Who Do You Say That I Am?

From whom and from where do we get our identity? Who are we?

The question in the title is, of course, from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus asks the Apostles who people say He is:

13 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi* he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist,* others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

Peter striking the High Priests’ servant Malchus with a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, by Giuseppe Cesari c. 1597

Peter, who over the course of the Gospels is revealed to be, at different times, a tempter of God, an impulsive hothead, and a coward, nonetheless knows who Jesus is. Because he knows Who his Lord is, that Lord is able to tell him who *he* is. He is defined, not by his talents or achievements, nor by his membership in an oppressed group, but by his role: Peter is the Rock upon which Christ’s Church will be built, he is the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Heaven, the holder of the King’s keys.

So the goofball – that Peter is no great shakes is a great comfort to us other goofballs – gets assigned a task of great glory. That he’s hardly up to the task doesn’t matter so much as his getting up and trying again every time he fails. He converts thousands with a Pentecost sermon; Paul rebukes him. He runs to the empty tomb; the Risen Lord extracts from him that very painful 3 part confession of love, and reinforces his assigned role: feed my sheep. He, and King David, are our examples and models of leadership under God: far from perfect, but faithful.

It will cost him. But it was worth it. He, with Paul, are the third rank of saints, behind only Mary and Joseph. Not bad.

I sit here, in my backyard, under the shade of two ancient walnut trees, flowers blooming, a light breeze blowing, a picture of homely contentment, much closer to the end of my life than to its beginning. Who am I? If I confess My Lord, and say Who He is, he will tell me who I am. I am a husband and a father – that’s my particular vocation. I am a brother, an uncle, a son. I am a friend.

I am a lamb under shepherds. I am a loyal citizen and patriot under temporal powers, a lover of the land of my birth because it is the land of my birth.

I am a beloved child of God. I understand little of this, but it give me comfort and reveals my purpose. It is our lot to need to rechoose this every moment, for we will forget, and not know who we are. We are always a moment of forgetfulness from losing ourselves.

We live among people, our brothers and sisters, who don’t know who they are. Since they will not confess the Lord, yet need someone to tell them who they are, they are doomed to believe they are whoever those who do not love them tell them they are.

Book Review: Burn’s “Catholic School System in the United States”, part 1: Introduction

Reviewing – really, putting out my notes to the text – on this book a bit at a time, as it and its companion volume are long. Fr. Burns wrote much of this as his PhD thesis at Catholic University in 1906, and expanded and published it as a book in 1908, and then a follow up volume in 1912. This first volume covers the history of American Catholic schooling from colonial times to 1840; the second from 1840 to the first years of the 20th century. This division is logical, as Catholic immigrants did not start arriving in great numbers until the 1840s, which really changed the game for Catholic schooling.

This was the first scholarly effort to document the American Catholic school movement, and remained the go-to work on the topic until very modern times. I’ve read pieces of this book and commented on them as part of following up on the references in Walch’s Parish School, but had not done yet a thorough cover to cover read.

The preliminary materials and introduction are very interesting. First, as noted in previous comments on this work, Burns is deeply indebted to Thomas Shields and Edward Pace, fellow priests and professors at Catholic University. They were founding faculty of the school of psychology at that institution, and mentored Burns. Shields ran a Catholic textbook publishing company for many years

Now, here I’ll own up to a strong prejudice: everything I’ve ever read of and about psychology in the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century impressed upon me what preposterous frauds the key players were from its founding. Freud? C’mon. The dude set a standard for ad hominem responses to anyone who dared question him that has been followed by every poser since. You only disagree with Freud because you’re sexually repressed, don’t you see?

What is lacking in the early psychologists: that peculiar type of humility real scientists have, where they prefer to understate rather than overstate their claims. In a robust science, it is expected that any claims will be run through the gauntlet of critical appraisal by one’s peers. Thus, it is simply better style, if nothing else, to acknowledge uncertainties, note possible problems, and generally make claims with a bit of hesitancy, if only in the hopes that your peers will be more sympathetic.

Instead, what we ended up with is ‘academic freedom’: the dismissal of all questions by anyone who isn’t a credentialed psychologist on the sole basis of his not being a psychologist. Such a credential only available to those who get through the gate manned by – credentialed psychologists. See: ‘replication crisis‘ for details on how that works.

This dynamic – over-certainty of scope and claims, lack of interest in criticism from those not on the team – was already the reality in 1908, when Burns penned this book. And he simply can’t resist: the introduction is more about his Progressive, 19th century psychology-driven take on schooling than about what happened. It’s odd – one paragraph is a triumphant touting of the greatness of the parish schools and the Church that inspired them, the next is either speculating on how great things will be when further Progress is made, or gentle rebukes that more Progress hasn’t yet been made.

