Man, it’s been a long time since I succumbed to the lopsided charm of Amazons, no, wait, to the allure of Amazon.com. (BTW: DO NOT Google images of Amazons while at work – or pretty much any other time – no matter how much you’d like to kick your blog post up a notch. Just FYI.) But yesterday was that day. Adding to the pile that has filled my nightstand and overflown onto the floor, are the following:
The Social Ideas of American Educators This book was cited as a source for some of the charming ideas our crazy US Commissioners of Education spouted, out loud, even. Little known fact I just made up: assuming the proper intentions and state of mind, reading scholarly books on US education peels almost as many years off Purgatory as reading German philosophers, Of course, nothing compares to reading Germans writing about education – THAT there is a *double* plenary indulgence!
In the Cause of True Education: Henry Barnard and the 19th Century School ReformAren’t you intrigued by how Hank B will choose to define *true* education? A mythical Kantian thaler says it has something to do with *morality*, and proper Protestant morality at that. Any takers? BTW – anybody note how, in the earlier post where I first discussed Barnard, that the complaint against schooling, the evidence that it was in disrepair, was that school was only being held 3 months a year? No discussion of what kids were learning, or any acknowledgement that it might be an open question, one to be decided by objective evaluation, whether 3 months a year of schooling was adequate.
Henry Barnard, a biography so obscure they don’t even have a picture for the cover. Hey, it’s short (138 pages) and was a $1.13.
The sad truth is that I’ve only read 2 of Mr. Wright’s works so far – the first books of the Golden Age and Chaos trilogies, which were all I could find in the local used book stores. So, now I’ll catch up a bit.
Also, long overdue, got some Mike Flynn. Same story – have only read a couple of his so far:
When I’ve got time and are not too sleep deprived, can knock off a book – even one of Mr. Wright’s, he of the verbose muse – in a couple days. This, as they say, is often rare. Plus, still have a couple thousand pages of Hegel and Aristotle to read.
I claim that it is not the the critics of compulsory graded-classroom schooling that are, generally, the fear-mongers, but rather, by far, it is those who are terrified of any deviation from the established schooling norms. The argument is made in the proceeding parts.
So, say a parent wants to know how to tell a school that is trying, in the words of US Commissioner of Public Education William Torey Harris to turn your children into “automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom” from one with you and your children’s best interests at heart?
First off, ask the question: is the arrangement of the school program, school day and physical plant designed to further the education of the children or for the convenience and ends of the school? It is remarkable that we accept impositions on our children that no sane child would tolerate anywhere else, for no valid reason other than the school finds it convenient.
Second, to get you in the mood: did you ever have a roommate who, without asking, simply chose to rearrange the furniture or kitchen while you were out, then gave some variety of ‘I didn’t think you would mind’ excuse? Did you not recognize immediately that an effort to establish control or dominance was taking place? It’s not like moving the couch around is any big deal, but not asking first certainly can be.
Signs of a school where children are intended to become unthinking automata not by accident but as “the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.” (That’s Harris, again.):
1. Age segregation: In all of history, and in all other aspects of modern life (outside of kid’s athletics, which is another can of worms) healthy sane people do most things together regardless of age. Work, church, family events, just everyday life, it’s more common than not to have grandma, dad, the kids, or the old man, the young punks and the grey hairs all working, playing, rejoicing together. People, as Aristotle put it, desire to live together (“are political animals” = want to live in the city (polis) = become most fully human in relationship with other people). So, why would a school absolutely insist that children be segregated by grade? It was not always thus, and is not usual now – one-room schools, private lessons, tutoring, lectures, homilies at church, newspapers, Google, Wikipedia, Khan Academy: these are all ways we get ‘educated’ that ignore age differences completely. We can do them alone or together (people, left to their own devises, tend to do a mix of the two, in my experience).
