Herein we lay out the schooling research program of this blog.
20 years ago, when our first child was 2, I would have argued for rigorous academic schooling for their children as the duty of any parents capable of providing it. Now, as a graduate of the Great Books Program at St. John’s College, I already had a somewhat different idea of what that meant in practice – in practice, the bulk of my education has consisted of reading books and talking about them with other people.
Then I met a woman who talked about Sudbury schools, and I instantly saw that I, at least, would have done very well in that environment, as I would have spent a lot of my time reading, uninterrupted by those pesky and stupid classes I had to take in grade school. At the same time I did a little co-oping at the ‘developmental’ preschool our son was in, and saw how little kids – 3, 4 and 5 year olds – investigated the world and interacted. Developmental schooling is the idea that kids will pursue whatever it is they need to learn if you put them into a rich, safe environment and let ’em loose – right up to the age of 5 or 6, at which point their education needs to be micromanaged by the minute or you are dooming them to be homeless derelicts.
Something wasn’t right in this picture.
I don’t remember who turned me on to John Taylor Gatto, but his writing was a real eye-opener. He makes the following assertions:
1. Graded classroom model schooling is designed to make us stupid (Dumbing Us Down);
2. It works by imposing arbitrary rules and structures that, despite the efforts of any well-intentioned teachers, effectively prevent real learning and instead create more easily managed ‘product’ (7 Lesson Schoolteacher);
3. That this state – schools that produce stupid, easily managed people impervious to thought – is the result of a conscious plan worked out in broad daylight by a small group of ‘educators’ with connections to the rich and powerful in this country (Underground History of American Education).
Another of Gatto’s observations: the greatest success of the current model of schooling is that almost nobody can imagine any other way of doing it, even though the graded classroom model was all but unknown 200 years ago, and didn’t become ubiquitous in this country until about 100 years ago.
I’m focusing here on point 3: that the real purpose of schooling is to produce standardized product that will perform to spec – soldiers and workers who will follow orders, managers who do not question the goals of their management, and a population that can be counted on to think the same about central issues, the most central being that those in charge should stay in charge and given more power.
Gatto names names: in America, it starts with Horace Mann, the founding prophet of American public education. He links backwards to Johann Gottlieb Fichte, an influential German philosopher, and his near contemporaries Hegel and Kant. These Germans, in turn, link back a Swiss German pedagog, Johann Heinrick Pestalozzi. These characters, most especially Fichte and Hegel, influenced a boatload of people – people who became the heads of the university education departments and state and federal education commissions in most European countries and all US states.
It is in the writings of these men that the goals of modern education are revealed, according to Gatto. So, I’m reading them.
You can my thoughts on them under the category ‘Education History‘.