He states three principle that drive Catholic parish schooling:


Here Burns means simply moral training. Can virtue be taught? Maybe, but his third principle is how it would be done. What can be done is to help create a habit of thinking of life’s endless decisions in moral terms. I’m good with this.


He belabors it much, but what he seems to be after is that religious education is, at the same time, part of a coherent whole and conditions how that whole is understood. He’s worried that catechisis can be, and often is, done in a vacuum, without constant reference to the rest of knowledge. Burns wants – his example – the Incarnation understood in an historic, geographic, and cultural setting, and to inform the student’s understanding, in turn, of those subjects.

I’m down with that. A formal classroom setting using textbooks – Burns is totally down with textbooks – is likely the worst possible place to get it done, but in theory, that’s what we want.

He deplores question/answer drills, which, he assures us, the modern psychology of education has moved beyond. While he, himself, acknowledges the centrality of doctrine and even dogma, the outline of the seeds for singing kumbaya while sitting cross-legged on the floor and calling it religious ed are easily discernible.


Catholic schools should be patently Catholic, all the time:

“There is the influence of the appointments and ornaments of the schoolroom itself, which may be made to speak lessons of order, neatness, virtue, and religion day by day, silently, but none the less effectively, through appeal to the eye and the esthetic sense.

“It is the aim of the Christian school to turn all such things to account for the attainment of its specific end. If the teaching of religion is a thing of supreme importance in the work of the school, then every influence that can be made use of to make the religious instruction more effective and fruitful ought to be employed. The selection of teachers with special reference to their moral and religious character ; the admission of only such pupils as belong to the religious faith which the school endeavors to foster and propagate; the placing of religious pictures and objects of piety in conspicuous places on the school walls ; the use of religious songs, as well as common oral prayers and devotions; the organization of religious societies — through these and kindred means the pupil is continually surrounded with an atmosphere of religion and piety in the schoolroom which supplements and reinforces the work of formal religious instruction.”

Here we agree. I would make this my first and only principle – do this, and the rest will follow.

Here are some illustrative quotations from the Introduction, with a few comments:


The interest of the Church in the schools has always centered about these fundamental principles. In the teaching of the purely secular branches she has had no direct interest. She took the curriculum of secular studies such as she found it, and left its development to the operation of the ordinary laws of educational growth. [Yikes. Hegel is peeking out from the nearby bushes- ed.] Outside of the matter of religion, there has been no attempt to differentiate Catholic parish schools from other denominational schools or from the public schools. [This is the problem: while we think in ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ terms, the public schools are playing a winner-takes-all cage match.] The tendency has been rather the other way.

“While Catholics, however, have clung faithfully to the historic ideals of the Christian school, it needs but a slight acquaintance with the history of Catholic schools in the United States to make one realize that the working out in practice of the principles outlined above is a matter which opens up grave difficulties and problems. If we compare, for instance, the teaching of religion in the parish schools to-day with the teaching of it a few generations ago, it will be seen that great changes have taken place. Religion had a larger place formerly in the curriculum than it has now. The catechetical drill was more thorough, and took up more time. More importance was attached to it. The value to the growing mind of a knowledge of the truths of faith, simply as knowledge, was better evidenced in practice formerly. Not that the principle itself, perhaps, that religious truth, when properly taught, has a high educative value, is any less accepted now. But conditions in the school have changed. Secular studies have been multiplied. To make room for them, the time given to religious instruction has been cut down. There are some compensations, of course, for this. Methods of teaching religion have improved. The ill- prepared teachers of the early days, often with little or no religious training themselves, have been replaced by teachers who are devoted to the service of religion by profession. The more distinctly religious atmosphere of the school is relied on to-day to do much of what was formerly done by direct instruction and drill. [Then, when the religious atmosphere has been dispensed with, there’s nothing left of religious education…]

“Not only have there been great changes in the extent and methods of religious teaching in our schools in the past, but great differences in both these respects exist to-day. Parish schools are sometimes found within a few blocks of each other in which the teaching of religion is about as different as it could be, the dogmatic content remaining the same. In some schools, the sum total of the religious influences at work hardly extends beyond the bare half hour of catechism-teaching. In others, religion is kept in the foreground all the time. In some instances, the desire to rival the rich and varied program of the neighboring public schools [!] has caused a paring down of the religious work of the school to such an extent that anything like a religious atmosphere is scarcely possible. [See above. This is the state to which gravity pulls a school that does not make the constant, express efforts needed to stay Catholic.] On the other hand, we see schools whose standard in secular studies is quite as broad and as high as that of the best public schools of their class, [To be fair, at this time William Torrey Harris was promoting an academic program for public schools that would put a modern Bachelor’s and most modern Masters degrees to shame. Whether any schools got there in practice is something I don’t know.] which are still able to include in their program various exercises of piety as well as classes in religious instruction.”

