Why Public Schools are “Old School”

Parents choose homeschooling for many different reasons, but one common reason is that they’re unhappy with their local public school, or with public education in general.

Here’s a question to think about. What is the purpose of public school? Most people would answer that it’s where children get an education so that they graduate prepared to go out into the world on their own and support themselves.

Let’s take a look at what children experience in school on a daily basis:

  • They have to be there at an official starting time.
  • (If they don’t show up, they’ll have to explain their absence and might be penalized if they don’t have a good enough excuse.)
  • They’re to go to a certain room where they’ll depend on the teacher to give them their work.
  • They’re told what kind of work they’ll do; most of the time, they cannot choose what they want to do.
  • They cannot get up and leave the room; they have to stay put until an official release time.
  • They have to ask permission to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water; if they do either of these things too many times, they’ll be reprimanded.
  • They’re expected to stay in their seat and not wander around.
  • They’re regularly assessed by the teacher, who rewards those with good reports and penalizes those with bad reports.
  • They can’t eat until the prescribed meal time.
  • They can’t take a break whenever they need it; they have to wait until recess or lunchtime.
  • When they finish their work, they have to wait for the teacher to give them something new to work on.
  • They can’t go home until the bell rings.

Schools aren’t the only place where you’ll find this kind of environment. There’s another place where the daily routine is almost identical. Rereading that list (this time replacing the word “teacher” with the word “boss”) makes it clear that the school experience is designed to replicate the experience of the workplace; that is, the workplace that was common during the 20th century. Children in school were and are trained to be “good workers”: to get to work on time, to do what the boss says, and to accept the lack of autonomy inherent in the traditional hierarchical work environment. They experience this indoctrination for the bulk of childhood; thus it will be hard for today’s children to shake off their school-induced dependence on authority once they have to make it on their own in a world where all the rules have changed, and where self-sufficiency is back in style out of necessity.

(Excerpted from my book Thriving in the 21st Century: Preparing our Children for the New Economic Reality.)

2 thoughts on “Why Public Schools are “Old School”

  1. I guess early public schools did prepare the children of working class parents for working class careers. However, a more pressing need seen at the time was training Catholic children to be good Protestants, immigrant children to be good Americans, etc. Indoctrination in religion and politics/citizenship have always been a bigger priority than laborforce preparation.

  2. Jenny, I agree with you that there’s indoctrination going on in today’s public schools, but certainly not of a religious nature. And clearly kids are still being prepared for 20th century work, but that’s not what we need anymore. Thanks for weighing in!

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