The True Purpose of Compulsory Education in American Schools Connie Nollner University of Alaska Anchorage Presented to Victoria Sansome In partial fulfillment of the requirements For ENGL A111 Abstract John Gatto, a school teacher in the Manhattan area, taught for thirty years at a variety of different schools. During these years, he realized that children were frequently bored with classroom activities as a result of how they were being taught. Students were not being challenged and often already knew the concepts behind the materials taught.
Jean Anyon further supports and agrees with Gatto’s statements about the public school system.
In her article, she specifies that schools in wealthy communities are far better than those of poorer communities, and they better prepare children for desirable jobs. Anyon concluded these finding by investigating schools in four different social classes, ranging from working class to executive elite schools. The purpose of education in American schools is to prepare children for a specific career, teaching students lifelong values, discipline, and to explore new ideas and to think independently; in other words, education helps to build good citizens.
However, as argued by Jean Anyon (Anyon, J. , 1980) and John Taylor Gatto (Gatto, J. , 2003) in their articles, this is far from the truth. Jean Anyon confirms this by conducting an investigation of the education in different social classes while John Taylor Gatto uses his experience as a teacher. The two authors expressed similar opinions of the outcomes of American schools. Anyon and Gatto both found that in America, the method and extent to which students are educated is entirely based on their social class.
In Anyon’s article, “From Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work,” (Anyon, 1980) she specifies that there is no question that schools in wealthy communities are better than those of poorer communities, and that they prepare children for desirable jobs. Gatto’s text, “Against Schools” (Gatto, 2003) examines the modern purposes of compulsory schools. He breaks down these purposes and describes his own opinions of the six basic that functions author Alexander Inglis (1918), had listed as what actually comprised the true purpose of school in his article “Principals of Secondary Education. Gatto views these functions as ridiculous and a way of crippling our children by preventing critical judgment, making children as alike as possible, and determining the social role of students and only training them within that role. This is meant to improve the “favorite race,” and to target the unfit as a weakness in society. John Gatto, a school teacher in the Manhattan area, taught for thirty years at a variety of different schools. During these years, he realized that children were frequently bored with classroom activities as a result of how they were being taught.
Students were not being challenged and often already knew the concepts behind the materials taught. However, the teachers were typically bored also because the children were frequently rude and attentive to their grades only, rather than showing any interest in learning itself.. The question is who is to blame? In searching for possible causes of this problem Gatto examined the modern purposes of compulsory education. In his article, he breaks down these purposes and describes his own opinions of the six basic functions that “Principals of Secondary Education” (Inglis, A. , 1918) had listed as the building blocks of the purpose of school.
As described by Ingles (1918), the six basic functions are the adjustive or adaptive, the integrating, the diagnostic and directive, the differentiating, the selective, and the propaedeutic functions. These functions were adopted from the Prussian culture, and were a prearranged strategy for creating a barrier designed to prevent the underclass from advancing. The purpose of compulsory education is to ensure that students’ intellects are mediocre, to prevent children from mentally developing, to deny them leadership skills, and last but not least to ensure obedient and inadequate citizens.
In other words, compulsory education is designed to keep the majority of the population in the lower class by making children “manageable. ” Students are separated out according to intellectual abilities, social class, and even by the Darwinian theory of “the favorite race. ” The children are then further sorted based on subject, grades, ranking on tests, or by other means, allowing schools to control who will advance or stay behind. Compulsory education is intended to prevent children from ever truly growing up or seeking their potential in life.
The outcome of this is that they are not advancing to become complete adults in our society. As Dr. Inglis said “if children could be cloistered with other children, stripped of responsibility and independence, encouraged to develop only the trivializing emotions of greed, envy, jealousy, and fear, they would grow older but never truly grow up. ” (Inglis, A. , 1918) The first of the six purposes, the adjustive or adaptive function, is used to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. Gatto feels this is directly connected to why children are frequently bored in school.
He claims that this prevents critical thinking altogether and does away with the idea that useful and interesting subjects should be taught because as he states, “you can’t test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things. ” (Gatto, 2003) The second purpose of compulsory education is the integrating function, which is by nature absurd. He states that the second function should be considered a “conformity function” because the intention is to make the children all become more alike one another as opposed to developing as individuals.
The third function, diagnostic and directive, is directed towards finding each child’s proper social role and specifically training them only within their predetermined role. This approach is absurd for it means that children of working class have little chance of ever truly succeeding in life because, based on this function, they will only be trained for positions in the low-status working class. Fourth is the selective function, which Gatto relates to Darwin’s Theory of the “favorite race. The purpose is to improve the breeding stock, particularly of the white race, and to allow only the best to advance to higher roles in society. Primarily this purpose is meant to zero in on what Gatto refers to as “the unfit” by labeling them with poor grades, holding them back a grade, or other punishments. Finally, the fifth function is the propaedeutic function, which focuses on having chosen ones that will excel to learn management and leadership skills, unlike the others, and rein over the oppressed students.
Unfortunately, these six basic functions form the purpose of mandatory public education in the United States. Gatto claims not only is it the intention to dumb down the lower classes and divide them from one another but, compulsory education is also in the interest of management, and economic or politics. As Woodrow Wilson stated, “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and want another class of persons, a very much larger, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks. (Wilson, W. , 1909) Compulsory school imprints children with fear by teaching that everything is difficult and that other people runs their lives. Jean Anyon further supports and agrees with Gatto’s statements about the public school system. In her article, she specifies that schools in wealthy communities are far better than those of poorer communities, and they better prepare children for desirable jobs. Anyon concluded these finding by investigating schools in four different social classes, ranging from working class to executive elite schools.
