What is the purpose of the education system? The benefit of a systematic education to young adults is one of the foundational assumptions of modern western society. We often hear it asked whether this education would be better performed by private institutions or even at home, but rarely do we hear the question, “Why educate at all?”
In this article, I will attempt to outline some of the purposes of education in order to better analyze how well the system is doing and what changes might be instituted in order to help it achieve its goals. I will also refer to some historic fascist philosophies and practices as pertains to education.
I. Preparation for the Job Market
The layman’s answer to the question of the purpose of education, “So they’ll be able to get a job,” is quite thoughtless if one considers the effect giving everyone the same education the way an economist might. In fact, the more universal a standardized education becomes, the lower the economic value of the individual graduate. A high school graduate enters the job market having nearly no practical skills to negotiate with. Whatever skills he does possess have also been taught to everyone else. He is a beggar who must use his attitude to show his value so that he can learn his skills from existing firms. This is certainly a position of weakness. Contrarily, if the speciality of a company was taught to everyone who passed through high school the value of the service this company provided would surely be debased. Thus, with anything universally taught, there are only economic benefits for the state as a whole.
But what benefits can a society achieve from having a populace with a uniform set of skills? Certainly, a lettered civilization can achieve much more than an illiterate one, but in a modern complex society there are many niches of work which require very specific skills. Shouldn’t an educational system cater to the many differing needs of society based on the demand for these skills?
In America, High Schools are neither rigorous nor are they well-geared to give a specific vocational education. There is a tendency for students who dislike academics to opt out of general education in favor of the vocational type. Since American schools don’t usually offer these options, we find classrooms with many disinterested kids dragging the progress of the class to a snail’s pace. Perhaps this is why America scores lower on standardized tests than its peer countries despite the fact that its entire education system is geared towards teaching this material.
The majority of Americans must learn their vocational skills outside of school. Even then, businesses are unwilling to divulge enough information for someone to be able to strike out on their own.
Moreover, a lack of candidates with specific skills has caused employers no small amount of trouble in finding suitable workers. Some companies have resorted to simplifying work processes to the point that an experienced worker can be replaced by someone who has just been hired. But what might this do to a person’s psychology? How can a person have pride in a job if they are hardly any more competent after years of experience than they were when they first started?
One thing that I found startling when I first moved to Taiwan was the dearth of large franchises and the robustness of the “microbusiness” economy. This small scale economy is nurtured by the education system. Over a quarter of Taiwan’s High School students opt for a vocational high school training. In these programs, students learn a specific skill such as auto repair, farming, or electronics. Not only does having this element in the school system free newcomers to the job market from having to learn their skills at large firms, it creates a different kind of consumer who is used to buying from competent artisans and microbusiness owners.
Much more ambitious is the fascist/corporatist model. Drawing inspiration from the guild system of Europe, this system seeks to give dignity to its populace by cultivating a man’s expertise in his craft over a lifetime. The goals in this kind of economy are not just financial, but rather take into consideration the well-being given by being able to take pride in one’s work. In 1930s Germany, for example, high school students were taken into vocational training programs in which they got experience doing work in the real world, and adult classes were available for artisans to further develop their skills. The prowess that was achieved in Germany and other European countries with similar programs during that period is legendary.
In summary, the fascist model uses education to create a more dignified working class. This creates an economy where skills don’t necessarily have to be taught by large businesses which enforce conformity to a company culture. Rather the individual is empowered with skills as he enters the job market.
II. The Good Citizen
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” – Franklin Roosevelt
These are sweet words, but in actual practice democracies have divided views as to what constitutes wisdom, or even reality. Political groups fight with each other over what kind of curriculum to teach such that undue emphasis is cast upon the most contentious matters, thereby training the next generation towards a stubborn disunity.
But does a knowledge of the ins and outs of controversial political matters constitute a good citizen? Not any more than an employee who knows all the points of complaint about his company constitutes a good worker. Beliefs and stances alone do not connote a good citizen; the ideal countryman is a man of action. Moreover, his actions are not selfish, but rather for the common good. Perhaps this was summed up best by Adolf Hitler:
“Our German language has a word which in a magnificent way denotes conduct based on this spirit: doing one’s duty [Pflichterfüllung]-which means serving the community instead of contenting oneself. We have a word for the basic disposition which underlies conduct of this kind in contrast to egoism and selfishness-idealism. By ‘idealism’ we mean only the ability of the individual to sacrifice himself for the whole, for his fellow men.”
