Education And Its Purpose Essay
Throughout most of American history, kids generally didn't go to high school, yet the unschooled rose to be admirals, like Farragut; inventors, like Edison; captains of industry, like Carnegie and Rockefeller; writers, like Melville and Twain and Conrad; and even scholars, like Margaret Mead. William James alluded to it many times at the turn of the century.
In fact, until pretty recently people who reached the age of thirteen weren't looked upon as children at all. Orestes Brownson, the hero of Christopher Lasch's 1991 book, The True and Only Heaven, was publicly denouncing the Prussianization of American schools back in the 1840s.
Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a sort of surgical incision into the prospective unity of these underclasses.
Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever reintegrate into a dangerous whole.
Ariel Durant, who co-wrote an enormous, and very good, multivolume history of the world with her husband, Will, was happily married at fifteen, and who could reasonably claim that Ariel Durant was an uneducated person? We have been taught (that is, schooled) in this country to think of "success" as synonymous with, or at least dependent upon, "schooling," but historically that isn't true in either an intellectual or a financial sense. Horace Mann's "Seventh Annual Report" to the Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1843 is essentially a paean to the land of Frederick the Great and a call for its schooling to be brought here.
And plenty of people throughout the world today find a way to educate themselves without resorting to a system of compulsory secondary schools that all too often resemble prisons. Mencken, who wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. That Prussian culture loomed large in America is hardly surprising, given our early association with that utopian state.
The empire struck back, of course; childish adults regularly conflate opposition with disloyalty.
Someone taught them, to be sure, but they were not products of a school system, and not one of them was ever "graduated" from a secondary school. The odd fact of a Prussian provenance for our schools pops up again and again once you know to look for it.
Inglis breaks down the purpose - the actual purpose - of modem schooling into six basic functions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals listed earlier:1) The adjustive or adaptive function.
Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority.
This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely.
It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.2) The integrating function.