Our Prussian model of public schooling; controlling the masses

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.

OPINION – It’s curious how whenever someone questions the government-run school system; they will almost certainly be accused of opposing education itself.  This is one reason why each legislative session, state legislators find themselves under tremendous pressure to properly fund and cater to the public education establishment. In most counties, as in Washington County, Utah, the largest employers are the public school districts. This translates into political power and those in power typically don’t appreciate being questioned.

Clearly, many people consider the public education system to be a sacred cow of sorts. But almost none have any concept of the origins, the history, or the goals of public education in America. Few Americans understand that our government-controlled school system was founded upon authoritarian ambitions.

State-directed schools find their roots in the Prussian schools of the early 19th Century. In the 1840s, Horace Mann, then secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, traveled to Europe to study the Prussian model of public education. He was seeking a way to change what he deemed the “unruly” (meaning independent) children into disciplined citizens.

To that end, the Prussian educational system sought to take education out of the hands of family and church with five key goals in mind. It was to create:

  1. Obedient workers for the mines.
  2. Obedient soldiers for the army.
  3. Well-subordinated civil servants to government.
  4. Well-subordinated clerks to industry.
  5. Citizens who thought alike about major issues.

The reasoning behind such a system is easy to understand, since independently educated masses could not be always counted on to submit to their government’s objectives. Tyrants like Prussia’s Frederick William I and France’s Napoleon each used this system to build a powerful, controlling state apparatus. Other despots followed in their footsteps.

Educator John Taylor Gatto’s book, “The Underground History of American Education,” describes how the system came to America:

“A small number of passionate ideological leaders visited Prussia in the first half of the 19th Century, fell in love with the order, obedience, and efficiency of its educational system and campaigned relentlessly thereafter to bring the Prussian vision to our shores. To do that, children would have to be removed from their parents and inappropriate cultural influences.”

The next step was to sell the new system to the American public in the name of equality by convincing each respective state to adopt a compulsory government school system to ensure a uniform education for the masses. The primary goals of this system were not intellectual training but rather conditioning the students for obedience, subordination and collective life.

With this bit of historical perspective regarding the origins and stated intentions of public education, it’s much easier to understand why a “free education for all children in public schools” was a key plank of Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

To this day, the defenders of state-sponsored education insist that it was implemented at the request of the American people. But this was not necessarily the case.

Sheldon Richman, of the Future of Freedom Foundation, explains it this way:

”Many of us grow up believing that government reflects the will of the people. But skeptics know better. Government has assumed more and more control over private life not because the people demanded it, but because power-seekers and privilege-seekers sought outlets for their ambitions. They then propagandized the public until a sufficient number of people came to believe government control was good for them.”

As writer Karen DeCoster points out, “What is most disquieting about the public education mindset is that those who believe most strongly in it are convinced that there are “no other” noble alternatives, and that the alternatives that do exist are merely a hindrance to the only real education, that which is provided via the public domain.”

It cannot be said often enough that the government school system is filled with hard-working, ethical, and highly inspiring educators who change lives for the better. That they are able to do this within a system founded upon authoritarian intentions makes their efforts all the more admirable. The problem with government-run education is the system itself, not the people who work for it.

No people can remain free without being truly educated, but that’s not the same thing as having mere uniformity of thought.

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twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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  • Allen L. March 14, 2012 at 10:50 am

    As specialization and industrial production took hold of our people and really did help us materially spring forward, few could see the demands this shift would require of the people and their posterity.

    Even today its hard to see our way around it. Still there are huge swaths of our society starting to choose out of it. As this becomes more widespread we need to not swing the pendulum too far back, but rather build on the past. Right now unfortunately that has taken the form of a sort of global economic feudalism. This allows us to live more materially at ease but in this context our school system it is left with no foundation or purpose.

