Almost seven years ago, according to The New York Times, Columbia College

…”suspended” its compulsory sophomore course in Contemporary Civilization…as a regretful admission that contemporary civilization had become too complicated and specialized to be taught by the ordinary contemporary [college] teacher.

This is a nice way of saying that there are not enough college instructors with brains enough to put our “complicated and specialized” culture together; the education system has tried to ensure that nobody shall be able to put it together, unless motivated by immense rewards. We can be certain, however, from the world-wide success of numerous American corporations, that many of them, having interests in all continents and under a variety of political and economic systems and technological conditions, have highly paid executives who have put the “complicated and specialized” world system together inside their heads—in their own way.

Professors Wilbert Moore and Melvin Tumin discussed the social functions of ignorance nearly twenty years ago. It is the purpose of this essay to illustrate the development of legitimate social stupidity in elementary and high schools in the United States, to illustrate how inability to put the “complicated and specialized” culture together is taught in school and to show, also, how incapacity is consolidated by fear.

By “legitimate social stupidity” I mean stupidity that is relevant to social goals and is legitimate because it is related to those goals. This means that, throughout their schooling, children must be given subject matter that confirms legitimate stupidity and that whatever challenges it must be withheld.

In an effort to document the hypothesis of the necessity for training children to social stupidity, I chose at random from a large assortment of school texts in the Washington University library. The weight alone of some of these books would discourage children’s interest in learning. For example, A History of the World, by Alice Magenis and John Conrad Appel, published by the American Book Company, and American History by Avery O. Craven and Walter Johnson, published by Ginn and Company, weigh three-and-a-quarter pounds each, and Economics by Kennard E. Goodman and C. Lowell Harriss, also published by Ginn and Company, weighs two-and-a-half pounds. If a child has to carry three such books to school every day, the nine-and-a-half pounds must surely make him wonder, sometimes, whether it is worth it.

I did not look in all the selected books for the same issues but read them with different aims in mind. Thus in a book on economics I looked for some treatment of prices and business cycles, in a history book I looked for discussion of war, The Great Depression, the Negro problem, and so on. Thus I have not been systematic, yet I think that what I shall say about the books gives a good idea of how well they perform the function of instilling socially legitimate stupidity in our children.

All the books give some information, but I am more concerned here with the gaps in the mosaic of information that make it impossible, eventually, even for an instructor in Columbia College to put together for college sophomores an intelligible account of our “complicated and specialized” world. I start with the Negro problem.

Stupidity About Negroes

Teacher’s Edition of Basic Social Studies 4: Esther Aschemeyer seems to be the principal author of the teacher’s guide to this book, while the principal author of the pupil edition seems to be Adaline P. Hagaman. I say “seems” because it is not clear, from the way the publisher has arranged the names, who is what. The “director” of this book—or series of books—is Thomas J. Durell and it is “critically reviewed”—either the book or the series—by Philip Bacon, Professor of Geography, Dean of the Graduate School, George Peabody College of Teachers. Drawings, maps, and charts are by other people. Thus a “team” was assembled by Harper and Row, presumably with the best advice they thought they were getting, and published in 1964.

Let us have a look at what Basic Social Studies 4 has to say about cotton in the United States. The section on cotton in the United States extends from page 79 to page 84. Half of page 79 is a cartoon picture of a white boy, about eleven or twelve years old, standing up at the front of a classroom, in front of other white children, and looking very uncomfortable. This is “Chuck.” The unit revolves around Chuck, who lives “on a cotton farm” and has to give a talk in class about cotton to children who also live on “cotton farms.” About two-thirds of pages 80-1 are covered with a large picture of a cotton field with nine white children standing in it. There is also a neatly dressed white man. Half of page 82 is occupied by another picture of white children in a cotton field and about a quarter of page 83 is taken up with a front view of a mechanical cotton picker. At the controls is a white man; and one can tell very little from the picture about how the machine functions. Page 84 is review and instructions to the children about what to think about. The text contains references to fertilizing, weeding, defoliation—“Does the company expect you to put chemicals on these plants to make the leaves fall off before you harvest the cotton?”—and cotton-picking machines. This is all. Page 132 of the teacher’s guide has a number of sentence completion test questions: Question one requires that the student remember that cotton needs a “warm” climate, and the right answer to Question two is that there are truck farms in the “Rio Grande” valley.


