A new book on Education And The Cold War: The Battle For The American School attempts to downplay the dominance of the Left in schools. “In other words, schools were not simply the expression of ruling class domination, but, rather, they functioned as the sites and the means of realization of that domination,” the author, Andrew Hartman, writes. “Educational ideology was not necessarily the sole product of bourgeois class-consciousness, but rather the product of bourgeois domination of the educational process.”
“Educational struggles were dialectical: education was not the pure instrument of the ruling class, it was a stake in a very bitter and continuous class struggle.” Hartman, a professor at Illinois State University, is himself an admitted Marxist.
Perhaps he has noticed that above-ground groups of Marxist scholars seem to outnumber Republicans in faculty chairs. “Liberty and order were mutually constitutive components of education,” he claims.
Hartman, who gets three cheers on his ratemyprofessor.com page, was also once a public school teacher. “But inequality tended to win out over democracy, reproduction over transformation, domination over deliverance, reification over utopia,” he writes. “This was especially true during the early Cold War, when any hope of dialectical balance was disproportionately tilted towards the tyrannical ends of order and discipline associated with wartime nationalism.”
He teaches history. “Not only were the majority of teachers not skilled enough to balance the demands of Dewey’s pedagogical system, most were politically conservative to the extent that they did not desire, or even consider, the possibilities of social transformation,” Hartman argues. “And this was especially true during the Cold War years, when teachers could not help but be more cautious and conservative than usual.”
To his credit, Hartman gives considerable space to conservative critics of higher education, for the most part fairly. One that he notably misses is the late Louis F. Budenz. In his 1954 book The Techniques of Communism, Budenz draws on some of the same data that Hartman uses but comes to radically different conclusions.
“The Communists have had a number of advantages in the penetration of schools and colleges,” Budenz wrote. “Outstanding among these is the philosophy of pragmatism, as enunciated by Dr. John Dewey, which dominates the present educational process.”
“Pragmatism is not a Communist philosophy, but it serves as a convenient cover under which the Reds may operate and also under which they may win many allies in the educational field.” Budenz knew whereof he spoke.
He joined the Communist Party in 1935 and served as editor of its official newspaper, The Daily Worker. “The philosophy of pragmatism rejects the supernatural and declares there is no absolute good or absolute truth, and that morality is growth and growth is morality,” Budenz explained. “The Communists believe that there is an absolute truth, Marxism-Leninism.”
“But with Stalin, they can pick up where the pragmatists leave off, asserting that that which is new and developing is right and moral, and that which is dying and decaying is wrong and immoral.” Does this sound familiar?
Stick around and you will hear more new ideas that you may have encountered. By the way, Budenz left the party in 1945.
“Progressive education has been an attempt to get away from formal methods of teaching, and to depend on spontaneous activities brought about by group discussions,” Budenz asserted. “The child is to be freed of discipline, and the program is to be initiated by the student rather than the teacher.”
“Competition and rewards are to be eliminated, and the character of the pupil’s work is not to be a major consideration.” This scenario could sound contemporary to public school parents half a century later who try to make heads or tails out of their children’s progress by deciphering just two grades—Steady Growth and Needs Support.
“The theory is that in this manner the child’s abilities will be released,” Budenz contended. “In practice, the result has been on the whole confusion and chaos.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.