Reading through the comments to that Edward Feser post I linked to and commented on yesterday reminded me of a certain moment in my life that, in retrospect, was kind of important:
I was a sophomore at St. John’s in Santa Fe, and we’d been reading the Bible and Luther. Now, I’ll admit up front that I have a similar reaction to Luther as I have to our current President: you can’t be serious. THIS is supposed to be some brilliant leader, some long-awaited
savior reformer who is way smarter than we are? Based on…..? You’re not seeing stuck-up college professor with daddy issues? I found his (Luther’s) writings so utterly disingenuous, so patently confrontational that the olive branch he claimed to be offering read like an insult. I can imagine that someone totally ignorant of the Church, especially of how Catholics relate emotionally to some of key teachings, might not catch how belittling and divisive Luther is being. This is most especially clear in Christian Liberty, which seems to be considered his most conciliatory work, wherein he proposes the compromise of simply doing it his way.
Be that as it may, my mind was beginning to become cultivated at that time. A cultivated mind, as Aristotle says, is one that can consider an idea without agreeing with it. So, one winter day, standing outside the upper dorms, staring off into the beautiful New Mexican distance, I began to wonder: what if Luther is right? What if it is true? What if God has decided to save us via a book, rather than a Church?
Now, at the time, I suppose I was some sort of theist. Living in New Mexico at 7,300 feet up, where the stars are awesome and the thunderheads roll in across the vast mesas like a heavenly vision, with shafts of light here, thunder, lightening, and a cloudburst there, and maybe a perfect double rainbow while the sun sets in crimson and gold glory – well, you can doubt God if you want, but that was a pretty broad hint. But my Catholic upbringing was everything we’ve come to expect from the ’60s and ’70s, so I’d ‘gotten beyond’ all that Catholic stuff.
So, there I stood. For a long moment, I could see it: the world as Luther saw it, a world of abject slavery (read On the Bondage of the Will) made whole by the unmerited grace of God; theology being less about understanding and more about a glorious yet incomprehensible salvation. Faith, that is enough and more than enough. I imagined myself in the grip of evangelical fervor, talking Bible verses….
And then I broke out laughing. Out loud. Mark Shea put the problems so well in his book, By What Authority? that I’ll merely point you to it instead of rehashing it out here. To fully embrace that world, one must cultivate a love for a certain incoherence, of uncertainty raised to the level of a virtue. Educated Protestants, I’ve read on more than one occasion, lament that Tiber-swimmers have fallen to the allure of a false certainty. From this river bank, that looks like praise for theological chaos, asserting that God does not really want us to be clear on Him, His nature, His desires for us, but wants us to muscle through all those schisms and factions and denominations as, somehow, a sign we’re doing it right. Um, what?
So, at the age of 19, having reread a bunch of the Bible and some Luther and cogitated a bit, I concluded that, while I might never become a Christian, if I did, I could never become a Protestant. Note that this in no way was an argument for Catholicism, just an argument against Protestantism. I considered it possible, likely even, that both were wrong. But If I had to choose between the cool beautiful logic of Thomas and the out of control ravings of Luther* – they both had Scripture, by the way, and there’s no reason whatsoever to imagine Luther had a better grip on it than Thomas, so that’s no help – give me Thomas any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.
Back to that Feser essay. He makes a simple point, too simple, it seems, for many of his readers: you can’t use sola scriptura as a means of determining a canon. This is not, by the way, an idle question, as there have been many a battle throughout history over what, exactly, is part of Scripture and what is not. A couple of his commenters accuse him of creating a straw man, and delve into excruciating detail on what, exactly, your educated, really, truly Christian Christian means by sola scriptura. But they never answer, or even address the very simple question: how do you know what the canon IS? (Note: the comments were flying hot n heavy, I read them yesterday, so maybe somebody got around to it by now.)
