The battle of Jena-Auerstadt was fought between the Prussian and French armies. This was the time of Napoleon. His army moved across Europe like a great hurricane, decisively defeating any army it met and the Prussians were no exception. This battle was so lop-sided that a Prussian artillery officer was moved to write arguably the greatest war manual ever written. Carl von Clausewitz forged the pages of On War from memories realized during the battle of Auerstadt. His writing is so powerful that it continues to inform military maneuvers in the modern age.
One rarely known fact lies buried in the history pages of Jena-Auerstadt battle. Quietly, the roots of modern education were sewn in the ashes of the Prussian defeat. Fredrick the Great was completely shocked at the dismay of the Prussian army and he immediately moved forward plans to establish a state funded education system. He recognized that the poor performance of his troops was a result of their inability to follow orders properly.
Only a short while later, a guy by the name of Hoarace Mann took a trip to Prussia in 1843 with the hopes of learning more about state funded education. Not only was he impressed by the system, he implemented exactly the same system back in the United States.
The goal of industrial age Prussian education was to prepare students for work in the factories. There was never any sense that students would be expected to move beyond their basic 8 years of education. Why would a layman want anything other than good factory job?
Fast forward to today. Can you recognize the archaic pillars of the industrial education system in our schools? Maybe they’re even haunting your classroom. Memorization, conformation to authority, rows and lines of desks all speak to the ghosts of our past.
Clausewitz wrote On War after being appalled at the actions of his troops. He sought to change the way warfare was fought. He was an artist. We face the same crisis today.
Are we setting our kids up to lose the battle of Auerstadt?