“It is evident, in fact, that, on the religious side, the parish school of to-day is very far from having reached the term of its complete development. [There’s that loathsome ‘one perfect way’ concept again, toward which all right-thinking schools must be progressing. Burns seems unable to imagine there might be a million good ways to do education, and that the perfect is the enemy of the good.] It is still in a partly embryonic condition. The adjustment of means to end and principles has to become much closer and to proceed much farther before anything approaching a satisfactory condition as regards religious training can be said to be attained. In point of religious teaching, the development of our schools is, on the whole, far behind their development in respect to secular studies. [? See the passages above – far behind?] This is a strange fact, and it would be a grave menace to the future of our schools, did not a consideration of the causes that have brought about this condition, in the light of the past history of the schools, warrant the hope of a fuller development in the future on the religious side. The need of greater unification, or at least simplification, [Dewey, anyone?] of the school curriculum, is now widely recognized, and the fuller realization of this need, together with the growing movement for more effective religious instruction in the school, will doubtless lead our educators and teachers in time to give to the teaching of religion the place of supreme importance it deserves.

From Benson’s ‘Lord of the World’

Papa Angelicus:

It was Papa Angelicus whom he was about to see; that amazing old man who had been appointed Secretary of State just fifty years ago, at the age of thirty, and Pope nine years previously.  It was he who had carried out the extraordinary policy of yielding the churches throughout the whole of Italy to the Government, in exchange for the temporal lordship of Rome, and who had since set himself to make it a city of saints. He had cared, it appeared, nothing whatever for the world’s opinion; his policy, so far as it could be called one, consisted in a very simple thing: he had declared in Epistle after Epistle that the object of the Church was to do glory to God by producing supernatural virtues in man, and that nothing at all was of any significance or importance except so far as it effected this object…

…he had said that on the whole the latter-day discoveries of man tended to distract immortal souls from a contemplation of eternal verities—not that these discoveries could be anything but good in themselves, since after all they gave insight into the wonderful laws of God—but that at present they were too exciting to the imagination.

Fr. Percy:

Persecution, he said, was coming. … But persecution was not to be feared. It would no doubt cause apostasies, as it had always done, but these were deplorable only on account of the individual apostates. On the other hand, it would reassure the faithful; and purge out the half-hearted. Once, in the early ages, Satan’s attack had been made on the bodily side, with whips and fire and beasts; in the sixteenth century it had been on the intellectual side; in the twentieth century on the springs of moral and spiritual life. Now it seemed as if the assault was on all three planes at once. 

But what was chiefly to be feared was the positive influence of Humanitarianism: it was coming, like the kingdom of God, with power; it was crushing the imaginative and the romantic, it was assuming rather than asserting its own truth; it was smothering with bolsters instead of wounding and stimulating with steel or controversy. It seemed to be forcing its way, almost objectively, into the inner world. Persons who had scarcely heard its name were professing its tenets; priests absorbed it, as they absorbed God in Communion—he mentioned the names of the recent apostates—children drank it in like Christianity itself. The soul “naturally Christian” seemed to be becoming “the soul naturally infidel.” 

Persecution, cried the priest, was to be welcomed like salvation, prayed for, and grasped; but he feared that the authorities were too shrewd, and knew the antidote and the poison apart. There might be individual martyrdoms—in fact there would be, and very many—but they would be in spite of secular government, not because of it. Finally, he expected, Humanitarianism would presently put on the dress of liturgy and sacrifice, and when that was done, the Church’s cause, unless God intervened, would be over.

Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson

Written before WWI. Benson feared what would happen if the ‘humanitarian’ aspects of modernism – socialism – worked, what might happen if secular powers were able, by intelligent management, to eliminate the physical causes of human suffering, and, by making suicide a sacred, state-supported right, cause spiritual suffering to be something avoidable and individually chosen.

Looked at from Benson’s perspective, we have been spared, I suppose, the curse of successful socialism. He was writing before the horrors of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent horrors under Soviet, Chinese, Cambodian and so on, Communist regimes. His worries that secular management of everything would WORK proved baseless. Instead, we have the curse of those committed to the idea that a paradies is around the corner despite it never having resulted from previous efforts, that it will work if we just keep trying, in the face of mountains of evidence – and mountains of bodies – proving it won’t.

Hurray! I guess?

Question: In that last paragraph, did Benson overrate the shrewdness of secular government? Is he right about the adoption of the trappings of liturgy and sacrifice?