IN 1961 Professor Walter Johnson and Avery O. Craven, both of the University of Chicago, wrote an American History, published by Ginn and Company, for high schools, in which the Negro is discussed so as to give the impression that all his problems are on the way to rapid solution (pp. 640-1), and to prove it, on page 641 there is a picture of Jackie Robinson playing first base. In his 1965 high-school history text, The United States Since 1865, also published by Ginn and Company, Professor Walter Johnson seems to have reversed himself, for on pp. 468-477 he gives as honest an account of the Negro situation as one could expect to find in an American textbook; yet, strangely enough, the old text that one encounters on page 641 in the 1961 book is retained unchanged—even with the picture of Jackie Robinson—on page 409 of the new book. How does one account for this contradiction? If one chooses to stop reading at page 409 in the new book, one can feel that things are improving; if one continues to page 468 one will feel altogether differently.

I did not carefully turn every page in Your Life As a Citizen by Harriet Fullen Smith, George G. Bruntz, with Ernest W. Tiegs and Fay Adams, published by Ginn and Company in 1961; but leafing through it several times I saw no Negro face, and the only contemporary references to the Negro are on pages 220-21, where it is stated that Negroes have equal protection under law. Our United States, A Bulwark of Freedom by Harold H. Eibline, Frederick M. King, and James Harlow, published in 1961 by Laidlaw Brothers, has nothing at all on the contemporary Negro, and precious little about him at all.

Basic Social Studies 5, published in 1964 by Harper and Row, is another one of those faceless “basics.” It is an American history, and the authors are O. Lawrence Burnette, Jr. and Lettie Lee Ralph, with Thomas J. Durell as “director.” It is a cute book, different from the run of American history texts in that it is organized around a number of quite comfortable families who move around in the US. Aside from this it is the same old packaged American History. The modern South is discussed, for example, on pages 353-356 with no reference to Negroes, and all faces are white. Though the book carries the student into the Presidency of John F. Kennedy, the latest reference to the Negro is the Civil War.

Stupidity About Labor

On page 370 of Craven and Johnson’s American History is what looks like a painting or lithograph of the “railroad strike” of 1877. The legend beside the picture states:

Here workmen forcibly drag firemen and engineers from a Baltimore and Ohio freight train in West Virginia. What weapons do you see?

It looks as if some people have guns, but it is impossible to tell from the picture who the people are. Nevertheless the implication of the text in question is that they are workers.

Craven and Johnson’s treatment of organized1 abor is evasive, unclear, and superficial. Thus, the reason for the decline in strength of the Knights of Labor is merely that they lost some strikes. Of the Homestead strike the authors say:

A bitter strike took place in 1892 at the Homestead Plant of the Carnegie Steel Company. The strikers, angry at the company’s treatment of them, shot it out in a pitched battle with the Pinkerton detectives hired by the company. The state militia finally ended the strike.

Of the strife between labor and “militarized” management1 that broke out after the Civil War because of the miserable pay, humiliation, lack of security, and dreadful working conditions, Craven and Johnson give us the following interpretation:

Communication between management and labor had broken down. Consequently, both parties at times nursed unfair notions about one another. What men do not know very often bothers them a good deal more than what is familiar.

In general, labor is treated nervously in history books. Our United States, unlike Craven and Johnson’s American History, however, is willing to state, on page 463, that


Conditions in many factories and plants grew worse. Men worked twelve to fifteen hours a day, sometimes at tasks beyond their strength. Factories for the most part were poorly lighted and ventilated. Faulty equipment resulted in many fatal accidents. An injured worker received no hospital benefits or other compensation.

Our United States points out that entire families had to work because the earnings of one person were not adequate to support a family and that children worked long hours in factories. The long and bitter war management waged against unions is not mentioned. Yet the authors say that “Picketing, the efforts of strikers to prevent the use of strikebreakers, has often led to rioting and bloodshed,” thus placing the blame for labor violence on the workers.

The treatment of labor and of unions seems more balanced in high-school economics texts like Applied Economics by James Harvey Dodd, South-Western Publishing Company, 1956, and Economics by Kennard E. Goodman, Head of the Social Studies Department of West Technical High School, Cleveland, Ohio, and C. Lowell Harriss, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, Columbia University, published by Ginn and Company in 1963. But even they draw a thick curtain in front of the “militarized” opposition of management to labor unions and strikes.


In high-school texts depressions are handled as a phase of “business cycles,” and business cycles are discussed as if they are inherent in economic systems, as gravity is in the universe. “Let’s summarize some of what happens during a cycle,” say Goodman and Harriss, the authors of Economics, on page 292, “first a contraction, then an expansion.”

