“The Youth of today is ever the people of tomorrow. For this reason we have set before ourselves the task of inoculating our youth with the spirit of this community of the people at a very early age, at an age when human beings are still unperverted and therefore unspoiled. This Reich stands, and it is building itself up for the future, upon its youth. And this new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing.” ─ Adolph Hitler
The whole idea of compulsory public schooling began in the early 18th century in Prussia. Prussia is now a part of Germany. Napoleon’s rabble thrashed the professional Prussian army at the Battle of Jena in 1806, humiliating the Prussians. They turned, as they are inclined to do, to a philosopher for advice. The respected thinker Johann Gottlieb Fichte told them they needed to teach their children how to take orders if they wanted to win battles. The Prussians very much wanted to win battles. Fichte’s advice made perfect sense. What better way to train soldiers than to march them off to class at gunpoint? Compulsory public schooling became a reality.
Public schooling worked wonderfully well. Prussia became the dominant military power in Europe within the next 50 years. The Germans were so pleased with the success of public schooling that they created a whole gaggle of other public projects that essentially defined the modern socialist state. Now that they had everybody well trained to obey orders, the other projects went pretty smoothly and appeared to be great successes as well.
In the 1930’s, public schooled Germans elected a guy they call their Führer (Leader, in English). The Führer liked how well public schools trained his followers. In 1938 he banned educational alternatives like home schooling.
There’s no need to go over how badly off track the Führer’s other ideas went. The Germans fell into a kind of collective madness that left millions of their citizens dead. Murder on a massive scale was undertaken with only a tiny minority of Germans actually having to commit crimes.
For millions to die all that was necessary was for good Germans to obey orders and do their jobs, something for which all were well trained in public schools. Good Germans drove trucks, kept the trains running, worked in factories and on farms. They pushed mountains of paper. Almost no one had to shoot, gas or burn anyone. But millions were shot, gassed and burned never the less.
One would think that coming out of such a nightmare the Germans would have made some basic changes in their society beginning with an obvious culprit, public education. But one would be wrong.
Public schooling is so effective that it could never become suspect by a significant number of those who have experienced it. If anything, Germans, like the people of most modern social democracies, including the United States, mistakenly believe the purpose of public education is to teach the skills and lore necessary to critical, creative thinking. In fact, however, as the great H. L. Mencken observed in 1924:
“ … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States… and that is its aim everywhere else.”
In Germany today educating children at home remains the crime the Führer made it. Parents are fined and jailed for not sending their children to public schools. Kids are dragged at gunpoint to classes. A 17-year-old girl was recently taken from her parent’s home by police and placed under psychiatric observation because she was being schooled at home.
Germans generally are not upset at how education authorities treat home schooled children or their parents. Home schoolers in Germany are in a small Christian minority, Baptists mostly, who escaped Communist persecution in the former East Germany. They generate little sympathy in the population at large.
Public indifference, not unlike the indifference to the fate of Jews in the 30’s, has allowed authorities to deal with resistance to Hitler’s ban on home schooling in perfect Nazi style. Families face imprisonment, heavy fines and state seizure of their children. Many have fled to neighboring countries for asylum.
The European Human Rights Court has ruled that punishing Baptists for not sending their kids to public school is perfectly fine. The state’s interest in the children trumps that of their parents. I wonder how much further resistance would justify shooting them?
The public schools are working as well as ever. Germany is still full of good, obedient Germans. We should be wary lest international commitments and lobbying by public school unions lead Americans in the same direction. There’s nothing to benefit the Land of the Free at the end of that path.
I agree with you and H.G. that history is a race between education and catastrophe. What we apparently disagree about is what compulsory state-sponsored schools provide. I maintain, and those who established the system agree, that public schools indoctrinate, they do not educate in the classical sense.
The Fuhrer was unusually candid when he said the public schools had the “…task of inoculating our youth with the spirit of this community…” Nothing about education there. You can bet his idea of “community spirit,” had little to do with critical thinking and questioning authority.
Politicians everywhere have little desire to cultivate a spirit of self-reliance or intellectual inquiry. It is doubtful whether a system that is coercive from top to bottom, planned and operated entirely by government employees, where each day is begun with the recitation of a loyalty oath could be designed to turn out anything but willing taxpayers who know their place.
John Taylor Gatto, a 30 year veteran of the public school system wrote: “Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants.” Servants of the system that trains them.
German kids aren’t being dragged at gunpoint to public schools, their parents fined and jailed out of concern for their intellectual achievements. They are being shown the consequences of disobedience.
Although American schools have recently taken a turn toward more choices for parents and students, the coercive nature of the system has changed little and the danger of a swing in the other direction is always to be guarded against.
I’ve written before on this topic on this blog. I also recommend http://www.rahoorkhuit.net/devi/hs/against_school.html, an article by J.T. Gatto for Harpers that lays out the argument aginst compulsory public schooling pretty thoroughly.
Thanks for your interest and your comments.
If anything education in the U.S. is becoming more diverse. Charter schools offer a greater range of choices than ever and computerization of instruction allows for more individualization of instruction. A more profound concern for mankind was long ago expressed by H. G. Wells: “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”
Rand W. Lane