Front Row Kids Revisited (Yep, the d*mn Virus)

Since I generally stay away from the popular press for sanity and utility reasons – tends to drive me crazy and be useless – I don’t know how that whole ‘front row kids’ thing from a few years ago went over. I suspect that Arnade’s division seemed obviously true to many people, and obvious balderdash to many others. I’d also imagine that, of those two groups, the first would be a lot more engaged in talking about and promoting this analysis, while the second would be more likely to role their eyes and find something better to do.

Chartiers Elementary School Classroom | Historic Pittsburgh

Accepting for the moment this front row/back row division of the world: for a front row kid, this idea that he is defined by his place in school is very appealing; I’d go so far as to suggest doing otherwise is almost unimaginable for him. Unfortunately, I’d say the same for most back row kids.

What’s lurking here: school is the primary formative experience of all front row and most back row kids. Coming from a rootless, cruel, and self-centered personal life, where mom and dad have divorced, moved, and remarried, often several times, school for such emotionally battered children is an oasis of order. Unlike their relationship with their parents, the rules in school are pretty clear: to be valued, to get approval, just do what the teacher says.

In the process of seeking personal fulfillment and career success, they have learned from their families, such as they are, to casually sever whatever non-work related relationships they may have otherwise formed. A child leaves a house full of emotional and sometimes physical insecurity, and spends most of his waking hours in a place where success is clearly defined for them.

To tell such a child, now grown into a physical adult and inescapably defining his success in terms of compliance, that something an authority figure has told them is wrong, is never going to be seen as a mere intellectual dispute. It is an attack on that which defines who he is. It is an assault on his entire world.

Here’s Arnade’s definitions, from a Forbes article (in which the writer seems to accept the distinction, and has moved on to worrying over what to do about it). This is a masterpiece of Orwellian newspeak. I’ll offer my corrections line by line:

Front row kids:

Mobile, global, and well educated (Rootless, disdainful of local loyalties, thoroughly indoctrinated)

Primary social network is via colleges and career (Social network is shallow, diffuse, and ephemeral)

Intellect is primary. (Compliance is primary) View world through framework of numbers and rational arguments (Has internalized the idea that compliance is rational, and that only the numbers and arguments presented by authority figures count regardless of their inherent soundness)

Meaning (and morality) comes from careers and intellectual pursuits (Has no concept of what meaning and morality are)

Faith is irrational. (Has internalized a strawman) They see themselves as beyond race and gender (They are obsessed with race and gender)

View their lives as better than their parents and their children’s lives will be better than their own (Contrary to what they see all around them, they accept the fantasy that success in school guarantees success in life)

Back row kids

Stay where they are born. (Are loyal and patriotic) Education beyond high school degree is via smaller state schools, community colleges, and trade schools (Recognize, however dimly, that college is a fraud)

Primary social network is via institutions beyond work. (Don’t think of family, etc., as ‘institutions.’ Love, and has a visceral loyalty to the people who love them and recognizes a duty to love and be loyal in return.) Such as family, geographic community, and Church (Finds fulfillment and meaning as part of a family, village or neighborhood, and church)

Faith is central. (They know what faith means. They reject the strawman) They find meaning (and morality) through the “Decency of hard work” (They work for reasons other than mere personal fulfillment – they find fulfillment in performing their duties to the family, village, and church they love)

They have “traditional” views of race and gender (They reject the authoritarian indoctrination of the schools)

They view their lives as worse than their parents and their children’s lives will be worse than their own (They have a toehold in economic reality – it will be a lot of work for them and their children to get as far as their parents.)

A front row kid’s sense of reality will always be tenuous, because it will always be contradicted by experience. The approval of teachers and schools, the gold stars, the pat on the head, the straight A’s, the diplomas, the advanced degrees – these are what stand between them and the abyss of abandonment they experienced in their family life. On this level, a front row kid really is triggered by simple, harmless words – any words that point out the contradiction. ‘Fake news’ points out the perfidy and incompetence of their peers. Those elite journalists went to the best schools, got the best degrees, and are front row kids to a degree to which most front row kids can only spire. That they are getting mocked for being such obvious frauds is unendurable! Those journalists are both front row kids like us, and stand in the role of teachers as the vanguard of the institutions that give meaning to their lives.

The key here for today: front row kids truly believe that parroting what they hear from whoever stands in authority IS science, logic, intelligence, and reasonableness itself. Agreeing with teacher IS morality. Opposing what the person in authority says IS anti-science, irrationality, and stupidity, and EVIL. They have been told that they are the best educated, most reasonable and most moral people the world has ever seen – and, as the price to be paid for acceptance and approval and something that almost feels like love, they believe it. This price, this membership in the kool kids klub, demands any who express doubts about any part of the program be treated as heretics.

