Excerpt from Part 1 of The Mismeasure of Education:
Zealots for the Elimination of Waste
The educational significance of the results to be obtained from careful measurements of the intelligence of children can hardly be overestimated. Questions relating to the choice of studies, vocational guidance, schoolroom procedure, the grading of pupils, promotional schemes, the study of the retardation of children in the schools, juvenile delinquency, and the proper handling of subnormals on the one hand and gifted children on the other—all alike acquire new meaning and significance when viewed in the light of the measurement of intelligence as outlined in this volume . . . . More than all other forms of data combined, such tests give the necessary information from which a pupil’s possibilities of future mental growth can be foretold, and upon which his further education can be most profitably directed. –Elwood P. Cubberley, from foreword for Terman’s The Measurement of Intelligence, 1916 (p. viii).
Following the importation of British statistical procedures by American psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1903, “standards of deviation and correlations of coefficients were in the air” (Rugg, 1975, p. 295) by 1910, so much so that the study of education, which was preoccupied with becoming the newest of the social sciences, henceforth, would be driven by the urge to quantify and tabulate all aspects of schooling, as noted here in Harold Rugg’s summary of developments in the early 20th Century:
The steps by which the new educational measurers began to apply methods of research to the study of the curriculum were: first, the construction and use of tests in arithmetic, spelling, language, algebra, etc.: second, the inventory of the current curriculum by the tabular analysis of “courses” of study and textbooks: third, the determination of socially worth while skills and knowledge by the tabulation of actual human activities; fourth, . . . the careful determination of trends in social development, the chief institutions and problems of contemporary life, standards of appreciation, etc. (p. 296).
Accompanied, too, by hopes that scientific quantification could make social problems efficiently manageable, something new called intelligence testing was seen as a godsend toward achieving the task, despite the fact that inventors of intelligence tests had something else in mind. When Alfred Binet, for instance, developed the first intelligence tests at the behest of the French education ministry (Black, 2003, pp. 76-78) during the first decade of the 20th Century, it was to help identify those children needing special assistance in schools where attendance had recently been made compulsory. By 1912, however, a prominent leader of the American eugenics movement, Henry Goddard, had adapted Binet’s intelligence test for use in screening and sorting Eastern European immigrants, many of whom were Jewish. Goddard and other eugenicists found in the intelligence test a purportedly objective way to quantify the structural racism of the day and to have it accepted as scientific, all the while protecting the American citizenry from the continued influx of impure and unfit immigrants, who were viewed as threats to the health of the American gene pool. In 1916, a colleague of Goddard’s, Robert Yerkes, developed the Alpha A and Alpha B intelligence tests, which were used to screen and efficiently sort enlistees for the U. S. Army leading up to World War I. Those with high scores were more likely to end up with desk jobs, and those with low scores were more likely to end up in combat roles. That same year Stanford psychologist, Lewis Terman (1916), published The Measurement of Intelligence, wherein he established his vision for test use in schools based on the fine-grained sorting of “defectives,” which he believed could be calibrated by using tests:
. . . intelligence tests are rapidly extending our conception of "feeble-mindedness" to include milder degrees of defect than have generally been associated with this term. The earlier methods of diagnosis caused a majority of the higher grade defectives to be overlooked. Previous to the development of psychological methods the low-grade moron was about as high a type of defective as most physicians or even psychologists were able to identify as feeble-minded. . . .It is safe to predict that in the near future intelligence tests will bring tens of thousands of these high-grade defectives under the surveillance and protection of society. This will ultimately result in curtailing the reproduction of feeble-mindedness and in the elimination of an enormous amount of crime, pauperism, and industrial inefficiency. It is hardly necessary to emphasize that the high-grade cases, of the type now so frequently overlooked, are precisely the ones whose guardianship it is most important for the State to assume (p. 7).
By 1922, Columbia College was using E. L. Thorndike’s Tests for Mental Alertness (Synnott, 2010, p. 18) to limit the number of Jews among its student body. Incensed by what he considered a racist portrayal of the new Ivy League testing policy by reporters from The Nation, Columbia’s Dean Herbert E. Hawkes, a mathematician by training, shared his rationale (Columbia Documents, n. d.) for the “mental test” in a letter to Professor E. B. Wilson:
What we have been trying to do is to eliminate the low grade boy. . . .We have not eliminated boys because they were Jews and do not propose to do so. We have honestly attempted to eliminate the lowest grade of applicant and it turns out that a good many of the low grade men are New York City Jews. It is a fact that boys of foreign parentage who have no background in many cases attempt to educate themselves beyond their intelligence . . . . I do not believe however that a College would do well to admit too many men of low mentality who have ambition but not brains. At any rate this is the principle on which we are going.
The primitive and biased tests effectively reduced Jewish enrollment by half, from 40 percent to around 20 percent (Synnott, 2010, p. 18), and the “mental test” remained a screening tool until the late 1930s, when the grip of the eugenics craze stateside began to give way as the German fascist mirror finally allowed Americans to glimpse where their own social engineering could be headed.
