Education History: Some Threads Come Together

I highly recommend Parish School by Timothy Walch as the place to start reading on the history of Catholic schools in America. Unlike me, he’s a real historian, who properly sources and references his materials. In addition to providing an excellent, if short, overview, it’s a gold mine of contemporary sources. I first got turned on to many of the key players by this book. Dr. Walch was kind enough to send me the current revised edition, which I’m now about 1/3 through (re)reading. Since the goal of the revised edition was to bring this history up to the 2010s, not surprising I’m not seeing any obvious differences in the first chapters.

It’s a lot of fun to reread this material after having tracked down a few of the sources and gotten a bigger picture. In particular, having now read some of William Torrey Harris, these passages from the beginning of Chapter 7 take on a new light. From the Report of the U.S. Commissioner of Education for 1903:

The most impressive religious fact in the United States today is the system of Catholic free parochial schools. Not less than 1 million students are being educated in these schools. This great educational work is being carried out without any financial aide from the state…. the diocesan superintendent has been a powerful factor in the great progress made in these schools in recent years. It would be well if every diocese had such an officer. Indeed, there can be no perfect organization of the system without him.

William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education.

Even his fanboys and girls recognize that, as a philosopher, he’s a 2nd rate Hegelian; I’d say that’s a little generous. Be that as it may, there’s no denying he was a true devotee of that wacky take on Lutheran theology whose enduring contribution to thought is glib rejection of the need to make sense. This rejection remains the hallmark of academic philosophy to this day: the law of noncontradiction is for the little people, you see. Real philosophers can and do both mean and not mean anything they say. So when you notice academic statements make no sense or are self-refuting – feature, not bug.

Hegelians are looking for the Spirit, incarnate and effectively co-extensive with people taken as a whole over time, to unfold itself in History. Rather than history being a rolling up and cumulation of the acts of millions of us little people, capital H History is the Work of God, and thus at the same time beyond human understanding and the only worthy object of the speculative philosopher.

While Hegel himself made the critical and obvious point that, until the Spirit unfolds History, it is unknowable (almost by definition, although ‘definition’ is a curious concept in context). We can look to the past, in other words, and see what the Spirit has done, but looking into the future makes no sense, as the necessary conditions for understanding what the Spirit will do are not present.

Just as Dewey popularized Pragmatism by ignoring what Pearce said it meant and going with the much more coherent ‘the ends justify the means,’ Hegelians, in the splendor of their diversity, have ignored this caution against fortune-telling except when convenient. Thus, they worship Progress (as one of the Spirit’s manifolds) while both seeing it everywhere and rejecting any demand to state clearly what it is.

Anyway, so Harris, who tried during his time as U.S Commissioner of Education to get Hegelianism declared the official philosophy of American education, looks at parish schools and sees their fundamental value not in the millions of educated children, but in the establishment of diocesan education directors. It is the perfection of the organization of the system in which Progress is manifested. It’s worth

If you think I’m making too much of this, here’s what Harris said about Native Americans:

Harris called for the forced and mandatory education of American Indians through a partnership with Christianity in order to promote industry. It was Harris who called for the removal of Native children from their families for up to 10 years of training for the “lower form of civilization” as opposed to the United States government’s policy of exterminating them. Harris wrote, “We owe it to ourselves and to the enlightened public opinion of the world to save the Indian, and not destroy him. We can not save him and his patriarchal or tribal institution both together. To save him we must take him up into our form of civilization. We must approach him in the missionary spirit and we must supplement missionary action by the aid of the civil arm of the State. We must establish compulsory education for the good of the lower race.”


So why did he not call for the forced and mandatory education of American Catholics in the same way? It’s what Fichte would have done (and Fichte was a big influence on Hegel). Mostly, it would have been political suicide, given the millions of Catholic voters now present on the rolls. I don’t think he lost any sleep over this, however, because he saw the *progress* being made on that front. For the previous 8 decades, including the couple decades Harris spent as a more local school bureaucrat, that’s exactly what good, solid Protestants were calling for, one way or the other. If the dirty Papists sent their kids to the existing state schools, where they would have a little Protestant Jesus beat into their heads and thus become good Americans, well and good. If they insisted on founding their own schools, we’ll make them pay twice – tax them for our schools, then make them raise money from the same poor people for their own. This step worked very well, as at no point did as many as half of Catholic kids attended parish schools.

Then, to complete the Americanization (which every ‘good’ American knew meant the Protestantization) of Catholic kids, we’ll find a way to exert state control on Catholic school curriculum.

Harris could look with satisfaction at the current state of Catholic schools in 1903. The Spirit was clearly unfolding his idea of Progress among them. When Archbishop Ireland addressed the NEA in 1890 and said that it was his dream that Catholic kids would all attend public schools, and paid his homage to the goodness and light embodied in compulsory state education, which then as now is the NEA’s reason to exist, why, he warmed the cockles of Harris’ heart! The firestorm of controversy Ireland’s remarks caused among Catholics who had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to keep their kids away from state indoctrination was merely the last gasp of one leg of the dialectic getting subsumed and suspended in the synthesis that is compulsory education managed for the good of the state.

And Harris didn’t even have to do anything! The immigrants’ burning desire to fit in and outshine the natives in an ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ race to the bottom did all the work for him – or, I should say, the inexorable unfolding of the Spirit thus manifested itself in History.

