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.”


  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.

When Philosophy Makes a Difference (hint: Always)

Following links around (the ‘who is this who pointed somebody to my blog?’ links), I came across this:

Because of his great reverence for books and intellectuals, Hitler amassed a large personal library during the 1920s. Especially once royalties began to arrive from sales of his 1925 Mein Kampf, he was able to indulge in serious collecting. When he came to political power in the 1930s, visiting foreign dignitaries knew of his passion and presented him with gifts of books, including a set of volumes on Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

And Hitler read them — the Fichte volumes contain “a veritable blizzard of underlines, question marks, exclamation points, and marginal strikes that sweeps across a hundred printed pages of dense theological prose,” according to historian Timothy W. Ryback, author of Hitler’s Private Library, writing in The Atlantic.

(Read more:

Ah, Fichte! Ever since I first read him, I’ve pointed out that he was a proto-Nazi, that his ideas carried through logically would call for the establishment of Germany as the ruler of the world. Via von Humboldt’s patronage and role in reshaping the German schools, Fichte’s ideas had become part of the intellectual background of Prussians and all Germans. But here, we find the direct link: Hitler himself was a fanboy!

Who would have thunk it?

I also like the reference to ‘theological prose’ – the Fichte I’ve read seriously is his Addresses to the German People, which is a collection of popular lectures (I have yet to gird up my intellectual loins for the journey through his more scholarly stuff – may I live that long! (I’d be really old…)). In them, God is treated as more an historical force manifesting itself through the self-realization and evolution of the (German, natch) people, rather than as the personal God of Jews and Christians. Fichte was dogged by accusations of atheism during his career, which he denied and which were hard to pin on him, given the ability of a creative mind to frame almost any sufficiently vague concept of God as acceptable within a Lutheran/Protestant framework. (1)

The formula of a divinely blessed supreme state as the means to crush evil and establish Heaven on earth is shared, under a variety of guises, by just about all of our post-post-modern revolutionaries. That capital ‘H’ history as described by Hegel is that History on the wrong side of which no right-thinking person will willingly be found.  Therefore, being told that one is on the wrong side of History is an unintentional honor and might well be worn as a badge of sanity.

Too bad saying someone is like Hitler has become nothing more than a meaningless ritualized insult. Because a lot of people now days are, in their hearts and thoughts, a lot like Hitler.

  1. Hegel himself was known to be a conventually devout practicing Lutheran, which seemed to spare him from the charge of Atheism leveled at both Kant and especially Fichte, even though the God of Hegel’s works is nothing like the personal, almighty Father of Scripture and tradition. The idea of a Spirit that comes to know itself over time and through History (always a capital ‘H’ with Hegel…)  cannot, logically speaking, refer to the Supreme Being. Hegel might call it the Supreme Becoming.


A Blank Sheet of Paper, Part 1

A post about education, but starting elsewhere.

In business, one learns to fear the day when the boss asks for ‘zero-based budgeting’. Anyone who has ever lead a department in a company is familiar with budgeting – you are asked to estimate the next year’s expenses (and, if you’re on the money-producing end of things, income) for your area. The easiest thing to do is to just look at how much you spent (or made) on a budget item last year, then, if things haven’t changed much, bump it up a couple percent as your estimate for next year. Put more thought only into areas that you know your boss cares about, rearrange things a bit if you have to, and – done! Since budgeting is about as much fun as dental surgery, the quicker the better.

Enter zero-based budgeting. You are asked to play the game: what if you were starting with a blank sheet of paper, and didn’t know how much you’d spent last year, and needed, therefore, to justify spending anything at all on anything you want to spend money on? Do you really need that copier or junior adjuster position or plant in Mexico?  If so, justify it, and tell us how much it’s going to cost! This process extends the dental surgery and removes the novocaine. You are supposed to be able to make a case for every cost of $0.01 on up.

But the spirit behind zero-based budgeting is a good one: we should know why we do things, and not just accept that we do them because last year or decade or century we did them – because we’ve always done it that way. It’s easy for a business (or a government or anyone or any organization) to get stuck in behaviors that are merely habit. (Of course, it’s just as possible to embrace change for the sake of change – a topic for another day.)

So: girding our intellectual loins, let us get out out blank piece of paper and go through what it is we mean by education, and what we want for ourselves and our kids. Continue reading “A Blank Sheet of Paper, Part 1”

Group Cohesion

In a discussion of a recent SciFi novel, one writer noted that the premise of the book – that old men would be recruited as warriors (with new cyber-bodies, of course) because their life experiences would make them better soldiers – flies in the face of reality. (Note: the military SciFi crowd is a diamond-hard geek-fest – get your facts right, or be ready for some withering incoming fire.) No, the writer pointed out, the whole point of recruiting 18 to 20 year olds is that they are most susceptible at that age to being reformed into soldiers. The boot camp experience tears them down psychically, in order to build them up into a fighting team, where each member identifies with and will sacrifice for the group, and accepts the group’s goals as his own. Old men would be exactly the wrong kind of soldiers, more likely to be able to think for themselves, more likely to ponder and hesitate, less psychically malleable.

