“The Biddies” — Irish Domestic Servants in Early America
-1861 cartoon from Harper’s Weekly
The accepted ideal for American women in the early 1800s was that of the virtuous housewife. A body of literature and thought sprung up to support this notion, as an increasing number of families became prosperous enough to avoid the drudgery of farm labor.
The immigrant women who arrived from Europe did not share in this luxury. Many became domestic servants, and they sometimes did so in a state of debt bondage. Because they usually spoke English, Irish women were hired for these jobs in large numbers.
Working conditions of domestic servant women
Wages were generally low in the early United States. There was not a lot of physical money in circulation, and most people made their living on farms. Because labor was cheaper, it was much more common for families to hire domestic servants — some of the wealthiest houses kept a staff of ten or more on hand. These women cooked meals, cleaned house, cared for the children, made the beds, and other tasks of that nature.
Many of them came as indentured servants or “redemptioners” — meaning that they worked for room and board to pay for their passage to the United States. After a no-frills journey, they would begin a labor term of four to seven years. During this period they were treated the same as slaves — they could be tracked down by bounty hunters if they fled. Women generally had their term extended if they became pregnant. Until mid-century, debtor’s prisons were common and anyone deemed not to fulfill their end of the agreement could be thrown into one. Women were also vulnerable to sexual assault, since they had almost no legal recourse to pursue claims.
Complaints by American women of the insolence, ingratitude, and ignorance of their Irish maids were commonplace in written works. The domestic skills of these immigrants were said to be lacking. For instance, in this passage by Harriet Beecher Stowe…
“For some time, therefore, after the inauguration of the new household, there was trouble in the camp. Sour bread had appeared on the table; bitter, acrid coffee had shocked and astonished the palate; lint had been observed on tumblers, and the spoons had sometimes dingy streaks on the brightness of their first bridal polish; beds were detected made shockingly awry: and Marianne came burning with indignation to her mother.”
For those who weren’t indentured, turnover was high. Invariably this was blamed on laziness and insolence.
Anti-Irish Catholic Prejudice as an Excuse for Lurid Fiction
The Catholicism of the new arrivals was disconcerting to most native American women. Their ethics and religion were deeply Protestant. The contradiction of trying to raise Protestant Republican children with Irish Catholic servants was never quite reconciled, though it was frequently alluded to as a problem.
-George Catlin – Five Points (1827)
Some authors began to print lurid descriptions of Irish life, ostensibly for public education. A genre of literature emerged in which the lascivious traits and heretical religion of the new immigrants. The men who wrote these books were probably opportunists — for they had a near monopoly on the publishing of content about drunkenness, promiscuity, and other such taboos. One such example cited is George Bourne’s 1834 book, Lorette: The History of Louise, Daughter of a Canadian Nun, Exhibiting the Interior of a Female Convent.
In general, these works reinforced the notion of a Protestant-normative America, while presenting Irish and Catholics as outsiders and usurpers. Among men, this would eventually lead to the Know-Nothing Party, but it’s a mistake to think that women were oblivious to this strain of thought, or that they did not participate in it.
Off the Job — Living in Poverty
Most of these Irish women worked in cities on East Coast, such as Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Once they landed in the new country, they often didn’t have the means or the knowledge to venture elsewhere. In these cities men, women, and children were crammed into sprawling, degraded tenements. The problems were worst in New York.
-A tenement interior as drawn in Harper’s Weekly.
The tenements functioned without sewage and sanitation. Families with children were crammed into rickety wooden buildings and often into the basements, which had no protection from the ground water. The floor was usually flooded with several inches of stagnant water, and mixed with garbage. On any level, the rooms were subdivided with artificial walls, to the point that many had no windows or ventilation. This caused boards to rot, disease to flourish, and mold to fester. Rats were endemic and scurried amongst the rooms as people lived and slept.
Typhoid fever was the most common disease, followed by tuberculosis and cholera. Infant mortality was very high — no public health statistics are available, but it was perhaps 30-40%.
