Fab Fridays 98: Is School Really Broken?
The Origin of the Modern School System
When I left the classroom about three years ago I started questioning the origins of our current education system.
How is it that almost every industry has changed over the past 100 years except for education?
I did my research and came to some interesting conclusions.
Contrary to what you’ve been told, the education system isn’t broken. It does exactly what it was designed to do. But the purpose of that design might surprise you…
In the past, education was the job of parents, private tutors, and churches. But about 200 years ago, that started to change in a region of Germany called Prussia.
Government leaders decided they needed to take responsibility to educate children.
They had just suffered a major loss. Napoleon’s army had decisively beaten them and taken much of their land. As a result, Prussia decided to build an army of educated, loyal soldiers. They never wanted to experience a defeat like that again.
So, Prussia designed the basics of our modern school system:
extended school year
The goal was to train a generation of loyal, literate citizens prepared for war.
They taught “academic freedom,” but it was limited by service to the state.
As the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte put it:
"The citizens should be made able and willing to use their own minds to achieve higher goals in the framework of a future unified German nation state.”
This system worked exceptionally well. Prussia built one of the strongest fighting forces in the world. Their model spread across the world like wildfire! And it eventually evolved into the school systems we use today.
Perhaps the Prussian model served a purpose. It helped poor children receive education when they wouldn’t have otherwise. As a result, literacy rates skyrocketed (analyze the trend here.)
However, the Prussian model also contributed to nationalism, one of the main drivers of World War I.
In short: it used education as a mask for indoctrination.
Students were taught to question everything—except for what parents, teachers, and politicians told them. From the start, the system wasn’t designed to help kids think for themselves. This bias is lodged deep in the bones of modern education.
I would even argue that some of the lessons taught in schools today hurt many kids. Read here for more:
If the system can improve, it won't be easy. It needs big changes—and those changes aren’t likely to come through reforms from the inside.
It’s time for more families to consider an exit from the modern system and become more involved. Here are some options to exit the system without leaving school and ways parents can get more involved in their kids’ education.
Until next week,
Ana Lorena Fabrega