Making its rounds in the blogsphere and the twitterverse, at least in the regions associated with education, is the mistaken notion that public education/our current education system was created by the industrial revolution to serve the needs of industry. This is not the case; the industrial revolution and early industrial period preferred unskilled and cheap labour; industry preferred people with no marketable skills or options. Child labour was very common; for some jobs, employers actually preferred children.
In order to can an accurate understanding of this period, I suggest reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair published in 1906 or the transcripts of the Royal Commission on the Relationship between Labour and Capital presented in 1889 but detailing interviews from throughout the 1880’s. Both present a picture of ubiquitous abuse of unskilled labour by industry.
It was in reaction to this reality that worker’s movements included in their demands free compulsory education for children. This had 3 benefits for workers and children at the expense of industry: 1) With less labour available, wages generally increase; 2) Children of working class families were cared for during the day; and 3) Educated individuals would grow up to be harder to victimize and generally have more options as they entered the work force.
It was the possibility of freeing people from poverty and abuse that drove the creation of our free, mandatory education system in Canada. It was this realization; this empowerment and betterment, that sustained this institution over the last 100 years or so. It is a promise and reality that still serves as a people today. Industry would prefer uneducated workers and consumers: they are easier to sell to, exploit, and control. Consider reading a book like Fast Food Nation to see a current trend of hiring and abusing people; then you can decide whether it is education that is leading them there.
People who link free, public education to the requirements of industry are wrong. The historical record is clear on the insistence of working class families for it, for their benefit, and the record is equally clear about the resistance of the industrial elite and the costs associated with it.
The idea that public education serves the needs of industry and is therefore outdated and bad for people, cannot properly be used as an argument for education reform as it is unfounded.