It is not a coincidence that that’s the same age kids typically start attending college. Or, at least, educators seem to have recognized the possibilities…

College-level group cohesion is being enforced more baldly and vigorously each day. A friend recently told me that his niece was having trouble at Cal because she wrote about Christianity when allowed to pick her own topics, and the professor deemed that inappropriate – unless she was condemning it. And then there’s this. (Note: don’t know anything about this source, good or bad.)

Group cohesion, baby. As Fichte says, can’t have the little dears thinking for themselves! That how you lose wars to the French! Something like that. A proper education pries the student loose from parents, family and culture so that he can form proper group cohesion for the tasks that will be set for it. What, exactly, those tasks may be has not been subject to much public discussion.

By what grace and fate I managed to avoid this group cohesion only God knows, but I did seem to avoid it. The teachers in the Catholic schools I attended in the 60’s and 70’s were pretty much willing to leave me alone. During school, I lived in my own little alternate universe, where homework was ignored and the classroom was a minor inconvenience. From there, I went to perhaps the last secular school in America where you aren’t made to conform to some unnamed assumed apex of intellectual and moral perfection – St. John’s College. Instead, by reading all those dead white guys, you got a sense for how petty and adolescent much as what passes for modern thought is. Even the little bit of Plato a typical bright 18 year old could figure out made most modern ‘arguments’ look pretty stupid by comparison.

The group to which Johnnies cohere is the Great Conversation – all those people who, down through the ages, have struggled to understand and engaged in discussion of the Great Ideas as embodied in the Great Books. Since that group spans half the globe and 3,000+ years, it lacks the parochialism of the modern elite education group. Marx is just one guy in that discussion, and not one of the brighter ones. Freud has to sit at the kiddie table.

As I send son # 2 and daughter # 2 off to Thomas Aquinas and Thomas More, respectively, in the next few months, here’s praying the group they cohere to is Catholic, reasonable and good.

The Nation State Fetish, continued even more

More on some thoughts here and here. Darwin Catholic makes kind mention here. I must add my apologies for the disjointed nature of these posts – even more than my usual posts, I mean.

In that synchronicity that so often occurs on the web, the Statistician to the Stars links to a nested set of articles, the central them of which is: Are Our Relationships Threatening The State? The original article in the series is from Slate, wherein the authors create an interesting myth from which they can argue that an unmarried working class woman is better off in pretty much every way raising a child by herself, rather than risking a (presumed to be ephemeral) marriage to some deadbeat guy who she’d then be required to make allowances for in her life, which would harsh her mellow and provide NOTHING. Never mind the effect of no dad on the child’s life – that the kid might actually want and even benefit from the involvement of the dad doesn’t even rise to the level of being important enough to mention merely to be dismissed.

The relationship of this mythical woman Lily to the state and everyone in it is essentially one-directional, at least in any constructive social sense.* She is assumed to be able to embrace single motherhood as a preferable option only because other are presumed to supply the needed stability and support. Amusingly, this particular myth includes the assumption that

Lily’s parents are “devout Christians who supported both her decision to have the child and her decision not to marry Carl, [and are] helping with child care.”’ 

All meaningful relationships are two way. Even God,  Who needs nothing, desires our ‘yes’ to His invitation to know Him. But what, exactly, are the rest of us who know and live with Lily supposed to get out her choice isn’t obvious.** Here, it seems, the radical individualism of the Right meets the radical individualism of the Left – we’re not supposed to ask what it is that Lily’s life *means* – as long as she holds down that job she (and not Carl, the child’s deadbeat father) has somehow been given to work. All criticisms are unwelcome and wrong. The state and the societies within it (especially Lily’s parents’ Christian society) in this instance are the magical source of Lily’s ‘freedom’, and make no reciprocal claims on Lily that Ayn Rand wouldn’t approve of.

As part of the ongoing 250+ year effort to reinvent society upon some other basis that that which it has always and everywhere been built, the myth-makers who came up with Lily cannot acknowledge that all people rely on their relationships to others for whatever meaning they have in their lives. In a nation of nomads, where the family are, at best, the people we call sometimes and maybe see over the holidays, the claim that both civil and political society are built on families seems absurd on the face of it.