It’s a truism that kids learn different things at different times at different speeds – everybody who knows anybody knows this is true. Yet, for reasons never explained except by an appeal to the ineffable goddess Efficiency, we condemn kids to having to try to learn in lockstep with other, very different kids. Could it be that the lesson being taught has nothing to do with academics, and everything to do with replacing natural, wholesome relationships with arbitrary, enforced conformity? You will stick to your group. Keeping up with the group is everything. The approval of the group and its manager is everything. You will fear the older groups, and hold the younger groups in contempt.
That is the lesson. Even in the relatively benign Catholic grade school I attended, where the teachers for the most part truly believed that we kids were the Image of God and worthy of unconditional love, the most socially disruptive thing were those relatively rare occasions when classes mixed. Even classes of the same age – there were two classes for each grade, so not only did every kid know their place – 2nd grade – but every 2nd grader knew if you were in Mrs. Brown’s or Sr. Scholastica’s 2nd grade, for example. Even on the playground, interaction was furtive, sometime even antagonistic. Then, around 5th grade, the cohorts were mixed for the first time – it was weird, like having strangers come to live with you and having household members move far away. The kids didn’t like it for the most part.
What’s the first question kids meeting for the first time ask each other? “What grade are you in?” Why? Why has something so arbitrary and capricious become a matter of identity?
All arguments for age-segregated graded classrooms are circular. We need to keep kids together because it’s more efficient keeping kids together by age so we can test to see if they are at grade level – and so on. One room schools with complete age mixing (and a fraction of the classroom hours we do today) consistently out-performed the ‘consolidated’ schools academically whenever results were measured – and so the education departments stopped measuring them. Academics were never the point, and in fact tend to interfere with the process of modern education.
2. Time: Does the school attempt to fill every hour with something to do? 6 hours of school, before and after school programs, homework, year-around school, sports, bands, and on and on. Fichte, the founding intellectual light of modern education, stated that one goal was to separate the child as much as possible from the parents and community in order that the state might give them a proper moral foundation (it being immoral, treasonous, even, to question the goals of the state). He wanted kids physically removed from their families for years on end – a step that has proven impractical so far in most cases (although see the KIPP schools, especially as described by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers – because the kids are ‘at risk’ and tend to come from broken homes, they can get away with Fichte’s vision in practice).
The real horror here is that, now that we’ve had 4 or 5 generations where the ideal is for both parents (when there are both parents) to work, the parents see school as day care – they don’t trust their kids to stay out of trouble, so they need them watched 10 – 12 hours a day. Thus, the popularity of – or, at least, lack of resistance to – the idea of year-around schooling and extended school hours. Millions of our ancestors got a better grasp of reading, writing and math in one room schools in a fraction of the hours. More class time has been shown over and over again to not correlate very well to learning even with the stupid and self-serving tests academics use – not that you’ll find this out from the schools.
One-room schoolers also tended to have intact families. Perhaps the modern ‘solution’ is also a cause?
3. Assumed Parental Incompetence: Does the school assume that you, the parent, are a problem that needs to be managed? In the KIPP schools, it’s clear they do.
So, since what I’ve written pretty much rules out any schools currently available that anyone is likely to have ever heard of, what’s left? Obviously, homeschooling is a good choice if you can do it. But lose the graded syllabus – that not what you want to do. As Darwin Catholic recently learned, there’s really not a lot of academic stuff kids really need in grades K-6 – if they can read and do basic math, they’ll be fine. This is the time of life kids should be playing and learning social skills – which are pretty much the same thing – not memorizing state capitals or whatever. (NOTE: Darwin Catholic has not endorsed any of my crazy ideas that I know of).
And. there are a few schools out there that eschew age segregation and lighten up on or even eliminate curricula – Sudbury schools, for example. As in all of life, no choice is problem free – as a Catholic, there are some things I want for my children that our family must supply, because school won’t or can’t. But that’s OK – nobody ever said being a dad was easy.
