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The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control?


The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control?

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

This is part 2 of the series, “Class War and the College Crisis.”

Part 1: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals

Part 4: Student Strikes, Debt Domination, and Class War in Canada

Part 5: Canada’s Economic Collapse and Social Crisis

Part 6: The Québec Student Strike: From ‘Maple Spring’ to Summer Rebellion?

In Part 1 of this series, I examined the elite assault on education – through the Chamber of Commerce, right-wing think tanks, and the Trilateral Commission – which arose in response to the massive social and political activist movements of the 1960s. The threat of popular democratic participation – that is, active and activist participation of the population in the decision-making process of a community or nation – was too much to bear. The fact that a significant degree of this activism had been mobilizing from the universities was enough reason for elites to declare a “crisis of democracy” and demand more apathy, complacency, and pacification from the population, more authority for themselves, and more control over the society as a whole. The result of this was neoliberalism – globally and locally – in government, the media, and the schools. The “Crisis of Democracy” was that there was too much of it. The solution, therefore, was to deconstruct democracy.

The emergence and spread of education – both mass public and university – is generally considered to be the result of the Enlightenment ideals and the emergence of democracies. The idea was that education was developed and designed for the purpose of enlightening individuals, spreading literacy and fostering intellectual pursuits which would yield for the benefit of the whole of society, a benevolent institution. Indeed, there are these elements to the history of education; but like with most things, there are other, deeper, elements to the story. So it begs the question: what is the purpose of education?

The spread of ‘mass education’ of primary and secondary education from the Prussian system in the 18th century was designed to socialize the population into a state-structured ideology (taking the monopoly of education away from the religious and community institutions and into the hands of the emerging nation-state). The aim, therefore, of mass – or public – education was not a benevolent concept of expanding and sharing knowledge (as is purported in liberal thought), but rather as a means to foster patriotism and support the state system in preserving the social class structures. In 1807, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, one of the founding philosophers of this system, explained that educated was the means toward fostering patriotism, as “universal, state-directed, compulsory education would teach all Germans to be good Germans and would prepare them to play whatever role – military, economic, political – fell to them in helping the state reassert Prussian power.”[1] As British philosopher Bertrand Russell explained:

Fichte laid it down that education should aim at destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, they shall be incapable, throughout the rest of their lives, of thinking or acting otherwise than as their schoolmasters would have wished.[2]

It was in the promotion of state formation and patriotism that European nations, one after the other, developed mass schooling systems. In the United States, mass schooling was not directed toward the political process of ‘state formation’, but rather the cultural process of ‘nation-building’ in the 19th century. In the 19th century, the United States remained largely rural and nonindustrial, and thus, “the apparatus of state control was extremely weak in most communities.” As Meyer et. al. argue: in the American Journal of Sociology:

The spread of schooling in the rural North and West can best be understood as a social movement implementing a commonly held ideology of nation-building. It combined the outlook and interests of small entrepreneurs in a world market, evangelical Protestantism, and an individualistic conception of the polity.[3]

In early 19th century United States, many worried about “a new industrial feudalism supplanting the old order.” For such reformers, the complex circumstances in which they found themselves – of a society in which the old ideas and institutions were disappearing and new ones were emerging – could best be addressed by the common school, “serving all citizens, stamping them American and unifying the nation.”[4] This was, in itself, a desire for ‘social control’ in a socially disruptive circumstance of rapid change in all realms of human activity. As Robert H. Wiebe explained, “the instruments of control were themselves the means of improvement,” and schools were viewed as “assimilating, stabilizing mechanisms.” By the 1830s, school reformers “were urgently seeking a new national cohesion, a source of uniquely American wholeness.” The focus on socializing children was of the utmost concern. As one reformer stated, children “must be taken at the earliest opportunity, if the seeds of good are to be planted before the seeds of evil begin to germinate.” Thus, “the role of the educator was to construct a model environment around the child.”[5]

In the early 20th century, most Americans began to view “education as a task specifically of the schools rather than of a general society, a reflection of both the school’s expertise and a modern society’s rational differentiation of functions.” The institutional structure of schools became nationalized and more state-oriented than previously:

Central agencies of education, professionalization and publicity – the major teachers colleges and accrediting agencies, a revitalized National Education Association and a lengthening list of professional journals – set the agenda for discussion and the boundaries of debate throughout the land.[6]

The lower levels of education are directed at producing “general outputs for society,” while the higher levels may actually reflect and affect “socially and politically constituted authority.” In short, the lower levels produce the masses, while the higher levels may produce the managers. The university system is the dominant form of higher education in the world, far outweighing other forms of educational institutions that have existed through history. Universities emerged during the medieval period in Europe, which have been described as “corporations having close relations with both Church and State but possessing considerable independence in relation to each.”[7]

With the universities of medieval Europe, as sociologists Ramirez and Meyer explained, “a more promising strategy considers the relationship between centralized authority and the rise of universities,” as situations of political decentralization tended to favour the establishment of universities.[8] The university which arose during the Medieval period (1150-1500) was a corporation, a guild of masters and scholars, or professors and students. This was the era in which Western civilization was rapidly developing, and this “new and uniquely Western institution resulted from a combination of powerful societal trends.” These trends, wrote John. C Scott in the Journal of Higher Education, included “the revival of mercantilism, growth of cities and the urban middle class, and bureaucratization, along with the 12th-century intellectual renaissance.” Thus:

As European society became more complex, the universal Roman church, secular governments, and municipalities required educated priests, administrators, lawyers, physicians, and clerks for business. Fulfilling this social demand were the universities, which were clearly oriented toward teaching and the learned professions.[9]

There were student-controlled universities, predominantly in the south, such as the Bologna University, as well as universities of faculty governance, such as with the University of Paris. By 1500, the faculty-controlled university became dominant. The aims of the Medieval university was the pursuit of knowledge, “divine truth and learning,” focusing on the areas of law, medicine, and theology. Monarchs and others increasingly relied upon such learned men for their advice in matters of state and court systems, foreign affairs and diplomacy. At the undergraduate level, students came from all social classes and generally studied liberal arts. At the graduate level, however, “students pursued the higher disciplines of theology, medicine, and law. Most alumni served the church, state, or municipality in various capacities.” Save Russia, most of Europe had universities by the end of the Middle Ages, with roughly 80 in the region by then. Predominantly chartered by the Roman church, or by monarchs, these pseudo-autonomous institutions “were subject to the authority of popes, monarchs, local bishops, dukes, or municipalities, depending upon the country and century.”[10]