When there were downturns and the jobs became scarce, it became even worse in the Irish slums, as idle men listed about, drinking and starting fights with each other.
This is just a brief overview of the degradation that awaited Irish women for their first years in America.
A scholar, but not a professor
Too much time & money. Not enough work. Imho. They could get started on paying & saving for college, a car, etc., instead of poisoning themselves. Sports, volunteering to help the less fortunate if one is independently wealth, which is a shame. The formation earning your own money, paying your own bills provides is priceless. Or, the military is an outstanding option for young people to serve the nation and communities. Better to be killed by enemy fire and die a hero to your country, than a useless moron who wasted their young life and poisoned themselves and destroyed the lives of those who cared and loved you most in this life. May God have mercy on young people and on their foolishness. May He give strength, patience, wisdom, faith, grace, hope, compassion, and gentleness to their guardians.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole mind, heart, and soul. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” -Deut 6:4-9
I look to the mountains;
from whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not let you fall;
your protector is always awake.
The protector of Israel
never dozes or sleeps.
The Lord will guard you;
he is by your side to protect you.
The sun will not hurt you during the day,
nor the moon during the night.
The Lord will protect you from all danger;
he will keep you safe.
He will protect you as you come and go
now and forever.
Without understanding the cutthroat business of education, and all of the financial and political players, it’s difficult to see the enormity of corruption in the system–and how it devalues the nation as a whole.
The more I learn about US education, the more I understand how much of a racket K-12 and higher education have become. If students (and their families) are serious enough about their studies, they can still learn valuable skills in college. But college teaching and learning have become secondary to business, bureaucracy, and dealing with the “savage inequalities” of K-12 that feed into higher education “degrees of inequality.”
In the US, education at all levels increasingly reinforces a social system of “winners” and “losers” based less on potential and hard work and more on family position in the existing class structure.
In my previous articles on the US College Meltdown and America’s Most Endangered Colleges, I mentioned some of the “winners” and “losers” in American higher education. The list on both sides is long and growing as the US College Meltdown becomes more apparent.
[Image above: Working class students and poorly compensated adjunct teachers rarely engage in solidarity, though both groups are big losers in the US College Meltdown.]
[Image below: Margaret Spellings has been a “big winner” of neoliberal education: as Secretary of Education, Apollo Group board member, and President of University of North Carolina system.]
The “savage inequalities” we see in K-12 schools are inextricably linked to the“degrees of inequality” we see in America’s colleges.
In this analysis, it’s important to examine powerful private, non-profit, and public players as well as for-profit operations.
It’s also important to look at money and favors changing hands at the state, county, and local levels.
So who makes big money in US education? The list of participants at BMO Capital Markets gives us a Who’s Who in the business of education.
But there are many more people making money from the US education racket: in K-12 education management, higher education management, online and software services and other forms of outsourcing, publishing and curriculum, real estate, construction, accreditation, advertising and marketing, banking and finance, and political lobbying.
Two-thirds of the officials responsible for policing the quality of the nation’s colleges and universities are employed by schools their agencies oversee, highlighting potential conflicts of interest in a system that faces reform efforts in Washington.
[Image below: From ISpot.tv. Higher education marketing and advertising are big business. Marketing firms win big with contracts from Penn State University and other brand name colleges.]
Private Student Loan Lenders include Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo, Discover, and SoFi.
Student Loan Servicers: ECMC, Navient.
[Image below. Navient makes billions of dollars by buying and selling student loans, and coercing students to repay their student loans.]
[The big educational spenders on K Street are mostly elite schools, with a few subprime colleges.]
“Some sites I write for want a lot of links and the appearance of journalism. Why is that a plus? Journalists lie every day.
In any case, I want this to be a more personal piece. I think it will be more honest than any journalism you’ll read. I’m going to tell you what I believe I’ve figured out from writing about K-12 education for more than 30 years. (Spoiler alert: K-12 education is a huge, well-organized racket that’s gunning for you and your kids.)
