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The Guerrilla Curriculum

On the Corporatizing of Children

by John Taylor Gatto

Falconers have no difficulty understanding that to carry a falcon on oneís arm in opposition to its nature you have to put a bag over itís head; and horsemen know that a fast horse can be made to run more slowly by adding lead weights to its body; why is it so difficult to acknowledge then that some people might want to transfer these principles of mechanical intervention known to animal trainers to the scientific management of human children? That is to say, to impede their natures in interest of something more important to a manager.

To grasp the full extent of the experiment going on behind visible phenomenon of mass government schooling, it isnít necessary to invent inhuman agencies, only to see the situation of child training from the perspective of professional social managers. If society is looked upon as an anthill or a beehive, and a management draws on the logic of the corporation, school as we know it must follow.

Twenty-three intricately cantilevered global corporations control most of the flow of news, information, schooled texts, and entertainment world-wide, so you donít often get to hear the problem of modern schooling framed like this, that it is and must be a problem brought about by corporate schooling. Iíll try to show you what I mean in the next few minutes. The need to manage from afar runs counter to the needs of education.

The principal fountains of managerial theory have always been the throne, the church, the Army, and latterly, the University, all circumscribed by respective traditions until the invention of the humanized corporation 115 years ago. Corporations offered management freedom from onerous chains of obligation to some form of publicly approved morality; corporate life is purpose simplified towards one particular end, as such its logic requires it to translate everything into a matter of cost and benefit if it hopes to prosper. This single-mindedness made corporations dangerous neighbors so for all the fairly short history of this institution it was kept on a short leash by punitive laws and limits to its term of life, for all its history, a that is, until the 20th century.

Sometime in the first half of the 20th century, the management of large corporations slipped the chains of responsibility even to the owners of the businesses, while during the same period university programs were codifying with some precision the various depositories of historic managerial data, turning the data into mathematical principles. These university efforts were heavily subsidized by great business tycoons at first, but gradually they came to be underwritten by professionalized management itself.

As corporate consciousness involved, the need to eliminate social argument became obvious; the got in the way of efficiency. But the U. S. Posed a difficulty not found elsewhere since itís very governmental infrastructure was designed to preserve an even exalt argument, and all its popular traditions tended to be libertarian ones. Some means would have to be found to standardize the population if corporations were to realize their promise.

During the first great wave of corporate expansion at the end of the 19th century, a new form of experimentation on the minds of young people came into being through the agency of mass government schooling. America was already the best schooled nation in history, but school training was distributed among a half a dozen or more types, most of them private, none compulsory, and all very local and seasonal. At first this mass school experiment mimicked the outer forms of earlier schooling, but unbeknownst to most who witnessed it, the purpose was much different. Mass government schooling aimed to colonized the minds of children, to indoctrinate the young with ideas generated by the new social managers, ideas which often conflicted with the teaching of parents, churches, and traditions. The point of this colossal exercise was never to hurt or oppress anyone, but to make everyone adjust to the needs of the new corporate society.

The needs of corporate management came to dominate the 20th century, and as the traditional social balances of the past were abandoned, the need for control of the inner life rose apace. It was the only way to be sure or the great investments and machinery would be safe. What was going on here behind the scenes in private foundations and think tanks, or in universities strategy sessions can perhaps be best understood by looking at some foreign models and comparing their differences and similarities to what America was doing.

If you think of the three great western dictatorships of the last century, the biggest difference between Germany and Italy on the one hand, (and even Spain), and the Soviet Union on the other, the first three of these attempted to minutely control visible behavior, what you thought was your own business as long as you kept your mouth shut. But Russia was different, there prodigious effort was expanded to penetrate the inner life of citizens, to control their thoughts. George Orwell celebrates this crucial difference in his famous book, 1984, when he shows is dissident protagonist, Winston Smith, being kept alive, not executed, by the state -- until he comes to love Big Brother.

The Germans, it is true, made some impressive efforts to control the passion of its citizenry through propaganda, and to track many peopleís behavioral record through dossiers, but in the sheer amount of national wealth and effort expended to learn the inner secrets of men and women Nazi Germany was not in the league of Soviet Russia were psychology was raised to the level of supreme science.

Just as falcons and horses are controlled by suppressing their natures and understanding the crude springs of their behavior, so, too, children in the mass came to be seen as a corporate resource rather than as mothersí darlings, as "human resources" (surely youíve heard that term many times these days) to be managed. In part by rendering an incomplete, less able to think, to act, or to be responsible. People like that need managers and they know it.

