I would like to introduce you to William Torrey Harris. David H. Albert, author of Homeschooling and the Voyage of Self-Discovery calls him "the individual who is probably single-most responsible for the standardization of American Education." Harris was the U.S. Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906.
This "interview" is adapted from the Philosophy of Education, published by Harris while he was the Commissioner.
Me: Mr. Harris- Many people see a connection between establishing the appropriate school environment and student performance. How should American schools be set up to achieve the purpose you have defined for them?
Mr. Harris: "The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places."
Me: And what is that purpose?
Harris: "It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. Schools should develop the power to withdraw from the external world."
Me: I'm not sure I understand the benefits of withdrawing from the external world. Creating an artificial environment, isolated from reality seems to set itself against meaningful learning. How would you describe the students that emerge from this environment?
Harris: "Ninety-nine (students) out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom."
Me: So schools turn out good little citizens. Obedient to leaders. Unquestioning of social policy. Content to do what everyone else is doing without rocking the boat. Is that what you believe education is for?
Harris: "This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual."
Me: So you wish to eliminate the uniqueness of students. Eliminate their individual strengths. Perhaps even dumb classes down to teach to the lowest common denominator. Turning now to another source of online info, not necessarily the most reliable, here is Wikkipedia. What information do you have about William Harris and his effect on education?
Wikkipedia: "Throughout time, his influence has been only momentarily recognized, disregarded and misunderstood by historians. Harris’ extreme emphasis on discipline has become the most glaring misrepresentation of his philosophy."
Me: So you believe Harris has been misunderstood and maligned by his detractors. Yet you provide no supporting quotes to substantiate this claim.
Wikkipedia: "On the surface it seems that Harris is a proponent of self-alienation in order to better serve the great industrial nation of America. In fact, it can be found that quite the opposite is true of Harris when you are able to go beyond the surface of his educational philosophy.
Me: Without any quotes by him to support that claim, what do you know about Harris?
Wikkipedia: Harris, a devout Christian, is quite concerned with the development of morality and discipline within the individual.
Me: The discipline of a dark, airless, and ugly place. That kind of stark and austere environment sounds rather bleak doesn't it?
Wikkipedia: Harris believed those values could systematically be instilled into the pupils, promoting common goals and social cooperation, with a strong sense of respect for and responsibility towards one’s society.
Me: Wouldn't it be better to teach young minds how to think and reason for themselves? To eliminate mysticism and irrational beliefs? To instill a love of discovery and a life long pursuit of knowledge? What is so important about "common goals"? Why should people want the same things? And I get the heebie-jeebies when people start talking about "social cooperation".