How to Fix Education: Step One

There are 3 basic things wrong with modern k-12 education:

  1. Age-graded classrooms
  2. Age-graded classrooms
  3. Age-graded classrooms

Taking 5 and 6 year-old children, each of whom is a distinct individual, member of a particular family and community, and a child of God, and grouping them by age with no regard for those differences, tells that child in a way more direct and powerful than any mere words, exactly how important his own life, family and community is, and how he is to view his God.

In all approaches to education(1) up until the invention of the graded classroom model, who the child was and what he already knew and what he needed and wanted to learn were the basis of all teaching – and schools were structured accordingly. The model least unfamiliar to Americans is probably the one-room school. In its heyday, the typical one room school, built and run by the local families, employed a young unmarried woman to teach all the children up until the age of about 14. She would assess what each child knew and didn’t know, and pair up the kids so that a particular child might be learning to read from a child younger than himself while teaching math to a kid older than himself.  Each day, each child would be called up to ‘recite’ to the teacher, so that she knew how it was going. Such education, which by all objective measures produced better educated students than the current model in a fraction of the time (2), was held around the work the kids needed to do on the farm.

One room schools reinforced the relationships that brought those kids together in the first place: family, work, neighbor, community. The teacher managed a process by which all students learned how to learn and how to teach – by doing it.

The graded classroom model was designed specifically to destroy those relationships, and replace them with obedience, conformity, and ignorance. The graded classroom places children into arbitrary groups run by someone hired by bureaucrats and protected by a union, who follows lesson plans concocted by utterly inaccessible ‘educators’ and whose major task each day is to put a stop to natural social interactions (“Stop talking! Pay attention!”). Instead of building upon the natural relationships of siblings, families, neighbors and coreligionists,  modern school seeks to destroy those relationships and replace them with loyalty to the state (3).

As John Taylor Gatto points out, the greatest triumph of modern schooling is that few people can even imagine doing it any other way. Thus, even most home schoolers, who have taken heroic steps to separate themselves and their kids from public model schools, are just looking for a better graded classroom – we know this, because they still (mostly) concern themselves with year-by-year curricula and worry if their kid is ‘performing to grade level’. It doesn’t occur to them, at least not to the depth required to do something about it, that ‘grade-level’ is no more real than the tooth fairy, no more based on science than phrenology, and is in fact nothing more than the instrument by which they are controlled. It is how teacher in the schools are controlled as well – no matter how well-meaning, teachers keep their jobs by focusing on getting their kids to test at or above grade-level. There is no more perfect control than that which issues arbitrary and objectively meaningless orders – and gets them obeyed anyway.

All arguments for graded classrooms are lies. They are not more efficient for any value of ‘education’ that is not an Orwellian euphemism. We do not need them. We do not need to put our children under the care of professional educators. We are not incompetent. There is no evidence the graded classroom model ‘works’ better than anything else, and lots that it is an abject, appalling failure (4). Lies, lies and more lies.

Once we get rid of the graded classroom, we can begin to have a rational discussion about how we should educate our children.

  1. Education differs from training in this respect: education is for the sake of the person being educated, and only indirectly for the benefit of society; training is what you do to soldiers and horses, to serve their master’s goals. Someone may want to be a soldier or a tailor or a bricklayer and seek the training of his own free will – but the purpose of such training is primarily to enable him to do what others want him to do. All education is in this sense ‘liberal education’ – anything less is mere training, which tends toward the enslavement of those not otherwise liberally educated.
  2. Not surprising, since ‘education’ is not the goal of modern schools, and never was.
  3. As discussed at great length on this blog under Schooling 
  4. e.g., “If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.”

    Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983, via Chaos Manor

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Author: Joseph Moore

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

4 thoughts on “How to Fix Education: Step One”

  1. I disagree with the top three things wrong with modern education. My list, in no particular order.
    Leftism
    Feminism
    Age grades

    These are all foisted upon us by the same sorts of people with overlapping agendas, of course. That’s why they work so well together to prevent any actual learning. Frankf

    1. You’re not wrong about how evil those things are, and how much we need to get rid of them – but Leftism and Feminism could never have gotten very far if parents had not lost control of the local schools, and handed over the curriculum to ‘experts’. The graded classroom was, historically, the means to the end of getting control away from parents and locals. To get rid of the graded classroom requires rejecting the assumptions – that education must be managed by experts, parents are not competent to educate their own children, and therefore what is being taught and how is, effectively, not something parents get to decide.

  2. Grandfather was irked that his daughter (my mother) went to the same one-room school he had. He eventually made it onto the school board, eventually became President of the board, and managed to have the school I went to for most of grade 1-6 built. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” comes to mind. The more choice I had in school (and it often was not very much) the more I learned. I now suspect more good might have been done by modernizing the old schools plumbing and adding an air conditioner.

    1. Cool story, and an odd coincidence: my grandfather sat on the school board in Claremore, OK, back in the 20’s and 30’s. He even had a hand in hiring the teachers for the ‘consolidated’ school that had sprung up there. That’s the thing: as long as there were still one-room schools and one-room school graduates around, locals just assumed they’d do the hiring and firing and build schools (one-room schools were typically built barn-raising style) just like they always had. Once the last of that cohort passed away, the new educator class could dispense with the annoyance of pretending to care what the locals wanted.

      Your anecdote also reflects the strategy adopted at the turn of the last century: what would evolve into standardized testing emerged from the educational swamp in the last couple decades of the 19th century. At first, the educators tried to say that their fancy new schools were better – but the results of the tests, tests they themselves wrote, showed that not to be the case. They quickly abandoned that tactic, and switched to ‘poor and dirty’ – one-room schools were dirty! They didn’t have current maps on the walls! Kids had to go outside to use outhouses!

      Well, yea – the farmers building the one-room schools didn’t try to make them way better than they, themselves, lived. Early on – and this is pretty impressive – the pioneers built schools between clearing forests and busting sod and trying to get enough crops in the ground so they didn’t starve. An outhouse might even be a bit luxurious! As the farmers got more settled and had a little cash, they did in fact improve the buildings – but the standards of country folk, even prosperous country folk, will never be the same as city slickers. (One book I read had a wonderful chapter on bell towers – some farmers put in a nice bell tower on their one-room school, in imitation of the consolidated schools, and it became a keeping up with the Jones fad. All across the midwest, one room schools got nice bell towers added to them!) These are people who planned, assembled the materials, cooperatively put up the building, found and hired a teacher and had direct, continuous contact with her and kids involved – they are of course then assumed to care less about education than people who send their kids to the corner to catch a bus.

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