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RSSArchive for September 15th, 2007

Bonhoeffer and Gatto on Education


For Kinderlehrer , a post for her International Freedom in Education Day.

Since I just spent a great deal of time reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I’ll submit something interesting I came across in Eberhard Bethge’s Biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From p. 17, where he briefly discusses the fact that Dietrich’s mother, Paula Bonhoeffer, homeschooled all eight children for their early schooling:

This home teaching, of course, implied some criticisms of traditional schooling. The Bonhoeffers did not want to hand their children over to others at an early, impressionable age. One of the family sayings was that Germans had their backs broken twice in the course of their lives: first at school, and then during military service.

Bonhoeffer childrenOh, did the Bonhoeffer family have it right, way back in the first decade of the 1900s! Does German schooling “break the back” of its children? Could this be a reason for the number of homeschooling families in Germany, despite the dire consequences? Yes, it’s illegal, since about 1938 (and do you know what was happening in 1938?), and you face jail, fines, and loss of custody of your children if you homeschool. Or you simply go into exile and are forced to flee the country.

If Paula Bonhoeffer were raising her family in Germany today, would she have landed in jail? Would Dietrich and his siblings have become wards of the state? Those sound like ridiculous questions; however, that is the reality of what is happening in Germany today.

John Taylor Gatto’s The Public School Nightmare: why fix a system designed to destroy individual thought is an excellent essay in which he describes the evolution of modern compulsory education.

The structure of American schooling, 20th century style, began in 1806 when Napoleon’s amateur soldiers beat the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle of Jena. When your business is selling soldiers, losing a battle like that is serious. Almost immediately afterwards a German philosopher named Fichte delivered his famous “Address to the German Nation” which became one of the most influential documents in modern history. In effect he told the Prussian people that the party was over, that the nation would have to shape up through a new Utopian institution of forced schooling in which everyone would learn to take orders.

So the world got compulsion schooling at the end of a state bayonet for the first time in human history; modern forced schooling started in Prussia in 1819 with a clear vision of what centralized schools could deliver:

1. Obedient soldiers to the army;
2. Obedient workers to the mines;
3. Well subordinated civil servants to government;
4. Well subordinated clerks to industry
5. Citizens who thought alike about major issues.

Schools should create an artificial national consensus on matters that had been worked out in advance by leading German families and the head of institutions. Schools should create unity among all the German states, eventually unifying them into Greater Prussia.

Prussian industry boomed from the beginning. She was successful in warfare and her reputation in international affairs was very high. Twenty-six years after this form of schooling began, the King of Prussia was invited to North America to determine the boundary between the United States and Canada. Thirty-three years after that fateful invention of the central school institution, as the behest of Horace Mann and many other leading citizens, we borrowed the style of Prussian schooling as our own.

Gatto continues his essay with a very interesting remark from none other than Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Erich Maria Ramarque, in his classic “All Quiet on the Western Front” tells us that the First World War was caused by the tricks of schoolmasters, and the famous Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the Second World War was the inevitable product of good schooling.

It’s important to underline that Bonhoeffer meant that literally, not metaphorically — schooling after the Prussian fashion removes the ability of the mind to think for itself. It teaches people to wait for a teacher to tell them what to do and if what they have done is good or bad. Prussian teaching paralyses the moral will as well as the intellect. It’s true that sometimes well-schooled students sound smart, because they memorize many opinions of great thinkers, but they actually are badly damaged because their own ability to think is left rudimentary and undeveloped.

I’ll wrap up this post with a simple warning given by Gatto. My hope is that if people understand what sinister objectives lurk beneath compulsory schooling, they will stop being so willing to comply. German citizens need to rise up, en masse, and rebel against this kind of tyranny that leaves them no options, no power to choose.

It’s important to note that the underlying premise of Prussian schooling is that the government is the true parent of children–the State is sovereign over the family. At the most extreme pole of this notion is the idea that biological parents are really the enemies of their own children, not to be trusted.