Education Reading Update: Hecker, Schlegel, and Fichte

The rabbit holes are infinite and eternal. Well, maybe not that bad, but, Lord, it isn’t good.

Trying to get my head around 19th century American Catholicism, in order to have some feel for how Catholics viewed education. Don’t need to become an expert, just know enough that I don’t make obvious and avoidable errors.

The two biggest names in mid-19th century American Catholicism are, it appears, Orestes Brownson and Thomas Hecker. They were friends, both converts from rather rigorous or at least enthusiastic Protestantism, Brownson from Calvinist Presbyterianism, Hecker from Methodism. From my modern perspective, which I am trying to make better informed, I would classify those two origins as pseudo intellectual dogmatic nonsense and mush-headed touchy-feely nonsense. While that’s sort of what they look like today, minus the numerous fractures and branches into other, more trendy (until they aren’t) errors, I suspect but am not yet confident that description more or less holds for the 1820s as much as the 2020s.

I mention the above because, as I read them, these Protestant roots and habits of thought, especially as shaped by the post-Revolutionary and post-Civil War American experiences, seem to color everything. There is an optimism in these writers that appears almost insane from a modern perspective, along with that American distrust of authority that Brownson seems to deal with more realistically than Hecker. The big questions here are how widespread these attitudes were – I’d bet, pretty widespread, given the stature of Hecker and Brownson in 19th century American Catholic intellectual life – and how much these attitudes influenced Catholic thinking on education.

Brownson I’ve discussed much here. He was prolific, meaning I’ve only read a tiny fraction of his output. Fortunately, the Brownson Society has put his publications online, indexed them, and included the topic ‘education’ in that index – reducing the amount of essential Brownson reading to maybe a 100 more pages. Not that reading more would hurt, but must prioritize if I hope to get these books done in this lifetime.

Servant of God Rev. Isaac Thomas Hecker is the real puzzler. He founded both a religious order – the Paulists – and a magazine – The Catholic World. That magazine ran for over 130 years, and published many essays by Brownson, and more by Hecker. (Rabbit Hole Alert: the very first issue, from April of 1865, has an essay entitled The Christian Schools of Alexandria. Too much to read!).

The very first Hecker I’m reading is from The Church and the Age, a set of 12 of his essays taken from The Catholic World. As mentioned in my end of the year recap post, Hecker both praises obedience to the Church and Pope, and claims that an emphasis on obedience in response to Protestant disobedience has lead to the current effeminate state European Catholicism. We Americans can fix this by paying more attention to the Spirit. It’s a case where the rhetorical arrangement of ideas all but forces a conclusion that contradicts what, on the surface, is the argument. In this case, nothing could be more traditional and orthodox than a call to a greater commitment to the life of the Spirit, but by opening with a paen of sorts to obedience, and a rousing defence of the 1st Vatican Council’s declaration of Papal infallibility, such a call comes off as a criticism of obedience. If, instead, the call to a more spiritual life had merely, in the course of things, mentioned that the Spirit necessarily works through the Magisterium, such that there is no possibility that the impulses of the Spirit would ever direct one against obedience to Christ’s Church, and just left it at that, no issues would ever have been raised. But Hecker at the same time discusses the sorry state of European Catholicism and damns with effusive praise, so to speak, obedience. The inescapable conclusion is that less obedience is what is required if we (Americans) are to escape the effeminate state of European Catholicism, even if he tiptoes around actually saying as much.

On the bookshelf, staring down at me, is The Protestant Crusade, which I have barely started, along with biographies of Seton, Barnard, LaSalle, Bosco, and other educators, as well as books on education by Barnard, Piaget, and others, next to many books of criticism from the likes of Gatto. On the Kindle or my laptop are works by Fichte, Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Torrey Harris, etc., as well as various works referenced in Walch’s Parish School , including the indispensable The Catholic School System In The United States: Its Principles, Origin, And Establishment by J. A Burns. And then there’s more general references, such as Plato’s Republic and Marrou’s History of Education in Antiquity. Then comes all the snippets, links, essays, and articles on my laptop.

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Hecker’s beard is beyond reproach, I’ll grant.

