Beyond Conspiracy Theory – The Sick History of Public Education


Funding America’s New Education

John D Rockefeller donated over $100 million dollars (equivalent of over $3bn in today’s dollars) to establish the General Education Board in 1902, and also to fund universities and teacher’s colleges across the nation. Andrew Carnegie chartered the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 1905. Both organizations had the explicit purpose of helping to bolster institutional schooling across the US. Though the aims of these men may appear altruistic (It should be noted Rockefeller only had two years of actual school attendance and Carnegie had none), their actual motives were of a different intent. Frederick Taylor Gates, who Rockefeller put in charge of daily operations of the General Education Board, had the below excerpt from the Board’s internal memos reprinted in his book The Country School of To-morrow:

In our dreams…people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive rural folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple…we will organize children…and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers were doing in an imperfect way.”

Ellwood P Cubberley, dean of the Stanford School of Education, was monumental in shaping educational practices across the US and was “perhaps the most significant theorist of educational administration of his day.” He worked directly and intimately with the Rockefeller General Education board on how to bring scientific management into public schooling. Cubberley wrote in his 1916 treatise, Public School Administration:

Our schools are, in a sense, factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products… The Specifications of manufacturing come from the demands of twentieth-century civilization, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down.”

The Rockefeller board explicitly worked to bring standardized and compulsory education out of the industrialized urban centers of the North and into the cities of the south and vast rural areas across the country. Additionally, the Rockefellers along with the Carnegie trusts worked to implement and expand standardized testing as the means in which schools could procure funding from both the public and private sector.

Remarks of the time will reflect on the success of these titanic influences. Edward A Ross, an esteemed economist and president of the American Sociological Association noted in his book bluntly titled Social Control: “The schooling of the young is a long-headed device to promote order” The goal of such a system is “To collect little plastic lumps of human dough from private households and shape them on the social kneading-board.