Short Education History in Bullet Form – Part II

When we last left our intrepid topic, the influence of Fichte and von Humboldt had overtaken Prussian schooling. The state assumed all responsibility for the education of children, and proceeded to educate them to be good Prussians after the imaginings of their betters. This worked so well that Prussian industry was soon the envy of the world.

Germans gradually stopped trying to kill each other once they were conquered by, and thus gained a common enemy in, Napoleon. In fits and starts, the Prussians gradually united the very disparate German-speaking (and sort-of German speaking – Frisians?) peoples into one nation, permitting Prussian military aggression to start enough wars that people eventually forgot that France had long been Europe’s traditional troublemaker. A couple world wars will do that.

But I digress.

  • Horace Mann became secretary of to the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837 at the age of 31. In 1843, he toured Europe on his honeymoon (1), which doubled as an official tour of Prussian schooling. He came back a total Prussian school fanatic, and his 7th Annual Report, in which he pushed for Prussian schooling for everybody, was a hugh hit with all right-thinking people, and was published around the country.
  • Somehow, the Prussian Model was not seen by Mann to contradict what he said earlier elsewhere: (1) the public should no longer remain ignorant; (2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public; (3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds; (4) that this education must be non-sectarian; (5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society; and (6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.

(Thus we see the outline of how the assumptions and goals of Fichte are expressed by American education reformers: the public is ‘ignorant’; the government is ‘an interested public’; embracing ‘children from a variety of backgrounds’ mean making school compulsory; ‘non-sectarian’ means anti-Catholic (we’ll get to this in greater detail later); a ‘free society’, which in Mann’s day meant some flavor of libertarianism, is flexible enough to include anarchists and objectivists, and effectively means ‘however our betters at Harvard see the world at the moment’; and ‘well-trained professionals’ are Fichte’s schoolmasters, as explained in the previous post.(2) )

  • Wikipedia puts it thus:

Mann also suggested that by having schools it would help those students who did not have appropriate discipline in the home.

  • Hmmm – parents don’t get to determine ‘proper discipline’? The state does? Note that Mann’s plans were repeatedly voted down – until the Irish started arriving in Massachusetts in large numbers in the 1850’s as a result of the Potato Famine. These Catholic subhumans could not be counted on to instill proper discipline in their dirty Papist children, the reasoning went. Once that connection was made, the good citizens of Massachusetts made compulsory Prussian schooling the law. Irish kids could attend school or work in a factory, but could not wander about or even stay home with mom. That would be truancy.

Building a person’s character was just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Instilling values such as obedience to authority, promptness in attendance, and organizing the time according to bell ringing helped students prepare for future employment.

  • Obedience to authority – Fichte, anyone? An inquiring mind might wonder what kind of jobs require the ‘skill’ of responding to bells? Mann’s job? A farmer’s job? A shopkeeper or craftsman’s job? Hmmm – what is Mann proposing we train our kids to do?

Mann faced some resistance from parents who did not want to give up the moral education to teachers and bureaucrats.

 

  • Ya think? Just as it never seems to have occurred to Fichte that the state could ever be wrong or have anything but the purest motives, Mann assumes, not only with no evidence, but in the face of mountains of contrary evidence, that his teachers and bureaucrats will be more moral than parents. Only a backward thinking, unpatriotic rube would think otherwise. Some things never change.

Mann gathered about him many followers and fellow enthusiasts, who gradually became more clear and blunt about what they were trying to achieve through the schools. We’ll get to some of those next. Also, over time, early 19th century American right thinking changed from some sort Unitarian optimism to more purely statist Hegelianism, then, by the early 20th century, into Marxism proper, where it sits today. We’ll cover that later.

  1. He and his new wife went doubles with Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe, another couple who could fix the world if only we gave them the power to do so!
  2. If you’re thinking: oh, come on! That’s silly! Why can’t he mean what he says he means? Stay tuned.
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Author: Joseph Moore

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

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