The Education Mafia
by Samuel L. Blumenfeld
This is taken from Samuel's book, N.E.A. - Trojan Horse in American Education
Creating an Education Establishment
6. The Education Mafia
When Dewey came to Columbia in 1904, at the invitation of James McKeen Cattell, the university and its Teachers College became the undisputed training center for the new scientifically based "progressive" education. Its graduates fanned out across America to become deans and professors at other teachers colleges and superintendents of entire public school systems. Their loyalty to their mentors was demonstrated by how well they implemented their teachings in the schools of America. Among the alumni were Elwood P. Cubberly, George D. Strayer, George H. Betts, Edward C. Elliott, Walter A. Jessup, William H. Kilpatrick, Bruce R. Payne, David S. Snedden, Lotus D. Coffman.
Cubberly became dean of the School of Education at Stanford; Strayer, professor at Teachers College and president of the NEA in 1918-19; Betts, professor of education at Northwestern; Elliott, president of Purdue; Jessup, president of the University of Iowa and president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Kilpatrick, professor at Teachers College and a founder of Bennington College; Payne, president of George Peabody College in Nashville; Snedden, Massachusetts State Commissioner of Education; Coffman, dean of the College of Education at the University of Minnesota, and later the university's president.
These were just a few of the men who created a network of control and influence that was to change the face of public education in America. David Tyack, in his revealing book, Managers of Virtue, describes the tremendous power the network was able to wield:
Networks resist definition. The word itself is a metaphor for a connecting web with much open space. As we use the term here, we mean an informal association of individuals who occupied influential positions (usually in university education departments or schools, as policy analysts or researchers in foundations, and as key superintendents), who shared common purposes (to solve social and economic problems by educational means through "scientific" diagnosis and prescription), who had common interests in furthering their own careers, and who had come to know one another mostly through face-to-face interactions and through their similar writing and research. They controlled important resources: money, the creation of reputations, the placement of students and friends, the training of subordinates and future leaders, and influences over professional associations and public legislative and administrative bodies.
The education mafia became known as the "Educational Trust" and they held annual meetings under an umbrella called the Cleveland Conference, named thus because the first conference had been held in Cleveland in 1915. This exclusive club began with 19 members, including those graduates of Columbia and Teachers College named at the beginning of the chapter. Among the others were James R. Angell, a colleague of Dewey's at the University of Chicago who became its president and later president of Yale. Angell had gotten his M.A. under William James at Harvard, his Ph.D. at Leipzig and was the first president of the American Psychological Association and later became a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation; Leonard Ayres, director of the Russell Sage Foundation; Abraham Flexner, director of the Rockefeller Institute; Paul Hanus, who set up Harvard's Graduate School of Education with the help of Rockefeller's General Education Board; Frank E. Spaulding, another Leipzig Ph.D. who organized Yale's Department of Education, was its chairman and later also a member of the General Education Board; Paul Monroe, director of Columbia's school of education and later founder and president of the World Federation of Education Associations; and Edward L. Thorndike.
The guiding spirit of the education mafia was Charles Judd who got his Ph.D. in 1896 from Prof. Wundt at Leipzig and became head of the Department of Education at the University of Chicago in 1909. He represented, par excellence, the Wundtian psychologist determined to reform American education according to scientific, evolutionary principles. According to Tyack:
He had a vision that both the structure of the schools and the curriculum needed radical revision, but that change would take place "in the haphazard fashion that has characterized our school history unless some group gets together and undertakes, in a cooperative way, to coordinate reforms.
Judd urged the members of the Cleveland Conference to jump into the breach and undertake "the positive and aggressive task of ... a detailed reorganization of the materials of instruction in schools of all grades.... It is intended that we make the undertaking as broad and democratic as possible by furnishing the energy for organizing a general movement at the same time we stimulate each other to make direct contributions wherever possible."
T'yack comments: "There was, of course, some incongruity in the notion of a small, self-appointed group of experts proposing a "democratic' revision of studies from the top down." Of course, the experts didn't bother to consult the parents of America. This radical revision was to be effected after the professionals got rid of local lay control of the public schools through a process of centralization.