My first big essay was titled “English and Education.” It appeared in the Princeton Alumni Weekly in 1983 and got a lot of fan mail. (It’s still on the internet and still a good read.)
The goal of the article was to show that when an entire field, such as education, starts to use jargon and deceitful language, you know the field has lost its way. I tried to prove that education had gone off the rails and was in serious trouble.
Later, however, I realized that I was like a Roman doctor who could study symptoms and predict correctly that a patient was soon to die. But the doctor cannot explain why. The Romans didn’t know about germs.
Decline of American public education
I knew I had to construct a “germ theory” to explain the decline of American public education. Years later, I became comfortable with the conclusion that the germs making us sick are busybody social engineers with bad blueprints. That would be John Dewey and his gang.
Five years ago I was communicating with a very rich and successful man who said, “I agree with a lot of what you say, Bruce. But I can’t accept the conspiracy angle.”
I was surprised. He was engineer-smart. How could he not see the conspiracy? It’s the size of Texas.
If you rule out intention, you have to argue that our Education Establishment has been clumsy for a century. Nobody is that clumsy. It’s more logical to assume the education elite were making exactly the decisions they thought would lead them to the goal they wanted.
That goal is well known. John Dewey and all of his associates were Progressives (or probably the more accurate term is “Fabian Socialists”). They wanted a socialist America (not that different from what Obama seems to want). John Dewey was the chief strategist for how to accomplish this goal without resort to legislation or elections. He came up with the ingenious tactic of taking over the schools of education, brainwashing the young teachers, and sending them out into the countryside to brainwash American kids. Americans for the most part didn’t want any of Dewey’s kool-aid. So Dewey and his cult had to operate in a furtive manner. But operate they did. And still do.
Here’s the essential detail: every time John Dewey and friends had a conference, exchanged letters, or chatted at lunch, they were typically plotting to take control of the country via the ed schools. That’s been the fundamental reality since about 1910. The conspirators, of course, believed in their own supreme virtue. But so did Lenin and the Bolsheviks. So did Pol Pot. If they had to lie to the public about their real intentions, that was not a problem.
For people not in education, it’s always a shock when they first realize that something very bizarre and counterintuitive is going on. Suppose you’re walking down a street, glance over a fence and see workers building a crooked house. You are sure this house is going to cause a lot of misery. You try to tell the carpenters that their house is crooked. They answer, “We know what we’re doing. Mind your own business.” At this point you become doubly intrigued. You know these people are engaged in some strange crime, or they have escaped from a lunatic asylum.
Almost all the people who write about saving K-12 education come from outside the field. One day, they see that crooked house; their minds are never the same. My favorite example is Albert Lynd, a Harvard-educated businessman with young children in the schools. He ended up joining the school board. Once inside the K-12 beast, he thought: wow, these people are nuts, I have to tell the world. He wrote a wonderful book in 1951 titled “Quackery in the Public Schools.” More than 60 years ago, society was more polite, from what I hear. Imagine the words he was saying in private.
Planned Illiteracy in our Public Schools
Another great example is a Canadian name Mary Johnson, a housewife in the 1950s and a piano teacher. As it usually happens, there was a tiny incident. A 5th grade student insisted on reading “minuet” for “mimic” and Mary Johnson knew that everything was going to hell. She became a bulldog fighting for real education. All hail Mary Johnson! She wrote a book called “Planned Illiteracy in our Public Schools” in 1970. Note the word “planned.”
Once you see that crooked house, you want to tell people about each flaw. It takes a lot of skill to build a really good crooked house. You have to use gimmicks such as Whole Word reading theory, New Math, Constructivism, Self-esteem, Relevance, Multiculturalism, and literally dozens of flawed theories. The essence of the conspiracy is 1) concoct these cons and 2) force them on students.