I have been quite struck by the family histories of the last 2 Democratic presidents, especially by the near-universal gentlemen’s agreement to not call them what they are: horror stories. Clinton lost his dad to a car accident as an infant, was raised for a few years by grandparents while his mom was out of state getting a nursing degree, then was raised by an alcoholic and abusive step-dad, whose surname he nonetheless took as a 16 year old. The profound sadness here: Clinton had to threaten his stepdad with violence to protect himself and his brother, yet he still needs a dad badly enough to take that stepdad’s surname when he was 16. (See the Crescat’s recent post for some insight into this dynamic.)

And Clinton’s story is *better* than Obama’s, whose tragic lack of a consistent father is the emotional elephant in the room. Told more honestly, Obama’s early life looks like this: his mother married and bore him as a social statement. He then became, as often as not, baggage, dragged around and dumped as needed to keep him from interfering in mom’s career. Per the Oracle Wikipedia, “He described his struggles as a young adult to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage.” I’m guessing that was the least of his problems, but it is the one latched on to by the myth-makers: while it is OK to tell Clinton’s story as one of a triumph over adversity, the messy core of Obama’s story is so ubiquitous, and so much under the iron rule that we do not blame children’s unhappiness on their parent’s irresponsibility and narcissism, that it cannot be mentioned as the tragedy it was.***

These two men were not just elected president, but have come to embody our view of ourselves, the very mirrors of our self-perceptions (and therefore become just a irrationally hated by those who hate what they see in the mirror). So, to answer the question of the linked essays: Do our relationships threaten the state? Not if they are like Lily’s – or our current President’s.

Returning to the nation state versus the village: above we see the mirror image of the questions mused upon in these recent blog posts, which might be stated: does the nation state threaten our relationships? The simple answer is of course it does. In the most direct way, as Marcel said in a comment to the first essay,

Whenever anyone asks, “Do you know what institution has caused more bloodshed than anything else in history?” I want to answer “Yes. The modern nation state.”

Going back to the well that is Fichte, a huge and pivotal champion of the (German, of course) nation-state: he saw family life as antithetical to the goals of the state. All families did was instill all the wrong sorts of ideas and loyalties in their children, and so the state – for their own good, of course – should simply round them up once they were weaned and potty-trained, and hand them over to state-approved and trained teachers for the next decade and a half of their lives. Contact with their families should be eliminated, as family life provides just the sort of contamination that makes kids grow up into poor soldiers, poor bureaucrats and inept factory workers. They get ideas, think for themselves, question their betters, start losing battles to the French and committing other hardly imaginable horrors.

No, really.  And he is the recognized spiritual founder of the current institutional view of the state’s role in family life, as made incarnate in the schools.

Marx, moving the ball forward on the right side of history, then points out that pretty much ALL natural human relationships are signs of false consciousness, tools of capitalist oppression, and vestigial organs in need of ruthless amputation for the sake of the coming workers’ paradise.

He must have been a fun date.

My mother’s grandparents left Moravia for America sometime around 1870. They left with a number of families from their village, including men who came first in order to get established and make enough money to bring the rest of their family members. From around 1870 to 1900, hundreds of individual Moravians and Bohemians arrived in East Texas (man, the real estate team must have whipped up some killer marketing brochures!) and – recreated, to a large extent, the villages they had left behind. I once whiled away an afternoon goggling Adolf Polansky and various Popecs, only to find that, indeed, Adolf Polasky lived near Temple at the end of the 19th century – several Adolf Polanskys, in fact. Whole families of Polaskys, each with an Adolf and a James, settled nearby, one of whom, old enough to be my Adolf Polansky’s dad, donated several acres upon which the immigrants build a succession of Catholic churches.

All across East Texas, Czech villages were built by immigrants, more often than not named for the villages they had left behind. The Protestant immigrants build little Protestant villages; the Catholics built little Catholic villages. As the US postal service came through and needed named places to which they could deliver the mail, the village names got mangled and anglicized and put on maps. But the immigrants came as families and created villages, and hung together.

My mother, Mary Magdalene Margaret Polansky, was born in 1919 to Adolf Polasky and Mary Magdalene Margaret Popec (whose mother and grandmother, at least, had also been christened Mary Magdalene Margaret) somewhere near Temple, Texas.  Until she was 6, she spoke Czech. Then, her parents sent her to the local public school, where only English was spoken. Adolf forbade his children speaking Czech once they got to school – they were Americans now.

And thus, as true Americans, they moved away. The brief flowering of Czech villages in East Texas lasted only about 60 years, from 1870 to 1930. With the Great Depression, and the coming of age of a generation of Czech kids who spoke perfect English, these children of the villages could and did leave. The villages and the surrounding farms began to be depopulated, then abandoned. The map makers removed them from the maps, except for those few that became American towns with new American names. The seven Polansky children ended up in Oregon, California, Oklahoma and Texas. Their kids were scattered to the wind – 2 of my 8 siblings still live in Southern California, but have nothing but disparaging remarks for our hometown 50 miles away.