Let us assume that business has begun to drop off here and there. Why? Perhaps major construction projects taper off, and nothing replaces them.

Thus business tapers off because it tapers off.

Or high prices discourage consumer buying at home and exports to other countries. Or one or more factors may have worked a depressing influence.

Note that nothing is said about what causes prices to discourage consumer buying; that is, nothing is said about the inequality of income distribution that “discouraged” the consumer and helped to bring on The Great Depression. Again there is the implication that depressing factors “work a depressing influence,” with no explanation of the origin of the depressing factors in the first place. This presentation is followed by a reasonable examination of the cumulative, snow-balling effects of depressions. Then, on page 294, the authors say

After a time, the decline slows down and then stops. A movement upward begins. What causes the “turn around”?… Some or all of the following may help: (1) Production costs fall, that is, costs per unit. Workers try harder to produce more per hour. Management finds ways to raise efficiency. (2) Some businesses by reducing prices stimulate sales and employment. (3) Inventories get unduly small and need replenishment. (4) Government pumps money into the income stream by spending more than it collects in taxes.

There is no elaboration of these statements, and the fact that in The Great Depression the “decline” did not stop, and would not have stopped had it not been for Government intervention, is not discussed, and the student is left with the general idea that somehow depressions always stop by virtue of the dynamic of the cycle.

Consumer Economic Problems’ senior author is W. Harmon Wilson, Vice-President of South-Western Publishing Company, publisher of the book! Co-author is Elvin S. Eyeter, Chairman, Department of Business Education, Indiana University. The book came out in 1956. The authors treat depressions as natural expressions of the “business cycle”:

Decline. In past periods of prosperity eventually we reached a stage when there was overproduction; the selling of the merchandise became a critical problem…; competition became keen; profits were reduced; production began to lag; gradually employers started to reduce wages and to lay off workers…etcetera

Depression. Just when the process turns into depression is difficult to determine. When business in general is bad, the period is referred to as a depression. In other words, business activities are depressed. In general, depression is considered to be the low point in the cycle…

Recovery. Eventually recovery begins. Prices and costs readjust themselves…

On page 679, among “Causes of the Business Cycle” the authors note that, “Purchasing usually lags behind production power. Not enough of the income received from production is put back into purchasing power, and the income from production is not sufficiently widely distributed among all the population to create widespread purchasing power.” Yet this statement, which clearly implies that if income were “sufficiently widely distributed” there would be no “decline” or “depression,” is not followed up; and why “purchasing lags” and why income is “not sufficiently widely distributed” are not discussed.

THERE IS no reference to the subject in the “Summary,” in the “Textbook Questions,” or in the “Discussion Questions.” Thus a major preoccupation of contemporary academic and government economists is never referred to again in the book.

The handling of The Great Depression by history books is fatuous. I give just one example from Our United States, Bulwark of Freedom. The discussion is introduced by a personalized fiction, characteristic of the new vein in social studies books: a worker, fired because of lack of business in the plant, asks his foreman:

“Is the overproduction Mr. Hill spoke of today responsible for the stock market crash?”

“It’s all part of the problem,” the foreman explained. “It’s difficult to tell exactly what is responsible for something like a market failure. One of the things that caused the crash was overspeculation… When a lot of people begin to speculate, by buying stock in a corporation, the market price of the stock goes up. If someone who owns a large quantity of the stock suddenly begins to sell it for whatever he can get, the price of the stock falls and others who hold that stock must sell out quickly or take a loss. In other words, he forces the stock market price down.”

This is all Our United States has to say about the causes of The Great Depression.

Poverty and Related Issues

The only poverty discussed in Economics by Goodman and Harriss is rural poverty. On pages 157-161 the authors point out that “Tens of thousands of farm families are at the lowest income levels in our country.” They then discuss rural poverty as if it were merely a phenomenon of small yield, poor land poorly maintained, and poor management. There is also a reference to migratory workers earning low wages and having no political influence. The book’s Index contains no reference to “poverty” or “poor.”

Applied Economics has no discussion of poverty but points out on page 409 that inequalities in income may be due to success in business, to inherited wealth, or to “exceptional talent.” There is a reference to poor housing on page 322:

The underlying reason for the existence of the poor-housing and slum areas in cities is that most of the people who live there cannot afford to pay enough rent to make it profitable for owners to construct and maintain better houses.

