A recent study from UC San Diego suggests that publicly funded schools were originally founded to indoctrinate and suppress disobedience, with the goal of preventing mass violence.

In the research paper entitled “Education or indoctrination? The Violent Origins of Public School Systems in the Age of State Building,” Agustina S. Paglayan, UCSD Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science/School of Social Sciences and School of Politics and global strategy, has found a historic model in Europe and Latin America. From 1828 to 2015, primary school expansion has always followed civil wars, implying that the mass education system is a political tool to advocate obedience.

“The main prediction of the research is that when there are periods of internal conflict, states will introduce educational reform designed to indoctrinate people to accept the status quo,” Paglayan told the UCSD News Center.

Paglayan thinks the violence would likely trigger anxiety among social elites about possible social unrest and their doubts about the state’s ability to maintain social order. In this scenario, the public education system was introduced to suppress dissent.

Paglayan’s study lasted seven years. During the research period, Paglayan collected quantitative data, including the number of enrollments and the level of education expenditure, from 40 separate countries. The data collected was analyzed with the language found in textbooks, parliamentary debates, politicians’ speeches, etc.

Paglayan applied the case to current public debate regarding the teaching of critical race theory. One example she pointed to is the 1776 Commission, the advisory committee that former President Donald J. Trump created after the Black Lives Matter movement. The 1776 Commission was later impeached with its baseless historical report and “patriotic education”. Despite the end of Trump’s presidential term, the Commission continues to shape the American education system, an example of which is the bills issued by various states that prohibit the teaching of systematic racism.

“The school contains students in certain environments, which would shape the personality and social values ​​of the students,” said Jane Qin, a sophomore at Eleanor Roosevelt College. “From classrooms to dining halls, students are exposed to particular environments provided under campus, and all of their encountered elements would exert some influence on students – that’s for sure.”

However, not all students are concerned that education is a disciplinary tool. Junior John Muir College student Rafi Benson said: “I would say [the schooling] to be indoctrination or not, depends on the structure of the program and the people who designed the program. It is a very difficult question whether the curriculum would be set by higher orders or teachers. If every student learns the same thing, groups of students somewhat lose their individuality – how diverse could that be? »

Austin Hicks, a junior from John Muir College, has a different opinion. “For me personally, the purpose of education is simple. Elementary school prepares students for middle school and middle school prepares students for high school. I was taught to think rather than what to think,” Hicks said.

Oana Tocoian, a lecturer in the Department of Economics, shared a relatively similar view.

“Beyond transforming young people into willing citizens of nation-states, public primary education was also essential in training the industrial workforce: the children of farmers and traders were to become literate and master factory lingo,” Tocoian said. “They were prepared to obey not only the existing political order, but also the factory foreman.”

Nonetheless, Tocoian saw a dividing line between early public schools and today’s universities and expressed concern about higher education.

“As access to higher education has widened, the apparent reach of universities seems to have shrunk, and students are encouraged, through rhetoric and prompting, to view their college years as little more than vocational training,” Tocoian said. “There is certainly no more room in the classroom today to challenge the primacy of the shareholder in the corporate hierarchy than there was in Prussia to challenge the authority of the King.”

Paglayan’s research has been published in the American Political Science Review. The full document can be found here.

Illustration by Allen Chen for the UCSD Guardian