Do you ever look at our educational system and wonder, “how did we get here?” “why is school like this?” and “why hasn’t there been much innovation over the last 150+ years?”
So do I. Soooo. Do. I.
Welp, good news - the internet is replete with the story of Horace Mann, his 1843 trip to Prussia, and “The Committee of 10,” which pretty much answers these questions. If you haven’t heard this story, please enjoy this ChatGPT generated 394-word retelling of the tale. If you know this story, feel free to skip it.
The modern education system as we know it today can be traced back to the early 19th century in the United States, with Horace Mann playing a pivotal role in its development. In 1837, he was appointed as the first secretary of the newly created Massachusetts Board of Education, which was tasked with overseeing public education in the state. Mann believed that education was a key factor in improving social mobility and eradicating poverty. He was convinced that a standardized education system would provide equal opportunities for all students regardless of their socioeconomic background.
Mann's involvement in the development of public education in the United States led him to travel to Europe in 1843, where he visited various countries, including Prussia. He was particularly impressed by the Prussian education system, which he believed was more advanced than that of the United States. The Prussian system was characterized by a centralized curriculum, a standardized teacher training program, and a focus on discipline and obedience.
Mann's trip to Prussia had a significant impact on the American education system. He returned to the United States with a newfound appreciation for the importance of education and a desire to reform the American education system to mirror that of Prussia. He advocated for the creation of a centralized curriculum, teacher training programs, and a mandatory school attendance law.
The Committee of Ten was a group of ten prominent educators in the United States who were appointed by the National Education Association (NEA) in 1892. The committee was tasked with developing a standardized curriculum for high schools in the United States. The members of the committee included Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard University, and James H. Baker, the president of the University of Colorado.
The Committee of Ten was heavily influenced by Horace Mann's vision for a standardized education system. The committee's work was informed by the Prussian education system that Mann had admired on his trip to Europe in 1843.
The Committee of Ten conducted a thorough study of high schools across the United States and developed a standardized curriculum that would be used in high schools throughout the country. The committee's report, published in 1893, recommended a course of study that included English, mathematics, science, history, and foreign languages. The committee's report also recommended that high schools should focus on college preparation rather than vocational training.
Sincerely, your future robot overlord
So does this mean the traditional education system is evil and must be burned down?
Does this mean every elementary school teacher tries to corrupt and control your children?
Does it mean while they may sincerely care for your kids and want the best for them, they are still beholden to the limitations and requirements of a system built during the time of steam engines and telegraphs?
Yes. Yes, it does (and that’s not their fault, so give them a stinking break!)
Do the limitations of the system’s ability to be flexible, individualistic, and responsive to the needs of the one mean that many students and families won’t have their needs met adequately?
Yes (how we didn’t see that coming in like 1893, I will never understand yet, here we are!)
So if there are obvious issues, unhappy parents, struggling kids, and stressed-out teachers, why the lack of innovation in the space?
It’s complicated. But a big piece of the puzzle is we (parents) don’t feel comfortable “innovating” or “experimenting” when we are talking about our children.
You suddenly find out your child has a serious illness. There’s a tried and true treatment that is free and convenient, with about a 50% success rate but has pretty nasty side effects (higher risk of anxiety, depression, disengagement, loss of curiosity, daily at-home segments of the treatment that might ruin your relationships and cause world war III, etc.) but this is what the vast majority of other parents choose.
There are other options, like full at-home treatment. This method is effective, and has low side effects, but it requires a lot of time and attention from the parent and can be expensive. Oh, side note- if you choose this treatment, people will categorically make fun of your kid’s social skills on the internet even if they have never met your child.
There are newer, more innovative treatments, but the data to support these new treatments comes from small sample sizes or feels more anecdotal. They don’t require high levels of parental involvement, but it can be expensive because the government supports or controls these treatments.
What do you choose?
Well, probably the thing that most people choose: mediocre but predictable results that don’t require a great deal of attention or expense.
You’ll just deal with those side effects as they come and hope you’re in the lucky half that reach proficient math and reading ski... um, I mean, are healed.
This, folks, is why there has been limited innovation in education.
100% understandable. No judgment.
But times, they are a-changin’. Evidence for other approaches, methods, a reorientation to family goals instead of government goals, new funding models, and more data behind different learning approaches all make innovation less risky, expensive, and laborious for us.
Our confidence that there are ways we can set kids up for academic success, intrinsic motivation, and mental well-being is growing, and that means… you guessed it: innovation!
Just like setting up one system to serve everyone was not the right solution in the past, modifying that system or even creating a new one-size-fits-all solution isn’t the answer for the future.
It’s a world where you (the parent) can take your deep knowledge of your children's needs and the values/priorities of your family, look around your community, and connect with people providing solutions that meet your needs. These folks should be compensated well, appreciated, and respected (be it your adorable Mrs. Frizzle of a public school teacher, a creative microschool guide, or an inspiring tutor you bring into your home).
Cheers! To a future of choice, community, and meeting the needs of our kids without losing our ever-loving minds or wallets! 🎉
For the kids!
Wondering if a new approach to education is right for your family?
Continue to Part Two, "Persist. Progress. Prenda. The Results of a Research-Aligned Learning Model and Culture," for a deep dive into what happens when we build educational systems and communities around good old-fashioned values, individuality, and top-notch learning science.