Modern Education In the News: History Gets Ignored, In Accord with Current Educational Theory.

First, education in the news:

From the Catholic Exchange, we find out that Indiana has rejected the Common Core curriculum developed by the Gates Foundation in conjunction with the Obama administration. Two Indiana moms noticed that their kids’ homework was getting even lamer than usual, wondered why, and, after 18 months of attending meetings and asking principals and state

from wikipedia

reps – investigative journalism, I think it used to called – they discovered that their state had replaced the ‘respected’ Indiana state standards with Common Core without bringing the change to the attention of anyone.

Here is a section that is wonderful for the surprise that our intrepid moms experienced when they discovered that these new standards had been enacted in such a way that almost nobody, certainly not parents, was even aware it had happened. Any acquaintance with the history of education in America would have prepared them for this recurring theme: that parents and voters, when presented with the choice, almost never agree to what educational professionals want to do, and that since at least the 1860s, the preferred method of educators has been to get innocuous-sounding departments of education founded at the state level and in the universities from which they could achieve the goals the voters consistently voted down. Compulsory state education was voted down for years in Massachusetts despite Horace Mann’s rhetorical efforts to make it sound OK; states in the Midwest – Indiana, for example – voted down the ‘scientific’ classroom model in favor of locally controlled one-room schools for decades on end. And on and on.  Common Core would be just the latest step in a 200 year effort to ‘dumb down’ us peons, as we will discuss below.


At first Heather thought maybe her ignorance of Common Core was her fault. Maybe, with her kids (as she imagined) safely ensconced in good Catholic schools, she hadn’t paid attention.

That’s when she and Erin started contacting people — “and we found out something more shocking: Nobody had any idea,” Heather told me.

A friend of Heather’s who is a former reporter for a state newspaper and now a teacher didn’t know. Nor did her state senator, Scott Schneider, even though he sat on the state senate’s Education Committee. (In Indiana, as in most states, Common Core was adopted by the Board of Education without consulting the legislature.) Nor, evidently, did the state’s education reporters — Heather could find literally no press coverage of the key moment when Indiana’s Board of Education abandoned its fine state standards and well-regarded state tests in favor of Common Core.

“They brought in David Coleman, the architect of the standards, to give a presentation, they asked a few questions, there was no debate, no cost analysis, just a sales job, and everybody rubber-stamped it,” Heather said.

So began an 18-month journey in which these two mothers probably changed education history.

One reason the media ignored the implementation of Common Core is that the Indiana education debate was dominated by Governor Daniels’s high-profile effort to expand school choice. But as my colleague at the American Principles Project (APP) Emmett McGroarty pointed out to me, nationalizing curriculum standards quietly knifes the school-choice movement in the back. As McGroarty puts it, “What difference does it make if you fund different schools if they all teach the same basic curriculum the same basic way?”

Common Core advocates continue to insist that Common Core does not usurp local control of curriculum, but in practice high-stakes tests keyed to the Common Core standards ensure that curriculum will follow.

And so on. Two things about this story stand out for me:

– that the moms noticed something was up when the homework given their kids *decreased*. As discussed elsewhere on this blog , it’s highly doubtful that homework in itself  is of any value whatsoever, especially when weighed against the things your kids lose to homework, chiefly: sleep, unstructured play, and family life. What is not disputable is that many parents believe unshakably that homework is *essential* to academic success, that academic success cannot be achieved without it (note: talking K-12 here. College is based on an entirely different model.). If this were true, we would not find people who both did little if any homework K-12 who were nonetheless academic successes.  But there are plenty of low homework/academic success stories out there. Me, for example (found out I could get by K-12 hardly cracking a book. College was harder).

(Turning anecdotal here, our family is 2 for 2 so far: both our college age kids got straight A in college after doing essentially NO homework K-12. How can this be? Well, they were able to spend the time the weren’t doing homework learning to be part of a family and doing whatever interested them. So, they got ‘socialized’ – they learned to behave as civilized people, which includes listening and speaking – and they pursued passions such as computer graphics and music and drama – they learned to work hard to *get what they wanted* within, of course, a context of civilized behavior. And they got plenty of sleep. While anecdotes are not proof, it’s hard to find more objective studies to back this up – who would pay for them? Who would publish them?)

So, irony of irony, the characteristic that triggered the moms’ actions is one carefully cultivated by the very same academics who were attempting to impose Common Core on them. Funny ol’ world, isn’t it?

– the whole rearranging the deck chairs aspect of attempting to save the current classroom model of education.  Allow me to digress.  Just started reading  a series of lectures given by a German dude named Johann Gottlieb Fichte starting in the early 180os in Berlin. Before now, my impression of Fichte had come from reading excerpts selected by the likes of John Taylor Gatto. Now, the entire enormous edifice is coming into view.

The entire history of education in America falls out from these lectures. Prussia had been defeated by Napoleon at the battle of Jena in 1806. Fichte lived in Berlin under French occupation, and delivered these ‘Addresses to the German Nation’ starting in 1808. Now, I’m only about 100 pages in to a 300 page work, but, so far, if you think ‘Nazi’ in the historical sense (as opposed to mere name-calling), nothing I’ve read so far would contradict it. Fichte is an extreme nationalist, and – here’s a key – believes the individual derives his sense of self and any personal worth from the state. The state is not something that arises out of the mutual interests of the people, but rather the cause and sole locus of the individual’s value.

A little scary, in historical context.