Now, I’ve read enough to have heard several explanations of how the Protestant canon was arrived at, and they are a combination of wishful thinking and fantasy. Catholics are comfortable with saying: Christ left a Church to do His Will; that Church selected the books of the Bible as part of doing His Will. You can hate or love that explanation, but it’s a least coherent. Saying that the books select themselves is popular (being God-breathed is, it seems, is utterly, luminously obvious to really Christian Christians – it’s my spiritual shortcomings that make much of the history books, Daniel and Revelation seem kind of wacky, while the Song of Songs and Wisdom seem beautiful and wonderful and, well, biblical.) Appeals to history are a non-starter: there’s that pesky 1,300 years wherein everybody in the West used exactly the same canon, a canon described by Jerome and Augustine, among others – the Catholic canon. There’s that mystical point somewhere between 0 and 400 AD at which Scripture got corrupted, along with everything else, where pagan devil-worshipers stuck in Maccabees because those stories of self-sacrifice, fervor for God’s will, and martyrdom are just the sorts of things evil people promote. I guess. Then there’s an appeal to original languages, because a bunch of 4th century Jewish scholars who rejected Christ and everything in the New Testament also decided they didn’t like parts of Septuagint that were a bit too Greeky for their taste. Even though the New Testament authors quote freely from it, including the parts the Jewish scholars didn’t like…
Be that as it may, the question is simple, and therefore it must be nuanced to death in order to keep from having to take a stand on it, for the very simple reason that there is no rational, logical stand – other than saying God guided men in choosing the Books in the Bible. And that plays way too much into the Catholic position.
Back to Thomas – he will make distinctions both subtle and gross as the question requires. This is fundamentally different, the polar opposite, in fact, of retreating into a miasma of nuance, were squishy distinctions rule. As I’ve argued here on this blog, the thread that connects the modern state of intellectual confusion and anti-reason leads back directly through the 19th century Unitarian vanguard at Harvard, back through Hegel, Fichte and Kant, back through Hume and Descartes, and right back to Luther and Calvin. Their thought-processes were fundamentally irrational, mere pseudo-intellectual back-fill for conclusions of the heart. Human reason not only does not vouchsafe the truth of Scripture; by extension, reason has nothing to say about ANY position anyone claims is based on Scripture.
Which is where we find ourselves today.
One last note: one problem I have, and it’s evidently not uncommon, is that, after reading what Protestants have to say, especially their almost always bizarre caricatures of Catholic teachings, is that I have a hard time taking their positions seriously. This is bad, since the sincerity and holiness of our separated brethren should be honored and respected. Saying something is stupid – like, for example, what I just wrote above – is less than helpful. So if anyone wants to engage, I promise I’ll be good.
* No, really – Luther is a scary writer. He was on his best behavior in Liberty, and still was a monumental jerk. If you dig a little deeper, it gets worse. Much, much worse. I’m told that the stuff readily available in English is somewhat sanitized, and that, for the good reason that there’s much scatological raving in it, most of what he wrote is to this day available only in German. Odd, huh? I know I’ve had no luck finding a number of his works in English that are referenced elsewhere, when, for example, all of the mountain of stuff Thomas wrote is readily available in translation. No fanboy translator has bothered to claw everything Luther wrote into English? Please correct me if I’m wrong and point me to the source.
Excellent post by Edward Feser on this topic, but full of enough careful reasoning that excerpting it defeats the purpose. You’ll need to just go read it. Here’s a bit from the opening section to get the flavor:
Modern empiricism hoped sharply to delimit the boundaries of speculative reason in a way that would decisively undermine (what empiricists regarded as) the excesses of Scholastic and rationalist metaphysics. Principles like Hume’s Fork — the thesis that any meaningful proposition must concern either “relations of ideas” or “matters of fact” — seemed at first glance formidable weapons in the empiricist arsenal. The key theses of Scholastic and rationalist metaphysics appear to be neither true by virtue of the relations of the ideas they express, nor knowable the way ordinary empirical matters of fact are. Thus we may as well “commit them to the flames,” as Hume recommended. A crisp and clear refutation of traditional metaphysics, yes?
