Book Review: The School of Darkness, by Bella Dodd

I began reading The School of Darkness, published in 1954, simply as background material for understanding the tactics and spread of Communism in America. It does provide that, but also gives great details on the Communist takeover of the Teacher’s Union in New York and elsewhere, and tactics used to get and gain control of education. So double reason to read this book.

Brief summary: Bella Dodd was a first generation American born to Italian parents, who grew up in and around New York shortly after the turn of the last century. She was intelligent and ambitious, and so advanced through school, getting a college degree and becoming a lawyer. She taught school and then college, helped found the Teacher’s Union in New York, and fell in with the Communists just as the Great depression was taking hold.

She was attracted by the personal austerity and sacrifices she saw among the Communists she knew, and their dedication, as she saw it, to improving the lot of the poor and victims of the economic collapse. The traditional churches and societies did little or nothing, as she saw it.

She gradually moved up the ranks, serving as a labor liaison, legislative contact, and political organizer, until she was asked to be a member of the American politburo. She was deeply involved for many years with what the Communists were up to, both at the highest levels and feet on the ground activities.

Exposure to the ambition, pettiness, lives of luxury, and power plays of the upper levels of the party, and their inherent dishonesty, manipulation and utter lack of concern for the wellbeing of even their own party members, eventually drove her to speak out. Not playing ball got her purged from the party, defamed, and shunned by people she had thought her friends.

The last chapter and a half deal with her conversion, or reversion, to her Catholic faith. Alone, rejected, exhausted and sick in body and soul, she eventually reconnects with some Catholics she had known, who steer her back to the Church. She was conditionally baptised, shriven and given first communion by Bishop Sheen. She spent the rest of her life exposing the Communists.

How does it happen that the better education schools make Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, an obvious work of Communist propaganda, required reading? To balance all the paens to the free market in the rest of the curriculum? What works would those be? How does it happen that pragmatic moral relativism, embodied in the Trolly Car problem and as championed by the Communist apologist Dewey, gets taught in our schools? How come the vast majority of our teachers, K-grad school, lean hard left?

It’s as if it were some sort of plan was in place. Just as I am fond of pointing out that the Mob has never been purged from Chicago politics, the Communists were never purged from education. Dodd mentions in this book that, when the Rapp-Coudert Committee came after the Communist professors and teachers, they were only able to expose and remove about 40-50 out of the 1,000 or so that Dodd knew of through her work with the Teacher’s Union. So 95% of the Communists influencing education in New York were still there after the Rapp-Coudert, and were largely free to continue their work of shaping education. They appear to have done quite the job of it.

Freire’s entire point is that proper education radicalizes the student. (1) Educating them in the sense of teaching them stuff like reading, writing, arithmetic and job training was not only not the goal, but was to be positively avoided, as happiness and success don’t lead to revolution. No matter how often the Marxists say that the revolution is the goal, we still don’t get it, and imagine all the faux-sympathy shown to the poor and downtrodden mean they actually want to improve life for the suffering. No, they want a revolution, and, where improving working conditions and life in general conflict with moving the revolution forward (and they always do!), they oppose such improvements.

Dodd could be writing today. The ‘we’ in the following are teachers and professors in general:

As I look back over the conferences I attended on educational policies and methods and progress, I realize that we never discussed or thought about what kind of man or woman we expected to develop by our educational system. What were the goals of education? How were we to achieve them? These questions few asked. Are we asking them today in the higher echelons of the public schools, and what are our conclusions?

Only recently I heard the chief of the New York public schools speak on television on juvenile delinquency. It was soon after the wrecking of a school by young vandals. He said that what was needed was more buildings, more teachers, better playgrounds. Those devoted to progressive education and to preparing youth to live in the “new socialist world” are abstractly sure of what they want, but they seem not to know that they work with human beings. Aside from teaching that children must learn to get along with other children, no moral or natural law standards are set. There is no word about how our children are to find the right order of harmonious living.

I, too, had to learn by hard experience that you cannot cure a sick soul with more buildings or more playgrounds. These are important, but they are not enough. Abraham Lincoln, schooled in a one-room log cabin, received from education what all the athletic fields and laboratories cannot give. All his speeches reflected his love for his Creator. He knew that God is the cure for godlessness.

