How Progressive Educators Planned to Socialize America

By:  Sam Blumenfeld
11/10/2011
       
How Progressive Educators Planned to Socialize America

Most Americans who have become aware of the academic and moral decline of public education tend to believe that the humanistic curriculum that now dominates the system is of relatively recent origin. They believe that the great emphasis now placed on the “affective domain”— all of those programs devoted to values clarification, sensitivity training, group dynamics, feelings, sexuality — is somewhat new. Actually, it is far from new. The fact is that the groundwork for what we have in our schools today was laid early in the 20th century by the Progressives who knew exactly where they wanted to lead America: to a socialist society.

The Progressives were a new breed of educator that came on the scene in the late 19th century. These men, members of the "liberalized" Protestant academic elite, no longer believed in the religion of their fathers. They put their new faith in science, evolution and psychology. Science provided the means to know the material world. Evolution explained the origin of man, thus relegating the story of Genesis to mythology. And psychology institutionalized the scientific study of human nature and provided the scientific means to control human behavior.

Many of these progressives studied in Germany under Prof. Wilhelm Wundt, the father of experimental psychology. Among the most noteworthy were G. Stanley Hall, James McKeen Cattell, Charles Judd, James Earl Russell, James R. Angell and Frank E. Spaulding. They brought back to America Wundt’s teachings and methodology and set up psych labs of their own in American universities. In these labs man was to be studied scientifically as one would study an animal. But since human beings could not be experimented on in labs, the psychologists used animals.

Most Americans who have become aware of the academic and moral decline of public education tend to believe that the humanistic curriculum that now dominates the system is of relatively recent origin. They believe that the great emphasis now placed on the “affective domain”— all of those programs devoted to values clarification, sensitivity training, group dynamics, feelings, sexuality — is somewhat new. Actually, it is far from new. The fact is that the groundwork for what we have in our schools today was laid early in the 20th century by the Progressives who knew exactly where they wanted to lead America: to a socialist society.

The Progressives were a new breed of educator that came on the scene in the late 19th century. These men, members of the "liberalized" Protestant academic elite, no longer believed in the religion of their fathers. They put their new faith in science, evolution and psychology. Science provided the means to know the material world. Evolution explained the origin of man, thus relegating the story of Genesis to mythology. And psychology institutionalized the scientific study of human nature and provided the scientific means to control human behavior.

Many of these progressives studied in Germany under Prof. Wilhelm Wundt, the father of experimental psychology. Among the most noteworthy were G. Stanley Hall, James McKeen Cattell, Charles Judd, James Earl Russell, James R. Angell and Frank E. Spaulding. They brought back to America Wundt’s teachings and methodology and set up psych labs of their own in American universities. In these labs man was to be studied scientifically as one would study an animal. But since human beings could not be experimented on in labs, the psychologists used animals.

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Sam Blumenfeld (photo)

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