High school classrooms were NEVER for learning … but they could be. | Richard Wells | 12 Min Read

June 7, 2023

Important first question: where did the high school classroom come from?

It’s important to remember that the high school classroom essentially didn’t exist until the 20th century. It is in fact a ‘new’ idea / experiment. For example, In 1910, only 18% of U.S. 15- to 18-year-olds were enrolled in a high school and just 9% of all American 18-year-olds graduated. In New Zealand, where I live, we only made high school compulsory for 15 year-olds in 1944! My dad was born in the 40s and so high school in NZ is only as old as my parents!

High school’s ‘Sliding doors’ moment

The film Sliding Doors presents the butterfly effect in regards to the significant impact small moments can have on the future. Whether one makes it through the doors or not, whether one turns right or left can have huge ramifications. The first two decades of 20th century education thinking resulted in one of these moments. In this case, the ‘junction’ presented two paths. Turning right towards Administrative progressivism (Edward Thorndike etc.) and turning left led to pedagogical progressivism (Dewey etc.). Society turned right, away from pedagogy and towards an educational purpose driven to categorise its people … but why?

➡️We turned right and let Nazi-style thinking design your high school

Eugenics is the theory that twists the real science of genetics into ideas of superior and inferior gene pools. It’s important to recognise that eugenics drove political and industrial leadership’s thinking across the world during this foundation period of high school education. Between 1900 and 1932, every American PresidentWinston Churchill, Adolf Hitler (no need for a link), Edward Thorndike (the ‘father of modern schooling’) and many other influential leaders around the world were members of eugenic societies.

Where Hitler decided to rapidly exterminate those he viewed as “inferior gene pools”, America and its political allies decided it was more humane to do such things as sterilise inferior people (32 American states introduce eugenic sterilising laws) and also use education to sort the nation’s people into their eugenic status levels. School’s were designed to quickly shift the ‘genetically weaker majority’ into their rightful place of low subsistence living — surviving enough to work another day for ‘proven’ superior people. They…

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Richard Wells

Richard Wells is a world-recognized educator, author and blogger on future education trends. He has presented around the world and has been rated in the top 50 world influencers for educational technology use. He currently works in school leadership and is passionate about moving schools forward to better represent the needs of the 21st century. Richard is an EdTech influencer who founded EduWells, a top 10 education blog. He is the author of A Learner's Paradise, a book in which he explains how education can operate without classrooms, lessons, subjects, and tests. Richard proudly started his career with a degree in Fine Art from Manchester in England. He worked in IT before contracting to work in schools, digitalizing their workflows in the late 1990s. He became an educator in 2003.