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.”