Education Is NOT the Same as Schooling

Release Date
April 19, 2013



Have you ever wondered why high school is the way it is? The modern school was invented by the Prussians in 1806. It was created to serve a particular purpose: to produce loyal, obedient subjects and soldiers and productive, obedient workers. Prior to this, education was delivered in many different ways. Understanding how the modern school came to be explains why schools are the way they are and why they have the features they have. For example, we can see why schools have a very hierarchical structure and break the day into rigid blocks of time.
Professor Steven Davies points out that many of the features of the modern school seem unnecessary, even counterproductive. Why, for example, should students of a similar age be placed together instead of students of similar ability and interest level?
The modern school also leads to some misconceptions about education. It gives the impression that education is necessary only at one stage of life, instead of being a lifelong endeavor. Professor Davies argues that school is not the same thing as education, and treating them the same gives us a radically impoverished understanding of what education should be. It is time to move away from the idea that school are the only, or even the best, way to  deliver education.

The Prussian Connection[article]: A history of American public schooling, detailing the Prussian origins of our current public school system
The Public School Nightmare [article]: John Taylor Gatto, a well-respected and successful public school teacher, argues for abolishing the public school system
Why I Send My Children to Public Schools [article]: A defense of the public school system and a call to uphold the current system
From Prussia to America: Public Schools Destroy Lives (video): The tyrannical nature of public schooling and its consequences
Is There a Crisis? [interview]: PBS interviews academic experts on the state of public education
The Origins of the Public School [article]: The ignoble origins of the American public school system

Education Is Not the Same as Schooling

Think back to your time in high school. Did you ever feel that you were in prison? Did you ever feel that you were in a machine that had its own purposes and goals and had no relation to what you actually wanted to do or achieve? If you did then you shouldn’t be surprised, because this reflects the nature of what the modern school is.
The modern school was invented by the Prussians after 1806. Before then, education was delivered in many different ways. What we think of as a school was invented in that particular time and place. And it was invented for a very particular purpose, which was to produce loyal, obedient subjects and soldiers and people who would also be productive and obedient workers. It’s this that explains why school is the way it is and has the features that it has. It explains why it is that the school day is divided up into rigid time-structured blocks. It explains why it is that the organization of the school is hierarchical and highly structured. It explains why it is that people are taught with people their own age instead of people who are at the same stage of interest or ability as themselves. And it explains why in many school systems one of the functions of the system is to direct people into particular life paths to sort out young people into different kinds of career groups.
To the extent that education actually does take place in schools, it’s a happy accident or a by-product. Now there are many people who work in schools who believe that education, in fact, is the main point of what they’re doing and who are trying very hard to educate the people in their charge. However, the problem is that the whole system they’re working in—the way it’s set up, the way it’s organized—is hostile to that goal and endeavor. So that they’re in the unfortunate position of constantly trying to push water uphill, if you will. And any success they have is gained against the odds. What we need to realize is education and schooling are not the same thing. In fact, because we think that schooling is the same thing as education, we have a radically impoverished idea of what education is and could be.
Why, for example, do we assume that education should only take place at one stage of a person’s life? Education is something that can take place at any stage in someone’s life, and indeed should do. Why assume that we have to educate people the same age all together? Surely this is a crazy way of doing it. Why do we have to deliver education in the highly structured and formalized way that schools require us to do it in? Education is something which is central to most people’s lives. What we need to do is to get away from the idea that schools are the only way in which we can deliver education.