By the 1920s Terman’s Stanford-Binet intelligence test was being administered to over a million children a year (Mondale & Patton, 2001) in order to sort school children into curriculum tracks that would funnel them into adult job roles. Ostensibly to differentiate the learning needs of students and to increase American economic competitiveness with the rest of the world, many immigrant children, particularly Mexican children in California (Stern, 2005, pp. 95-99), were given the test in a language they did not understand and placed in the kinds of industrial training programs first introduced following the Civil War and the Indian Wars for former slaves and American Indian children at boarding schools like Hampton Institute (Anderson, 1988). Others were slotted into vocational programs, business curriculums, and college prep, all under the banner of progressive social policy and social efficiency.
The early 20th Century era of school testing was driven, then, by psychologists looking to expand the influence of intelligence testing and by a new generation of school administrators seeking to apply scientific management techniques developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor (1911/1967) for industry and business to all areas of school operations. These new disciples of social efficiency became “zealot[s] for the elimination of waste” (Kliebard, 2004, p. 20), from curriculum making to the sorting of students. Kliebard cites former muckraker and self-proclaimed efficiency expert, Joseph Mayer Rice, as advocating in 1913[i] for what sounds much like today’s corporate education reform goal of “a scientific system of pedagogical management [that] would demand fundamentally the measurement of results in the light of fixed standards” (p. 20). Rice (1913) called for “a system of management specifically directed toward the elimination of waste in teaching, so that the children attending the schools may be duly rewarded for the expenditure of their time and effort” (p. viii). The assembly line became the metaphor for school production, and IQ testing provided the scientific analysis for which line the raw material ended up in to be molded into one of several models. If the new social engineers had their way and could see their dream realized, such differentiated instruction would assure efficiency and the elimination of waste. As we shall see, the “elimination of waste” takes on a darker meaning as we examine ideology-driven social sorting on an industrial scale.
What resulted from that first generation of testing and sorting was a system that continues today to provide “scientific” rationalization for the creation and maintenance of measures whereby children of the privileged display test results, on average, consistently higher than those children under the privileged on tests that were devised to show as much. By using measures stamped with the seal of science, then, high test scorers are guaranteed seemingly-legitimized access to the a legacy of privilege that accompanies higher performance, thus reproducing social and economic dominance by descendants of the middle class elites who first established their dominion in the Colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries. Some who read this will surely doubt such a claim, but we hope that by the time readers finish the book, this contention will be an indisputable, though unacceptable, fact. For those less skeptical now, we hope this book will provide a deeper understanding as to how the mismeasure of children became standard pedagogical practice.
Zealots for the Elimination of the Unfit
Developing from within a long tradition of social Darwinism, whereby those who are fittest are destined to rise to the top, intelligence tests and achievement tests simply confirmed what was commonly believed: those who occupy the top rungs, or the bottom rungs, of the societal ladder are there because the natural order has ordained it. And, thus, modern science provided the privileged with a scientific rationale and a moral balm of justification during an during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, an era of extreme and growing income inequality, exploitative factory life among urban slums, economic upheaval, economic depression that lasted from 1893 to 1898, and new waves of Jewish, Slav, and Italian immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. Essentially, the business, religious, and social elites of the Gilded Age found a justification in a new science of eugenics that solidified and quantified the exuberant biological and social determinism expressed by 19th Century economist, Herbert Spencer, who argued throughout the last half of the 19th Century that Laws of Nature, no less, have ordained the “survival of the fittest” in all spheres of life, from biology to economics. Unlike Darwin, however, whose views acknowledged many more species extinctions than successfully-adaptive ones, Spencer molded his philosophy to fit the unfailing optimism of laissez-faire capitalism. Importantly, Spencer’s philosophy of perpetual progress offered comfort to people like Andrew Carnegie by providing a “philosophical justification for Carnegie's unabashed pursuit of personal riches in the world of business, freeing him from the moral reservations about financial acquisition that he had inherited from his egalitarian Scottish relatives” (PBS/WGBH, 1999, para 2). Carnegie, an avid reader, was once asked which author he would take to a desert island if he could have only one. Carnegie didn’t hesitate: Herbert Spencer would be his choice (para 1).
The social efficiency education reformers who rose to prominence just after Herbert Spencer’s death in 1903 inherited from social Darwinism the unwavering belief in increasing “differentiation” at every level of existence, from the physical to the social sphere, from the evolution of the physical and biological worlds, even down to the proliferation and classification of social and work roles. Spencer saw a pattern of differentiation everywhere he looked, which was for him a sign of progress. Human-assisted differentiation was, or Spencer, what Man could do to help Nature along toward that destination: “From the earliest traceable cosmical changes down to the latest results of civilization, we shall find that the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous, is that in which Progress essentially consists” (Halsall, 1997, para 3).
