Chapter 3: Why There Are Public Schools
Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property. Let him be taught to love his family, but let him be taught at the same time that he must forsake and even forget them when the welfare of his country requires it. - Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of IndependenceWhy were the public schools ever established? Did the private sector fail to set up schools or set up too few of them? Were large segments of society barred from obtaining education? Was the education of poor quality? The answer to the last three questions is no. The public schools were not established to make up for any deficiency in people's ability to learn to read, write, do arithmetic, and acquire knowledge of other subjects. The government schools were set up for another purpose entirely.
As Jack High and Jerome Ellig have written, "Private education was widely demanded in the late 18th and 19th centuries in Great Britain and America. The private supply of education was highly responsive to that demand, with the consequence that large numbers of children from all classes of society received several years of education." High and Ellig show that the government's involvement in education "displaced private education, sometimes deliberately stifling it [and] altered the kind of education that was offered, mainly to the detriment of the poorer working classes. "In colonial times through the early Republic period, when private schools were the rule, a great many people were educated, despite the relatively low living standards of the day. As the historian Robert Seybolt wrote:
In the hands of private schoolmasters the curriculum expanded rapidly. Their schools were commercial ventures, and, consequently, competition was keen.... Popular demands, and the element of competition, forced them not only to add new courses of instruction, but constantly to improve their methods and technique of instruction.Schooling in that early period was plentiful, innovative, and well within the reach of the common people.What effect did it have? High and Ellig note that 80 percent of New Yorkers leaving wills could sign their names. Other data show that from 1650 to 1 795, male literacy climbed from 60 to 90 percent; female literacy went from 30 to 45 percent. Between 1800 and 1840, literacy in the North rose from 75 percent to between 91 and 97 percent. And in the South during the same span, the rate grew from 50-60 percent to 81 percent . Indeed, Senator Edward M. Kennedy's office issued a paper not long ago stating that the literacy rate in Massachusetts has never been as high as it was before compulsory schooling was instituted. Before 1850, when Massachusetts became the first state in the United States to force children to go to school, literacy was at 98 percent. When Kennedy's office released the paper, it was 91 percent.
According to Carl F. Kaestle, "Literacy was quite general in the middle reaches of society and above. The best generalization possible is that New York, like other American towns of the Revolutionary period, had a high literacy rate relative to other places in the world, and that literacy did not depend primarily upon the schools." Another indication of the high rate of literacy is book sales. Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense sold 120,000 copies in a colonial population of 3 million (counting the 20 percent who were slaves)the equivalent of 10 million copies today. In 1818, when the United States had a population of under 20 million, Noah Webster's Spelling Book sold over 5 million copies. Walter Scott's novels sold that many copies between 1813 and 1823, which would be the equivalent of selling 60 million copies in the United States today. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper sold millions of copies. John Taylor Gatto notes that Scott's and Cooper's books were not easy reading. European visitors to early nineteenth-century America - such as Alexis de Tocqueville and Pierre du Pont de Nemours marveled at how well educated the people were .
High and Ellig sum up the experience of the 18th and 19th centuries by noting that "the available evidence strongly indicates that Americans of the period took an active interest in education. ... The private supply was extensive, not only in the number of children served but in the spectrum of social classes involved."
Thus, the rise of public, or government, schools was not a response to any inability on the part of society to provide for the education of its children. As Joel Spring has written, "The primary result of common school reform in the middle of the nineteenth century was not the education of increasing percentages of children, but the creation of new forms of school organization." It should be obvious that the school systems were not set up merely to serve the poor. As Milton Friedman has noted, if the only motive were to help people who could not afford education, advocates of government involvement would have simply proposed tuition subsidies. After all, when proponents of government activism wanted to use the state to subsidize the purchase of food, they did not propose that government build a system of state grocery stores. They instead created food stamps. So the question is: Why are there public schools rather than "school stamps"?
School as Propagandist
We may break down the reasons into two broad categories, the macro and the micro. The aim of the public schools at the macro, or social, level was the creation of a homogeneous, national, Protestant culture: the Americanization and Protestantization of the disparate groups that made up the United States. At the micro, or individual, level the aim was the creation of the Good Citizen, someone who trusted and deferred to government in all areas it claimed as its own. Obviously, the two levels are linked, because a certain culture cannot be brought about without remaking the individuals who comprise it.