In the very first lecture, Fichte describes the need to revitalize Germany, makes sure his audience knows that he is addressing his remarks only to patriotic, educated Germans – limp-wristed quislings need not apply – and that the key, the only way, in fact, that this new, glorious Germany can achieve its destiny is – you guessed it – education. Specifically, compulsary, state-run education designed to produce the kinds of men the glorious new state requires. (Using ‘men’ here toi mean males – Fichte believed that the highest calling a woman has is to subject herself completely to her father and husband.)  This leads to quotations like this:

“It is essential that from the very beginning the pupil should be continuously and completely under the influence of this education, and should be separated altogether from the community, and kept from all contact with it.”


 ”Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.”

What has some obscure German philosopher got to do with education in 21st century America? One character much impressed with Fichte’s ideas was Wilhelm von Humboldt, who, as Wikipedia tells us, “…is widely recognized as having been the architect of the Prussian education system which was used as a model for education systems in countries such as the United States and Japan.” Humboldt was the Prussian Minister of education from 1808 to 1810, during which time he established the University of Berlin (and appointed Fichte to teach there – he was voted rector) as well as implemented universal compulsory education in Prussia.

‘Success’ was almost immediate – the new education system produced obedient soldiers for the army, disciplined workers for the mines and factories, a managerial/bureaucratic class allowed to believe it was it was in on the whole ‘dumb them down’ deal, and a tiny ruling class that got to do all the actual thinking and deciding. This newly ordered society greatly aided the boom in German industrial output, making Prussia the envy of the types of people who believe a state’s greatness is best measured in industrial output and military might.  It also resulted in a boom in foreign scholars showing up at German universities to learn the secrets of ‘success’.

The list of Americans who both played key roles in establishing mandatory state-funded education and who spent time in Prussia or at least read up on and supported Prussian education is impressive:  Calvin E. StoweHenry Barnard, Horace Mann, George Bancroft and Joseph Cogswell. These are heads of state education departments, heads of universities or university education departments, and in general both the cheerleaders and gate-keepers for professional state controlled education.

The new German universities invented the PhD, something pretty much unheard of elsewhere. They handed them out to all these foreign students like, for example,  Edward Everett, who became, among other things, both governor of Massachusetts and – wait for it – President of Harvard. In the second half of the 19th century, all the cool – and rich – American kids went to Prussia for their PhDs. Here’s another quote for you, from William Torrey Harris, another Prussian educated leader of American education, who served as chief administrator of the St. Louis Public Schools from 1868 to 1880 and as the United States Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906.

“Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.”

Harris’s  Annual Reports stressed the idea of education as a means of achieving the social and moral progress of civilization.”  The devil is in the details of what you mean by ‘progress’ – see above.

And let’s not forget the President of Princeton, Woodrow Wilson, who said:

“We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.”

In this context, what purpose would any sort of mastery of math, science, reading, history or geography serve? So, of course we don’t know anything about Fichte and the goals of Prussian education. Of  course we use terms like ‘getting ahead’ or ‘progress’ or any other hopelessly undefined terms to describe what school is supposed to do. It’s Newspeak: it is unacceptable to say: Compulsory public education is designed to produce a stupid, docile population incapable of thought that is no trouble for the tiny percentage of people in power to rule. Any meaningful mastery of reading, math, science or history would be counterproductive for all but a tiny few of the people, so schools not only don’t teach these subjects, they make them appear so dull and painful to learn that few sane people would bother.  No, we don’t say that, that would be unacceptable. Instead, we say: Free public education for all! Get ahead by following the rules and connecting all the dots!

One final thought: it should be clear from Fichte, Mann, and pretty much any other mainstream ‘educator’ that the purpose of education is to replace an existing culture with a new, better, ‘progressive’ one. The first step to achieving this end is to destroy the existing culture – Fichte, as is often the case, puts it most clearly and bluntly when he says that students must be separated from the influence of their existing culture. Now, in America, a few heroes like Orestes Brownson stood up and denounced this practice, and enough Americans are suspicious enough of the schools to fight back against any obvious attempts to simply seize their kids.* So, instead, we’ve been trained to accept massive amounts of homework and tons of extra-curricular activities as necessary steps to success – thereby achieving the goal of separating the kids from the family in mind and spirit if not always in body.

* In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes the KIPP school, and, amazingly, attributes its success to all the long hours poor Black and Hispanic kids must put in studying there. Ignoring the stories that make up the bulk of the book, about community fostering success, he ascribes the success of KIPP to hard work. Sure the kids work hard – but the hardest and most central work of all is to destroy their connections to their communities. This is achieved by massive hours of class time and homework. But the fact that these kids do well on tests has more to do with them *showing up* for the tests at all in the first place. A test-taking culture, which values academic success as measured by test results, has had to forcibly replace the ‘culture’ these kids came from, which did not value such results. At KIPP, at least, Fichte’s dream has been almost completely realized: kids have been almost totally separated from their communities, and have learned to evaluate themselves as their teachers would have them evaluated.

Author: Joseph Moore

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

2 thoughts on “Modern Education In the News: History Gets Ignored, In Accord with Current Educational Theory.”

  1. Well in the case of the KIPP schools, it seems that the culture that is being replaced is not a good culture. I agree that this culture didn’t value test results, but it many cases neither did it value fatherhood and responsibility. Some cultures are better than others, as you would surely agree.

    1. Yes, right – the point being that the problem KIPP is addressing is Culture, and that education, such as it is, falls out of it. In poor inner-city neighborhoods, a damaged, fragmented culture has arisen whose members by and large don’t consider school important. Because we all can agree that this culture is a bad one, educators are given free reign to destroy it in their students – nobody is lamenting the cultural loss for a girl who stood every chance of being pregnant and unemployable, who instead ends up working in a mainstream type office job.

      This is a great subject that a warrants a whole blog post – thanks for reading.

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