In 1857, Spencer (Halsall, 1997) detailed a number of examples of “differentiation at work,” from the political to the religious, but the sorting and segregating of worker classes is the form of differentiation that the social and economic efficiency reformers of the early 20th Century seized upon:
Simultaneously there has been going on a second differentiation of a still more familiar kind; that, namely, by which the mass of the community has become segregated into distinct classes and orders of workers. While the governing part has been undergoing . . . [its own] complex development. . . , the governed part has been undergoing an equally complex development, which has resulted in that minute division of labour characterizing advanced nations (para 6).
By the 20th century, then, industrialists and philanthropists inspired by Spencer’s hierarchical social philosophy, turned Spencerian science toward a scientific approach to dividing labor, a turn that was accompanied by the maturing needs of America’s industrial economic engine and the mass production of goods. Taylor’s (1911) Principles of Scientific Management was unerringly based on the principles of analyzing and dividing job tasks into their most differentiated and efficient components so that that simplified job assignments could be accomplished by interchangeable workers with minimal training whenever possible. Increased efficiency and industrial production demanded, in fact, the elimination of skilled artisans who made products from start to finish and who could demand higher pay for their services as a result. The emerging national economy of industrial scale would not allow for such pastoral excesses or the kind of differentiation based on skilled trades. Each trade, in fact, required analysis and further dividing of labor, if differentiation and progress were to be fully engaged.
By 1920, the social efficiency-social control ideology based on differentiation through scientific management provided a central rationale for the “progressive” use of intelligence tests and achievement tests to measure, sort, and segregate school children in ways that upheld social structures based on class and race prejudices. Social efficiency based on racial and socioeconomic differentiation became defined and advanced by scientific educationists, researchers, and psychologists, many of whom were eugenics enthusiasts and who constituted a small group of the most influential social and education reformers of the early 20th century. They included luminaries like John Franklin Bobbitt, Elwood P. Cubberley, G. Stanley Hall, Edward Thorndike, Lewis Terman, Robert Yerkes, and Robert Goddard. Their work provided a rationale for the new scientific schooling set forth in books like Bobbitt’s (1918) The Curriculum, Terman’s The Measurement of Intelligence (1916), and Thorndike’s The Principles of Teaching (1906). Thorndike, who set for himself the immodest task of “conquering the new world of pedagogy” (Lagemann quoting Thorndike, 2000, p. 58), viewed the job of teachers, three quarters of whom were women in 1906 (p. 8), as carrying out the tasks as determined by the “higher authorities” of male administrators and psychologists such as himself, who were to be engaged in “decid[ing] what the schools shall try to achieve and to arrange plans for school work which will attain the desired ends” (p. 60).
Those “desired ends” would be the presented to children by a subordinated teacher corps and measured by standardized achievement tests, developed by a growing army of psychologists following Thorndike’s lead. Subsequent to the massive evaluation survey of New York City public schools in 1911 and 1912, researchers viewed the use of “scientific tests” to evaluate achievement as a necessary component of evaluation research. These standardized achievement tests were developed for most every subject, from reading to handwriting to Latin grammar:
The proliferation of achievement test was phenomenal: between 1917 and 1928, some 1,300 achievement tests were developed in the United States; by 1940, there were 2,600. The massive growth of these tests was fueled by the simultaneous development of “intelligence” tests (Lagemann, 2000, p. 88).
What a Difference 25 Years Makes
To get an idea of the effects of the new scientific efficiency movement during the early 20th Century, particularly on curriculum and assessment, it is instructive to look at how curriculum priorities changed between 1893 and 1918. The earlier date marks the approval by the blue ribbon Committee of Ten’s rather modest set of elective tracks of high school study, distinguished mainly by the amount of classical and modern languages required to fill out a list of subjects based within the liberal arts tradition. Harvard president Charles W. Eliot, who chaired the Committee of Ten, was insistent than either of the four track could ready high school students for a happy life, whether a high school diploma was the final educational destination or if college were to follow:
. . . the right selection of subjects, along with the right way of teaching them, could develop citizens of all classes endowed in accordance with the humanist ideal—with the power of reason, sensitivity to beauty, and high moral character” Kliebard, 2004, p. 10.)
Twenty-five years later in 1918, another elite commission charged with the same mission and under the same NEA sponsorship came up with a radically different set of curriculum priorities that replaced the focus on traditional liberal arts curriculum subjects with a steadfast focus on preparing students for differentiated life roles that would be predicated by their learning capacity as measured by intelligence and achievement tests. In two and half decades, the Committee of Ten’s humanistic ideal for high school graduates to enter the world with “the power of reason, sensitivity to beauty, and high moral character” (Kliebard, 2004, p. 10) was replaced by seven “cardinal principles” that reflected the growing influence of social engineers who viewed school as the primary tool to achieve efficient social steering and control. This new class of progressive technocrats were armed with statistical methods inspired to measure and quantify, predict and control every aspect of economic and social life. They shared in the visionary prognostications of their leader, Thorndike, who believed that a new educational psychology, properly aimed, “would tell the effect of every possible stimulus and the cause of every possible response in every possible human being” (Lagemann quoting Thorndike, 2001, p. 60). In turn, every aspect of school was to be molded to serve a new social order as defined by a grandiose faith in science and schooling and a devotion to the highly-contagious quackery of eugenics.
