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History of the Current schooling system

The history of the current schooling system which I like to call a factory schooling system, is the history of the evolution of the current school system mainly in three different phases viz Austria, Prussia (modern-day Germany), USA. One notable actor that is out of the picture is the UK who acted more of a spreader rather than a creator.

Status of education before the current system

Wealthy people hired private tutors. But the poor could go to Church schools which were very few. That’s why literacy was very low before this system came to be because the state did not have any incentive in educating the poor. Education was considered a privilege and not a necessity.

The Apprentice system was prevalent during the enlightenment as well as the middle age which gave way to the current schooling system.

Evolution in Europe

The current schooling education system has its genesis in the enlightenment age in Europe. The setup of Gutenberg’s press brought a revolution in Europe. The church was losing its power due to the democratization of printing technology. After the Protestant Reformations, Germanic republics particularly Prussia and Austria were at the forefront of this drama.

Austrian Empire

Austria under Maria Teresa was the first country that implemented free and compulsory education for all. She worked along the lines of Centralization, Professionalism, and efficiency because her inherited empire was scattered and inefficient.

Before Maria’s reforms, the empire was run by nobles and the Church who took care of everything from collecting taxes to making laws. So political as well as economic centralization was required to run the empire efficiently.

This created a need for an educated class of people which she offered by creating schools. She also undertook reforms in healthcare due to rampant women’s death during delivery. 1749 reforms that separated the judiciary from the state created a need for learned judges along with civil servants. Thereby creating a need for free and compulsory education.

Prussian Empire

The next landmark was the fall of Berlin at the hands of Napolean Bonaparte in 1806. Prussia had a fearsome reputation as one of the foremost military power of Europe, especially after Frederick the Great of Prussia. The seemingly better-trained army of Prussia was defeated by Napolean’s forces setting the intellectuals of Prussia in crisis mode.

Who influenced the schooling system?

Prussian philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fitch combined John Locke’s view that the “Human mind at birth is a blank slate” and Rousseau’s idea that “the State of nature will degrade without law and morality”.

The schools must fashion the person, and fashion him in such a way that he simply can not will otherwise than you wish him to will.

Johann Gottlieb Fitch, Prussian Philosopher

Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished. When this technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for more than one generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen.

Johann Gottlieb Fitch, Prussian Philosopher

By means of the new education, we want to mold the Germans into a corporate body, which shall be stimulated and animated in all its individual members by the same interest.

Johann Gottlieb Fitch, Prussian Philosopher

I should reply that the very recognition of and reliance upon free will in the pupil is the first mistake of the old system.

Johann Gottlieb Fitch, Prussian Philosopher

The new education must consist essentially in this, that it completely destroys freedom of will in the soil which it undertakes to cultivate, and produces on the contrary strict necessity in the decisions of the will, the opposite being impossible. Such a will can henceforth be relied on with confidence and certainty.

Johann Gottlieb Fitch, Prussian Philosopher

Prussia established an educational system that was considered scientific. Some of the important parts of the system:

  • It defined for the child what was to be learned
  • What was to be thought about
  • How long to think about it
  • Critical thinking had to be done away with. The Prussian model was created for the good of the government

They couldn’t digest the defeat of Prussia. Johann Gottlieb Fitch gave many lectures in which he proclaimed the greatness of Germanic people and their uniqueness over all other races. The intellectuals of Prussia concluded that the Prussian army was defeated because “the Prussian soldiers were thinking for themselves” Vs Nepolean army soldiers who were only following orders.

This set in motion the creation of the Prussian education model which was later widely studied and replicated by many countries of the world but primarily the United States and other European countries.

Evolution in North America

Initially, most students learned at home and out in the real world. In 1837, the State of Massachusetts formed the first state board of Education with Hoarse Mann as the person at the helm. He visited Prussia to study the system they were employing. After coming back to the States, he lobbied heavily for the implementation of the Prussian model.

By the 1870s, public education become commonplace in the United States. In 1892, the committee of Ten decided on the standardization of education. They decided about:

  • The length of primary education as well as secondary education
  • The curriculum that should be taught in those 12 years.

The main motive was to create a workforce that will be productive for the industry. Public education through gained momentum only after the civil war because the state had an incentive to educate the masses. Before that, it was a private affair, and education used to be the last thing on most people’s minds.

Education imagined as science

Teaching was imagined as science and people needed thorough training in the latest methods grounded in research. Older and younger kids were separated and started going to different schools. Soloist school teachers turned into an education board with lots of teachers teaching different things. Specialization was started. But the whole era of educating the masses system only started after the end of the second world war.

Scientific advancements of the 18th and 19th centuries coupled with enlightenment age ideas gave a completely different perspective to look at it. Education was increasingly imagined as a scientific quest rather than humanities’.

Fredrick Taylor (1856 – 1915) who is also considered the father of scientific management gave revolutionary ideas about management. He gave the following ideas:

  • Removed the need for complex skills and higher-order thinking in the workforce by completely separating them from manual work.
  • His work in industry resulted in a completely new set of incentives and requirements in the educational system
  • His methods were from their inception reviled by factory workers

Why were the schools needed?

Schooling became a crucial issue during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries due to the spread of French revolutionary ideals, the desire to prevent new unrest, the need to train skilled labor, and the construction of nation-states around a shared culture. (Source: here)

Europe understood the value of individuality, liberty, freedom, free will, etc., especially after the French revolution and the enlightenment age. These ideas were liberating for the masses (third estate) but elites (govts, church, nobles, aristocracy, institutionalization) were challenged. So they resorted to the method of free and compulsory education of the masses, but not for their good. Some of the reasons were:

  1. The emergence of nation-states during the enlightenment period.
  2. Nation-states needed a common identity for the newly formed nation’s citizens. So a new construct of patriotism needed and be drilled into the heads of their subject by the state.
  3. The state needed people for the military.
  4. The industrial revolution created a need for well-trained staff.

Secularization of education

The secularization of schools came very late. It was during the first half of the twentieth century i.e. 1900 – 1950. Initially, the main subjects were Latin and Greek besides scriptures.