DSM: Schooling and Social Problems

Joseph Moore (joseph@ivorycc.com)
Mon, 4 Oct 1999 14:54:20 -0700

The relationship between schooling and social problems is a critical issue
in these discussions of late. A little historical background: (and thanks to
Scott, who turned me on to the book "Schooled to Order" in which you can
read about much of the following)

>From its beginnings in the early 1800s, state controlled schooling has been
promoted primarily as a solution to social problems, and only secondarily
(if at all) as a way to teach kids the 3 Rs. In the 1840s, the big social
problems in New England (where this whole public school thing got started)
were the upheavals caused by factories displacing craftswork, and by the
Irish immigration.

New England farmers relied on crafts to augment their income. The factories
produced goods that competed with the craftswork, thereby putting the more
marginal farmers out of business. (While a tragedy for the farmers, their
reduction to poverty was OK with the factory owners - they could always use
the cheap labor.)

Social Problem #1: What are we going to do about the failed farmers?

Over the next few decades, the Irish Potato Famine drove thousands of Irish
peasants farmers to America, many to Boston. (The factory owners pocketed
the silver lining to this tragedy - supply and demand dictates that, if the
supply of workers goes up, the price you have to pay for them goes down.)

Social Problem #2: The Irish were discontent with starvation-level wages,
where in many cases, every able-bodied adult and all children over the age
of 6 had to work in the factories or scrubbing floors just to get by. Also,
if they could possibly afford it, they kept their kids out of the factories,
even if it meant letting them roam the streets.

Before you can even ask about solving these problems, you have to define
them - this is where the people who own publishers and such, or buy the ads,
have a tremendous advantage over the rest of us. In both cases, the problem
was defined as a moral deficiency in the poor (!) so that those lazy farmers
and stupid, pope-worshiping Irish needed a firm, morally upright hand to
turn them from their lazy, ignorant ways.

Now, you or I might think: The farmers are in a tough spot - what might help
them make a little extra money so that they don't loose the farm? Can they
work part-time in town, or find other handwork, or?? And we might think:
there's nothing wrong with the Irish that raising their wages wouldn't fix.

But, as the fortunes of most of the New England blue-bloods (where many of
our Presidents come from) were being built on the blood and bodies of
displaced farmers and immigrants, any idea that the rich were causing the
social problems stood no chance of getting a hearing. Any who suggested this
were vilified without mercy.

Instead: We got schools! Where upright Calvinists would teach the Protestant
work ethic to ignorant, superstitious immigrants and the children of
shiftless farmers, and instill in them the idea that, if you have lots of
stuff, God loves you, but if you're poor - and especially Catholic - you are
obviously morally deficient. And we got the police to make sure the Irish
attended, even though what they were subjected to in school was little more
than bigoted harangues. So much for the 3 Rs.

Like all politicians and other salesmen, the education reformers look for
something scary with which to compel the public to go along with their grand
plans. They define all social problems as within the realm of education -
it's lack of money and the presence of medieval restrictions (such as local
oversight by school boards with real power) that have caused these problems,
and with enough money and a free enough hand, the educators can solve them

On the contrary, I say that mandatory state education will solve no social
problems, and has created any number (hey - think being alternately judged
and bored to tears, micro-managed and ignored and having to get permission
to use the restroom for 13 years might damage your self esteem?). State
education is a Trojan horse. We have to look at social problems some other

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