And I add to this every time I sit down to read: Hecker mentions Schlegel, a German literary critic and philosopher and another convert, who shares Hecker’s conviction that this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius, so to speak:

“We are about to see,” said Schlegel, “a new exposition of Christianity, which will reunite all Christians and even bring back the infidels themselves.”

Hecker, the Church and the Age

What we got instead was the oldest of old-school powers doing their thing in the Concert of Europe followed by a century of ideologically-driven global war and genocide, build upon foundations laid by the same group of German philosophers to which Schlegel belonged: Kant, Fichte and Hegel.

So now I’ve dug up some stuff on Schlegel, throw it on the pile. The very next sentence:

“This reunion between science and faith,” says the Protestant historian Ranke, ” will be more important in its spiritual results than was the discovery of a new hemisphere three hundred years ago, or even than that of the true system of the universe, or than any other discovery of any kind whatever.”

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Ranke looks like a refugee from a Dickens Faire. Which makes sense, given when he lived…

So, who’s this Ranke fellow? Leopold von Ranke, 1795 – 1886) was a German philologist, historian, and devout Lutheran. (1) He was appointed to the University of Berlin in 1824 by the Minister of Education – yep, that University of Berlin, the first modern research university, set up by von Humboldt a decade earlier. Von Humboldt, you recall, was a major Fichte fanboy, and, put in charge of Prussian education reform, installed the state-controlled age-segregated graded classroom model proposed by Fichte. He appointing Fichte to be head of the Philosophy faculty at the University; Fichte was elected rector the next year. More materials to read.

Then, reading about Ranke, I run into Julian Nida-Rümelin, a living German public intellectual (I guess they still have those in Germany?). He’s a critic of modern education, although it seems a weak one – he doesn’t advocate burning the whole thing to the ground, as I do. In reading just the brief Wiki article on him, I come across the Bologna Process, which is not only a way to turn scraps of meat into a theoretically edible substance, but is also an EU committee instituted to standardize higher education….

Ah! The dreaded Black Rabbit Hole of Despair! It’s all so interesting…

I’ve been cutting and pasting passages as I go, and will end up with a huge electronic pile of index cards. For the first book, which is directed to a more general audience, I’m not going to need much of it, but for the more scholarly back-up book, I will.

The Education References project, to become a page on this blog, inches forward.

1. Aside: in my ongoing efforts to blame everything on Luther, I note here how many wacky thinkers come out of the Lutheran theological tradition. This would be an effect, I should think, of trying to make sense of the L-Man, whose mythology doesn’t quite comport with the foul-mouthed, petty, scandalously heretical (e.g., asserting Jesus had lots of adulterous sex) and largely incoherent mad man his copious writing reveal. I’ve long wondered if Hegel’s motivation in replacing being with becoming isn’t a result of his noting that, if logic holds and truth is eternal, Luther is a raving lunatic.

Schooling Disinformation: Example from the Wild

This little gem popped up on Twitter:

Now, I don’t know anything about Mr. Cheong, so this is not a general endorsement of his views, but he’s dead on here. Couple bullet points:

  • “Academic freedom” is an Orwellian euphemism. Unlike anyone else working at any other job, what academics are free from is any outside oversight at all, anyone judging their work or their character, including, especially, the people who pay their salaries. They are free, in other words, to impose the tyranny of the bureaucracy – the tyranny of whoever shows up for all the meetings.
  • Dissidents have no choice but to set up their own colleges. In most fields of study, the dissident will simply not get hired, get passed over for tenure, driven out or otherwise silenced.
  • What the dissident is dissenting from is, fundamentally, that the jokers currently in charge ought to be in charge; this seems to generally take the form of not teaching the party line.
  • Thus, you get PragerU, St. John’s College (refounded as a Great Books school back in the 30s, when academic freedom was first enforced and classical (or, more simply, ‘real’) education was being thrown into History’s dustbin) and the whole smorgasbord of Catholic and Christian schools.

