Published Monthly

Question Everything: Slaughtering sacred cows with impunity (June 2004)

Questioning Compulsory Education
by Michael Haislip

A brief history of compulsory education

Somewhere during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the idea arose that it was morally imperative to provide public-funded education to children. With this being America, anything that is morally imperative quickly becomes legally imperative. Thus, compulsory public education was forged in the cauldron of the progressive social movements of previous centuries.

Early on, public education was simplistic, focusing on basic language and math skills. Much of America was still agrarian, and in those rural areas, education wasn’t nearly as important as knowing how to pick cotton or how to harness a mule. Compare that to today’s prevailing opinion that public education is an unassailable right of every child, as if God himself had descended from the clouds to decree, “All children shall attend kindergarten. And quit using my name in vain, goddammit.” What were the forces behind that shift of focus? How did we end up with the current decaying education system?

Wealthy industrialists–the Fords and Rockefellers and Morgans—were the primary forces behind the current system. Along with these businessmen, progressives such as Frederick Taylor, father of the social efficiency movement, and Horace Mann, the cheerleader of compulsory education, pushed governments and industry to model their schools after the Prussian model of education. The Prussian model was a massive state-run school system that churned out obedient workers, soldiers and citizens. A small percentage of children attended realschulen (real school), where they learned to be the supervisors of the masses. The remaining attended volkschulen (people’s school), where they learned how to be obedient and how to fit into the militaristic Prussian society It succeeded, eventually morphing into the Nazi Germany school system.

The system was fascist in nature, and all people were viewed as tools of the state. According to John Taylor Gatto, New York City Teacher of the Year from 1989 to 1991, “after 1900 the new mass schooling arenas slowly became impersonal places where children were viewed as human resources." Gatto continues, "human resource children are to be molded and shaped for something called ‘The Workplace,’ even though for most of American history American children were reared to expect to create their own workplaces.” Gatto wrote again in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that “virtually every single one of the founders of American schooling had made the pilgrimage to Germany, and many of these men wrote widely circulated reports praising the Teutonic methods.”

It is foolish to think that schools are anything other than training camps for patriotic, working Americans who love the flag, pay their taxes and support their troops. Public school advocate John Dewey, a major influence during his day, gave a number of speeches outlining his and others’ hopes for education:

  • “Anyone who has begun to think, places some portion of the world in jeopardy.”
  • “The teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer-in of the true Kingdom of God”

So, what is the purpose of compulsory education? It is a system to mold children into obedient tools of the state.

The state of American education

I recently read in the paper that my former high school will begin classes on August 5th. Doing some quick calculations, I figured that gives the students 2 months of summer vacation—8 weeks. That’s less than a semester to recuperate from a coerced 8 to 3 routine with no pay. It’s as if I locked someone in a room for seven hours a day, never compensated him, made him believe that the experience was a reward in itself, and told him it was all for his own good. That’s what public school has become.

Somewhere along the way, the original Prussian principles became so engrained into society that no one had to consciously focus on them. They had become habit, and, thus, they had become entrenched to the point of dogma. In America circa 2004, questioning the necessity of compulsory schooling is akin to making fun of cancer victims. The American student no longer works toward self-sufficiency, but instead hopes that Corporate USA will bless him with a job. Why don’t high schools teach more business classes or encourage entrepreneurship? Why are students told that they will be worthless if they don’t earn a diploma? People have developed a master/slave mentality, just as the original planners had hoped. It is learned permission seeking, and it makes students obedient citizens. Students must ask permission to perform a basic biological function--using the bathroom. Students must ask permission to check out of school early. Students must ask permission to walk in the halls. Students can’t even take an aspirin without teacher supervision, as if there is a pandemic of aspirin abuse. Remember, kids: no talking, no gum chewing, no asserting basic freedoms.

Ask a teacher about why their job is important, and you’ll receive moralistic answers about helping kids, making a difference or other save-the-world crap. They never mention the pay check, the long summer vacation or other perks. The average rookie teacher salary in 2001 America was a respectable $30,000 according to the American Federation of Teachers. The average vacation time for a teacher is 4 months per year. Sounds like one hell of a desk job to me.

