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Education and the Rise of the Corporate State


reviewed by Jack Fields - 1972

coverTitle: Education and the Rise of the Corporate State
Author(s): Joel H. Spring
Publisher: CIDOC, Cuernavaca
ISBN: 0807031747, Pages: 234, Year: 1971
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School and society are inextricably linked. Amen. But what part of society do the schools really serve, and toward what clearly defined purposes are they aimed?

The questions have been mulled over at length by a horde of theoreticians. What makes Professor Joel Spring's turgid but nevertheless provocative book important is his thesis: that a body of influential American progressive leaders helped to mold the image of a highly organized and smoothly working corporate structure as the model of the good society and, fur­thermore, that this image "played an influential role in shaping the form and di­rection of American public education in the twentieth century."

If the thesis holds water, and he goes to considerable effort to document it, then despite profuse verbalisms about the sanctity of the individual, his felt needs, preparation for citizenship, etc., etc., the underlying reality glares like a red light —the purpose of our public schools is to prepare cooperative individuals, sifted out and conditioned like Huxley's Brave New Worlders for their respective niches in our technological corporate structure.

To support this view Spring goes back to an earlier period in our educational history when the form and structure of the public schools were being shaped. He shows how the growth of large urban areas and industrial complexes produced mounting anxiety in its wake, creat­ing a public clamor for cooperation rather than independence, the once prized value of earlier "American agrarian yeomen." In the late 1800s the image of the corpor­ate state emerged out of the competition vs. cooperation debate concerning unions and monopolies, with Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor, offering stout support to the cor­porate structure of society by opposing the suppression of trusts. Corporate ownership, he believed, was the model sys­tem for replacing individual ownership and management.

With the blessings of influential men like Samuel Gompers, Theodore Roose­velt, George W. Perkins, and Herbert Croly, the corporate state rose and flour­ished, as public consciousness was con­ditioned to fit into the general expectations of this new world. Spring's data reveal how educators devised a differentiated curriculum and vocational guidance in response to the needs of the emerging corporate society for specialization and cooperation. Expanded extracurricular activities and an emphasis on group work in the classroom resulted. The junior and the comprehensive high schools were spawned.

To promote industrial growth, premi­ums were offered for efficiency. Frederick W. Taylor produced his celebrated time and motion studies "to squeeze more production out of workers." But there was a human side to the drive for efficiency. Recognizing that healthier, happier workers were also likely to become better producers, the corporations and retail es­tablishments began to install such refine­ments at plants as dining rooms, company cooking classes, libraries, even day nur­series. Some large retail houses began to offer workers their own system of school­ing. The Hochschild Kohn & Co. De­partment Store in Baltimore, for example, held classes for boys aged 14-18 during store hours, with instruction in mathema­tics, English, penmanship, reading, store etiquette, and commercial ethics. In Philadelphia, John Wanamaker's em­ployed twenty-two teachers to instruct some 300 older boys twice a week. It be­came only a matter of time, Spring shows, before the corporations which were devel­oping their own educational programs began to put pressure on local communi­ties to have the schools assume these functions. "The National Association of Manufacturers began to pass resolution after resolution calling for high schools to teach modern languages and commer­cial courses and calling for the opening of trade schools."

In spite of the changes designed to meet industrial needs, most of the nation's public schools were pervaded by the "stifling routine and mechanical atmo­sphere of traditional classrooms," molded on the Lancasterian system which readied children to become cogs in the industrial wheel. William Chandler Begley's Class­room Management, which was used as a standard teacher training text during the first quarter of the century, and reprinted thirty times between 1907 and 1927, stressed utilization of the classroom for training industrial habits.