Throughout history, rulers and court intellectuals have aspired to use the educational system to shape their nations. The model was set out by Plato in The Republic and was constructed most faithfully in Soviet Russia, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany. But one need not look only to extreme cases to find such uses of the educational system. One can see how irresistible a vehicle the schools would be to any social engineer. They represent a unique opportunity to mold future citizens early in life, to instill in them the proper reverence for the ruling culture, and to prepare them to be obedient and obeisant taxpayers and soldiers. Unsurprisingly, rulers and intellectuals jumped at the chance to make the schools a mill for the creation of Good Citizens. That motivation has been part of every effort to establish government schools.
The indispensable key to using the educational system for that purpose is compulsory attendance. Were children free to attend nonstate schools or to avoid formal schooling altogether, the state's effort would be thwarted. The state's apparently benevolent goal of universal education has actually been an insidious effort to capture all children in its net.
Union of School and State
Before looking at the American experience with compulsory public education, let's go back to the very origins of the link between school and state. One of the earliest, if not the first, full-blown state educational system was built in Sparta. "In Sparta, an ancient model for modern totalitarianism, the state was organized as one vast military camp, and the children were seized by the state and educated in barracks to the ideal of state obedience. Sparta early realized the logical, inevitable end result of a compulsory education system."" (The Spartan model was observed by Plato.)
The modern link between state and school was forged during the Protestant Reformation, before which education was in the hands of the church and various private educators. An early elaboration of the potential role of public schools was written by Martin Luther in his 1524 letter to the German authorities. Luther wrote:
I maintain that the civil authorities are under obligation to compel the people to send their children to school.... If the government can compel such citizens as are fit for military service to bear the spear and rifle, to mount ramparts, and perform other material duties in time of war, how much more has it a right to compel the people to send their children to school, because in this case we are warring with the devil, whose object it is secretly to exhaust our cities and principalities of their strong men.The first modem public schools were founded in the German state of Gotha in 1524; three years later, Thuringa set up public schools. In 1559, compulsory attendance was inaugurated in Wurttemberg. Luther himself drew up a plan for Saxony. The purpose of all those school systems was to impose Lutheranism. Similarly, in the mid-16th century, John Calvin set up mandatory schools in Geneva, which were used to stamp out dissent. Under Calvin's influence, Holland followed suit in the beginning of the 17th century. It is important to understand that the purpose of the schools was to indoctrinate the citizens in the official religious outlook, for, as Luther put it, "no secular prince can permit his subjects to be divided by the preaching of opposite doctrines.... Heretics are not to be disputed with, but to be condemned unheard. " Unsurprisingly, it was in Calvinist New England that compulsory schooling first arrived in America.
Europe's first national system of education was set up by King Frederick William I of Prussia in 1717. His son, Frederick the Great, following in his father's footsteps, said, "The prince is to the nation he governs what the head is to the man; it is his duty to see, think and act for the whole community." After the defeat at the hands of Napoleon in 1807, King Frederick William III strengthened the state's hold on society by, among other measures, increasing the power of the school system. He instituted certification of teachers and abolished semi-religious private schools. High-school graduation examinations were necessary to enter the learned professions and the civil service. Children aged 7 to 14 had to attend school. Parents could be fined or have their children taken away if the children did not attend. Private schools could exist only as long as they kept to the standards of the government's schools. An official language was imposed through the schools, to the prejudice of ethnic groups living in Prussia."
When Germany emerged as a unified nation, the Prussian school system was enlarged. As Franz de Hovre wrote in 1917:
The prime fundamental of German education is that it is based on a national principle.... A fundamental feature of German education: education to the State, education for the State, education by the State. The Volksschule is a direct result of a national principle aimed at national unity. The State is the supreme end in view.In 1910 Ernst Troeltsch pointed out the obvious: "The school organization parallels that of the army, the public school corresponds to the popular army." The German philosopher Johann Fichte was a key contributor to the formation of the German school system. It was Fichte who said that the schools "must fashion the person, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will."
