Man has educated his young since the beginning of time. It is simply what we humans do. We inherit our nature just like dogs and cats, but unlike dogs and cats, part of our nature is to pass on what we know or remember to our offspring that they might survive and prosper in a world of danger, want, and decay. For example, an infant may instinctively ‘latch on’ just as a dog may lick itself, but eventually the baby will also learn to speak from others, as well as how to make a fire or use the wheel.
The two questions for all men in all times are what to teach the young and how. In our age this means first and foremost that beginning at about five years old we subject our young to a thirteen-year regimen of study directed by professional teachers. The details will vary from state to state but the state will by and large dictate the terms, and to educate along this pattern is more or less compulsory.
It should be pointed out that this pattern of mass and compulsory education over the bulk of childhood and youth is only something like 150 years old here in America, a very short segment on the timeline of human history.
Now, prior to 1500 man had gathered and passed on a remarkable amount of information that we still enjoy today, relatively little having been lost. But since then our knowledge of all that is has been expanding like a mushroom cloud. And part of this information expansion is our ability to access it almost instantly via computers and the internet today.
My question is, after 150 years can we say that the thirteen-year K-12 regimen that we have put our young through for generations has been an effective transmitter of the accumulated knowledge of man?
For some it has been, but is it possible, just maybe, that what we take for granted today as the way to educate our young is not only a soul-crushing waste of time for many, but in regards to transmitting knowledge, has been next to useless for more than a few.
So, to gauge just how effective this extremely expensive, time-consuming, culture-shaping institution is at teaching, I offer the following test to all 17 and 18 year olds, whether or not they have graduated, but who have at least completed 8th grade.
Name one part of speech.
Who is far and away considered the greatest English language author of all time?
What is far and away the most influential book ever translated into English?
In your own words, what do BC and AD mean? More or less. Just get close.
Put the following people in chronological order: King David, Hannibal, Jesus, Alfred the Great, Henry VIII, George Washington
When was the American Civil War fought? Get within 25 years.
When was WWII fought? Get within ten years.
Name two of the Allied powers and one of the Axis powers that fought in WWII.
What global war was fought about twenty years before WWII?
Name three of the world’s oceans.
Name three of the world’s continents.
Name three countries in Africa. (There are over 50)
Which navigator came to America in 1492?
With pen and paper only, divide 728 by 52. There is no time limit.
With pen and paper only multiply 728 and 52. There is no time limit.
Write down in alphabetical order the first name of every member of your family and all of your closest friends. Nicknames are fine.
What is the name of the chart that lists all the chemicals?
Now, if you scored 100% do not pat yourself on the back because, as you now know, this test is extremely easy.
But, if you missed a single question above let’s assume you were momentarily distracted so we’ll pass you. No, we’ll let you miss two. Maybe you were thrown off by Hannibal. However if you missed three, you need to have an awakening, get a little angry, and then demand the state refund your childhood because your failure is no reflexion of your IQ but rather entirely the fault of a one size fits all, assembly line approach to mass education. If you failed, you have in fact been victimised. You were, after all just a few feet off the ground when you were put on the conveyor belt. You didn’t get up on it voluntarily and you cant be blamed for knowing so little after riding it for nine to thirteen years.
But if the system failed to transmit basic knowledge to you by the time you were 18, did it at least instil in you the awareness that the knowledge is available? Did it instil in you a curiosity about what is known? Did it equip you with the ability to seek it out in the course of your adult life?
But if it failed to instil intellectual curiosity and the ability to study, did it at least instil in you good values? Were your teachers by and large virtuous ladies and gentlemen who, via their instruction and examples, strove to instil in you virtue? Or in their defence, were they allowed to?
Do you even know what virtue is?
Note that I am not here criticising the idea of state-funded public education but rather the notion that this thirteen-year educational regimen that we established generations ago should be compulsory (at least past the eighth grade) or that it is the best option for educating all of our young. I am also challenging the idea that this system has in fact succeeded in its core mission of transmitting knowledge or has at least been instilling virtue in our young.
It didn’t instil virtue in the class of ’85, that is for dang sure!
Since long before I was born in 1966 public (and private) education was becoming what it is today — first and foremost an industrial babysitter. Something to occupy the children of an industrial age who are no longer needed on the farm and thus allow young women to remain in the work force during their childbearing and child-raising years. Secondly and most ominously, it has long since become a means for Progressive intellectual elites to indoctrinate America’s youth and thus radically transform our culture, or at least large segments of it.
Again, if you were able to pass this test do not pat yourself on the back. But if at 17 or 18 you failed, how will you be able to see yourself in the context of history or understand the broader currents that have shaped you and that are directing you now? You are a leaf floating on some stream. You are a cog in some wheel. You are a thing fit to clock in and clock out, and vote as you are told. You are that reed shaken by wind.
And you should be angry.
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PS This topic is personal for me. I am the victim of both public and private education designed along this one-size-fits-all formula. I learned the vast majority of what I needed to know by the time I finished 6th grade. 7th and 8th grade are tough years for both sexes but for me, school made these years nothing less than traumatic. My high school education was a joke, and a dirty joke at that. Broadly speaking this was not the fault of the dozen or dozens of teachers that I had growing up. They were a mixed bag of workers on an assembly line just trying to survive to the summer and then to their pension. I was simply not suited for what the system was trying to accomplish. I needed to be doing something else during these years. I needed to grow up on another path.
Many young Americans have prospered in this system, but many more did not. It is to them that I write.
PSS Just FYI, as a young man I adopted British orthography and the spelling conventions of Prof. James Kibler of the University of Georgia.