Old Gold and Black

January 30, 1923


Site Editor's Note: Here we find a similar analysis to that in Cash's October editorials, "North Carolina Culture", and "What the Freshman Reads", but this time centered around Upton Sinclair's recently published work. For a subsequent opinion expressed by Cash on the controversial Sinclair, see "Sinclair vs. Tribune", January 23, 1938. In the interim Sinclair would unsuccessfully run for governor of California in 1934 on a populist platform and publish several books exposing various capitalistic evils from big oil to big steel, including the 1923 Goose-Step, arguing the harmful effects of capitalist society on education and culture. Sinclair won a Pulitzer in 1942 for his novel Dragon's Teeth, one of a series of eleven novels on world events since 1914.

Cash here doubts that "money-barons" are the root of lockstep uniformity but rather that the ideal of materialism is to blame. Query whether he shifts the blame completely to the money-barons for the degradation of culture and educational institutions by the time of his 1933 "Buck Duke's University".


Mr. Upton Sinclair proclaims with great gusto that the American college student is being taught what he styles as the "goose-step." Now, Sinclair, if our memory fails us not, finds his stamping ground amidst the aesthetic surroundings of stock-yards, doubtful art galleries, and Chicago. Also, he is a genuine ranting, wild-eyed Socialist. We confess to some trepidation in smuggling, as it were, this person into our select columns--and for the safety of our editorial person we hasten to assert our dislike for the philosophy of red rags and bombs. As a rule, when we occasionally run across something this Sinclair has written, we grin intolerably--that is, when we don't get mad and hurl it in the waste-basket--and, remembering the advice of some good Roman, partake plentifully of the sodium chloride. Nevertheless, we do not hold that no good can come out of Nazareth--and it strikes us that this utterance concerning the "goose-step" furnishes food for thought. Is it true? Are American colleges mere machines for the turning out of types and patterns? Do they merely hand out stereotyped, "made-to-order" ideas? Are they fostering intellectual and social stagnation? And do American college students belong with the boobery--mere sponges without projective brain power?

True it is, beyond a doubt, that the mass of American college students aren't showing any alarming tendency to think for themselves. Probably a great many of them are stupid and are merely in college with the idea of passing a pleasant four years, getting out of work, and getting a diploma which means more money. It may be that a system of cut-and-dried thinking is being held out to them by the majority of professors in the majority of colleges. There may be cause for believing that the man who teaches that things are just about as they should be is more in demand than the one who holds up an ideal of what things should be twenty-five years from now. One need not seek far to find evidence that the instructor with advanced views is promptly given the gate--it happened here in our own province of North Carolina only last year in rather a striking away. But any or all of these things do not justify Sinclair's idea that they come out of the sinister dictation of a harmful handful of money-barons. That, in our opinion, is the bizarre explanation of a mind disturbed by hatred and prejudice.

No--it all goes back to the crass materialism which so largely dominates our national life. Our blind passion for the getting of wealth is back of it all. From his infancy the average American is instructed in the cult of "making a livin'," and very little of anything else. Hence, when he comes to college he has no conception of anything but the art of acquiring for himself. Rarely does he inquire, "Will this college make me a better and more useful citizen?" Instead, he asks, "Will it enable me to make more money?" So, if the college students are really being taught the "goose-step," it is largely because the greater part of the citizenry wants its sons taught that very thing--and the sons in their turn demand it.

There is some hope--here and there we find an educational institution which still clings to an ideal of something better than the training of money-grabbers. And the students themselves are beginning to show signs of occasionally entertaining ideas. True, we aren't having any sudden upheavals after the order of the student strike in Havana, but after all that isn't our way. Personally, we are inclined to believe that this "goose-step" is somewhat exaggerated. That there is some truth in it we are bound to admit, but the blame for it lies with our national thinking and not with the colleges alone.

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