Yet, I think I maybe saw a hint of that East Texas Czech village once in a while, as a kid. Every once in while, Mom would get together with her sisters Verna (Veronica) and Bea (Beatrice) – and laugh and laugh, like teenagers, as they reminded each other of the old stories they shared.

* Originally said “parasitic” until I recalled that that’s the term Rand and the rather more goofball Libertarians use. Another perfectly good word tainted by association, an association that makes it much too dark for use here.

** Unless one is gimlet eyed enough to see only another damaged, destructive child. But that would be mean, and, besides, a key aspect of modern serial polygamy is to deny that it hurts kids – therefore, whatever little horrors they grow up into must be JUST FINE, or, if that fantasy proves too much work to maintain when the little angel gets arrested or the burns down the house or gets kicked out of his 5th school, then we blame video games, other kids being mean, ADHD, gluten – ANYTHING but the emotional and financial chaos the kid grew up in.

*** Two other well-known men with white mothers and black fathers, from the world of sports: Blake Griffin and Shane Battier. About each of them, I’ve read stories about how they didn’t fit in on the basketball court – too white for the black kids, too black for the white kids. At least in Battier’s case, this rejection seems to have fueled his desire to succeed. But both came from intact, solidly middle class families with loving, present dads – meaning, I suppose, that their racial/acceptance issues might well be the most stressful aspect of growing up. But I can’t imagine that compares with the stress of not having a consistent, loving dad.

The Nature of Our Addiction

Let us assume for a moment that we agree on a few basic points, points frequently made on this blog:

  1. That the education system as it exists now is the product of the efforts of a relatively small group of people who created it to further the goals of Johann Gottlieb Fichte: a docile population incapable of thinking anything their betters don’t want them to think, who have been successfully divorced from the loyalty and honor naturally accorded to their families, native cultures, religions and physical places the better to serve their masters;
  2. That this project has been a smashing success in America and Europe, among other places: that the mindless stupidity and mule-headed stubbornness with which we cling to conventional nonsense, the imperviousness to any real thought or ideas, the slavish sycophancy of the courtier classes in the media and elsewhere – these are the intended results of this project;
  3. That a key and insidious part of this project is to inoculate us against thought: despite all evidence, we are convinced that we are the brightest, most open-minded people ever, and thus must conclusively dismiss any ideas or evidence that suggests otherwise;
  4. That all basic skills that might, if applied to conventional beliefs, cause us to rebel against these controls are to be ruthlessly suppressed or channeled into the service of our betters: it is no accident that history, philosophy, science, math and logic have not only not been systematically taught in our schools, but instead have been rendered so boring and meaningless as to drive off all but a few eccentrics. The claim that ‘I hate math’ for example, is the sign that things are working as planned;
  5. Finally, that to escape from this morass, we need to reject the system of controls that create and enforce it – the compulsory, centrally controlled graded classroom model: drop into culture by loving what the system hates – Great Books, logic, history, science (real science, not Cosmos-level gee-whiz pablum, which merely serves the cause), family, religion and each other.

The progress of this effort across American history is clear. As one wag put it, we’ve gone in 100 years from teaching Greek and Latin in high school to teaching remedial English in college.

For the sake of the following argument, let us assume we agree on these propositions. I contend that this puts virtually all of in the position of an addict, someone whose life has become completely structured around feeding our addiction. Further, when we have those stray moments of epiphany, when the veil begins to lift and we begin to suspect things are not as they seem – that is exactly the point at which all those years of training, all those carefully ingrained habits of mind, kick in to prevent us from having any real thoughts.


gahan wilson flasher
The kimono, I mean raincoat, parts.

Note that I’m speaking here of the products of our schools, which includes here any school that follows the graded classroom model, whether public public, private or religious, with one important caveat: it has only been since the 1930s that a majority of people have been educated this way, and only since the 1940s that almost everyone was, and only since the 1970s that the entire mechanism was universally in place. So, it’s possible, if one is old enough and happened to get schooled in some barbarous hinterland or other, that you got some real education. I, at age 56, managed, in retrospect, to straddle the conversion of Catholic grade school education in Southern California from something essentially subversive to a merely kinder, gentler and more selective version of the state schools. I suspect, in my case at least, that a little education snuck past the schooling. But, fundamentally, I’m as much a product of this system as anyone.  People older than me, especially if they were educated away from the great population centers, stand a better chance of having gotten some real education. Continue reading “The Nature of Our Addiction”

Schooling: What Are We Investigating Here?

1906 Felta School, Sonoma County, California closed on November 27, 1951. Note: I use one-room schools not because they were perfect, but because they represent a true grass-roots effort at education, and were widespread in America before the graded classroom model took over.

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‘.