The medieval university had a cosmopolitan nature, seen as a place of “universal knowledge” which was tied to the “universal ideology of Christendom,” and was not tied to any particular nation-state, largely developing prior to the centralization of nation-states. Scholars traveled all across Europe to the great medieval universities, from Bologna to Paris, to Oxford and Toledo, reflecting their cosmopolitan nature. As sociologist Gerard Delanty wrote in the journal, Social Epistemology:

At first the scholars were generally monks but later they were increasingly secular and became absorbed into the centralization and absolutist state. With the rise of the territorial nation-state from the seventeenth century onwards, the university became increasingly more and more nationalized and gradually lost its transnational character. With this went a decline in its ecclesiastical function: knowledge became a free-floating discourse to be used for domination or emancipation… As an institution the university owed its tremendous power to the fact that it originated at a time when the moral and political power of the Church was in decline but when the modern state system had not yet emerged.[11]

Thus, “the university found itself in a powerful position and could monopolize the field of knowledge.” As the ‘Age of Reason’ descended upon the West, the universal ideology of Christendom that was so paramount in the medieval period shifted to one of rationalizing logic and experimental science. The Reformation and scientific revolution “greatly facilitated this shift in the function of the university.” The university became the institution of knowledge, and as a result, was able to resist both church and state. However, in the transition into the modern period, with the rise of the nation-state, the state quickly sought to ally with the university, which increasingly came under state patronage. The state, whether the British Restoration government or French Absolute state, viewed the universities “as important institutions in the administration of society.”[12]

As the nation-states developed, particularly in England, Spain, and France, the relative autonomy of the first universities started to be eroded. As one academic wrote, “universities throughout Europe in the course of the fifteenth century tended in the same direction – towards the nationalization of Paris as of all other universities.” The University of Paris, then, became subservient to the crown and, thereafter, universities increasingly became national institutions with the mission of “service to the state.”[13]

The role for universities in training a new governing elite became increasingly important as the schools came under the control of new nation-states, municipalities and principalities: “Kings therefore emphasized the acquisition of advanced, secular knowledge and technical skills by students – future public servants – in order to build up efficient state bureaucracies.” Close advisers to kings, princes, and republics would also be expected to be men with legal training from the universities. This era marks the transition from the medieval university to the early modern university:

the early modern university was far more socially responsive than the medieval university because of humanist professors’ emphasis on ethical values for themselves and their students. Early modern universities continued to expand as a movement while making solid scientific and scholarly contributions. The newly consolidated state began to increase visitations, intervention, regulation (curriculum, subjects taught, and publications allowed), and appointment of chancellors.[14]

This was also the era in which these institutions increasingly moved toward professionalization in the modern sense, armed with a new “sociopolitical mission” as “an ideological arm of the state.” As one writer explained it, “The state protects the action of the University; the University safeguards the thought of the state.” Between 1500 and 1800, the university in Europe experienced an enormous expansion, even into Russia, which was untouched by the medieval university, and Europe had roughly 190 universities existing during this period. This era of early modern civilization, with the growth of the nation-state, and the imperial expansion into the New World, the Spanish even put in place state-controlled colonial universities across Latin America, the first of which was founded in Santo Domingo [today Haiti and the Dominican Republic] in 1538. These universities, overtly serving a colonial agenda, “prepared missionaries and jurists for the settlement of the New World.”[15]

With the Enlightenment came a new form of nation-state, the Liberal Nation-State, which further influenced the changing nature of the university during this era. The Enlightenment era saw the further development of the university “under the auspices of the central and national state providing it with a system of knowledge, which was at the same time a system of power.”[16] The aim was to put these universities “to work for the new liberal State and its economic needs.”[17]

Fichte, who was considered one of the intellectual fathers of the Prussian mass schooling system, was also influential in the move toward a modern university system, and his goals were quite similar. Just as mass schooling was established to serve the state, Fichte felt that “the academics should be the new spiritual leaders of society.” The main difference between this Enlightenment model of the university and the medieval one was marked by the shift from city to nation. As the Enlightenment had different effects in different nations, the relationship that developed between the nation and the university was different in each case. In Germany, the university became the cultural center of the nation, while in France its focus was more on producing an actual core of civil servants. In each case, however, the aim of the university was to serve the nation in some capacity, whether functionally, ideologically, culturally, or all of the above.[18]

With the development of the American university system, we still see the objective of serving the nation as inherent in this Enlightenment idea of the ‘modern university.’ In America, the new schools were replacing the old, ill-equipped and elitist colonial colleges. The establishment of universities became a core mission of the founders, as ten key founders also founded academic institutions, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, George Wythe, Benjamin Rush, William S. Johnson, William R. Davie, Abraham Baldwin, and Manasseh Cutler. Thus, many of the schools had inherent within them a ‘nationalizing’ mission, a mission to serve the nation, though it may not be explicitly the State.[19]

At the turn of the 20th century, there was a great debate on the missions of the new distinctly American universities. There were profound social, political, and economic changes that had occurred in the post-Civil War period, as America experienced its Industrial Revolution, rise of the corporations, and with that, the Robber Baron industrialists, who increasingly took over the political culture of the nation, which was increasingly centralizing, increasingly imperialistic, and with the labour class exponentially distrustful, resentful and resistant to the new dominant capitalistic powers that emerged. This was further checked by an increasingly educated middle class, informed largely by the rapid new developments in communications and technology, who were also becoming wary of the excesses of Big Business, but at the same time, worried about the threat of rebellion from the lower classes. In short, it was a socially explosive situation, in what came to be known as the Progressive Era, as middle class reformers took the stage in advocating and implementing major social reforms to establish a more stable, lasting society. Thus, the new modern American universities were to combine the ideals of research, teaching, and public service, as many believed the schools should “advance basic knowledge and provide the technical expertise required by a modern industrial society.”[20] Thus, as Scott wrote:

