Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Education should provide fun learning experiences that:  
- Reveal and nurture talents
- Develop critical thinking skills
- Develop ethical characters
- Inspire active & creative citizenship.

By Youssef Gaboune 
Copyright 2014

4.1 Questioning

Where does forced schooling come from? 
Why are schools built like factories, which can gather several hundreds or even thousands of children?

Do you ever wonder how we got to this kind of industrialized training? 
What should be the fundamental objectives of education? 
Does school help attain these goals? 
Are there other innovative models of education?

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle is reported to have said: “If you want to

understand anything, observe its birth and its development”.

4.2 The objectives of education

 According to John Taylor Gatto, author of "Underground History of American Education" and three times New York City Teacher of the Year, the three fundamental objectives of education are:
1 –To develop moral people
2 –To develop good citizens
3 –To help students identify and nurture their talents to make the best contribution to society 

Forcing schooling on an entire population (or almost) with a unique curriculum decided by the state has been an ideal since Plato (The Republic), and was first successfully implemented at a national scale in the military-theocracy of Prussia in the first half of the 19th century.
Social thinkers have speculated for centuries that the political state that successfully seizes control of youth training could accomplish economic miracles. The best way to realize such a project is through completely controlled and forced schooling.

The education system in 19th century Prussia

The beginning of the 19th century marked the turning point in shaping school that we know today.
After the crushing defeat of the Prussian army by the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Jena in 1806, Prussia under Frederick William III (1770-1840) decided to undertake a nation-wide project to rebuild its educational and training system across the nation to form an army of determined and docile workers, easily mouldable to the changing needs of the industry, the government and the army. The new education system offered people an opportunity to learn how to read, write and count, it was also an excellent means of indoctrination, highly effective in making the masses more docile, and imposing uniformity of thought to the youth, and as well as an intellectual and emotional dependence. It would take less than thirty years for Prussia to build a formidable army that took revenge on the French army in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo. World powers quickly developed a fascination for the Prussian model. 

The Prussian system instituted compulsory education, specific training for teachers, standardized tests nationwide for all students (used to classify children for vocational training), a national curriculum designed for each level and mandatory kindergarten. Some components of this system have served as models for the education systems in a number of industrialized countries like the United States, Japan and France.

The ruling elite in Prussia tried to instil social obedience in its population through indoctrination. Each individual had to be thoroughly convinced that the leader of the nation is just, that his decisions were always right, and that obeying him was a matter of utmost importance.
The purpose of this system was to teach loyalty to the Crown and to train men for the army, the factories and the public administration. A series of decrees established clearly and for the first time, that education is a task of the state.

The work of French philosopher Victor Cousin, "Report on the State of Public Instruction in Prussia" seems to have greatly influenced the design of the education system in France and in other European countries.

In 1840, Horace Mann became head of the first Board of Education in the State of Massachusetts in the United States. As a great admirer of the Prussian model, he made a visit to Prussia to study its education system in 1843.
On his return, he published the famous 8th Report in which he praised the prowess of the Prussian system, which was able to produce a great army and a powerful industry.

In 1852, Horace Mann played a critical role in the decision to adopt the Prussian education system in the State of Massachusetts, the first law in North America that made schooling mandatory for all children of the state. Other U.S. states followed one after the other starting with the State of New York that immediately created more than a dozen large public schools.

In the early 20th century, and more precisely between 1906 and 1920, Edward Thorndike and John Dewey at Columbia Teachers College, along with their allies among the major industrial businessmen such as John D. Rockerfeller, captain of the oil industry, Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron, and major financial elite like JP Morgan, influenced the development of public schools and their curriculum through their private foundations. They also made sure to carefully select top administrators of the boards of education and universities, and invested heavily in the development of public schooling and educational psychology, much more than the state did.
In his 1911 essay at Columbia Teachers' College, Edward Thorndike stated that schools should serve as “instruments of managed evolution, establishing conditions for selective breeding before the masses take things into their own hands".
Standardized tests should be means for the separation and selection of young people to different career destinations.