As of today, I have had someone I know, who has an advanced degree, unload on me for calling the COVID panic a fraud, and, with complete disdain for any evidence, logic, math that might enter into the analysis, call me tool for stupid, evil politicians who want to get us all killed out of pure malice. I was accused of promoting conspiracy theories, which was backed up by a stream of conspiracy theories.

A stranger called me a monster and insane for pointing out something completely obvious from all the available data: that a child stands virtually no risk from the Kung Flu. Unlike the case above, this time I got a chance to point to the CDC data that backs this up; pointed to the IFR calculable from that CDC data. It simply was not possible to change her mind, because it’s not a question of thinking. It is a question of personal identity established over 16 or more years of schooling.

Simply raising questions about the government’s response to COVID, simply pushing back at all on the assertions of the talking heads, is enough to trigger a strong emotional reaction in front row kids. To take any pushback seriously would be to shake the very ground upon which they stand. To accept any view contrary to the front row kid group-think would be to cast oneself adrift, to sever social ties (such as they are) and force a reevaluation of the premises upon which your life has been built.

To say this is difficult is a wild understatement. If an authority figure comes along and says something diametrically opposed to what was said yesterday, front row kids will believe it without a moment of cognitive dissonance. COVID was not a problem – until it was. Masks didn’t help at all, until they might help some, until they are mandatory. And the front row will switch allegiance accordingly, and woe to him who points this out!

For change to happen, the easier route, which has happened many times, is simply to change the authority figure. Our current authority figures are fighting this with desperate fury. Or, I suppose, enough cognitive dissonance might eventually get through. Resistance to this level of fundamental, definitional change is strong, life and death strong.

I do not need to point out to regular readers that this transference of loyalty from family to state via a certified agent of the state – a teacher – and the replacement of thought with obedience is exactly what Fichte proposed way back in 1807.

Home Improvement Project: Music Desk

Youngest son, who plays the fiddle, sings, and enjoys goofing around on the guitar, drums, and whatever else is lying about, got a little Akai mpk keyboard for his birthday a while back. He wanted to create And record music.

So do I.

Way back when hair bands ruled the earth, I was in some bands, and I, too, wanted to record some music. It was a little more complicated and expensive back then. Garage Band on your phone wasn’t a thing. So I have some seriously outdated experience, and, perhaps more important, some somewhat outdated equipment.

I had converted part of the garage into a recording studio 20+ years ago. Long story.

Anyway, space being an issue, cleared out a corner by my piano to set ups more modern, and much cheaper, DAW work area for the Caboose and me. Threw together a desk to maximize the available space. Like this:

The KRK V-8s I knew where they were, so I grabbed them (they’re sweet. Followed the advice I’d read somewhere: only spend real money on mikes, monitors, and instruments, because they don’t go obsolete every year. After the long obsolete Mac tower, the only real investment I made). Need to track down my little Mackie board and a bunch of cables and mics, download some software, hook it up, and we should be good to go.

The desk itself is oak veneer 1 1/4” particle board pieces I’d rescued from some old cubicles getting thrown out many years ago.

Anyway, could be fun. Let’s see if it gets used.

Samuel Read Hall: Deep in the Warren

In yesterday’s post, mentioned that, via the Oracle Wikipedia, discovered a gentleman named Samuel Read Hall, an important figure in the American compulsory state-run school movement of the early 19th century. So, I poked around…

Turns out, he wrote a number of books and textbooks. And that the Internet Archives has several of them online for free. So, in my usual manner, I set aside the de la Salle I was reading to take a look. The tome titled The instructor’s manual: or, Lectures on school-keeping looked promising. I’m painfully aware of my lack of understanding and sources for exactly how schooling as we now know it took over America, and this, dating from the 1820s even though this edition is from 1852, seemed like a good place to look. It’s only a couple hundred pages…

The brief biographical information I could run down about Hall doesn’t provide many hints about how he came to be a champion of modern schooling, merely that he was such. He was the son of a clergyman, never went to college, and became a school teacher at age 19. He then devoted the rest of his life to education, campaigning for Massachusetts to establish a superintendent of common schools, at which he succeeded, and of which Horace Mann became the first office holder. At 27, he was a school principal; at 28, he founded and ran a teacher’s college and became a licensed minister. The rest of his long life was devoted to educating teachers and ministerial work.

Yet, somewhere, he absorbed the Pestalozzian approach to education, with a strong, if typically muddled, foundation in Rousseau. He’s a huge Prussian schooling fanboy.

