The third objective, as Mitchell notes above, was “Worthy Home-membership,” which would ensure that every high school girl would be taught the rules of proper family management.
The fourth was “Vocation,” later known as “Industrial Arts” or shop class, which would teach blue-collar employment skills.
Fifth was “Civics,” a field of study to replace history. Herein the CRSE revealed its deepest values. As Charles Sykes notes, the commissioners
who wrote the Cardinal Principles were especially uninterested in the U.S. Constitution and the ideas of the Founding Fathers. Civics [in their view] should concern itself less with constitutional questions and [more] with … the informal activities of daily life that … seek the common good. Such agencies as child welfare organizations … afford specific opportunities for the expression of civic qualities.
Most telling in regard to the Civics objective was the commission’s exhortation for students to engage in group projects, cooperative solutions, and socialized recitations, all designed to foster “a sense of collective responsibility… . [and] training in collective thinking.”
The sixth objective was “Worthy Use of Leisure,” which assumed that most people, devoid of “proper” schooling, did not know how to enjoy themselves or relax—and that training in leisure activities was a productive use of school time.
The seventh and final objective was “Ethical Character,” which raised this terrifying question: Which moral code would government-run schools inculcate in young students? Might the Commission’s emphasis on “collective responsibility” and “collective thinking” provide a clue?
Ravitch comments, “The driving purpose behind the seven objectives was socialization, teaching students to fit into society… . The overriding goal was social efficiency, not the realization of individual desire for self-improvement.”
It is jaw-dropping that in 1918, after Americans had made superlative intellectual advances in literature (Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and others), psychology (William James), applied science and technology (Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, the Wright brothers), and numerous other fields, that the leading organization of American educators virtually stripped academic training from the core of the nation’s schooling.
Sykes notes, “The Cardinal Principles, which are voluble to the point of tedium on every aspect of schooling, dismissed scholarship with a single sentence: ‘Provisions should be made also for those having distinctly academic interests.’ And that’s it; the commission offered no further comment, suggestions, or guidelines.”
The academic aspect of education was thereby treated as “an afterthought.” This philosophy quickly became deeply entrenched—indeed dominant—in the schools of education and teachers’ colleges.
Contrast the Cardinal Principles with the NEA educational guidelines of 1893, a mere twenty-five years earlier. In that year, the Commission of Ten, headed by Harvard’s Charles Eliot, spelled out the reasons for academic training:
As studies in language and in the natural sciences are best adapted to cultivate the habits of observation; as mathematics are the traditional training of the reasoning faculties … so history and its allied branches are better adapted than any other studies to promote the invaluable mental power which we call judgment.
Presumably, Eliot and other commission members recognized the same truth later expressed by philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”