Well, no, actually, for there are several serious problems with Hume’s Fork. First, why should anyone find the principle remotely plausible in the first place who isn’t already committed to the background empiricist picture of human knowledge that informs it — as, of course, Scholastics and rationalists are not? From the point of view of those against whom the principle was directed, then, it seems manifestly a question-begging non-starter. Second, there are areas of knowledge affirmed by both empiricists and their enemies for which Hume’s Fork cannot plausibly account. In particular, truths of logic and mathematics are notoriously difficult to make sense of in terms of either Hume’s “relations of ideas” or “matters of fact.” Third, taken at face value the principle is obviously self-refuting. For Hume’s Fork is not itself either true by virtue of the relations of the ideas it expresses, nor knowable the way ordinary empirical matters of fact are. Hence, by its own standard, it would have to be rejected as meaningless. Or if it is not meaningless, that can only be because it presupposes precisely the third, metaphysical sort of perspective that it purports to rule out.
What I see here is that unbreakable thread that leads from what passes for thought in the modern world through Hegel, Fichte and Kant, on through Hume and Descartes, and back to Luther and Calvin: the idea, contra the Thomists, that Truth can be got outside, somehow, the workings of the mind in the world, in such a way that nothing in the world can challenge it. If you do not agree with Calvin or Luther (or Hegel or Marx), the problem is YOU. You are unenlightened, lack insight, are on the wrong side of history, in every way unworthy of rebuttal – you are trying to reason about things that are simply beyond reason UNTIL you accept the premises laid down. Which is to concede the whole game, as the rational questions are about exactly those premises.
Anyway, check it out.
Wrote this a couple years ago, thought it might be appropriate for the current discussion of schooling.
Written a bit on this previously here.
To sum up: Education can only be an expression of a culture. Throughout history (and, one suspects, prehistory) education consisted precisely in those activities that passed on culture.
Putting on my mail-order evolutionary anthropologists’ hat, it is easy to speculate that learning a particular culture, one within which have survived those most necessary evolutionary participants called ‘parents’, would in itself have huge survival advantages: how are you going to survive in an environment? Look around – who in a similar situation has survived? Why, your parents! Let’s do that!
Anyway, once History rolled around, people began to largely fail to record how they educated their young – the record is surprisingly thin on details. This makes sense: it would be like expecting early historians to record how they chewed their food or got dressed in the morning – education is so completely natural and integrated into daily life that it would have seemed completely pointless to describe how it happened.
Unless you decided to change it. The earliest records I know of recording in any detail how young people were educated comes from the Greeks in around 500 B.C. Before then, we have things like the recurring biblical exhortations to fathers to make sure their children learned the laws of their ancestors – it seems to be assumed that the fathers would know how to do it, so that part seems to get left out. I say ‘seems’ because of course the laws of the ancestors would be passed on in their observance – if everybody around you is celebrating Passover, reenacting detailed rituals and reciting specific prayers, that’s something a kid will pick up. That’s why the historical biblical books record the many times the Law and the feasts were ignored or restored – that is precisely the history of the fall and rise of Culture, and, by extension, the history of education within that culture.
So, back to the Greeks. We know from quite a number of sources that the various city-states and various philosophical and political schools paid a great deal of attention to education. It is important to note that, early on, little detail exists to cover what we might call the grade school years – just like everywhere else, no one could be bothered to describe how little kids were to be educated, everybody just *knew* how that happened. The end result was clear: all properly educated little kids would be prepared to do the next level of schooling, equivalent to junior high school, at least in terms of the ages of the pupils.