Faculties in the new applied sciences, emerging social sciences, and even an important minority in the humanities believed strongly in the social utility of their disciplines. Professors in the social sciences were often committed to public service. To this end, schools of political science were established at Columbia, Michigan, and Wisconsin during the 1880s and 1890s. At the same time, within departments of economics and sociology, there were devotees of social utility. Psychology, which was then a part of philosophy, also developed a faction devoted to utility (pragmatism). Social scientists served their society in the capacity of experts, which also involved research. By 1900, the “useful” university was establishing such untraditional fields of study as business administration, physical education, sanitary science, and engineering.[21]

The Robber Baron industrialists of the late 19th century – Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Astor, Vanderbilt, Harriman, etc. – were unquestionably the dominant powers in the country. They controlled the economy, hundreds of corporations, had hundreds of millions or billions in wealth, the banks, bought the politicians, directed foreign policy into an increasingly imperialistic direction, and thus, they saw it as essential to cement their control over society through social institutions, as the masses were hateful of them and needed to be properly controlled. Social control became the major concept of interest for elites and middle class reformers.

In this era of social control, education became increasingly important, not only in terms of mass schooling, which experienced many reforms, but also in terms of the university system. As Andrew Carnegie wrote in 1889, at the top of the list of “charitable deeds” to undertake was “the founding of a university by men enormously rich, such men as must necessarily be few in any country.” It was in this context, of robber barons seeking to remake education, that we see the founding of several of America’s top universities, many of which were named after their robber baron founders, such as Stanford (after Leland Stanford), Cornell (after Ezra Cornell), and Johns Hopkins, who owned the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.[22] This new class of industrialists, who emerged out of the Civil War in America, “challenged the position of the old propertied, pre-industrial elite. This struggle crystallized in particular around the reform of the educational system that had legitimated the old elite’s domination.”[23] The modern university was born out of this struggle between elites, with the old educational system based upon religious and moral values, “and the making of gentlemen,” while the “new education” focused on “the importance of management or administration” as well as “public service, [and] the advancement of knowledge through original investigation.”[24]

John D. Rockefeller founded the University of Chicago in 1891, and the President of the University, “initiated a new disciplinary system, which was enormously influential.” Ultimately, it “led to the formation of the department structure of the American university, which was internationally unique,” and was later exported around the world “with the help of American foundations.”[25] This disciplinary system consisted of separating politics from economics (rejecting the notion of ‘political economy’ and its ‘ideologies’), as ideology was “deemed unscientific and inappropriate in social sciences and political scientists have increasingly seen their function as service to the powerful, rather than providing leadership to populist or socialist movements.”[26]

There was an obvious desire to “foster the teaching of practical knowledge and skills serving the development of commerce and industry, against the prevailing academic traditions.” However, it also allowed for “a way of diagnosing the social upheavals caused by the accelerated shift from a still largely agrarian society to an industrial mass society” of which they were the dominant class. In particular, the labor unrest of the 19th century was especially prevalent in the minds of the dominant class. Since “social reform was inevitable,” these industrialists “chose to invest in the definition and scientific treatment of the ‘social questions’ of their time,” and subsequently, they “promoted reformist solutions that did not threaten the capitalistic nature of the social order,” and instead constructed a “private alternative to socialism.”[27] In other words, it marked the construction of a highly corporatist society, merging state and corporate power through institutions, individuals, and ideology.

The Social Sciences and Social Control

The concept of ‘social control’ emerged from the developing field of sociology as a discipline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As sociologist Morris Janowitz wrote in the American Journal of Sociology, “in the emergence of sociology as an intellectual discipline, the idea of social control was a central concept for analyzing social organization and the development of industrial society.”[28] Social control is largely viewed as forms of control which reduce coercion, and thus, enhance consent to the system or organizations in question. Even a society with an effective system of social control would require a structure of coercion, but depending on how advanced the social control system is, the less need there would be for coercion. Hence, the societies which are the most advanced in social control would also be less dependent upon internal methods of coercion. Thus, it was within liberal democratic states that both the study and implementation of social control became most effective. In this sense, the question was “whether the processes of social control are able to maintain the social order [hierarchy] while transformation and social change take place.”[29]

Sociology largely emerged from the University of Chicago (founded by John D. Rockefeller), with the world’s first department of sociology founded in 1892. The sociologists who rose within and out of the University of Chicago made up what was known as the ‘Chicago School of Sociology.’ The school developed the most influential sociologists in the nation, including George Herbert Mead and W.I. Thomas, two scholars who had profound influence on the development of the concept of ‘social control,’ and sociologists became “reform-oriented liberals, not radical revolutionaries or conservative cynics.”[30]

The new industrial elite accumulated millions and even hundreds of millions by the end of the 19th century: Andrew Carnegie was worth roughly $300 million after he sold Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan in 1901, and by 1913, John D. Rockefeller was estimated to have a personal worth of $900 million. It was with Rockefeller that we see the development of the scientific notion of philanthropy.[31] Rockefeller had founded the Institute for Medical Research in 1901, the General Education Board (GEB) in 1903, and the Sanitary Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm in 1909. Rockefeller, however, wanted to consolidate his philanthropic enterprise as he had his industrial oil enterprise, and so in 1909 he decided he wanted to establish one great foundation, which “would be a single central holding company which would finance any and all of the other benevolent organizations, and thus necessarily subject them to its general supervision.”[32] In 1913, the Rockefeller Foundation received a charter of incorporation from the State of New York.