One of the first books I read on education history was One-Room Schools of the Middle West: An Illustrated History. Over the course of describing the rise, decline and fall of those schools, beloved of both the children who attended them and farmers who built and supported them, the author talks about how the champions of ‘consolidated’ schools at first tried to claim their schools produced better ‘product’ – better educated children. But their very own tests and standards proved them wrong: the one-room educated kids did better (at a fraction of the inputs in time and money) and went on to college and careers at a higher rate than their graded-classroom peers. So they just changed the attack vector: consolidated schools were all up to date, well supplied (they ought to be, since they cost something like 4X as much per unit), neat and tidy! One-room schools were old fashioned, poorly supplied and tended to have about the same level of furnishings as the parlors of the houses of the farmers they served.

The schools ARE the good being promoted. Any angle will do. What’s good for the kids is getting them standardized in school, so pointing out how they are better off without it is, to the champions of public schooling, missing the point.

That Thomas Aquinas, St. John’s and, I suppose, PragerU do better by the standards of the students and their parents isn’t irrelevant so much as it is heretical to consider it important. PragerU is the target today, because it’s comparatively large and growing. All the little Catholic and other Christian colleges that deliver something like a classical education taken together don’t have 10% of the enrollment of the University of California, and have been thus far largely ignored.*

That’s likely to change. Stuff’s about to get real.

*It’s just rumor, for the most part, but the long delay Thomas Aquinas College experienced in getting approval from the State of Massachusetts for their Springfield campus is difficult to explain except as the action of an educational establishment that didn’t like them. As it is, they can’t hire any non-Catholics for any positions if they hope to escape the imposition of state laws that no Catholic institution can abide by. Massachusetts: at the forefront of totalitarian education policies for over 200 years.

2019: The Year That Was/Education Reading Update

A Happy and Prosperous New Year to my followry! May you be fruitful and multiply (for my benefit, right? Oh, never mind.)

Lately, I’ve been reading some 19th century American Catholic writers, to get a better feel for how the people involved thought and felt about those tumultuous times. Thomas Hecker, who is a Servant of God, is both loved and loathed, typically according to how ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ the critic is. He is baffling in some ways, vigorously defending the Church’s core teachings as one would expect a Servant of God to do, but then proposing ideas that, if they mean anything, don’t square with those vigorous apologetics. I’ll write more on this when I get a little farther. He and Brownson, two American Protestant converts who tower over the middle of the 19th century, have, each in his own way, incorporated aspects of their Protestant upbringing into their new Catholicism without, it seems so far, acknowledging any risk or downside.

Hecker focuses on the direct work of the Spirit in our lives. While of course the Church recognizes this aspect of our faith as central – the feast of the founding of the Church is Pentecost, after all – the Spirit is seen to act primarily through the Sacraments and supremely through the Eucharist. The most vigorously active saints, those whose lives most show forth the action of the Spirit in the world, are invariably those most devoted to the Eucharist. Hecker, in the softest of terms and with constant deference to the teaching authority and Sacraments of the Church, nonetheless sets up a conflict between the normal Magestarium and the life in the Spirit. He dwells at length on the perceived enervating effect of the Church’s Counter Reformation emphasis on obedience and authority, which culminated in Vatican I’s declaration of papal infallibility. He falls all over himself confirming how this emphasis on obedience was a good and necessary thing, but insists that it has, somehow, caused Catholics to be far more passive than is good for them. He points to contemporary troubles of the Church in Europe, where the politics in even majority Catholic countries were dominated by secularists and other anti-Catholics.

He makes passing reference to the Jesuits, who (at least, in their fundamental form) were *the most* obedient body in the Church, thumbing their noses at the Protestants by adding an additional vow of obedience to the Pope. Jesuits (as founded, and sometimes in practice) were both the most obedient AND the most active of orders. Meaning, whatever supposed problems (excessive? hard not to see this) obedience presents, it seems to have missed the contemporary Jebbies.

It all rings false. On the one hand, he is careful not to criticize obedience to the Church too directly, and to even praise it; on the other, he’s inescapably criticizing obedience as the source of the *political* passivity of Catholics, and proposing shifting focus to the Spirit as a remedy.

Not surprising, he is a sort of patron saint to the American ‘spirit of Vatican II’ crowd. As in their interpretation of the council documents, the spirit of what Hecker means is to be followed, even when it contradicts the actual words he wrote.

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William-Adolphe Bouguereau – The Difficult Lesson. Ha.
Love me some Bouguereau, but he’s *almost* doing that big eyes thing here.