Gatto’s books are written to grab the reader first and foremost, and are not nor are they intended to be scholarly tomes – I’ve long imagined that he knew that the readership for scholarly books on education is tiny, and he wanted to reach a different, wider audience. But there are plenty of names and dates, and with Google you can start digging around to see if what he says is true. That’s how I first heard of Fichte, and came to read his Addresses to the German Nation.
Which brings me to perhaps the main point here: my ‘scholarship’ such as it is consists of two prongs – I do read a good number of books, but I also Google around like mad to get some background and check assertions. This second step is as important as the first in one important way – you get a sense of the magnitude of the issues, and how interconnected things are. Here’s an example from the last couple days:
Years ago, ran across the name William Torey Harris, in connection with this quote:
“Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.”
So I google his name, and find out that he was the fourth United States Commissioner of Education, from 1889 – 1906. One of Gatto’s chief assertions is that education in America as we now know it is the product of a small group of rich white Protestants intellectuals working in the 19th century. These men came to establish and control all the state and major university departments of education, and thus controlled the gate for anyone wanting a career in education. Gatto further asserts that these men all were supporters of Prussian education, as founded on the ideas of the German philosopher Johann Gottleib Fichte.
So? Is this Harris character part of the deal? The oracle Wikipedia states, in part:
As with Connecticut, schools in Rhode Island were at the time in a pitiful condition: outside of Providence, schools were in session only three months of the year, and Dorr’s Rebellion a year earlier had given a new potency to wrangles over public education. Employed initially to examine and report on the state of the schools, in 1845 Barnard was appointed state commissioner of public schools and charged with “revolutioniz[ing] the public sentiment of the State.
“Revolutionizing the public sentiment of the State”? What does THAT mean? And this Dorr’s Rebellion – what was that all about? Turns out:
Under Rhode Island’s colonial charter, originally received in 1663, only landowners could vote. At the time, when most of the citizens of the colonies were farmers, this was considered fairly democratic. By the 1840s, landed property worth at least $134 was required in order to vote. However, as the Industrial Revolution reached North America and people moved to the cities, large numbers of people could no longer vote. By 1829, 60% of the state’s free white men were ineligible to vote (as were all women and most non-white men). Many were recent Irish Catholic immigrants or other Roman Catholics.
Dorr’s Rebellion, then, consisted at least partly of an attempt to get the vote in Rhode Island for Catholics. The state’s response was to appoint an educator, one who had spent a couple years in Germany studying education, to “revolutionize the public sentiment” so, one imagines, those pesky Irish Catholics won’t be so much trouble – but hey, that’s a (pretty tiny) stretch – that happens to fit nicely in the overall picture.
Anyway, you see how it goes: everywhere I look, every rock I turn over, reveals Prussian-trained generally anti-Catholic gatekeepers to US education. We forget how ubiquitous anti-Catholic bigotry was – and still is, unless you’re the right kind of Catholic – in this country. Further, their resumes contain an awful lot of President of This University, Founder of the This State’s Education Department, Editor of This Education Journal. Do you think, back then, that you had any chance of becoming so much as a principal at at state school if you displeased this crowd? How about today?
I’ll have fun clicking through the links to the other Commissioners, and looking stuff up.
Now, for the more traditional references. This is just a high-level sample off the top of my head. Be warned: these are mostly dreary, dreary books:
Luther: As I’ve mentioned, most of the most pertinent source material doesn’t seem to have been translated into English, so I’ve had to rely on pro-Lutheran websites for most of my information. That, and the general high points of his conventional biography, for which there are many sources both pro and con. That he sought to and succeeded in emptying the monasteries and convents wherever his political allies held sway is not disputed by anyone, nor that he wanted to repurpose the physical plants as state-run schools. I leap to the completely warranted assumption that Luther’s war on the monasteries had a lot to do with them housing people who put the lie to a lot of his key claims – that nobody read or tried to understand Scripture, that monks were sexually-repressed crazy men, that his understanding was a result of a perspicacious Scripture and all that.