The elephant in the room: the critics of Archbishop Ireland and all the ‘liberal’ Catholics of the day have proven to be correct. If there’s anything distinguishing the local products of our parish schools from the products of similarly situated public schools, it’s amazingly subtle. So subtle that not only are Catholics largely uninterested in spending money to send their kids there, non-Catholics can send their kids to the typical parish school with little worry they’ll come out Catholic.

Catholic schooling has about the same cultural meaning as eating organic or driving a hybrid.

One final note: wanted to see what the NEA had to say for itself, and found the unabashed propaganda one would expect.

On a summer afternoon in 1857, 43 educators gathered in Philadelphia, answering a national call to unite as one voice in the cause of public education.

At the time, learning to read and write was a luxury for most children—and for many children of color, it was actually a crime. But almost 150 years later,  the voice of the fledgling Association has risen to represent 2.7 million educators, and what was once a privilege for a fortunate few is now a rite of passage for every American child.

NEA Website

Take passing note the anachronistic use of the fancy-dan word ‘educator’. Teachers, maybe? One chapter of my planned book will be titled “Messianic Schooling,” in which I’ll cover the various salvation/end times myths perpetrated in the name of compulsory schooling. Here, for example, the writer simply lies: in 1800, excluding slaves, literacy was near 100% in America. She lies so that she can frame up schooling as Messianic: we ‘educators’ have come to free the people from the bonds of illiteracy! You know, the land where de Tocqueville observed farmers reading Descartes while resting their plowhorses, and where the Last of the Mohicans adjusting for population, outsold Harry Potter. Where the Federalist Papers were printed in general circulation newspapers and where, a couple decades later, among hundreds of other publishers, there were 125+ newspapers and magazines dedicated to the anti-papist cause.

Sound illiterate to you? Here’s the opening of Last of the Mohicans:

It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet. A wide and apparently an impervious boundary of forests severed the possessions of the hostile provinces of France and England. The hardy colonist, and the trained European who fought at his side, frequently expended months in struggling against the rapids of the streams, or in effecting the rugged passes of the mountains, in quest of an opportunity to exhibit their courage in a more martial conflict. But, emulating the patience and self-denial of the practiced native warriors, they learned to overcome every difficulty; and it would seem that, in time, there was no recess of the woods so dark, nor any secret place so lovely, that it might claim exemption from the inroads of those who had pledged their blood to satiate their vengeance, or to uphold the cold and selfish policy of the distant monarchs of Europe.

Last of the Mohicans, CH 1

Cooper starts his book here – after quoting Shakespeare. Those poor illiterate sods who bought this book by the thousands! Clearly, we need ‘educators’ STAT!

Or take this beautiful mistake back in the NEA history web pages:

Lafayette, Indiana, August 21, 1854

“And I must not forget the Schoolhouse which is a log house thirty-five by thirty with four windows & two doors… The cracks are filled with mud and plaster & there is no ‘loft’ & the shingles are very holey so that when it rains we take the books and stand in one place till it begins to drop down & then we move to an other spot & then an other…”

Affectionately Yours,

M.M. Rogers

Excerpt from a letter written by Martha M. Rogers, a young female pioneer who headed West to teach. Reprinted with permission from Women Teachers on the Frontier by Polly Welts Kauffman.

from the NEA website

Those familiar with one-room schools should recognize a couple things here. In the 1850s, it was common for young single women, generally with nothing more that a one-room school education themselves, to head out to the frontier to teach – and to snag a husband. (If you’ve read the Anne of Green Gables series, you’ve run across the phenomenon, more or less.) Teacher turnover was high, as one would expect.

On the frontier, as part of the homesteading laws, pioneers would build, manage, and staff a one schoolhouse per 36 square mile section, near the middle, so that no kid would be more than an hour’s walk from it. Such schoolhouses were built to the standards to which the farmers built their own buildings – the schoolhouse as described above was probably very similar to the surrounding farmhouses.

The schoolhouse became a sort of ‘town hall’ where meetings and voting and other socialization took place. While it’s very probable that the schoolhouse maintenance and improvements lagged those of the farmer’s own buildings sometimes, it is unlikely it lagged much very often. Few really old schoolhouses survive, as they tended to get replaced over time. Those pretty clapboard postcard-perfect ones that you see were likely build just before the turn of the century or a little later, when farmers were doing well enough to want to show off their success a little. There was even some competition among neighboring sections: one section might spring for a belltower and a bell – soon all the neighbors had one as well.

So, even on the frontier, you had farmers building a schoolhouse as soon as they could and as well as they could, keeping it up as well as they could, and hiring as good a teacher as they could find. A young woman of, say, 16, who had graduated school and yet not found a suitable mate in her own section had an obvious strategy: become a teacher at a nearby section where maybe the male/female ration in the proper age range might be more favorable.

It worked remarkably well. Miss Rogers above, who could very probably be just such a young woman, write very well! Nice letter! You think your typical public high schooler writes any better than that? The truth is, extensive samples of the writing of people educated only in one-room schools exist, and it’s pretty good for the most part. And there’s the rub: in the late 1800s, ‘educators’ like William Torey Harris had identified those one room schools as the enemies of Progress. They began the mythology that those hicks in the country – deplorables, they might call them today – were ignorant rubes and needed proper schools to free them from the tyranny of their ignorance. The most horrifying evidence of this ignorance was their rejection of the idea that they needed to have their happy and successful locally managed schools replaced by modern consolidated schools run by and for their betters.

