150 years or so into universal compulsory education, we might ask: what was the justification for it, and how has it turned out? perhaps the justification was egalitarian. to what extent has it closed gaps of race or class in this country? i'm talking about reality, not yapyap. i attended dc public schools in the 1960s and '70s. they were an incomprehensible useless disaster then, and they are now. they're just about to get it right, though: have been since 1881. perhaps the idea was universal literacy? perhaps indeed, but the people who have tried to make that happen are at best semi-literate themselves. or put it like this: even if margaret spellings or arne duncan can, strictly speaking, sound out the words on their telepromters, they are under a terrible misapprehension about what literacy actually is. their vision is that by the time you reach 18, you should be able to mechanically produce a five-paragraph essay, like a parrot or an idiot. they've failed even at that.
i can't imagine that these are the actual motivations, because then people would register that the means are grotesquely incompatible with the ends, and that the results are nothing at all like the professions, over a very long trial. i think the purpose was subordination of populations; i think compulsory education is merely authoritarianism. it is explicitly authoritarian, for it is compulsory. i think you might want to consult your own statutes on child labor and kidnapping. to a great extent, we've done to everyone what we did to american indian children: snatch them and try to 'integrate' them into the dominant culture: to control them and reshape them, because parents and communities don't share the values of the dominant culture. the form that takes now is that we're not adequately filling cubicles, so let's let bill gates write a universal curriculum. i think the purpose is to shape and control minds, as in forced labor camps in the cultural revolution, to destroy sub-cultures, to make everyone as much like 'us' as possible.
i think the motivations are racism, classism, and cultural imperialism intended to result in cultural destruction or 'assimilation' or 'integration.' the other side is internment for the unassimilated, as in high-rise housing projects and mass incarceration. this combination is summarized by urban public education. i think the goal of compulsory education overall is to produce a uniform american child to feed into the maw of the state-capital octopus, dropping all others into the dark dimension where they can't be seen. other than that, though, it is a very inspiring vision.
i think you'll find that many of the same people who were pushing universal compulsory education were advocates of eugenics. one intended effect of 'universal literacy,' and of standardized testing, and of compulsory education, is to wipe out what deleuze calls 'minor languages': slangs, dialects, etc. language is central to culture; destroying vernaculars is cultural destruction. however, major languages are dead without them, as arne and margaret and hillary so vividly demonstrate. and in all this, the progressive people effortlessly, with no self-consciousness or self-reflection, took themselves to be obviously the normative people: just what all people should be, should be compelled to be. with little variations, they're still right there.
a couple of lessons from the obvious century-long failure: if you seek to produce egalitarian outcomes by authoritarian means, you simply produce more extreme hierarchy. that should have been obvious to everyone all along. the history of american progressivism has been a history of effortlessly deploying white bourgeois norms, regarding them as universally valid, and using them ('unconsciously') as instruments of renewed or more thorough oppression. race was at the heart all along, i believe. the idea was that black people and poor people (in appalachia, perhaps) were not capable of raising their own children, that they could not be trusted with their own children, that their communities and families were 'dysfunctional' or 'pathological' and that we could help. help=make them more like white middle-class people. this made it hard to distinguish between cultural uplift and cultural annihilation. even by the standards of the progressives themselves, the results have been disastrous.