The idea of compulsory education has been around for a long time – John Calvin, a leading figure in the Reformation of the 16th century, put in place a system in Geneva whereby everybody received a free education by the state – which was focused around religion; teaching language and humanities.
However, public education has only become common practice relatively recently. The first American state to make education compulsory for children, Massachusetts, did so in 1850 after Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, Horace Man, took a visit to Prussia and found out what they were doing there.
Prussia lost a battle to Napoleon in 1806, despite their army being greater than Napoleons. The blame for losing the battle was placed on their army not thinking together as ‘one unit’. The Prussian soldiers were not obedient enough to win the battle. This is the seed which modern compulsory education has grown from; Obedience.
In his ‘Address to the German Nation’, Johann Gottlieb Fichte stated that Prussia needed compulsory teaching of all its subjects. Individualistic behaviour had no place on a battlefield and so Prussia sought to eradicate this attitude by indoctrinating its children. It made education mandatory for all children with 5 main goals:
- Obedient soldiers to the army
- Obedient workers to the mines
- Well subordinated civil servants to government
- Well subordinated clerks to industry
- Citizens who thought alike about major issues.
It was simple really – children gave up free-thinking and instead adopted their ‘role’ in the state. A child now did not have to think, or to face the challenges of pursuing their ambitions (or indeed even working out what those ambitions were). Instead, all a child had to do was behave and do as it was told. This, in turn, would mean that the child can mature and prosper and everybody is happy.
As a result, the state can now engineer how it feels society should be as it has a nation of obedient subordinates who won’t question their decisions or wish to ‘opt-out’. Before long, Prussia excelled itself to become the 4th richest nation in the World. The experiment worked.
This is essentially class creation. You have to recognise an ‘elite’, which the Prussians did (around 0.5% of the population) and you have to ensure a subclass is formed exactly how you want it to be. (The Prussians actually had a middle class who were partially taught well while still having to conform). This subclass shouldn’t have the ability to question, become free-thinking or desire independence from it. It had to do away with the post-enlightenment idea of education and instead they should be taught how to follow orders and feel proud to be doing their part for the good of the state.
Due to the large success of the system, it soon spread to the Western World and the education system we have today is essentially just an adapted version of this. We create submissive people who can conform to whatever industry the state requires them to. Yes, we are told that we can grow up to become whatever we want, but the reality is that such a system is tailored to whatever requirements the state has during the time – whether that be industrial, financial, agricultural etc.
Most people would argue that this is irrelevant and outdated. It can be said that even if this was the cause for compulsory education – it certainly isn’t anymore and that even if it was, isn’t that a good thing as our children are receiving an education?
Well – no. It is evidently still the case for education as can be seen by changing attitudes of higher education establishments over the last few decades: a drive away from academia and towards ‘employable skills’ is very apparent. This is the major focus of a university education; graduate employment. How do the skills we teach you at university help you when you get a job? Which, ultimately, Is the end goal – making money.
It would be a nice thought to think that everybody followed what their passions were and we all lived in a world where employment wasn’t an issue – artistic people painted, composed, sculpted etc. But this is not a sustainable society for the free-market model which we currently have in place. We need call-centre middle management, we need health & safety officials, we need admins, PAs, Recruitment Consultants and Software Engineers – and we need them in bulk.
This dumbing down of the people is achieved in much the same way the Prussians did it around 200 years ago – it is essential to make people not be independent enough to evolve from this model, or, if they were, make it impossible for them to progress through it. The idea of continual assessment is a big factor in this.
Assessment is virtually irrelevant when trying to gauge somebody’s intellect in a subject matter. As John Gatto, a leading academic on Education, said that if a test states that you are a ‘brilliant reader’ then you are probably not a brilliant reader but what you can do is ‘go to a reading selection and with 6, 7 or 8 types of information you can quickly gloss the section, remove the information and check something on a multiple choice sheet.’ But if anyone was to ask a ‘complex question’ on the reading selection then ‘you won’t know what they are talking about’.
He goes on to say “they can answer factual questions but they can’t answer questions that ask them to gauge the significance or the relationship of characters. Anything that requires higher order thinking, they can’t answer. They can retrieve bits of information and check it off on a list.” And he says that this is done by “increasing the frequency of these tests, from first grade on, to the point we’re passing education as doing well on these tests.”
It is only natural then that people will become accustomed to this correlation between assessment and perceived intelligence. If you pass a test – you are viewed as intelligent. Why would anybody wish to question the method when they could just adapt and go along with this which is already in place? It is therefore easy for people to learn the art of information regurgitation or ‘getting by well’.
I see it as some form of tick-box mentality where the student, from a young age, is taught to tick certain boxes (course objectives) and if all the boxes are ticked they can then progress to the next level of education – and so on until they reach employment where it is a similar structure in place of target-driven performance.
The course criteria is so mind-numbingly futile that any possibility of creating an academic is carved away so that at the end of the degree, the university can spit out yet another qualified worker for the workforce. This practice really is mundane.
This indoctrination is so blatantly obvious yet relatively unknown among students in the education system. But then, why should it be? They have mastered the art of ‘passing’ and they receive their good grades and pats on the back from teachers and in a few years get a degree out of it. Well done and congratulations to them!
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