To what degree all this was a by-product of the corporatizing of the American economy and to what degree a deliberate piece of human engineering to accelerate that corporatizing is a chicken and egg question we neednít answer completely because whatever it was, we live with the same reality at present. To think clearly about the fix schools are in and what might be a sensible way to enter the future to escape this dilemma, itís necessary to sophisticate your understanding of corporate history and corporate logic to see why an educated population is counter-indicated in the corporate utopia our country has become.

The principal of greatest moment you need to understand is this; people with minds of their own are difficult to manage, their difficult to take for granted, and they are likely to surprise you. A truly educated population would be a nightmare for market research. The full command of their minds, writing their own scripts from internal directives, they would be mathematically unpredictable. Such unpredictability would surely dampen the enthusiasm of large investors, the risk factor in business would soar.

It is so strange that powerful minds capable of building gigantic global enterprises, minds of the caliber of Andrew Carnegieís, J.P. Morganís, John D. Rockefellerís, and others of that stripe might have ambivalent feelings about what should go on in government schools? Suppose you felt that evolutionís plan was being served by the corporate concentration of wealth, and even that those who fell by the wayside did so in service to the better breeding stock which survived? Where these industrial giants thought who were intimately involved in the rise of mass schooling, one thing is certain; from its beginning it had in mind to teach very little beyond habits of memory and obedience this scheme was mask for long time by the momentum of the American past which demanded much more of its children, but bit by bit the potential intellect of children was eroded, the home-grown morality of local America was sanded down into pragmatism.

Hereís another way to think of it; itís no big secret how children become educated, it happens by exposing them intensely to history, philosophy, literature, art, theology, science, and politics; it happens by exposing them to association with competent people, by vesting real responsibility in them, and by a wide variety of primary experiences.

Do those things and the inevitable result is a man or woman able to place apparently disconnected events into patterns, to mine patterns for principals, and to turn principals into actions. Educated people relate the seemingly unrelated, they give unsuspecting relationships meaning.

If for whatever reason you wanted to suppress this educated consciousness, or to limit how many would have it, you would simply cut children off from these things until they werenít children anymore. At the same time you would extend childhood tutelage under the direction of trained government employees to blot up the dangerous times when children werenít in school. Longer school days, longer school years, more years in school, universal kindergarten - you would attempt to bring those about.

These things were already been done on an experimental basis around large universities that the time of World War I. After that war in the dumbing down procedures slowly grew despite some reversals until the end of World War II - when the project, if indeed it is a project, leaped ahead unchecked until the mid- 1980s when opposition built, slowing its forward motion.

It was a mere 225 years ago that the worldís first corporate state, Great Britain, lost its American colony in a war which established personal sovereignty and local control as the logic of the new United States; 110 years later, in 1886, the counter revolution was launched from the Supreme Court of the United States, a non-elected body, which aimed to reel the free men and women of America back into a corporate fold.

The case in question was a Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad. Its details arenít significant, but the precedent it established - that corporations have the same rights as people - was revolutionary. Let me explain why.

Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific removed the safeguards against corporate ambition which had remained in places since the days of Elizabeth I of England, when the corporation was invented with one specific purpose: to confer special privileges on enterprising men in exchange for their service to the political state. Because of dangers they pose, corporations were granted privileges of exclusivity for only 20 years and the directors of the corporation were fully liable for any mischief they caused. The American state of Pennsylvania was a corporation and so was Massachusetts. Originally everyone there was a corporate employee.

The first breach in the firewall protecting society from corporations occurred as a trade-off the British Crown made for the huge capital loans from investors; it agreed to allow immunity from full liability to corporate actors, it agreed to resurrect the ancient Viking custom of the "blood price," whereby criminal penalties for actions (which at the hands of individuals would have been punished in criminal court) were paid off with fines. Thus the way for cigarette companies to avoid accountability for 400,000 yearly dead in the U.S. was paved hundreds of years ago.

After the investiture of immunity, corporations could, and often did, get away with murder, treason, robbery, corruption of public officials, etc. As long as they could pay up, if caught. Krupp could sell cannons to the French during World War I and Standard Oil could sell fuel to the Naziís during World War II (if Harry Trumanís denunciation of the company from the floor the Senate in 1942 is correct), as their duty to stockholders.

American revolutionaries in 1776 were well aware of the way British elites used corporations to evade responsibility. Some of them were determined to protect their new nation from this evil, they knew that what was best for General Motors, so to speak, wasnít always best for society. And so the 200 corporations in operation by 1800 in the U.S. were so strictly regulated they were forbidden to participate in politics, either through soft money or hard. The reason was this; with their single-minded drive to maximize profit and their ability to escape real liability, corporations are compelled to work behind the scenes, if allowed, to secure favorable legislation and contracts for themselves, and to write unfavorable restrictions on competitors or to sabotage any uses of public money, always a finite quantity, which had no conceivable benefit to themselves.

