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Brainwashed and Complacent: Children and the U.S. Public Education System

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The True History of America's Public Schools

One of the many little known facts of history is that the actual intent of the American public school system was never to educate. In fact, the true purpose could be more properly described as preventing certain people from being educated. In addition it was seen as an effective way of training those from the lower classes to be productive and obedient factory workers to satisfy the needs of a newly industrialized nation. A free education was merely the selling point employed to convince America's parents to allow their children to be indoctrinated and brainwashed.

In order to fully understand this, it's necessary to explore the true history of the American school system and who was behind it. The origins of the American public school system actually began in Prussia during the early years of the 19th century. In the wake of a particularly one-sided loss to the French army in 1806, the Prussian government faced a major crisis. Until that point, the Prussian military had been regarded as the most accomplished fighting force of the time. In fact, their number one export was mercenary soldier and military advisers for other countries engaged in war. However, this bitter defeat by Napoleon and the amateur soldiers of France threatened that status and the national industry that had sprung up around the waging of war.

Prompted by this defeat, German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte delivered a series of 13 speeches, collectively entitled "Address to the German Nation," in which he espoused nationalism and obedience to the state as the keys to citizenship. His proposed solution was a compulsive system of schooling designed to mold citizens into well-behaved and obedient soldiers, who valued the countries needs above their own. As a result of these speeches, Fichte became a very respected and influential philosopher among Germans.

Among those influenced by Fichte was King Friedrich Wilhelm III, who began setting up government run schools in 1819. These schools were designed and with an emphasis on building industrial and military skills over educational goals. All Prussian citizens were subsequently ordered to send their children to the newly created schools with the threat of severe punishment for anyone who didn't. The first compulsory public school system was born and it would soon be hailed as a highly successful form of socialization o a large scale.

The Prussian school system consisted of a two-tiered school system, which endures to this day in modern Germany. Over 90% of the country's children were taught to in a way that promoted conformity and compliance over creativity and independent thought. Meanwhile, the children of the elite and wealthy classes were trained separately to be the leaders of government and industry. This approach had profound effects on the Prussian military and industry over the next decades. Soldiers more readily accepted orders, workers were more obedient toward their bosses, and the citizens of Prussia adopted viewpoints more in line with the desires of the King. Governments throughout the world began to look to Prussia as a model for dealing with issues of nonconformity and rebellion.

One of those governments that began looking to Prussia for solutions to education was the United States. A rather fierce debate had been raging during the early- and mid-1800s between wealthy industrialists, who needed a large supply of compliant workers to labor in factories, mines, and farms, and traditionalists who believed that decisions regarding education should rest in the hands of parents and the communities in which the children lived.

The advent of the Industrial Revolution had created a need for repetitive, monotonous, manual labor and independent thinking was seen by industrialists as a distraction to workers and impediment to productivity. Leading industrialists, including Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, viewed the German "experiment" as a great way of eliminating dissension among those workers and creating a ready made workforce that would graduate with all the skills and training required for factory workers and little else.

It wasn't long before they were able to use their influence to convince the government that compulsory schooling should be instituted. Nor was it particularly hard to convince most citizens that the promise of a free education for all children was a good thing. The first law mandating public schooling was passed in 1852 in Massachusetts. Ironically enough, it was enacted by the so-called "Know-nothing Legislature," a Protestant secret society with an anti-catholic; anti-immigrant agenda. Among the unpublicized reasons behind this law was the fear that Irish-Catholics, who had been immigrating in large numbers to Massachusetts, were too heavily influenced by the Pope. The goal was "Americanize" the Catholic children and lessen the perceived influence of their religious beliefs. Soon the rest of the country began to follow the lead of  Massachusetts.

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In Their Own Words

The famous philosopher and educator John Dewey wrote in 1897: Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the right social growth.

In his 1905 dissertation for Columbia Teachers College, Elwood Cubberly—the future Dean of Education at Stanford—wrote that schools should be factories "in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products...manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry."

The next year, the Rockefeller Education Board—which funded the creation of numerous public schools—issued a statement which read in part: In our dreams...people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple...we will organize children...and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.

William Torrey Harris, US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906, wrote in the book, The Philosophy of Education: Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual...The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places.... It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.

President Woodrow Wilson in a 1908 speech to businessmen: We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

Clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine wrote in 2001: I once consulted with a teacher of an extremely bright eight-year-old boy labeled with oppositional defiant disorder. I suggested that perhaps the boy didn't have a disease, but was just bored. His teacher, a pleasant woman, agreed with me. However, she added, "They told us at the state conference that our job is to get them ready for the work world…that the children have to get used to not being stimulated all the time or they will lose their jobs in the real world."

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Is the School System Really Failing?

There's not a day that goes by without either hearing or reading about the miserable failures of the American school system. Children are uninterested, can't read or do math properly, violence is predominant, and traditional values are non-existent. Seemingly the school system is failing to teach our children. While that's undoubtedly true in the literal sense, what if the school system was actually designed not to teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic. Rather, it was intended to teach them dependency, obedience, regulation and subordination.

During the early 20th century, when the public school system was being organized,

Even more chilling was the view of the famous Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who pointed out that World War Two was the "inevitable product" of this type of schooling and child raising. By that he meant was that the German people had, for several generations, been stripped of their critical thinking skills. They had, in his opinion, become a nation of good and obedient drones, who thought alike and were willing to follow the instructions of those in authority, regardless of how bizarre or immoral those orders might seem. They were ready to follow the rantings of a demagogue.

So it should be no surprise to us that children are coming out of American public schools deprived of their critical thinking skills, and missing the ability to analyze complex problems or understand the details of far-reaching political issues. It shouldn't amaze us that Americans today—the products of years in a misbegotten school system-will march in lockstep enthusiasm to single-sentence political slogans dealing with complex issues such as flag-burning, abortion, the decriminalization of drugs and international trade.

What many of us don't know or have forgotten is that our system was designed from the ground up to operate exactly as it does today. Once upon a time the most important product of a public school system, for government and commerce, was compliant young women for the household and men for the army and industry. Do we still want this today?

Socialization Equals Domestication

One somewhat overlooked contradiction of the public school system is the compulsory way in which schooling is actually forced upon parents and children alike. Both parents and children, who choose not to attend public schools, can face severe civil penalties, arrest, and even criminal prosecution. In some cases, these penalties can include removal of children from their homes through the juvenile court system. This would hardly seem to be in line with one of the school systems' stated goals, the building of a cohesive society.

Encouraging Consumerism

 

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