And This Is Why We Homeschool – Part I: A Brief History of American Public Education

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Have you ever found yourself curious why we homeschool? As someone who was homeschooled myself from the 1st to 11th grades, and as a man now working together with my wife to homeschool our children, I’ve found the differences between public schools, private schools, and home education fascinating for most of my life. How do parents make the choice they do about how and where to educate their children? Of course they want what’s best for their children. That’s the easy answer. But how do they determine what that is exactly?

In this first part in a series on homeschooling, let’s take a brief look at the history of public education in America, since that’s what the majority of American children and adults are familiar with. Though I don’t claim to be an expert on the history of American education, I was at least able to learn how to read and think during my years being educated at home. Now, still remembering how to read and think as a Christian man with a blog, I strive to love God and love people as well as I can. It is in that spirit that I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve discovered as I’ve studied and considered this subject. Hopefully you will find what I write here informative, challenging, and ultimately encouraging toward goodness, wisdom, and humble service to Christ – our Lord, God, and King.

As with any other topic, I welcome your thoughts on this matter, whether they agree with my assertions and conclusions or not.

Public schools are as American as apple pie and baseball.

Public Education: As American As Apple Pie and Baseball

My Grandma Ranew – my mother’s mother – was a nationally acclaimed public school teacher in Milton, Florida. From stories she’s told me for years, she was very fond of teaching science, particularly biology. To this day, she still occasionally encounters her former students at the grocery store or shopping mall. They hug her and say “Thank you, Mrs. Ranew, for making me do my homework. Thank you for being such a good teacher to me when I was a kid.” As a matter of fact, I don’t think there’s a conversation I’ve had with Grandma Ranew in recent years where she hasn’t reflected fondly on her time as a teacher. She’s obviously proud of the impact she had on the many students she taught throughout her career, and found being an educator very fulfilling and rewarding.

And yet, despite all of that, just as often as my grandma tells me of her years as a public school teacher, she also tells me she’s proud of my wife and I for homeschooling. She tells me about my cousins on that side of the family who are also homeschooling their children, and how well their families are doing as they follow through with that commitment. Grandma Ranew tells me that public education nowadays isn’t like it used to be. Deriding Common Core and the perversion and moral confusion that’s being promoted all over the country, she says she’s glad we’re not sending her great-grandchildren into that environment, but are instead protecting from the many dangerous influences which have become intimately tied to a system she once knew and loved and worked so hard within.

If not educators or administrators, your grandparents and parents probably also attended public schools like mine did. Chances are high that you and most of the people you know followed also in the footsteps of your parents and grandparents. In all likelihood, your children after you either currently attend public schools or else will someday in the future. The vast majority of Americans have attended public schools for generations. It is now a tradition as American as apple pie and baseball.

But how much do you really know about the history of public education in America? Would it surprise you to learn that public schools being used as a method of social engineering – for implanting dedication to certain political ideologies, values, and assumptions – isn’t at all either a recent development or an accidental one? No, it didn’t start under President Barack Obama’s administration, or even in just the last century for that matter. Public schools being used as a tool of controlling and manipulating the masses can trace its intellectual roots back at least as far as the fourth century B.C.


American Exceptionalism Embraces the Prussian Education System

In 1918, Richard Thomas Alexander – professor of elementary education at George Peabody College for Teachers, and an early proponent of John Dewey’s progressive education movement in the U.S. – made an important study of the Prussian educational system and expressed some unsettling remarks in summary of the nature of that system:

“The Prussian citizen cannot be free to do and act for himself; that the Prussian is to a large measure enslaved through the medium of his school; that his learning instead of making him his own master forges the chain by which he is held in servitude; that the whole scheme of the Prussian elementary school education is shaped with the express purpose of making ninety-nine out of every one hundred citizens subservient . . . The elementary schools of Prussia have been fashioned so as to make spiritual and intellectual slaves of the lower classes.”

The Prussian Elementary Schools by Richard Thomas Alexander, PhD

Now one might expect from reading such a summary that even the idea of this Prussian system of schooling Dr. Alexander spoke of would have been intolerable and anathema to Americans who claim to value and cherish liberty, freedom, and independence above all other virtues. We are, after all, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” One might assume that we Americans could never be made to embrace a system designed to make slaves out of “ninety-nine of every one hundred” of us.

And yet, as should probably come as an unpleasant shock to us, founding fathers of our present-day American public education system like Horace Mann emulated rather than avoided the Prussian public education system as they assembled America’s version of it, all the while admitting things like:

“Numerous tracts were issued from the English press . . . strongly denouncing the whole plan of education in Prussia, as being not only designed to produce, but as actually producing, a spirit of blind acquiescence to arbitrary power, in things spiritual as well as temporal – as being in fine, a system of education adapted to enslave, and not to enfranchise, the human mind.

