform in facilitating “Social Darwinism,” ie weeding out inferior human beings from the national breeding stock:

  1. The Adaptive Function – establishing fixed habits of reaction to authority (thus precluding the development of critical judgement).
  2. The Integrating Function – conditioning to induce conformity.
  3. The Diagnostic and Directive Function – ascertaining a student’s ultimate social  status as an adult.
  4. The Differentiating Function – sorting children by social status and training them for their ultimate destination in society.
  5. The Selective Function – clearly tagging the unfit (with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments) to enable to their peers to recognize them as inferior and reject them as breeding partners.
  6. The Propaedeutic Function – training a small fraction of students to assume elite authority roles while deliberately dumbing down and “declawing” students of lower status.

Gatto also writes at length about the invention of the artificial concept of “adolescence” by Johns Hopkins behavioral psychologist G Stanley Hall in 1904. Educationalists would use Hall’s definition of adolescence (“dangerous irrational state of human growth”) to justify extending compulsory schooling (which prior to the Civil War ended at age 12) into the teen years.

Most of the book consists of historical vignettes about major innovators who dropped out of formal schooling. Among other examples Gatto gives are Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Melville, Twain, Conrad, Hitler, Lula, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and George Bernard Shaw.

* Prussia and Britain were the first countries to use universal compulsory education to suppress creativity, originality, self-awareness, and similar traits that tend to lessen compliance and obedience in factory workers. Owing to the role Prussian (Hessian) auxiliaries played in the Revolutionary War, Prussian customs and culture were greatly admired in early US society.

Reclaiming Our History


Plutocracy: Political Repression in the United States

Scott Noble (2015)

Film Review

As German philosopher Walter Benjamin famously stated, “History is written by the victors.” In the US, most history books are written by and for the corporate oligarchs who run our government. Plutocracy is the first documentary to comprehensively examine early American history from the perspective of the working class. Part II (Solidarity Forever) will cover the late 19th Century to the early twenties. The filmmaker is currently seeking donations to complete the project. If you’d like to help, you can donate to their Patreon account.

The film can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at Plutocracy

Plutocracy starts with Shay’s Rebellion in 1786, the insurrection of Massachusetts farmers against the courts and banks that were fleecing them of their meager wealth and property. Similar rebellions in Rhode Island and Virginia would cause leading US bankers, merchants and plantation owners to organize a secret convention to create a central government and standing army. Each of the 13 original states, which in 1787 were still independent and sovereign, sent delegates to Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.

Instead of revising the Articles, as authorized by their state legislatures, the delegates closed the meeting to the public and voted to replace them with a federal constitution. The latter substantially limited the freedom and power of state legislatures and ordinary Americans.

Plutocracy moves on to cover the massive Irish immigration of the mid-nineteenth century and the appalling squalor so-called “white Negroes” lived in. During the 19th century, 80% of babies born to Irish immigrants died in infancy.

The film touches only briefly on the Civil War, describing laws that enabled robber barons like John Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt to evade the Civil War draft by paying a poor person $300 to replace them.

It offers a detailed depiction of post-Civil War Reconstruction, which coincided with the 1871 Paris commune and saw blacks collaborating with poor whites to establish the South’s first public schools and hospitals. This was in addition to the election of numerous former slaves to judgeships and legislative positions.

Their eagerness to return Negroes to productive status on plantations led northern industrialists to pressure Congress to end Reconstruction by removing the federal troops protecting the rights of former slaves. It also led to their passive acceptance of unconstitutional Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan terrorism. The chief aim of both was to prevent poor backs and whites from associating with one another.

The federal troops withdrawn from the South were redeployed in genocidal campaigns against Native Americans and Mexicans. By the end of the 19th century, not only had Mexico ceded half their territory to the US (including California, Texas, Utah, Nevada and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Montana – in the 1984 Treaty of Guadalupe), but US corporations enjoyed de facto control of all land remaining under sovereign Mexican control.

Stripping the Native Americans and Mexicans of their land in the West, readied the US for the rise of the robber barons of industry (Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie and Vanderbilt) and a corrupt system of federal and local government run entirely by bribery and patronage.

The corruption and squalid living conditions of the late 19th century would give rise to militant trade unionism, socialism, anarchism and populism. Plutocracy depicts the Pullman and similar strikes in which strikers were brutally beaten and killed by Pinkerton’s Detectives and other goons hired by industrial bosses, as well as national guardsmen and, on several occasions, federal troops.

The film opens with a poignant depiction of the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in US history. It’s the largest armed uprising since the Civil War, involving 10,000 coal miners. Denise Giardini memorializes the Battle of Blair Mountain in her 1987 novel Storming Heaven.

*Rockefeller and Morgan had a relative monopoly on the banks, Carnegie on steel and Vanderbilt on the railroads.