For the one room schools worked in any measurable way. Their graduates did better on standardized tests, and got into college (the few that did) at a higher rate than the graduates of ‘scientific’ schools. Which brings us to the little dodge the writer of the NEA history used: start by criticizing the ignorance of the non-centrally schooled people, but when presenting an example, shift to their *poverty*. This is, in fact, the route taken historically. The practical, stoic farmers wanted to see exactly why their schools needed to be replaced. When the tests were administered and it became obvious that from any practical educational perspective, the one room schools generally did better than the schools eager to replace them, the strategy shifted: One room schools were dirty! They were poorly equipped! And their teachers aren’t even certified by the state!

So the farmers upgraded their schools, as mentioned above. They spent a little money on better equipment. They even started hiring certified teachers (who, nevertheless, remained under their surveillance).

And thus, the one-room schools survived, until technology (e.g., tractors), the resulting bigger farms, rural depopulation and finally the Great Depression combined to do them in. That last generation mourned the loss; now, it has all but passed from living memory.

Education – Some Tuesday Links

The late, great John Taylor Gatto wrote many things good to read. Here’s one. A sample:

What if there is no “problem” with our schools? What if they are the way they are, so expensively flying in the face of common sense and long experience in how children learn things, not because they are doing something wrong but because they are doing something right? Is it possible that George W. Bush accidentally spoke the truth when he said we would “leave no child behind”? Could it be that our schools are designed to make sure not one of them ever really grows up?

John Taylor Gatto, How public education cripples our kids, and why

The shift from thinking (in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary!) that the schools are basically a good thing, they just need (endless) reform to get back to doing what they used to do well and/or finally become the tools of Progress they were always meant to be, to realizing that, from their foundation, our schools were intended as instruments of control, and learning is only permitted to take place if it supports that control, was for me the critical, life-altering change.

Gatto, especially in his Underground History of American Education, pointed me to Fichte and the chain of Americans, many with with Prussian PhDs, who founded and headed up state education departments and education schools. Then you go read these guy, and the people they influenced and who influenced them, and – wow. It’s not about the 3 Rs, boys and girls. Note: this is not a blanket endorsement of everything Gatto said – I haven’t read 10% of what he said! Yet.

Here’s his site, with much more to read. (It does not seem to have been thoroughly updated to reflect his death in 2018.)

A whoa moment: at the very end of his life, when, due to a stroke he had to type things out with one finger, he wrote a series of letters to Trump, and stated his strong support, because “You are already on record as denouncing Common Core Curriculum as the anti-American, Marxist project it is.  Its author, David Coleman, from Frankfurt School roots on his father’s side and sex-driven feminism on his mother’s (former president of America’s most radical women’s college, Bennington, which mocked virgins openly during the 50s and 60s, and was nationally famous for doing so)…” I had no idea; Gatto had struck me as having some almost hippy leanings, sometimes, what with his anti-establishment takes on schooling, although he did become a solid anti-Marxist as he dug through education history (the same thing happened to me!). He also had careers in advertising and script writing, so he’s more circumspect and calculated in what he says and the way he says it than us laymen would be…

Leonora Ruffo in 2+5: Missione Hydra (1966)
Off-topic interlude: Here’s 1950-60s Italian film star Leonora Ruffo holding a space rifle thing, from a cheesy Italian sci fi flick from 1960. It’s funny how some pretty women can get that cast of face that makes ‘I’m a space alien’ completely believable. E.g., that alien queen lady from ‘V’ (although the haircut certainly helped in her case) .

I’ve mentioned the Underground Grammarian before; it was recently brought back into my attention by a comment from regular reader Andrew Brew, who knew, as I didn’t, the Mr. Grammarian was Professor Richard Mitchell. I first ran across him through Mike Flynn’s blog many years ago (under “interesting sites” in the left-hand column), but never gave him the reading he deserves. So, here – let me recommend him again:

Aha! How about this? What would be the correct form after a singular antecedent? He, of course. Everybody knows that. But wait! That’s a rank sexist slur. How about he or she or he/she? Still sexist–he comes first. Maybe she or he or she/he? Sexist again, but the other way around. What to do? The hell with it! Stick in they. After all, who’s going to read the thing? Just a bunch of graduate advisors (Advisors?), and what do they know?

THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN, Volume Two, Number One…………January 1978

Professor Mitchell fought the good fight against nonsensical, incoherent, and just plain bad English, and the colleges that enabled and encouraged it. It’s gotten much, much worse than when he started in the late 1970s. That said, I will sheepishly admit my writing would not withstand the broadside of his criticism which it more than occasionally would deserve. On the plus side, reading his little newsletter is not only amusing, but can actually help one improve one’s grammar and usage.

Education – Friday Links

Image result for ivy covered building

Some of the people I follow are writing interesting stuff about education.