Brownson shares with Hecker a tendency to see America as the next step in Salvation History. Men, freed from the shackles of a European history full of bad or at least outdated political ideas, finally build a near-Heaven on earth upon the foundational American ideas, which can only be sustained by the Catholic faith. To his credit, Brownson seems to have gotten over this ideas – the post-Civil War destruction of many of those supposedly foundational ideas, such as a minimal Federal government that respects the local rights of states – probably contributed to this.

Lots more to read. Just doing background at the moment, but both Brownson and Hecker have a lot to say about education. I want to know where they are coming from, first, before I get too deep into it. We need a term, say, Black Rabbit Holes or Rabbit Black Hole, to describe both the randomness and irresistable gravitational pull of the things that come up whenever one attempts a little scholarly research…

From the sublime to the ridiculous: On the whole, 2019 was better than 2018. This is not saying an awful lot. In 2018, I was fired from a job I’d had for 20+ years; slipped and fell on the rocks in the American River, cracking some ribs and needing stitches in my hand; learned what bedbugs are; and in general was some combination of ill or hurt or depressed for pretty much the entire year. Not a high bar to hurdle.

Let’s count the blessings: Starting around 6 months ago, finally started feeling better, lost about 30 lbs (got a ways to go!), had the youngest son get totally into the Boy Scouts & hiking and all that good nature-y stuff, had 2 kids graduate from college, had a daughter get engaged to marry a fine young man. So that’s pretty darn good! Not to mention the stock market has been very good to the retirement funds. (A couple more years along those lines might even make up for the last 20…)

However, after having burned through 2/3 of the emergency savings, I need a job. My wife lost her job of 15 years when the school we’d help found and sustain for 20 years went full gender theory on us. So I’ve now been unemployed for 18 months, and the missus for 6. Not sustainable!

May God bless you and yours over the next year, and save us from time getting any more interesting than necessary. For me and mine, 2020 is the Year of Getting a Job. Preferably sooner rather than later.

Beauty, Intellect, Beethoven & Scripture

A Happy, Holy & Blessed Christmas to all, and to all a happy and prosperous New Year!

Consider the 2nd movembt of Beethoven’s 7th symphony:

The story goes that when Beethoven debuted this work, the audience stopped the concert after this movement, and insisted it be repeated. Classical music audiences were a little more outgoing back in the day, it seems.

The audience’s reaction is perfectly understandable: pre-recorded music, one might die before getting a chance to hear this sublime and beautiful piece again, so why not now? A work this beautiful is life-changing. It may sound like just another overly-familiar classical work to jaded ears, but in context it is strikingly unusual: listen to the whole 7th, which is one of civilizations greatest works of art in any medium, and the 2nd movement still stands out.

But this Allegretto isn’t just aesthetically pleasing, it’s also deeply satisfying intellectually. The more you listen and think about it, the better it gets. Beethoven sets himself a series of puzzles or challenges, and ‘solves’ each one in inventive and unusual ways, yet, somehow, after you’ve heard it, all the little departures from expectations (or beauty where you didn’t know what to expect) sound utterly inevitable. And it fits perfectly within the symphony as a whole – as hard as it is to believe, it was only with this 7th symphony that Beethoven finally won over all the critics, many of whom had disliked his 3rd and nit-picked his 5th. The 7th is just perfect, and that 2nd movement slayed people.

Finally, as is true of all great art, the 7th, especially the 2nd movement, is bottomless: you can go as deep as you want, and there’s always more.

This confluence of soul stirring beauty and soul-stirring intellectual gratification is , of course, what makes great art great in the first place. Only in these dark modern times would anyone think to divorce emotional force from intellectual beauty.

These (mundane & traditional) thoughts were occasioned by the Christmas Gospel reading:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

LK 2:1-14

This Gospel story from Luke is beautiful in a specific and somewhat odd way. Consider these 2 sentences from the middle of the selection:

While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

This is the climax of the story: Mary gives birth to the son foretold by the prophets and announced to her by an angel of God, yet Luke gives it a sentence, as if it were any other birth of any man. The Lord and Creator of the the Universe, as described in the opening of John’s Gospel, or even as, in a similarly subtle and understated way, in Mary’s encounter with her cousin Elizabeth in the passage immediately preceding this one, is wrapped in the cloth of the poor and laid in a feeding trough for animals, with the casual, after the fact explanation: there was no room in the inn.

