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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Beating the Bounds

Pre-literate societies marked territory by beating children. Every few years, the elders of the community would take a group of children on a walk along the boundaries of the village, or town in order to show the children what ground belonged to their town and what ground belonged to someone else.

In order to impress on young minds exactly where these boundaries lay, a selection of children were soundly thrashed at each boundary marker. The children present, especially the ones entrusted with the community memory through force of sticks, would thereby never forget the information entrusted to them that day. The practice was so common it became a catch-phase: “beating the bounds.”

What calls this to mind is a new recommendation from England that all children be enrolled in school from birth. The English, it seems, have become concerned that the little tykes cannot properly be taken care of unless they are watched over by licensed keepers every minute of the day from birth forward.

Where did this idea come from? Well, as John Taylor Gatto points out, it finds its origins in the invention of compulsory mass schools.

Origins of the school system

Prior to the industrial revolution, American education did quite well in the one-room school house. The school house was run by a local school board comprised entirely of local parents. It was generally taught by one of the townspeople, and most of the students were related to each other. Cousins, brothers, sisters, even aunts and uncles (for large families engendered by young parents create young aunts and uncles) all attended school together with the older students teaching the younger ones many of the lessons.

The school year lasted less than twelve weeks, with no more than six of those weeks consecutive. The youth might attend school for a three or four years, possibly a total of forty weeks in their life. Yet these same students were reading Shakespeare, Milton, Boswell and similar lights in fifth grade. The system worked exceedingly well. In fact, it worked too well.

Industrialization required an ignorant population. After all, skilled men had trades; only unskilled men might be forced into factory work. For industrialization to work, men had to be prevented from learning enough to strike out on their own. Schools had to be dumbed down. That’s why the mass school was invented. It was inefficient, it physically removed youth from their families in order to alienate them, and it thereby produced a human being who was much more dependent upon the factory owner.

As Gatto shows, the “need” for factory schools became the focus of an enormous advertising campaign, wherein society was told that the one-room school house was hopelessly inadequate to the task. Factory schools were promoted in magazines and newspapers, by speakers and politicians at every opportunity. Over the course of forty years, laws were passed in every state requiring school attendance. Industrial productivity soared.

Indeed, the new factory model schools were so successful because they produced not only a population that would work in a factory, but a population that was forced to buy factory products because it no longer knew how to make things for itself. But as technology advanced, some adjustments had to be made to the schools.

Violence in Education

In the one-room school house, beatings were common. Being spanked or switched for an offense was much like breathing – almost everyone got a taste of it eventually. As you grew older, you learned how to avoid the beatings. That was a mark of being an adult - no one could thrash you.

But as is obvious after a moment's thought, beatings do not fit in well with the age of telegraphy, radio or television. You see, a boy can be beaten in order to direct behaviour only if there is someone there to deliver the beating. The mark of maturity had to be changed to something more... amenable to commerce.

After all, telegraphy, radio, television – these things cannot change behaviour through promised violence but only through promised enticements. If children are to be trained in correct buying behaviour, they should ideally be re-inforced at every opportunity to connect enticement with changed behaviour. Thus, as the new means of electronic advertising developed, capitalism required that the model for school discipline should revolve around treats rather than thrashing.

The “no corporeal punishment” movement was born and has since flourished. Parents are now encouraged to prepare their children for the marketplace primarily by marketing personal behaviour to their children. Parents are to advertise to their children how good behaviour is rewarded with industrial products, and bad behaviour with lack of access to those same products. Since spanking is not a product, it is strongly discouraged or outlawed.

Children need to be socialized, that is, they need to learn how to need a commodity, how to be a commodity and how to treat others like a commodity.

The New Problem

But, as the lesson is taken to heart, a new wrinkle arises. Adults who put self before all others and who treat each other like commodities tend not to have children. As the number of children drops, the number of people available to buy product also drops, that is, the population begins to drop. Hmmm… what to do?

As the demographics shrink across the globe, one solution is to re-double the effort. Make children even more insanely needy than they are right now. Extend the factory school to the very ends of the life – from birth to death, teach nothing but the consumer mindset. Great strides have already been made to keep people in school through their early thirties, but that isn’t enough. Let’s extend it from birth to forty, if we can.

Thus, the advent of the pre-pre-school. It isn’t “daycare.” Adults must have room to think that they are not warehousing their own children in order to lead a more pleasant and selfish adult life, but rather that this warehousing is actually for the children’s good. Never mind the mountains of evidence that this is the worst thing you can do to a child.

This is socialization. It is education. If you oppose education, you are a retrograde, knuckle-dragging Luddite, and probably a Marxist.

Beating the bounds is as old as mankind. But in a global village, the bounds are found in bank accounts and the children are taught those bounds by a much more subtle and a much more alienating violence.


GFvonB said...

If you oppose education, you are a retrograde, knuckle-dragging Luddite

And proud of it!

Great article! Is this from your book?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Thanks for the kind words!

As for the article, it is actually a summary of several themes in the book, sparked by yesterday's news that the English were considering instituting a pre-pre-school for children from birth to five, when the "real" schools would take over.

