Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

H.L. Mencken on Education

with 8 comments

From Minority Report (publish by Alfred A. Knopf in 1956), no. 127:

The public schools of the United States were damaged very seriously when they were taken over by the State. So long as they were privately operated the persons in charge of them retained a certain amount of professional autonomy, and with it went a considerable dignity. But now they are all petty jobholders, and show the psychology that goes with the trade. They have invented a bogus science of pedagogy to salve their egos, but it remains hollow to any intelligent eye. What they may teach or not teach is not determined by themselves, or even by any exercise of sound reason, but by the interaction of politics on the one side and quack theorists on the other. Even savages have reached a better solution of the educational problem. Their boys are taught, not by puerile eunuchs, but by their best men, and the process of education among them really educates. This is certainly not true of ours. Many a boy of really fine mind is ruined in school. Along with a few sound values, many false ones are thrust into his thinking, and he inevitably acquires something of the attitude of mind of the petty bureaucrats told off to teach him. In college he may recover somewhat, for the college teacher is relatively more free than the pedagogue lower down the scale. But even in college education has become corrupted by buncombe, and so the boy on the border line of intelligence is apt to be damaged rather than benefited. Under proper care he might be pushed upward. As it is, he is shoved downward. Certainly everyday observation shows that the average college course produces no visible augmentation in the intellectual equipment and capacity of the student. Not long ago, in fact, an actual investigation in Pennsylvania demonstrated that students often regress so much during their four years that the average senior is less intelligent, by all know tests, than the average freshman. Part of this may be due to the fact that many really intelligent boys, as soon as they discover the vanity of the so-called education on tap, quit college in disgust, but in large part, I suspect, it is a product of the deadening effect of pedagogy.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2008 at 10:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

8 Responses

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  1. Was this an ironic post? Given your politics, with which I often concur by the way, it seems ironic. With regards to a separate post of yours I was impressed by the Globe and Mail link given the fact that you live in the U.S. I didn’t think most Americans would have heard of the Globe 🙂

    Great blog. Keep up the good work.

    William Woolrich

    25 June 2008 at 6:45 am

  2. Well, I certainly don’t agree with it in its entirety. I strongly favor public education, which is not to say that I favor the current structure of public education. But education of everyone is vital for a functioning democracy, as we have seen—and that education must include critical thinking skills.

    But our structure today gives us things like Los Angeles Unified School District which has demonstrated that, on the whole, it cannot achieve its educational mission. Moreover, parceling out control to local school boards does lead to the kind of political control that Mencken deplores—see this post, for example. And also this post. Moreover, the lack of national standards and educational objectives is detrimental—the US is the only nation among the first-world countries that lacks such.

    So: partly ironic, partly not, and partly in agreement. And I do like Mencken’s rants.


    25 June 2008 at 9:47 am

  3. Oh: wrt to the Globe and Mail: when I was working, I went often to Vancouver, where in fact I met The Wife (only at the time she was not, of course, a wife). She was born and raised in BC. We’re a Canadian-friendly family. 🙂


    25 June 2008 at 10:32 am

  4. Hey Leisureguy… we don’t live in a democracy…the USA is a republic…at least it used to be…


    26 May 2009 at 11:59 pm

  5. Yes, it’s a republic, but a democratic republic, where all citizens get to vote to elect the representatives. I think it’s common to refer to the US as a democracy, as well.


    3 June 2009 at 9:44 am

  6. Sure it is common, but it is incorrect. Democracy is so very different from a Republic. Mencken, who you rave about here, is even against democracy and “rants” against it “In The American Mercury (27 August 1924) came this: “The aim of democracy is to break all … free spirits to the common harness. It tries to iron them out, to pump them dry of self-respect, to make docile John Does of them. The measure of its success is the extent to which such men are brought down, and made common.”

    (Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Here’s a link to a good explanation of the difference between a democracy and a republic –

    And an educated populace can be achieved in so many more practical and successful ways than schooling (public or private). Throughout history, before the enforcement of compulsory schooling, there have been great numbers of people who achieved mind-boggling success without schooling. Sure, they were educated. (Self-educated as well as seeking out appropriate mentors) but they were not schooled. The real agenda of schools is not to educate, but to manage and control. (Read John Taylor Gatto, Charlotte Iserbyt, John Holt)


    18 August 2010 at 3:11 pm

  7. @onecrazykat, You may be right. Best, Leisureguy.


    18 August 2010 at 3:14 pm

  8. The point is not what the United States was intended to be, or what someone wants it to be, but that it is has the features of a representative democracy. It is not the “pure,” direct democracy that disturbed Madison et. al., but it is a democracy. The U.S. has proven, as Mencken amply demonstrated (especially in his “Notes on Democracy”), that a representative democracy is little better than, and in some way worse than, direct democracy. (Worse than, for instance, in that it has a vast army of representatives who live off the fruits of productive labor.)


    29 November 2012 at 9:10 am

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