From time to time I’ve heard the line that the American pubic school system was based on the Prussian school system of the 19th Century, which was ‘intended to turn out obedient drones to work in factories.’ I’ve usually heard it from politically liberal education professionals, who use it to argue that schools should more creatively engage their students. Recently, though, I heard a conservative commentator use the same line to bash unionized public schoolteachers.
I can certainly believe the first part: the American public school system as we know it today came to be a little over a century ago, and could reasonably have followed the Prussian model. The Prussians saw themselves as becoming a world power, something they could not do burdened by uneducated hordes. We did, too.
And we followed that model through the first half of the 20th Century, and built the most powerful and prosperous nation known to Man.
Then, apparently after World War II, the wheels came off.
I went to a thoroughly modern elementary school and had no end of trouble because it was more important for the school that I fit into the group than that I actually learn anything.
The middle school was less modern; I did much better there. The reports from the school had very little to say about my fitting in with the group, and were mostly about my academic progress.
High school, in the mid- to late-1970s, was a throwback to the 1940s. (Certainly some of the textbooks seemed to be from that time.) I learned math and physics and my world lit up.
So my experience is that the farther we went from the traditional ‘Prussian’ model, the worse things got in terms of actually learning anything.
And now, we have professional educators spouting pointless political correctness, and a student body that gets worse and worse, year after year. Worse, after a couple of decades with the modern school graduates in the professional world, we seem to be facing ever more and difficult problems that we don’t know how to solve.
I don’t believe we can blame the Prussians for that.