Between 1881 and 1907, Andrew Carnegie had contributed over $40 million to establishing more than 1,600 libraries in the United States alone, but it was after selling Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan in 1901 for $300 million that Carnegie began to look at philanthropy on a much larger scale. In 1902, he founded the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and in 1904, founded the Carnegie Corporation of Washington, of which the mission was, “to encourage in the broadest and most liberal manner, investigation, research and discovery, and the application of knowledge to the improvement of mankind,” much like the original mission statement of the Rockefeller Foundation created some years later, “to promote the well-being of mankind.”[33] Carnegie founded, in 1911, the Carnegie Corporation, chartered by the New York State legislature.[34]

These philanthropic foundations, and the many others that appeared in and around the same time, and thereafter, were largely imbued with the idea of “science in the service of society” as a goal for the foundation, basing its actions upon a new rationality brought on by the scientific revolution, and by the notions of reform pushed forward in the Progressive Era, based largely upon the concept of scientific social planning “to problems that educators, the new sociologists, social workers, and political scientists found important.” However, as the wealth of the foundations and the positions of their patrons attracted criticisms, a Congressional commission was on industrial relations (founded to settle a matter related to a brutal repression of a mining strike by a Rockefeller-owned mining company) expanded its scope to deal with the general issue of the foundations. The Walsh Commission, as it was known (after its founder, Frank P. Walsh), was formed in 1914, and Walsh explained the inclusion of the foundations in the commission by postulating that:

the creation of the Rockefeller and other foundations was the beginning of an effort to perpetuate the present position of predatory wealth through the corruption of sources of public information… [and] that if not checked by legislation, these foundations will be used as instruments to change to form of government of the U.S. at a future date, and there is even a hint that there is a fear of a monarchy.[35]

In 1916, the Walsh Commission produced its final report, the Manly Report (after the research director, Basil M. Manly), which concluded that the foundations were so “grave a menace” to society, that “it would be desirable to recommend their abolition.” No such actions were taken.[36]

David Nugent, an anthropologist at Emory University, wrote a rather lengthy article for the academic journal, Identities, on the role of foundations in shaping the social sciences. Nugent takes a look at the development of the social sciences in relation to the construction of an American Empire. As such, the shaping of the social sciences was designed, at least in part, with an aim to facilitate the emergence and maintenance of a large, globally expanding empire, but an empire unlike previous ones, with no official overseas colonies; rather, it was to be an informal global empire. Globally expansive and locally administered colonies were to replaced with globally expansive and locally applicable social sciences. In order for the empire to spread its military and commercial might across the world, first, the ideas at the heart of the empire must proliferate globally. Imperialism is not merely a political or economic endeavour; it is, and arguably more importantly, a socio-cultural process.

The colonization of the Americas and Africa by the European powers – with their political apparatus and for the benefit of their commercial and financial appendages – would not have been possible without the powerful social and cultural imperialism of the missionaries, whose ‘gospel’ debased traditional local cultural, spiritual, and religious practices and introduced new conceptions of morality, values, truth, justice, and knowledge. The social sciences then, presented the world with a form of imperialism focused on the construction of a new form of knowledge by which to understand, define, categorize, and change our world. The new missionaries spreading this new gospel were the dominant American foundations, most notably, the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations, later to be joined by a plethora of others, including the Ford Foundation.

Nugent divides the construction of the social sciences in America, and indeed around the world, into three specific time periods; periods which are defined by economic crises and major geopolitical shifts taking place within those parts of the world which the United States seeks to dominate and control. The first period Nugent identified is what he referred to as the “Formation of Overseas Empire,” from 1900-1940. This period was preceded with an economic depression in 1893 and ended with World War II, though the most rapid changes in the social sciences occurred between World War I and World War II. The second period Nugent identified, the “Consolidation of Overseas Empire,” covered the period of 1943 to 1972, responding to the Depression in the 1930s, the ending of World War II and the subsequent decolonization of the so-called ‘Third World,’ and came to an end with the end of the Bretton Woods agreement in 1972, signaling a new phase of rapid economic changes. The third major period then, the “Reconstruction of Overseas Empire,” took place roughly between 1972 and 2001, which began with the recession of the early 70s, marking profound changes across the Third World, the emergence of neoliberalism, and advanced into the 21st century.[37]

Nugent rightly points out that, while the sponsors of the social sciences, namely, the major foundations, produced such knowledge with specific purpose and intent in establishing and re-enforcing hegemony, empire, domination, social engineering, and social control, it would be a mistake to brand all social science knowledge as being in the service to such interests. Indeed, Nugent wrote, “each of the three period generated a small body of progressive scholarship alongside a much larger corpus of conventional knowledge.”[38]

In the period between World War I and World War II, just as the foundations were themselves emerging, their initial focus in education was in financing the reorganization of major universities in the United States, and almost simultaneously, “they also oversaw sweeping changes in the organization of the social sciences – in the aims, methods, and means of evaluating research, in the background, training, and professional activities of the practitioners, and in the institutional processes that underwrote the production of knowledge.”[39] In this period, both Western scholars in North America and Europe, as well as non-Western scholars in Africa, the Americas, and even in China, were concerned with studying the ways in which North Atlantic industrial capitalism and European imperialism had been “shaping regional and local arenas around the globe, in undermining indigenous economic and socio-political forms, in precipitating enormous population movements, and in stimulating novel cultural configurations and new forms of political affiliation.”[40]

While the Rockefeller philanthropies (including the General Education Board, the Laura-Spellman Rockefeller Memorial, and the Rockefeller Foundation) as well as the Carnegie Corporation were the most influential in this process, they were joined by the Russell Sage Foundation, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the Phelps-Stokes Fund, and eventually several prominent think tanks (which they also created), such as the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations. It was not merely within the United States that these foundations organized and funded the social sciences, but in fact across much of the English-speaking world as a whole, and indeed, well beyond it. Much of their finances went to helping various organizations reform and accommodate these new forms of knowledge; however, the foundations also created several new institutions to achieve their goals in the social sciences or to focus on the specific goal of altering particular institutions. As Nugent noted:

during a period when nation-states were the main arbiters of cultural messages and capital flows, the social science infrastructure that Rockefeller, Carnegie and the other foundations helped to construct was largely independent of (though in no way in conflict with) national controls. In the long run, this infrastructure promoted a “flexible accumulation of knowledge” on a global scale, and in the process helped bring into being an international public sphere of social science knowledge.[41]