I'm not sure why knuckle-dragging is looked down on. I find it's the only way to give my knuckles that special sheen that women find so desirable.

Jordan Potter said...

Well, thanks to LifeSiteNews' misinterpretation of the BBC article, you have made an error about the proposed British law. Having read the BBC article, I see that the British government is essentially attempting a complete take-over of private daycare centers, which would become the equivalent of public schools for preschoolers and infants. However, contrary to what LifeSiteNews said, it doesn't appear that it will be compulsory that parents send their children to daycare centers, just that the daycares must use a single curriculum invented by the British government. Thus, if you leave your kids at daycare in Britain, they'll be in the care not of a private employee of a private business, but of the Socialist Nanny State.

So it's pretty bad, but not as bad as LifeSiteNews would have us believe.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I was aware that Lifesite had mis-reported it when I wrote the article, which is why I didn't say the English had made it compulsory.

This is not surprising: the mass schools didn't start out as compulsory either. They were only made compulsory after the cultural framework had been set. The schools were first advertised by all the media movers and shakers as a necessary thing: magazine and newspaper articles, speakers and politicians hawked it from the housetops.

We are in the beginning phases of what will become compulsory school. They are following the same tactics that worked so successfully just a century ago.

Bloggers, MSM, etc. are working to create a public swell of opinion in favor of it. This is the hawking stage, where the supposed benefits are advertised and the negative consequences downplayed. This is 1865 all over again.

Christina Martin said...

I agree with your points, but I have to point out that corporal punishment in school frequently accomplishes the opposite of what you seem to be promoting. Specifically, it takes disciplinary action (the control of a child's body itself) out of the hands of a parent and puts it in the hands of a "professional." I know too many people who were routinely spanked, even beaten, by school authorities when no rules had even been broken. While schools must have some authority to discipline wrong behaviors, two cautions are imperitive: first, no discipline should ever be executed without written notice (preferably in advance) to the parent; and second, nobody without parental authority has any right to do anything to the body of a child.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I agree entirely.

In days past, the one-room school house (which had 100% literacy) was run by a school board composed entirely by parents, the children in attendance were all part of the same extended family (small towns tended to be populated largely by cousins or soon-to-be cousins), and the teacher also tended to be a family member. Thus corporeal punishment was a family affair.

Today's consolidated schools have taken the parents and the family out of every part of the equation. As I point out in my book "Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America," there is absolutely no reason to support the mass school system as it exists today. None.

Nârwen said...

I wonder what percentage of those children who were unjustly beaten because of a foolish custom then went on to deliberately violate the boundaries just to spite their elders......(probably my reaction !)
Quite bluntly, if one is advocating a return to local control, that's a lousy illustration to use.The rest of the argument seems good, but the thought of kids being beaten arbitrarily is so sick it's hard to take anything else seriously.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"Foolish custom."


The people who lived and died before us were not more stupid than us, nor are we more virtuous than they.

They had a problem: how to accurately pass on the territorial boundaries for their communities in order to avoid war? They had to do it in a pre-literate society that had no way to pass the knowledge of these arbitrary boundaries on except through word of mouth. They knew perfectly well how inaccurate word of mouth can be, but lives depended on making sure no mistakes were made.

I don't think their solution counts as a "foolish custom" especially given that so many societies and ages came up with similar solutions.

Now, we have the custom of separating our children from their parents, of making them whining, dependent stooges incapable of doing anything on their own. The reason for our custom is to maximize corporate earnings. This custom has been in existence throughout all the first-world countries for roughly a century, so it's hardly time-tested.

If I had to judge one of the two customs foolish, I think it would be the latter, not the former.

Dave said...

Although I had the same initial reaction as Nârwen to the concept of arbitrary thrashings, on reflection this is merely an extension of ordinary parental discipline. Spanking a child for disobedience is no less arbitrary. Of course, that is also unfashionable today.

I found it useful to juxtapose the practice of "beating the bounds" with the Shyamalan movie The Village. Many Americans seem to have been disappointed in the movie because (1) the monsters weren't real and (2) the leaders' lies and punishments seemed arbitrary. These elements were ironic from a certain viewpoint, but not meaningless.

Basically, Americans live in an idealistic fantasy world where everyone should be able to do whatever they want without consequences, and a child's fragile self-esteem should never be challenged. However, real people do suffer consequences and their self-esteem is frequently challenged. Parents have the primary responsibility to teach their children why this happens and how to cope with it.

Nârwen said...

There is a big difference between being punished and being beaten arbitrarily. In the first case, one is usually angry at oneself as well as at the inflictor. In the second, one simply hates the person inflicting pain- and, from a human perspective, rightly. One can get cases like a boy I read of who endured years of arbitrary or weakly 'justified' beatings from his father. His father was then shocked when, when the boy was 16, he responded to a reprimand from his father by slugging his dad in the mouth, shattering his jaw. When questioned by relatives, the young man shrugged. "He could hit me when I was littler than him. Now I'm strong and I can hit him. What's the difference ? "