Bad education theories function like viruses in a computer: everything slows down. Neither the theories nor the viruses appear by themselves. Somebody has to put them in play. Similarly—and this is the good news—you can take the bad ideas out of the schools just as you can remove viruses from your own computer. That’s what we need to do, clean out the garbage.
What we have in K-12 education is a vast interlocking array of crookedness, both in the sense of a crooked house and crooked people. I think at this point there are few good ideas left in American public schools. Instead there are two dozen viruses, i.e., intellectual sophistries that render progress difficult. Just consider this one example. Self-esteem emphasizes positive reinforcement for all students. Sounds good, right? In practice this turns out to mean that you have to eliminate any material that some students find difficult. There goes your curriculum.
Bad education theories function like viruses in a computer
A lot of very smart sensitive people have written books about their own crooked-house experiences. Charlotte Iserbyt has a book on the Internet you can read for free called “The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America.” Note the word “deliberate.” More recently, attorney Robin Eubanks published a book called “Credentialed to Destroy: how education became a weapon.” Eubanks saw the homework that children were bringing home from school and thought: are you kidding? All these books end up making the same point: we’re being attacked by a carefully orchestrated plot to take down our country.
This year, Samuel Blumenfeld, our ranking real educator, published his tenth book, “Crimes of the Educators.” He says that K-12 education is a “criminal enterprise from top to bottom.”
The problem with our Education Establishment is that it is steeped in deviousness. I don’t know how they live with themselves. Each year they come back with their warmed-over sophistries and their cute little propaganda ploys. Really, the only way we’ll have any relief is if the public starts to treat them with the contempt they deserve. These are clowns that pop out of a clown car and throw garbage at us. At some point you have to think: I don’t want clowns throwing garbage at me. That’s reasonable.
I’ve put hundreds of education articles and videos on the Internet; they are all trying to explain various nooks and crannies of the conspiracy to dumb down our public schools. In effect, we’ve got doors that won’t close, floor boards that are warped, pipes that leak, and a fireplace that will always spew smoke into the house. It takes a weird kind of genius to build a fireplace like that. I’ve written 30 articles just on reading. That’s how slippery and twisted each sophistry is. Do you think I exaggerate? Rudolf Flesch wrote two whole books (1955, 1981) explaining Why Johnny Can’t Read but millions of people still didn’t get the message. Canadian and American schools have been in an alternative reality for 75 years. In that reality, sight-words are a great way for children to learn to read. That’s the triumph of sophistry over common sense, because almost no one can learn to read with sight-words.
Common Core is a repackaging of all the bad ideas from the last 75 years but now locked-in by federal regulation
Five or six years ago a Canadian woman contacted me on the Internet. She was really angry. I would ask a question and she would write back two anguished pages. She had a daughter in the third grade and the school officials had announced: “Your daughter has dyslexia and will never learn to read so we recommend tape recorders and various adaptive technologies.” This woman basically screamed back, “My child is fine. You have messed her up because you won’t teach her to read with phonics.” Only nine, and this kid was already written off. Heartbreaking.
Multiply her story times many millions and you know what the Education Establishment in Canada did to the children there. All of this is contained in the phrase “planned illiteracy.” Keep a child from reading and you create a tragedy that spreads out in all directions. I’m sure the mother’s health was affected. As I say, she was really angry.
This ruthless game is continuing in the United States where Common Core is a repackaging of all the bad ideas from the last 75 years but now locked-in by federal regulation. The whole thing is wonderful if you like totalitarianism. The sales pitch is sophisticated but all the ideas are the same old instructions for building a crooked house.
My hope is that you’ll share this article with friends, discuss the ideas, and then find more information on the Internet. The people in charge of your schools probably do not deserve your support. Quite the opposite. Get informed. Get involved. Knock down the crooked house. Then we’ll start over and build it right.”
- Don’t scare the children. Too much reality is a bad thing.
- Be emotionally gentle.