This may surprise many, but when our Founding Fathers created this nation, they made no provision for public schools run at the Federal level. Yes, they debated the need for schools and whether it was a state of Federal issue. Nothing was mentioned about schools in the U.S. Constituttion or Bill of Rights. In the Northwest Ordinance, education was encouraged. Publicly funded compulsory attendance schools in the United States began in the mid-1800s, long after the founding period. This was the case, though government funded and government administered compulsory education had been around in the world since before Babylon.
Public schools were created anciently in some countries for the purpose of educating new slaves (captives of conquered peoples) into a new culture and lifestyle. Since that time other countries created public school to educate the working poor, the employees. How is that sitting with you? The silver lining is that in societies where public education was offered the poor were blessed and their quality of life improved.
There was a high level of literacy in the American colonies during the founding period, despite the lack of public schools! For example, in Boston, 90% of all children attended either privately funded schools or common schools. Common schools were funded by churches, philanthropy, or communities. The other 10% of Boston’s children were either privately tutored, home schooled, or learned a practical education in the context of working on farm or in the shops as apprentices. Those schools built character, as well as academics. At the time, we were a nation of farmers and shopkeepers.
Thomas Jefferson and some of the founders did make a case for public education. However, it is not what you think. Jefferson was not promoting a government system through adulthood for all. He felt America would be served by making sure everyone had access to three years of school. What did he want taught? He wanted the children to learn the basics of reading, writing, common arithmetic, and general geography. He felt that the cream of the crop, no matter what social class they were from, should then be supported in getting a higher education by the community if they could not afford to on their own.
The government run public schools that came later to America were fashioned after the school system in Prussia, which was designed like the conveyor- belt factory of the Industrial revolution. Children are moved from grade to grade and special workers are assigned to help them catch up when behind. All the while, the system is heedless of the developmental needs and level of each child. This system was created by Otto Von Bismarck to create compliant citizens, factory workers, and good soldiers. Thus, teaching children what to think, not how to think. This education system would leave Germany vulnerable. They became a highly schooled but poorly educated. This resulted in the people being easily led astray by the NAZIs.
By the time public schools became compulsory in the United States, the industrial revolutions was in full swing. Many of this nation’s shop keepers and farmers moved to town and were working in the factories. However, many farmers’ families stayed on working their farms. When we think about those on the farm, many think that farmers were ignorant and unlearned. Not so! Perhaps in dress or social graces some were awkward… but not in the business of farming, the math, science, and engineering principles. Most Americans today cannot understand the Federalist Papers. Yet they were written to the people of New York to convince them to ratify the Constitution and Bill of Rights. At the time, most of New york's population lived on farms.
A side note: Remember that the greatest technology we have today, jets and cell phones had their humble beginnings not in the common schools, nor the private schools, but often on the farm! Edison gave us the light bulb and the Wright Brothers built the first plane. Edison and the Wright Brothers were farm boys who were home schooled.
Our public schools today have now become a conveyor belt of propaganda for social planners, a planned economy, and a hodge podge of special interests. Our schools teach what to think, not how to think. And they teach to the test; not only test for knowledge of facts, but also test for the right attitudes. Today, public schools are taking on many forms. There are traditional brick and mortar schools. There are online versions of classes. The online schools mimic the scope, sequence, and methods of the classroom, including the busy work and redundancy. Many states have locally controlled charter schools. These models are all forms of the conveyor belt, teaching and testing what to think, instead of how to think.
What are your thoughts on Industrial Age conveyor-belt education in the Information Age?