The founding principles of modern schooling

John Taylor Gatto explains the six purposes of modern schooling according to Alexander Inglis, for whom the Inglis Lectureship in Secondary Education at Harvard is named.

Gatto is a former New York City Teacher of the Year and crusader against our current compulsory institutional school system that arose around the turn of the 19th century. Watch the full video for more in-depth explanation, but briefly, the purposes of our current compulsory, institutionalized schooling by those who established and promoted it are these:

  1.  Adjustive function: schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority.
  2. Diagnostic function: school is to determine each student’s proper social role, logging the evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records.
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  4. Sorting function: Schools sort children by training individuals only so far as their likely destination in the social machine, not one step beyond.
  5. Conformity function: As much as possible, children are to be made alike, not from a passion from voluntarian ideals, but so that their future behavior will be mathematically predictable in market research and government research.
  6. Hygienic function: This has to do with the health of the race, it’s a polite way of saying that school is expected to accelerate natural selection by tagging the unfit so clearly that the unfit will drop from the reproduction sweepstakes.
  7. Propaedutic function: A small fraction of lucky kids will be taught how to take over the management of this continuing project, guardians of a population deliberately dumbed down and rendered childlike in order that government and economic life can be managed with a minimum of hassle.

I look back at my own education in public schools and think, “Yeah, I saw that,” particularly the first four functions.  The current debates on who in government should control schools, on whether and what kind of  national standards and testing we should have, and on what to do with those people who won’t conform to the accepted model also pull back the veil on some of these functions. In fact, the Common Core Standards are basically the attempt to implement diagnostic and sorting functions on a national scale.  Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education said, “We should be able to look every second grader in the eye and say, ‘You’re on track, you’re going to be able to go to a good college, or you’re not.’” Sort them young, and teach them their place in society.

Gatto also writes a lot about the artificial extending of childhood, the role of schools in that goal, and the impact that has had on society. Anyway, food for thought, and rather provocative food at that. If you’re interested in more information on how our modern school system came to be, read Gatto’s An Underground History of Education. It’s available to read online for free. The information above is also found in chapter 16.

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