When we see that children everywhere are required by law to go to school, that almost all schools are structured in the same way, and that our society goes to a great deal of trouble and expense to provide such schools, we tend naturally to assume that there must be some good, logical reason for all this. Perhaps if we didn’t force children to go to school, or if schools operated much differently, children would not grow up to be competent adults. Perhaps some really smart people have figured all this out and have proven it in some way, or perhaps alternative ways of thinking about child development and education have been tested and have failed.
If we want to understand why standard schools are what they are, we have to abandon the idea that they are products of logical necessity or scientific insight. They are, instead, products of history. Schooling, as it exists today, only makes sense if we view it from a historical perspective. And so, as a first step toward explaining why schools are what they are, I present here, in a nutshell, an outline of the history of education, from the beginning of humankind until now. Most scholars of educational history would use different terms than I use here, but I doubt that they would deny the overall accuracy of the sketch. In fact, I have used the writings of such scholars to help me develop the sketch.