(Later on, around the 3rd century B.C., the Greeks began to record even how little children were to be educated. I’d speculate that this new interest is a sign that people felt the culture was under threat, somehow, so that what used to be safely assumed now needed to be paid attention to. )
Here the records get thicker. The arguments – Greeks so loved to argue! – was over, ultimately, what kind of culture you wanted. Spartans wanted a culture that supported an army that would never lose a war; Athenians wanted to never lose a war, too, but believed it was better to get there via a broad education that would help one love the city he was defending. Changes to education both lead to and followed changes to culture. When Alexander lead his Macedonian Greeks in conquest of most of the known world, he set up everywhere both ‘Alexandrias’ – new Greek cities manned by his troops and colonists – and Greek enclaves within the major conquered cities, from which to govern them. In both these places, schools, called ephebia, were set up to make sure that the young men were properly saturated in Greek culture.
Ephebia began as military schools. Around the age of 18, men would spend a year or two training as soldiers. As the Macedonians and subsequent Roman dominations made defending your city-state less immediately critical, ephebia evolved into cultural schools entirely, eventually completely losing their military character. They even started accepting barbarian students, training wannabe Greeks along side Greek Greeks. Thus was the survival of Greek culture in Greek lands assured up until the sacking of Constantinople. The literary and artistic output of all that culture assured its survival up to today.
So, I hope I’ve shown how cultures generate education and how education reinforces or even reinvents culture. The important note here is that all the education – and there was a lot of it – in the ancient and biblical world took place without any graded classroom instruction. Graded classroom instruction is an idea of the Enlightenment and of the Industrial Revolution.
So, given that the graded classroom model is a comparatively later-day innovation, the question should arise: what sort of *culture* does that model aim to achieve? As an innovation, it is intended to make things new – to create what was not there before. A lot of what I’m writing about here on this blog is simply an attempt to illuminate the cultural goals of ‘scientific’ education. What many people suspect – that they don’t want for their children what the schools want for them – is true to a degree most people find hard to imagine.
Alas, you can’t make a new cultural omelet without breaking the existing cultural eggs. It is telling that the Orwellian phrase ‘multiculturalism’ is a religion among the most vigorous proponents of industrial schooling. They would like to reduce culture to an innocuous matter of taste, rather than an indispensable part of what it means to be a human being – the more easily to crack it, and replace it. So, in places like the KIPP school in New York and the Pardada Pardadi school in India, where everyone (almost) can agree that the cultures being destroyed – the drug and gang and welfare culture in New York, and the misogynistic culture or rural India – deserve to die, the classroom model is seen as a great success.
But what about the Mexican culture of California? Having grown up in Southern California and having lived in California almost my whole life, I can attest that the there are many good things in the Mexican culture in California: much tighter families, greater care and deference shown to the elderly, warmer treatment of kids, and a general openness and compassion sorely lacking in our dominant culture.
It is universally lamented by the champions of public education that comparatively few Mexican-Americans go to college, and relatively many drop out of high school. Look at what is being proposed from the Mexican-American’s point of view: You can stay in school and go to college. To do this, you will be setting yourself apart from those members of your family who don’t don’t or didn’t do this, most notably your parent’s generation. During high school, you will be doing homework during much of the time you would otherwise have spent with family and friends. If you succeed in high school, you will ‘go away’ to college, either literally or figuratively, spending even less time with family and friends. If you succeed at college, you will get a career, the pursuit of which will, as likely as not, take you even further away.
Now, as a member of a different culture than your family, you will see them at Thanksgiving and Christmas, in accord with how your new culture does things. You will not be involved in the daily lives of your sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces, uncles and aunts. You’ve traded all that for the approval of a new culture and money and stuff. When life gets hard, you will not be surrounded by loving family – you’ll just call them on the phone, maybe.
I suspect that many Mexican Americans do not pursue college because they are more or less consciously aware of this trade-off. They’d rather drop out at 17 and take that job with Tio Juan’s sheet-rocking business, or wait tables at Tia Lola’s restaurant, and stay connected with family.