Importantly, American advocates of compulsory state schooling observed the Prussian system, became enamored of it, and adopted it as their model. As former teacher John Taylor Gatto writes:
A small number of very passionate American ideological leaders visited Prussia in the first half of the 19th century; fell in love with the order, obedience, and efficiency of its education system; and campaigned relentlessly thereafter to bring the Prussian vision to these shores. Prussia's ultimate goal was to unify Germany; the Americans' was to mold hordes of immigrant Catholics to a national consensus based on a northern European cultural model. To do that, children would have to be removed from their parents and from inappropriate cultural influences.Gatto emphasizes how the Prussian model set the standard for educational systems right up to the present. "The whole system was built on the premise that isolation from first-hand information and fragmentation of the abstract information presented by teachers would result in obedient and subordinate graduates, properly respectful of arbitrary orders," he writes. He says the American educationists imported three major ideas from Prussia. The first was that the purpose of state schooling was not intellectual training but the conditioning of children "to obedience, subordination, and collective life." Thus, memorization outranked thinking. Second, whole ideas were broken into fragmented "subjects" and school days were divided into fixed periods "so that self-motivation to learn would be muted by ceaseless interruptions." Third, the state was posited as the true parent of children. All of this was done in the name of a scientific approach to education, although, Gatto says, "no body of theory exists to accurately define the way children learn, or what learning is of most worth."
To appreciate the nature of the Prussian system, let us look at one of its innovations: kindergarten. In 1840, Friedrich Froebel opened the first kindergarten, in Germany, as a way of socializing children. "As the name implies," Spring writes, "the kindergarten was conceived as a garden of children to be cultivated in the same manner as plants." Educators in America observed what was happening in Germany and transplanted kindergarten to the New World. In 1873, the first public school kindergarten was opened in the United States, in St. Louis. Its purpose, according to school superintendent William Torrey Harris, was to rescue children from poverty and bad families by bringing them into the school system early in life. "The child who passes his years in the misery of the crowded tenement house or alley becomes early familiar with all manner of corruption and immorality," Harris said. The kindergarten curriculum, writes Spring, included the teaching of moral habits, cleanliness, politeness, obedience, and self-control. The education historian Marvin Lazerson, in his study of the Boston school system, found that the administrators saw kindergarten as an indirect means of teaching slum parents how to run good homes. That represented a change from an earlier conception of kindergarten with its emphasis on play and expression. In the 20th century, the emphasis switched again, from reforming parents to reforming children and protecting them from their urban surroundings. The use of the school as a buffer between the child and his family and community led to the establishment of playgrounds and parks, and then summer schools all intended to extend the school's influence over the child. The objective was to keep children busy. As a superintendent of schools in Massachusetts said in 1897, "The value of these [summer] schools consists not so much in what shall be learned during the few weeks they are in session, as in the fact that no boy or girl shall be left with unoccupied time. Idleness is an opportunity for evil-doing." Idleness apparently meant any time spent out of school. Joel Spring comments:
By the early twentieth century the school in fact had expanded its functions into areas not dreamed of in the early part of the previous century. Kindergartens, playgrounds, school showers, nurses, social centers, and Americanization programs turned the school into a central social agency in urban America. The one theme that ran through all these new school programs was the desire to maintain discipline and order in urban life. Within this framework, the school became a major agency for social control.Today's advocates of "early intervention" and year-round school seem to share that objective.
It cannot be overemphasized that American schools, which have changed only slightly since the 19th century, were modeled on the authoritarian Prussian schools - not much of a recommendation. Albert Einstein was a product of those schools. Considering Einstein's intellectual achievements, that might suggest that the schools in Germany were of high quality. Before drawing that conclusion, however, hear Einstein's own words:
One had to cram all this stuff into one's mind, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.... It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modem methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry - especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly.Public Schooling in America
As noted, the first compulsory schools were in the colonies of New England (excluding Rhode Island). Five years before setting up public schools in 1647, Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a compulsory literacy law, which stated:
For as much as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any commonwealth, and whereas many parents and masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty of that kind, it is ordered that the selectmen of every town ... shall have a vigilant eye over their neighbors, to see first that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families, as not to endeavor to teach, by themselves or others, their children and apprentices.After the American Revolution, Massachusetts again spearheaded the compulsory-education movement. In 1852, the state set up the first modern government schooling system. It was not always smooth going for the enforcers, however. Some 80 percent of the people of Massachusetts resisted the imposition of public schooling. In 1880, it took the militia to persuade the parents of Barnstable, on Cape Cod, to give up their children to the system. By 1900, nearly every state had government schools and compulsory attendance. At first, only elementary education was provided by the state. Later, the government system was extended to high school. These days, the many advocates of public schooling want the state to provide day care beginning at an early age and year-round schooling. The trend is unmistakable.