The School of Darkness, Dodd, Ch. 10

Dodd found herself and other idealistic Communists working themselves to death for the Cause. This consumption of the worker bees did not seem to concern the Communist leadership:

I should have known, however, had I reflected on the implications of Lenin’s speech delivered at the Third All-Russian Congress of the Russian Young Communist League on October 2, 1920: “ . . . all our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat.”

Or, as Dewey said in defense of Trotsky,

Since Mr. Trotsky also indicates that the only alternative position to the idea that the end justifies the means is some form of absolutistic ethics based on the alleged deliverances of conscience, or a moral sense, or some brand of eternal truths, I wish to say that I write from a standpoint that rejects all such doctrines as definitely as does Mr. Trotsky himself, and that I hold that the end in the sense of consequences provides the only basis for moral ideas and action, and therefore provides the only justification that can be found for means employed.

Their Morals and Ours
Published: New International, 1938

Dodd gets a job that entails keeping records for the Communists, and has it explained to her:

As I began to prepare for the work I was assigned to do I was amazed at the lack of files of material on social questions such as housing and welfare. When I complained about this, Gil said: “Bella, we are a revolutionary party, not a reform group. We aren’t trying to patch up this bourgeois structure.”

Ch 12

By even considering such things, she committed thoughtcrime and became double plus ungood. After a few more years and escalating incidents of failing to get in line, the party purges her. She discovers she can’t just leave, that’s not how it works, but must be condemned, smeared, and shunned. She finds herself friendless and alone, with nowhere to turn.

Finally, she meets some old Catholic friends.

In his office I met Mary Riley, his assistant. Since Dr. Greenberg could not see me at once, Miss Riley and I began to talk.

She had been a high-school teacher for years. Loved and respected by all, she represented a type of teacher becoming increasingly rare, as though they were being systematically eliminated from our schools. She was a woman of poise and dignity whose love of God permeated all her relations.

Ch 17

“Systematically eliminated.” But Miss Riley and her moral moorings are what is needed.

Now I saw in true perspective the contribution that the teachers and the schools of America have made to its progress, just as I was sadly aware of the darker picture some of the educators and the educated among us have presented. Justice Jackson has said that it is the paradox of our times that we in modern society need to fear only the educated man. It is very true that what a man does with his knowledge is that which, in one sense, justifies or indicts that education. A glance at the brilliant scientists who served the Hitler regime, and the Soviet scholars who serve the Kremlin, a look at the men indicted for subversion in our own country – all lead us to re-estimate the role of education. We are told that all problems will be solved by more education. But the time has come to ask: “What kind of education?” “Education for what?” One thing has become transparently clear to me: rounded education includes training of the will as much as training of the mind; and mere accumulation of information, without a sound philosophy, is not education.

Ch 17

Essential book. Available online for free. Read it.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The School of Darkness, by Bella Dodd”

  1. Think I must read. Mrs. Robbo is a teacher, an acolyte of St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method, but fortunately very apolitical. My mother taught high school English in the public schools until I came along. She was intensely libertarian, so no doubt would not have lasted long anyway.

    1. It’s a good read, not too long.

      It seems the Commies were content to let things go on for many decades in the hinterlands, which in their minds included most classrooms. They could just wait out the good teachers, so long as they filtered out any troublemakers in the following generations. What ed school is designed to do is to identify those who will not go along with endless busywork and empty intellectual posturing. Someone who just wants to teach and so will put up with it just to get to do their job will get through – and is unlikely to be a troublemaker (like, asking those annoying ‘why?’ and ‘what is the point, again?’ questions).

      Dodd mentions how she was appalled by future teachers she knew focusing on method and theory in grad school, instead of on the subjects they intended to teach. She held the old fashioned view that knowing your subjects and loving students were the requirements for a teacher, not immersion in theory.

      Over time, in grade schools and high schools, at least, you end up with teachers who just want to teach and avoid the admin as much as possible – the people in control are OK with this, for the most part. They can get their messages across despite such people. The medium – arbitrary age-segregated classrooms with arbitrary measures of success (for example, ability to sit quietly in your desk and do as you’re told) – is, at least in this case, the message.

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