You might ask, what have Pavlov’s dogs got to do with educating American children?
More than you think. In fact, when you have finished reading this article you will know
more about the perversion of American education than you ever thought possible.
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, the Russian experimental psychologist, was born in 1849 in the
town of Rayazan. His father was a priest. At age seven he sustained a severe blow to
his skull when he fell from a balustrade and hit his head on a tile floor. The injury
delayed his education until age 11. Although raised in the Eastern Orthodox tradition he
was attracted to the study of science, and in 1870 entered St. Petersburg University. In
1875 he got his degree in Natural Sciences. He then went on to study medicine, after
which he entered the Veterinary Institute where he stayed for ten years doing research
After a visit to Germany where he studied at the laboratories of Rudolf Heidenhain in
Breslau and Karl Ludwig in Leipzig, he returned to Russia and decided to focus his
attention on the study of glandular secretions-saliva and gastric juices. He selected the
dog as his experimental animal and devised surgical techniques which made it possible
to establish “permanent fistulas (tubes)” in connection with the principal organs of
digestion (salivary glands, stomach, liver, pancreas, parts of the intestine).
His experiments were difficult to carry out while keeping the dog not only alive but
healthy. It took the sacrifice of thirty dogs before he could get the surgical procedure
right. How did Pavlov get his dogs? He relates: “At that time dogs were collected with
the help of street thieves, who used to steal those with collars as well as those without.
No doubt we shared the onus of the sin with the thieves.”
In 1895, Pavlov was appointed to a chair in physiology at the Military Medical Academy
in St. Petersburg, and in 1904 was awarded the Nobel Prize. Pavlov had discovered that
in every case, glandular secretion was determined by one or more reflex actions.
Actually, Pavlov recognized that there are two types of reflexes: unconditioned and
conditioned. An unconditioned reflex is an innate response to stimuli that occurs
naturally without any learning involved. For example, when you are driving a car and
enter a dark tunnel in daylight, your eyes automatically adjust to the change in light.
However, a conditioned reflex is a learned response, as when you see a red light, you
automatically put your foot on the brake. You have acquired an automatic response to
stimuli-a conditioned or learned reflex, a habit.
Being a materialist, Pavlov came to believe that science had to free itself from religious
dogma concerning the soul. The soul had no place in science, and the mind was simply
the monitor and transmitter of signal-stimuli from the external world on the one hand
and the organism’s responses on the other. Pavlov disliked any talk of “freedom of
choice.” To him such talk was an offence against scientific rigor.
Although the Communists took control of Russia in 1917, Pavlov was able to continue
his work unhindered in what became the State Institute of Experimental Psychology
supported by government funding. Since Pavlov was both a Darwinist and a behaviorist,
there was no ideological conflict between him and the Marxist-Leninist new
In 1920, Pavlov and his colleagues embarked on a long-term experimental investigation.
The aim of the experiments was to learn how to artificially create human
disorganization. In his book, The Nature of Human Conflicts, published in 1932, Dr. A. L.
Luria gives us a full account of the experiments and what they revealed. It was
translated by W. Horsley Gantt, an American psychologist who had spent the years
1924-1929 working in Pavlov’s laboratory. In his Preface, Luria wrote:
The chief problems of the author were an objective and materialistic description
of the mechanisms lying at the basis of the disorganization of human behavior
and an experimental approach to the laws of its regulation.
Why would these Soviet psychologists spend so much time and effort trying to find out
how to deliberately drive people crazy? The answer is simple. The Soviet Union
believed itself to be the leader in a world revolution to convert everyone to
communism, which required the conquest of all its capitalist enemies. And this was to
be done not by military invasion but by psychological warfare under the guise of
objective science. Luria wrote in 1935:
The power of our knowledge over the nervous system will, of course, appear to
much greater advantage if we learn not only to injure the nervous system but
also to restore it at will. It will then have been proved that we have mastered
the processes and are controlling them …. In many cases we are not only causing
disease, but are eliminating it with great exactitude, one might say, to order.
Luria described quite explicitly the key to creating behavioral disorganization:
Pavlov obtained very definite affective “breaks,” an acute disorganization of
behavior, each time that the conditioned reflexes collided, when the animal was
unable to react to two mutually exclusive tendencies, or was incapable of
adequately responding to any imperative problem.
In short, what he described is exactly the way our schools deliberately create dyslexia,
an acute form of behavioral disorganization. The child is taught to look at print as a
string of little pictures, whole configurations, memorized in sight-vocabulary exercises.