When I entered the same field of labor, in 1816, there was scarcely a paragraph in the weekly newspaper, and not a single book or even tract within my knowledge, intended to aid the teacher, in knowing how to instruct and govern a school. Nor was there at that time a Teachers Institute or Normal School within the United States, or even Europe. The magnificent school system of Prussia, which has since awakened such deep interest in Christendom, was not then matured.

from the Introduction

Hall quotes with approval a contemporary reverend, as he presents a long list of all the ways a child’s education can shape him – a snippet from the end:

“…Carry him to the city of the Grand Sultan, and he will grow up a worshipper of Mohammed, and exhibit all the peculiarities of one of his most devoted sons.
Let him live where the gospel sheds its benign and enlightening rays, and he will embrace the doctrines and rejoice in the precepts of Jesus.

” Such is the controlling influence which external circumstances must and will have upon all other children. And these external circumstances are nothing more or less than the concentrated influence, the whole education, through which a person passes, and by which he will be benefited or injured, in proportion to the healthful or baneful nature of the sum of this influence. Of what unspeakable importance, then, must it be to this heir of life and immortality, that this influence should be enlightening, elevating, and moral ; that he be under the influence of virtuous associates, judicious parents, and truly intelligent, virtuous, and patriotic teachers.”

I’ve wondered if the blank slate/formless clay idea gained ground with the separation of people from farming. A farmer knows that, while care and luck certainly figure into it, plant a carrot, get a carrot, not a brussel sprout. In other words, things are what they are, and all we can do is plant them in the proper soil and take good care and pray. Mostly, that works; sometimes, it doesn’t. Here’s Hall quoting the same author:

” The rising generation, like clay in the hand of the potter, are readily moulded into almost any shape, and will certainly take the form, adopt the principles, and fall into the habits which the all- fashioning power of education comprehending under that term whatever in the world around operates on the mind or heart shall give them. …The whole future condition of the rising generations, in all their mental, social, and moral interests, their present and future joys and sorrows, is involved in it. “

To his credit, Hall is trying to educate kids to be good, under an understandable definition of good: Christian and patriotic virtues, 19th century New England style. And, even more so, he recognizes parents as key. Hall differs from Fichte here, as Fichte wants New German Men, virtuous according to standards only unclearly understood. And parents are the problem education aims to address. The Apostles and their virtues and zeal would possibly be considered acceptably educated by Hall; they would be throwbacks to an earlier, superseded age to Fichte, and thus an unacceptable step backwards.

Perhaps I give Hall too much credit here.

Only lightly skimmed so far, There are lots of examples in the form of dialogues between student and teacher. Some of Hall’s advice is sound, such as not explaining difficulties using words the kids don’t understand.

I’m going to try not to spend too much time on this work, but do want to read it. If it proves helpful, Hall has a bunch of other stuff out there on the web as well.

Further updates as events warrant.

De la Salle & Normal Schools

Am plowing through biographies and writings of the major players in Catholic schooling. Unfortunately, so far, have found nothing on Mother Seton’s teaching methods, which, given the timeframe of the early 19th century, would be interesting. Now looking over Jean Baptiste de la Salle, and creating a series of spreadsheets with timelines on them – since none of the stuff I’ve read so far correlates event s and lives in any sort of systematic fashion, guess I’ve got to do it.

De la Salle is credited with inventing the ‘Normal School’, viewed as the forerunner of all modern teachers colleges. The name comes from de la Salle’s observation that the impoverished boys he was trying to educate lacked even rudimentary social skills, and, further, so did the sort of men who would volunteer to teach them.

His first stab at addressing the issue was to simply invite the teachers over for dinner. In 1680, this caused great scandal among his relatives, since de la Salle was a nobleman with a mansion, and the teachers were all commoners. He found dinner wasn’t enough immersion in cultured life, so he had the commoner-teachers move in. His relatives managed, through legal wrangling, to get his house away from him, putting the kibosh on his uncouth fraternizing.

So he founded normal school, to instill in would-be teachers the norms of civilized life. The SJW have gotten to the Wikipedia page, and so we read:

In 1685, St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, founded what is generally considered the first normal school, the École Normale, in ReimsChampagneFrance. The term “normal” herein refers to the goal of these institutions to instill and reinforce particular norms within students. “Norms” included historical behavioral norms of the time, as well as norms that reinforced targeted societal values, ideologies and dominant narratives in the form of curriculum.


Of course, there’s an implied judgement in there. It seems the writer doesn’t approve of the ‘ideologies and dominant narratives’ the likes of de la Salle would ‘instill.’ De la Salle made a timeless observation: You’ll get farther if you know how to act like a gentleman than if you always act like a thug. It’s along the lines of catching flies with sugar rather than vinegar.

I note here a reality: schools are an artifact and a conduit of culture. Either your schools teach and reinforce the culture, or they replace it. In de la Salle’s case, he wanted what he saw as a better culture taught to his charges, both students and teachers. In a sense, he was attempting to replace the culture, such as it was, of the impoverished boys and teachers in his charge; looked at another way, he was trying to take the best from the culture he shared with the poor, and make it more available to them. He certainly thought knowing how to act like a gentleman would improve the economic and social prospects of his students and teachers.