But how can we instill this “idealism” into the character of our American youth?
In order for a country to thrive, or even continue to exist, its citizens must feel a sense of responsibility for the country’s future. Yet presently there is a sense of detachment which plagues the nation. Citizens have the mentality of a third party observer, complaining and jesting at the course the country has taken. How do we bridge this gap between the individual and the greater community?
The answer may not be as complicated as it seems. If you have just joined a church, what better way is there to feel a sense of belonging than to do service for the church. If you have just joined a social or community group, what better way to feel like you belong than to offer food or service to that group. Working for a company, what better way to feel a part of the company than to do critical work for that company. There is no better way to convey that sense of belonging but through work. A person must earn their own sense of belonging (even within families this is eventually true). With that sense of belonging comes a yearning for glorious achievements to be achieved by the group – and also a desire to keep it from falling into shame.
But wouldn’t forcing labor be a form of slavery? Perhaps. But there are some tasks that seem more a natural extension of citizenship than forced labor. On a morning stroll by the public schools of Southeast Asia you’ll see dozens of kids sweeping and cleaning the school. Upon further inspection you will notice a distinct lack of vandalism in comparison with many American schools. There are innumerable ways in which students can be of service to the community including clean up efforts, helping the elderly and the less fortunate, and military service.
At this point I’d like to differentiate between two types of service. There is the type of work in which the duties and benefits have been well established, and it is only necessary for someone (anyone) to step up and say “I will do it.” Then there’s the second way. This is when a citizen sees something wrong in his community or envisions a better way for things to be done, then takes the initiative to change it himself. This person’s role in making his vision come to life cannot be replaced by someone else because he is the only one who can see it. The more both these kinds of action are present in a community, the more it will thrive and the more its people will feel connected to its progress.
Sacrifice is foundational to the fascist philosophy. A historical example of this playing out in real life was Corneliu Zelea Codreanu’s voluntary work camps. College students volunteered their efforts in construction and other measures, demonstrating to the local peasants and workers that these intellectuals did not shy away from manual labour, and consequently gaining their support. The volunteers were eventually supported with food from a donated vegetable farm which served as a second work camp project. These efforts contributed significantly to the increase in popularity of the fascist movement in Romania.
To put things more concisely: we are presently training our youth to believe that the most important thing they have is their opinion. This leads to a culture of critique rather than action. What better way to distance yourself emotionally from something but to complain, and conversely what better way to develop your sense of belonging and responsibility than to contribute. Some activities ought to be required, but others just encouraged and rewarded. Moreover, young people should be emboldened to use their imagination and unique experience to venture outside of the well tread path in their service to their countrymen.
The modern American education system is competitive. There’s no way around it. There are standardized tests, students are graded against the performance of their peers, and only a fraction of a percentage of the students make it to the top tier Ivy League schools. This rigorous process certainly separates high achieving students from the rest. But what do we do with these students? Generally, they are hired in the private sector and may become doctors or lawyers or CEOs.
But who is hired into the public sector? Generally not the highest achievers. In fact, government jobs are sometimes used as a way to keep unemployment down, so this reckons as hiring from the bottom. With this way of arranging things, should we be surprised to find the private sector dominating the government? Should we be surprised to find the majority of the populace dissatisfied with government performance?
Libertarians would have you believe Governments are inherently inefficient, certain to slow down the economy. But what of the impressive economic growth of 1930s Germany or the recent rise of China? You can’t say either one had a laissez faire government policy. What do the two have in common? Putting the highest achieving students into positions in civil service, for one. Another commonality is having governments which control the private sector and not the other way around. It takes a strong, competent government composed of quality people to prevent corruption and destructive cartels of power.
A Taboo Subject:
An educational system can, at most, help its students reach their highest potential, but it cannot raise this potential. Yet more and more scientists are saying that the average general intelligence or “G” is falling, and that the reason for this is a corresponding drop in biological intelligence.
Imagine an alien archaeologist coming to earth many millennia from now, examining the ruins of our civilization and finding that we made it this far only to fall back into barbarism, never to return to our present level of progress. The profound tragedy of this potential outcome can not be overstated.
