A Bibliography of Criticism of Public Schools and Colleges

A reading list with ideas as fresh as when penned 95 years ago.

Photo by Renan Kamikoga on Unsplash

One of the books on my bookshelf is a little volume from 1922 called Free Thought and Official Propaganda by Bertrand Russell. It is an first printing of the Crowley Memorial Lecture that Mr. Russell gave on 24 March 1922 at the South Place Institute.

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I planned to review the book because of the widespread influence of “cancel culture” that has been occurring in public discourse. It’s interesting that Mr. Russell recognized early on, more than two decades before Orwell’s 1984 made waves, that there is a tendency to pressure people to conform to certain ideas. The pressure comes in a variety of forms, and it is unhealthy.

That, however, is not the subject of this blog post. On the empty page that precedes the title page of this little book someone penned a list with the heading Bibliography of Criticism of Public Schools and Colleges.

The other night I searched online to see if I could find any of these volumes. The answer is that most are quite hard to find or too expensive to consider purchasing in order to quench my curiosity. Nevertheless, I did take notes, did a little cut and paste work so that others, if interested, could get a feel for some of the attitudes toward public education about a century ago.

Here’s what I found.

The Goose-Step

Upton Sinclair (1923)
It is an investigation into the consequences of plutocratic capitalist control of American colleges and universities. Sinclair writes, “Our educational system is not a public service, but an instrument of special privilege; its purpose is not to further the welfare of mankind, but merely to keep America capitalist.”

“I talked with another professor at , who does not want his name used. I asked him what he thought about the status of his profession, and he gave the best description of academic freedom in America that I have yet come upon. He said, ‘ We are good cows; we stand quietly in our stanchions , and give down our milk at regular hours. We are free, because we have no desire to do anything but what we are told we ought to do. And we die of premature senility.’” (p. 247)

University Control

J.M. Cattell (1913)

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

Cattell remains famous for his contributions in intelligence testing , as well as his work on individual differences in perception and reaction times .

Like many eminent scientists and scholars of the time, Cattell’s thought was influenced by belief in , defined as the “applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population, usually referring to human populations.” Cattell’s belief in eugenics was heavily influenced by the research of Charles Darwin , whose theory of evolution motivated Cattell’s emphasis on studying “the psychology of individual differences .”

Free Thought and Official Propaganda

Bertrand Russell
Of this I plan to write at least one or two future blog posts on aspects of the book.

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The Goslings

Upton Sinclair

Cicero Brian wrote: Socialist Upton Sinclair penned this withering critique of government (a.k.a. “public”) schools in the early 1920s. He realized, as Hitler, the Jesuits, and any else interested in controlling or influencing a society does, that schools are where the young clay is molded. Perhaps the best review of it was written by the great the libertarian intellect H.L. Mencken in the April, 1924 issue of The American Mercury (url: […]). He recommended the book heartily, noting that it “presents an engrossing, instructive, and, if allowance be made for the author’s indignation, highly amusing record of chicanery and imbecility — a vast chronicle of wasted money, peanut politics and false pretenses,” but pointing out a serious flaw, “an erroneous assumption” from which “springs… a great deal of false reasoning and vain indignation.” (Read about that flaw from Mencken himself.)

Many people, including yours truly, have long researched and warned about the conspiracy that has long gripped the American education system; among them, John Taylor Gatto is arguably the single most valuable. Named NY City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and NY State Teacher of the Year in 1991, he gradually realized that our schools were doing more harm than good. Having the ear of the top education officials in the nation because he rubbed elbows with them, he initially assumed his ideas for improving the schools would be welcome. When he found out that they weren’t, Gatto quickly realized that our schools were not, as he had naively assumed, broken; they were working as designed. He quit teaching in 1991 and has been waging guerrilla warfare on gov’t schooling ever since.

Humanizing Education

Samuel Schmalheusen

The Law of the Jungle

Coburn Allen
Summary of review:

The Higher Learning in America

Thorsten Veblen (1926)

Probably the best-known fact about The Higher Learning in America by Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929) is that the author’s original subtitle for it was “A Study in Total Depravity.” By the time the book finally appeared in print in 1918, the wording had been changed to “A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men,” which gives the reader a clearer sense of the contents, albeit at a considerable loss in piquancy.

What’s Wrong with American Education

David Snedden (1927)

Many of the battles in education today are the same ones faced a century ago.

The Education of Henry Adams

Henry Adams

The Education of Henry Adams is an autobiography that records the struggle of Bostonian Henry Adams (1838–1918), in his later years, to come to terms with the dawning 20th century, so different from the world of his youth. It is also a sharp critique of 19th-century educational theory and practice. In 1907, Adams began privately circulating copies of a limited edition printed at his own expense. Commercial publication of the book had to await its author’s 1918 death, whereupon it won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize . The Modern Library placed it first in a list of the top 100 English-language nonfiction books of the 20th century.

What Is and What Might Be

Edmond Holmes (1911)

This thin tome is a seminal work on how we humans tend to cloud up topics of interest with utterly innane ‘facts,’ and how the folks who do so are like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, a behavior *never* observed in Nature.

Nonetheless, the allusion has progressed to an extremely useful rhetorical “shorthand” of sorts, that far transcends its untruthful beginnings. A VERY good read, which will take you years to fully ‘grok.’

Fads & Fallacies in Present Day Education

H. E. Bucholtz

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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