Having spent the last eighteen years working with educators I am often surprised that there is little awareness of the Progressive roots of modern public education. In this essay Dr. Kirk makes the point that educationists, drawing from progressive theories and the psychology of Freud, created a system which they felt would make everyone well adjusted and productive. It is fair to say the actual results have been, and continue to be, very disappointing. – W. Winston Elliott III
Freud and the Educationists
Mr. Richard LaPiere, professor of sociology at Stanford and editor of the McGraw-Hill series in sociology and anthropology, has just published an important and courageous book: The Freudian Ethic, an Analysis of the Subversion of American Character (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, $5.00). The Protestant ethic (a term borrowed from Max Weber), Dr. LaPiere writes, is being supplanted by the Freudian ethic — that is, a coddling of the human person in the delusion that man is happiest when he is almost back in the womb.
This study contains the keenest demolition of Freudian psychology that I have seen anywhere, particularly the two chapters about Freudian theory and practice in education: “The Progressive School” and “The Adjustment Motif.” Going straight to the heart of the matter, Mr. LaPiere finds in a vague and vulgarized Freudian notion of man the principal cause of the failure of modern American education.
Publicly-supported schools in the United States, he points out, were established in the belief that they “would, in a generation or two, be the cure for every recognized social ill; and that the schools would, moreover, in the course of time, cost the taxpayer nothing, since the educated boys would grow up to be reasonable and honest men and the need for public support of jails, prisons, poor farms, and homes for the aged indigent would thus be eliminated.” This naive hope, derived from the Protestant ethic, died hard. As the public schools failed to fulfill these Utopian hopes, education was made compulsory, and extended to girls. We established the state teachers’ colleges — and so riveted upon ourselves the present shackles of Teachers’ College Columbia. “The end result of these and other related developments has been the creation of a fairly closed system of teacher recruitment, training, and accrediting that is impervious to correction from without and generates only nominal self-criticism within its own ranks.”
As the initial hopes of the zealots for state schooling waned, the doctrines of the evolutionary sociologist Lester F. Ward were invoked to sanction the public-school system: the schools were to work improvements in the social order. The entrenched educationists, however, “did not implement their philosophical goal by teaching teachers to transmit knowledge to public-school students. They became, rather, so preoccupied with the techniques of pedagogy that they largely and often totally ignored the fact that pedagogical techniques are means to an end rather than an end in themselves. Thus there came about an isolation of the professional educators from the sources of human knowledge — science and the humanities — that is now so complete that in every university the school of education –its faculty, and its students — is viewed with a mixture of anger and contempt by the scientists and humanists.”
This narrow clique of ill-educated professors of pedagogy has terribly injured our educational system by the false dogma that all men “are or can be made equal by education.” In truth, any society is the negation of equality. “What compulsory public school education was supposed to do was to eliminate intellectual inequalities in American society, to make all men — and later, women — scholars. What it has, perforce, come to do is strive to prevent any individual from rising above the intellectual mediocrity of the majority.”
Among the educationists, and a large part of the public — the theory now dominant is “the philosophy of what is fatuously termed ‘progressive’ education. It is this philosophy and what stems from it, rather than the failure of the public school to turn out intellectuals, that should occasion alarm. For the progressive school like the permissive family, is dedicated to the proposition that the psychological welfare of the individual is the highest value and that the function of the school is to foster self-expression and aid in the development of personality.”
The typical educationist may not be aware that the postulates he holds are derived from the teachings of Sigmund Freud. “Nonetheless, the modern progressive educator accepts a philosophy of education that, if fully realized and actually effective, would produce high-school graduates totally incapable of living in society and prepared only to spend the rest of their lives on the analyst’s couch. They would be passive, uncompetitive, unambitious, irresponsible, egocentric, and — of course — wondrously adjusted to doing nothing at all.”
Dr. LaPiere traces the process, in recent years, by which the “social reconstruction” educationists have become conscious or unconscious Freudians. “And so at this point the goals of progressive education and those of the Freudian ethic become indistinguishable. The new goal of progressive education is personality integration or ‘adjustment,’ which is just a non-Freudian way of saying the achievement of a reasonable balance within the individual of the forces of the id, the ego, and the super-ego. To that end the child must, decreed the progressive educators, be protected from the stresses and strains of participation in a competitive educational milieu.”
From such schools will come forth a generation — indeed, it already has arisen — without knowledge of norms, duties, and the fundamentals of human nature and the civil social order: a generation of spoiled brats, bored and potentially dangerous. “They will come, to some degree or other, to see themselves as the school defines them or to see in the school proof positive that they can get away with anything — anything short of murder, and perhaps even that.”
For an understanding of the ruinous fallacies of the dogma of “adjustment,” The Freudian Ethic is the best book I know. Why don’t you give a copy to a member of your local school board?
Books on or by Dr. Kirk may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Essays on or by Dr. Kirk may be found here. “From the Academy” by Russell Kirk from the National Review, August 29, 1959, p. 304.