Historically, Socialism and Communism were sometimes synonyms. But generally there was a sense that Socialism was softer. If you had enough power, you moved on to Communism, which was more coercive.
One intellectual summed up the matter this way. Socialists persuade you with speeches. Communists persuade you with guns.
In the days after the Russian Revolution, American leftists expended billions of hours trying to describe the perfect society. Fundamentally, all the debates turned on how much power the central government would have (a lot) and what power could be left to individuals (not much).
The assumption, often unstated, is that the masses of humanity cannot function on their own. A tiny elite must seize power and use it on behalf of a vast but helpless majority. (If you want a lot of power quickly, this is a handy assumption. Ask Lenin.)
At this date, these ideological arguments have tended to blur, much like the distinction between Presbyterians, Methodists and other Protestant groups. People on the outside hardly care; people on the inside tend to rally around their common assumptions. Today, Socialism, Communism, Marxism, Progressivism, Collectivism, and Totalitarianism are similar. Virtually the entire philosophical discussion revolves about the alleged right of a tiny group to dictate everyone else’s life. If you insist on that right, you are a Communist.
The United States was founded on the opposite assumption—most citizens can take care of themselves and should. But the Socialists/Communists/Collectivists feel they are better qualified to run your life. This debate has played out in every aspect of American life for 100 years, and particularly in education.
John Dewey and the early Progressives believed they knew what was best for country and students. Dewey and his gang thought it proper for them to take over the schools of education, brainwash the young teachers, and send them out to fundamentally alter the society.
A lot of social forces (from the left, right and in between, plus Rockefeller’s millions) conspired to support the Education Establishment’s early quest for power. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, our elite educators became a cult, a secular religion, and a separate country within our country. Perhaps most surprising for the contemporary observer is the arrogance of these people. After all, they were Americans; and they were practicing their social-engineering on the sons and daughters of neighbors. One expects some humility.
But no, there was only the adamant insistence that they knew the answers and had the right to dictate how other people live. Our little band of Socialists became, we might say, a little band of Communists. Guns? Yes, they would use many types of “guns” or, for sure, weapons.
From 1925 onward, there was a continual wave of bad theory and inferior methods. These “reforms” are incomprehensible to the ordinary person, and make sense only if you remind yourself that the people pushing these gimmicks were not trying to educate children but to re-engineer them.
The easiest way to see this is the Reading Wars, which were officially launched about 1931. Look-say was put into most schools. Professors brazenly announced that phonics must be replaced by a new, more modern method. In this approach the child did not learn the alphabet and the sounds of the letters. The child memorizes each word as if it were a logo. (There are few ideas so silly in the history of the world.)
Bogus reading theory in particular reveals so much about our Communists. Some historians claim the Russians and Nazis used fluoride in the water to decrease IQ. You have to think of something huge and drastic like that to understand the scope of what our Communists did. In one fell swoop, they took a country that was approaching universal literacy and made it functionally illiterate.
Everyone should marvel at their steel hearts. Making a child unable to read is sick; but this band of Commies, as I think of them, perpetrated this crime against millions of Americans.
In parallel with reading, the same sin was committed over and over, in every subject and classroom. New Math (and later Reform Math) weren’t trying to teach math; arguably, they were trying to teach an inability at math.
Our Commies had a perpetual hostility toward knowledge. Old-fashioned teachers might tell children that Columbus discovered America in 1492. Not good! Our Commies did not want children knowing very much, so they came up with a method called variously inquiry, discovery, constructivism, or project-based learning. The gimmick is that teachers don’t teach; the child explores and teaches himself. This seems calculated to create students with limited educations.
Nowadays, you can look at Common Core, which has embraced all the bad ideas from the previous decades, and see our Commies busy at work. People don’t want to think the Commies have taken over a big part of society. They have. In the 1920s, when the Russian Revolution was completed, Commies were galvanized. When our Depression came in 1929, they were ecstatic. It was clear that Marx was right, and now our Commies could proceed with their plans to inaugurate the Communist era. Job one: dumbing down.
Our little band of Communists needed to dumb the country’s children so they would be willing participants in a new society. When children know too much, they tend to be individualistic. They can’t work together as equals in a collective, thus the perpetual antipathy to traditional education.
Note here the immoral crossing point. Remember the essential premise, that people are so helpless they need to be cared for. Apparently they’re not all that helpless, so our Education Establishment tries to finish the job. If they didn’t enter the world helpless, they will surely enter high school helpless! I call this cheating, but Commies say the ends justify the means.
And the point is simply that to understand the incoherence and decline in American education, you have to understand that the people at the top wanted it that way, and still do, because Commies always know what’s best for you.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org.