Reformers objected to this type of regi­mentation, claiming that the mechanical atmosphere which resulted soon isolated the individual from his associates, as it did in the factories. Instead they stressed cooperative activity and personal inter­action. In 1918 William Heard Kilpatrick wrote that the "tendency toward selfish individualism is one of the strongest counts against our customary set-task sit-alone-at-your-own-desk." The new mode swept in by the reformers fostered a change in classroom motivation, from self-interest to social goals. Even grades came under fire at this time because they "created an artificial sense of superiority and inferiority." William McAndrew, Superintendent of the New York Schools, wrote in 1912 that one "unsocial custom persisting from feudal times is the award of prizes for superiority in scholarship. There is no social service secured by the selection of the best scholar for special honor. It is rank individualism."

Cooperation came into vogue, with John Dewey and Colin Scott providing the theoretical framework. "A society," Dewey said, "is a number of people held together because they are working along common lines, in a common spirit, and with reference to common ends." Because he felt that the existing industrial and urban society was isolating the individual, Dewey emphasized group activities to counter the trend. In 1902 before the Na­tional Education Association he argued that the school was the center around which a genuine community life in urban America could be maintained.

As a result of Dewey's and Scott's ef­forts, the idea of socialized classroom in­struction became widespread. At Teachers College, William Heard Kilpatrick taught a form of group learning to his classes in educational theory which he called the project method. According to Kilpatrick, moral character would be developed when the individual was conditioned to respond at all times to the desires of the group.

Socialized education was viewed as a method by which unity and a sense of community could be instilled in future citizens. This view differed, however, from Dewey's central idea of developing social unity through social understanding. What happened, according to Spring, was that the individual began to lose his personal identity to the group. Ironically, group education began to produce an "organi­zation man" conditioned to function well in the new corporate state, a result of "social like-mindedness rather than social imagination."

During the 19th century, according to Spring's findings, the expanding schools came to be an instrument of social con­trol. School activities began to replace the social training of other Institutions, like family and church, and these activities proliferated in playgrounds, school baths, summer camps, even the establishment of evening recreation centers in school build­ings. In the late 1890s sociologist Edward Ross referred to these expanded school activities as "an economical system of police" to effect social control. In light of this development, educators saw them­selves as assuming a dominant role in the social and moral training of the child. When the Russell Sage Foundation sur­veyed the social center movement in 1913, they found that of the 788 school super­intendents surveyed, 330 reported the use of their schools as social centers. By 1920 the movement had spread to 667 school districts.

What apparently weakened and even­tually undercut the schools' role as com­munity centers was the professionalization of educational expertise as well as the reorganization of urban school systems. The actual withdrawal of community control of schools occurred, Spring al­leges, with the reform of municipal poli­tics in the late 19th and early 20th century. Among the steps taken in reorganization and professionalization was "increasing centralization," which included the con­centration of governing powers of the school system in the office of superinten­dent. Although this change helped to free the schools from political interference and shielded the teachers from parental pressures, the gains were achieved at the expense of sensitivity to the community.

Spring contends that "the wedding of vocational guidance and socialization in the junior high school provided the com­plete educational program for the new cor­porate system." Both movements, he claims, grew in response to the specialized needs of the new corporate society. For example, in 1908 Frank Parsons, the father of vocational guidance and founder of the first vocational bureau in Boston, wrote that a "sensible industrial system will seek ... to put men, as well as timber, stone, and iron, in the place for which their natures fit them, and to polish and prepare them for efficient service with at least as much care as is bestowed upon clocks, electric dynamos, or locomo­tives." Increasing specialization filtered into the schools threatening the socializa­tion process. Because differentiated courses of study disrupted the goal of training a self-sacrificing, cooperative individual, the generally accepted solution, Spring claims, was the comprehensive high school.

In the high school the basic goal of learning by doing and educating the whole man served to produce a unified, co­operative populace with common ideas and goals. Student government became a new training ground for democracy, al­though there was never any intention of giving students any real powers. The socialized classroom cherished a coopera­tive man who was willing to dedicate him­self to the benefit of the state as a primary goal. In 1921 the Fifth Yearbook of the Department of Secondary School Principles put it this way: "What we wish the state to be the school must be."