Entitled Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education (U. S. Office of Education, 1918), the first lines of the report by the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education (CRSE) makes the mission clear: “Secondary education should be determined by the needs of the society to be served, the character of the individuals to be educated, and the knowledge of educational theory and practice available” (p. 1). The “needs of the society” were determined by researchers conducting, among large and small school systems alike, extensive evaluation surveys and learning inventories of every sort in what Harold Rugg (1975) referred to as “an orgy of tabulation” (p. 298). The result was a list of priorities for the secondary curriculum that mentioned no specific school subject, classical or otherwise:
· Command of fundamental processes
· Worthy home membership
· Civic education
· Worthy use of leisure
· Ethical character
Just a few sentences into the Introduction of the Report by the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education (Cardinal Principles), the authors, most of whom were professors in the new university departments of educational administration, noted the rationale for this tectonic curricular shift toward social utility: “the character of the secondary-school population has been modified by the entrance of large numbers of pupils of widely varying capacities, aptitudes, social heredity, and destinies in life” (p. 2). Readers today may wonder what role high school was to play if “destinies in life” had been pre-determined prior to “entrance” to high school, but assumptions in 1918 about the role of school were quite different from the one espoused by Horace Mann, who expressed the notion of the common school as the “great equalizer of the conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery” (Sigler, 1996, p. 78). Such meritocratic idealism was not driving the Cardinal Principles, and the “scientific” sorting of children by testing was unabashedly celebrated as a progressive step toward an efficient society built with machine precision. In clearly discernible ways, the Cardinal Principles reflected decades of increasing social anxiety among elites regarding the threat to American bloodlines and social values from increasing immigration and unbridled heterogeneity that grew, in large part, from the unquenchable needs of the vast industrial melting pot born of scientific management. The irony of attempting to fix a social situation with the same tools that went into creating it was not lost on John Dewey (1907), who believed that everyone who desired it, either manager or worker, should have an education that left them equally prepared to appreciate life fully:
Some are managers and others are subordinates. But the great thing for one as for the other is that each shall have had the education which enables him to see within his daily work all there is in it of large and human significance. How many of the employed are today mere appendages to the machines which they operate! . . . . At present, the impulses which lie at the basis of the industrial system are either practically neglected or positively distorted during the school period (pp. 38-39).
Although Dewey, George Counts, William James, and Boyd Bode spoke and wrote against the presumptions underlying the types of social sorting that were advocated by social efficiency and scientific management reformers, testing experts, and eugenicists, Dewey and the social democrats were fighting a rear guard action by 1918. Dewey’s pragmatic blend of philosophy, experience, and the social sciences to improve democratic living did not fit the tenor of the day. As Thorndike represented a growing army of behavioral psychologists set about to “conquer the new world of pedagogy” (Lagemann, 2000, p. 58), Thorndike had declared the same year that “whatever exists, exists in some amount” (p. 57) whose quantity, as well as quality must be determined. Lagemann rightfully concludes that Thorndike’s focus on controlled experiment and quantification (p. 58) signaled “a rise to prominence [that] made it unlikely that educational scholarship [or educational practice] would develop along the lines Dewey had advocated” (p. 57).
Even though the recommendations of the 1918 Commission advocated for comprehensive high schools that advanced civic unification through a required general education courses electives open to all students, as well as vocational specialization and career tracking, a sociocultural hierarchy quickly emerged in the new comprehensive high school (Wraga, 1998) that mirrored the underlying beliefs and thinly-disguised intentions of the education efficiency experts who dominated the Cardinal Principles :
Within the first decade following the release of the report it was already apparent that the specializing function would take precedence over the unifying function. This was evident in a marked emphasis on providing for a variety of specialized course while doing little to unite students of different backgrounds, abilities, and aspirations. Furthermore, when professional psychologists looked to the schools for a new clientele for their group (or standardized) testing practices developed during World War I, the result was a system of tracking that divided students in ways inimical to the unifying intent of the comprehensive model (p. 125).
With the sorting tools available to separate the fittest from the less so, the beleaguered humanistic values that were central in the 1893 Committee of Ten Report became the principal learning domains of those middle class children with the test scores their worth in pursuit of the liberal arts curriculum that served, then and now, as pre-professional preparation. From that point forward, access to schooling that advanced the “power of reason, sensitivity to beauty, and high moral character” demanded a level of screening that economic advantage largely palliated. For the rest, there remained the other specializing functions of school to help adjust students to their appropriate “destinies in life.” For Thorndike and those who followed his lead, those “destinies in life” were believe to be determined by inherited traits, so much so that “what anyone becomes by education depends on what he is by nature” (Lagemann quoting Thorndike, p. 58).
