Fear Based Schooling? 1 – Background

Teresa Palmer walking away from an explosion (in I Am Number Four)
Problem? I don’t see any problem. Why do you ask?

Man, I hate doing this, because I really love Simcha Fisher (as much as I can love somebody whose blog I’ve followed and with whom I’ve exchange a tiny amount of correspondence) and I know she loves her kids and is raising up a batch of good, decent human beings – BUT: can’t let this essay in the Register: Fear-based Schooling pass without criticism.

Simcha is writing in response to this blog post by a Matt Walsh I’ve never heard of before.  He states:

Government education is designed to be an instrument of propaganda and bureaucratic control. This isn’t a side effect –it’s the whole point. If you don’t want your kid subject to government propaganda and government control, then don’t send him to a government facility 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 13 years of his life. Or go ahead and send him — perhaps you have no choice, I understand that — but confront the reality of the situation.

Of course, I agree with everything Mr. Walsh says, because not only have we raised 5 kids in the People’s Republic of California, I’ve actually read Fichte, the dude who inspired von Humboldt, who, as the Prussian Minister of Education, instituted modern compulsory state education there – where Horace Mann got his ideas. Fichte, von Humboldt and Mann don’t even talk about reading, writing and arithmetic – it’s all about Morals, by which they mean a specific flavor of Protestantism that asserts that a human being’s value is determined by his place in the State (and in the factories and armies that make the state great).

The implications here are more than a little mind-blowing, so let’s go over it in a little detail.

For 1500 years, the Church taught that 1) we are one Body in Christ and 2) that His kingdom is not of this world.  A Christian was thus insulated from the vain hope that any state would bring about the fulfillment promised by Christ. At the same time, the Church taught, in accordance with 1 Peter and elsewhere, that we owed respect and obedience to the state, as it got its legitimate authority from God. So, for 1500 years, Christians worked with the state to make things better without trusting in the state to provide salvation. This remains the teaching of the Church to this day.

This began to change with Luther. One of his first orders of business was to eliminate the competition, theologically speaking – he enlisted the help of the German political leadership to shut down the monasteries (wherein lived men who were as scholarly and biblical as Luther ever was – but who often disagreed with him). Then, the plan was to use the newly-freed-up monasteries to house a new thing under the sun: compulsory universal state-run schools. The state was enlisted to enforce orthodoxy in a new way: it became, in Luther’s mind, an arm of the Church, ensuring that everyone learned to be a good little Lutheran – whether they liked it or not.  Dissent from schooling became dissent from the Church – and dissent from the state! This could not be tolerated – and, in fact, is not tolerated in Germany to this day, where homeschooling has been criminalized.  Implementing this dream took 250 years.

Now, the actual beliefs under Protestantism are, shall we say, highly elastic. This elasticity provided an opportunity for the state to drive the car, so it chose to foster those beliefs that fostered the state. But the idea became fixed that the Church and the state were united in the business of making sure, at the point of a bayonet if necessary, that each and every little German was educated to be a good solid Lutheran subject.

Thus, in 1806, the French conquest of Prussia under Napoleon is seen primarily as a moral failure – which means, inexorably, it is fundamentally a failure in education.  This sums up what Fichte has to say in his Addresses to the German Nation – the Prussians lost the war because they had failed to educate their children properly. So, Luther’s dream of universal state-run schooling evolves into the idea that properly educated children result in an army that cannot be defeated. Let that soak in for a minute.

Weeds grow where the ground has been broken and better plants have been killed off. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, as the French troops withdrew from Prussia, von Humboldt, a huge fan of Fichte, finally gets to implement the ultimate state education. The chief characteristics of this new schooling are:

  • It is totally managed by experts, with no parental input desired or even tolerated.
  • It recognizes no bounds. If it proves desirable to forcibly remove children and separate them from their families and communities for years on end, that would be OK.
  • The goals of the state are completely coextensive with any legitimate goals of the children and families. If the child or the family object, they are not just wrong, but immoral and traitorous. No, really – it is that clear.
  • The only value an individual has is as part of the state. This is an idea that Hegel ran with – and is why the head of the US Department of Education strove to have Hegelianism declared the official philosophy of the department. No, really.
  • Finally, unstated but always present: the children of the leaders don’t attend these schools. The educational needs of the powerful are not the same as those of the weak.

This is where Horace Mann got his inspiration for public schooling in America. Horace’s interest was – you guessed it – morality. Nobody then could possibly argue that the kind of intensive schooling Mann envisioned was required to learn the basics – literacy in New England at the time was 99%, learned in a tiny fraction of the hours Mann wanted, often as not with no school involved at all.