Kant: Prolegomenon to Any Future Metaphysics. Almost hopelessly dense and poorly written but mercifully much shorter than his other works. The key point for our discussion here is that Kant wants to establish that there is very little room for reason in this world, so that there can be lots of room for faith. Thus, he first bifurcates reason along Cartesian lines, where a mathematical level of certainty becomes the chief characteristic of ‘pure’ reason, and anything else has to hang off of premises ultimately not reasonably defensible – not mathematically rigorous. Thus, he – a devout Protestant – describes exactly the kind of world where Luther’s “insight” can in fact be seen as being every bit as reasonable as anything else, and – here’s the key point taken all the way to the finish line by Hegel – there will never be a purely rational way to dispute it.
Pestalozzi:How Gertrude Teaches Her Children. Be warned: horribly OCR scanned text is very hard to read, and has a bunch of discontinuities where footnotes, for example, get stuck in the middle of paragraphs with no warning, as well as places where the scanner couldn’t make out the text at all (where somebody doodled in the margins, for example). I can’t quite bring myself to spend good money to get a hard copy. Anyway, Pestalozzi makes Kant look lucid – a truly remarkable feat of bad writing struggling to express muddled thinking. I never finished my review of this book on this blog because, once I got to the end, I truly could not say what it was that he was trying to say. Must gird my intellectual loins and have another go – but it’s 300+ PAGES of this unspeakable mess. Anyway, Pestalozzi’s methods appear to have gone several directions – Fichte championed them in some form, but Fichte’s ideals were nowhere to be found in Gertrude that I could see. Others focused on the child-centeredness of Pestalozzi’s language (Einstein attended a Pestalozzi model school as a child an loved it), but the seeds of spooning out pre-digested bits of information to kids starting a insanely young ages is in there, too. There’s something for everyone in Pestalozzi’s hopeless mish-mash of half-baked ideas!
Fichte: Addresses to the German Nation.If there’s a smoking gun in this discussion, this is it. Be warned: 90% or more of the text is Fichte’s paean to German nationalism, French-bashing, bizarre linguistic theories and telling us how wonderful everything will be once we fully embrace his vision. Oh, and preemptive character assassination of his future critics. Some relatively small part is spent explaining in any detail how, exactly, his educational plans will raise the German Nation to greatness and by the way save the world. It is also interesting to see Luther’s ideas spelled out and brought to logical completion, wherein the union of church and state ends up meaning that the state through universal compulsory education becomes the perfection and salvation of the nation, destroying in future generations any tendency toward sin and creating an invincible, totally selfless army. No, really.
Hegel: Probably the best place to start is his Science of Logic, wherein he destroys logic. Truly enlightened people, real philosophers, just Get It all in a piece – ‘It’ not being subject to logical review or bound by any logical rules, which are for the little people. Herr Hegel, another devout Protestant, finally comes up with a philosophy within which Luther makes sense: he is a World Historic Individual, whose role in history was to bring about the synthesis of Protestantism out of the Church and the those forces antithetical to it. Something like that. At any rate, Luther’s fundamental irrationality and a-historicalness are not seen as fatal problems, but as positive goods. Protestantism, after all, is Progress. Catholicism is always trying to turn back the clock. Thus, being a Progressive means being anti-Catholic – something the leading philosophical lights of Pragmatism and its spawn were quite clear on.
That reminds me: Menand’s Metaphysical Clubis a good book to put some context on that last claim, especially as Menand seems at least mostly sympathetic to the movements he describes.
Finally, here’s one non-dreary book that’s short and even has pictures: One Room Schools of the Middle West. This is also a great exercise in reading between the lines – why were the state education departments so anti-one room schools? Why were the locals so devoted to them? How come the results, in terms of actual academic performance, meant so little to the state?