William Briggs:

The Problem of an Excess of Educated Men. The esteemed Mr. Briggs is quoting from and commenting on  Lenore O’Boyle paper “The Problem of an Excess of Educated Men in Western Europe, 1800-1850.” (Behind a paywall. Too bad.) Here’s a taste:

The result was to emphasize the importance of education as an avenue to wealth and power; the diploma might do what a title of nobility had once done.…

Germans of high position were troubled by the situation. As early as 1809 Wilhelm von Humboldt was warning the king against training too many men and then finding that the state was under moral pressure to employ them as officials…

So von Humboldt, having heard and enthusiastically embraced Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation which were delivered in Berlin late 1808 and early 1809, starts warning the King that advanced education will lead to an oversupply of people aspiring to jobs as government flunkies and bureaucrats. His answer was the Prussian model, or Research, university. At such universities, which includes every large and many small universities today, students study and do research in specialized fields. If you do acceptable original research, you get awarded a PhD. Existing universities were more or less based on the Trivium and Quadrivium, and were concerned with equipping students with the skills needed to think and speak clearly and well: grammar, logic, rhetoric, and plenty of math via music and astronomy. Then, one might go on to philosophy and theology, or some practical art such as law or medicine.

A research university focuses on, yes, research, on the underlying assumption that the world is advancing and we need to stay on top of that progress. Chronological bigotry – e.g., that moderns are 800 years smarter than medievals – is considered so obviously true as to be invisible.

Von Humboldt was in charge of reforming Prussian education at the time. He championed, along with Fichte, the founding of the new University of Berlin in 1810, got Fichte appointed rector, and began the replacement of traditional universities with the research universities we have now. Prussia’s great economic and military success inspired elites in Europe and America to copy their schools.

Notice how education is synonymous with career advancement, and notice how the state is seen as the solution: people aren’t getting educated for the careers “we” need; when “we” can’t hire them all, they will be unhappy and unmanageable. That education might be a good in itself, or that the interests of the government might not be coextensive of those of the people governed, is not considered very seriously, if at all. The idea one should become educated in order to be free, and what that would mean, is not discussed.

Mr. Briggs links to some of his earlier posts that are well worth a look. Not understanding and agreeing on what education means and what it is for is at the heart of our troubles.

Cardinal Richelieu On The Necessity Of Non-Education. “Because a knowledge of letters is entirely indispensable to a country, it is certain that they should not be indiscriminately taught to everyone.” Hmmm… Also: “If learning were profaned by extending it to all kinds of people one would see far more men capable of raising doubts than of resolving them, and many would be better able to oppose truth than to defend it.” Deconstruction, anyone?

The Best College (For Most) Is No College. “What is worrying is that graduates come away thinking they know everything, or enough.”

Sevarian is discussing what is essential reading to escape the slavery of modern ideas.

How to Read “The Classics”. Here, he compares the value of reading modern works (none of which I have read. Oops.) with the presumed value of reading “classics”. It’s a good start to answering the question of what an education is for.

Reading the Classics: An Illustration. He uses Marcus Aurelius and Hobbes as examples, and proposes an approach to why and how reading these works is valuable.

Immigration and Politics, Mid-19th Century Edition

Some political observations. Reviewing my notes to the Protestant Crusade (partially reviewed here), came across this rather modern sounding situation:

The political ramifications of alien invasion, were as important as the social. With the foreigner came corruption and graft to change the traditional routine of American politics. In this process the immigrants at first were only tools of the natives. Befuddled aliens were met at the docks by politicians, they were placed under the care of minor bosses, they were fraudulently naturalized by machine-controlled judges, and they were marched to the polls to vote as they were told. Little wonder that these foreign-born gained a faulty picture of a democracy or that they soon entered into the political game themselves. Thus corrupt-foreign politicians were created; Irish and German names began to appear on the ballots, and natives, long accustomed to rule, found their position challenged by officeholders and voters who appreciated the opportunities of democracy more than its responsibilities.

This situation was particularly alarming because the rapid increase of foreign voters made it appear inevitable that they would eventually rule the land. T hus in Boston between. 1850 and 1855 the native-born voters increased 14.72 per cent; those of foreign birth 194.64 per cent. Although the foreign-born in Boston were accumulating at a more rapid rate than elsewhere, the same story could be told to a lesser degree of every city and state in the north, and many Americans agreed with a nativistic speaker when he prophesied that “in fifteen years the foreign population will exceed the native.” Much apprehension was occasioned by the fact that in many communities the even balance between the parties placed the foreign-born in control although they were outnumbered by natives. Each party recognized the importance of the immigrant vote and bid for it openly by offering minor offices and other political plums to alien leaders who held the balance of power. Tangible proof of this situation seemingly was provided in the election of 1852 when the foreign-born helped elect a Democrat, Franklin Pierce, to the presidency. When Pierce named a Catholic postmaster general and appointed several foreign-born Democrats to diplomatic posts, nativists and Whigs were convinced that he was paying an election debt and that immigrant voters controlled the United States. Actually, the foreign-born voted the Democratic ticket consistently, and carping against the immigrant’s political power came largely from disgruntled Whigs or indelible nativists. Millard Fillmore was speaking as both when he declared that the foreign vote was “fast demoralizing the whole country ; corrupting the ballot box — that great palladium of our liberty — into an unmeaning mockery where the rights of native born citizens are voted away by those who blindly follow their mercenary and selfish leaders.” Yet some truth probably lay behind these charges, for impartial observers agreed that “political parties seek . . .[the immigrants’] support; they are taken into account in the framing of political platforms, in the acts of legislatures, in the policy of governors.” Certainly nativists could see more truth than humor in the current joke concerning the schoolboy who was called upon to parse “America.” “America,” he stated, “is a very common noun, singular number, masculine gender, critical case, and governed by the Irish.”