Nope, what Mann wanted was morally correct people. As you might imagine, the solid farmers of Massachusetts were not enthusiastic – they were being told that they and their children were not sufficiently moral to work in Mann’s and his buddies’ factories, and that they should pay for the privilege of handing their kids over to their betters to remedy this defect.  The education establishment insulting the intelligence of parents goes way back. So, the farmers repeatedly voted down efforts to tax them in order to institute Mann’s schools.

BUT: Mann got his big break – the Irish Potato Famine, of all things. Suddenly, Boston and other cities were flooded with Irish – people even the farmers would agree needed a little of the right kind of Jesus beat into them. All the sudden, schools weren’t about straightening out Protestant farm kids, whose moral failings centered on not being totally happy and grateful to work in factories, to those miserable Irish kids and their degenerate Papism. It is an historical fact that compulsory state-run education in America came about on a wave of anti-Catholic bigotry.  Catholic schools were founded in response to hatred, once the Irish got organized enough to have a little political clout.

Once it got rolling, compulsory state education took off – wherever there was enough social disruption for the weeds to grow. With the Civil War and increased immigration, disruption was almost everywhere. Out in the country, where independent minded farmers had set up their own one-room schools, it took almost another century for ‘consolidated’ schools to finally win out – over the strenuous objections of the farmers. By the 1940s, the battle was over: the only schools to be found were public schools or private schools built on the same assumptions.

Rarely, if ever, were the wished of the people involved in imposing this new schooling. Just as Common Core got developed by ‘experts’ and implemented by state departments of education (with a federal funding gun to their heads) before any parents had had a look at it, the classroom model was implemented in almost every case as the new ‘scientific’ method of schooling without any parental input at all. it’s not an accident that school boards have dwindled in number and authority over the last century – they are nothing but a sop and a temporary annoyance to the system.

So: as in all bureaucracies, there are some good people involved in public schooling. Usually, the language of control is softened in order to be more acceptable to tender hearts. But the goals of the system persist and win out despite the intentions of the people implementing that system. Standardized classes and tests are designed to produce standardized people. Grades are designed to produce graded people. Such people conform to spec, and are interchangeable – which happens to be the most desired state if you’re running a company or an army. Individuals are nothing but trouble. They tend to have ideas and ask questions – very inefficient.

How do we get honest and well-intentioned teachers to produce standardized thought-free ‘product’? Here’s how:

  • Make sure that school fills as much of the day as possible. Fichte’s dream of total separation of child and family may not be practical in America, but the same result can be achieved by simply filling the child’s day with school and school-related activities;
  • Segregate kids not by what they need to learn, but by age. This establishes the arbitrary rights of the school over any rights or reasonable expectations of the child, and teaches them to stay with their externally-defined group;
  • Progress is measured by keeping up with the group. The most utter humiliation is to be flunked; the second worst is to be moved ahead (woe to that child! She will likely be loathed by both her old and new classmates);
  • The only kind of achievement that matters is passing tests. All that other stuff might be OK, but it’s not going to help you keep up with your class;
  • Fragment knowledge as much as possible, so that kids learn, not that there’s a coherent world out there, but rather that knowledge is broken up into unrelated and meaningless tidbits which are mastered and spooned out by experts;
  • Teach fragments of knowledge in 30 or 40 minute chunks. Thus, in the unlikely event that a kid starts to make connections, the bell will ring and the subject change before any real damage is done;
  • Special efforts are taken to make sure as few as possible learn any math, science and history, as these are dangerous subjects, gateways to actual thought.

See The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher for a better explanation written by a school teacher.

So, back to the original issue: is it ever a good idea to send your kid to a graded-classroom model school? (Public or private doesn’t really matter.)  I answer No, because the medium is the message here. Now, can a good parent ever send their kid to a public school as the least bad option?  Maybe.  But to pretend that, somehow, the good intentions of the teachers outweigh the evil intentions of the model in which they work is wishful thinking.

part 2 – fear – coming up when I get a minute.



Author: Joseph Moore

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

9 thoughts on “Fear Based Schooling? 1 – Background”

  1. “The model is evil” is a bit of a fresh perspective. The model isn’t just broken, it’s an active force… I’ll have to add that and the attention-breaking (ie rigid class bells ending periods) to my arguments.

    1. That is the big thing – we all (well, almost all) grow up loving kids, and we all meet many lovely teachers who say the right things, and really do try, struggling mightily, both consciously and unconsciously, against the constraints imposed on them by the graded classroom model, to teach us stuff. We love these people, and find it very hard to believe that, against their will and despite their efforts, schools produce what they’re supposed to produce:

      “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.”
      – William Torey Harris, United States Commissioner of Education 1889 – 1906

      (and, with little surfing around, you can find quotes to this effect from all sorts of guys – guys who are the Founding Fathers of American Public Education.)

      It’s not a secret – we just can’t believe it.

      1. Yeah, I edited down a much longer comment that included “it’s not just the children that suffer, but also the teachers.” I know many, and it’s true… it’s hard to believe that the system works just as designed.

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