Perhaps you think I’m painting too sunny a picture, leaving out gangs and drugs and poverty. Perhaps I am – my personal experience with Mexican Americans was all through school and church, which has the effect of largely filtering out the gang and drug scene. The Americans of Mexican origin that I knew and know very much fit the picture I painted. As to the gangs and drugs and so on, perhaps the destructive power of our culture got ahead of itself, and managed to destroy the existing culture before it was able to develop the new one. I know that divorce and materialism, which play a smaller role in traditional Mexican families, have had a huge negative effect on Mexican-American families. A husband can just walk out on his wife here in America, move in with the girlfriend. He would probably have had to flee the country in the old culture, because the entire village would have probably been outraged at him.
I have been worrying about education: what is the curriculum for children on an interstellar colony? There must be some common culture, and it won’t all be science and technology. Sure, as time goes on, there will be those who choose to specialize, “Classicists”, Shakespearean experts, and so forth; but, besides Dr. Seuss, what books have all the kids read? And whose history?
One answer I liked, from Harry M, in part:
Dr. Patrick tells how children love hearing stories repeated over and over because the stories inform the child about his place in the world. At one time in western civilization the most widely known stories were from the Holy Bible. Every one of those stories was about moral consequence. People were so familiar with those stories that it is said that the miracle of Dunkirk was launched by a three-word message from a British officer trapped on the beach: “But if not”.
(See George Will’s “A Dying Tradition” at https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1915&dat=19840504&id=CwsiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=23IFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1892,764718&hl=enor Will’s more recent “Closing the book on literature” at http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/will072204.asp
More recently in America the most widely known stories come from television advertising, stories with no moral consequence in which the most frequently taught lesson is “Just do it!” This week we have seen one result of that teaching. We have watched videos of highly-schooled physicians negotiating the selling prices for the brains and hearts and livers of human beings who were dissected as living babies in their mother’s wombs.
As Arthur Leff wrote in “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law”, “As things now stand, everything is up for grabs.” (Duke Law Journal, Vol. 1979, No. 6, pp. 1229-1249 (December 1979). Available as a PDF file from http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/dlj/vol28/iss6/1
Dr. Patrick points out that the Jews have survived for more than 2,000 years without a homeland and are still identifiable as Jews. That is a miracle. If you took a bunch of Americans to an isolated desert island, for how many years would they remain Americans? The reason for the Jews’ survival can be found in Deuteronomy 6, where parents are instructed by Moses to tell their story to their children:
In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.
In other words, tell the children the stories, and tell them over and over again.
I’m thinking technology training won’t be a problem for a few generations at least, since it’s unlikely that a huge portion of any interstellar colonists won’t be high-end tech geeks. If mom and dad spend their days laying Hobartium cables along the colony’s perimeter to power the Repulsor Array, and are recognized and honored for their labors, enough little Janes and Johnnies will want to follow suit – and will have the environmental (and genetic!) prerequisites to do so.
Establishing and maintaining a civilization, on the other hand, will be a HUGE challenge and problem. The at-rest state for human culture is barbarism and tyranny. Republican Democracy, with human rights and the outrageous notion that the wisdom of the nation lies in its people, not its leaders, is terribly anti-entropic: Falling into barbarism is as easy as falling down. That’s why Harry M above has the right idea.
Putting the above together: the Geeks will assume they are the smart ones, and therefore naturally ought to be in charge. And, in fact, when the major pressing problems are all engineering problems, they may even be right. People being people, they will get used to the idea that the engineers ought to be in charge – less work for them, and the oxygen keeps coming and the lights are on, after all. Pournelle’s Law will quickly kick in, and the geeks who like power will get it. And then the colonists are oh so screwed. (If you’ve ever worked in a company where the Geeks are in charge, you’ve seen a minor vision of how this will work out. Just imagine throwing adulation and real power into the mix…)
One nice side effect of needing to have lots of engineers: I would expect graded classroom education to die the death its has long deserved, as the ‘luxury’ of warehousing kids for a decade or more for their parents convenience will not be affordable – you need the talent in the field. I’d expect apprenticeships at a young age, with something like guild training, to accompany the storytelling so essential to civilization.