Our school cannot but serve the same purpose. They are not about the 3 Rs, and never were. The 3 Rs are just part of the culture the schools traditionally tried to pass on. All the great teachers of history knew they weren’t getting anywhere with students who did not know, for example, how to act toward a teacher. The great schools in Athens would not admit you unless you knew Euclid and Homer, as in: could do all of Euclid’s proofs, and recite the Iliad and the Odyssey. It was not so much that this proved you were a true Greek – although it did do that – as show that you knew how to study and learn. How to behave in school.

Fichte is therefore not breaking new ground in trying to use schools to impart a culture. His innovation is to teach that compulsory state-run Rousseauian/Pestalozzian schools could create a new and Utopian society in a generation or so – if only the influence of parents, family, religion, and village could be eliminated. This remains a (usually) tacit assumption of schools ever since.

Wikipedia continues:

The first public normal school in the United States was founded in Concord, Vermont, by Samuel Read Hall in 1823 to train teachers. In 1839, the first state-supported normal school was established by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the northeast corner of the historic Lexington Battle Green; it evolved into Framingham State University. The first modern teacher training school in China was established by educator Sheng Xuanhuai in 1895 as the normal school of the Nanyang Public School (now Shanghai Jiao Tong University) in Shanghai during the Qing dynasty.[2]

Massachusetts – it’s the Balkans of education: producing more history than it can consume locally. My curiosity was piqued by Samuel Read Hall – don’t remember him. A contemporary of Mann, but beat him to the punch in founding a Normal School. So, I clicked the link:

Hall was a preacher, or at least, a trained minister. At a young age – mid 20s – he was already running and founding schools. Wonder if he’s yet another childless man pontificating on children? The Oracle does not say.

In 1829, he helped found an educational society,  American Institute of Instruction , whose purpose was – to get Massachusetts to create the office od superintendent of schools. The succeeded. Horace Mann got the gig…

It is shocking/not shocking how often education reform seeks not so much improved education as the establishment of offices with the power, it is more or less sincerely hoped, to improve education.

Here’s Hall’s major beefs:

In his Lectures on School Keeping, he points out significant obstacles to the instruction of children in the American schools of 1829:

Lack of simple display media such as a globe of the world. (He is credited with inventing the blackboard, and the blackboard eraser)

Political factions within the school district, at war with each other at the expense of educational progress.

Wealthy citizens sending their children to private schools.

Schools exact no moral influence, in turn becoming a school for bad behavior.

Poorly qualified teachers.

Poor remuneration of qualified teachers.

Poor quality of textbooks, or lack of fitness for learning capacity of student.

It’s tempting to pick this apart. In 1829, America was less than 50 years removed from the Federalist Papers – published in the popular press, which would suggest that, in general, the newspaper-buying public could read at a very high level. And there were a lot of newspapers back then, publishing a lot of editions, so that public must have been large. Again, reading can only be an important part of schooling if the culture the school is passing along thinks it’s important. At any rate, it doesn’t look like reading was considered a problem by Hall.

“Political factions” – he doesn’t mean “people who disagree with me,” does he? Then again: rich people sending their kids to private schools as a problem suggests he does. Don’t want to read too much into this, but it is interesting that he doesn’t seem to want to reform those private schools, but rather, wants rich people’s kids in public schools like his. Again, one wonders: is ‘wealthy’ defined here as ‘willing to spend money to keep them out of my schools’?

Rabbit hole. Important note: once one recognizes schools as tools to impart culture, it becomes very, very important to consider who is in charge, what culture is being imparted. The news suggests: not the one any sane people would want imparted.

New Page: Education History Sources (preliminary, work in progress)

This is a very preliminary and partial list of the sources that are key parts of my thinking about education history as reflected in the blog posts here.

I hope to update it regularly, as I work to outline/draft a book on what is wrong with, and how to fix, public education in general and Catholic schooling in particular. As it is, it’s not 10% of the stuff I’ve read/am reading. Sheesh.

For example, these are some I pulled to go through that aren’t on the list yet. Got to get more organized…

So, if you’re looking for reading materials, like, say, you’re an insomniac….

By the Way…

This was on Twitter, posted by a person with BLM and Antifa in her name. The comments were universally positive – meaning, in favor of destroying Western Civilization. That’s because she simply eliminated any that weren’t, because clearly those people were stupid and evil. (There is a lesson in this.)