– Horace Mann, as quoted in Cubberley, 1920, p. 488

As Yehudi Meshchaninov at the New American Academy summarizes in his 2012 paper, The Prussian-Industrial History of Public Schooling, America chose to make its own army of educational bureaucrats in imitation of the Prussian model. “Educrats” were to be a new kind of teacher serving as cogs in an intensely hierarchical and centralized machine designed to run on fear and isolation as its fuel. Personal initiative and independent decision-making were to be quashed in favor of teaching obedience and unquestioning submission to authority. Subjects were to be taught by the educrats without context or concern for the genuine comprehension by students of their interconnected implications. This, not accidentally, was an intentional effort to stunt intellectual growth and rigor for the vast majority of students who were expected and desired ultimately to serve as obedient servants doing menial labor in factories or armies. Emphasis in this educational system was to be placed on conformity and submission, not genuine or meaningful education. Students were to obey their teachers, teachers to obey their principals, and principals to obey their superintendents, etc. on up the chain all the way to the top.


Prussian Public Schools, Frederick the Great’s Obedience Factory

To get a clearer picture of what the Prussian educational system America adopted was really like, consider the following quotes from Prussia’s Frederick II, also known as Frederick the Great. Frederick II and his father were responsible for instituting this system, and a glimpse of their mindset reinforces rather than undermines the view of that system as being one designed for control and manipulation of the masses rather than legitimate education. Reigning from 1740 to 1786, among Frederick’s most famous gems are:

“An educated people can be easily governed.”

“If my soldiers were to begin to think, not one would remain in the ranks.”

“It seems to me that man is made to act rather than to know: the principles of things escape our most persevering researches.”

“Religion is the idol of the mob; it adores everything it does not understand.”

Frederick the Great, 1712-1786

Do you notice a common thread? Unquestioning obedience to command, unfettered and unrestrained by the limitations which comprehension, agreement, or religious conviction might present, were valued above every other concern by Frederick the Great. Education in Prussia was, after all, a means to an end for Frederick II and his father, Frederick William I. The governed masses – especially the soldiers – needed to become more useful pawns in larger, more delicate and complicated governmental plans and purposes, and the public schools of Prussia were the perfect mental factory for mass-producing the necessary minds ready to submit.

In short, the Prussian educational system was meant to consolidate imperial power and produce good soldiers who would obey orders to kill or be killed rather than questioning the morality or wisdom of their commanders’ decisions, or retreating from what they had deemed was an unjust cause for shedding blood, either their own or someone else’s.

“Focusing on following directions, basic skills, and conformity, he sought to indoctrinate the nation from an early age. Isolating students in rows and teachers in individual classrooms fashioned a strict hierarchy—intentionally fostering fear and loneliness.”

The Prussian-Industrial Model (The New American Academy)

Back in the 18th century, Frederick the Great’s Prussia gives us an example of a European monarch embracing a thoroughly Platonic ideal of government as educator with the utmost commitment and conviction. But the intellectual seeds which sprouted in Frederick II’s Prussia, and thereafter were transplanted to America, were originally sown in ancient Greece.


Plato’s Utopian Vision for Public Education

In the works of Plato – specifically Laws and Republic – the ancient Greek philosopher presents an ideal form of government in which children are taken from their parents in their formative years and instructed in how to think rationally about the world as it is, apart from superstitions and fables about heroes and gods which were to be likened to the distorted shadows of things on a cave wall rather than the real things themselves seen in open daylight. According to Plato, the government rather than parents should be seen to have the primary authority over and responsibility for children, and should cultivate in the children of their society:

“…A keen desire to become a perfect citizen who knows how to rule and be ruled.”

Plato’s Laws, bk. 1, 643

In a nutshell, as his theory went, such a society would enjoy more harmony and social cohesion when children’s feelings of love, devotion, and trust were transplanted to the civil government and society as a whole instead of their parents.

“In the Republic Plato abolishes the family for the guardians, to avoid nepotism and amassing of private wealth (Republic, bk. 5, 464). Wives and children are to be held in common by all, and no parent is to know his own child nor any child his parents–”provided it can be done” (Republic, bk. 5, 457). In the Laws Plato allows family raising for all citizens, with restrictions on child rearing and inheritance (Laws, bk. 5, sec.729).”

Once everyone was on the same page and knew how to think rationally, society could be expected to enjoy the inevitable blessings of good decision-making, cooperation, and, by extension, prosperity. This was the utopian vision of Plato in Republic and Laws which rulers like Frederick the Great have attempted to realize throughout history even up to the present day.