As a result he develops a whole-word conditioned reflex. At the same time he is taught
something about the letters standing for sounds, a phonetic way of looking at words,
which is impossible to do if you are looking at the words as little pictures. Many
children simply cannot react to two “mutually exclusive tendencies,” and thus become
reading disabled, or dyslexic.
It is obvious that Pavlov’s laboratory was used by the Soviet state to devise scientific
methods of waging psychological warfare in a manner that would enlist behavioral
scientists worldwide. Of course, if you were a dedicated Marxist, you considered this
scientific activity to be to the ultimate benefit of mankind.
They also experimented on creating another form of behavioral disorganization which
today we recognize as Attention Deficit Disorder. Luria writes (p. 385):
The experiment is done very easily: we violate the rules of our usual laboratory
procedure for the study of the reactive processes; instead of isolating the subject
from everything which might distract his attention, we do just the oppositewhile
performing the experiment we converse with him, give him a book to read,
and at intervals interrupt him by the auditory signal requiring the motor
Such a functional exclusion of the higher cortical mechanisms from participation
of the simple reaction evokes a return to the primitive, diffuse type of reactive
processes and a sharp lowering of the “functional barrier.”
In other words, when you prevent the child from using his intellect where it is needed
without distraction, he reverts to a more primitive behavior, which is a symptom of
Apparently, there were many behavioral psychologists at that time working on the same
problems. In his book, Luria draws special attention to the work of Kurt Lewin in
Germany. He writes:
K. Lewin, in our opinion, has been one of the most prominent psychologists to
elucidate this question of the artificial production of affect and of the
experimental disorganisation of behavior . … Here the fundamental conception of
Lewin is very close to ours.
Who is Kurt Lewin? He is the same Kurt Lewin who came to the United States in 1933,
founded the Research Center for Group Dynamics at M.I.T. (which later moved to the
University of Michigan) and invented “sensitivity training.” Shortly before his death in
1947, Lewin founded the National Training Laboratory which established its campus at
Bethel, Maine, under the sponsorship of the National Education Association. There
teachers were, and still are, instructed in the techniques of sensitivity training and how
to become effective agents of change.
Lewin’s emphasis on collectivist group behavior to replace individualistic behavior was
very much in harmony with what socialist John Dewey had advocated for the new
progressive-education curriculum. Although Dewey’s work at his Laboratory School at
the University of Chicago took place at the turn of the last century, his work was known
by Lenin’s wife, who got the communist government to reform Russian schools
according to the Dewey model.
However, the Dewey-Soviet experiment came to an abrupt halt in August 1932 when
the Central Committee of the Communist Party abandoned the laboratory method and
ordered a return to a structured curriculum. The communist leaders wanted the schools
to produce engineers, not semi-literate basket weavers.
But in America, where capitalism and individualism still reigned, the Progressive
educational leadership had no intention of going back to the structured pro-capitalisticindividualistic
curriculum. And anyone who visits an American elementary school today
will see the continued implementation of the Dewey-Lewin concept of education. And
with that concept have come all of the problems we now associate with the public
Countless articles have appeared in the major media over the last three decades critical
of American education. The litany of problems is always spelled out: poor academic
performance, high dropout rates, student violence, low teacher morale, outmoded
buildings, etc. And the solutions offered are always the same: more tax money for
education, smaller class size, higher teacher pay, new buildings, and a modernized
curriculum with more computers and high-tech paraphernalia. Nobody has bothered to
read Luria’s book. But because most of the reporters are young and have no idea how education was
conducted back in the days before the Progressives took over-when children actually
learned to read and there were no school massacres-they are incapable of asking the
right questions. But those of us who went to school in those halcyon days and are still
around to talk about them are generally ignored. The world belongs to the young, and
their fashionable lack of knowledge, their proud and belligerent ignorance, is considered
of greater value than the experience of the older generation.
But those of us who were witnesses to the past and have spent our lives monitoring the
decline of American education know what happened. It all started at the turn of the last
century when the Progressives took control of the education system and gradually
imposed their new collectivist philosophy on the curriculum.
The first thing they did was reform the teaching of reading by throwing out the true and
tried phonics method and imposing a whole-word method that would teach children to
read English as if it were Chinese, which would ultimately lead to the general decline of
literacy in our country.
Then they changed the classroom configuration. They got rid of the desks bolted to the
floor in rows that suited academic attention and concentration and introduced
moveable desks and open classrooms that produced educational chaos. And as
academic performance declined and attention deficit disorder increased they
introduced psychotropic drugs to help the students concentrate.”
