In 1806 the Prussians suffered a shattering military defeat at the hands of Napoleon. After their beaten soldiers fled from certain death, the Prussian military decided to turn their attention to the children, realizing they had to start young if they wanted to instill the kind of obedience that would override the fear of death itself.
The government decided that if it could force people to remain as children for a few extra years, then it could retard social, emotional, and intellectual development and control them more easily. This was the point in history that 'adolescence' was invented - a method of slowing down the transition from childhood to adulthood, so that it would take years rather than, for example, the months it takes in Indigenous rites of passage.
This delayed transition, intended to create a permanent state of child-like compliance in adults, was developed from farming techniques and used to break horses and to domesticate animals. Bear in mind that the original domestication of animals involved the mutation of wild species into an infantilized form with a smaller brain and an inability to adapt or solve problems. To domesticate an animal in this way you must:
- Separate the young from their parents in the daylight hours.
- Confine them in an enclosed space with limited stimulation or access to natural habitat.
- Use rewards and punishments to force them to comply with purposeless tasks.
Effectively, the Prussians created a system using the same techniques to manufacture adolescence and thus domesticate their people.
The system they invented in the early nineteenth century to administer this change was public education: the radical innovation of universal primary schooling, followed by streaming into trade, professional and leadership education. It was all arbitrated by a rigorous examination system (on top of the usual considerations of money and class). The vast majority of Prussian students (over ninety per cent) attended the Volksschule, where they learned a simple version of history, religion, manners and obedience, and were drilled endlessly in basic literacy and numeracy. Discipline was paramount: boredom was weaponized and deployed to lobotomize the population.
The system worked so well that Prussia became one of the most powerful countries in the world, at a time when the idea of 'nations' (rather than regions, kingdoms, tribes, or city-states) was first being promoted as the dominant form of social organization on the planet. The Prussians began to make plans to spread the institution of schooling as a tool for social control throughout the world, as it facilitated the kind of uniformity and compliance that was needed to make the model of 'nationhood' work. The US could testify to the effectiveness of Prussian education as a tool for domination and power, as American educators had been making pilgrimages to Germany for more than half a century. Excitingly, test schools across America proved that the artificially induced phenomenon of adolescence was achievable outside of Prussia, too.
In 1870, Prussia got revenge on France by annihilating the French military in the Franco-Prussian War, and immediately established Germany as a unified nation state. After that, the Prussian education system (and the new institution of extended childhood) became all the rage around the western world. It was modified to some extent, probably because the Prussian model seemed a bit weird, even to the power-hungry ultra-rich of Europe - it was so all encompassing that women were required to register each month with the police when their menstruation started. Prussia was described jokingly as an 'army with a country' or a 'gigantic penal institution'. Towns and cities were built like prison blocks, grey grids of rigid cubes and plain surfaces. The government worked hard to 'cleanse' the society of homeless people, gypsies, Jews, and homosexuals as they expanded and enforced their embryonic doctrine of eugenics. (Their motto for education was Arbeit mact frei, work sets you free, a slogan that the Nazis adopted and later placed above the gates of concentration camps, including Auschwitz, used for Jewish slave labor and extermination. There are many schools in Australia today with a similar motto in Latin: Labor Omnia Vincit, work conquers all. Now, as ever, the creation of a workforce to serve the national economy is the openly stated main goal of public education. And, as ever, the inmates of this system are told that their enthusiastic compliance with forced labor will be in their best interests at some future point.)
Germany's [still] compulsory education system expressed six outcomes in its original syllabus documents:
- Obedient soldiers to the army.
- Obedient workers for mines, factories, and farms.
- Well-subordinated civil servants.
- Well-subordinated clerks for industry.
- Citizens who thought alike on most issues.
- National uniformity in thought, word, and deed.
And it spread like wildfire: to Hungary in 1868, Austria in 1869, Switzerland in 1874, Italy in 1877, Holland in 1879, Britain in 1880, and France in 1882. From there it quickly expanded further to European colonies, including Australia.
The US had been involved much earlier; with even Benjamin Franklin advocating the Prussian system. In 1913 Woodrow Wilson established the Federal Reserve, copying Germany in its centralized banking system too: this way, the state would control both learning and money, just like Germany did.