This task of “social control” was envisioned by the foundations as consisting in “helping the masses ‘adjust’ to the rigors of industrial life and representative democracy.” The problems with social control that erupted in this era were identified by the foundations as being caused by a number of factors, including the deteriorating condition of the cities, a lack of understanding of the immigrant populations and democratic institutions, resulting in the breakdown of social order. Thus, as Nugent wrote, “the result was a sweeping program of social change and control.”[42]

A Rockefeller Foundation report acknowledged that many people in the world had already been subjected to the “enormously damaging effects… of industrial activity,” and saw it as necessary to alter the “radically false views of life and radically false views of nature” by many of these people. To bring these people into the modern age, foundations agreed, they needed to effect “almost a social revolution,” and to offer these people “training in new forms of political and social organization.” John D. Rockefeller, Jr., articulating the purpose of the Rockefeller Foundation, explained that it would offer “the best of Western civilization, not only in… science but in mental development and spiritual culture.” Science, of course, was the basis upon which the foundations were created: to not only advance the sciences within their own fields, but to advance the principle of the “scientific management” of society. Wicliffe Rose, a professor who was involved in managing several different Rockefeller philanthropies, wrote in a memorandum for Rockefeller officials in 1923:

All important fields of activity… from the breeding of bees to the administration of an empire, call for an understanding of the spirit and technique of modern science… Science is the method of knowledge. It is the key to such dominion as man may ever exercise over his physical environment. Appreciation of its spirit and technique, moreover, determines the mental attitude of a people, affects the entire system of education, and carried with it the shaping of a civilization.[43]

In the 1920s, the Rockefeller interventions in the social sciences were almost exclusively undertaken by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM), named after John D. Rockefeller’s wife after her death. The Rockefeller Foundation, following the public exposures of the Walsh Commission, primarily maintained itself to funding medicine and public health. Beardsley Ruml, who became director of the LSRM in 1922, was largely responsible for the Rockefeller move into the social sciences, as the LSRM had been primarily concerned with social welfare prior to Ruml’s directorship. On top of the social sciences, Ruml directed the LSRM into funding public administration, and Ruml felt that, “the route to advancing human welfare was through scientific social research,” and thus, “means had to be devised to bring the social scientist into intimate contact with social phenomena.” The main idea was that the social sciences should elevate to establish an equal relationship with that of the natural sciences by making them more “scientific,” and thus, more efficient and able to handle social problems.[44]

Two general scientific objectives were established for organizing the social sciences, the first of which was, “to increase for the scientist and scholar the possibilities of immediate personal observation of the social problems or social phenomena which were under investigation,” and the second objective was to promote inter-disciplinary research. To undertake this, Ruml set out two specific programs of action:

First, the creation of institutional centers in various parts of the world that would with Rockefeller money embody scientific teaching and research. Collaborative research was to be encouraged through the specific research grants to these institutions. These centers would therefore not only be creative institutions but would also serve as a model for the development of the social sciences generally. Second, Ruml began an extensive fellowship program which was designed to complement the training provided by the institutional centers and increase the number of able people working in the field.[45]

Ruml also saw the need to strengthen existing institutions, notably, the elite American universities, which would become “institutional centers of social research.” Edmund E. Day, director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Social Sciences program from 1928-1937, explained in 1930 that the plan was to develop “within each country of any importance some center which would fructify the local situation and influence other institutions within the same sphere of scientific influence, then within the larger regional centers.” Focusing on the United States and Europe, the LSRM stated in 1926 that its main policy was directed at establishing 12 or 15 centers of social science research around the world, one specific center in each major European country, (University of Stockholm, Deutsche Hochscule für in Berlin, and the London School of Economics), and several in the United States. The LSRM was merged into the Rockefeller Foundation in 1929, which adopted the same agenda established by Ruml in seeking to cultivate through such institutions “a scientific approach to social problems.”[46]

Through the fellowship program, established at the LSRM by Ruml in 1923, students in Europe and Australia were often brought to study in the United States, with the favoured subject within the social sciences being economics, considering it was the closest to establishing itself along the lines of the physical sciences. As the Rockefeller Foundation prepared to incorporate the LSRM into its institutional structure, Edmund E. Day took over as director of the Social Sciences from Ruml in 1928, with the new Social Science division becoming a “formal organization,” just as the Foundation’s other major divisions of medicine, natural science, and the humanities. In 1930, Day wrote that, “what we have to do is to establish in the social sciences the scientific tradition and the scientific habit of mind,” and thus, the Foundation should work to strengthen “certain types of interest and certain habits of thought.” Naturally, this would be “thought” which would be in the “interest” of the Foundation, itself. The aim in doing this was to “coordinate the scientific attack upon social problems,” as education professor, Donald Fisher, wrote in Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism. Edmund Day saw the potential for the social sciences to engage in “human engineering,” and stated quite bluntly: “the validation of the findings of social science must be through effective social control.”[47]

In 1932, the Foundation put emphasis on the support for creating a field of “International Relations,” within Political Science, as well as “the planning and control of economic structures and economic process.” In the area of “International Relations,” the Rockefeller Foundation hoped to “promote understanding among nations and to reduce the friction which may lead to warfare,” which, combined with the program of “Economic Control” was hoped to prevent any future “crisis of capitalism.” A 1934 Rockefeller Foundation committee of trustees produced a report on the Social Sciences Division, explaining, “we now have the opportunity to see whether we cannot assist in applying to concrete problems of our social, political and industrial life some of the ideas and data which research all over the world is rapidly developing.”[48]

In 1932-33, as the Board was considering the proposals of reform in education, all the programs were subject to the ultimate approval of the Board of Trustees of the GEB, which at the time included 15 individuals, all of whom were white, male protestants, including John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his 27 year old son, John D. Rockefeller, III, and most of whom had been educated at Ivy League schools or the University of Chicago, which had been founded by John D. Rockefeller. Nine of the fifteen trustees were also academics, and seven of them had been senior administrators at major educational institutions, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, N.Y.U, Stanford, and the University of Chicago. Other members of the trustees included Owen Young, Chairman of the Board of General Electric, as well as banker Arthur Woods, and Raymond Fosdick, a Wall Street lawyer who would later become President of the Rockefeller Foundation. By 1931, the GEB’s survey of education emphasized three major fields of concentration:

1) the study of the learning process and the mental, physical, and moral development of the individual; 2) the problem of “preparing the individual for vocations and leisure”; and 3) the means for relating education to an evolving society, that is education which would “insure the active adaptation of the individual to the changes which may come in his social, physical and aesthetic environments.”[49]

It was Edmund E. Day, the new director of the Social Science Division, who assumed the greatest leadership in coordinating national reform of education, having previously been an economics professor at Dartmouth, Harvard, and was Dean of the School of Business Administration at the University of Michigan, when he subsequently led the social sciences division at the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial until its incorporation into the Rockefeller Foundation between 1928 and 1930, at which time he assumed his role as director of the Social Sciences Division within both the Rockefeller Foundation and the General Education Board. Day was responsible for articulating and selling the ideas of educational reform to the Board of Trustees, which he did in 1932 in a memorandum entitled, “Cultural Adjustment to a Changing World.” In regards to the social upheavals of the early Depression years, Day wrote in 1933 that, “Industrialism and urbanism… are new forces of tremendous power, neither of which has been brought under sensible control. The way out is not yet evident, and a prolonged period of readjustment is presumably unavoidable.” Day acknowledged that “prevailing social ideas and ideals in the United States were seriously out of accord with current social forms and forces,” however, he argued, the answer did not lie in reforming the social world to meet the needs of the individual, but in adjusting the individual to the social world. As Day wrote, “we must look chiefly to the school for the major efforts toward cultural adjustment of the individual, since the school is a social instrumentality with a uniquely flexible adaptability and with a primary responsibility to meet this need.” Thus, the school could “set the individual in satisfactory general relation to the world in which he lived.”[50]

Between 1919 and 1940, the Rockefeller, Carnegie, and other major philanthropies provided roughly $3.2 million of support for the social sciences in British universities, and a further $1.7 million for “independent organizations which were closely tied to the universities.” The two major Rockefeller philanthropies at the time, the LSRM and the RF, provided roughly 95% of these expenditures. Thus, it was American philanthropy, and principally the Rockefeller foundations which were directly responsible for the development of British social sciences in this period. Only in the late 1930s did British philanthropy pick up the slack from the Rockefeller foundations.[51]

Rockefeller money was also pivotal in the establishment of the London School of Economics (LSE), which “had become an important world centre of the social sciences,” in large part due to the involvement of Rockefeller philanthropies. The Rockefeller foundations selected the LSE specifically for support because in the early 1920s, it was the most advanced center of social sciences in Britain, and could thus serve as a model for the rest of British institutions. Further, the director of the LSE, Lord William Beveridge (also a member of the British Eugenics Society), “shared with Rockefeller philanthropy the same conception of the way in which the social sciences should develop,” specifically in terms of utilizing the “natural scientific approach” to social problems. Also important to note as to why the LSE was chosen, was its strategic location in London, at the heart of the world’s most powerful and globally expanded empire at the time.[52]

Between 1923 and 1939, the LSRM and the Rockefeller Foundation provided the LSE with over $2 million, during which time the school expanded rapidly, becoming “the leading centre of research in the Social Sciences” in the British Empire. Building expansions, the establishment of the leading research library in Britain, acquisition of land, equipment, and a dramatic increase in full-time teachers from 26 in 1923 to 76 by 1937, was largely due to Rockefeller support. Rockefeller money in particular ensured the development of anthropology, international relations, and social biology, and student enrollment also dramatically increased with large grants from Rockefeller philanthropies for postgraduate research and teaching. Thus, by the end of the 1930s, the LSE had “become an international centre training many foreign students.” Grants also contributed to expanding and supporting publications by LSE faculty, with an enormous amount of books and articles emerging as a result of this support, and supported the creation of journals run out of the school as well.[53]

Rockefeller money also flowed into developing the social sciences at Oxford, funding research lecturers for Human Geography, African Sociology, Colonial Administration, Public Administration, and Public Finance, with more money flowing into forming a training program for the social sciences as well as research groups in the area of Economics, Colonial Administration, and Studies of Native Populations, subjects explicitly related to maintaining Britain’s imperial status. Rockefeller foundations also expanded a fellowship program into every university in Britain, granting a total of 108 fellowships in the social sciences to British citizens between 1924 and 1940, and “by far the largest number were awarded to economists,” with Political Science following behind, and subsequently sociology and history, and only 8 anthropology fellowships.[54]

In 1946, a British government report surveying the state of British universities concluded that the social sciences, which had received no prior support from government sources, presented as many possibilities of generating applicable knowledge as did the natural sciences, and were thus worth of government support in order to advance the social sciences in the “national interest.” A committee was subsequently established to handle government subsidies of the social sciences, and in the 1950s, the British social sciences experienced a major “boom,” advancing what was begun with Rockefeller money so that it became state sanctioned, and, in effect, a new socially constructed reality of higher education in Britain: “the social sciences had become a recognized part of the university curriculum.”[55] As professor of education Donald Fisher wrote:

Indeed Rockefeller philanthropy prepared the way for the post-World War II developments in Britain not only in terms of the increased spending by government but also with respect to what was regarded as important in the social sciences. Rockefeller philanthropy had determined which subjects should be studied, which research questions should be answered, and which methods should be utilized to answer these questions.[56]

This era marked the emergence of what has been referred to as “technocratic liberalism,” whereby social problems were addressed (in large part by the state, or at least state sanction) through the technical application of programs of social engineering: “the one best way,” the most efficient, effective, and “scientific” approach to understanding and addressing social problems. This was the task taken up by the “rational reformers” of the era, emerging out of the Progressive period, in which the techniques of the social sciences were used to create a system of “social control.” These social engineers– social scientists, technocratic reformers, experts, philanthropists, etc. – felt that society could “control its collective destiny in contrast to drifting with the tides… even while working toward the management of the many by the few.”[57]