Why were these crucial changes made? They were made so that the Progressives could
shape future generations of American children to become collectivists instead of
individualists. The Progressives were socialists. They were members of the Protestant
academic elite who no longer believed in the religion of their fathers. Their new religion
was science, which explained the material world; evolution, which explained the origin
of living matter; and psychology, which explained human behavior and offered scientific
ways to control it. They believed that evil was caused by ignorance, poverty, and social
injustice, and that a collectivist society could eliminate all of that.
The guiding light and chief philosopher behind the Progressive Education movement
was John Dewey whose seminal essay, “The Primary-Education Fetich,” published in
1898, provided the blueprint for the new educational agenda. In that article he
advocated shifting primary education away from concentrating on individual literacy to
placing the emphasis on socialization through group activities. He wrote:
The plea for the predominance of learning to read in early school life because of
the great importance attaching to literature seems to me a perversion.
And because his view would be considered so radical by parents and teachers, he wrote:
Change must come gradually. To force it unduly would compromise its final
success by favoring a violent reaction. What is needed in the first place, is that
there should be a full and frank statement of conviction with regard to the
matter from physiologists and psychologists and from those school
administrators who are conscious of the evils of the present regime.
In other words, deceiving parents would become an important and implicit part of the
plan for radical reform. And psychologists, of whom Dewey was one, would play an
important role in creating this elaborate deception. Dewey then wrote:
There are already in existence a considerable number of educational
“experiment stations,” which represent the outposts of educational progress. If
these schools can be adequately supported for a number of years they will
perform a great vicarious service.
Indeed, Dewey himself conducted such an experimental school at the University of
Chicago, and the book he wrote about that experiment, The School and Society, became
the bible of Progressive Education and the basis of 20th century school reform.
And so, the major work of reform would not be done by educators, but by psychologists,
who found in education a lucrative source of support for their profession. The new
behavioral psychology was born in the laboratories of Professor Wilhelm Wundt at the
University of Leipzig. His two American students, G. Stanley Hall (1844-1924) and James
McKeen Cattell (1860-1944), came back to America anxious to apply scientific
psychology to American education. Hall became a professor of psychology at Johns
Hopkins University where he taught the new psychology to John Dewey. He later
founded Clark University. Cattell introduced mental testing in education as part of the
new scientific racism called Eugenics. He later founded the Psychological Corporation.
But it was Edward L. Thorndike (1874-1949) who, after studying psychology under
William James at Harvard, went on to become the chief implementer of behavioral
psychology in American education. At Harvard he had studied the learning behavior of
chickens by using the reinforcement technique, which he later decided should be used
to teach children. His aim was not to disorganize the behavior of the chickens but to
simply train them to respond to his benign stimulus.
After his book, Anima/Intelligence was published in 1898, he became a leading light at
Teacher’s College, Columbia University. His much celebrated stimulus-response (SR)
technique of teaching children, based on animal training, now dominates American
education. He wrote in 1928:
Our experiments on learning in the lower animals have probably contributed
more to knowledge of education per hour or per unit of intellect spent, than
experiments on children …. The best way with children may often be, in the
pompous words of an animal trainer, “to arrange everything in connection with
the trick so that the animal will be compelled by the laws of his own nature to
But it was John B. Watson, the most arrogant behaviorist of them all, who revealed the
true contempt that he and his fellow behaviorists had toward their fellow human
beings. In his book, Behaviorism, published in 1924, he wrote:
Human beings do not want to class themselves with other animals. They are
willing to admit that they are animals but “something else in addition.” It is this
“something else” that causes the trouble. In this “something else” is bound up
everything that is classed as religion, the life hereafter, morals, love of children,
parents, country, and the like. The raw fact that you, as a psychologist, if you are
to remain scientific, must describe the behavior of man in no other terms than
those you would use describing the behavior of the ox you slaughter, drove and
stili drives many timid souls away from behaviorism.
In other words, behavioral psychology was not for the timid. He further wrote:
The interest of the behaviorist in man’s doings is more than the interest of the
spectator-he wants to control man’s reactions, as physical scientists want to
control and manipulate other natural phenomena. It is the business of
behavioristic psychology to be able to predict and control human activity.