Because of the libertarian overtone of the American founding, it is not widely appreciated that some key figures in the Revolutionary period seemed more suited to Prussia than to the fledgling United States. A good example of that is Benjamin Rush, a physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was also an early proponent of state control of education." In 1786, Rush devised a plan for public schools in Pennsylvania. He wrote:
It is necessary to impose upon them [children] the doctrines and discipline of a particular church. Man is naturally an ungovernable animal, and observations on particular societies and countries will teach us that when we add the restraints of ecclesiastical to those of domestic and civil government, we produce in him the highest degrees of order and virtue.Rush saw the schools as the means to "convert men into republican machines. This must be done if we expect them to perform their parts properly in the great machine of the government of the state." He also saw the schools as essential for making up for the failings of the deteriorating family. As he put it, "Society owes a great deal of its order and happiness to the deficiencies of parental government being supplied by those habits of obedience and subordination which are contracted at schools." He was clear about the role of schools. "The authority of our masters [should] be as absolute as possible," he said. "By this mode of education, we prepare our youth for the subordination of laws and thereby qualify them for becoming good citizens of the republic." He took that position because he believed that useful citizens were manufactured from children who "have never known or felt their own wills till they were one and twenty years of age."
One could quote Rush for many pages, each passage more horrifying than the last. Two more examples should suffice. What should the state schools teach the student? "He must be taught to amass wealth, but it must be only to increase his power of contribution to the wants and needs of the state." Furthermore, this signer of the Declaration said, "Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property. Let him be taught to love his family, but let him be taught at the same time that he must forsake and even forget them when the welfare of his country requires it."
The themes of obedience and the deficiencies of the family pervade the thinking of the early proponents of public schools. In 1816 Archibald D. Murphey, founder of the North Carolina public schools, wrote:
In these schools the precepts of morality and religion should be inculcated, and habits of subordination and obedience be formed .... Their parents know not how to instruct them.... The state, in the warmth of her affection and solicitude for their welfare, must take charge of those children and place them in school where their minds can be enlightened and their hearts trained to virtue .Robert Dale Owen, founder of the experimental collective in New Harmony, Indiana, in the early igth century, made clear yet again that the purpose of public education was not benefit of the child. "It is national, rational, republican education ... for the honour, the happiness, the virtue, the salvation of the state." Calvin Stowe, a 19th-century American educationist, sounded much like Luther when he said:
If a regard to the public safety makes it right for a government to compel the citizens to do military duty when the country is invaded, the same reason authorizes the government to compel them to provide for the education of their children - for no foes are so much to be dreaded as ignorance and vice. A man has no more right to endanger the state by throwing upon it a family of ignorant and vicious children than he has to give admission to the spies of an invading army. If he is unable to educate his children, the state should assist him-if unwilling, it should compel him.The "schoolmaster of America," writes school historian Joel Spring, was Noah Webster, the lexicographer and textbook author. A major theme of Webster's work was nationalism, and Spring points out that Webster thought the schools and textbooks should encourage patriotism, develop an American language, and foster a national spirit. He was a Massachusetts legislator between 1815 and 1819, where he worked to establish a state school fund. In a speech to the legislature, he spelled out the salvation he hoped for from a system of "common schools":
I should rejoice to see a system adopted that should lay a foundation for a permanent fund for public schools, and to have more pains taken to discipline our youth in early life to sound maxims of moral, political, and religious duties. I believe more than is commonly believed may be done in this way towards correcting the vices and disorders of society.The fostering of the right political values could be accomplished by the schools, Webster believed, because "good republicans ... are formed by a singular machinery in the body politic, which takes the child as soon as he can speak, checks his natural independence and passions, makes him subordinate to superior age, to the laws of the state, to town and parochial institutions." Webster's New England Primer contained the "Federal Catechism," a series of questions and answers about political principles that children were expected to memorize in order to learn the values of citizenship and devotion to country.