The notion that the social sciences were to be used in the application of and for the purpose of ‘social control’ is not an abstract theoretical interpretation of the Foundation’s policies; it was, in fact, stated policy. In 1933, the President of the Rockefeller Foundation, Max Mason, wrote that the Foundation’s policies:

… were directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding. The Social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control; the Medical and Natural sciences propose a closely coordinated study of sciences which underlie personal understanding and personal control. Many procedures will be explicitly co-operative between divisions. The Medical and Natural Sciences will, through psychiatry and psychobiology, have a strong interest in the problems of mental disease [emphasis added].[58]

The influence of the major philanthropic foundations is exerted in a plethora of ways, including, wrote political scientist Joan Roelofs:

creating ideology and the common wisdom; providing positions and status for intellectuals; controlling access to resources for universities, social services, and arts organizations; compensating for market failures; steering protest movements into safe channels; and supporting those institutions by which policies are initiated and implemented… [F]oundations like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford have a corrosive influence on a democratic society; they represent relatively unregulated and unaccountable concentrations of power and wealth which buy talent, promote causes, and, in effect, establish an agenda of what merits society’s attention.[59]

Foundations engage in “considerable collaboration” with networks of nonprofits (which they create and fund), corporations, international organizations, and government entities at the local, state, national and international levels. Foundations effectively “blur boundaries” between the public and private sectors, while simultaneously effecting the separation of such areas in the study of social sciences. This boundary erosion between public and private spheres “adds feudal elements to our purported democracy, yet it has not been resisted, protested, or even noted much by political elites or social scientists.”[60] As foreign policy strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski indicated, the blurring of boundaries “serves United States world dominance”:

As the imitation of American ways gradually pervades the world, it creates a more congenial setting for the exercise of the indirect and seemingly consensual American hegemony. And as in the case of the domestic American system, that hegemony involves a complex structure of interlocking institutions and procedures, designed to generate consensus and obscure asymmetries in power and influence.[61]

In the early twentieth century, the Walsh Commission warned that, “the power of wealth could overwhelm democratic culture and politics,”[62] and the Final Report stated, “that foundations would be more likely to pursue their own ideology in society than social objectivity.”[63] The Carnegie Corporation and Rockefeller Foundation, from their origins, immediately began cooperating heavily with one another, coordinating activities and planning agendas. That the financial weight of these two institutions – and with the Ford Foundation to enter the scene with an even larger endowment – the coordinated influence over higher education yielded an immense power for the owners of foundations in the construction of ideology and knowledge. In providing the funding, they have the power to direct the efforts of scholars and academics, to create entire disciplines and schools of thought, to fund conferences, academic journals, publications, and think tanks. The fact that the role of philanthropic foundations in the construction and management of the educational system itself is so little known is a sign of the subtle, yet pervasive power structures that exists within academia.

Rather than looking at it from a conspiratorial view, however, look at it historically. Just as the Kings and Queens of Europe supported the development of universities in order to furnish managers and technocrats for their dynastic empires, so too do the modern dynastic powers – in this case, banking families – seek to tie the direction and purpose of higher education close to their own interests, and for the same reasons. It is not conspiratorial precisely because of the nature of the social phenomena itself: there are far too many social actors at play, dynamic and interactive and reactive relationships between different individuals, institutions, and ideas. Resistance and problems always emerge, even for the most dominant of powers and institutions. Thus, the financial-dynastic powers must be pragmatic in their approach, willing to reform, change, reorganize and regroup. Simply because it is not well known is not reason enough to think it a ‘conspiracy theory.’ The facts are known, just not widely disseminated.

The next part of this series further takes up the question – what is the purpose of education? – and adds to it: what is – and what should be – the role of intellectuals in society? In particular, the focus will be on the roles of radical versus technical intellectuals, within educational institutions and the society as a whole: from the ancient prophets, to Walter Lippmann, from Zbigniew Brzezinski to Noam Chomsky, this dichotomy of intellectuals has existed in society for a great deal of human history. What are the implications this could have for today’s college crisis and class warfare?

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Notes

[1]            Francisco O. Ramirez and John Boli, “The Political Construction of Mass Schooling: European Origins and Worldwide Institutionalization,” Sociology of Education (Vol. 60, January 1987), page 5.

[2]            Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (Unwin Paperbacks, London: 1952), page 62.

[3]            John W. Meyer, et. al., “Public Education as Nation-Building in America: Enrollments and Bureaucratization in the American States, 1870-1930,” American Journal of Sociology (Vol. 85, No. 3, November 1979), page 592.

[4]            Robert H. Wiebe, “The Social Functions of Public Education,” American Quarterly (Vol. 21, No. 2, Part 1, Summer 1969), pages 147-148.

[5]            Ibid, pages 149-150.

[6]            Ibid, page 157.

[7]            Francisco O. Ramirez and John W. Meyer, “Comparative Education: The Social Construction of the Modern World System,” Annual Review of Sociology (Vol. 6, 1980), page 377.

[8]            Ibid, pages 378-379.

[9]            John C. Scott, “The Mission of the University: Medieval to Postmodern Transformations,” Journal of Higher Education (Vol. 77, No. 1, January/February 2006), page 6.

[10]            Ibid, pages 6-7.

[11]            Gerard Delanty, “The Idea of the University in the Global Era: From Knowledge as an End to the End of Knowledge?” Social Epistemology (Vol. 12, No. 1, 1998), page 6.

[12]            Ibid, pages 6-7.

[13]            John C. Scott, “The Mission of the University: Medieval to Postmodern Transformations,” Journal of Higher Education (Vol. 77, No. 1, January/February 2006), page 10.

[14]            Ibid, page 11.

[15]            Ibid, page 12.

[16]            Gerard Delanty, “The Idea of the University in the Global Era: From Knowledge as an End to the End of Knowledge?” Social Epistemology (Vol. 12, No. 1, 1998), page 7.

[17]            José-Ginés Mora, “Governance and Management in the New University,” Tertiary Education and Management (Vol. 7, No. 2, 2001), page 97.

[18]            Gerard Delanty, “The Idea of the University in the Global Era: From Knowledge as an End to the End of Knowledge?” Social Epistemology (Vol. 12, No. 1, 1998), page 9.