Walsh contends that public schools are both damaging to children by design and not reformable, and thus are never a good choice for one’s kids. Simcha contends that Walsh is describing the problems with public education in such a way as to help create a unwarranted environment of fear, and that parents need to act prudently but not fearfully. The sticking point: Is state-run education like the transportation department or FDA, where ideology doesn’t enter into it (much) as long as roads get built and carrots get inspected, as Simcha suggests? Where going to school, in other words, is like driving on a road built by the transportation department or eating a carrot inspected by the FDA? Or is it something entirely different by nature, wherein the ideology IS the product, as Walsh and I contend?
Part 1 explained why Mr. Walsh’s concerns are completely warranted, that it is a completely reasonable and prudent to reject public schooling completely.
Now let’s talk about fear. As all homeschoolers know, as they have heard it a thousand times from family, friends and acquaintances, by taking the education of their children into their own hands they are somehow ruining or cheating them, and are ruining or cheating public schooling for all the other the kids. Homeschooling is where crazy parents indoctrinate their children into whatever crazy ideas – you know, like Catholicism – they obstinately cling to. Home schooled families and especially kids get inspected like someone everybody knows is crazy but is somehow passing as sane – the world is just waiting to see you slip up, act crazy and prove all their worries true. And God forbid your kid has any kind of personal quirks – that will be proof positive that homeschooling has RUINED him! And that you are Bad Parents.
Right? We never home schooled, but our school has been called a ‘Lord of the Flies’ school (by people incapable of appreciating what a piece of literature is trying to tell them) and we’ve had relatives pull our kids aside and lecture them on how we are destroying them, so I think I get the gist of what happens nearly daily to homeschoolers.
People in general are often crazy, of course, and there is plenty of room among homeschoolers and alternative schooling types for all kinds of fear and craziness. That said, there seems to me to be a clear pattern to the fear and anger: it is largely directed at those who dare deviate from conventional schooling. In a perfect world, one family might elect to homeschool, and another might elect something else, and there would be little if any emotion attached to the decisions in themselves.
However, this is far from a perfect world. Homeschoolers are not making their decision in a vacuum, but instead generally feel compelled to homeschool by a world that seems hellbent on damaging their kids. Of course, those who choose otherwise are put on the defensive, and push right back. If there is in fact something terribly wrong with graded classroom schooling, then, inexorably, there’s something wrong with those who choose it – they are that most dreaded of beings, the Bad Parent.
So, by far, it seems to me, the fear and anger is coming from those who feel threatened to their very core by the judgement that homeschooling passes on their school choice. So homeschoolers, at least, the nicer ones like Simcha, are sorely tempted to back down and sooth: no, no, there’s nothing wrong with YOUR particular school, at least, not anything a thoroughly-involved parent (like the <1% who read through the Common Core) can’t ameliorate with timely intervention and remedial home education.
Upon a moment’s reflection, that’s not very soothing: what we’re saying is that, given a better-than-average local school and way, way, better than average levels of parental involvement, our kids might be OK at a public school. At least, until the favorite teachers and sympathetic principal get driven out of Dodge.
Is there anything that elicits fear and anger in a parent faster that the possibility that they may be thought a bad parent? Yet, here are a couple million homeschoolers, many of whom are sending exactly that message to the parents of publicly-schooled kids. Now, my family has been involved with a small private school for almost 2 decades, and thus have met with dozens of parents at the point where they make educational decisions for their kids, and I’ll tell you one thing for certain: based on my experience, a large percentage of parents fear being thought a bad parent far more than they fear actually being a bad parent. That they alternately scream at and neglect their kids, and model destructive relationships with revolving-door boyfriends/girlfriends, and think nothing of warehousing their kid 10 or 12 hours a day – that’s OK, as long as nobody thinks they’re Bad Parents because they chose the wrong school.
There’s fear out there, sure. It’s largely the fear that my friends and neighbors will think I’m a bad parent if I don’t go along with the choices all of them are making to send their kids to public school.