Naturally, the problems with educating children and, ultimately, engineering society in this manner should be obvious. A nation of slaves subjected to bait-and-switch tactics where they and their children are promised a quality education, then given instead drills on how to obey their government as its unquestioning slaves could be reasonably expected to leave such peoples vulnerable to the amoral whims and cruelty of strongmen, dictators, and tyrants.

Some have even argued that this is a large part of why Germany fell prey to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in the early 20th century, where the effects of the Prussian educational system on society’s ability to question authority or for individual citizens to possess and follow their own internal moral compass were still being felt over 200 years after Frederick the Great and his father first hoisted that method of social engineering and population control on the masses they governed. In any event, even a cursory examination of what the Nazis did with Germany’s schools once they came to power proves that Hitler certainly appreciated the principle that he who controls and shapes the children of a society will effectively dictate that society’s future.

“He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.”

– Adolf Hitler

Think of the children.

But God entrusted these children to fathers and mothers, not the State.

In light of these and many other things, the thought of my children being manipulated into unquestioning loyalty, obedience, and subservience to the State is disturbing and offensive to me. Regardless what machinations Plato or Frederick the Great or John Dewey or any of their modern-day contemporaries have worked tirelessly to theorize and implement for the “greater good” of society as a whole, I read in God’s Word that I as a father and my wife as a mother are the ones who are primarily entrusted to:

“Train up a child in the way he should go;

   even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Proverbs 22:6

This verse begs of us the question: Does the American public education system train up our children in the way they should go according to Yahweh God? Can we in good conscience make ourselves content depending upon an endless number of educrats, politicians, and special interest groups who have their tentacles in this system, and rely on that invisible conglomeration to decide in our place for so much of our sons’ and daughters’ childhoods what “the way [they] should go” will look like for our children?

I for one cannot in good conscience send my children off to be raised by a system which seems not only to not fear the Lord, not only to be disinclined to my children being trained in the fear and admonition of the Lord, but which is even increasingly hostile to those aims. The fact is that I do not have to place my blind trust in the educrats of the American public education system. God gave these children to me so I could serve as their father, not hand them off to the State. And this is why we homeschool.

As it is written,

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Ephesians 6:1-4

Notice what this passage does not say. It does not say “children obey the government,” or “honor the state.” Nor does it say “Governments… bring your children up in the discipline and instruction of obeying you unquestioningly.”

The simple fact is that Yahweh God, Creator of Heaven and Earth did not bless my wife and I with children just so we could serve as middle-men passing them off to a State which all too often sees the expansion of its own power and control over the daily affairs of its citizens as not a means to an end, but as an end unto itself. My parents trained and educated my brother and I at home. My wife and I can train and educate our children at home. And this is why we homeschool.


Why don’t you homeschool your children?

Everyone I meet who has any involvement in or dependence upon American public schools invariably believes their local school is the exception to the rule when it comes to corruption or dysfunction. And that doesn’t really surprise me. It stands to reason. If parents and teachers didn’t believe their local branch was tolerable, how on Earth could they entrust their children to a thing they believed broken and dangerous?

If you haven’t yet stopped reading and closed this page by now, so offended and disgusted by my assertions and questions, please believe me when I say that my intention is not to lambaste or malign your sincere love and care for your children. No, my conscience does not permit me to support the public schools or send my children into them, seeing the larger system as corrupt and godless like I do. But my conscience also does not permit me to either say or believe you are an evil scoundrel if you still strive to make that system work for the good of your children while still honoring God and following Jesus in it.

Perhaps you’re a hardworking Christian teacher in a district you believe is still exceptional and still holds onto much of the traditional goodness your grandparents have remembered fondly to you about their school-days. This I beg of you: please don’t take offense as though I’m maligning all your hard work with this summary of the system in which you work.

Maybe you’re a Christian parent sending your children to a small local school in your town where everyone knows everyone and the school has served as a hub for the community for untold generations. You know all your son’s and daughter’s teachers and classmates, and, point-of-fact, went to school with or are related to everyone who runs the school now. Please don’t be baffled or hurt by my suggestion that your local school is nevertheless a part of something larger that is both diabolical and harmful.

Again, from what she hears and reads and remembers, my grandmother tells me American public schools on the whole are much worse than they were back when she was teaching. Listen, teachers who take offense to what I’m saying: my grandmother was one of you long before either you or I were born. She says it isn’t what it used to be, and is glad her grandchildren are homeschooling her great-grandchildren rather than sending them into that mess. If you don’t believe me, believe her. And if you don’t believe her, who will you believe?