The Dark Side of Progress
It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. –U. S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Buck v. Bell,
On January 11, 2012, the New York Times (Severson, 2012) reported that a North Carolina state task force recommended a financial settlement for the victims of the state’s involuntary sterilization law (Serverson, 2011). Most of the 72 who remain alive are poor and disproportionately African American. Between 1929 and 1974, the state of North Carolina, alone, sterilized an estimated 7,600 of its citizens who were deemed feeble-minded, diseased, or otherwise defective by some trait thought to be inheritable. In offering to pay $50,000 to each of the identified victims or victims’ families, North Carolina became the first state to suggest financial compensation to victims of involuntary sterilization from state Eugenics Boards that were once legal in 32 states and that claimed over 60,000 victims nationwide between 1909 and 1974. Even with the settlement that many considered an act of insult added to injury, North Carolina’s victims were sure to face months and maybe years of further bureaucratic delays. In June, 2012, the most recent bill that would have provided the modest settlements (Severson, 2012) for North Carolina victims died in State Senate[ii]. In California, where over 20,000 people were involuntarily sterilized, even such modest restitution is not on the horizon.
So that we remember the lessons from America’s 20th century adventures in eugenics, the discredited pseudoscience developed to justify containing, segregating, and/or sterilizing individuals for the benefit of societal improvement, there exists an extensive literature (Black, 2003; Rosen, 2004; Selden, 1999; Kevles, 1998; Stern, 2005; Lombardo, 2011) dedicated to deepening understanding of America’s role in providing the ideological and logistical foundations for a form of social engineering that reached maturity on the most hideous scale during the Holocaust. No doubt families competing during the early years of the 20th Century at county fairs across America in the “Fitter Family” and “Better Baby” contests could ever guess that their blue ribbons or letter grades for eugenics health could ever be prefigure the slaughter of millions deemed genetically defective; the policies propagated by the Nazis leading up to the World War II, however, were direct extensions of homegrown developments by American and British eugenicists intent upon encouraging the breeding of successful individuals of northern European ancestry (positive eugenics) and curtailing the breeding of unfit populations identified as carriers of defective “germ plasm” (negative eugenics).
The father of the eugenics movement, Sir Francis Galton, coined the word, eugenics (meaning “well born”) in the 1880s as the umbrella term for what he planned as a new science that would demonstrate, firstly, that the British ruling class came to its appropriate social status as the result of biological inheritance. The argument was an extension of social Darwinism, which argued for a simplistic rendition of “survival of the fittest” to be applied in the social sphere, asserting that those of greatest worth should occupy the societal stations fitted to them by, well, their obvious fitness. Such fitness, or lack thereof, was thought to be passed to subsequent generations, for eugenicists followed, as did Spencer before them, the Lamarckian understanding of evolution, whereby acquired characteristics were thought to be inheritable through defective germ plasm. Eugenicists, then, not only advocated for strict immigration laws and universal intelligence testing to block entry by those deemed defective, but they successfully lobbied for mandatory sterilization as the most effective way to stem all sorts of human problems of the poor and downtrodden that were believed to hasten “racial decay.”[iii] As Assistant Director of the Carnegie-funded Eugenics Record Office at Cold Springs Harbor, Harry Laughlin (1922) published a model eugenical sterilization law in 1922 that provided guidance to the states, even though more than a dozen states already had laws on the books by 1920. By 1939, thirty-one states had enacted eugenical sterilization laws. Here is an excerpt from Laughlin’s model law:
AN ACT to prevent the procreation of persons socially inadequate from defective inheritance, by authorizing' and providing for the eugenical sterilization of certain potential parents carrying degenerate hereditary qualities . . . . The socially inadequate classes, regardless of etiology or prognosis, are the following: (1) Feeble-minded; (2) Insane, (including the psychopathic) : (3) Criminalistic (including the delinquent and wayward); (4) Epileptic; (5) Inebriate (including drug habitues); (6) Diseased (including the tuberculous, the syphilitic, the leprous, and others with chronic, infectious and legally segregable diseases); (7) Blind (including those with seriously impaired vision) ; (8) Deaf (including those with seriously impaired hearing); (9) Deformed (including the crippled); and (10) Dependent (including orphans, ne'er-do-wells, the homeless, tramps and paupers) (p. 369).