John D. Rockefeller’s General Board of Education’s first mission statement stated: "In our dreams, people yield themselves with perfect docility to our moulding hands...We will organize children and teach them in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way".

Elite private boarding schools includeGroton, St. Paul’s, Deerfield, Gunnery, Choate, Middlesex, Lawrenceville, Hotchkiss, St. George’s, Kent, Hill, Episcopal High, Andover, Exeter, Culver Military, Milton Academy, St. Marks, Woodberry Forest... About 52 percent of the elite boarding schools are connected with the Episcopal Church7.

They have been created to prepare power elites’ children for their future leadership positions to rule their nation.

According to John Taylor Gatto, « Groton’s expectations cost almost nothing to meet on a different playing field—say a homeschool setting or even in John Gatto’s classroom—while the therapeutic community of psychologized public schooling is extremely expensive to maintain. Virtually everyone could be educated the Groton way for less money than the average public school costs. »

These elite private boarding schools don’t deliver the curriculum of public schools nor do they use the same teaching methods. 

According to Gatto, these elite boarding schools make sure to deliver the following types of trainings to their students that help them develop:

1. A better understanding of human nature through psychology, history, sociology, philosophy, theology, literature and law, as well as insights into the major institutional forms (parliament, courts, corporations, military, education...).

2. Responsibility and independent work as well as skills in the active literacies (writing, public speaking) and in accurate observation and recording through drawing and fine arts in general.

3. Good manners and politeness that help build social relationships.

4. Grace and strength through sports that also confer the ability to resist pain and develop perseverance to deal with challenges of all sorts.

7John Taylor Gatto; Underground History of American Education, The Odysseus Group, 2000.

Education and Talent Development

Education systems should help children discover their talents and offer them opportunities to nurture them as early as possible.
The Gallup Organization in partnership with Donald Clifton, a scholar in the psychology of strengths, has identified 34 themes of talent that people can naturally possess. These natural gifts to perform certain tasks with ease can promote the development of vocations when they are discovered early.
It is important to help children discover their talents and vocations through different types of activities, and start as early as possible.

New models of schools: The Case of Sudbury Valley School

The education system in Finland is worth studying, but even more revolutionary is the Sudbury Valley School case, replicated in other states and some countries such as Japan, Canada, Belgium, Israel, Germany and others.
Sudbury Valley School was founded in 1968 in Framingham, in the state of Massachusetts, USA. Each student at the school decides how to spend his or her time. Learning is based on personal effort, on interactions and experiences with others, rather than on classes and a standard curriculum. 

 Students are not required to attend classes, but choose the subjects that interest them. There are many opportunities for students of different ages to mingle and take classes together. Councils, where students from all ages constitute the majority vote, decide which teachers’ contracts are renewed and decide also on the choice of the school’s suppliers, and act as jury when school rules are breached. In short, it is a school run by children who are empowered at an early age to take responsibility for their learning journey.
Today, there are more than 35 schools around the world based on the model of Sudbury Valley School in the United States, Canada, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Israel. This model of private school which receives children from 4 to 19 years old is built on three fundamental principles: freedom in education, democratic governance and personal responsibility.
What’s wrong if a child is so passionate about video games that he wants to make a career out of it? What if he decides early on that he wants to take trainings in video game production technologies, graphic design, computer graphics or animation? Today we still do not have enough high quality educational video games that allow children to acquire knowledge in a more fun and practical way than textbooks.

Online education: Democratizing a more affordable and personalized high
quality education

Virtual schools are beginning to appear, offering accredited curricula, and more attractive educational content using video and animation, games and simulations. Children can study learning modules at their own pace while having fun.
Online education could be a much more affordable way of delivering high quality education to as many children and young adults as possible. Some successful initiatives have already been launched like Khan Academy or Cousera, but there is still big room for improvement in terms of attractive design and animations as well as in terms of gamification.

We should think outside the box (or think as if there were no box!) and put as much effort as possible to reinvent education systems so that they can grow ethical citizens with free and critical minds who can struggle more effectively to build more just societies and fight against all sorts of oppression.