Although it has been argued in the past that schools are taught according to class, nothing was done to prove these claims prior to Anyon’s investigation. Through her study, Anyon revealed that these arguments were indeed correct. As scholars in political economy and the sociology of knowledge point out, the education for upper class children teaches them to become doctors or corporate managers, but this level of education is denied to the working class, where students receive a more “practical” education.
Working class schools consist of parents with blue collar jobs, their income range is at or below $12,000 a year. Their education is mechanical and involves restricted choices and decision making. The middle class schools are in areas of $13,000 to $25,000 a year. Their education involves getting the right answer and the students who earn enough right answers receive good grades. Unlike the working class, they are entitled to some limited decision and choice making. An affluent professional school includes parents with annual income of $40,000 to $80,000.
Their education comprises of creative work and independency, in which they are asked to express their ideas and apply critical thinking to their materials. Lastly, the executive elite schools are where the majority of the parents’ income is over $100,000 a year. Their education involves developing their analytical intellectual powers to prepare them to excel and achieve in life. The teaching methods for each social class are vastly different. For example, the working class education involves a large amount of mechanical work. Students are required to copy the steps for assignments which are written on the board.
This requires them to do no critical thinking of their own but rather forces them to just memorize lists of steps from the board. The teachers show no respect and treat the students like children whereas the upper classes treat them like young adults. They frequently control the classroom by shouting, “Shut your mouth,” or “Why are you out of your seat??!! ” (Gatto, 2003) The children are simply not challenged in their studies, leading to boredom in the classroom; this is directly linked to Gatto’s explanation of the adjustive or adaptive function, which is used to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority.
The teachers intentionally keep the children bored in their classroom activities by requiring them to repeatedly copy notes and demanding orders, so later in their adulthood, when they are fitted for working class jobs, they are already conditioned to following steps and orders. The middle class is only a small step up from the working class; however, it does involve some choice and decision making. The classroom exercises involve getting the right answer which requires the students to figure out solution to the problems given to them.
Unlike in working class schools, textbooks are used but only as tools to complete the steps of the assignments. This usually doesn’t involve any critical thinking on the subject. Again, children are not challenged which leads directly to boredom in these schools. The working class and middle class schools are both designed to ensure these student remain manageable and separated from the upper class. Since the affluent professional schools are in the higher social class bracket, the children are challenged in classroom activities which consist of creative work, problem solving and independent thinking.
The teachers require the children to express their own ideas and concepts, and apply concepts learned in class to make sense of reality. Last but not least, are the executive elite schools, where the main focus is on developing the children’s intellectual powers. Since both affluent professional and executive elite schools are consist of predominantly white students, this further supports Gatto’s explanation of the selective function and propaedeutic function, which focuses on improving the breeding stock and having these children become chosen ones, a small group of elite that will excel to learn management and leadership skills.
Anyon and Gatto both found that in America the method and extent to which students are educated is entirely based on their social class and displayed similar opinions of the outcome of children’s success. In Anyon investigations, she found that the working and middle class schools are simply not challenged and are frequently bored in class. This falls under the adjustive and adaptive function of modern compulsory schools which prevents critical thinking and eliminates the teaching of useful and interesting subjects, as described in Gatto’s article.
Anyon’s finding proves Gatto’s explanation in regards to ensuring the lower class remains manageable under the school systems’ control. The outcome of this is that it makes sure these children are put in the position of less desirable jobs, such as laborers, janitors, etc. , whereas schools in two upper-classes, the affluent and elite, are designed to do the exact opposite. These schools prepare students for more desirable jobs including positions as corporate executives, doctors, lawyers, etc. These upper-classes fall under Gatto’s explanation of the selective and propaedeutic functions of compulsory schools.
These functions are designed to improve the breeding stock by training them to excel in life. Gatto views these functions as ridiculous and a way of crippling our children by preventing critical judgment, making children as alike as possible, and only training students to fills role in the social class that they born into. Anyon further backs up these claims through her investigation of schools in the different levels of social classes that the schools in the wealthy communities are far better than those in the poorer communities.
Overall, while the American schools system may claim to prepare children for successful careers, the true intention behind compulsory education is to train children that they belong to a certain class, and to not question authority. Gatto and Anyon both agree that the method and extent to which students are educated is entirely based on their social class. The outcome of this is that the public school system better serves the upper-class by providing them with the best education possible, whereas the lower class remains held back with a more practical curriculum.
Gatto claims this system is set up to prevent children from mentally developing, deny them leadership skills, and create obedient and inadequate citizens. This results in teaching our children to surrender their judgment by giving them no choices, and to make certain that they don’t advance in society; in other words, it makes certain the children remain children. In Anyon’s article, she specifies that there is no question that schools in wealthy communities are better than those of poorer communities, and that they better prepare children for desirable jobs.
The education for upper class children teaches them to become doctors or corporate managers, but this level of education is denied to the working class, where students are trained to be laborer, janitors, etc. American compulsory education claims to help build good citizens but the real intention is to ensure children don’t advance in society but rather remain trapped in the social class of their birth. Works Cited Anyon, Jean. “From Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work. ” Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work (Journal of Education, 1980) Gatto, John Taylor. Against school: how public education cripples our kids, and why. ” Harper’s Magazine Sept. 2003: 33+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. Inglis, Alexander “Principles of Secondary Education” The School Review, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Mar. , 1918), pp. 225-226 Published by: The University of Chicago Press[->0] Article Stable Woodrow, Wilson “The Meaning of a Liberal Education” High School Teachers Association of New York, Volume 3, 1908-1909, pp. 19-31 and Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 18:593-606 [->0] – http://www. jstor. org. proxy. consortiumlibrary. org/action/showPublisher? publisherCode=ucpress
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