As I mentioned in my comment to Simcha’s post, it’s not the bad schools that worry me so much as the good schools: that’s where our future lawyers, doctors and other community leaders come from. My own sample of recent graduates of fine, top-notch high schools (there are several very wealthy cities within a few miles of where we live, all with fabulous public schools) , I see kids who, after 13 years and zillion AP credits at the local top-notch public schools, followed by 6-10 years (nobody does just 4 around here) and hundreds of thousands of dollars of college, cannot think anything but what their betters want them to think (that’s a quote from Fichte, there, describing the goal of state education). They completely lack the intellectual chops to challenge anything at all, and reflexively emote with the herd and hold the caricatures of the herd’s opponents in utter contempt and as unworthy of argument, yet also believe in their hearts that they are the most intelligent, fair, open-minded people ever to grace the planet.
This section of a recent interview with Antonin Scalia is a near perfect illustration: the reporter is unable to even entertain the idea that someone smart would believe in the existence of the devil. HIS crowd doesn’t, and they are smart, so it must be stupid.
Aristotle says somewhere that a cultivated mind is able to entertain an idea without accepting it. That is precisely what graded classroom model education is meant to prevent: you either get it, and are among the enlightened, intelligent chosen, or you don’t, and thus are cast into the outer darkness with the other benighted, ignorant and stupid people. The well-schooled are rendered incapable of thinking anything our betters don’t want us to think.
Man, I hate doing this, because I really love Simcha Fisher (as much as I can love somebody whose blog I’ve followed and with whom I’ve exchange a tiny amount of correspondence) and I know she loves her kids and is raising up a batch of good, decent human beings – BUT: can’t let this essay in the Register: Fear-based Schooling pass without criticism.
Government education is designed to be an instrument of propaganda and bureaucratic control. This isn’t a side effect –it’s the whole point. If you don’t want your kid subject to government propaganda and government control, then don’t send him to a government facility 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 13 years of his life. Or go ahead and send him — perhaps you have no choice, I understand that — but confront the reality of the situation.
Of course, I agree with everything Mr. Walsh says, because not only have we raised 5 kids in the People’s Republic of California, I’ve actually read Fichte, the dude who inspired von Humboldt, who, as the Prussian Minister of Education, instituted modern compulsory state education there – where Horace Mann got his ideas. Fichte, von Humboldt and Mann don’t even talk about reading, writing and arithmetic – it’s all about Morals, by which they mean a specific flavor of Protestantism that asserts that a human being’s value is determined by his place in the State (and in the factories and armies that make the state great).
The implications here are more than a little mind-blowing, so let’s go over it in a little detail.
For 1500 years, the Church taught that 1) we are one Body in Christ and 2) that His kingdom is not of this world. A Christian was thus insulated from the vain hope that any state would bring about the fulfillment promised by Christ. At the same time, the Church taught, in accordance with 1 Peter and elsewhere, that we owed respect and obedience to the state, as it got its legitimate authority from God. So, for 1500 years, Christians worked with the state to make things better without trusting in the state to provide salvation. This remains the teaching of the Church to this day.
This began to change with Luther. One of his first orders of business was to eliminate the competition, theologically speaking – he enlisted the help of the German political leadership to shut down the monasteries (wherein lived men who were as scholarly and biblical as Luther ever was – but who often disagreed with him). Then, the plan was to use the newly-freed-up monasteries to house a new thing under the sun: compulsory universal state-run schools. The state was enlisted to enforce orthodoxy in a new way: it became, in Luther’s mind, an arm of the Church, ensuring that everyone learned to be a good little Lutheran – whether they liked it or not. Dissent from schooling became dissent from the Church – and dissent from the state! This could not be tolerated – and, in fact, is not tolerated in Germany to this day, where homeschooling has been criminalized. Implementing this dream took 250 years.
