Elliot’s schooling – the negatives

Author Update – the Learning from Dogs author team are delighted to welcome Elliot to their ranks.

On April 1st I set the scene for the essays that I wanted to write for Learning from Dogs as follows:

I often ask myself just how effective the modern US schooling system is as a tool of education, and whether or not its costs outweigh its benefits. I hope to have at least a rough answer to this question in the final post of this series.

I intend to examine three topics:

In what ways does the modern schooling system function as a positive tool for education?

What costs involved in modern schooling hinder its ability as an educative tool, and even make it a negative influence on students?

Considering the analyses put forth in the first two posts, do the costs or benefits or this system outweigh the other? On the whole, are school and education complements or antagonists?

The author

On April 15th, I looked at the positive aspects of the American educational system.  Now I look at the other side of the coin, so to speak.

Intellectual failure

While in my last post I attempted to put a positive spin on the United States education system, I must here admit that I personally tend to view it in a much more negative light.  There are several reasons for this, three of which I will try to elaborate on here.

My first major concern about education in the United States is its lack of critical thinking skills, which produces students who do not know how to question the “system” for what is truly is, but rather constantly take the context of things presented as fact (the two-party political system is a perfect example of this.)

I am not necessarily arguing that the specific curriculum is being chosen to suit this purpose, though I think this argument could be made (it would, however, require quite a bit of research.)

Rather, consider the required courses – very rarely do you see courses on economics or logic.  While some schools offer these as electives, they are almost never required.  This is quite sad, as a sound ability to question the established authorities and the nature of the world as a whole requires a strong background in these two fields in particular.

The history of economics is a history of government policies that have failed because of their disregard for this very topic.

The economist Ludwig von Mises wrote that “the unpopularity of economics is the result of its analysis of the effects of privileges. It is impossible to invalidate the economists’ demonstration that all privileges hurt the interests of the rest of the nation or at least a great part of it.

A second negative aspect of the American education system is what it does to the human mind.  It essentially takes the mind and makes it into a factory that is able to take in information and then spit it back out.  I think there is a direct relationship between the formerly mentioned lack of classes on logic and economics and this production of human beings who are essentially taught to be cogs in a machine.

Economically, the schooling system can, in this light, be seen as a massive subsidy to corporations, who are handed people already trained in how to listen then do and repeat.

Finally, I must admit that I am skeptical as to the true purpose of compulsory education.  I have rarely in history seen it as a tool for true learning, as it seems to tend to rather be a system of control.  I see no reason why our school system would be any different.

J T Gatto's book

John Taylor Gatto, a former school teacher and avid critic of mandatory schooling,  has written that the purpose of modern schooling is a combination of six different functions:

  • The adaptive function – Establish a fixed reaction to authority.
  • The integrating function – People taught to conform are predictable, and are easier to use in a large labor force.
  • The directive function – School determines each student’s social role.The differentiating function – Children are trained as far as they need to go according to their prescribed social role
  • The selective function – Tag the unfit with poor grades and disciplinary actions clearly enough that their peers will see them as unsuitable for reproduction, helping along natural selection.
  • The propaedeutic function – A small fraction is quietly taught how to manage the rest.

I am not sure if I completely agree with Gatto, but he makes some interesting points.  In my final article, I’ll attempt to weight the costs against the benefits, and see which comes out on top.

By Elliot Engstrom

8 thoughts on “Elliot’s schooling – the negatives

  1. Right on! Certainly democracy is not having a so called “two party system”, and sleeping well thereafter… However, I think it’s difficult to line up the children, and tell them: now we are going to teach you logic and economics. What the American commons mean by economics ought to be called profligacy, and debt till you drop. it’s all too particular.

    Children love stories. And they are right, because stories is what make up knowledge. Even in mathematics, theories rise from systematizing stories (what is called “examples”). So one should teach children the stories, namely history.

    From history, one can gather the relativism of human certainties.

    Americans will say: we have no history, just two centuries. Not true: first, it’s four centuries, not two.

    Second, the USA is a colony, a mix of Dutch, English and other Western European powers, all united way back by the Imperium Romanum and Imperium Francorum. In particular, at least 13 centuries of French history can be, and ought to be, viewed as where the USA comes from, so part of USA history. As my spouse just pointed out:”I always said that American history is just a blip of European history”. My spouse is sometimes even more blunt than me.

    French children study history from the age of 6 (six!) until the age of 18. Twelve years. The all too Wall Streetized, stealth plutocratic Sarkozy has proposed to make history elective for the last two years in scientific sections, to great screaming…

    Anyway, if Americans want to learn the world, and they may need to, let them start with how the world started, and that was in history.


  2. We should question the very premise of government schools, that education is something which must be force-fed according to a government recipe. Children enjoy learning before they enter school; there is no need to coerce children to be curious about everything. Government schools, judging by the actual outcomes, actually stamp out the desire to explore and learn.

    Any “history” or “economics” taught in government schools tends to be watered down and slanted to promote the government, to gloss over the failures of government, to repaint them as if they were great successes.