    Its been interesting to see the schools subsequently deal with the turbulent pressures caused by this new vacuum, trying to find their place and failing miserably. They/we are left with the arts (mostly abstract), the authoritarian purposes mentioned above, and what is left of the lower working class system it engendered and maintains. If the family can take responsibility becoming sustainable education will seem to better fit with them again. It seems the families outlet and our best solution is rooted in entrepreneurship.

  • Robert Wilkes March 14, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Interesting article. Perhaps the author would have benefitted from a state sponsored class on logic and reasoning. It does not follow that because a system is based on one with authoritarian motives that there is an inevitable or fatal flaw in that system. If that were the case you could use this same line of reasoning to discount our constitution and virtually any aspect of modern civilization. (as all ultimately have their roots in other models of governance and civilization that could be viewed in a negative light). The fact remains that our system of public education has been incredibly successful and is the model used by most of the civilized world. Of course it can improve and there are changes to be made. However, that being said, I fail to see how this distorted illogical attack brings any real value to an intelligent discussion on education. Instead this article appears as a politically motivated attempt to smear the foundations of any state run program. Very poorly done.

    • Anne Bancolita November 27, 2012 at 1:15 am

      How do you measure the success of the system or any education system? What does being used by most of the civilized world LOGICALLY imply about the Prussian or American education model?

      In our case, we did not seek or ask for the American education model, it was “forced” into our system when we were colonized by the US.

    • Ebeneezer Schopenhauer January 31, 2013 at 4:33 am

      Robert, state sponsored classes on logic and reasoning are extremely rare in our “incredibly successful” compulsory schooling system. Hard to take you seriously as champion of reasoning when your critique starts out on the wrong foot in that rather ironic way.

    • SWIM February 23, 2014 at 10:43 am

      Your argument lacks logic and reasoning. From my standpoint you are completely brainwashed/insane to believe any of what this pro-Marxism ROBERT WILKES is saying, don’t buy this government funded lie about our education it is misinformation like this that our education system feeds us daily! Let’s get free, educate from within.

  • Anne Bancolita November 27, 2012 at 12:58 am

    After heaving read a few chapters of Kiyosaki’s The Business of the 21st Century, I googled for some info about the Prussian system of education. The system was mentioned in the book. To it the popular mindset that works against entrepreneurship is partly attributed.

    Even before I had come across this article, I was already forming this hypothesis about the system being “susceptible” (to put it objectively or a little less abrasive) to exploit or manipulation by authoritarians, communists or socialists, and even champions of democracy…. It depends on who is holding the reigns when, where and how. This “who” can exert significant influence on what “kind” of thought to promote in schools. Maybe, the system won’t even matter so long as that “who” (government, church, or family) has the upper hand concerning the resources that support the operation of any education system. After all, education in whichever form or provided through any system is an objective tool. And school is just one of the many sources of education. Though it provides “formal” education, it does not and cannot provide TOTAL or COMPLETE education.

    But reading your article should at the least remind parents not to leave the whole responsibility of education to schools, and move every citizen to get actively involved in choosing which kind of education system, as well as teachings, his government adopts and supports. This should especially be the case for people who elect a popular, liberal and democratic government.

  • Roy J November 27, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    There were a few goals listed for one of the above methods of education (the Prussian, one), all of which goals are servile. So if you apply that method and you end up with servants according to those types, hooray! you win.
    But I want to believe that you have to have meant something else by incredibly successful…so I am asking you what are specifically the goals of our own public education system that are being everywhere achieved in our own country and the rest of the civilized world?

    @Anna: I believe you measure the success of a system by whether or not it achieves its purpose. If it doesn’t, the system is probably not a success. I suppose after that you could study the different ways and grades of system failure, and call that learning from experience.

    • Anne Bancolita November 28, 2012 at 8:45 am

      Thanks. I do know that we measure success against set goals (RBM principle).

      What I am interested in posing the question are the goals the American education system Robert thinks the US has achieved to the extent that merits his valuation thereof of “incredibly successful.” The very object of your question for him.

