Give Gruber a Break

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Jonathan Gruber, PhD

Jonathan Gru­ber, PhD

 “Gruber’s inherent academic assumption of (ordinary) Americans’ stupidity is elucidated by Charlotte Iserbyt’s 1999 The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America…Gruber’s matter-of-fact pronouncement of the “stupidity” of Americans reflects his academic assumption of the success of government education, and validation of Iserbyt’s investigations into the education establishment.”

Jonathan Gru­ber has been round­ly rep­ri­mand­ed in the press, blog­ging sites, and every­where in between for his can­did com­ments regard­ing “the stu­pid­i­ty of the Amer­i­can vot­er” being his assumed premise for the pas­sage of the Afford­able Care Act (a.k.a. Oba­maCare). As viewed from Gruber’s aca­d­e­m­ic pedestal, this was a most nat­ur­al and fair assump­tion. His own edu­ca­tion sure­ly indoc­tri­nat­ed him with the elit­ist atti­tude of the priv­i­leged. A short review of the his­to­ry of gov­ern­ment edu­ca­tion poli­cies and goals ought to give Gru­ber a mea­sure of sym­pa­thet­ic under­stand­ing for his nat­ur­al assump­tions as a gov­ern­ment-employed sycophant.

The 1960 God­kin Lec­tures, deliv­ered at Har­vard by Sir C.P. Snow, were intro­duced with this can­did pro­nounce­ment: “One of the most bizarre fea­tures of any advanced indus­tri­al soci­ety in our time is that the car­di­nal choic­es have to be made by a hand­ful of men: in secret: and, at least in legal form, by men who can­not have a first-hand knowl­edge of what those choic­es depend upon or what their results may be.” Snow was an Eng­lish chemist turned nov­el­ist, and had served in the British Civ­il Ser­vice and UK gov­ern­ment. Gru­ber was not yet around to be in that audi­ence, but sure­ly some of his future Har­vard men­tors were.

As part of this process, acad­e­mia now func­tions to sup­ply the tech­nocrats need­ed to run the behind-the-scenes “sci­en­tif­ic” mill essen­tial to the elect­ed politi­cians. The ordi­nary pub­lic is deemed smart enough to elect its rep­re­sen­ta­tives, but “too stu­pid” to mean­ing­ful­ly ques­tion the actions of the politi­co-aca­d­e­m­ic estab­lish­ment. Vot­ers turn over their future gov­er­nance to politi­cians, who in turn del­e­gate sci­en­tif­ic issues to select­ed sci­en­tists in gov­ern­ment-sub­si­dized uni­ver­si­ties and favored think tanks. Politi­cians select the sci­en­tif­ic source required to jus­ti­fy a polit­i­cal cause; no oth­er dis­sent­ing voic­es need apply. My sci­en­tist is on my side…“the sci­ence is settled.”

The roots of pre­sump­tive Amer­i­can “stu­pid­i­ty” can be dat­ed to John Dewey’s efforts to reform the pub­lic edu­ca­tion sys­tem in the ear­ly 1900s and beyond. A reshap­ing of Amer­i­can cul­ture was under­way as a result of the tran­si­tion from an agrar­i­an-based soci­ety to the machine-age indus­tri­al­iza­tion. Waves of immi­gra­tion added a diver­si­ty of cul­tur­al back­grounds to the Amer­i­can per­sona and pub­lic school class­rooms. Home-based edu­ca­tion and reli­gious tra­di­tions were tran­si­tion­ing into a mass-pro­duc­tion edu­ca­tion­al mod­el tuned to pro­duce reli­able fac­to­ry work­ers… the cogs in the wheels of pro­duc­tion, apt­ly cap­tured by Char­lie Chaplin’s 1936 movie Mod­ern Times.

Against this zeit­geist, the expressed aims of John Dewey to restruc­ture pub­lic edu­ca­tion had a beguil­ing appeal. As expressed in his 1899 series of lec­tures and pub­lished as The School and Soci­ety, Dewey made his case that the exist­ing edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem treat­ed chil­dren as pas­sive enti­ties in a one-way flow of didac­tic mate­r­i­al from teacher to stu­dent, that the phys­i­cal rigid­i­ty of the class­room envi­ron­ment imped­ed learn­ing, and that the edu­ca­tion­al process should become stu­dent-cen­tered with the stu­dent par­tic­i­pat­ing in mean­ing­ful class­room  deci­sions. Dewey con­sid­ered edu­ca­tion to be fore­most a soci­etal process, and he min­i­mized the tra­di­tion of learn­ing facts, his­tor­i­cal tra­di­tion itself, and reli­gious belief. Learn­ing was to be a social-cen­tered, ongo­ing empir­i­cal pro­ce­dure, in a learn-to-learn exper­i­men­tal class envi­ron­ment. The dis­ci­pli­nary role of the author­i­ta­tive teacher would be min­i­mized. A blend of old and these new ped­a­gog­ic ideas might have had mer­it, but in prac­tice, Dewey’s view alone per­me­at­ed the pub­lic edu­ca­tion estab­lish­ment in the ensur­ing years. The 2006 book by Hen­ry Edmond­son, John Dewey and the Decline of Amer­i­can Edu­ca­tion pro­vides an in-depth analy­sis of Dewey’s her­itage from a conservative’s view point of view.