Thoughts? Think I’ll send this to Dr. Pournelle and see what he thinks.
In the comboxes in to the last post, some thoughtful people – Stephen J and malcolmthecynic – challenged my assessment of the graded classroom style of schooling, in Stephen’s case specifically objecting to my referring to it as a ‘horror’. Am I merely engaging in hyperbole, or do I really mean that schooling is a horrible thing to which to subject children?
I really mean it – so much so, that I refused to send our 5 kids to any graded classroom model school, not the public schools, not the local Catholic schools, not the kinder and gentler variations such as Montessori schools – nada. If kids were sorted by grade and measured by idiotic short-form tests, I would rather they roam the street on their own all day than submit to the mind and soul destroying hell that is the industrial schooling model. Yes, I risked ‘ruining’ my own beloved children by refusing to make them take a single class or test unless they wanted to. Further, I tended to take an absolutely minimal, safety-based approach to rules: if one my kids wanted to go barefoot or stay up until 1 a.m., fine by me – but they know they will own the consequences. Only rules enforced concerned basic duties to the family: you have to help out with the chores, and you have to go to Mass on Sunday.
The result? 4 kids who got into the colleges of their choice (except they knew I wasn’t paying for any 4-year college that wasn’t on the Newman list – but that’s what they each chose anyway). They are each responsible, polite, kind and generous, and willingly go to Sunday Mass, and often daily Mass without anyone watching over them – I claim no credit or responsibility for this, except that I trusted God and got out of the way. All I’m pointing out is that, if refusing to send them to school ruined them, the world needs a lot more kids ruined this way. Which is kinda the whole point of my anti-school ranting.
So: Started to write specific replies, started to get too long, so I’m making them into a separate post. Pardon the combox tone of the writing – I’m getting a bit worked up over this. Do read the oft-linked John Taylor Gatto’s essay on this – he says it better than I can, from the perspective of someone who spent a couple decades teaching in public schools.
You’ve touched upon EXACTLY what I’m talking about. That we do not see subjecting children to graded classroom education as a horror, that we cannot imagine ‘school’ being anything other than this bizarre social experiment, IS THE PROBLEM. We are suffering from a culture-wide case of Stockholm Syndrome.
By way of illustration:
Let’s say we took you and 40 other adults, and put them under the control of somebody else for 6 hours a day, whereby you and your ‘class’ cannot so much as go the bathroom, stand or sit without the permission of an overseer. It is explained to you that you must submit to this for your own good, because some percentage of you might benefit from it.
Each day, after enforcing order via some mixture of peer-pressure and threats of humiliation, you are made to sit through lessons regardless of whether you already know the material, want to know the material, or have other things you’d like to do. The material is presented in utterly disjointed, predigested chunks of about 40 minutes each. If by chance you find a particular lesson interesting, you will nonetheless be made to stop considering it and switch to an unrelated lesson after 40 minutes marked by a bell.
The authority of your keeper is not subject to challenge. If he says sit, you sit – or some humiliating discipline may be imposed. He may be kind, he may be cruel, he may be smart, he may be stupid – doesn’t matter. You have no say in the matter.
This process does not just go on for one day, like a particularly unpleasant visit to the DMV, but goes on for 12 to 13 years. Lessons are repeated with slight variations year after year. It doesn’t matter if you like it, doesn’t matter if you already know the stuff they are supposed to be teaching you, doesn’t matter if you’re not interested in the stuff they’re teaching you, it doesn’t matter if you could learn what they are teaching, or something else you want to learn, in a tiny fraction of the time – you MUST show up and spend 6 hours a day with your overseers, or they can take legal action against you.