[19]            John C. Scott, “The Mission of the University: Medieval to Postmodern Transformations,” Journal of Higher Education (Vol. 77, No. 1, January/February 2006), pages 15-16.

[20]            Ibid, pages 23-24.

[21]            Ibid, page 25.

[22]            Nicolas Guilhot, “Reforming the World: George Soros, Global Capitalism and the Philanthropic Management of the Social Sciences,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, page 448.

[23]            Ibid, page 450.

[24]            Ibid, page 451.

[25]            Erkki Berndtson, “Review Essay: Power of Foundations and the American Ideology,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, page 583.

[26]            Ibid, page 584.

[27]            Nicolas Guilhot, “Reforming the World: George Soros, Global Capitalism and the Philanthropic Management of the Social Sciences,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, page 452.

[28]            Morris Janowitz, “Sociological Theory and Social Control,” American Journal of Sociology (Vol. 81, No. 1, July 1975), page 82.

[29]            Ibid, page 85.

[30]            Anthony J. Cortese, “The Rise, Hegemony, and Decline of the Chicago School of Sociology, 1892-1945,” The Social Science Journal (Vol. 32, No. 3, 1995), page 237.

[31]            Robert F. Arnove, ed., Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (Indiana University Press, Bloomington: 1982), pages 26-28.

[32]            Ibid, pages 28-29.

[33]            Ibid, pages 30-31.

[34]            Ibid, pages 32-33.

[35]            Ibid, pages 33-35.

[36]            Ibid, pages 46-47.

[37]            David Nugent, “Knowledge and Empire: The Social Sciences and United States Imperial Expansion,” Identities (Vol. 17, Issue 1, 2010), pages 2-3.

[38]            Ibid, page 3.

[39]            Ibid, page 4.

[40]            Ibid, pages 5-7.

[41]            Ibid, pages 9.

[42]            Ibid, pages 9-10.

[43]            Ibid, pages 10-11.

[44]            Robert F. Arnove, ed., Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (Indiana University Press, Bloomington: 1982), pages 234-235.

[45]            Ibid, page 235.

[46]            Ibid, pages 235-236.

[47]            Ibid, pages 236-237.

[48]            Ibid, page 238-239.

[49]            Charles D. Biebel, “Private Foundations and Public Policy: The Case of Secondary Education During the Great Depression,” History of Education Quarterly (Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring 1976), pages 6-8.

[50]            Ibid, pages 10-11.

[51]            Robert F. Arnove, ed., Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (Indiana University Press, Bloomington: 1982), pages 239-241.

[52]            Ibid, page 241.

[53]            Ibid, pages 244-245.

[54]            Ibid, pages 245-247.

[55]            Ibid, pages 248-251.

[56]            Ibid, pages 252-253.

[57]            Dennis Bryson, “Technocratic Liberalism and Social Science,” Radical History Review (Vol. 64, 1996), pages 119-120.

[58]            Lily E. Kay, “Rethinking Institutions: Philanthropy as an Historigraphic Problem of Knowledge and Power,” Minerva (Vol. 35, 1997), page 290.

[59]            Joan Roelofs, “Foundations and Collaboration,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, page 480

[60]            Ibid.

[61]            Ibid, page 481.

[62]            Ibid, page 483.

[63]            Erkki Berndtson, “Review Essay: Power of Foundations and the American Ideology,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, page 580

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  18. […] It was through their institutions that they sought to produce new elites to manage a new society, atop of which they sat. These universities became the harbingers of modern social sciences, seeking to “reform” society to fit the needs of those who dominated it; to engage in social engineering with the purpose of social control. It was in this context that the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation and others were founded: as engines of social engineering. One of their principal aims was to shape the development of the social sciences – and their exportation around the world to other industrial and imperial powers like Great Britain, and beyond. The social sciences were to facilitate the “scientific management” of society, and the foundations were the patrons of “social control.” […]

  19. […] It was through their institutions that they sought to produce new elites to manage a new society, atop of which they sat. These universities became the harbingers of modern social sciences, seeking to “reform” society to fit the needs of those who dominated it; to engage in social engineering with the purpose of social control. It was in this context that the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation and others were founded: as engines of social engineering. One of their principal aims was to shape the development of the social sciences – and their exportation around the world to other industrial and imperial powers like Great Britain, and beyond. The social sciences were to facilitate the “scientific management” of society, and the foundations were the patrons of “social control.” […]

  20. […] It was through their institutions that they sought to produce new elites to manage a new society, atop of which they sat. These universities became the harbingers of modern social sciences, seeking to “reform” society to fit the needs of those who dominated it; to engage in social engineering with the purpose of social control. It was in this context that the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation and others were founded: as engines of social engineering. One of their principal aims was to shape the development of the social sciences – and their exportation around the world to other industrial and imperial powers like Great Britain, and beyond. The social sciences were to facilitate the “scientific management” of society, and the foundations were the patrons of “social control.” […]

  21. […] It was through their institutions that they sought to produce new elites to manage a new society, atop of which they sat. These universities became the harbingers of modern social sciences, seeking to “reform” society to fit the needs of those who dominated it; to engage in social engineering with the purpose of social control. It was in this context that the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation and others were founded: as engines of social engineering. One of their principal aims was to shape the development of the social sciences – and their exportation around the world to other industrial and imperial powers like Great Britain, and beyond. The social sciences were to facilitate the “scientific management” of society, and the foundations were the patrons of “social control.” […]

  22. […] It was through their institutions that they sought to produce new elites to manage a new society, atop of which they sat. These universities became the harbingers of modern social sciences, seeking to “reform” society to fit the needs of those who dominated it; to engage in social engineering with the purpose of social control. It was in this context that the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation and others were founded: as engines of social engineering. One of their principal aims was to shape the development of the social sciences – and their exportation around the world to other industrial and imperial powers like Great Britain, and beyond. The social sciences were to facilitate the “scientific management” of society, and the foundations were the patrons of “social control.” […]

  23. […] Part 2: The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control? […]

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