Rudolf Flesch’s 1955 Why John­ny Can’t Read was anoth­er mile­stone in the edu­ca­tion­al wars. Phon­ics ver­sus whole word read­ing became a con­tentious issue nation­wide, and fore­shad­ows today’s Com­mon Core Cur­ricu­lum push.

Why John­ny Still Can’t Read (2011) by Sam Blu­men­feld con­tains these excerpts: “As a trans­ac­tion­al process read­ing is not a mat­ter of “get­ting the mean­ing” from text, as if that mean­ing were in the text wait­ing to be decod­ed by the read­er Rather, read­ing is a mat­ter of read­ers using the cues print pro­vide and the knowl­edge they bring with them to con­struct a unique inter­pre­ta­tion.… This view of read­ing implies that there is no sin­gle “cor­rect” mean­ing for a giv­en text, only plau­si­ble mean­ings.”  The pro­gres­sives’ view of the world is one open to indi­vid­ual whim and cohort con­sen­sus, and one not nec­es­sar­i­ly found­ed on the tra­di­tion­al guides of estab­lished fact and cus­tom.  Tra­di­tion­al sci­ence would soon become “post-nor­mal sci­ence” in which solu­tions become mat­ters of expe­di­en­cy, emo­tion, and pop­u­lar opinion.

Blu­men­feld con­tin­ues: “The pro­gres­sive edu­ca­tors, who had intro­duced the new read­ing pro­grams, were not about to give up their cru­sade to use the schools to cre­ate a social­ist Amer­i­ca. Their view, as first stat­ed by their leader John Dewey, was that tra­di­tion­al phon­ics pro­duced inde­pen­dent, indi­vid­u­al­is­tic read­ers who could think for them­selves, while the new whole-word approach pro­duced read­ers depen­dent on the col­lec­tive for mean­ing and inter­pre­ta­tion and were there­by eas­i­er to col­lec­tivize and con­trol.” Indi­vid­ual free­dom of thought, ini­tia­tive, and respon­si­bil­i­ty were to be ear­ly casu­al­ties of Rousseau in France and of the Amer­i­can social­ists dri­ve to con­for­mi­ty and the nan­ny state..

Gruber’s inher­ent aca­d­e­m­ic assump­tion of (ordi­nary) Amer­i­cans’ stu­pid­i­ty is elu­ci­dat­ed by Char­lotte Iserbyt’s 1999 The Delib­er­ate Dumb­ing Down of Amer­i­ca. She served as Senior Pol­i­cy Advi­sor in the Office of Edu­ca­tion­al Research and Improve­ment (OERI), U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion, dur­ing the first Rea­gan Admin­is­tra­tion. Gruber’s mat­ter-of-fact pro­nounce­ment of the “stu­pid­i­ty” of Amer­i­cans reflects his aca­d­e­m­ic assump­tion of the suc­cess of gov­ern­ment edu­ca­tion, and val­i­da­tion of Iserbyt’s inves­ti­ga­tions into the edu­ca­tion establishment.

From Iserbyt’s book’s pref­ace: “In 1971 when I returned to the Unit­ed States after liv­ing abroad for 18 years, I was shocked to find pub­lic edu­ca­tion had become a warm, fuzzy, soft, mushy, touchy-feely expe­ri­ence, with its pur­pose being social­iza­tion, not learn­ing. From that time on, from the van­tage point of hav­ing two young sons in the pub­lic schools, I became involved — as a mem­ber of a phi­los­o­phy com­mit­tee for a school, as an elect­ed school board mem­ber, as co-founder of Guardians of Edu­ca­tion for Maine (GEM), and final­ly as a senior pol­i­cy advi­sor in the Office of Edu­ca­tion­al Research and Improve­ment (OERI) of the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion dur­ing Pres­i­dent Ronald Reagan’s first term of office. OERI was, and is, the office from which all the con­tro­ver­sial nation­al and inter­na­tion­al edu­ca­tion­al restruc­tur­ing has emanated.”

Anoth­er excerpt: “I real­ized that America’s tran­si­tion from a sov­er­eign con­sti­tu­tion­al repub­lic to a social­ist democ­ra­cy would not come about through war­fare (bul­lets and tanks) but through the imple­men­ta­tion and instal­la­tion of the “sys­tem” in all areas of government—federal, state and local. The brain­wash­ing for accep­tance of the “system’s” con­trol would take place in the school — through indoc­tri­na­tion and the use of behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion, which comes under so many labels: the most recent labels being Out­come-Based Edu­ca­tion, Skin­ner­ian Mas­tery Learn­ing or Direct Instruction.”

Amer­i­cans’ incre­men­tal mold­ing into dumb­ed-down col­lec­tivists is a “giv­en” in Gruber’s aca­d­e­m­ic world. He prob­a­bly meant no insult by his com­ments, and was just stat­ing an aca­d­e­m­ic fact… a sort of insider’s joke.  Are we all “too stu­pid” to see that?


THANK YOU FROM CHARLOTTE AND THE CREW!  The three of us who put this book togeth­er, Cin­di Weath­er­ly, the edi­tor; Sarah Leslie, the pub­lish­er, her son, Col­in Leslie, who did the for­mat­ting,  and I, the author —  con­sid­er this a mighty nice sur­prise after so many years of the book being very  suc­cess­ful­ly boy­cotted!    My son, Sam Iser­byt,  also deserves much cred­it for hav­ing cre­at­ed my 3D web­site and hav­ing made the  1999 orig­i­nal ver­sion, now out of print, a FREE down­load at