The thought of an elite or “party” selecting the best members of society and encouraging them to have more children was a popular idea in the early 20th century. However, although a selection process exists in schools all the way up to the PhD level, the opposite incentive is now being given. Women and men (but especially women) graduate from these programs in severe debt, perhaps near the end of the fertile part of their lives and are lucky to have any children, while lower achieving students have an easier time having and raising children.
Genetic manipulation will not be a solution to this problem (would you let your child be the first experiment). One simple measure would be for highly performing students to be encouraged to join the civil service and then incentivized to have children with higher pay per child
IV. Self Knowledge and the Communication of Culture
“Know thyself” – an inscription on the temple to Apollo at Delphi
“The world in general, and the sphere of culture in particular, is not completed when we arrive upon the scene. This is why human life has a value, why education is a mission.” – Giovanni Gentile.
Although the universe may be infinitely old and human civilization thousands of years old, we are born in a state of amnesia, completely ignorant of the reasons for our existence. One can say in the broadest sense that an integral part of an education would be “filling in” for this lack of knowledge and connecting newcomers to the world with an ongoing historical process.
It could be said that the detached, aloof nature of the 20th century existentialist movement was the culmination of the enlightenment. Because we found ourselves superior to our predecessors, we severed our ties to them and what they were trying to achieve, consequently finding life to be purposeless and absurd. If there are no goals or ideals to be achieved, life lacks purpose. You become a victim of fate, not having asked to be born.
If, on the other hand, along with your birth comes a great responsibility handed down through the generations, your life intrinsically has purpose. Giovanni Gentile saw the necessity of connecting with the knowledge and will of the people of the past as the core of the fascist state. However, Gentile also recognized that the knowledge and will of a people should be ever evolving. The acceptance of the legacy of the culture of the past along with the consciousness that this is also one’s own will is the lifeblood of a people. If following the pursuits of past men decays into dogmatism or if it is given up entirely, then the culture has died.
What does this mean in practice? Great men of Western history have recorded their thoughts in an unofficial “cannon” of writings spanning thousands of years. Traditionally we have studied these books to get a grip on the great accomplishments and insights throughout our history. Unfortunately, we’re in the process of rejecting these relics of our past on the one hand because of a globalist political movement, and on the other because they are difficult and the citizenry has lost its reading skill.
But even in the 19th century when history and culture were most widely read, this study still had it’s criticism. Friedrich Nietzsche in his essay “The Use and Abuses of History for Life,” viewed an “objective” (unordered) view of history as potentially crippling and believed that one must “subjugate” the knowledge of the past in order to serve life. In reading the books from our history, we must shape the curriculum in a way which doesn’t overwhelm the learner, but rather inspires him, motivates him, and shapes his character.
And so it is also with futurism.
Futurism was a critical element in the fascist movement. Just as a common history unites us, a common vision of the future unites our wills in the pursuit of common goals. An education geared towards the future must have a vision which shapes the priorities of what is to be studied. A society must know what they want, and only then will they know what they have to learn.
“Grit” (Hitlerian Education) :
For a man to know himself, to truly know his potential and what he is “made of”, he must be pushed to his limits. An education in which a student is pressed will see its students expanding their limits – becoming tough. This was one of the primary goals of pre-college Hitlerian education.
Hitler had a particular interest in the youth of Germany, having had experience creating a youth organization for the NASDAP as early as 1922. He preferred the youth learning toughness and becoming healthy through sport, becoming “as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp’s steel” to becoming soft through confinement to a classroom.
Recently teaching toughness has been rebranded as “Grit”. Grit is measured in two facets, perseverance of effort and consistency of interest. It is touted as a non-cognitive skill that “plays a significant role in successful outcomes in many fields.”
The present education system in America lacks consideration for the lives of its students. It also lacks a vision of the past and a direction towards the future. Many of the recent developments in the education system are the direct result of political controversy overflowing out of the political realm. This has no benefit to the student and a questionable benefit to society.
A fascist education wishes to build up its citizens to be the best they can be. It seeks to train them in their trade for the entirety of their lives, allowing them to achieve a sense of pride in their work. It seeks to give a connection to the past through study, but it also tries inspiring and enabling the student toward the future. It also trains and encourages students to volunteer themselves for the benefit of greater society. Finally, the meritocratic system within fascism selects high quality individuals from the education process who are competent enough to establish a strong state.