  • Buster November 28, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Bryan, what exactly are you arguing FOR? Or AGAINST? Are you saying Washington County schools are trying to mold servile masses they can then control? Where is your supporting evidence for this? I see a lot of innuendo here, but no facts to back up your assertions.

    As for the idea of public schools in general, do you disagree with the (paraphrased) statement, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people” (Thomas Jefferson)?

    In my opinion, if we are to survive as a community and a country, we must have some shared base of knowledge via which we can communicate. After all, without a grounding in mathematics, science, literature, history and philosophy, how will new entrepreneurs be born?

  • Chuck Shithouse March 20, 2013 at 10:31 am

    TV is the icing on the freedumb cake.

  • SelfEducated April 7, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Brilliant article!! Thank God more and more people are starting to wake up. We also need freedom in education at the college level, Instead of requiring specific classes to earn a degree, students should be allowed to choose ALL of their classes to earn a degree; a “Build Your Own Degree,” if you will. A specific number of credits could be required, but beyond that, it should all be the student’s choice. Australia only requires a Math major to take Math classes to earn a Math degree (instead of requiring Art History and English, something that has nothing to do with Math, to earn a Math degree). Also, in the internet age, education should be affordable for everyone (our student loan debt in the US is over $1 trillion proving most Americans can’t afford education-the key words being LOAN and DEBT). If the current system works for some, they should keep it. If it doesn’t work for others, others should have a choice. Every person should choose what works for them. One size does not fit all in anything in life. Does Utah allow choice in education? If so, I am packing my bags and moving there.

  • 76! April 29, 2013 at 10:06 am

    School Suxs: The American Way (Video)

    Don’t let the title fool you. This video is actually about how government-run schooling contributed to the rise of socialism, imperialism and eventually fascism in Germany between the 1890s and 1940s. Critical Thinking Question: In school we are led to believe that we are all living in an ideal vision of what society should be…But whose vision is it? And what were their ideals?


  • Peter Olsen May 18, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    One of the reasons the Prussia won the Franco-Prussian was that all soldiers who had graduated from the Prussian public-school system could be counted on to read and obey written orders. So, Reservists from one part of the Kingdom could be relied on to reach units in another part with a minimum of supervision. The French didn’t have such a uniform system of education and some of their soldiers could not read. So, the French had to move their troops in groups, each under the charge of an officer. This made their mobilization much slower than that of the Prussians. This was one of the factors in the Prussian victory.

    One of the reasons that we won the Second World War was exactly the same.

    I have nothing against private schools (my sons graduated from one) or home schools, provided that those schools graduate their students with at least a uniform minimum standard of education. Of course public school graduates should meet the same standard. Recently heard a woman on a call-in radio show saying how pro

    The problem is assessing the graduates. Recently heard a woman on a call-in radio show saying how proud she was to be home-schooling her children even though she’d never graduated from high-school herself. I would want to see some solid evidence before I accepted her children as “educated.”

    One way might be a set of comprehensive examinations to be taken by all aspirants for a diploma, public and private. (Think of them as like the Wizarding Exams in Harry Potter.) Results might be “First,” “Second,” and “Third” depending on relative score.

    Finally, if you think I’m prejudiced against home schooling, you’re right. I’ve had a superb education, all the way to the engineering equivalent of an MD and a War College Diploma, but I would see home-schooling as a challenge. Finally, this challenge is compounded the mind-numbing errors of some of the popular home-schooling curricula.

    • Bryan Hyde May 18, 2013 at 9:17 pm

      I like how Russell Kirk defended real education vs. the state-sponsored schooling we mistakenly refer to as “education.”
      “The primary purpose of a liberal education, then, is the cultivation of the person’s own intellect and imagination, for the person’s own sake. It ought not be forgotten, in this mass-age when the state aspired to be all in all, that genuine education is something higher than an instrument of public policy. True education is meant to develop the individual human being, the person, rather than to serve the state.”
      Russell Kirk

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