This generally was the picture of the public schools, in Spring's eyes, until the middle of our century when the assump­tions underlying the goals for socializa­tion began to be challenged. Technology and TV affected individuals in ways quite different from previous industrial organization. After World War II, the image of the isolated worker on the assembly line, the citizen lacking social awareness, was no longer applicable. By 1960 children began to enter school with a high degree of political and social sophistication. What was clearly happening was that the mass media and technology were combining to render much of the socialization pro­grams obsolete.

John Dewey's education for meeting social needs was intended to develop and foster a spirit of community. Although Marshall McLuhan, an admirer of tech­nology, agrees that a sense of common purpose was lacking during the early stages of industrial development, he be­lieves that since World War II technology has tended to unify rather than fragment man's experience. Through mass media and automation McLuhan conjectures a world village which will replace the school as a community center. This new "village" life would be one of total involvement, living for the here and now. "The TV child," McLuhan said, "cannot see ahead because he wants involvement, and he cannot accept a fragmentary and merely visualized goal or destiny in learning or life."

In contrast to McLuhan's optimistic view, the French sociologist Jacques Ellul looks upon technology as a road toward human enslavement. The technological system, he points out, instead of working for the benefit of man, works for its own benefit. Man becomes a thing, with the mass media serving largely as a device for the manipulation of man. Advances in technology place the burden of making people happy increasingly upon education. Ellul views this with alarm. "What looks like the apex of humanism is in fact the pinnacle of human submission: children are educated to become precisely what society expects of them. They must have social consciences that allow them to strive for the same ends as society sets for it­self," he writes.

While early 20th-century educators welcomed the advent of technology, for Ellul technology is a growing monster which is slowly and inevitably enslaving and de­humanizing mankind. From his viewpoint vocational guidance, group adjustment, socialization through a comprehensive high school, and extracurricular activities must either become irrelevant or function as parts of a monstrous technologized whole.

Spring clearly favors Ellul’s perspective. The type of personality needed in the school, he argues, is the same as that needed in the corporation. By using anon­ymous authority the school prepares the individual for control by bureaucratic au­thority. He cites Erich Fromm: "Our eco­nomic system must create men who fit its needs; men who cooperate smoothly; men who want to consume more and more." Fromm abhors and rejects the idea of an educational system producing men who are "willing to do what is ex­pected of them, men who will fit into the social machine, without friction, who can be led without leaders, and who can be directed without any aim except the one to 'make good.'"

Education's role in the 19th and early 20th centuries in fitting man to the in­dustrial mold seems clear. Spring points out that, within the context of our present technological development, socialization in the schools takes on a nightmarish quality. With computers and automation now serving to mold students the phe­nomenon assumes an Orwellian tinge. The image of coldly efficient technological de­vices computed to impose standards of freedom and individual life styles calcu­lated to serve institutional requirements is indeed frightening.

Spring's thesis should sit uneasily on our conscience and consciousness, even if only parts, rather than the whole, are true. Despite the research, it is difficult, per­haps impossible, to make an airtight case that the schools and corporate structure worked hand in hand. It would also be the height of naivete to deny the considerable influence that such an enterprise must have exerted and surely continues to exert on public education. Spring attempts to prove that business interests, aided and abetted by influential "progressive lead­ers," determined the design, structure, even the goals of our public educational system. A familiar criticism of Freudian psychoanalysts is that they seek to adjust patients to untenable situations and social conditions. Can the same criticism be leveled justifiably at educators? The dis­covery by teachers who cherish academic freedom and autonomy that they, like Oedipus, are polluters, the agents who serve to perpetuate a system that robot­izes rather than frees the individual in mind and spirit, would indeed be painful. This, surely, was not meant at all.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 73 Number 3, 1972, p. 454-460
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1631, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 9:29:06 PM

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