Is the American public education system an industrial model designed to produce people with minds like so many cogs in a great machine?

Ask yourself: Who’s driving the school bus now?

But wait. If you remember the brief history I just laid out for you, perhaps you’re confused now. Didn’t I just trace the roots of the American public education system all the way back to Plato, and then claim thereby that this same system has been inherently flawed and misguided since it was first put in place? Yes. I did indeed, and I still am saying that. Well before my grandmother started teaching, the present system was designed and implemented to churn out children of whom the vast majority would someday work as obedient laborers in factories, soldiers in armies, and slaves to a centralized government.

So why is it suddenly more of a problem now if it wasn’t so much a problem 10, 20, or 50 years ago? To answer that question, I would ask you to consider who in recent years has been allowed to sit in the driver’s seat of a vehicle that was intended from its inception to take everyone in it to the same place. Who in American public education is sitting as a modern equivalent to Frederick the Great or his chosen lieutenants at the very top of this intensely hierarchical, centralized machine? Who is telling the cogs which direction they must rotate and how fast? Who is telling them all how they must behave now, and what is their larger agenda?

Perhaps you take comfort in being a Christian teacher yourself, or knowing that your children’s teachers are Christians, but how much resistance can the local teacher really put up against orders they’re given from higher up in the chain of command before they’re removed from their post and replaced with more obedient alternatives?

Any way you slice it, the American public education system was patterned after the Prussian example, designed to drill unquestioning obedience and subservience to the government into children from a very young age. This necessitated an utter disregard, or even a contempt for the genuine education, intellectual growth, or ability to take personal initiative and make decisions independently, as those had to be systematically stamped out of children’s hearts and minds and souls before they could embrace a subservient attitude and mindset. And this wasn’t going to be true only with the students obeying the teachers, but also with the teachers obeying their principals, the principals obeying their superintendents, et cetera. The system holds in contempt the individual consciences and personal judgment and character of your local school teacher when it leads to questioning or disobeying orders that are handed down from on high. In this way, hands are tied and the conclusions are foregone.

And this is why we homeschool.

And this is why I would encourage you to do so as well. Regardless of what weird, perverted, godless, anti-Christian place the school bus driver wants to take American public schools to, we can opt out and choose to drive ourselves somewhere better. My children and I need not go along for the ride and suffer fools and folly gladly. That’s part of the beauty of homeschooling, and I believe that embracing this principle is imperative when we understand God’s original intention for the family.

In recent years we’ve bickered in the American public sphere over what marriage and family means, and we’ve been disheartened to find society “evolving” through media and public education campaigns designed to encourage and coerce children and adults alike to either experiment sexually on their own, or at least affirm others as they do so. But remember what God’s Word says:

“Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.”

Malachi 2:15

Within my home and family, my wife and I drive the school bus. We get to take 100% of the responsibility for training and educating our children, nurturing them along as they learn how to read, write, do their arithmetic, understand science and history and any number of other things that interest them. We get to cultivate their God-given intellects and personalities even as we “train [them] up in the way [they] should go,” not as godless and unquestioning slaves to any number of hair-brained agendas of yesterday, today, or tomorrow, but as young men and women who will be bold and courageous and embrace wisdom and goodness.

“Now therefore fear Yahweh and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve Yahweh. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve Yahweh, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh.”

Joshua 24:14-15

Perhaps you, as a parent or teacher, have made and embraced this commitment also, yet still believe American public schools are a viable option for training your children. If so, I don’t believe it would be proper for me to lambast you or accuse you – inwardly or outwardly – of false or insincere motives, or of miscarrying your responsibilities.

Yet I would encourage you in the strongest possible terms, insofar as wisdom and knowledge and my own conscience compel me, to see this system for what it is and make your decisions accordingly, for the sake of your children and your family.

Please know that I love and care for you with sincere brotherly affection, and that I will pray earnestly for you and your children whether you homeschool or not. Whatever your lot in life, keep in mind the words of Proverbs 4:23:

“Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.”

Those words apply not only to us as individuals watching over our own hearts, but also to all who look after children. We must watch over their hearts, knowing that from them flow the springs of life.

And this is why we homeschool.

Why we homeschool.


For more on this topic, read And This Is Why We Homeschool – Part II: Sports and Socialization
Follow Garrett Mullet:

Christian, husband to a darling wife, and father to seven children - I enjoy pipe-smoking, playing strategy games on my computer, listening to audio books, and writing. When I'm not asking you questions out loud, I'm endlessly asking myself silent questions in my head. I believe in God's grace, hard work, love, patience, contemplation, and courage.