10-Hour School Days, Progress or Totalitarianism?

King in Prussia William I was building an army, an army that his son would later use to attack Austria and Poland with, to achieve this goal he concluded that two years military service was not sufficient to drill a man into an obedient soldier, instead, he needed at least three years of drill so that he might be competent for military service.  Three years? You might say, “what does a soldier need to learn that takes three years to train?”  The answer is that a soldier needs to be so obedient to suggestion from his commanders that he would immediately march directly into gunfire if ordered to.  If someone told you to step into the way of a field full of exploding cannon balls, would you obey them?  The situation is not one of “your country is being attacked and your family and friends threatened” rather, you are in an army attacking other people and threatening other people’s families and friends.  What would you do?  Generally speaking, most people would decline such an order, however, after three years of military schooling, the typical Prussian soldier found ample “courage” to step out into the firing line of enemy cannons when instructed to do so.

Michael Gove, the UK Secretary of State for Education, made a speech pledging to break down the “Berlin Wall” between public and private schools to improve standards in education that have been in steady decline for decades.  His solution is the 10 hour school day.  On face value, this sounds positive, schooling is ‘good’, therefore more schooling is ‘better’ and will solve this problem?  However, as soon as one starts to think just a little  about this one begins to realise that increasing the number of hours children go to school makes little sense.

The first problem is that while Mr. Gove recognises that the private sector, on average, do a better job than the public sector, on average, at education, as the private sector tends to be more efficient and competitive in every situation where they compete with the government.  He however seems completely oblivious to the fact that home schooled children out perform the private schooled children even more so.   The reality is that of the three approaches to education (public, private and home) the public system is and always has been firmly in third place, while home schooled children have always had huge advantages over the other two approaches.  What Mr. Gove is admitting is that public schooling is in 3rd place, but if they try really really hard, they just might make it closer to or equal to 2nd place.  Wow, such ambition is truly impressive to the misinformed.  I have to wonder if Mr. Gove is actually concerned with education at all, or perhaps something else entirely?

The second problem is that public schools did not used to be so bad, the standards have been in decline for over 40 years.  Kids spent much less time in schools, both public and private, back then and they performed much better than they do now.  Increasing the hours children spend at school has not reversed this trend, indeed, even spending large quantities of money on education has not reversed this trend.  Assuming that more time in school did have a positive impact on academic performance, then would not the present situation imply that it is the culture of schooling that is defective, not the amount of time spent in school?  Who is to say that schools and teachers are simply less competent at teaching than they used to be?  I am not actually saying blame the teachers, I would actually suggest that political meddling in the curriculum and structure of education is doing the damage.  Too much politics is being taught in schools, children are not being taught how to think, they are being taught what to think and this makes them into drones, not creative self-sufficient intellectuals as politicians keep promising to make them into.  Never mind the fact that human beings ought not to considered a raw material to be made into anything anyway.

Thirdly, there is the question of whether extra hours at school is even necessary or worthwhile at all.  I work with children with intellectual and academic delays, in my field it was suggested that children needed 40 hours per week of therapy so that they would catch up to their peers.  This recommendation was based on exaggerated figures collected during a study in the 1980s that counted time spent with the children, not time actually doing learning activities.  Studies conducted over the last decade have reached the conclusion that children are capable of spending about 25 hours per week doing learning activities, then after those 25 hours is used up, one hits the problem of diminishing returns.  As an adult, who has completed many courses of study I can attest that even if I allocated 30 or more hours to study each week realistically I just could not do more than those 25 hours before I hit an invisible wall when I just can not absorbed or process anymore information.  I could just read a page over and over and nothing was getting stuck into my brain.  I just had to put the books away and wait a day or two before my brain was ready for more learning.  This is not anyone’s personal failing, it is just a part of being human, nor can it be “corrected” with intervention.

So with all these objections noted, one finds oneself beginning to speculate as to the true motivations behind Mr. Gove’s plans to increase school hours.  Although it is possible he is a complete idiot, I suspect he is not.  I am inclined to think that Mr. Gove is indeed a very schrewd and intelligent man who knows full well that he is talking spin and does not believe a word of it himself.  Rather, I suspect he knows or at least has civil servants near him who know full well the three objections I raised, indeed, they probably know more reasons to object to this program than I am capable of listing by myself.  Instead, I have to wonder why the government are so keen to keep children in school for longer and longer periods of time.  Remember public schooling was just a few days and a few years once upon a time.  Over the course of a hundred years it has progressively gobbled up their entire childhood and the best years of their lives, forcing them to spend years drilling out pointless exercises they have no interest in doing over and over again.  I can think of two possible motivations governments might have to increase school hours.

Firstly, one of the primary roles of the public school system was so that women could enter the workforce to build up the economy and tax revenue.  By extending school days to 10 hours that means every family can have both parents working full time and not have to worry about cutting their days short for their children.  Therefore some working couples might see this a “free” child care while forgetting schools are paid with their tax money.  I can also see a strong incentive on the parts of business interests to lobby the government to restructure family life in this way and for the government to squeeze every extra cent and dollar out of their populace.  After all, if the government were really concerned about schooling, they would increase it’s efficiency so that kids do not need to be in school for longer than 25 hours a week.  Instead of keeping them in for 50 hours per week.  I would argue that even if the schools delivered 25 hours of efficient learning to children per week, they still should not do so as the children need those extra hours of free learning capacity to pursue their own learning interests whatever they might be.

Secondly, the state is moving increasingly towards totalitarianism, and the single biggest obstacles to attaining this goal are the family and community units.  By taking children away from their families the government are destroying the family as a basic building block of the nation.  Instead, the government have more influence over their values and morality of the children than their parents do.  Consider how one might frown upon a couple who hire a nanny to raise their children so that they do not need to spend any time with their children at all.  Consider the feelings of hurt and rejection the children in such a situation might feel towards their parents.  Consider what 50 hours per week of schooling starting in kindergarten (and even in childcare as the government gets more involved in this sector) all the way up until they are 18 and then again in tertiary education.  Do we wonder why children are so angry with their parents and why families are falling apart?  Where are the 50 hours per week invested in family and community?  Why is this not valued and encouraged?

In reference to the opening paragraph of this article I have to wonder, how many years does it take for the government to raise obedient, soulless, thoughtless workers who do nothing but eat, breed and work for the government?  Will school hours eventually increase until babies are just formally handed over into massive state run orphanages to completely control every aspect of a child’s development?  These increased school hours are just another step closer to this bleak totalitarian future where human beings are little more than cattle to be milked and exploited ruthlessly by the state apparatus.  During the post election protests in Iran in 2009 the army was not called into crush the opposition, probably because national armies seldom feel comfortable shooting their own civilian population.  Instead a paramilitary organisation called the Basij were used to attack, beat and abuse millions of Iranians protesting the rigged election.  The Basij were made up of people from many different backgrounds, but most of them were actually orphans raised entirely in state care after their parents were killed during the Iraq-Iran war.  One image that haunts me is a group of Basij cutting their own arms open while chanting their blood and devotion to the regime before charging fanatically into the crowd beating civilians mercilessly.  That kind of devotion to the state is something I suspect many politicians here in the West salivated over covetously.  A government after all is concerned with only one thing: increasing its power and hold over a populace.  From lying to win an election, to indoctrinating children 50 hours per week in public schools to love and adore the state.

If you love your children and value their freedom and happiness, take them out of the school system and home school them instead.  Do not hand over the most precious thing you have, your children, to be turned into cannon fodder for their wars or as slaves in the elite’s factories.

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