Follow The Leader
by Periel Kaczmanrek
"Tommy, time to go to school!"
"But I don't want to, Mommy."
"Well you have to, Tommy."
"Because that's the way it is. Everybody has to go to school."
Children learn from a very young age that they
must go to school for a
prescribed number of hours for a prescribed number of days and years to
learn a preplanned set of lessons because, "That's the way it is."
Never mind if they really want to learn what is
set before them. They must learn. They
must study, memorize and regurgitate the facts and figures they are
given so that they can score high points on their tests and get the
approval of their teachers. "Do what we tell you to the way we
tell you to do it, and you will be rewarded with our favor."
"Follow the leader." "Conform." That is
the message that millions of
American children have learned since compulsory, government controlled
schooling began. Our modern society is built upon this foundation.
An arguably shaky foundation for the individual to stand on, but a very
sturdy one for the institution itself as well as the numerous
industries, labor unions and bureaucracies which thrive under the
established school system.
Since compulsory, government controlled
schooling has become such a
mainstay in the United States, not many people stop to think about how
and why it came about. Most Americans would probably be very
surprised and even shocked to know the original, underlying reasons for
this highly regulated form of schooling. From the early colonial
days until the early 1800's, there was no such thing as compulsory
schooling. It may seem difficult to fathom, since we are so
conditioned to believe that compulsory schooling is "just a part of
growing up", but Benjamin Franklin, widely acknowledged to be one of the
greatest thinkers of our time, never attended school as we know it.
At this time, it was the parents, not the
government, that made the
decisions about how when and where to school their children. It
was a free market approach to schooling. The schools were
privately funded by the parents of the children who attended.
There were even privately funded charity schools for those children
whose parents could not afford to pay their tuition. Although
there were no laws requiring attendance, a survey conducted in 1817 in
Boston, Massachusetts showed that 96 percent of the children Boston
attended school. It was there that the first government controlled
schools in this country were opened.
Our current form of compulsory schooling was
conceived of and implemented
between 1817 and 1919. Generally acknowledged as one of the founding
fathers of compulsory, government controlled schooling in America,
Horace Mann, is hailed by some as a champion for the poor who wanted
equality for all with respect to education. However, others believe
Mann's ideas about education were more self-serving and were an
infringement on the rights of parents to pass on their own beliefs and
traditions to their children and to educate them as they saw fit.
Mann modeled his concept on the Prussian education
system in which schools were
established, supported, and administered by a central authority.
The state supervised the training of teachers, attendance was
compulsory, parents were punished for not sending their children to
school, and efforts were made to make curricula and instruction uniform.
Diversity in education was seen as a detriment to society at large.
Mann, who happened to be president of the Massachusetts state senate,
and others who were in political power sought to centrally control the
education of the populace. They were determined to take education
out of the control of parents and put it firmly into the hands of the
The notion was met with strong resistance by an
estimated 85 percent of the
population. The residents of Cape Cod were the last holdouts against
this forced schooling. In the 1880's, the area was seized by
militia, and the children were marched to school under guard. "Our
way is the right way." "You will comply" was the message. Doesn't
sound very democratic, does it?
It is interesting to note that, according to a
paper released by Massachusetts' senator Ted Kennedy, prior to compulsory
schooling, the state literacy rate was ninety eight percent. Ninety
eight percent! That seems to be an indication that basic literacy was
(is) highly obtainable by anyone with a will to learn. In fact,
there is strong evidence that the basics of reading, writing and
arithmetic can be learned in about 100 hours if undertaken when the
student is ready and eager to learn.
If compulsory schooling were an improvement
over home/individually chosen
education, one would assume that the literacy rate would go up following
its advent, but that, in fact, is not the case. Indeed, the
literacy rate for the state of Massachusetts has not gone over the
ninety one percent mark since the implementation of compulsory
This country was founded on the notion of
democracy and of manifest
destiny. How much say do we each have over our own future when
we are encouraged to follow blindly in lockstep behind one another into
a prefabricated idea (who's?) of what an education entails?
Seventy-five years ago, the noted British mathematician and philosopher,
Bertrand Russell, purported that mass schooling in the United States had
a profoundly anti-democratic intent. He asserted that it was a
scheme to create national unity at the expense of family unity.
And, perhaps, in the interest of a small number of powerful people
intent on keeping their positions intact.
||Who controls the
majority of our children's time
and attention? Consider how much time children spend these days in
their home environment sharing quality time with their parents,
grandparents and siblings, exploring together, or perhaps even more
importantly, by themselves, those things about which they have a
|hunger to learn and developing their thinking
and reasoning skills.
Out of 168 hours each week, children
sleep approximately 56 hours. They go to school for 30 hours
and do an average of 7 hours of homework. Children spend an
average of 8 hours getting ready for and going to and from school per
week. Mealtime takes up approximately 3 hours of their time.
And then, of course, there is our greatest rival for their
attention--TV. Let's take into account that a small percentage of
the programs they watch are designed to stimulate their thinking and
Nevertheless, according to recent reports, the
average American child watches
between 18 and an astounding 55 hours of television per week "for fun".
Some kids watch TV after school and all weekend long! How much
time does that leave a child to develop his own individuality? Not
much! Then again, the development of individuality does not appear
anywhere in the stated purpose of compulsory education, does it?
With all the time spent either, eating, dressing,
traveling, sleeping, doing what
they are told they must do by their teachers, or mindlessly watching
television, there is precious little time left for the average child to
explore and ponder the wonders of the universe for himself. The
word freedom is bandied about rather recklessly in this country.
Our society is supposedly founded on the ideal of individual freedom.
Sure, we appear to have lots of freedom. Some of it is real while
some of it is merely the illusion of freedom. Most of us that are
products of the public education system are so indoctrinated into the
larger system it is set up to support that we cannot see the forest for
the trees. We buy, buy, buy (it's the American way!) the ideals
and values that we are fed by people who decide what to feed us and
continue to perpetuate our own mental imprisonment. It's a vicious
circle. The snake has swallowed its tail!
What if we empowered our children to think for
themselves rather than parrot
the facts and figures they are instructed to memorize if they are to
succeed in school? That might be dangerous to society as we know
One of the first statements a professor of
education at a venerable and well-established university in
California made to his class with regard to children in public school
was: "We don't want them to think".
Children, think? God forbid!
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