The Protestant Crusade 1800-1860, R. A. Billington
I highlighted and noted a few interesting passages in this work.

One thing I appreciate about this book is that while Billington duly notes the obvious slander and calumny leveled against Catholics, he doesn’t ignore the very real problems immigration caused. It would be unpopular to note today that, although the Know-Nothings were no doubt bigots, they had some legitimate concerns: immigrants were being illegally used by the Democratic Party to fraudulently ‘win’ elections.

Of course, one could separate the issues: it wasn’t immigration that caused the Democratic Party in the 1840s and 50s to commit massive voter fraud. The Know Nothings could have focused on passing and enforcing laws against voter fraud and simply left the immigrants out of the equation. But note this line: “they were fraudulently naturalized by machine-controlled judges.” Those very well might be the judges you’d need to get any anti-fraud enforcement past. So, from a tactical perspective, the Know-Nothings approach of reducing immigration and making it much harder for an immigrant to become naturalized might be a rational reaction to political reality rather than mere anti-immigrant (and anti-Catholic) bigotry. In the end, the political power of the Know-Nothings lasted all of 2 years, 1855-1856.

The party would, of course, frame any such attempt to combat fraud as an attack on immigrants themselves, rallying both legally and fraudulently naturalized immigrants to oppose it.

Or one might think. Immigrants might not be a homogeneous block. Just as, in the real world today, one regularly meets naturalized immigrants who are appalled at the very idea of open borders, who took the challenge of legally entering the country, legally gaining residency, and finally becoming naturalized citizens and voting as a good and necessary process, there were plenty of 19th century immigrants who realized they were being paid off in crumbs for supporting a regime getting fat off graft and tried to fight it.

Tammany Hall would call on local bosses to have their immigrant thugs beat the hell out of any such dissidents. Some were murdered.

One question always worth asking when looking at history: when did it stop? Related: why and how? Tammany Hall had a 150+ year run. It seems to have just petered out sometime in the 1960s. Did it? Or rather, was Tammany Hall just the face of deeper corruption, a corruption that continued under different management? Since its mob ties were obvious during its later years, I’d suspect it’s still there, functionally. But at least its public demise can be tied to losing elections and having its public leaders disgraced. In other words, there’s a real sense in which it can be said that Tammany Hall is no more.

The Chicago Outfit, on the other hand, is claimed to be no more, because… it just isn’t. Never mind that anybody who is anybody in Chicago politics is at best one or two steps removed from the patronage of made man Fred Roti – his ‘legacy’ is all the people whose political careers he started in Chicago. There are no such things in The City on the Make as independent candidates – who get elected. But we’re supposed to believe, somehow, that the most corrupt political machine in American history just kind of went away? Does anyone believe this?

Another passage. Here, Archbishop John Hughes of New York is facing a dilemma: all public school funds in New York City were distributed by the Public School Society, which funded only schools unacceptable to Catholics. These schools promoted Protestantism through both the use of the King James Bible and, more important, texts that routinely denounced the Church and framed Protestantism as a victorious battle against the Whore of Babylon and an unalloyed good.

First, Hughes asked for a share of the funds for his Catholic schools, as Catholics paid into the fund but could not in good conscience benefit from it. This went over as you might expect. Then, he tried to get New York State law extended to NYC, which would have ended the Public School Society and moved the funding question to state level, where Hughes had some sympathetic supporters, including the governor. Both the current political parties – the Whigs and the Democrats – opposed him, although, as the section above makes clear, the Democrats owed their power to the Catholic immigrant vote. So, in the run up to the 1841 elections:

Hughes realized that the Catholic cause would be disastrously defeated unless drastic action were taken and he determined to play a bold card. Catholic voters were called together at a meeting at Carroll Hall on October 30, four days before the election. There Hughes addressed them, recalling that they had been refused satisfaction by both major parties and that their only hope lay in putting an independent ticket in the field. Before the meeting adjourned, the names of a group of candidates were submitted and Catholics were urged to support them. In all probability Hughes planned this move as a threat to force the Democratic party into line, but in this he was sadly disappointed for the day after the Carroll Hall meeting the Democratic candidates publicly
announced that they were now unanimously agreed that any change in the school system was unwise. Hughes was thus forced to carry his ticket into the election, even though he detested a separate Catholic party and believed that all action should be through the regular party channels.

In the main, however, Hughes was not completely dissatisfied with the turn of events. He realized, as did other political leaders of the day, that the immigrant voters held a balance of power and that their diversion from Democratic ranks might well spell defeat for that party. If the Democrats could be defeated, they would not only be rebuffed for deserting their former supporters but would be made to know that such support was necessary in the future. Hughes’ views were justified by the election returns. The Whigs swept the polls, going into office with a majority of 290 votes over their opponents, but if the 2,200 voters who supported the Catholic ticket had given their votes to the Democrats,
that party would have won an easy victory. Hughes had demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the Democrats could not afford to cast off their Catholic supporters if they wanted success.

The Protestant Crusade 1800-1860, R. A. Billington

So an American Archbishop leads his people against both parties, primarily to show them that they could not ignore the needs and desires of Catholics and still hold power.

What a concept.