Communism and the Soviet Union

In 1962 there was a brief period of worry that our children were not learning anything real about communism and the Soviet Union. In The New York Times, July 4, 1962, Harry Schwartz wrote:

The anti-capitalist and anti-American indoctrination given Soviet pupils in all Soviet schools is being matched by anti-communist and anti-Soviet indoctrination in many American schools.

The Times quotes the opinions of several American educators deploring the teaching about communism and the Soviet Union, and cites the curricula on communism in a number of schools. Several examples of hysterical anti-communism from school curricula are also given. Sharing the page with Mr. Schwartz’s article is an account of a report issued jointly by the National Education Association and the American Legion. The report says:

In teaching about communism…it it is not necessary to maintain the position that everything about communism is a failure….

The Communist economic system…”has not been without its successes” and has brought the Soviet Union in forty years to a position where it is one of the world’s great economic powers….

Beyond the Americas by Paul R. Hanna, Lee Jacks, Professor of Child Education, Stanford University, Helen F. Wise, Elementary Supervisor of Public Education, Kalamazoo, Michigan, Robert A. Lively, Associate Professor of History, Princeton University, published by Scott, Foresman and Company in 1964, shows the effects of this national concern about American children’s ignorance of the USSR. Here are some selections from the book:

The giant bear has emerged from its snow-bound cage and has thrust its paws around the earth and into outer space.

When you have finished reading “In the Soviet Union,” you will know more about communism. You will see the differences between our system of government, which upholds freedom, and the Soviet system, which restricts personal liberty. To preserve the freedoms we cherish for ourselves and others, we need to learn all we can about Soviet threats to these freedoms (p. 125).

Life on Soviet farms is hard, but for many city workers it is even more difficult….

People who have always worked on a farm find city life full of new hardships. They are far away from the food supply (p. 150).

City dwellers who waited for years to be assigned a residence in the new apartment buildings find them disappointing (p. 151).

The constitution of the USSR, with its bill of rights, reads much like the Constitution of the United States. It guarantees freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and education. But it states that these freedoms are reserved for the working class…(p. 159).

How does the [Communist] party, to which less than 5 per cent of the people belong, continue to rule the lives of all the people in the USSR? (p. 159).

There are also some positive statements:

Towering over the city is the forty-seven story University of Moscow, the largest University in the Soviet Union. Moscow has a wide variety of colleges and technical schools. It has many museums, exhibition halls, opera houses, and theatres for drama and ballet, including the famous Bolshoi Theatre. Like most cities of the nation, it has stadiums and arenas for athletic events and many houses of culture, or centers for recreation, reading, and the pursuit of useful hobbies (p. 144).

No matter where people live in the USSR, the community center of culture and recreation is the focus of activities (p. 151).

The book says nothing about the Soviet system of social legislation, rise in the standard of living, eminence in science, abolition of illiteracy, etc., etc. But there is a “table” on page 151 with the usual comparisons between what things cost in the US and what they cost in the USSR.

The Soviet Union by Michael Petrovich, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, published by Ginn and Company in 1964, is more sophisticated. It begins by saying some nice things about the Soviet Union: it has a fine culture, it is one of the “world’s leading nations.” It is, however, “the greatest revolutionary force in the world today” (page iii). The causes of the Russian revolution are not given. On page 29 workers and “the middle class” are given equal credit for the revolution. On pages 40-43 the book emphasizes repeatedly that “the people” were overwhelmingly against Lenin. On page 32 Russian fears of the US are presented as irrational, and the animosity of the Russians to the US is attributed to “dislike” of us.

THE RUSSIAN CIVIL WAR is described on page 45 as “very bloody and cruel” but the Allied intervention in 1917-18 is not mentioned.2 The map on page 31 entitled “Invaders of the Soviet Union” shows “German Knights 1242,” “Tartars 13th Century,” “French 1818,” and “Germans 1941-42,” but does not show the Allied intervention.