Though cloaked as science, eugenics represented an ideological commitment to perfecting human pedigrees and eliminating threats to that utopian end. It was built around a set of scientific-sounding extrapolations from biology and agriculture, and as Garland Allen (1986) quotes Galton, eugenics focused on "the study of the agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally” (p. 225). Cutting and pasting from both social Darwinism and Lamarckian theory regarding the inheritability of acquired traits, eugenics was then placed into a statistical fortress that would shelter the new “science,” with a public relations machine and research capacity paid for with large philanthropic donations. Such efforts could not have been sustained without early and ongoing financial assistance from the Carnegie Institution and the Rockerfeller Foundation, (Black, 2003) which helped to establish for eugenicist “a gargantuan research establishment” (p. 219). Much of the widespread appeal of eugenics reinforced a new secular faith in science as advanced by cranks as well as the most respectable among society’s elite, and it reinforced the bombastic belief in American exceptionalism and the capacity for unceasing progress and increased efficiency. Sadly, the broad appeal of eugenics was buoyed, too, by great reservoirs of class bigotry, fear, unbridled racism, and anti-democratic sentiments that were on the rise in the early years of the 20th century, both here and abroad.
Since the eugenics chapter of American social history is rarely taught in schools where even the story of our slave-holding history remains controversial, most Americans do not know that eugenics was taught as a regular part of science curriculums in junior high and high schools, as well as at Princeton, Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Stanford, and dozens of other American colleges and universities (Black, 2003, p. 75). In fact, Stanford’s first President, David S. Jordan, published a book in 1902 entitled Blood of a nation that was seminal in advancing the notion that attributes such as pauperism and talent, industriousness and lassitude, are inheritable qualities.
With eugenics being propagated even by many religious leaders during first decades of the last century (Rosen, 2004), it is not surprising that the race and class assumptions that drove the eugenics ideology and message found their way into cutting-edge education reform in the new 20th Century, embracing as it did the efficient ordering of society and the elimination of waste. Influential education professor and eugenicist, J. Franklin Bobbitt, whose “scientific curriculum making” provided the model for American school curriculum for almost fifty years, viewed social reformers’ plans of his day to assist the poor, or the unfit, as “civilization’s retrogressive policies.” Black (2003) quotes Bobbitt as declaring that “schools and charities supply crutches to the weak in mind and morals . . . [and] corrupt the streams of heredity” (p. 29). For Bobbitt and other social efficiency education reformers, initiatives to educate and provide assistance to the poor got in the way of Nature’s weeding process, which if allowed to operate freely in combination with eugenical sterilization, would eliminate the defective “worm-eaten stock” (p. 29). By 1912, Bobbitt was a leader of the new scientific curriculum standards and testing movement in education that marked the ascendance of social efficiency experts, or the “zealot[s] for the elimination of waste in the curriculum through the application of the kind of scientific management techniques that, presumably, had been so successful in industry” (Kliebard, 2004, p. 20).
Elwood P. Cubberley was another important advocate of eugenics and the science of social efficiency applied to education. As Stanford professor, colleague and friend of Lewis Terman, and Dean of the School of Education (1917-1933), Cubberley trained a generation of school administrators and wrote textbooks on school administration and the history of education that provided the standard interpretations for over thirty years. Cubberley’s (1922) A brief history of education provided the educational history for teacher and administrator preparation programs for two decades, and in a concluding chapter argued that advocates that the modern state’s “humanitarian educational duties” (p. 451) demand that “defectives . . . be sent to a state institution or be enrolled in a public-school class specialized for their training” (p. 450). Cubberley’s main attention, however, was aimed toward the “the education of superior children:”
One child of superior intellectual capacity, educated as to utilize his talents, may confer greater benefit to mankind, and be far more educationally important, than a thousand of the feeble-minded children upon whom we have recently come to put so much educational effort and expense (p. 451).
If any question remained in the minds of future educators as to how “superior children would be identified, Cubberley immediately followed with a clarion call for intelligence testing to provide the solution to this and many other educational problems:
Questions relating to the training of leaders for democracy’s service attain new significance in terms of recent ability to measure and grade intelligence, as also do questions relating to grading, classification in school, choice of studies, rate of advancement, and the vocational guidance of children in schools (p. 451).
Echoing Cubberley’s unambiguous position was leading psychologist of the child study movement, G. Stanley Hall (1904), who attacked the liberal arts curriculum of schools in 1905 as unworkable because of the inherited defects of most students, who constituted
. . . the great army of incapables, shading down to those who should be in schools for dullards or subnormal children, for whose mental development heredity decrees a slow pace and early arrest, and for whom by general consent both studies and methods must be different (p. 514).
Hall called for the weeding out of defectives and the breeding of a better race to populate a utopian superstate (Karier, 1983) that would be steered by psychologists like himself, for whom he created the term “heartformers:”
If farmers who can breed cattle, sheep and horses, can also learn how to breed good men and women, the problem is solved. Germ plasm [genetic material] is the most immortal thing in the physical world. Backward it connects us by direct unbroken lines of continuity with our remotest ancestor . . . and the most optimistic law in the world is that the best survive and the worst perish (p. 55).