So, two matter-of-fact sentences that lay out the entirety of the Christian claim, paradox and stumbling block: That God became Man in this very specific time and place, utterly weak and humbled, and was wrapped and bound and laid among the food for animals by his own mother’s hands. He wasn’t even able to find a place at what was no doubt the very humble inn.

The artwork inspired by these two lines could fill any number of museums; a concert of the music written to commemorate them would go on for months; and the books holding the writings about them would fill any number libraries. And the flood shows no signs of abating.

Then, a great multitude of angels sing a song of infinite glory – to a bunch of sheep, and the shepherds watching over them.

The story of Christ’s birth is as beautiful as it is simple, and satisfies the soul. But it is also intellectually satisfying, not in the sense of providing a tidy summation, but in the sense of offering infinite depths to explore.

Glory to God in the highest!

Polls, Un-Polls, & Invisible Statistics

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Doing a little pew research…

As is often the case, an off-hand remark by Severian over on Rotten Chestnuts got me to thinking. He was discussing our nature as Dufflepuds – as self-congratulating idiots. Our – my – stupidity is generally more or less harmless, except when we start trying to run things or submit to being ‘ruled,’ an exercise with remarkable similarities to a herd being driven off a cliff. The risk is seriously exacerbated by democracy, in even the very small doses we tend to see in practice.

Severian’s remarks got around to polls and statistics, which as readers here know, I don’t hold in very high esteem for the simple reason that I know how they work. What would happen if ‘we, the people’ were actually consulted on major policy issues? Here’s the remark:

The borders, of course, would be closed — they don’t allow those polls to be taken anymore, because “immigration restriction” polled at something like 75% just a few years ago and the lunacy of the political class in a “democracy” going hard against three-quarters of the entire population is too glaring even for this tv-and-iCrap-addled country to stomach.

The People keep giving the wrong answer, in other words, so The People will not be asked anything of importance.  Same as it ever was.

There exist – I hope you’re sitting down – people who seem to take polling results from ‘respectable’ organizations like Pew and 538 as some sort of scientific results, requiring respect and submission. You can tell these people within a sentence or two, when they simply state some poll number as if it’s an established fact, and are baffled if not incensed if you push back.

Amazing, right? See: dufflepuds above. What Severian points out is that, on a deeper level, those organizations simple will not ask questions for which they don’t like the answers. I mean, they might ask the questions, but if the answers aren’t to their liking, we’ll never know about it.

In addition to the examples Severian gives, and honest pollster (ha! as likely as an honest politician or Bigfoot dropping into a local anthropology department for tea) might ask:

  • should aborting a completely healthy baby who stands a near 100% chance of living if delivered by c-section be banned?
  • should the state have the power to seize relatively inexpensive firearms (avoiding the controversial & undefined term ‘assault rifle’) from their law-abiding owners?
  • should elected officials who destroy public records of their work, records required by law to be preserved, be removed from office, and banned from holding future office?
  • should people convicted of any crime whatsoever, who are in this country without having been vetted by our legally established immigration services, be promptly and permanently deported?
  • should tax-paying parents be allowed to drop into any state-funded classroom, K-grad school, at any time to see first hand what is being taught to their children, provided they remain quiet and respectful?

And many more you might think up – these will never be asked, or, if somehow they sneak through, never see the light of day. Call these Un-Polls.

What Pew, 538, etc., produce are *useful* polling results. Even if they have to make them up. Usually, they just bias the questions away from the way you or I or any honest person might ask them. Easy peasy. And they bias the pool. Only when that doesn’t work, do they just lie. Oh, I’m sure their lies are subtle enough at least to themselves as to trigger no twinge in what’s left of their consciences. Usually. Years of critical thinking has prepared them to quash any qualms that might sneak through.

We will simply not see polling results that don’t support a particular political agenda. This is a foreshadowing of what’s now being done in social media: when completed, we simply shall not see, and thus not be able to network with, people guilty of wrongthink.

