Subverting Learning – Psychiatry versus Education

The undermining of traditional education and values can be traced to a German psychologist, Wilhelm Wundt of Leipzig University, who founded “experimental psychology” in 1879. Declaring that man is an animal, with no soul, he claimed that thought was merely the result of brain activity – a false premise that has remained the basis of psychiatry until this day.

Wundt was a strong advocate of Gottlieb Fichte, head of psychology at the University of Berlin in 1810, who believed that “Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.”

Influential educational psychologist Friedrich Wilhelm Meumann, professor of philosophy and education at Leipzig University, sought to radically change schools by the “oppression of the children’s natural inclinations.” His book Mental Hygiene in the Schools became required reading for several generations of education students in Germany and he propagated the idea that schools should be used for “preventative mental health functions.”

Slowly but surely, these views began to permeate our schools through both psychology and psychiatry. Key players implementing Wundt’s theories in the United States included Edward Lee Thorndike, John Dewey, James Earl Russell, James Cattell and William James, who became known as the “Father of American Psychology.” Cattell, president of the American Psychological Association, eliminated phonics and introduced the “whole word method,” forcing children to memorize words without understanding the logical sequence of letters or sounds.

In his 1929 book, Elementary Principles of Education, Thorndike called for a reduction in educational basics: “Artificial exercises, like drills on phonetics, multiplication tables, and formal writing movements, are used to a wasteful degree. Subjects such as arithmetic, language, and history include content that is intrinsically of little value.”  With his Wundtian, animal-psychology background, Thorndike did not see students as self-willed individuals, capable of choice and decision, but rather as stimulus-response animals. “The aim of the teacher,” Thorndike said, “is to produce desirable and prevent undesirable changes in human beings by producing and preventing certain responses.”

Teachers were to look for psychological outcomes. Psychiatrists and psychologists said three sources of “stress” had to be eliminated from the schools: 1) school failure, 2) a curriculum centered on academics, and 3) disciplinary procedures. School failure was seen as the chief villain, leading to “feelings of inferiority” and behavioral problems like truancy and an unsocial attitude.  The solution was to eliminate the emphasis on academics and, thereby, rid the student of the stress of school failure.

In 1945 Canadian psychiatrist G. Brock Chisholm, director of the World Health Organization (WHO) and co-founder of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) claimed that the idea of “good and bad” had caused “frustration, inferiority, neurosis and inability to enjoy living.” Therefore, “the re-interpretation and eventually eradication of the concept of right and wrong” was one of the “objectives of practically all effective psychotherapy.”

Within a few short years, Ralph Tyler, the president of the Carnegie Foundation (provider of private funding for education and testing), published Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction, declaring that the “real purpose of education is to bring about significant changes in the students’ pattern of behavior.” Referred to as “progressive education,” it meant targeting the child’s emotions, feelings, beliefs, and, as a secondary objective, his intellect.

Benjamin Bloom, who introduced “Mastery Learning” into education, declared that the purpose of education was “to change the thoughts, feelings, and actions of children.” In his 1950s book, A Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, he described his idea of mastery: the end result of teaching “critical thinking,” is a “subjective judgment … resulting in personal values/opinions with no real right or wrong answers.” Therefore, education should be a “process of challenging students’ fixed beliefs.” Consequently, schools were encouraged to make the child’s belief system the primary target of their budgets.

Should there be any doubt about the impact of this totalitarian initiative, during a discussion of the Holocaust in one New York school recently, one student commented, “Of course I dislike the Nazis, but who is to say that they are morally wrong?”


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