Was the Cleveland Conference a conspiracy? It had no constitution, no minutes, no officers, no bylaws, and no "public life" whereby its deliberations could be scrutinized. It was, in short, very much a private, if not secret, organization, determining the future of public, taxpayer-supported education. And we can assume that there were many secret meetings and conversations among the small inner circle to determine, among other things, who to place where.
The education mafia was efficiently run by godfathers stationed in key universities: Cubberly at Stanford who was known as "Dad" by his graduate students, Judd at the University of Chicago, Strayer at Teachers College, New York. Tyack writes:
But it is one of the best known secrets in the fraternity of male administrators, a frequent topic of the higher gossip at meetings though hardly ever discussed in print, that there were "placement barons," usually professors of educational administration in universities such as Teachers College, Harvard, University of Chicago, or Stanford who had an inside track in placing their graduates in important positions. One educator commented after spending a weekend with Cubberly in Palo Alto that "Cubberly had an educational Tammany Hall that made the Strayer-Engelhardt Tammany Hall in New York look very weak.
But a placement baron could only be a power broker if the school board recognized his authority. And that is why the education mafia promoted "reform" of local school governance that wrested control of the public schools from elected politicians and put it in the hands of appointed professional educators. The reform movement had actually started in New York in 1896 under the leadership of Nicholas Murray Butler, then a professor at Columbia, and financed by the socially prominent. The movement spread across America. The results gave the godfathers enormous leverage and power in local communities. Tyack writes:
In Detroit, for example, local reformers who had fought for a new city charter and abolished the old ward-elected board of education turned for their superintendent to "the new school of professionally trained educators" and elected Charles Chadsey, trained at Teachers College and a protégé of George Strayer.
And what happened if you disobeyed your godfather? According to Tyack:
One principal recalled "Strayer's Law" for dealing with disloyal subordinates: "Give 'em the ax."
The radical revision of the public school curriculum could only be implemented if the superintendents, principals and professors, who were placed in strategic positions of power by their mentors, pushed for the reforms the godfathers wanted, regardless of what parents or traditional teachers desired. That, for example, is how the Progressives were able to replace phonics with look-say instruction in virtually all of the primary schools of America in a few short years. The two most prominent creators of look-say instruction materials were William Scott Gray, who worked under Judd, the mastermind of the Cleveland Conference, and Arthur I. Gates, who worked under Thorndike at Teachers College. Getting the books into the schools was easy, for according to Tyack: "The network of obligations linked local superintendents more to their sponsors than to their local patrons and clients."
So if you were a parent and wondered why your Johnny wasn't learning to read and found your local school superintendent unresponsive to parental concerns, the answer is that his career depended not on pleasing parents but on pleasing his sponsor. After all, if that's the way the godfathers said that reading ought to be taught, what superintendent would be so foolhardy as to contradict them?
The progressive network shared a number of basic beliefs that would form the philosophical foundation of the new curriculum:
an absolute faith in science and the theory of evolution; a belief that children could be taught very much like animals in accordance with the new behavioral psychology; a conviction that there was no place for religion in education and that traditional values were an obstacle to social progress which had to be removed.
It stands to reason that most of the Progressives, by definition, were political liberals and that many, like Dewey, considered socialism morally superior to capitalism. And it was Dewey's ideas, expressed in School and Society, which shaped much of the social content of the new curriculum. In the years to come the Progressives would make skillful use of the NEA to get America to accept their educational agenda for the future.
Get The Book!
N.E.A. - Trojan Horse in American Education by Samuel L. Blumenfed - the complete book with more details & facts about the creation of the National Education Association (NEA) and the demise of public education.
Suggested Reading List - the Demise of the Educational System - OBE (Outcome-Based Education), NEA (National Education Association), educational psychology, German psychology & influences, demise of public education, educational sabotage, Wundt, Pavlov, Dewey, Skinner, Watson.