One Man Created the Education System Holding You Back
William Treseder

Progressives eat their own. The present essay is an example of one progressive hero, Horace Mann, blamed by a later progressive, because Mann’s legacy is anachronistically evaluated.

These words from Wikipedia may serve as a corrective to what this essay presents:

About Horace Mann’s intellectual progressivism, the historian Ellwood P. Cubberley said:
No one did more than he to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian, free, and that its aims should be social efficiency, civic virtue, and character, rather than mere learning or the advancement of education ends.
In 1838, he founded and edited The Common School Journal. In this journal, Mann targeted the public school and its problems. His six main principles were: (1) the public should no longer remain ignorant; (2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public; (3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds; (4) that this education must be non-sectarian; (5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society; and (6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers. Mann worked for more and better-equipped school houses, longer school years (until 16 years old), higher pay for teachers, and a wider curriculum.

The remainder of the essay may indeed be as distorted as its reportage on Horace Mann. This distortion arises from the author’s misreading/misunderstanding of economics, education, and value. His opening illustration- It’s getting harder and harder to make a living , is a case in point. It is harder to make a living because after government has subsidized college education and sent the message as Michigan did in the first decade of the 21st Century that all our kids were expected to go to college, there is a glut of college degrees in the job market and the traditional skills or welding, carpentry, etc. have gone begging. So, if you followed the herd and went to college but never bothered to ask yourself, “What will I learn to do so well that people will pay me to do it for them?”, you are probably unemployed, or underemployed. Add to that the lack of discipline in spending fostered by government policies which shielded students from immediate consequences of their decisions, and you have a formula for failure at “making a living.”

Our author shares his thinking-

Here’s the idea: the shifting demands of the economy threaten us all for one big scary reason. The habits we pick up in school no longer create economic value. In fact, we may actually be learning to destroy value!
#1 — Filling up the day with time-bound activities.
#2 — Accepting whatever you’re assigned.
#3 — Completing projects at the last minute.
#4 — Obsessing over quantified scores and ranks.
#5 — Sitting still for 8+ hours a day.

The absurdity of these should be clear. #1 is the skill of time-management, essential for everything from working creatively to making a marriage. #2 is the prime skill in any job, without which you’d be in violation of whatever contract you’ve made. #3 is not taught, or even encouraged in school- it is precisely the inability to learn skill #1 that leads to habit #3. #4 arises less from schooling than from human nature which seeps into sports, entertainment, business, as well as schooling. #5 is a misunderstanding of Mann’s and virtually every approach to education which presumed either: A) that the students were walking to school and pitching in with physical work at home; or B) that daily physical education was an essential part of the day (the original Prussian model trained students for the military, after all…).

What is the source of our Author’s insight?

…Prompted by a chapter in The Skeptic’s Guide to American History. I heard something remarkable that the author dropped in almost casually. He mentioned that the modern American school system was primarily designed to instill discipline, not to foster learning. Education was more about forming behavioral habits to enforce mental habits, not vice versa.

The false dichotomy between instilling discipline and fostering learning is what makes the essay misleading at best. The subjects to be learned are called “disciplines,” so there is no learning without discipline. Further confusion is caused by another false dichotomy between behavioral habits and mental habits. Mann’s chief concern was with character, after all, habits of truth-telling, honesty with money, self-control, and work ethic. These values characterize those who rise out of poverty; their lack characterizes those who, like Michael Jackson, made millions but still ended up in debt.

Like too many who write on education, our Author seems unaware that the aims of elementary, secondary, and post secondary education are fundamentally different. You must learn to obey before you can command. The skills and insight learned at one stage are essential to the next. It is the failure to learn the lessons #1,#2, & #5 that lead to unemployment for so many, especially in the lowest tier or our economy (as many lower level manager will tell you).

The Author’s suggestions entitled “The Next Step,” have some value if you are in a particular type of job setting, and they may help certain individuals recognize certain dysfunctional patterns. But to blame these dysfunctional patterns on American schooling and Horace Mann recalls Lucy Van Pelt’s observation that “Every generation has to be able to blame its problems on the previous generation.” I am waiting for Progressivism to outgrow this attitude.

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