In its mission to stunt intellectual growth and standardize diversity, the Prussian system was a spectacular success — a success which Mann and other early education reformers brought to our shores.
In 1852, Massachusetts, with Mann spearheading the effort, passed the nation’s first compulsory attendance law. By the early 1900s, the rest of the country was following suit. Although the federal government was not yet in the picture, many schools were being consolidated and school boards were losing their local flavor.
The Progressive Era brought us John Dewey and his idea that schools should not only be places of learning, but instruments for social reform, i.e., social engineering. Dewey thought that independent people were a danger to the collectivist future he envisioned. Students should only learn from “experts,” and not pursue knowledge for themselves. It was Dewey who advocated replacing the phonics method of teaching reading with “whole word” reading, a technique that Dewey himself admitted was much less effective.
This was a deliberate strategy to dumb down students.
Another progressive, Woodrow Wilson, clearly stated the goal of government education in a 1909 speech to the New York City School Teachers Association: “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” So much for the egalitarian myths about the American public school system.
By the late 20th century, the federal government was insinuating itself in the education system by bribing the states with grant money in return for more standardized testing and a greater say over the curriculum. In fact, Common Core began with a $4.35 billion program called “Race to the Top.” RTTP, which received its funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the stimulus bill), awarded the participating states grant money for satisfying certain criteria, including complying with Common Core standards.
Autocrats have long understood that if one controls the minds of its citizens, particularly the youth, one controls the future. Ultimately, the goal of the Prussian education system — the model for our own — was to create a docile populace that wouldn’t cause the ruling class too much trouble.
Sadly, the American education system has been following this same path for quite some time.
In 1889, William Torrey Harris, the U.S. commissioner of education, told railroad baron Collis Huntington that American schools were “scientifically designed” to prevent “over-education,” thus ensuring Huntington content workers who would never be tempted to better their station in life.
While Harris wanted to produce workers for private interests, Karl Marx — who also advocated free, universal government education — wanted to produce workers for the state. Either way, the happiness of the youth is subordinate to the will of central planners.
Instead of further centralizing our education system with programs such as Common Core, the education of our children should be returned to where it belongs: the family and local communities.
Common Core instructs our children not to grow, achieve and reach for the stars, but to keep their heads low, and their expectations even lower. “Lowest Common Denominator” is a far more apt name for it.
Glenn Jacobs is an entertainer and liberty activist. He is the co-founder of the Tennessee Liberty Alliance, a free-market educational organization.