Compare with what Cardinal Dolan said a few years ago in an opinion piece at the WSJ, about the attitude of Catholics when he (and I) were growing up (behind a paywall!):

“I’m a pastor, not a politician, and I’ve certainly had spats and disappointments with politicians from both of America’s leading parties. But it saddens me, and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish, when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us.”

“The dignity and sanctity of human life, the importance of Catholic schools, the defense of a baby’s civil rights… [are] …widely embraced by Catholics. This often led Catholics to become loyal Democrats. I remember my own grandmother whispering to me, ‘We Catholics don’t trust those Republicans.'”

He just noticed this in 2018?

Once you’ve established that you don’t trust one of two parties and therefore won’t vote for them, the party you do trust can safely ignore you. Hughes understood this basic political fact; Dolan came to understand it about 100 years too late.

Some things change, but underlying political realities are not among them.

Explaining the Eucharist: Adventures in RCIA

I was assigned to give 15 minutes (!) on the theology and history of the Eucharist to our RCIA class last night. Of course, the first thing one has to say: impossible task, all I can give it the briefest outline of an introduction to the topic. I wish I would have thought to say…

Well, that is the topic of this post: what can one say about the Eucharist in about 15 minutes? I’m taking what I did say, cleaning it up and adding a few points I wish I’d thought to say.

Image result for monstrance

We try to understand the Eucharist, the True Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, with our minds of course, but even more with our hearts. The Church does and always has encouraged questions and thought, but at the same time reminds us that the things of God are beyond the intellectual grasp of us mere humans and can only be known imperfectly in this life. The Eucharist is first among these mysteries, as it is the continued presence of the Incarnate Lord among us, the working out and fulfillment of our salvation as members of the Body of Christ.

When Peter preached on Pentecost, 3,000 people were converted and baptised. Why? What did those hearing Peter understand that made them ready to accept Jesus? Two stories central to Judaism help explain this, and how these early Christians understood the Eucharist.

The first is the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. When God tells Abraham to make a burnt offering of his son Isaac, he obeys without question. In the last chapter, he had driven his concubine Hagar and their son Ishmael out, giving them only a waterskin and a little bread. Even though God had assured him that He would care for them and make a nation out of Ishmael, Abraham had treated them poorly: driving a woman and her small son into the wilderness would normally be a death sentence. So Abraham has no standing to object to God asking for his other son.

When Isaac says “Father! Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Abraham answers that God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering. When God stops Abraham and supplies a ram, He is sparing and ransoming not just Isaac but all of Israel, all the children that would come through Isaac. He was providing the sacrifice that allowed Israel to exist.

Thew second story, the greatest story in Israel, is God saving His people from Egypt. The last plague sent by God to force Pharaoh to set the Israelites free is striking down the first born of every household in Egypt. He gives instructions to Moses: have the people get ready to leave. Have them take a yearling lamb, unblemished, and kill and eat it. Have them take some of its blood and splash it on the lintels of their door as a sign to my angel to pass over that household.

Thus, God strengthened His people for their journey out of slavery and into freedom with the flesh of a lamb, and by its blood marked them out and spared them from death.

In these two stories, God supplies the victim which is sacrificed in the place of Isaac for the sins of Abraham, thus purchasing the lives of all his descendents. In Egypt, the land of slavery, He tells them to eat an unblemished lamb and to mark themselves as His with its blood. The flesh of the lamb strengthens them for their journey to freedom, its blood saves them from death.

When John the Baptist sees Jesus down by the Jordan River, he proclaims: “Behold the Lamb of God! Behold him Who takes away the sins of the world!” The Jews hearing this would have thought: the Lamb of God? The sacrifice supplied by God to save us? The lamb whose blood spares us from death? Whose flesh strengthens us for our journey to freedom?

Then, in John 6, Jesus expounds further: unless you eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, you shall have no life within you. For my Flesh is real food, and My Blood is real drink. These are outrageous claims, and the people who heard it were outraged, and many left. Jesus then asks his disciples if they, too, wish to leave, Peter answers not with any understanding of what he’s just heard, and not with questions or requests for clarification. He’d just heard Jesus emphatically double down in the face of outrage. Instead, he says simply: Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.

At the Last Supper, after the traditional Passover meal where Jesus and the Apostles remembered how God rescued His people from Egypt, at which they had prepared and eaten the lamb just as Moses had instructed Israel in the land of slavery, Jesus breaks the bread and says: this is My Body. He takes the wine and says: this is the cup of My Blood in a new and everlasting covenant. Do this in memory of Me.

Remember, as John says at the beginning of his Gospel, Jesus is the Word through Whom all things were made. When He says ‘let there be light,’ light appears; when he commands the earth to be full of plants and animals and the sea to be full of fish, they are. His Word causes things to be what they are. When He says: this is My Body, that is what it is.

After this, Jesus leaves the Passover meal and heads out to be sacrificed for us, handing over His Body to death and spilling His Blood that we might live. God has indeed provided the Sacrifice. He has indeed supplied the food for our journey into his life and freedom.

From the moment Peter first preached at Pentecost, this has been the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist. Those 3,000 Jews who converted on the spot would have understood this, as I’m sure Peter and the Apostles would have pointed it out to any who did not immediately grasp it. But as important as the intellectual understanding is, much more is the touching of hearts: all the pieces of all the stories those people had heard all their lives, all the yearnings and prayers for a savior, all their longing for Emmanuel, God With Us – all the pieces fell into place, and they all knew that Jesus is Lord, that He is with us always, and gave us Himself most intimately for our nourishment and salvation.

