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.