    Schools as they exist today are, for the most part, horribly inefficient. Home educators have discovered this; their children score 30 percentile points above government-educated peers. Home education also greatly shrinks the “socioeconomic gap,” which is why growing numbers of minorities are fleeing government schools.


  3. To highlight just how bad government schools are compared to genuinely free (free as in liberty) schools, consider this: my grandson, now 8 years old, has mastered negative numbers, fractions, decimals, cryptography, powers and roots, binary arithmetic, and is now studying algebra. Government schools, even “gifted” classes, cannot keep up with his interest in math.

    There are ten-year old home-educated students attending college; a 14 year old boy was admitted to Cambridge, the youngest entrant for 200 years; both he and the previous student to have that honor were home-schooled.


  4. My first concern about our government school system? That it’s a government controlled school system. This is *never* ever a good thing.

    My second concern about our government school is the fact it is directly modeled after the Prussian education model, which was designed specifically to “education to the State, education for the State, education by the State … The state is the supreme end in view” (Franz de Hovre) which “must fashion the person, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will.” (Johann Fichte)

    It’s really no secret why Americans in large have conceded their rights to freedom to government control. They were indoctinated to do so from 1st grade.


  5. Education is the friut of the tree of the knowlege of good and evil. We are born innocent. From the time we can grasp words and symbols we are force fed good, bad, beauty and ugly. Lost innocence. The story of Adam and Eve isnt about those two individuals alone, it is about all of US. The first lie is that we are Born with original sin. We are not born with it. It is forced upon us to leave us with the life long search for the return to our lost innocence. Instead we face a life of incrimination, guilt self loathing et. all. The masters have overcome the Lie that binds us to this world of illusion, self sustained by belief in lies and false faith. It isnt easy to wake up from this fallen state of mind and that is what education is by this time subconciously structured to prevent. When one gets a glimpse of innocence as an adult, there are no words to describe it, if you try you sound like a mad person and could be put away. That is why the Masters use parables. Most of which slips through the seive of lie based belief. Reality based innocence can be uncomfortable, unfamiliar and seem too good to be true, so we seek shelter in our comfort zone built by the illusions of accepted lies.


  6. I find this topic immensely interesting. I myself was homeschooled from birth through 9th grade, and then from 10th grade on I went to a small private international school overseas with a focus on thinking and enjoying learning. When I came back to America for University it was the first time I had actually attended school in this country, even though I am an American and lived here until I was 15.

    I love my University, but as a freshman I was shocked at the level of ignorance and basic inabilities most of my classmates displayed. Most had never learned to write an essay until they got to college, so the University has to spend the first year just catching students up to college standards. Personally I had started writing research papers in middle school, so I got 100 on all of my writing assignments in these introductory writing courses. All the other basic introductory courses were multiple choice tests, a format that was completely alien to me. I had always been taught to learn information so as to be able to have a logical and educated discourse about it, but for multiple choice tests this was completely inappropriate. I had to learn how to memorize disjointed facts and focus on individual bits of information with no regard for thinking.

    Once I was done with these introductory courses I was able to dig into the “real” classes in which I got to participate in the class, write essays for assignments and have input on what I wanted to learn for the semester.

    The difference was night and day for my grades, because I never could get used to the strange multiple choice format which my classmates loved. Many students claim that they can make A’s on tests like these without studying, simply by guessing. Any time we would have an essay test they groaned because it meant that they’d actually have to study. After the first semester I resigned myself to getting B’s because I wanted to actually try and learn the information for more than just one semester.

    I do feel that I learned a lot in University, but a lot of it was because I wanted to learn and went beyond the requirements of the class. I think that a lot of Americans do come out of college with a better ability to think for themselves, but this depends largely on what University they choose. For the most part a private University seems to offer a lot more in terms of smaller class sizes, which definitely makes an impact on whether or not students will be challenged to think in a particular class.

    That gets back to why homeschooling is such a good model. The more personal attention you get as a student, the less you can fake your way through and you will be challenged personally to do your best and to think hard. It works from pre-K all the way through University.


  7. I have always though there should be a complete course in schools entitled “Identifying bullshit”. You could present the kids with a speech or political or business text which made various claims and work on analysing these to see if they stacked up. I absolutely LOVE logic, but miss its application in so much of what goes on. Just one example. IF GW is slowly destroying the planet because of excessive emissions of CO2 THEN we must REDUCE these, since presumably we do not WANT to destroy the planet (and of course ourselves). BUT, Man is vastly INCREASING them, not reducing them. This is ILLOGICAL!!!!!

    Same applies to advertising. How is it that advertisers can convince people that they, too can be like David Beckham just by spending severasl hundred dollars on a watch he wears? Same with perfumes and stuff. It is all TOTAL NONSENSE and ILLOGICAL, yet people FALL for it!! No WONDER they believe politicians ……

    No, we must have a “Spot the bullshit through the application of logic” course.


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