But study of history in American schools was about to be eviscerated. Before the CRSE, most high schools offered (even required) a four-year development in history that covered ancient, European, English, and American history. But now, the CRSE created a new field called “Social Studies.” History, according to the new curriculum designers, had little if any social purpose. Social Studies would.
The CRSE was composed of sixteen (later seventeen) committees. The Committee on Social Studies was headed by Thomas Jesse Jones, a noted advocate of industrial and trade education and one of the first to use the term “social studies.” This new field was a farrago of elements, including some history, but focusing on “social efficiency, or teaching students the skills and attitudes necessary to fit into the social order.”
Civics, ostensibly a study of government, was regarded as a part of this new field, but it was altered to fit the new social activism. It was now not so important for students to know how the president was elected as it was to know the duties of the community dogcatcher. The Committee on Social Studies, which Jones chaired, wrote:
The old chronicler who recorded the deeds of kings and warriors and neglected the labors of the common man is dead. The great palaces and cathedrals and pyramids are often but the empty shells of a parasitic growth on the working group. The elaborate descriptions of these old tombs are but sounding brass and tinkling cymbals compared to the record of the joys and sorrows, the hopes and disappointments of the masses, who are infinitely more important than any arrangement of wood and stone and iron.
Readers of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead will recognize in these words the sentiments of archvillain Ellsworth Toohey and his Marxist ideology. Observe the emphasis on the masses or the collective, the disdain for knowledge of the activities of kings and rulers, including, in some cases, their life-giving achievements, and the scorn for knowledge of the great men who have created original arrangements of wood and stone and iron—arrangements that have lifted man from caves to hovels to comfortable homes to skyscrapers. Henceforth, history—to the extent that it was taught at all—would focus on little guys, not great achievers, and would promote a distinctive goal: Fit into the social order—conform, adjust, accept. The teacher was to socialize the child. He was not to nurture a love of learning, of thinking, of independent cognition. Whatever else Progressive educators disagreed on, this was a cardinal principle of their faith: Independent thinking is useless to society, even dangerous. As infamously stated by American philosopher John Dewey (1859–1952), “The mere absorbing of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat.”
Dewey was particularly effective in advancing Progressive education because he, in effect, mixed the poison with valid principles of education.