The good news: it didn’t work in 2016. It didn’t work in England. The bad news: when it has worked, we are unlikely to ever have that brought to our attention.

…In Particular…

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This section taken from the last long quotation from Orestes Brownson, from around 1870, is striking:

The exclusion of the Bible would not help the matter. This would only make the schools purely secular, which were worse than making them purely Protestant; for as it regards the state, society, morality, all the interests of this world, Protestantism we hold to be far better than no religion – unless you include under its name free-lovism, free-religion, woman’s-rightism, and the various other similar isms struggling to get themselves recognized and adopted, and to which the more respectable Protestants, we presume, are hardly less opposed than we are.

These “more respectable Protestants” have, with few exceptions, completely caved to the ‘ism-itis’ mocked by Brownson above. You want to see the fruits of an unbridled embrace of faddish isms? Check out your local Episcopalian or Methodist church. With, of course, some few exceptions.

A related quotation. Note that his use of ‘pastor’ and ‘parish’ is more after the English usage, and does not refer here to Catholics in particular, as the context makes clear:

The schools were originally founded by a religious people for a religious end, not by seculars for a purely secular end. The people at so early a day had not advanced so far as they have now, and did not dream of divorcing secular education from religion. The schools were intended to give both religious and secular education in their natural union, and there was no thought of the feasibility of separating what God had joined together. The Bible was read as a class-book, the catechism was taught as a regular school exercise, and the pastor of the parish visited the schools and instructed them in religion as often as he saw proper. Indeed, he was, it might be said, ex officio the superintendent of the parish schools; and whether he was chosen as committeeman or not, his voice was all-potent in the management of the school, in the selection of studies, and in the appointment and dismissal of teachers. The superiority in a religious and moral point of view to the schools as now developed may be seen by contrasting the present moral and religious state of New England with what it was then.

The religion, as we Catholics hold, was defective and even false; but the principle on which the schools were founded was sound and worked well in the beginning, did no injustice to anyone, and violated no conscience; for Congregationalism was the established religion, and the people were all Congregationalists. Even where there was no established religion and different denominations obtained, conscience was respected; for the character of the school, as well as the religion taught in it, was determined by the inhabitants of the school district, and nobody was obliged to send his children to it, and those only who did send were taxed for its support.

Vol. 13, pp. 242-244. (of his collected works?)

Finally, here he is, as timeless as Chesterton:

The great misery of society is in the fact that the people do not and cannot discriminate, and are carried away by half-truths, or by some particular phase of truth.  The human mind never does or can embrace pure, unmixed falsehood, and it is the true mingled with the false, or truth misapprehended, misapplied, or perverted, that gives currency to error and renders it dangerous.  It was the mingling of the true and the false in regard to religion that gave to the so-called Reformation its destructive power, and it is the mingling of the true and the false in regard to education that vitiates the popular theories of its necessity or utility in developing and sustaining the virtue of the people.

BQR January, 1874

Education Reading Update: More Orestes Brownson

Organizing materials for the book, came across some Brownson I’d collected but, as far as I can remember, have not commented on. He wrote quite a bit on education, and was typically blunt in his withering criticism of secular education, as education without religions is miseducation, and religious education that isn’t Catholic is simply the inculcation of heresy.

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This small sample is from (I think) Brownson’s Quarterly Review sometime after the Civil War, in the last decade of his life. He is addressing the problem of state schools in America, at a time and place where Protestants and Catholics live intermingled :

Hitherto the attempt has been made to meet the difficulty by excluding from the public schools what the state calls sectarianism- that is, whatever is distinctive of any particular denomination or peculiar to it- and allowing to be introduced only what is common to all, or, as it is called, “our common Christianity.” [ Lewis’s ‘Mere Christianity’ – ed] This would, perhaps, meet the difficulty if the several denominations were only different varieties of Protestantism. The several Protestant denominations differ from one another only in details or particulars, which can easily be supplied at home in the family or in the Sunday-school. But this solution is impracticable where the division is not one between Protestant sects only, but between Catholics and Protestants. The difference between Catholics and Protestants is not a difference in details or particulars only, but a difference in principle. Catholicity must be taught as a whole, in its unity and its integrity, or it is not taught at all. It must everywhere be all or nothing. It is not a simple theory of truth or a collection of doctrines; it is an organism, a living body, living and operating from its own central life, and is necessarily one and indivisible, and cannot have anything in common with any other body. To exclude from the schools all that it distinctive or peculiar in Catholicity is simply to exclude Catholicity itself, and to make the schools either purely Protestant or purely secular, and therefore hostile to our religion, and such as we cannot in conscience support.