Your relationships with the other people in your class are likewise restricted. You might enjoy common interests with some, or just find their company pleasant – but you must restrict you social interactions with them to specified periods as permitted by your overseer. There is no value in those relationships, or any other relationships (including family) that trump doing the lessons.
Your progress, such as it is, will not be measured by any objective criteria, but only by how well you please the overseers and parrot what they want to hear. A piece of literature, for example, will admit of a wide range of understanding if it is any good – yet you will be judged based on compliance with the answers at the back of the book. After more than a decade of this, you will be certified as properly trained, based on nothing more than compliance with the wishes of your overseers.
OK with you? If it’s not OK to do this to an innocent adult, by what INSANE logic is it OK to do it to a defenseless child? To have half your waking hours taken from you for over a decade on the off chance it might do some good? Huh?
The triumph of schooling, the true horror, is that we all accept this blatant disregard of our our children AS PEOPLE as not only necessary, but good! So much so that a mere demonstration of competence in what is presumably being taught is not enough to excuse a kid from the process. Let that sink in a minute – You show up for your first day of school knowing, for example, how to read and do 3rd grade level math. So not only have you obviated most of two whole years of schooling, but, more important, you’ve proven that you don’t need school in order to learn this stuff. So? Do they say, OK, check back in with us in a couple years, we’ll focus on the other kids who might actually benefit from our attention?
Almost nobody can imagine doing it any other way than the way we do it now – even though NOBODY did it this way until about 200 years ago, and only in the last 75 or so has it become ubiquitous in the industrialized world. (And, of course, like home ownership, schooling is viewed as a cause of prosperity rather than an effect. Typical muddleheaded thinking.)
First and foremost, children are human beings possessed of human dignity. We, as parents, have a duty to see that they are raised as good, trustworthy, honest, hardworking citizens of this world, and pilgrims headed for glory in the next. Nothing in that job description makes it right for us to hand them over to be raised by school of any kind – and don’t kid yourself, if the biggest part of their waking hours are spent at school, and then their non-school hours are dominated and controlled through homework and extracurricular activities, it’s school that’s raising them.
How many songs can you think of kids singing about how wonderful school is? “Be True to Your School”? And? How many recount a tale of misery of one sort of another? Among the ditties kids make up, we sang about a teacher hitting us with a ruler and meeting her at the door with a loaded .44 to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic; Off the top of my head: John Mayer had a hit a few years ago singing about how phoney school was; Another Brick in the Wall (didn’t say they were good songs); School’s Out for Summer. Why is it a recurring theme of song that school is a jail of some sort?
On the other hand, did you know that there is a body of literature written by the graduates of the one-room schoolhouses in praise and in fond memory of their schooling? The same one room schools that the proponents of the current model, with the help of rural demographics, crushed? Kids back then, who by any meaningful standard were better educated than current high school grads, who spent a small fraction of the time in school that modern kids do, actually liked it – they liked learning, liked teaching each other (a defining characteristic of one room schools is peer-to-peer teaching).
Anyway, heading out of town camping over the weekend, so I’m going to have to wrap this up for now. Read the Gatto. Think about how you learned to do your job, if you have one. Think about the relationships that give you joy. Did school help or hinder these things?
The moral argument, mentioned recently here and at Darwin Catholic, that seems most to shape True Believers in our schools: My friends and I are good people; we do X; therefore, X can’t be bad. In addition to employing grossly invalid logic, this line of thought is a drug used to suppress both our ability to assess ourselves (what did those dead white guys say? Know thyself? Waaaaay to much work!) but also provides a nice blind from reality: the people with the nicest slogans and most fervent concern for humanity are often the ones who end up shooting and starving defenseless peasants for failure to get in line fast enough, or just because, like some clueless tourist wandering onto a movie set mid-shoot, they are cluttering up their betters’ Utopian vision.
