The purpose of education

A former teacher writes in an essay titled Against School:

Inglis, for whom a lecture in education at Harvard is named, makes it perfectly clear that compulsory schooling on this continent was intended to be just what it had been for Prussia in the 1820s: a fifth column into the burgeoning democratic movement that threatened to give the peasants and the proletarians a voice at the bargaining table. Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a sort of surgical incision into the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever reintegrate into a dangerous whole.

That, unfortunately, is the purpose of mandatory public education in this country. And lest you take Inglis for an isolated crank with a rather too cynical take on the educational enterprise, you should know that he was hardly alone in championing these ideas. Conant himself, building on the ideas of Horace Mann and others, campaigned tirelessly for an American school system designed along the same lines. Men like George Peabody, who funded the cause of mandatory schooling throughout the South, surely understood that the Prussian system was useful in creating not only a harmless electorate and a servile labor force but also a virtual herd of mindless consumers. In time a great number of industrial titans came to recognize the enormous profits to be had by cultivating and tending just such a herd via public education, among them Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.

The whole essay is worth a read, but I sort of spoiled it for you with what I quoted.

I don’t know how much I really agree with the conclusion, as I’m not quite sure I’ve become that cynical yet (but hey, I’m only 23, I’ve got a ways to go yet). While I don’t dispute that there’s an awful lot of indoctrination that goes on in schools, I’m not sure it was really planned that way, in a deliberate sort of way. The structure today does churn out good consumerist drones, but I think it was more of a lucky happenstance for the capitalist class rather than a conspiracy among them at the beginning of the century.

Like it our not, free public education is critical to any society which wants to call itself free. However they got this way, the schools need fixing, and quick.

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