Just as the eugenics message was clear in public lectures, college coursework, and teacher preparation texts such as Cubberley’s, the new pseudoscience burrowed deeply, too, into high school biology textbooks, as recounted in Selden’s (1999) Inheriting shame: The story of eugenics and racism in America. Selden examined six mainstream biology texts from 1914 to 1948. By using texts cited by Selden and others recently made available online, we may, in fact, trace the public expressions and beliefs of eugenics advocates during the first half of the 20th century. That this ideology found its way into school books for the most widely-offered science course in high school helps us to understand, perhaps, how sorting, testing, grouping, and segregation became an accepted and expected component within the “basic grammar of schooling” (Tyack & Cuban, 1995, p. 85).
Even though George W. Hunter is more remembered as the author of the biology text used by John Scopes when he was brought up on charges of teaching evolution in a Dayton, Tennessee high school, Hunter should be remembered, too, for his significant role in spreading the ideology of eugenics through his textbooks. In the 1914 high school textbook, A civic biology: Presented in problems, George W. Hunter defined eugenics as “the science of being well born” (p. 261). And yet a few pages beyond this rather mild definition, Hunter offered flawed interpretations on inherited traits within two famous family case studies, the Jukes and the Kallikaks, to fuel the conclusion that
Hundreds of families such . . . as [the Jukes and Kallikaks] exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe . . . . They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.
The Remedy. – If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have a remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country (p. 263).
With the publication in 1922 of the junior high science text, Civic Science in the Community, the crisis that Hunter and co-author, Walter Whitman, foresaw took on an added urgency, and his broadcasting of the problem became more amplified. Using the same detailing of the Jukes and the Kallikaks cases from previous texts, Hunter claimed the problem was much more extensive than the “hundreds of families,” as he had indicated in his 1914 text. By 1922, Hunter and Whitman have lumped into their estimate all of America’s “200,000 feeble-minded persons” as part of their earlier category of parasites:
If this [Jukes or Kallikaks] were but one case it would be bad enough, but there are over 200,000 feeble-minded persons in the United States to-day. These persons spread disease, crime, and immorality in all parts of the country, principally because they know no better. Just as certain plants and animals become parasitic on others so these people have become parasites on society. Largely for them the asylum and poorhouse exist (p. 419).
Hunter and Whitman go on to cite, specifically this time, a European solution to the problem from the Italian village of Aosta, where “idiotic folk known as cretins” were segregated during the previous century into male and female asylums, thus preventing reproduction: “Since that time the race of cretins has gradually died out and one rarely sees any of them now. This is the only means by which feeble-mindedness can be eventually blotted out from the earth” (p. 419). Hunter and Whitman end their discussion of eugenics in Civic Science in the Community with a definition that reflects the grafting of eugenics presumptions based on Mendelian inheritance onto the terminology of research by early geneticist, Thomas Hunt Morgan, who had, in fact, scientifically discredited the assumptions of eugenics regarding the mechanisms of genetic inheritance. Somehow, Hunter does not seem to have noticed that the science had taken a different fork in the road from eugenics, or if he had, such new knowledge did not alter the authors’ renewed confidence that eugenics was an ascendant science:
The above paragraphs show us that blood will tell or rather, to put it scientifically, “that the chromosomes will tell the story.” It is evident that if the race is to be improved, we must improve the stock. This is to be done in the same way that we would work on animals or plants, that is, we must check the reproduction of the poorest strains and mate individuals of the strongest stock. Eugenics [italics in the original] is the science of improving the human race by better heredity” (p. 422).
By 1930, advances in genetic science and the growing acceptance of environmental influences in shaping human characteristics, had shifted thinking within the scientific community away from the strict biological determinism argued by eugenicists. That did not stop school textbook writers, however, from continuing to push the eugenics agenda, and by 1935, Hunter and Whitman (1935) were at it again, this time with renewed vigor and enthusiasm for the measures being taken to segregate and sterilize those deemed unfit to reproduce, so that the defective and feeble-minded could, in Hunter and Whitman parlance, be “blotted out from the earth:”
This can only be done by segregation of such people into institutions and some means taken to prevent their reproduction. Several states and at least one country, Germany, have laws which allow such persons to be sterilized or rendered incapable of reproduction” (p. 484).
Such language remains ominous almost eighty years later, and the thought of it being taught in a high school biology class remains shocking, especially since open and official hostility in Germany toward Jews and other “unfit” groups was a matter of governmental policy and public record when Hunter and Whitman were praising the Germans for their foresightedness. In fact, a major movement was afoot in the U. S. in 1935 to boycott the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. These events, however, could not dissuade these textbook writers and shapers of children’s values from their self-appointed tasks. Two pages further on, Hunter and Whitman add this warning:
If our country is to keep its place as a leader in world progress, we must prevent its overpopulation by defective or weak mental stock. We must, on the other hand, do all we can to have persons of the better stock mate and have children (p. 486).
