The purpose of public education

For what reason do we fork over thousands of dollars in real estate taxes to fund these educational institutions for miniature humans?

It’s a rhetorical question, maybe. I was always under the impression that public education was there to educate rich and poor alike, that people would be knowledgeable, well-rounded citizens, as is necessary if we are to preserve our democratic form of government.

But there seems to be a growing subset around here (here being the coast of Maine, if you couldn’t tell by my user name) that feels the entirety of the purpose should be career training. They deride art, music, history, and foreign language education as unnecessary wastes of money (but don’t dare criticize the expenses associated with the school’s football team!), and seem to think anything not related to a job is a waste.

Is this something that only exists in my latitude and longitude? Or is this trend perpetuating elsewhere? Why such a focus only on jobs? I know, unemployment is in the news a lot, and that may be a reason for it; but there is much more to being human than what we do to put bread on the table.

I may not be able to make a lot of money by studying Icelandic (or any other uncommonly-spoken language), but the enjoyment I get when I can half-understand one of the Sagas in the original language is a reward, in and of itself! Learning how to make a volcano in science class may not be practically useful to a lot of people; but it sure was fun.

I almost bought a book once, it was titled “The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America.” I passed on it for a for a book on the Icelandic language, but I was wondering if there may have been some truth in that title. It almost seems as if there is some force at work trying to stifle intellectual curiosity. Or hell, maybe I’m way off in left field somewhere, and just need to start hanging around different people.

Do we really want our schools to be nothing more than job training centers?

No, but teaching the social arts and sciences properly these days has been made harder, because telecommunication has both increased our knowledge base and increased the speed at which it changes.

Good question. So many discussions about education, so few statements of what the public education system is truly supposed to accomplish.

The truth is that schools in different locations serve different purposes. Some train the children of the elite to become the next generation’s elite. Some prepare people for more boring, middle class jobs. Some are just large holding pens intended to keep kids off the streets, where actual education is of secondary importance. I’m not saying that’s how things should be, but it’s how things are. Of course no public figure would dare to say so in such terms.

In other countries such as Germany, they split kids into separate tracks at an earlier age. Starting around what we’d call sixth grade, kids who intend to get a college education go to one school while others go to vocation school. That system makes more sense to me, but it’s understandable that it was never established in the USA, with all our democratic urges.

All of the above… We want an educated populace, because educated people are better at all functions in a civilized society. They’ll be better workers, better voters, better consumers, and…better teachers for the next generation. They’ll be healthier. They’ll be less susceptible to swindles. They’ll be less swayed by demogogues. They’ll be better at the sciences, pushing forward the boundaries of human knowledge. They’ll be better of filling prescriptions, building bridges, or serving on juries.

We want well-rounded citizens. Civics is one of the courses that ought to be taught, and not the least important.

The computers were von Neumann machines in the 50s and they are von Neumann machines today and it is hard to find a good explanation today.

Schools are designed to dribble out information and waste a lot of time on unimportant information. Most people must be kept properly ignorant and confused.

Oh yeah, we can never have enough different computer languages. It give the impression of there being more knowledge.

We should have had a National Recommended Reading List decades ago.


Name 10 books that you think should be on that list, please.

Neither of these two statements have any basis in reality.

When do these people want to start vocational training? Sixth grade? Kindergarten? Pre-school? Why do they think they know what the job market will require in 10 years? Where do they think the next generation of graphic artists are going to come from? Or by not teaching history do they think that they can get away with crap like claiming the founding fathers were all fundamentalist Christian libertarians?

What does this even mean? Do you think that architectures today are very similar to those 50 years ago? Do you know what caches are? Multiple cores? Out of order execution?

Those who act like baby birds expecting schools to regurgitate information directly into their mouths might feel this way. But good students can get a lot out of schools. My kids did, and I did.

SIGPLAN notices in the mid-70s had two new languages an issue. There are relatively few new language today.

So, besides the Bible and Atlas Shrugged, what should be on it?

The Tyranny of Words (1938) by Stuart Chase

Thinking as a Science (1916) by Henry Hazlitt

The Screwing of the Average Man (1974) by David Hapgood

The Accounting Game: Basic Accounting Fresh From the Lemonade Stand

Teach Yourself Electricity and Electronics (2006) by Stan Gibilisco

Subversive (1962) by Mack Reynolds


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Huckleberry Finn
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

The cache is just a method of getting instructions and data into the CPU faster. Does you application need to be coded differently depending on whether or not there is a cache? I used to install 20 nanosecond TTL chips to be used as cache. Faster but hotter and more expensive.

Each core is just another CPU doing the same von Neumann things a single CPU does.

I did not say von Neumann technology had not been improved since the 50s it is obviously lots faster now but it is still von Neumann architecture and most computer science books don’t even explain that.


The purpose of public education is to exercise power and control the masses.

Whenever rulers valued education, it was only for the authorities to be able to recruit the best individuals by means of whom it could exercise its power and control the masses.

The modern system of education was initiated by Napoleon. “Of all our institutions public education is the most important,” he said. “Everything depends on it, the present and the future. It is essential that the morals and political ideas of the generation which is now growing up should no longer be dependent upon the news of the day or the circumstances of the moment. Above all we must secure unity: we must be able to cast a whole generation in the same mould.”
It is a method that reached perfection under the Nazis. Hitler said he would rather nationalize the population than businesses. Corporations enjoy recruiting the best specimens in the national labor pool, a crave that governments are quick to quench.

Bacon dreamed of a bright future when the learned would hold the power. Overall, public education produces better educated generations, but no one hums Lennon’s “Power to the People” anymore.

It happens in many places, and part of the issue is that those people don’t realize the link between jobs and art, music, history and foreign language (or, for my location, philosophy and Latin). For some reason, people who can’t go anywhere without having music on seem to think that music makes itself; people who spend hours every week reading decorating magazines can’t see any usefulness to studying art; people who have a traffic lawyer on retainer think Roman Law (a compulsory subject for law students in Spain, as so much of our legal system derives from it) was written in Spanish. I think the last bunch are related to those others who think God dictated the King James Bible.

It’s true. When I was in school for my teaching license, we pretty much were reading biographies of Napoleon and Mein Kampf in every class.

At least–wait, maybe I’m misremembering.

Hold up. No, we read about the theories of Vygotsky and Piaget, about Dewey and Calkins. We NEVER tried to emulate Napoleon or Hitler or the Kaiser (who also gets cited often in these pseudohistorical accusations of public education).

If you want to understand American education, you need to look to the folks whose philosophies explicitly underpin our system, and Hitler it ain’t.

I take it this post is about your experience as a student.

Mine was about the purpose of public education, whose existence and functioning is sponsored by the government.

The government and its actions have never been the direct expression of people’s will, even in the USA. If they had been so, maybe Iraq wouldn’t have been attacked in 2003 or financial institutions wouldn’t have been bailed out at the expense of the taxpayers in 2008, for example.