Eugenics Goals and Education

The eugenics movement saw itself as fostering a public good. It was optimistic that scientific changes in human breeding habits would solve many complex problems facing modern American society. Eugenicists favored better public health, family planning, more thoughtful preparation for marriage, and education about human reproduction. They encouraged reproduction of the "best and the brightest" and discouraged reproduction of the "unfit" — including criminals, alcoholics, psychotics, the retarded, paupers, and those in poor physical health. By sterilizing the mentally ill and restricting foreign immigration, eugenicists sought to isolate the American genetic stock from the taint of allegedly bad genes.

At its height, many prominent Americans supported eugenics. President Roosevelt once complained that the American middle class was committing "racial suicide" by not having enough children. Hence, the eugenics movement was pitched to the educated public as an element of family management. The Eugenics Record Office published self-help booklets, including "How to make a Family Eugenical Study," and "Eugenics and Sex Harmony." The American Eugenics Societyset up pavilions and "Fitter Families Contest" to popularize eugenics at state fairs. American education systems embraced eugenics, which was presented as a bona fide science by the vast majority of high school biology texts.

Eugenicists envisioned a society that perpetuated white middle and upper class power. Eugenic leaders thought they were endowed with wisdom and had the right to pass judgement on others in the name of progress. Positive eugenic ideas about family planning and public health may seem in tune with views common in American society today, although many people would fail to see any connection. However, the coercive tactics of eugenics — race separation, marriage restriction, immigration restriction, and sterilization — fly in the face of current ideals for a compassionate, pluralistic society.


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