Now, the actual beliefs under Protestantism are, shall we say, highly elastic. This elasticity provided an opportunity for the state to drive the car, so it chose to foster those beliefs that fostered the state. But the idea became fixed that the Church and the state were united in the business of making sure, at the point of a bayonet if necessary, that each and every little German was educated to be a good solid Lutheran subject.
Thus, in 1806, the French conquest of Prussia under Napoleon is seen primarily as a moral failure – which means, inexorably, it is fundamentally a failure in education. This sums up what Fichte has to say in his Addresses to the German Nation– the Prussians lost the war because they had failed to educate their children properly. So, Luther’s dream of universal state-run schooling evolves into the idea that properly educated children result in an army that cannot be defeated. Let that soak in for a minute.
Weeds grow where the ground has been broken and better plants have been killed off. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, as the French troops withdrew from Prussia, von Humboldt, a huge fan of Fichte, finally gets to implement the ultimate state education. The chief characteristics of this new schooling are:
It is totally managed by experts, with no parental input desired or even tolerated.
It recognizes no bounds. If it proves desirable to forcibly remove children and separate them from their families and communities for years on end, that would be OK.
The goals of the state are completely coextensive with any legitimate goals of the children and families. If the child or the family object, they are not just wrong, but immoral and traitorous. No, really – it is that clear.
The only value an individual has is as part of the state. This is an idea that Hegel ran with – and is why the head of the US Department of Education strove to have Hegelianism declared the official philosophy of the department. No, really.
Finally, unstated but always present: the children of the leaders don’t attend these schools. The educational needs of the powerful are not the same as those of the weak.
This is where Horace Mann got his inspiration for public schooling in America. Horace’s interest was – you guessed it – morality. Nobody then could possibly argue that the kind of intensive schooling Mann envisioned was required to learn the basics – literacy in New England at the time was 99%, learned in a tiny fraction of the hours Mann wanted, often as not with no school involved at all.
Nope, what Mann wanted was morally correct people. As you might imagine, the solid farmers of Massachusetts were not enthusiastic – they were being told that they and their children were not sufficiently moral to work in Mann’s and his buddies’ factories, and that they should pay for the privilege of handing their kids over to their betters to remedy this defect. The education establishment insulting the intelligence of parents goes way back. So, the farmers repeatedly voted down efforts to tax them in order to institute Mann’s schools.
BUT: Mann got his big break – the Irish Potato Famine, of all things. Suddenly, Boston and other cities were flooded with Irish – people even the farmers would agree needed a little of the right kind of Jesus beat into them. All the sudden, schools weren’t about straightening out Protestant farm kids, whose moral failings centered on not being totally happy and grateful to work in factories, to those miserable Irish kids and their degenerate Papism. It is an historical fact that compulsory state-run education in America came about on a wave of anti-Catholic bigotry. Catholic schools were founded in response to hatred, once the Irish got organized enough to have a little political clout.
Once it got rolling, compulsory state education took off – wherever there was enough social disruption for the weeds to grow. With the Civil War and increased immigration, disruption was almost everywhere. Out in the country, where independent minded farmers had set up their own one-room schools, it took almost another century for ‘consolidated’ schools to finally win out – over the strenuous objections of the farmers. By the 1940s, the battle was over: the only schools to be found were public schools or private schools built on the same assumptions.
Rarely, if ever, were the wished of the people involved in imposing this new schooling. Just as Common Core got developed by ‘experts’ and implemented by state departments of education (with a federal funding gun to their heads) before any parents had had a look at it, the classroom model was implemented in almost every case as the new ‘scientific’ method of schooling without any parental input at all. it’s not an accident that school boards have dwindled in number and authority over the last century – they are nothing but a sop and a temporary annoyance to the system.
