Thursday, February 22, 2007

Good German Schools Come to America

Good German Schools Come to America

The Austrian famine of 1771-1772, combined with the increasingly brazen exploitation of children by mercantilists, led to a tense political situation for the ruling families of Austria and Prussia. Traditionally, peasants were kept in line by fear or threats of starvation. But the Austrian and Prussian governments' inability or unwillingness to move in the direction of any sort of social equality - combined with the desperation of famine and the theft of children - had pushed the populace to a dangerous level of anger.

The old way of keeping the peasants in line didn't work: something new was necessary.


In 1756, Schlabrendorff suggested to Frederick II that a system of state-run, compulsory schools be established. Extraordinary benefits could come from it, which would be praised and echoed by German and Austrian philosophers, leaders, and educators (such as Fichte, Raab, Hitler, and others) for the next two hundred years:

· By molding young minds, it would be possible to create the belief that work was a necessary and moral imperative. Work was Good, even if the fruits of it ended up with a corporate or royal dynasty, even if it meant five or six days of toil a week just to provide basic essentials for the family. · Schools could inculcate proper political opinions in children: there would never again be a generation who would grow up to revolt against their government.

· Children would learn not to question authority or authority figures, be they governmental or corporate. (The practice of forcing pupils to raise their hand to ask a question - essentially asking permission to ask - was pioneered by Johann Hecker in 1740 in Prussia.)

· Children would learn to accept their lot in life and to limit their aspirations: the needs of the factories for workers and the army for soldiers would be met with compliant recruits.

· Children's primary loyalty and fear would be shifted from their mother and father to the king and the state. This would be ensured by the children learning very early that if they didn't attend school, special truant police would come after them, a force their parents were powerless to stop.

In 1763, at the end of the Seven Year War, King Frederick was willing to consider the proposition. Many of the early schools were educational facilities in the morning, factories for making wool or silk in the afternoon. They were known as Spinnschulen. Prussian Minister von Schlabrendorff issued an edict in late 1763 that every Silesian town must provide such compulsory instruction to all children ages seven to fifteen (with the exception, of course, of the children of the landholding royal families). In 1765, Maria Theresa of Austria passed an identical law in Austria.

The use of compulsory, state-controlled education as a replacement for the gallows, the rack, the whip, and the prison cell as a way to keep the peasantry was suddenly popular across Germany and Austria. A leading German, Chrisian F├╝rchtegott Gellert, believed this would not only lead to a more docile populace, but a more moral one as well. A student of his, philosopher Karl Heinrich Seibt, wrote in 1771: "If laws are to be faithfully observed, the subject of the state must obey them freely and willingly_ The enlightened state which educates each subject in the duties of his profession, a state whose subjects fulfill their duties willingly and out of love - this is a powerful, invincible, and blessed state."

As Europe's economy gained steam in the late 1700's, largely through manufacturing, imported gold from South America, and money made in the slave-trade business, adults began to resent the competition of children for jobs. By 1805, fewer than half of all employed skilled workers in Berlin were members of guilds. Concern began to arise about "child labor." The Spinnschulen were replaced by full-day educational programs, and around this time the first system of teacher certification and the first state control of curriculum was put into place.

That the purpose of public compulsory education was to create a compliant citizenry was no secret: if anything, the Prussians and Austrians were proud of it. In 1774 when the Gymnasium high-school system was reformed in Prussia, its main architect, Mathes Inaz von Hess, suggested that class, and not ability, should determine the quality of a child's education. This would assure stability, he said, if bright children of low social class were only to learn to be compliant laborers, it would be "no loss to society." The Prussian Education Edict of 1776 demanded that children of high social class be admitted to higher education even if they were of "only mediocre talent and little proficiency," keeping the "children from the lower orders" in the state-run compulsory system. Children of wealth could attend private schools: the overt goal of the compulsory public educational system, wrote Felbiger, was to make lower-class students "content with the station into which they are born."

Around 1850, the legislature of the State of Massachusetts was grappling with a problem that had an explosive potential similar to that faced by King Frederick and Queen Maria Theresa a century earlier. Irish Catholics had poured into Boston by the millions, particularly after the Potato Famine, and threatened the Protestant power structure of the state legislature. At that time, there was no compulsory or state-controlled education in the United States of America -although we were regarded even by the Germans as the most well-educated and well-read people in the world.

To break the back of the Catholic power center in the Boston area, the Massachusetts legislature enacted the first compulsory education law in 1852. Over the next six years many parents were jailed and thousands of children marched off to school by the state militia, as entire "revolting" towns were militarized when they refused to take their children out of their locally-run schools or home-schools and place them in the state-run, state-controlled institutions. The last town to fall, Barnstable, Massachusetts, capitulated in 1858 after a massive invasion by police and the state militia: compulsory public state-run education had begun in America.

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