Short Education History in Bullet Form – Part I

Let’s wrap up 2016 with a bullet-point summary of the history of education in America over the last 200+ years. We will start with the roots of the compulsory graded classroom model as invented and first put into practice by the late 18th and early 19th century Prussians.

Image result for old school house
“The old Limestone Schoolhouse, shown around 1910. One-room schoolhouses were in use from the early 1700s here. A dozen were functioning in the mid-1800s. In 1915, many closed when the new Benjamin Franklin Grammar School opened on East Ridge (it’s now the core of the “old high school” building). Others closed in 1925 and the last, in 1939.”

Preface: 2 points to always keep in mind.

  1. While I may be more trustworthy than most, insofar as I am mortified by and correct any untruths I may pass along, nevertheless: don’t believe me, or rather perhaps, don’t believe *me*. Do your own research. This story lays out the issues with trusting sources, and neatly lays out the mentality that has gotten us into our present predicament. (Note especially that the story is told of a small boy, in school, expecting praise. He is Everyboy, and Everygirl. Of whatever age.)
  2. It is common to label any account that contradicts accepted wisdom as a conspiracy theory. Thus, as I lay out the history of education with publically-available sources, using direct quotations when possible, and show that the ideas presented represent the central philosophy and are not just some fringe character having a melt down, it is labeled a conspiracy theory. It is as if those who take the time to understand, say, the Federalist Papers or algebra are *conspiring* against those who do not. The Fichte=>Humboldt=>Harvard and Fichte=>Humboldt=>Horace Mann=> Massachusetts Dept of Ed. path to compulsory graded classroom education in America is simple historical fact, as is their constant purpose in doing so. I’ll try to be clear when I’m speculating versus when I’m just laying stuff out.

First set of bullet points:

  • Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation (1808/9) were profoundly influential to the development of the modern research university and modern compulsory graded classroom schooling. For example, from the The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Though these lectures later obtained a place of dubious honor as founding documents in the history of German nationalism, they are mainly concerned with the issue of national identity (and particularly with the relationship between language and nationality) and the question of national education (which is the main topic of the work) (emphasis mine)—both of which are understood by Fichte as means toward a larger, cosmopolitan end.

Fichte had always had a lively interest in pedagogical issues and assumed a leading role in planning the new Prussian university to be established in Berlin (though his own detailed plans for the same were eventually rejected in favor of those put forward by Wilhelm von Humboldt). When the new university finally opened in 1810, Fichte was the first head of the philosophical faculty as well as the first elected rector of the university.

  • The new University of Berlin was the model for all modern research universities. Fichte was given a central role there by Humboldt, because the purpose of the University was to bring to completion the project the lower schools were instituted to achieve: the creation of “a new type of citizen who had to be capable of proving themselves responsible.” Whatever that means.

Students, in his (Humboldt’s) view, had to learn to think autonomously and work in a scientific way by taking part in research. The foundation of Berlin University served as a model. It was opened in 1810 and the great men of the era taught there – Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, the historian Barthold Georg Niebuhr and the jurist Friedrich Carl von Savigny.[113]

  • Fichte took an ancient Christian idea, that true freedom is only obtained when we choose to follow the will of God, and stood it on its head: true freedom is obtained when we are unable to think other than what our school masters tell us to think.

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.

  • All school masters in Fichte’s utopia are trained and employed by the government. School masters are the chosen instruments of the government. In the above quotation, school masters take the place of God.
  • In Fichte’s view, the major driver of a child’s behavior is a desire for the approval of his father. In his view, this desire can be easily refocused on the school master, whose approval shall be doled out based on how well the child conforms to the wishes of the state.
  • In order to facilitate this transfer and replace the child’s father with the state, Fichte wanted all school-age children completely removed from their families and homes for the duration of their educations. (1)
  • Education is not about reading and writing. Pestalozzi, a contemporary of Fichte and a prominent education reformer, was, in Fichte’s view, overly concerned with reading and writing:

Undoubtedly it was solely the desire to release from school as soon as possible the very poorest children for bread-winning, and yet to provide them with a means of making up for the interrupted instruction, that gave rise in Pestalozzi’s loving heart to the over-estimation of reading and writing, to the setting up of these as almost the aim and climax of popular education, and to his simple belief in the testimony of past centuries, that this is the best aid to instruction. For otherwise he would have found that reading and writing have been hitherto just the very instruments for enveloping men in mist and shadow and for making them conceited.(2)

Addresses, sec 136

Summary, part I (we’re into the opinion section now): From at least the time of Luther up into the mid-20th century, education reform as a means of inculcating morality into a nation has been a hot topic among leading Germans. Before Fichte, the Prussian kings had already instituted reforms with that in mind, although they hadn’t gotten very far.

By 1810, Fichte and Humboldt stood in the middle of a confluence and an opportunity: France had destroyed the Prussian armies, and with it a good bit of the Prussian hubris. Fichte delivered his Addresses while Berlin was still occupied by Napoleon’s troops. The combination of Fichte’s soaring nationalistic rhetoric, Prussian humiliation, institutional disruption caused by the war, the early blossoming of the industrial revolution in Prussia, and Humboldt’s political power came together in such a way that the educational reforms contemplated by the Prussian leadership for a couple hundred years got put into practice.

This practice is everything an American should hate: the unstated assumption is that the wisdom of a nation resides in its princes, the rich, and other leaders, who then have the right and duty to impose that wisdom on the people. Americans believe, or at least believed when the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were held sacred, that the wisdom of a nation resides in its *people* who then get to tell the leaders what they want.

We won the war, but surrendered to King George, and worse than King George, anyway. Our schools are the tool and price of that surrender.

Image result for john taylor gatto
“You see, like a great magician he had shifted that commonplace school lesson we would have forgotten by the next morning into a formidable challenge to the entire contents of our private minds, raising the important question, Who can we believe? At the age of eight, while public school children were reading stories about talking animals, we had been escorted to the eggshell-thin foundation upon which authoritarian vanity rests and asked to inspect it.There are many reasons to lie to children, the Jesuit said, and these seem to be good reasons to older men. Some truth you will know by divine intuition, he told us, but for the rest you must learn what tests to apply. Even then be cautious. It is not hard to fool human intelligence.”

Notes:

  1. That the physical removal of all children from their families has not proved practical so far does not mean it does not remain the ideal in the view of the educational establishment.
  2. Fichte is saying this to a people who for the previous 250 years have been told that any plowboy who can read can find the truth of Scripture on his own.
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Author: Joseph Moore

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

2 thoughts on “Short Education History in Bullet Form – Part I”

  1. Coincidentally, just this morning I was wondering why we use a German word for kindergarten. It’s tied in with this whole situation I assume?

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