This passage by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) from What’s Wrong with the World regarding public education I think could have been said today.

The trouble in too many of our modern schools is that the State, being controlled so specially by the few, allows cranks and experiments to go straight to the schoolroom when they have never passed through the Parliament, the public house, the private house, the church, or the marketplace.

Obviously it ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people; the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby. But in a school today the baby has to submit to a system that is younger than himself. The flopping infant of four actually has more experience, and has weathered the world longer than the dogma to which he is made to submit.

Many a school boasts of having the last ideas in education, when it has not even the first idea; for the first idea is that even innocence, divine as it is, may learn something from experience. But this is all due to the mere fact that we are managed by a little oligarchy; my system presupposes that men who govern themselves will govern their children.

22 comments
  1. Best line: “Obviously it ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people; the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby.”

  2. Best line: “Obviously it ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people; the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby.”

  3. The more things change, the more they stay the same, the bigger the mess.

    This could have been written today as well as when it was. As I go through seminary, part of the oldest of three generations of students attending, you can see the changes in students and the outcomes of the education system since I was a lad.

    We need prayer in this area, that is for sure.

  4. The more things change, the more they stay the same, the bigger the mess.

    This could have been written today as well as when it was. As I go through seminary, part of the oldest of three generations of students attending, you can see the changes in students and the outcomes of the education system since I was a lad.

    We need prayer in this area, that is for sure.

  5. @Kansas Bob – I wholeheartedly agree.

    @Nephos – I think so too. It is eerie how spot on he was. You’d think he was describing our public schools.

    @Laura – I agree, it is unfortunate that it isn’t the case.

    @Andy – I’ve been alarmed by what I’m seeing in upcoming generations as well. We do need to pray.

  6. @Kansas Bob – I wholeheartedly agree.

    @Nephos – I think so too. It is eerie how spot on he was. You’d think he was describing our public schools.

    @Laura – I agree, it is unfortunate that it isn’t the case.

    @Andy – I’ve been alarmed by what I’m seeing in upcoming generations as well. We do need to pray.

  7. How can anyone expect to help young people explore new ideas in a rapidly-changing world if you use the same old methods year after year? This doesn’t mean that all the tried and true approaches should be thrown out in lieu of the latest fad…but I think it’s important for our educators – public and private; secular and religious – to unearth relevant pedagogy. I am excited for my children to grow and learn in a public school system that (though flawed) has teachers who are committed to making sure they are reaching the next generation of leaders in the most effective way possible.

  8. How can anyone expect to help young people explore new ideas in a rapidly-changing world if you use the same old methods year after year? This doesn’t mean that all the tried and true approaches should be thrown out in lieu of the latest fad…but I think it’s important for our educators – public and private; secular and religious – to unearth relevant pedagogy. I am excited for my children to grow and learn in a public school system that (though flawed) has teachers who are committed to making sure they are reaching the next generation of leaders in the most effective way possible.

  9. I see your point Erik, and I don’t believe that we should try different methods. I just think classical education has been thrown under the bus. Often times original sources are forgotten.

    I think Erik where this is mostly seen is with literature, history, and other social sciences. Also I think that the schools have become so inundated with “mandates,” electives, and extra-curricular activities that they are taken off of their primary mission.

    Another thing I’ve noticed – kids may have great self-esteem when leaving the public school system, but by and large their reading, writing and critical thinking skills are wanting.

  10. I see your point Erik, and I don’t believe that we should try different methods. I just think classical education has been thrown under the bus. Often times original sources are forgotten.

    I think Erik where this is mostly seen is with literature, history, and other social sciences. Also I think that the schools have become so inundated with “mandates,” electives, and extra-curricular activities that they are taken off of their primary mission.

    Another thing I’ve noticed – kids may have great self-esteem when leaving the public school system, but by and large their reading, writing and critical thinking skills are wanting.

  11. Shane said ” Another thing I’ve noticed – kids may have great self-esteem when leaving the public school system, but by and large their reading, writing and critical thinking skills are wanting”.

    This comment reminded me of my visit last year to my son in California. While there we went to my grandson’s 3rd grade basketball game at St Francis de Sales, a Catholic K through 8 school.
    While watching the game with interest, I asked my son what was the score, since I didn’t see a scoreboard. He said they don’t keep score, that way everybody wins.
    Incredulous, after the game I asked one of the nuns why they didn’t keep score. She said that increasing a child’s self-esteem was more important than winning or losing a game. Huh !!
    Competition is the heart and soul of the American spirit. Play to win, learn when you lose, and play smarter the next time. How will these kids compete in today’s world ?

