A Nation of Workers, Not a Nation of Thinkers

Anthony Williams

Have you ever had the conversation that schools don’t teach you how to think?

Have you ever been frustrated that you spend so many years in school and yet you come out with only the ability to regurgitate information?

What if I told you that independent thought wasn’t the purpose of education in the first place?

The decades before and after the 1900’s was the period of the Industrial Revolution. This is where many of the legendary billionaires made their fortune via the railroads, the automobile, oil, etc. The idea of the assembly line was crystallizing into reality with the birth of mass production.

In 1902, The General Education Board was a non-governmental organization designed to support higher education and was funded primarily by John D Rockefeller. Throughout his lifetime he donated approximately $180 million.

The board’s objectives were to promote farming, to establish public high schools in the South and to develop programs for African Americans.

Why was so much funding put into schooling? What what his motivation? Rockefeller said ‘I don’t want a nation of thinkers. I want a nation of workers.’

Here is a quote by Frederick T. Gates, one of the members of the General Education Board :

“In our dream, we have limitless resources and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hand. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have an ample supply…The task we set before ourselves is very simple as well as a very beautiful one, to train these people as we find them to a perfectly ideal life just where they are… ”

In many cases, independent thinking and higher ambitions were completely squashed. There is a famous story about the young Malcolm Little who would later become Malcolm X. He heard his teacher tell the white students in his class that they can be whatever they wanted to be. He was at the top of his class and was looking for encouragement on pursuing law as a career. He tells his teacher that he wants to be a lawyer and was told that his dream is unrealistic and that he should work with his hands — maybe be a carpenter.

Many people say that the education system in America is broken. I agree that in some areas it is in terms of treating our teachers and students fairly. However, in terms of what we learn and how we experience learning, the education system is working exactly how it was supposed to. If you were trained to memorize and for quick recall, you were a great asset in a factory. You don’t need to think — you just need to do what you were told and focus on the task at hand.

Somehow we picked up on the fact that being smart was an undesirable trait. Those who were thinkers in school were mercilessly harassed emotionally and/or physically by bullies. They were called ‘geeks’ or ’nerds’. If they weren’t harassed, they were socially excluded.

To this day, we as a nation are still experiencing the fallout of our education system. After spending our formative years in school, people still don’t know basic facts. Anything we learn that can’t be applied to our daily lives is not retained at all. You can find dozens of ‘man on the street’ videos where an interviewer asks random people basic questions. Most people can’t answer them correctly. People don’t know how long a decade is. People think that the United States is a continent. The average American spends on average about 3–4 hours a day watching television and about 20 minutes a day reading. Now that we have Google, people don’t bother to retain anything at all.

We may not be able to fix our educational system in our lifetime However, the most immediate solution is for us to take our education into our own hands. We don’t have to rely on our schooling. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to educate yourself in any area that you may feel you would like to brush up on.

One way is taking advantage of the plethora of online courses. You can go to MOOC.org where they have a list of completely free courses in Business, Computer Science, Engineering, and Languages. You can go to khanacademy.com where you can take free courses in math, science and logic.

If you want read, you can go to gutenberg.org or openlibrary.org. Between these websites you have over 100,000 titles that you can read for absolutely free.

If you are pressed for time, you can listen to a slew of podcasts in almost any area you can choose. Audible is a great site for audiobooks. You can find almost any type of podcast you want in iTunes, Spotify or even Amazon.

We don’t have to be a nation of workers if we don’t want to be. We have the tools to design our own curriculum to learn whatever we want, whenever we want.

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My mission is to educate and enlighten. I plan to do this by writing articles that either instruct about 'the unspoken' aspects of our modern society that no one talks about but is important to achieve a life that you want (or at least make the life you have easier)

Austin, TX
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