The next major figure in the push for government-sponsored education was Horace Mann, who in 1837 because the first secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education. He is the father of the common-school movement, which according to Joel Spring worked for "the establishment and standardization of state systems of education designed to achieve specific public policies." The movement understood that standardization required state-level agencies that controlled local school boards. The biggest difference between the common school and what went before was the idea that the school would be controlled by government in order to have children from different social backgrounds taught a common body of knowledge. "The term common school," Spring writes, "came to have a specific meaning: a school that was attended in common by all children and where a common political and social ideology was taught." Historians have offered conflicting interpretations of the common-school and compulsory-education movement. Some see it intended as a cure for poverty, crime, and class tensions; others see it as a pro-democracy movement; others believe it was an upper-class movement motivated by a fear of instability in the working class; another group of writers sees it as a vast mill to serve the industrial system; and still others see it as a mechanism for imposing an American Protestant ideology. Barry Poulson points out that labor unions supported compulsory attendance laws because they kept children out of the workforce and reduced competition . It is likely that all these intentions were at work in the movement. The key point is that each shared the view that the coercive apparatus of government should be used to override the preferences of free citizens and to interfere with the spontaneous growth of society; in other words, all were contrary to the liberalism on which the United States was founded. To the extent that the common-school founders saw the system as essential for the moral education of children, they were operating on an anti-family premise. Parents could not be trusted to raise children of high character. Once again, the government was thought to know better than parents in matters of morality, an area of life well within the grasp of common people. In an essential respect, then, the common school took children from their parents. As Horace Mann put it, "We who are engaged in the sacred cause of education are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause."
Mann had a fascinating set of interests. A former Calvinist, he became a devotee of phrenology (the "scientific" study of bumps on people's heads), temperance (out of a belief that alcohol prohibition would end crime and poverty), and the common school. It is no coincidence that Mann was interested in both phrenology and education; it was widely believed in his time that the skull's protuberances revealed character and mental ability. Mann is credited with basing his educational philosophy on science. It should be borne in mind that the "science" he based that philosophy on was phrenology.
Mann indicated his belief in the redemptive potential of state education (and his role in it) when he was told he would be nominated to head the state board of education. In his journal he wrote, "what a diffusion, what intensity, what perpetuity of blessings he [the holder of that office] would confer! How would his beneficial influence upon mankind widen and deepen as it descended forever! " When he decided to accept the position, he wrote, "Henceforth, so long as I hold this office, I devote myself to the supremest welfare of mankind upon the earth.... I have faith in the improvability of the race." And in a letter to a friend, he explained that he was giving up the practice of law to take up education. "Having found the present generation composed of materials almost unmalleable, I am about transferring my efforts to the next. Men are cast-iron; but children are wax. Strength expended upon the latter may be effectual, which would make no impression upon the former." [Emphasis added.] Here again, we see a virtual denial that young human beings are autonomous beings with rights. Rather, they are seen as something to be shaped out of external considerations.
Because Mann wished the common school to provide a moral and political education for all children in order to end crime and corruption, he concluded that there should be no denominational religious teaching in the curriculum. Sectarianism would alienate parts of the community and destroy the mission of the common school. Yet, since in Mann's day moral teaching divorced from religion was unthinkable, he decided that using the Bible as a moral text would, in fact, be nondenominational and hence would not create tension among various religious groups." He similarly feared that if divergent political ideas were taught in school "the tempest of political strife would be let loose." His solution was to admit into the common school only those ideas held by "all sensible and judicious men, all patriots, and all genuine republicans." Teachers were to avoid political disputes in the classroom. Again, in order to diminish social, political, and class conflict, he wished to steer clear of differences that would divide the community. Of course, those areas of political thought that had broad agreement were not likely to threaten the ruling political interests. The education establishment would soon see public education as the vehicle for "Americanizing" the wave of immigrants, particularly Catholics, from Europe.
Not all of Mann's goals were objectionable. For example, he believed that the common school would give all levels of society the means to earn wealth. Education, of course, can increase the opportunity to make money. But Mann seems to have other things in mind, as indicated by his belief that "education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men - the balance-wheel of the social machinery." As discussed in the last chapter, the varied conditions of individuals are beyond anyone's power to "equalize." For Mann, equalization and social harmony would be advanced by the compulsory mixing of children from rich and poor families. Thus, the ideas of such modern-day egalitarians as Mickey Kaus are revealed as not so modern after all."