The authors end their chapter with a list of terms from which students are to choose in order to fill in the blanks on the end of chapter test. Here is the final item, with proper answers supplied: “Laws should prevent the breeding of the unfit, who would soon disappear from the earth” (p. 487). We may wonder if any young American boys taking this test in 1935 were there when the gates of Buchenwald and Auschwitz were opened in 1945 for the horrified young troopers to see to what “disappear from the earth” looks like when efficiently applied on an industrial scale.
For those who know something about this history of eugenics, there remains the common notion that the opening up of the German concentration camps and the subsequent horrors unveiled in testimony at Nuremburg served to stem homegrown enthusiasm for eugenic efforts to sort and segregate the fit from the unfit. Selden (1999) shows this assumption to be a myth, as does researcher, Ronald Ladouceur (2011), with examples from post-war high school (and college) biology texts that make it clear that what survived the Holocaust was what Selden (1999) calls a “reform eugenics” that dropped the avowals to strict biological determinism, even as it maintained a loyalty to social efficiency goals of social and vocational sorting. The reform eugenics textbook writers and testing disciples continued to use schools as the primary institutional tool to sort and segregate children, as well as the next generation of adults. In fact, any “discussion of human possibilities” was to be based on a “commitment to a hierarchical and corporate social order that placed students in social and vocational slots based on fatally-flawed measures of ‘hereditary worth’” (p. 82).
Selden (1999) ends his analysis of textbooks with Animal Biology (1948), a high school text by Dr. Robert Guyer, noted biologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In important ways, Guyer demonstrates how little eugenics advocates had actually changed since the beginning of the 20th Century. Almost forty years after the first wave of eugenic-inspired education reform, Guyer (as cited in Selden, 1999, p. 81) claimed that “certain hereditary types are more valuable to society and the race than others . . .[and] in many family strains the seeds of derangement and disability have become so firmly established that they menace the remainder of the population.” Though the eugenics of mid-century ostensibly acknowledged the nurture side of the nature-nurture debate, Guyer advised against public or private assistance to the unfit, as he argued that “unwise charity . . . fosters the production of unfit strains” (Selden, 1999, p. 82). It is as if Dr. Guyer was disinterring arguments made by the new “scientists” of education, Bobbitt and Cubberley, thirty years before.
We will turn now to examine more closely where we have been and where we are going in regards to the overlapping and mutually-reinforcing linkages among the rise of accountability and standards movement, high stakes standardized testing, and the latest manifestations of corporate education reform. We shall do so in a way that contextualizes these elements within the recurrent cultural and political policy markers that lead some to refer to our educational history metaphorically as a pendulum, or even a vicious circle. Our metaphor, hopefully, may be viewed as a spiral, for as Tyack and Cuban (1995) point out, the arrow of time upon which social evolution is carried, makes it impossible to return to exactly the same place, even if the ideas and motivations are drawn from previous eras and even if they have not changed.
[i] Rice published Scientific Management in Education in 1913, just two years after the publication of Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management, which brought the industrial revolution to full fruition through assembly line mass production of goods. It is not a coincidence that schooling of that era and subsequent eras has come to be known as the “factory system” of education. See Callahan’s Education and the Cult of Efficiency (1962) and Kliebard’s The Struggle for the American Curriculum (2004) for detailed explications of the social efficiency movement in education.
[ii] The prevailing rationale for rejection of payments to sterilization victims was expressed by a North Carolina State Senator, Chris Carney: “If we do something like this, you open up the door to other things the state did in its history…. Some, I’m sure you’d agree, are worse than this” (Severson, 2012, June 20).
[iii] This was a term used by UC Berkeley zoology professor, Dr. Samuel Holmes, in a syllabus for one of his extension courses, “The Factors in the Evolution of Man.” From the syllabus: “Made aware of the biological trend of his development, man will have it in his power to counteract, in a measure, the forces which are productive of racial decay, and to set in operation agencies by which the heritage of the race may be improved” (Retrieved from the Cold Springs Harbor website at http://www.dnalc.org/view/10238--The-factors-of-evolution-in-man-course-offered-by-Samuel-Holmes-at-University-of-California-Berkeley-1-.html)
Holmes remained a staunch eugenics advocate after others in the scientific community came to see the errors of their ways. In fact, in 1939 Holmes published an essay in the prestigious journal, Science, in which he defended eugenics against what he viewed as “ill-founded opposition” that eventually would be “melted away like fog before the rays of the rising sun” (p. 357). Near the end of his essay, he tried to allay the fears of eugenics detractors with this admission, which underscored his shared commitment to a social agenda embraced by the Nazis, who would be rolling through Poland five months after Holmes’s essay appeared:
. . . as eugenicists, we are committed to no particular social, religious, political or economic creed, that we are no more concerned with the class war than the botanist or the astronomer, that we are quite willing that Mary should marry Jack or any one else provided their progeny will probably not be imbeciles, lunatics or otherwise a burden to society (p. 357).