The very nature of competitive capitalism compelled ethics to be set aside, because those competitors who were to ethical would soon find themselves at such a disadvantage he would be forced out of business. Or into mergers with their less scrupulous fellows.

Another restriction on corporations in early America was that they couldnít have financial interests in one another. No conglomerates were allowing because it was easy to see that such affairs would be impossible to scrutinize closely or to audit. In those days, a corporation could only deal in business set down in its charter - and charters were revoked all the time.

Around the Civil War, corporations won the right to engage in any kind of business, for any purpose, while still enjoying limited liability. One striking example of this was the case of young J.P. Morgan who sold a lot of defective rifles to the union Army which killed and maimed a number of people. Morgan was well aware of this deadly possibility because when he purchased the rifles for $1 a piece, they were clearly marked as defective rifles removed from U.S. Army stores. Without any repairs, Morgan sold the guns back to the Army for $13 each. His penalty was to return one-half of his profits.

After corporations were cut loose from the liability ordinary citizens, their advantage in profits-seeking over simple companies became enormous; they began to regard the purchase of official favors as nothing more than a justifiable cost of doing business. Unless you can see that this kind of corruption is built into the logic of these systems youíll never be able to penetrate the history of modern schooling.

In the period after the Civil War, corporations became bulk purchasers of legislation aimed at further expanding their privileges. Much capital was expended in crushing poorer competitors, often in the courts, to further increase their efficiency. Unless you force yourself to see the corporate capitalism beyond a certain point isnít capitalism at all, but something profoundly different, you canít understand modern corporate schooling, where competition is discouraged or forbidden, and children are arranged in layers according to their assigned destination in the workforce.

With the Santa Clara decision, corporations became people. Now when they set out to influence legislation they were only exercising a right to free speech. But because they were so successful in infiltrating government, they took on aspects of super human people, including, for the most successful, an immunity to death accomplished with the governmentís help. At some point during the 20th century, government assumed the obligation of healing the wounds of the largest corporations, insulating them from their own mistakes so that not only were they virtually immune from criminal prosecution, now they became virtually immune to economic failure as well.

Flagrant forms of government support like those which prevented bankrupt Chrysler and bankrupt Lockheed from vanishing are only the tip of the iceberg in the post-capitalistic corporate economy; greater by magnitudes were the guaranteed profits given to companies like Archer, Daniels, Midland or GE through heavy subsidization of products unable to sustain themselves by normal public demand. The computer industry itself was, and remains, a government project first and foremost, a social experiment launched by the defense and intelligence industries, as they are curiously called.

By 1930, gigantic corporate entities were preempting most of the work, employing 82 percent of the entire population. Despite loud angry rhetoric to the contrary, big business welcomed government intrusion because it made competition virtually impossible for the newcomer to manage. Without government regulation, the mighty combinations and railroading, farming, entertainment, real estate, and armaments production, among others, could not have survived. For the prospective competitor, the burden of regulation and paperwork was too expensive and fraught with dangers to take on; for the big player, on the other hand, there were no fatal mistakes because the labor force had nowhere else to turn.

By the late 1960s, America was unmistakably a corporate state devoted to efficient management. It was the largest empire in history, its military able to mobilize for crushing strikes anywhere on the planet. Empires at the core can be neither democratic nor republican, they are the domain of managers.

All this has taken place behind the smoke screen of national defense against the series of supposed foreign threats; from Germany, from Japan, from the Soviet Union, and now from China. Iíll leave for historians the job of sorting out what proportion of these threats were real, what proportion provoked, what fraction imaginary, but the net result is a world in which 100 corporations control one-third of the worldís wealth, command armies and electronic technology to impose behavior conducive to corporate health, and provide jobs for one percent of the population. All of the corporations of which I speak our super-national entities with no overriding reason to be loyal to the founding principles of the United States, and no reason not to use their influence to weaken the philosophic dialogue between republicanism and democracy which of necessity gets in the way of efficient business.

Iíve tried to cast some light on the problem of modern schooling here - that the problem is that our children have been turned into resources in a management game which has gotten out of control. The schooling we want is a kind that helps us make good people, good citizens, an independent, self-reliant spirits able to know what a good life is and make one for themselves. The schooling we have is one that seeks to make children manageable by professionals, makes them susceptible to propaganda, and it makes them good workers and good customers for others. That may be a schooling good enough for Britain or Germany or Japan - I have no doubt that it is - but for America, no. Itís simply will not do.

Copyright © 2000 by John Taylor Gatto All rights reserved.