Schooling is seen as a necessary part of life in America for generations, needed to transform the children of the nation into happy and productive individuals. Unfortunately, there seems to be a problem with overall performance. According to the Program for International Student Assessment survey administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2012, the United States ranks 27th in math, 17th in reading, and 20th in science.
According to the OECD the US spends more on education than most countries with an average of $115,000 per student (PISA, 1). Unfortunately, that level of spending has not equaled an improvement in education. We have tried to improve our schools with more money, better teachers, and legislation such as No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. What if the true problem with schooling is not the components of the system, but the system itself? In the article “Against School” John Taylor Gatto present several causes for the failing of the American public school system.
One of the main causes he puts forth is the institution of compulsory schooling in a system designed to repress the working class, keeping the classes divided and preventing the workers from unifying when bargaining with those who control the means of production. He goes on to state that compulsory laws were developed as a way to dumb down the masses, to keep them from questioning authority, and to develop a large pool of easily managed labor to fill skilled jobs created as a result of the shift from agricultural to skilled labor jobs (Gatto, Need citation).
The very institution that we rely on to progress the future of the nation is actually failing the children it is supposed to be forming into contributing members of society. While this may be an unintentional side effect of the “modern” school system, it do not look like this was the intention of the systems early founders. Early on in the history of the United States, individuals had similar ideas of compulsory schooling but had different ideas for the paths it should take.
Thomas Jefferson proposed the idea of schooling the population of the newly formed country so that everyone could preserve their recently won freedoms and achieve personal happiness and to ensure everyone could participate in and protect the newly formed government (Chicosky, 7). For Jefferson, public schools would allow for a merit system that would reward those that worked hard and showed talent (Gabbard, 36). Anyone willing to put in the work and effort could achieve a level in society of their own choosing.
This was important because it opened up new possibilities for people who came from a system where ones position in life was dictated by birthright and not by work or abilities. The idea of working hard in school and throughout life and being rewarded for it would continue on until modern times and become a part of the “American Dream” ideology that would offer many citizens the opportunity for social success and upward mobility (Gabbard, 36). Many people had a similar idea to Thomas Jefferson’s for educating the people to allow them to be better able to participate in the democratic process and further there station in society.
For example, Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Proposals relating to the education of Youth in Pensilvania: Something seams wanting in America to incite and simulate the Youth to Study. In Europe the encouragements to learning are themselves much greater than can be given here. Whoever distinguishes himself there, in either of the three learned Professions, gain Fame, and often Wealth and Power. A poor Man’s son has a chance, if he studies hard, to rise, either in the Law or Church to gainful Offices or Benefices. Chicosky, 6)
As far back as 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted an ordinance to compel the teaching of literacy to children for the purposes of reading and understand the bible and to understand the laws of the “state” (Chicosky, 6). The first law requiring compulsory schooling started in Massachusetts in 1852. Horace Mann was appointed in 1837 to the position of Secretary to the Board of Education of Massachusetts. While in this position Mann set about focusing his efforts in creating reforms for the schools in the state and to the creation of public schools.
While serving as Secretary, Mann developed his 6 principles for public education: 1. Citizens cannot maintain both freedom and ignorance. 2. Education should be paid for, controlled and maintained by the public. 3. Education should be provided in schools that embrace children from varied backgrounds. 4. Education must be nonsectarian. 5. Education must be taught using the tenants of free society. 6. Education must be provided by well trained, professional teachers. In 1843, Mann spent several months in Europe visiting numerous schools and examining the techniques used for education children there.
While there Mann was especially impress with the system used in Prussia what is now known as Germany. The Prussians had set up a system of education that is closely reflected in Mann’s six principles with the addition of extending the school year around the growing season so that children of farmers could be better involved. At this time the nation was rapidly growing and was having an increase in the influx of immigrants and the idea of a common public school could be used to combat the social problems by leveling the income equality gap between the wealthy urban students and the poorer rural students.
Mann believed that education was the great equalizer for all men (Chicosky, 14) At the time of the industrial revolution to after the turn of the 20th century it has been suggested that the increase in compulsory schooling laws were a necessity to override the irresponsible parents of poor or immigrant children from remaining immoral, criminal and idle (Rausher, 1402). It’s during this time period that it can been seen that the ideas that Gatto proposed in his essay.
This is especially true for the case he makes for Inglis’ integrating function as the children of the poor and immigrants are seen as possible criminals and are immoral and public education will take them in and make them equal to all the other children. Also the need for compulsory schooling can be seen as going in step with the development of child labor laws. As more and more states enacted laws to dissuade child employment something was needed to replace the task of work in the daily schedule of children during this time period.
Victory in World War II solidified the US’s prestige as a world superpower and this status is reflected in the confidence bestowed on America’s academic system (Chicosky, 17). This provided the push needed to continue the education of the nation’s youth. After the success of the Manhattan Project many of the nation’s scientist and academics were elevated to a status similar to current day celebrities. Also during this time the educational landscape was changing as a result of the Civil Rights Movement.
The movement is typically seen as a positive for Black people, but it also gave those with disabilities the opportunity to schooling. In turn the movement extended to all children the opportunity to be educated. Current schooling methods seem to give credence to Inglis’ selective function. The ACLU has characterize a trend in schools were children are often funneled out of the public school system into the criminal justice system (Gabbard, 2).
Many of these children may have learning disabilities, are poor, or have some other type of personal problem. Due to legal or economic factors these children do not receive additional schooling or other service they may need. In addition modern schooling has been structured along the lines of a job or a task that can be seen as something to be completed and then left behind while the student continues moving on to other things.
This is not conducive to a real learning environment that would make learning and education a lifelong priority, allowing the learner to progress through topics as they saw fit and allowing them to learn at their own rate. Also the need to have every child at a certain level does not take into account the different learning needs of children. In addition, many topics are taught in isolation from real world applications which can cause students to be confused and possibly bored.