The latest innovation in many school systems is “year-round schooling,” which is a cute euphemism for “we own your children while our teachers earn more money.” Back to my old high school – the local school system has been shortening summer vacation for years. They take a few days here, a few days there, and make up some bureaucratic reasons why it is necessary. Gradually, vacation time has decreased from 3 months during my younger days to the current length of 2 months. If the trend continues, kids will be attending school year round. Teachers and administrators are ecstatic about it. Although I’m sure the teachers appreciate a long summer vacation, they are not getting paid for it, either. Let’s assume a teacher makes the average beginner’s rate of $30,000 per eight month school year ($3750 per month). Add another 3 months to the work schedule, and that rookie teacher now makes $45,000 a year—and extra $15,000 each year. No wonder we have such a nationwide push for increased school years. More time in school means more money in teachers’ pockets.

The massive government-business-education complex has created ways to force student compliance. Student’s freedom of movement is now being threatened by many states in the form of No Pass/No Drive laws. In order to keep students from exiting the coercive public education system, states will withhold licenses from dropouts. In even more extreme cases, state politicians in various states have proposed that students not meeting certain GPA and attendance requirements should be denied the right to freely move about and associate. I quote from Missouri House of Representatives bill HB 1698:

“Driver's license applicants under age 18 must show high school enrollment, attendance rate greater than 85%, and minimum GPA of 1.75 or satisfactory progress in alternative education program.”

Yes, if someone wants to leave the government education monopoly, the politicians will do everything in their power to stop him. God forbid anyone try to learn on their own.

The aftermath

What have been the results of compulsory education, a concept now over 100 years old in America? What has happened to the targets of this bureaucratic weapon of mass control?

Albert Einstein wrote of his school experience:

"One had to cram all this stuff into one's mind, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year... It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty."

Einstein wrote the preceding passage early in the twentieth century. Almost 100 years later, the situation has progressively worsened. Rather than being excited about new developments in science, philosophy and technology, the products of compulsory education shun such topics. For years, students were taught that science was something read about in a textbook with no practical influence in their lives. Students were taught that philosophy was something that only ancient Greeks studied. Instead, we should be teaching children to inquire about the nature of the universe, to question the common knowledge, and to forge their own philosophies. Mindless regurgitation of facts and zombie-like adherence to rules are the paramount concerns of public education today.

Occurrences of mental disorders among children have increased. Schools are breeding grounds for depression, paranoia, social anxiety disorder and numerous other problems. Is it any wonder? Children are thrown into a pressure cooker of hormones, social expectations and government regulations with very little guidance. Those students with a genetic predisposition to mental disease will undoubtedly increase their chance of developing the disease. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “in 1996, more teenagers and young adults died of suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia and influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.” 1996 is the most recent year for which suicide data is available. When asked why they are considering suicide, the depressed youths often cite social isolation, bullying at school and numerous other school-related issues. For something that is supposed to benefit society, it seems to be failing miserably.

The body of the coerced student suffers as well. Due to constant social jockeying and sexual tension between the sexes, schools inflict a steady low-to-mid level stress upon students, which causes the body to secrete cortisol, a stress response hormone. Increased levels of cortisol eventually lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and a diminished immune system.

Clearly, public school is a threat to public health. I suggest we quarantine it until further notice.

What to do about it

Let me suggest the two following options for those disaffected with the current system.

1. Start home schooling

As a response to the worsening intellectual suppression in public schools, home schooling has emerged as a viable alternative for progressive parents. Rather than ship their children to concrete holding pens, home schooling parents take direct responsibility for their children’s knowledge. Home school allows children to learn in a comfortable, non-competitive environment, an environment without social ladders or stifling rules. Home schooling is a return to the pre-compulsory days, when children learned more in five years than most adults learn in twenty years of public school.

2. Drop out

If you are still in school, the simplest (yet most drastic) way to quit the system is to physically quit the system. Don’t like school? Get a spine and stop going to school. It is that simple. If you are in high school, go and get a GED. You won’t spend nearly as much time, and there is no practical difference between a GED and a regular diploma. The key in these scenarios is to spend your energy building alternative systems that benefit you. People do not need school. They can--and do—learn on their own. Walk away. Ignore them. Exercise civil disobedience. Be your own person.

“And what is a good citizen? Simply one who never says, does or thinks anything that is unusual. Schools are maintained in order to bring this uniformity up to the highest possible point. A school is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps.” -- H.L. Mencken

Michael Haislip is the editor of AntiMuse. For 6 years, he published the cult favorite American Assassin magazine, churning out almost 1000 pages of commentary and humor in that span. In his spare time, Michael is a freelance writer and musician. He also wishes it known that he has the longest biography out of all the staff writers.


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