Bratwurst, Leica cameras, BMW automobiles, Beck’s beer, and so on—great German imports to the U.S. Few people realize that our educational system was also imported from Germany. Unlike those fine products, however, the 19th century educational concepts we imported from Germany are not working well any more.
That is the big argument that University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds makes in his just-published book The New School. He notes that both our K-12 system and the research university model were brought here by American intellectuals who admired Germany’s regimented approaches to education. The German K-12 system was thought essential to mass education for our rapidly industrializing nation and the German university was felt to be necessary to foster academic research.
While those models may have had their virtues in the past, they work poorly today. The regimented classrooms for younger students that used to produce students who’d be “useful as future tools” is outmoded and often counter-productive; the traditional college degree bundle is high in cost but low in educational value for many students.
And to make matters worse, both systems have mostly been captured by the people who run them. The interests of the educators and administrators usually trump the interests of students, families, and taxpayers.