The very least we can do, in fact, what we must do, is refuse to use their language. A key battle in this war is getting everyone to accept the language in which these terrorists frame the issues. That’s why they go insane when someone suggests All Lives Matter: the key message is that BLM controls the discussion. Any deviation from their terminology is immediately denounced as, of course, racist.

Therefore: I will never refer to someone’s sex as ‘gender’, never use ‘systemic racism’ except to mock it, always use ‘markets’ instead of ‘capitalism’ and others I’m nt recalling at the moment. We should start a list. Even ‘problematic’ is, well, problematic. Usually what is meant is ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’, but those words don’t signal in group membership the way problematic does. Class, oppression, progress need to be handled with care.

Language is the ground we cannot cede. Our enemies already control the public discussion through their stooges in the media, academia and government. We cannot let this pass.

How Crazy Are We?

Among some of the Twitter Catholics I follow, there seems to be a growing horror that some Catholics are not sufficient mortified, or not mortified according to currently popular norms, over racism. People I would have thought level-headed are outraged somebody might say, for example, that systemic racism doesn’t exist – that was the specific example given for why a certain apologist should lose his job – should be canceled. Yes, evidently with no irony at all, Catholics – good Catholics, I’m sure, better, at least than these sinners – were suggesting – well, demanding – that somebody loose their livelihood over not adopting the current language around racism.

If that’s going to be the shibboleth, I guess I should prepare for my tar and feathering, as I like to have terms defined in some clear way before giving full assent to what has become a popular catchphrase. I would request, first, not a reference to some feelings or trends, but a real, functional, definition by which one can distinguish what a thing is and is not. Right now, I can acknowledge racism is a problem; I can acknowledge the existence of systems and therefore the existence of systemic problems. What I’m lacking is a functional definition of what system we’re talking about, how, exactly and concretely it is racist, and clear, concrete examples of that system committing, if that’s the right word, racist acts.

That people are racist, sure. Am I? First, I note I am a sinner as much as any man ever, with the usual, boring yet deadly faults of Pride in its myriad forms, of sloth and cruelty and bitterness and lust – you know the list. When I can muster the courage to look into my own black heart, I am moved to throw myself at the feet of Our Lord and beg His mercy. The thought of the justice I deserve for my sins freezes my blood. Lord, have mercy!

But am I a racist? Well, let’s just say that a definition of racisms by which I am racist would be very, very broad, so broad as to encompass clearly unintentional and unconscious acts. By its nature, such a definition will convict me of a racism I don’t will and of which I am unaware, of a racism that is not, therefore, by any rational definition, a sin.

But the accusation is that the racism we must now concern ourselves with – and, evidently, acknowledge and repent of to retain one’s standing as a good Catholic – is *systemic*. OK, this must mean, if it means anything, that it’s specifically NOT personal. If, on the contrary, it is personal, willed racism, what does the word ‘systemic’ add? Assuming the word systemic is meant to distinguish this particular flavor of racism from run of the mill personal racisms, I, as a person, cannot be guilty of systemic racism. Or?

So far, I see no way I can personally be responsible for systemic racism, UNLESS I am personally responsible for the system in which that racism is manifested. Again, am I? This would require identifying the system, and my role in it.

Well? What system are we talking about here? The answer seems to be: ‘everything’ or ‘culture’ or ‘society’. Again, on the one hand, that’s so broad as to be meaningless; on the other, how can it be that I, one man among billions, is responsible for this rather amorphous system? If all I can do is try my best to be virtuous within whatever system I may find myself in, then I’m already committed to doing what I can do to fight this systemic racism, whatever it may be.

There are more problems with this idea. But, skipping ahead a little, I note that the idea of systemic racism is championed by critical theorists and other Marxists, most prominently by Black Lives Matter and Antifa. Now, a truly awesome intellect, truly refined according to Aristotle’s definition (a refined mind is one that can consider an idea without accepting it), could consider the claims of BLM and Antifa without first noting that they, according to their own websites and proud proclamations, want the Church destroyed, America and all its institutions burned to the ground, and reactionaries who oppose them executed. No, really – look it up. I can sort of pull it off, but I can’t pretend this idea of systemic racism exists in a vacuum. It’s a ploy, sports fans. BLM and Antifa don’t want racism to go away, they want to use it to burn the world to the ground.

That Marxists who want me dead would propose and use as a battering ram the idea that racism is the problem, and not just the kind of racism we individuals can mitigate by our own free wills, but a *systemic* racism that requires DESTRUCTION OF THE SYSTEM, which simply is Western Civilization – well, the appeal is not apparent. I like Western Civilization, and love the Church that built it.

And, not being historically illiterate, I know our nation is by any measure the least racist large nation that has ever existed. But I suppose saying that proves I’m a racist?

So: do I rush in where angels fear to tread, and try to counter these folks? Or do I let it go?