Yet this is the system adopted, and while the law enables non-Catholics to use the public schools with the approbation of their consciences, it excludes the children of Catholics unless their parents are willing to violate their Catholic conscience, to neglect their duty as fathers and mothers, and expose their children to the danger of losing their faith and with it the chance of salvation. We are not free to expose our children to so great a danger, and are bound in our conscience to do all in our power to guard them against it and to bring them up in the faith of the church, to be good and exemplary Catholics.

The exclusion of the Bible would not help the matter. This would only make the schools purely secular, which were worse than making them purely Protestant; for as it regards the state, society, morality, all the interests of this world, Protestantism we hold to be far better than no religion – unless you include under its name free-lovism, free-religion, woman’s-rightism, and the various other similar isms struggling to get themselves recognized and adopted, and to which the more respectable Protestants, we presume, are hardly less opposed than we are. If some Catholics in particular localities have supposed that the exclusion of the Protestant Bible from the public schools would remove the objection to them as schools for Catholic children, they have, in our opinion, fallen into a very grave mistake. The question lies deeper than reading or not reading the Bible in the schools, in one version or another. Of course, our church disapproves the Protestant version of the Bible as a faulty translation of a mutilated text; but its exclusion from the public schools would by no means remove our objections to them. We object to them not merely because they teach more or less of the Protestant religion, but also on the ground that we cannot freely and fully teach our religion and train up our children in them to be true and unwavering Catholics; and we deny the right of the state, the city, the town, or the school district to tax us for schools in which we are not free to do so.

We value education, and even universal education- which overlooks no class or child, however rich or however poor, however honored or however despised – as highly as any of our countrymen do or can; but we value no education that is divorced from religion and religious culture. Religion is the supreme law, the one thing to be lived for; and all in life, individual or social, civil or political, should be subordinated to it, and esteemed only as a means to the eternal end for which man was created and exists. Religious education is their chief thing, and we wish our children to be accustomed, from the first dawning of reason, so to regard it, and to regard whatever they learn or do as having a bearing on their religious character or their duty to God. … We hold that education, either of the intellect or of the heart, or of both combined, divorced from faith and religious discipline, is dangerous alike to the individual and to society. All education should be religious and intended to train the child for a religious end; not for this life only, but for eternal life; for this life is nothing if severed from that which is to come. …

Of course, we do not and cannot expect, in a state where Protestants have equal rights with Catholics before the state, to carry our religion into public schools designed equally for all. We have no right to do it. But Protestants have no more right to carry their religion into them than we have to carry ours; and carry theirs they do, when ours is excluded. Their rights are equal to ours, and ours equal to theirs; and neither does or can, in the eyes of the state, override the other. As the question is a matter of conscience and therefore of the rights of God, there can be no compromise, no splitting of differences or yielding of the one party to the other. Here comes up the precise difficulty. The state is bound equally to recognize and respect the conscience of Protestants and of Catholics, and has no right to restrain the conscience of either. There must, then, be a dead-lock, unless some method can be devised by which the public schools can be saved without lesion either to the Protestant or the Catholic.

(Vol. 13, pp. 244-247.)

Here is the argument as seen by a passionate Catholic intellectual in the second half of the 19th century, just as the Prussian model was starting to dominate the thinking of the elites. In practice, more kids at the time were being educated in one-room schools that graded classroom schools. These one-room schools were run exactly as Brownson describes: the local community, a true community in the sense that everybody knew everybody, built, funded, staffed, and managed their own school. In Protestant areas – most everywhere – they would be Protestant. I would assume, but do not know, that in the many Catholic immigrant farming settlements that sprang up across the Midwest and Great Plains during the last half of the 19th century, such schools would have been Catholic.

Anyway, fun topics to research. Downloaded a couple more books from the period, adding another 800-1,000 pages to be read. Have to retain focus!