And so one can see that what Pavlov and his assistants were doing in Moscow was not
too different from what Thorndike was doing at Teacher’s College and what Watson was
teaching his students. In fact, Pavlov acknowledged his intellectual indebtedness to
But even as Dewey had cautioned that change must come slowly, it didn’t take long
before an increasing number of discerning Americans began to realize what was
happening. In fact, by 1955 the reading problem had become so bad that Rudolf was
compelled to write his famous book, Why Johnny Can’t Read. In it he wrote:
The teaching of reading-all over the United States, in all the schools, in all the
textbooks-is totally wrong and flies in the face of all logic and common sense.
As for how the educators were able to perpetuate such “error” without effective
reaction from conservative teachers, he explained:
It’s a foolproof system all right. Every grade-school teacher in the country has to
go to a teacher’s college or school of education; every teachers’ college gives at
least one course on how to teach reading; every course on how to teach reading
is based on a textbook; every one of those textbooks is written by one of the
high priests of the word method. In the old days it was impossible to keep a
good teacher from following her own common sense and practical knowledge;
today the phonetic system of teaching reading is kept out of our schools as
effectively as if we had a dictatorship with an all-powerful Ministry of Education.
And if you think anything has changed much since 1955, try getting a good intensive
phonics program into your local school. As an author of a very effective intensive
phonics reading program used successfully by thousands of homeschooling parents, I
have tried to get the program adopted by local schools, only to be told, thanks but no
There is indeed a Ministry of Education in America, and it is called the National Society
for the Study of Education. It was founded in 1901 by John Dewey and colleagues who
were interested in psycho-education and the application of science to educational
issues. The Society pUblishes an annual two-volume Yearbook filled with discussions of
educational interests. By the way, you won’t find the yearbooks in your local library.
You’ll have to go to a university library to find them.
The NSSE describes itself as “an organization of education scholars, professional
educators, and policy makers dedicated to the improvement of education research,
policy and practice.” On its board of directors is a former president of the NEA, Mary
Hatwood Futrell. The membership list in the 1969 Yeabook is 94 pages long, and you’ve
probably never heard of the organization. The subject for their 2008 Yearbook is “Why
Do We Educate?” It’s a question the educators seem to be totally confused about.
But some of them are not confused at all. One of them is Professor Anthony G.
Oettinger of Harvard University, Professor of Information Resources Policy, and a
member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He said the following at a conference of
communications executives in 1982:
The present “traditional” concept of literacy has to do with the ability to read
and write. But the real question that confronts us today is: How do we help
citizens function well in their society? How can they acquire the skills necessary
to solve their problems?
Do we, for example, really want to teach people to do a lot of sums or write in “a
fine round hand” when they have a five-dollar hand-held calculator or a word
processor to work with? Or, do we really have to have everybody literatewriting
and reading in the traditional sense-when we have the means through
our technology to achieve a new flowering of oral communication?
What is speech recognition and speech synthesis all about if it does not lead to
ways of reducing the burden on the individual of the imposed notions of literacy
that were a product of nineteenth century economics and technology? …
It is the traditional idea that says certain forms of communication, such as comic
books, are “bad.” But in the modern context of functionalism they may not be
all that bad.
I doubt that there are any parents in America who send their children to school to learn
to read comic books. If anything, they want their children to be taught to read and
write in the traditional manner. They don’t consider learning to read as a burden
imposed on the individual. Rather, if taught properly, learning to read can be a joyful
experience for children eager to explore the wonderful world of the written word as we
all recently witnessed in the amazing popularity of the Harry Potter books.
Literacy, by the way, is not the product of 19th century forces. It is the product of the
16th century Reformation in which the need to be able to read the Bible became the
imperative for universal literacy. In a Christian civilization everybody has to be literate.
But of course Professor Oettinger thinks differently. He believes that literacy is only for
the ruling cognitive elite.
liDo we really have to have everybody literate?” he asks. Well, if not, then who decides
who is to be literate and who not? Wasn’t the idea of universal literacy behind the idea
of compulsory schooling? I don’t think Professor Oettinger wants to do away with
compulsory school attendance. The cognitive elite must retain its means of controlling
the masses so that they can truly turn them into docile illiterates.
And what’s the solution for parents? If they want to get their children out of Professor
Oettinger’s clutches, they’ll have to homeschool them or enroll them in private and
parochial schools where literacy is not a burden but a liberating force for good.
As for the NSSE’s question, Why do we educate? The answer is quite simple. We
educate to pass on to the future generation the knowledge, wisdom, and values of the
previous generation. It’s a concept we find in Deuteronomy 6. But we can expect that
the NSSE will come up with something enormously complicated that will guarantee the
perpetuation of the present problems.
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