Thursday, March 09, 2006

HORRORS! Maybe the Schools ARE Working as Planned!

The following article is written by one of the most intelligent and passionate advocates for the separation of SCHOOL and state who has ever lived. His name is Sheldon Richman. Read this marvelous piece and draw your own conclusions about the history and future of so-called "public" education....


Most people today are convinced that the public schools are
failing. Dissatisfaction with public education is at an all-time
high. Talk of reform_such as charter schools and private
management_is rampant. Those prescriptions are weak considering
the ailment. Yet they are significant admissions that the
education bureaucrats don't know how to improve things. Have the
public schools really failed?

That depends on what they were originally set up to do. In a
profound sense, the public schools are not an American institution.
They were modeled on the system of public education found in
authoritarian Prussia in the early 19th century. After Prussia's
defeat by Napoleon in 1807, King Frederick William III reinforced
the national school system set up in 1717. Children aged 7 to 14
had to attend school, and parents who did not comply could have
their children taken away.

Private schools could exist only so long as they met government
standards. Teachers had to be certified, and high-school graduation
examinations were necessary to enter the learned professions and
the civil service. The schools imposed an official language to the
prejudice of ethnic groups living in Prussia. The purpose of the
system was to instill nationalism in demoralized Prussia and to
train young men for the military and the bureaucracy. As the
German philosopher Johann Fichte, a key influence on the system,
said, the schools "must fashion the person, and fashion him in such
a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him
to will." What does that have to do with the United States?

Early in our history, education was mainly a private, free-market
activity--no compulsory attendance laws and no school taxes. That
system produced the most literate, independent-thinking,
self-reliant people in history. European visitors such as Alexis de
Tocqueville marveled at the achievement. But not everyone was
satisfied with the American way of doing things. According to John
Taylor Gatto, the New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991, "A
small number of very passionate American ideological leaders
visited Prussia in the first half of the 19th century; fell in love
with the order, obedience, and efficiency of its education system;
and campaigned relentlessly thereafter to bring the Prussian vision
to these shores."

They finally succeeded early in the 20th century. Just as the
Prussian system was intended to unify Germany, the American
educators' goal was to create a national culture out of the
disparate subcultures that comprised the country in that period.
(Catholic immigrants were a prominent target.) "To do that," writes
Gatto, "children would have to be removed from their parents and
from inappropriate cultural influences." The modern public-school
curriculum comes right out of the Prussian system.

Gatto says the American educationists imported three major ideas
from Prussia. The first was that the purpose of state schooling was
not intellectual training but the conditioning of children "to
obedience, subordination, and collective life." Second, whole ideas
were broken into fragmented "subjects," and school days were
divided into fixed periods "so that self-motivation to learn would
be muted by ceaseless interruptions." Third, the state was posited
as the true parent of children.

Over the years, various fads have seized the education bureaucrats
of America, but those fads have been variations on a theme: the
public schools are intended to create complacent "good
citizens"--not independent thinkers--because political leaders
don't like boat-rockers who question things too closely. They
prefer citizens who pay their taxes on time and leave them alone to
chart the course of the nation. The growth in government power
since the advent of the public schools is hard to ignore.

So, judged by their purpose, how have the public schools performed?
Not bad, really.

Unlike our ancestors' private schools, the public schools don't
turn out independent, self-reliant people. Instead, they produce
citizens who look to government to make important decisions for
them--from whether to help the poor, to what drugs to take, to how
to get an education --and to solve societal problems--from natural
disasters to poverty to the smoker at the next table. In other
words, the public schools are WORKING.

If we don't like what they have achieved, then we have to junk the
Prussian system and move toward an education based on the American
principles of free markets and individual liberty.

Mere reform is not enough. We need to separate school and state.
That's the only sure way to revitalize education, families, and the
American spirit.

Sheldon Richman

Sheldon Richman is the author of SEPARATING SCHOOL AND STATE: HOW
TO LIBERATE AMERICA'S FAMILIES, published by The Future of Freedom
Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia. He provided this excellent
article for use on my web site and can be reached through the
Separation of School & State Alliance.


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