In 1873, the first ever Kindergarten opened in St. Louis, Missouri. It was going to solve all the problems of poverty. Sound familiar?
Leader of local schools, William Torrey Harris, had decided that the best way to civilise ‘slum children’ and ensure they did not follow corruption was to get them into school early. He said:
“The child who passes his years in the misery of the crowded tenement house or alley, becomes early familiar with all manner of corruption and immorality.”
This view is commonly present even among our own education policies. Far too often I hear MPs – on both sides of the house – saying that school is going to solve all of the evils of poverty and that ‘civilisation’ of the poor is all that is needed.
What’s most extraordinary is how similar this sounds to the kind of logic that was applied to the civilisation of immigrants in Britain’s ‘newer nations. In both the US and Australia baording schools were created for native children. In these boarding schools they were taught ‘correct English’ and the required morals and manners of the day. Some will argue that in doing so it enabled them to flourish in a society that had changed immeasurably and wasn’t about to turn back; others might call it cultural and linguistic genocide.
Perhaps neither view of our history is correct but what it does show is the way education is too often used to correct an assumed deficit. Too many political leaders exhibit Pymgalion fantasies, believing that they are going to ‘bring to life’ the poor-but-bright children who are simply waiting to be saved and made into a modern-day Eliza Doolittle. Unfortunately, they all too often forget that other story of a person who tried to create an idol in their own image. The story is that of The Modern Prometheus, though you may know it by a different name!