Thus, we find in Acts and the letters of Paul already expressed a devotion to the Eucharist. The True Presence is attested to by all the Church fathers. John’s and Paul’s descipe Ignatius of Antioch wrote about it in his letters around 100 A.D. Irenaeus of Lyon testified to it in the 2nd century. The Church has maintained from the beginning that God so loves the world that he continues to send His Son to us, His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine.

I blathered on a little more, but this is the gist of what I wished I had said, built on what I did say, which was not this clear or tidy, and left out a few things.

Blank Slates, State of Nature, Pestalozzi & Rorschach Tests

Ah! Not only am I reformatting a work – J. A. Green’s The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi – because I found the online sources almost unreadable – I’m going down endless rabbit holes, looking up people, places, historical events, ideas, books, etc., as they come up in the text. So far, I’m only about 35 pages into what will end up, once reformatted, as a 150 or so Google docs page book (maybe 300 pages in a traditional format?). But there are nuggets.

I confess to an intellectual shortcoming (one of many, not even counting ones I don’t know I don’t know): I take undue delight when I find a scholar agreeing with something I figured out. I mean, I should hope other people see what I see, but it’s nice to see it in print.

Case in point: Pestalozzi saw his life’s work not so much as addressing the immediate needs of abandoned and orphaned children as solving some ancient intractable problem with education. Therefore, in some ways his practical examples, the schools he actually ran according to his poorly-articulated principles, are considered by him the true illustration of his point. Yet this didn’t stop him and his followers from writing ideas out, ideas so uniformly vague and conflicting that they became little more than a Rorschach test for later ‘educators’.

This passage in Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World, by Sarah Anne Carter, says it more politely:

(I stumbled across this passage in this interesting sounding book while searching for something else, but the book is just a little bit too far outside the target for me to have time to read it. Sigh.)

“This imprecision also offered ample opportunity for the next generation of educators to put his ideas into action in a range of ways.” Right. Fichte, who it turns out met Pestalozzi in 1793 and encouraged him to write out his philosophy of education, by 1808 can recommend Pestalozzian schooling as the panacea for all that ails Germany, with *slight* modifications: the state replaces the family entirely, not because the family is absent, but because the family always mis-educated the child in loyalties other than that due the state (hint: all and absolute). Pestalozzi’s focus on educating children in valuable skills so that they can take a suitable place in society needs to be flipped: the state will determine what it needs the properly-trained products of its schools to do.

I’m looking for evidence Pestalozzi rejected this interpretation, as he far outlived Fichte and lived through the first implementations of Prussian schooling modeled after Fichte’s ideas, largely by Fichte himself through the agency of the newly-founded University of Berlin where he was rector. Pestalozzi was a near-legend of impolitic behavior (one source of his repeated failures anytime he had to work with people who were not his hand-picked padawans), so I’d be nearly compelled to believe he approved if he didn’t publicly disagree. We’ll see.

Pestalozzi’s How Gertrude Teaches Here Children, called by Green “by far the most important of his writings,” meanders about without saying much of anything, except reiterating the central role of mothers in the education of the children – the one thing Fichte is clear he is against. Rather than mothers being the first and finest and essential teachers, they, along with fathers and family in general, are for Fichte the problem. Fichte doesn’t suggest helping mothers do a better job, rather, he wants the state to take children away from their mothers as early as possible.

Pestalozzi is routinely called a Romantic, was expressly a follower of the ideas expressed in Rousseau’s Emile (ick) and therefore takes a ‘state of nature is better and purer than the civilizations that muck it up’ approach. To be fair, he seems more particular in his criticism: he’s dealing with the specific shortcomings of the war-torn civilization of Switzerland in the decades surrounding the turn of the 19th century. When you end up with scores of orphaned or abandoned starving children wandering the streets as a result of ongoing wars, and have church and state largely impotent to do anything about it, it would be easy to get a little down on so-called civilization. At one point, Pestalozzi did manage to gather the local orphans together into an old convent, only to have French soldiers return, commandeer the orphanage, and throw him and the children out. Once the French were done ‘living off the land’ – seizing all the food they could steal from an already starving population – they left. But the local authorities refused to let him reopen his orphanage…

So, yes, civilization as locally manifested didn’t seem to do much good for any but the top few percent of the people. Pestalozzi to his credit focused on addressing the specific civilizational shortcomings – e.g., lack of family, moral compass, food, a sense of belonging and being loved – that left children starving in the streets and ill-equipped for any decent place in society if they somehow survived.

Fichte at least functionally is a blank slater: he is going to make children into whatever the state needs.


Schooling as Socialization: Some Comments and Thoughts

When we segregate children arbitrarily by age, and then manage their every moment, we deprive them of the opportunity to develop a very valuable and joyful skill: working things out and getting along with other people. Anyone who comes from a big family, or a big extended family, accepts as a given that people of widely varying ages and abilities can get along with each other just fine (and not, too, but that’s valuable to learn as well). Cooking a meal and making a jigsaw puzzle are both things where anyone older than a toddler can contribute, as are a hundred other things. The modern and frankly insane idea that we *need* age-segregated classrooms to “socialize” children has proven to be a disaster on many levels. That such schooling now extends to almost every waking hour via homework, pre- and after-school programs, and other extracurricular activities, has squeezed out any opportunity a kid might otherwise have to learn how to get along with people on his own initiative.

