Scientific Racism and Progressive Education

By:  Sam Blumenfeld
05/18/2012
       
Scientific Racism and Progressive Education

One of the skeletons in the Progressive Education closet is Scientific Racism, otherwise known as Eugenics, which the leaders of the Progressive movement enthusiastically espoused until the Nazis in Germany gave it a bad name.

 

One of the skeletons in the Progressive Education closet is Scientific Racism, otherwise known as Eugenics, which the leaders of the Progressive movement enthusiastically espoused until the Nazis in Germany gave it a bad name. The Eugenics movement had been founded by Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin’s, who became concerned with the low birthrate of the British elite which, he believed, endangered the future of civilization. He decided that ways had to be found to encourage the fertility of the superior stock and to discourage the fertility of the inferior stock.

To determine which individuals had superior traits, he devised a series of tests. In 1884 he formed an Anthropometric Laboratory in which he could make physical measurements of individuals. But he also needed a means of investigating psychological differences in human beings. In 1886, Galton was introduced to James McKeen Cattell, a young American who had just spent two years studying in the laboratories of Prof. Wilhelm Wundt, the world’s leading experimental psychologist, at Leipzig, Germany.

Cattell spent the next two years at Cambridge University where he set up a psych lab. He was completely taken in by Galton’s racial theories. In 1888 Cattell returned to the United States where he became professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1891, he moved to Teachers College, Columbia University, which became the birthplace of the Progressive Education movement. As professor of experimental psychology be built the nation’s leading department of psychology. In 1904 Cattell arranged for his friend John Dewey to come to Columbia as professor of philosophy.

At Columbia, Cattell’s star pupil was Edward L. Thorndike who espoused the principles of Eugenics and became America’s leading educational psychologist. He devised a new theory of learning based on conditioning techniques used in animal training. His book, Animal Intelligence (1898), laid the groundwork for the school of behaviorism.

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Sam Blumenfeld (photo)

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