One of the principal reasons we got into the mess we're in is that we allowed schooling to become a very profitable monopoly, guaranteed its customers by the police power of the state. Systematic schooling attracts increased investment only when it does poorly, and since there are no penalties at all for such performance, the temptation not to do well is overwhelming. That's because school staffs, both line and management, are involved in a guild system; in that ancient form of association no single member is allowed to outperform any other member, is allowed to advertise or is allowed to introduce new technology or improvise without the advance consent of the guild. Violation of these precepts is severely sanctioned -- as Marva Collins, Jaime Escalante and a large number of once-brilliant teachers found out.
Once you think that the control of conduct is what schools are about, the word "reform" takes on a very particular meaning. It means making adjustments to the machine so that young subjects will not twist and turn so, while their minds and bodies are being scientifically controlled. Helping kids to use their minds better is beside the point. Bertrand Russell once observed that American schooling was among the most radical experiments in human history, that America was deliberately denying its children the tools of critical thinking. When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That's if you want to teach them to think.
There is no evidence that this has been a State purpose since the start of compulsion schooling. When Frederich Froebel, the inventor of kindergarten in 19th century Germany, fashioned his idea he did not have a "garden for children" in mind, but a metaphor of teachers as gardeners and children as the vegetables. Kindergarten was created to be a way to break the influence of mothers on their children. I note with interest the growth of daycare in the US and the repeated urgings to extend school downward to include 4-year-olds.
One of the most interesting by-products of Prussian schooling turned out to be the two most devastating wars of modern history. Erich Maria Ramarque, in his classic "All Quiet on the Western Front" tells us that the First World War was caused by the tricks of schoolmasters, and the famous Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the Second World War was the inevitable product of good schooling.
It's important to underline that Bonhoeffer meant that literally, not metaphorically -- schooling after the Prussian fashion removes the ability of the mind to think for itself. It teaches people to wait for a teacher to tell them what to do and if what they have done is good or bad. Prussian teaching paralyses the moral will as well as the intellect. It's true that sometimes well-schooled students sound smart, because they memorize many opinions of great thinkers, but they actually are badly damaged because their own ability to think is left rudimentary and undeveloped. We got from the United States to Prussia and back because a small number of very passionate ideological leaders visited Prussia in the first half of the 19th century, and fell in love with the order, obedience and efficiency of its system and relentlessly proselytized for a translation of Prussian vision onto these shores.
Even as a mere 12 year old I knew that school was working to remove my individuality. It should not be suprising to hear that I was considered a disruptive student and that I did not work up to my "potential". In fact, it was suggested that I attend military school, in order that I might learn "discipline". It was during that time period (I was 12 or 13) that I had to take an IQ test. After something like 2 very long hours it was reported I scored in the 98th or 99th percentile, so I could not be retarded. I simply was not interested in spending my valuable time, which I could use to write my QBasic RPG or read about black holes, ancient greece, Mesopotamia and nuclear fission instead of writing some silly book report, or reading such untruths as Washington never told a lie or Paul Revere galloped yelling 'the British are coming' (what a silly concept in retrospect) or doing homework for that farce of a subject they call "algebra" (farce because it is presented in such a very unnatural manner). Note though that I find the whole concept of IQ to be entirely revolting. What a silly concept to encapsulate the entirety of a person with a mere number! Truly all this shows is the ability to think in the same manner as the test makers. But now I diverge.
I should note that I grew up in the US and found my education anything but exemplary, I certainly am not a product of its machinations. Although I will certainly admit that I had a few teachers: 1 world history , 1 English, 1 math, 1 French, 5th grade (during my entire 12 years or so) who made a strong impression and in fact did teach me. However, they were the exceptions and not the rule. Teachers are good people and as I heard often, they were constantly under the pressure and restriction of some "cirruculum" they had to follow - supposedly created to ensure the well educatedness of our children while doing anything but that. I will note that those teachers who were most liked, who did in fact surmount the system and were able to teach often operated far outside the cirruculum and were either old and impossible to fire or young and willing to experiment. Most importantly they showed a true love for teaching and what they taught and were not embittered by the whole horrible mess that is the education system. I thank them and am indebted to them for that.
Nonetheless I cannot look back at my school days without a strong feeling and taste of bitterness. So much so that I feel that I must do something about it. And so I am. This is one of the things which I feel most strongly about. Recently I have registered and worked to start an enrichment program. During the next year and hopefully beyond I will be taking children and teaching them critical thinking alongside their regular schooling. The critical age range of 9 - 14 where ability to properly abstract begins to solidify but before they have been totally destroyed by media is my target demographic. I will post what it is I am covering and how I feel it should be done, based on my trials. But that will not be for some months yet. (I know I still owe that post where I argue that vectors are best thought of as due to a relation where translation is the only invariant quantity - thus allowing us to consider them a group retaining both the intuitive geometric notion and abstract algebraic one and also to construct to the reals and then extend to the hyperreal but I been busy recently. Hopefully will do tomorrow).
It is my hope that I may make somekind of a difference to these kids. Parallely, although there is a focus on technical ability and content the emphasis is on thinking. Nonetheless I hope to provide a home for the "geeks" who have no place. The jocks and sports kids have one, the artists as well. But not the science and technically interested kids. Need to settle stuff with local council first. Wish me luck.