Regular reader malcolmthecynic posted a link to a reddit discussion in the comments to a recent post:

On that thread, most of the commenters seem to be teachers, and most agree that grouping kids by ability makes more sense than grouping them by age regardless of ability. Some, however, defended age-grading regardless of ability, because that’s how kids get socialized.

Mr. Cynic had some good observations both on the thread and in the comments here. One to single out: on reddit, some expressed concerns that age mixing would promote more bullying and sexual misbehavior(!): Mr. Cynic:

Sure. The thing is we have this issue NOW. In the absence of data proving otherwise I see no reason to assume that the issue of pedophilia and abuse will be so bad ability-segregated teaching is impossible.

Another regular reader Richard A, in reference to that reddit thread, commented here:

I was struck by two comments indicating support for the current model.

“I think you’re ignoring the importance of schools for teaching kids valuable social skills. And keeping kids within their own age group is gonna be the best way to do this as at these ages, even somebody being one year older or younger is seen as a huge difference. Helps kids build continuity in friendships and whatnot as well.”

Lots of valuable responses related to bullying being a major “socializing” experience. But not many pointing out that the only reason “being one year older or younger is seen as a huge difference” is because you’ve been teaching children since they started their schooling that it is a huge difference. In a normal community, you’re always relating to a wide range of ages all the time.

“I agree that grouping kids by ability is a better idea, but I think it’s still important to take age into account. If you have a 16 year old in a class full of 12 year olds, that can cause some issues.”

Our host will know better than I, but this seems to me to be a deliberately extreme example. For one thing, didn’t most schooling according to the one-room-schoolhouse model end about fourteen or fifteen? That is, about puberty back in those days? A sixteen-year-old is one who had the aptitude and calling for advanced education. And secondly, the question is still being presented in terms of the age-segregated model. A sixteen-year-old wouldn’t commonly be in a room full of twelve-year-olds. He would be one of three of four in a room full of children who spanned the range from six (say) to sixteen. Kind of like what one’s experience would be if one were home-schooled in a large family.

My response (after editing out all the stuff the cat put in walking across the keyboard):

 Your comment: “But not many pointing out that the only reason “being one year older or younger is seen as a huge difference” is because you’ve been teaching children since they started their schooling that it is a huge difference.” – that’s it entirely. Two kids meet – seen this a million times – and within seconds one of them will ask: “what grade are you in?” Turns out that’s the critical piece of information: do I fear you, hold you in contempt, or treat you as a peer? Can I even play with you? That’s if the kid has been properly socialized by the schools. If the kid is lucky enough to have a bunch of siblings and cousins, he may not care too much, violate schooling taboos and go ahead and treat the other kid like – a kid.

Two personal stories:

The parochial school I attended back in the 60s had enough students that each grade was divided into 2 classes of around 40-50 kids each. (Those were the days!) At recesses, we were released onto one big playground, with general grade restrictions on where we could play. These were not inviolate, but rather were in place (I think) so that the bigger kids wouldn’t just overrun the whole playground at the expense of the little kids. We not only didn’t play with the kids in higher or lower grades – we generally didn’t play with kids our own age from the other classroom!

The medium is the message. Certainly, the sisters and lay teachers hd no interest in keeping two groups of 2nd graders separate, except when it was time to line up and go back into our classrooms. We just did it on our own. We got the message.

The kids stayed with their classroom as they moved up grades. Around 5th grade, the school decided to shift some kids around, maybe to keep more even numbers or male/female mix – there had been some attrition. It was weird, was talked about for weeks amongst us kids. The ‘new’ kids had to go through a transition period before they were completely accepted. I don’t know if they were ever as completely on our team as those of us who’d been together since 1st grade.

Back then, big families and lots of cousins were the norm, so the divisions were routinely violated. Not as much as they were routinely observed, however. One such violation was perpetrated by my family: I am the oldest of three boys bringing up the rear in our family of 9 kids. My two little brothers were both insanely precocious athletically, way outliers for their ages. (Both won all CYO MVP-type honors in multiple sports. I am a relative klutz.). So, when playing sports on the playground, we would often team together: 8th grader, 5th grader, and 3rd grader. The youngest was certainly smaller than the 8th graders (until about 5th grade). Our middle brother once had to punch some kid’s lights out for picking on the youngest during a game. That’s how we did it back then. Nobody was suspended, no parent meeting was called, because nobody went crying to the teacher. Frontier socialization. Worked good.

And then afterwards, we’d all go back to our respective classrooms.

At our former Sudbury school, age mixing was absolute: all the kids 5 – 19 together all the time. Often, some surly teenage boy would acquire a young padawan, some little kid that saw him playing a video game or making chainmail or something, found it cool, and so hung around. This more often than not worked to their mutual benefit: the little kid got attention from an older kid he admired, while the older kid found that people (in the form of guileless little kids) could just like him and even admire him, at a very uncertain point in life.

In general, kids can and do work these things out routinely. When there is a mix of ages and, more important, skills, they’ll pick games that allow for it. RPGs are an example, as are various other make-believe games.