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This post first appeared on aud.life

I transcribed the part of Sal Khan and Michael Noer's "History of Education" video that was relevant to my recent post on "The Invented History of 'The Factory Model of Education.'" I didn't include it in the article (it added another thousand or so words to an already wordy piece). But I thought I should copy-and-paste it here, particularly as I worry that it's one of those things likely to disappear off the Internet (and I've now based several talks, articles, book chapters, and essays on it).

(SK = Sal Khan; MN = Michael Noer)

SK: So I think an interesting place to start especially kind of given the context that we're in now is in the late 1700s early 1800s -- let me draw my time line, that is the sweep of time and that arrow shows we're going to go into the future...

MN: Good. Better than going backwards...

SK: And so I think if we put ... let's put the century markers in... so this is 1800 and this is 1900 and this is 2000. So some people know and some people don't know that actually the model we have of education -- that you know, students work together in these age-based cohorts at the same pace, this was not always the case. This is actually something we inherited from the Prussians.

MN: And by age-based cohorts for people who may not know those words, that means you're educated by date of manufacture. So basically you go in ten-year-olds with ten-year-olds, eleven-year-olds with eleven-year-olds...

SK: Yeah, you get bucketed. You can almost imagine an assembly line, and there's kind of a bucket that's leaving along the assembly line and all of the kids who are born between August... you know they're going to turn five by August, they get thrown into that bucket and then that bucket is going to move forward at a set pace, and this was all the kids who are turning six by August, and these are all the kids who are seven; and then as they move at the set pace you kind of have at any given point in the assembly line, you kind of have information being delivered at every point; and it's fixed how much time students have and what's variable is how well they get 'em. So some of these students are going to get the information and some of it's just going to go past them but they keep getting pushed forward and at some point you start looking at the product and you say "oh that's going to be the good product" -- you know, you go to the produce analogy that orange is really good; it's going to get sold at Whole Foods. That one's going to get squeezed for orange juice.

MN: And this is tracking.

SK: This is tracking and this is what happened.

MN: And they call this the Prussian model.

SK: This is the Prussian model and it's literally an Industrial Revolution inspired model...

MN: And it's about as inflexible as a Prussian might be.

SK: Not to pick too much on the Prussians; they're easy to pick on because they don't exist as Prussians anymore but they were the first people to really bring up this Industrial Revolution idea of education around the late 1700s, early 1800s so we can say this area over here, the Prussian model gets introduced and I don't want to pick on them completely because there's actually something very modern and very novel and even egalitarian what they did. People read into it in different ways -- was it to create tractable citizens and all that but it was also the first time that people said, "no we want everyone to get an education"...

MN: For free...

SK: For free. Before this education was just like for people who were going to have white collar jobs -- we wouldn't call them that -- people who were affluent. Everyone else doesn't need a deep education. And the Prussians said "no, we are serious about this." And the only way to economically do it for free was this industrial type of model.

MN: Which would fit the time as well.

SK: Which fit the time, and you know it's easy to pick on them now but I don't think it's a coincidence that Germany, which inherited many of its roots and people from Prussia ended up being one of the great industrial powers with a very large middle class.

MN: And then somebody comes along by the name of Horace Mann...

SK: Horace Mann. You go to about 1840 and Horace Mann says "this is great.... This is good model, this is egalitarian, this is education for everyone" and he introduced it into the United States. And I personally believe he had good intentions but there are obviously always side effects around, you know, how much of this was kind of to indoctrinate versus whatever, but I think for the most part it was an egalitarian view of "look, let's build our middle class"...

MN: He's remembered as a great education, uh...

SK: As he deserves too. There are many schools named after Horace Mann. And you fast-forward... so Prussia comes to the US in 1840 and then by 1870 you get to the situation where public education is fairly commonplace in the United States although it wasn't... but even at that point it wasn't uniform. It was one state would have a different standard, another state would have a different one. One kid would go for different periods of time, they would cover different subjects...

MN: City versus country was probably a big thing.

SK: Or even one city versus another city. And so the leading university presidents and educators said, "this is a problem. We need to standardize this so we know what we're getting if these students show up at the university level and/or the workforce." And so in 1892 -- and this really tends to get lost in history -- you had a Committee of Ten...

MN: Sounds somewhat Orwellian but there we are...

SK: Somewhat Orwellian but it was literally ten gentlemen led by the president of Harvard to determine what should happen in those twelve years. So these people are being pushed forward but what exactly should happen. And it was actually this Committee of Ten that decided that it should be twelve years of compulsory education... and they determined, they're the ones that determined that physics should show up in your junior or senior year of high school, that you should even have this notion of high school which is different from primary school, that geometry should be taught in ninth or tenth grade...

MN: So this is standardization. So we now have a public, standardized education, which is great if you want to get credentials and create a workforce that will be productive and you know what they should know.

SK: Or if you're the admissions department at a university. And you know it's actually around this time that the state universities started to get, so even at the higher education started to become much more ubiquitous at this point in time. And so you need standards -- what are these students going to be. And even there I want to be fair to them. They were actually very forward-thinking. They were actually thinking we want... and the US was on the vanguard here. They said we want to give everyone a chance at higher order skills. We're not just going to filter everyone at eighth grade and say "Oh you really don't need to learn calculus or algebra, you're going to work in a factory." They said everyone should learn this stuff and that's why everyone now does... at least attempt.

MN: It was forward-looking for 120 years ago but what is interesting here is that we basically get stuck there for 120 years.

SK: Yes. It is static to the present day.

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