Education in the 20th century was an inherited system from this Prussian origin. As an institution, it's frequently one of the most important public services upheld by many modern governments. The emphasis is based on the observation that a well-educated population creates wealth and economic expansion, thereby benefiting the state and its various projects and aims. The common line of thinking is that without a proper education, the next generation will not be equipped to take on the various challenges arising in their adult years, pressured in a highly competitive knowledge-based economy and shifting markets. Hence it's also out of necessity that education should prepare the next generation to continue the society and uphold its accomplishments.
However from a pure governance point of view, education is also about training and indoctrination. It's about making sure that the children are obedient to the authorities, to be predictable, and to be protective of the tribe. Education is about encouraging the right behavior and punishing the wrong behavior. This may sound nefarious but from a governing body's standpoint, it's practical. The masses need to be trained to follow the leadership, to uphold its laws and ideals, and to operate as a productive and positively contributing members of society. Education without social training however leads to independent thinking, which tends to have a destabilizing effect, especially on regimes of perceived ineffectual leadership. In Prussia, this fear was quite rampant among the nobility when the Prussian education system was introduced. The aristocratic elite thought that having a large, educated, and independently intelligent segment of lower and middle classes would bring trouble and unrest. They were right of course, as prevailing thoughts of the intellectuals of the time culminated in the rise of a unified German state and the overthrowing of the monarchy.
Conversely, there's also the idiom, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". Indeed this was a tool most effectively utilized in the 20th century to help the rise of National Socialist and Communist states. The enough-educated masses were more susceptible to propaganda and they were more capable than the illiterate peasants of many previous discontents in propagating its cause and its aims. Once in power, those states predictably pushed their own "education" on their populations, scarring and branding their marks upon generations of minds and carving out pieces of themselves in the societal memory. These authoritarians knew too well the importance of education and how the right kind of education could be used to their advantage. It is indeed a sad state of affairs that such a mindset prevailed well into the rest of modern history, and still continue to do so in many parts of the world.
And so, fast forward almost a 100 years, and we now find ourselves going through the motions spurred on by the ideas of education set up for the 19th century Prussia. As we reflect upon the inherited education system of the last two centuries, what learnings and conclusions can we draw from it? Can we say for certain that education as it exists now is adequate? What do we actually want education to achieve and what must we do to make those aims a reality? In other word, what does education mean in the 21st century?