Among the required but missing terms in this pseudo-argument is the premise: Good people can’t do bad things. It’s possible that the foundationally unaware might even believe this. For example, think about the sense of abandonment children of divorce feel. Applying this rule would mean either Mom and Dad are evil, OR it’s not evil to inflict gross, crippling misery on one’s own children. Most kids, it seems, oscillate between these poles, or pick one parent as the good guy and one as the bad guy, which then, paradoxically, allows them to go with the ‘divorce isn’t so bad’ line – for the good parent. I’ve seen cases where one parent initiates the divorce, then withholds affection and otherwise tortures her own children unless they will say it’s no big deal. The kids then have to choose: if I want to hang with both my parents, I have to pretend everything is fine half the time or I’ll get emotionally beat up; if I don’t go along, I’ll effectively get cut out of one of my parent’s lives. I’ve seen kids in the same family choose differently – now, we’ve added destruction of sibling relationships to the mix.*
So, we hear the horror stories, the extreme cases: about the prison camp guard who gave candy the the Jewish kids on their way to the gas chambers, the no doubt upstanding Phoenician mothers who threw their own living children into the fire, people on a subway standing by while a man is knifed to death, doctors doing the unspeakable to babies days before their birth – all no doubt perfectly nice people, people you could have over for dinner or a beer, who might hang out at your church or Rotary Club. Monsters, it seem, most often look a lot like the guy in the mirror. Monsters often are the guy in the mirror.
The Milgram experiments are the classic revelation: almost everybody will do almost anything if people in authority are telling them to do it. Your prison camp boss, the priest of Baal, the crowd on the subway, the ascendent ‘lump of tissue’ crowd – they command or model behavior, and almost all of us almost all the time ask only how high we should jump.
A nagging question for me, after years of studying the issue, is how any remotely intelligent and honest person could teach in the compulsory schools. How do they convince themselves that what they are doing is teaching, if they themselves have ever learned anything in their lives? Every year, thousands and thousands of 6 year olds show up to first grade already able to read; every year, thousands and thousands of 10 year olds are shamed because they can’t. If schools were both necessary and worked, neither of those groups would exist.
Rather than recognize the absurdity of lumping all these individual kids together, kids with different talents and interests and maturity, the teacher dutifully prepares *a* lesson plan for all of them! The ones who can read and the ones who have no interest in reading all get the same pablum spooned out in the same predigested bits, a stone guarantee that almost all of them will be bored or stressed or shamed – and this is good practice! This is education! That reading can be mastered by most kids in a few weeks if and when they are interested is irrelevant – they MUST stay with their class and in their grade! Their whining and complaining and acting up is *their* problem, not the logical consequence of subjecting a healthy kid to heavy-handed manipulation and control.
Then, teachers complain that they spend all their time and energy on discipline, as if they are not the causes of the problem. You mean, kids don’t want to sit and stand and run around on command? The kids who know how to read and the kids with no interest are a problem because they don’t want to hear the teacher try to teach a room full of kids as if all are at the same exact point? John Taylor Gatto mentioned that the hardest kids to control in the classroom were those who were unconditionally loved at home – if mom and dad aren’t in on the browbeating, kids who don’t see the point don’t feel the need to kowtow.
Nice people can do bad things. Most teachers are perfectly nice within normal parameters. The mistake is thinking that what they are doing can’t be bad, because they are nice. Nope, doesn’t follow. Horrors are inflicted on kids, who at best suffer in quiet desperation, by the nice lady or man who is schooling them. Some act up. The most unfortunate get with the program.
* As always, Chesterton can be counted on to set things right: “There are many who will smile at the saying; but it is profoundly true to say that the glad good news brought by the Gospel was the news of original sin.” The world is good – we are good – as any look around will tell you. BUT we are also capable of the greatest ugliness and evil – as any look aroud will also reveal. It is good to know that we are good but broken, so that we can be appropriately wary of other and diligently wary of ourselves.