    I was reminded of a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, ” Harrison Bergeron “.
    Is this where we are headed as a society..?

  12. Shane said ” Another thing I’ve noticed – kids may have great self-esteem when leaving the public school system, but by and large their reading, writing and critical thinking skills are wanting”.

    This comment reminded me of my visit last year to my son in California. While there we went to my grandson’s 3rd grade basketball game at St Francis de Sales, a Catholic K through 8 school.
    While watching the game with interest, I asked my son what was the score, since I didn’t see a scoreboard. He said they don’t keep score, that way everybody wins.
    Incredulous, after the game I asked one of the nuns why they didn’t keep score. She said that increasing a child’s self-esteem was more important than winning or losing a game. Huh !!
    Competition is the heart and soul of the American spirit. Play to win, learn when you lose, and play smarter the next time. How will these kids compete in today’s world ?

    I was reminded of a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, ” Harrison Bergeron “.
    Is this where we are headed as a society..?

  13. Teaching self-esteem is so ’90s. The education community is slowly realizing that we’ve created a generation of self-centered “special” kids that can’t function in the workplace. Employers are expected to spend large portions of their time figuring out how to pacify their latest stock of “special” (read: lazy, self-centered) employees.

    I think the classical model of education that was used before our public school experiment was to teach children the basics of reading, writing, and math and then spend the rest of their education track teaching them how to learn. This is even more beneficial today as we’ll never be able to teach enough rote material to prepare a student for a vastly more complex society with a virtually unending horizon of vocational choices; each exponentially changing with new technologies, systems, and trends.

    This guy is right on the money. Old skool, baby! Old skool works.

  14. Teaching self-esteem is so ’90s. The education community is slowly realizing that we’ve created a generation of self-centered “special” kids that can’t function in the workplace. Employers are expected to spend large portions of their time figuring out how to pacify their latest stock of “special” (read: lazy, self-centered) employees.

    I think the classical model of education that was used before our public school experiment was to teach children the basics of reading, writing, and math and then spend the rest of their education track teaching them how to learn. This is even more beneficial today as we’ll never be able to teach enough rote material to prepare a student for a vastly more complex society with a virtually unending horizon of vocational choices; each exponentially changing with new technologies, systems, and trends.

    This guy is right on the money. Old skool, baby! Old skool works.

  15. I am only 53 years on this earth – but have been involved with education for a very
    large portion of that time. I know not of private schools and probably not of Old
    School. I do know and have witnessed, during my life, that public education has
    been nothing less than outright horrible. To say that children, from the beginning
    and through college, have been educated is an absolute farce. This country should be ashamed of its educational system. So very little is learned. I do not have an answer and those that say the Old School is the way, would still find that lacking and far from the type of educational system we need. Is it too late ? Well, from the best I can figure – only the parents of children could possibly make the difference. If you have children – their education is in your hands
    alone. Any chance they have is up to you. Maybe I do have an answer. Those of you who do not have children, will probably have very little chance to change
    our intrenched educational system – for it would take a large change – and this
    does not seem to be what the leaders of our nation care to deal with – or perhaps could not, if indeed they wanted to. It is a sad thing, but a real thing, I am afraid.

  16. I am only 53 years on this earth – but have been involved with education for a very
    large portion of that time. I know not of private schools and probably not of Old
    School. I do know and have witnessed, during my life, that public education has
    been nothing less than outright horrible. To say that children, from the beginning
    and through college, have been educated is an absolute farce. This country should be ashamed of its educational system. So very little is learned. I do not have an answer and those that say the Old School is the way, would still find that lacking and far from the type of educational system we need. Is it too late ? Well, from the best I can figure – only the parents of children could possibly make the difference. If you have children – their education is in your hands
    alone. Any chance they have is up to you. Maybe I do have an answer. Those of you who do not have children, will probably have very little chance to change
    our intrenched educational system – for it would take a large change – and this
    does not seem to be what the leaders of our nation care to deal with – or perhaps could not, if indeed they wanted to. It is a sad thing, but a real thing, I am afraid.

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