The Prussian Model
The United States in the 19th century was a time of change. Americans, Colonialists, had spent the early part of the century adjusting to American government and becoming well-settled in that government. Everything was going as well as their forefathers could have hoped, but two factors were threatening this country built upon the noble principles of freedom and independence. A massive influx of immigrants and an industry-driven rural to urban population shift threatened the American principles and culture that had just been settled. What could be done to check the cultural influences of the lowly Irish, Italian, Russian, and Polish immigrants? What could be done to thwart the latent uprisings of underprivileged workers and their poor families flocking the cities of the rich and powerful? An idea: The men in power could control the education of their youth- they could control their minds. They opted for the Prussian education model as it promised the results they were seeking. The Prussian education model bestowed the strings of education to the men in power and promised unity and a “worker bee” mentality on a large scale. The results would be generational, but the effects would reverberate throughout American history.
The Prussian education model was set forth upon the ideas of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Fichte was a philosopher whose main concerns were nationalism and the subjectivity thereof. Why were the Prussians (Germans) so concerned with national, free, and compulsory education now? Well, the Prussian emperor was concerned about the previous and terrible defeat of the Prussian army by Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces in 1806. His concern was not that Prussian forces had been defeated but that Prussian soldiers had acted as individuals and not as a unit. The new education system would create the unit he had in mind. The Prussian Educational System consisted of tiers. All education would be free for eight years. During that time, elite pupils would be elected to continue their educations at a secondary level and would be trained to think, control, educate, and rule the country in their adulthoods. The rest of the students, the 99%, would, during that same eight year education, be trained well enough to subserviently work in the lower sectors of industry, agriculture, and the military. It is important to note that this Prussian system would set the stage for the Third Reich’s success in wielding the German masses to fight for its causes. Having been seen as immensely successful, this powerful educational system swept through a Napoleonic War-torn Europe. Most educators were trained in Prussia, and all those in political power were fascinated by the system’s ingenuity – including those in the United States.
Why would the United States be as equally fascinated by this form of social control when they had thought such control worth fighting against not a century before? Things had changed rapidly in the United States following the Revolution. Industrialization put a few men in control of much and many, but the means to work their industries, workers, threatened the social environment of their cities. It is important to note that unions were embryonic at this time, but workers had many grievances to air. Working conditions were awful, work hours were long, pay was far too low to sustain workers and their families, and there were little to no rights of the worker – the men in control knew these things, and they were very concerned with staving off further unrest. Why would the men in these positions of authority be so concerned with political control? It was, as it is now, the case that wealth determines power and that wealth often buys into politics.
Helpful sites to educate in matters of American education:
- Blog Uncommon Sense, "The Prussian (German) Education Model"
- The Atlantic, "How to Break Free of Our 19th-Century Factory-Model Education System"