On pages 52-3 the Soviet Union’s ability to defeat the Nazis is explained as owing “in part,” to help from Britain, France, and the United States; but the Soviet Union is awarded no part in the ability of France, Britain, and the United States to defeat the Nazis. On page 53 it is stated that, during the war, “At least seven million Soviet citizens lost their lives…” although no US encyclopedia gives such a low figure.3 On page 56 is the usual statement that the Soviet Union is a dictatorship ruled by the Communist Party, which is very small relative to the total population of the Soviet Union. The book states that “it is much better not to have been a member at all than to be an ex-member,” but says also that the party “recruits” the best from all walks of life. However, “only about one fifth of its members are women, despite the fact that there are still more women than men in the USSR as a result of war losses among men, and peasants and certain nationalities are poorly represented”4 (page 57). On page 58 we learn that the purpose of the All-Union Congress is “good advertising because it gives the impression that everything is run in a democratic way.” The following quotes further illustrate the negative trend of the book:

Since the real central authority in the Soviet Union is the Communist Party, it is difficult to see in what way any republic can make independent decisions (p. 59).

There is nothing voluntary about the Union. Force has been used to keep national territories such as Georgia, Turkestan, and the Ukraine from leaving the Union (p. 60).5

Whom do the people work for in the Soviet Union? The Communist answer is that they work for themselves, since all the factories, mines, stores, and other state properties are owned by the people as a whole. Yet who manages the system? The government. In this way, then, practically every worker in the Soviet Union works for the government (p. 69).

Yet Soviet science is not free… Soviet scientists carry on communications with satellites thousands of miles away in space, but their telephone system is wholly inadequate. They can land machines on the moon, but they have yet to produce quality shoes at an inexpensive price.6 Soviet men can fly into space, but most Soviet citizens cannot get permission or money to fly alone to Vienna, Paris or London on a private visit…(p. 90).

The book speaks, however, with unstinting praise of the system of social legislation and education and lists some of the USSR’s famous scientists.

Economics by Goodman and Harriss has the following to say about the Soviet Union:

Understanding our rival, Russia. Much as we hate the fact, realities force us to acknowledge the threat of a dangerous rival. In spite of inefficiency Russia’s economic power is growing, especially in military production. To deal with the Communist menace most effectively, we must understand the underlying economic system (p. 471).

Russia’s leaders are notoriously guilty of ignoring facts (p. 472).

The “underlying economic system” is treated in one column on page 473.

War and The Bomb

Without exception, the analysis of the origins of the two World Wars is handled superficially in textbook accounts; possible United States complicity in bringing them about and the possible avoidability of any war at all are not examined. Responsibility for the wars is placed on the shoulders of those “others.” Let us look, for a moment, at the treatment of war and the atom bomb in A History of the World (second edition) by Alice Magenis and John Conrad Appel, American Book Company, 1963.

On August 6, [1945] the world was stunned by the news that the first atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. It leveled three fifths of that city of nearly 350,000 people…. On [August 9] the second atom bomb fell. This time Nagasaki was hit. The following day Tokyo offered to surrender (p. 515).

Note that no casualties are mentioned. On page 518 there is one question about the bomb: “Why was August 6, 1945, an important day in history?”

THE KOREAN WAR is not discussed at all, but the book states, on pages 553-4, that after the election, “Eisenhower soon achieved a truce in Korea, where the North and South Koreans had been fighting for three years.” There is nothing in the text to suggest that the United States armed forces were in Korea at all. Of the reasons for Japanese-American hostilities in World War II, the book says, on page 511:

[Hideki Tojo] saw an opportunity to get control of Asia while the other powers were busy in the Atlantic. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor…on December 7, 1941.

There is space here now only for some further references to treatment of the atom bomb. American History states that in Hiroshima there were 100,000 casualties, but there is no analysis of who these “casualties” were (i.e., mostly women and children), and nothing is said about the second bomb. In Beyond the Americas the atom bomb does not appear in the Index, and a careful checking of all the references to Japan in World War II does not turn up a discussion of the bomb. On the other hand The United States Since 1965 gives some honest material on pages 394-5. Good social science depends more on courage than on brains.

Before going further I must point out that as chief of the analysis section of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey I went to Japan in October 1945 to study the effects of the bombing of civilian population centers on the population’s willingness to resist the US. We turned up, at that time, the fact, since become common knowledge, that long before the atom bomb was dropped, it was known to President Truman that Japan, through the Emperor, was suing for peace. The following, from Our United States is therefore wrong and distorted from several points of view:

President Truman warned the Japanese to surrender or face the consequences. When he received no answer to his warning, he authorized the use of the atomic bomb…. The main part of [Hiroshima] was wiped out.

Two days later an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki with the same devastating results. The Japanese leaders, realizing that it was hopeless to continue, asked for peace (pp. 575-6).