Mann was by no means the only public school advocate who uttered presumptuous ideas about children. At the end of the 19th century, Edward Ross, a sociologist, argued that with the (alleged) erosion of the influence of religion, community, and family, the state needed other ways to exercise control over its citizens, especially the young, in the industrial age. "The ebb of religion," he said, "is only half a fact. The other half is the high tide of education. While the priest is leaving the civil service, the schoolmaster is coming in. As the state shakes itself loose from the church, it reaches out for the school." Ross perfectly illustrates the elitist thinker who scorns parents for being inferior guides for children. "Copy the child will, and the advantage of giving him his teacher instead of his father to imitate, is that the former is a picked person, while the latter is not." Ross eagerly saw the school as the means for gathering "little plastic lumps of human dough from private households and[ shaping] them on the social kneadingboard." Children as human dough on the social kneadingboard! An apt image for what Ross and Mann had in mind.
That image is similar to that held by the founders of the Progressive education movement and their inspiration, the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey. As a pragmatist, Dewey believed that there were no fixed principles that transcended social contexts and that therefore one should adopt ideas and values that "work" in the situation at hand. His politics were collectivist, and that was reflected in his approach to education, which he saw as fundamental to social reform. As Dewey wrote, "A society is a number of people held together because they are working along common lines, in a common spirit, and with references to common ends." That, of course, was not the notion of society distinctive to America's revolutionary heritage; the American idea of society entailed a group of people who as individuals freely chose and pursued their own ends within a rule of law. Joel Spring points out that Dewey was one of the thinkers who provided the theoretical framework for the shift in education from individual to group work. As he wrote, "I believe that ... education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction." The school was to be anointed to prepare children for progressive society, which for Dewey meant a group orientation rather than an emphasis on the individual's intellectual development. He also wrote, "The social organism through the school, as its organ, may determine ethical results.... Through education society can formulate its own purposes, can organize its own means and resources, and thus shape itself with definiteness and economy in the direction in which it wishes to move."
Dewey's views converged to create a bias against abstract learning and individualism. "The mere absorbing of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat." [Emphasis added. ] For the pragmatists, individual liberty, free economic competition, and limited government were obsolete and inappropriate principles in the prevailing social conditions. Unfortunately, most people, particularly parents, did not understand that truth. The schools would have to play the major role in preparing future citizens for the new society. For Dewey, the mission was sacred: "The teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer-in of the true Kingdom of God."
Educators today do not talk about schools and children the way they used to . It is not, I believe, because they think differently. Rather they are well schooled in a discipline that did not exist in Benjamin Rush's and Horace Mann's day: public relations. But every once in a while an educator forgets himself or does not realize that the rest of us are listening. William H. Seawell, professor of education at the University of Virginia, got caught in that position in 1981. He said, "Public schools promote civic rather than individual pursuits" and, "We must focus on creating citizens for the good of society." But most startlingly, he said, "Each child belongs to the state." There was no outcry from the public. Of course, the coercive power of govemment lies behind all such utterances. That was made clear in South Africa, during its first all-race election. Campaigning in a poor area of the country, Winnie Mandela promised "free and compulsory education" to all, adding to loud applause (!), "Parents not sending their children to school will be the first prisoners of the ANC [African National Congress] government.
Despite their differences, the thinkers discussed in this chapter shared at least one principle: they believed that the school should be the mechanism through which the state, run by the intellectual elite, would shape the youth of the nation. In a word, the schools' business would be indoctrination.
In summary, the public schools have from the beginning been antagonists of liberty and the spontaneous order of liberal market society. In such an order, individuals choose their own ends and engage in peaceful means, competitive and cooperative, to achieve them. They also raise their children according to their own values and by their own judgment. In contrast, public schools have been intended to interfere with that free development and to mold youth into loyal, compliant servants of the state. Their objectives have required a rigidity and authoritarianism that is inconsistent with the needs of a growing rational being seeking knowledge about the world. Thus, the schools are a source of immense frustration for many children. It should surprise no one that those schools produce children who are passive, bored, aimless, and even worse: self-destructive and violent. The earliest critics of public schools would not have been surprised.
The founders of government-sponsored education were, until recently, rather candid about their objectives. From Sparta to Prussia to Massachusetts, the architects of public schooling believed they knew better than parents how to raise children. They presumed that the spontaneous growth of civil society was inferior to the social blueprints they had drawn up for their fellow citizens. In short, they were perfect examples of what Adam Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, called "the man of system," who
seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon a chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it.
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Suggested Reading List - the Demise of the Educational System - OBE (Outcome-Based Education), NEA (National Education Association), educational psychology, German psychology & influences, demise of public education, educational sabotage, Wundt, Pavlov, Dewey, Skinner, Watson.
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