It will be noted that here again there is no reference to casualties. There is also no reference to the bomb in the review at the end of the chapter, no question about it on page 577 under “What do they mean?,” and nothing about it under “Things You May Wish to Do,” “Remembering Your Geography,” or “Milestones” on pages 577-8. Thus the student is invited to forget the bomb.


Imperialism—British, American, French, etc.—is another delicate area in social studies. Yet the writers of these books are equal to all challenges. Beyond the Americas has the following to say about Britain in India:

Under British Rule. During the seventeenth century, Dutch, French, and English competed for the wealth of South Asia. By the latter part of the eighteenth century, Britain gained control of most of South Asia. For many years, the British had been developing important trading posts at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. When Britain finally assumed complete control in 1858, the Mogul empire had fallen apart and the whole area was in a state of confusion (p. 342).

The perduring, destructive effects of British rule on the Indian economy, Britain’s responsibility for the “confusion” and “falling apart” are not discussed, nor, indeed, Britain’s right to be in India at all.

On page 342 a paragraph is given to the strife between Hindu and Moslem; then on page 343 it is stated that

Gradually some Hindus and Moslems came to believe that if India were to gain independence from Britain its problems would be solved…. Finally Britain promised that independence would be granted in 1948.

So much for India’s struggle for independence. Here are the questions asked at the end of this section on South Asia:

  1. Name the chief natural regions of South Asia. Why are the river plains the most densely populated areas? 2. Account for the seasonal changes in India. What crops are dependent on the wet monsoons? What crops grow during the period of the dry monsoons? 3. Give reasons for the unfriendly feelings between Hindus and Moslems.

A History of the World has the following to say about American absorption of Hawaii:

A new queen came to the throne in Hawaii in 1891. She restricted the rights of foreigners, whereupon the Americans living there organized a rebellion and overthrew the queen (p. 440).

The Spanish American War is given two paragraphs on page 440, where the causes of it are stated to be: (1) “Misrule” of Cuba by Spain; (2) “Riots” “interfered” with American Business; (3) “Cruel government” of colonies by Spain; (4) Blowing up of the battleship Maine. In a later paragraph it is stated that “The Filipinos did not want American rule any more than they wanted Spanish rule. It took three years of warfare to quell revolts and restore order there.”

On page 106 of the “Workbook” that goes along with this “history” the students are asked only to “…state three ways in which the Philippines were aided by American control.”

THE PURPOSE of this essay has been to illustrate the development of legitimate social stupidity in elementary and high schools in the United States. I have tried to show how, by leaving out and distorting information, textbooks strive for the goal of stupidity. There is always a question of how much information the members of any culture may be permitted to have; and throughout history it has been assumed that most of the population should be kept ignorant. It was, perhaps, the condemnation of Galileo that first brought the legitimacy of this assumption into question. At the present time, let me repeat, for the first time in history, it is assumed that everybody has the right to know everything at any time. Where will it all end?

In any modern democracy the people in power should ask themselves, Where is the point at which, if people know too much, they will embarrass us, and where is the point at which, if they do not know enough, it will be catastrophic, because the people will be so unintelligent they will be unable to judge any issue and so will easily be led to disaster? But as we have seen, the world is presented to children and adolescents in such a way as to prevent them from getting from school the information necessary to enable them to form an intelligent opinion about the world. College often continues the work of instilling ignorance. What the people who run us permit our children to learn is governed by their fears—what we are permitted to learn is sifted through the fine mesh of fear and self-serving interests.

But why do textbooks ever change? With all its defects, Professor Petrovich’s book was not possible in 1954. Why was it possible in 1964? Why was it possible to print Michael Harrington’s The Other America in 1962 but not in the 1950s? Why do we have to wait until oceanic, even disastrous, change seems to make it “safe” to print the truth instead of making the truth we print change society? Clearly the same fear, the same self-serving, governs those who make the books as it governs those who have the power to say “yes” or “no” to the publication of a book. The disgrace is that the textbook writers should be willing to commit their guilt to print. I remember an encounter at a university not so long ago, when a professor in a school of education of great prestige told me he was writing a textbook in social studies that “pulled no punches.” But this can only mean that in the past his books had “pulled punches”: and having read them I know they did. How could he have written the earlier books? Surely the reason must have been that he was unable to see the “complicated and specialized” effects of teaching children to be stupid: effects so complicated and specialized that they can destroy the world. The inability of children to understand war, the bomb, the Negro problem, the Soviet Union, imperialism, and so on, has helped to bring us so close to universal annihilation that we may not be able to turn back.

This Issue

May 9, 1968