So: as in all bureaucracies, there are some good people involved in public schooling. Usually, the language of control is softened in order to be more acceptable to tender hearts. But the goals of the system persist and win out despite the intentions of the people implementing that system. Standardized classes and tests are designed to produce standardized people. Grades are designed to produce graded people. Such people conform to spec, and are interchangeable – which happens to be the most desired state if you’re running a company or an army. Individuals are nothing but trouble. They tend to have ideas and ask questions – very inefficient.
How do we get honest and well-intentioned teachers to produce standardized thought-free ‘product’? Here’s how:
Make sure that school fills as much of the day as possible. Fichte’s dream of total separation of child and family may not be practical in America, but the same result can be achieved by simply filling the child’s day with school and school-related activities;
Segregate kids not by what they need to learn, but by age. This establishes the arbitrary rights of the school over any rights or reasonable expectations of the child, and teaches them to stay with their externally-defined group;
Progress is measured by keeping up with the group. The most utter humiliation is to be flunked; the second worst is to be moved ahead (woe to that child! She will likely be loathed by both her old and new classmates);
The only kind of achievement that matters is passing tests. All that other stuff might be OK, but it’s not going to help you keep up with your class;
Fragment knowledge as much as possible, so that kids learn, not that there’s a coherent world out there, but rather that knowledge is broken up into unrelated and meaningless tidbits which are mastered and spooned out by experts;
Teach fragments of knowledge in 30 or 40 minute chunks. Thus, in the unlikely event that a kid starts to make connections, the bell will ring and the subject change before any real damage is done;
Special efforts are taken to make sure as few as possible learn any math, science and history, as these are dangerous subjects, gateways to actual thought.
So, back to the original issue: is it ever a good idea to send your kid to a graded-classroom model school? (Public or private doesn’t really matter.) I answer No, because the medium is the message here. Now, can a good parent ever send their kid to a public school as the least bad option? Maybe. But to pretend that, somehow, the good intentions of the teachers outweigh the evil intentions of the model in which they work is wishful thinking.
Friday was Day 2 in the American History Class at Diablo Valley School. Went OK. 2 kids couldn’t make it (out of town, but they had arranged for their friends to get the materials for them) and one of the staff who audited last time dropped out, so we had 6 student. 3 girls, 3 boys, age run from about 13 to 17 – so, maybe this is high school history. Doesn’t really change anything.
Started with a map showing the approximate territories occupied by various tribes at the time of first serious European discoveries, mostly to point out where it was clearly wrong – today’s major lesson was: consider the source, check it out yourself. (This is a serious issue with the early explorers: Columbus: hero or murderer? Drake: brave explorer or bloodthirsty pirate? Cortez: liberator or a man consumed with greed? Depends on who you’re asking – and even then, even after the out and out lies have been accounted for, the truth may not be well presented by any one perspective.) Talked about sources – you don’t have to to trust everybody, you don’t have to trust me. You can look it up.
Then, ripped through the early explorers, with an emphasis on those setting foot in what is now the US. Cabotto, Desoto, Coronado, Spanish exploration of the Southeast and Southwest. Finished up with Jamestown and the Pilgrims, with emphasis on what it meant to get a royal charter and a couple of the fun characters -Pocahantis, Squanto, John Smith.
Started to say that there was a common theme among early English settlers, and a young lady jumped in: they were really stupid? Absolutely! It was near-miraculous as many survived as did.
This week: colonial period. Man, am I ripping through this.
Ya know? The concept that a person’s worship might be aided by a small sheaf of photocopies containing, as often as not, songs that weren’t even good enough to make it into the Disposable Word of God Missalettes strains credulity. Just FYI.
Now that we’ve got the public service announcement out of the way, was blessed to attend Mass this morning at a lovely parish in Orlando. Nice people, good homily, efficacious sacraments and a church building that, while thoroughly modern, did contain abundant visual cues that this, indeed, is a Catholic Church. Most beautiful of these are a large traditional crucifix hung high above the altar and, best of all, the Blessed Sacrament reserved front and center. So, all in all, it was plenty inviting to reverence and prayer, which is pretty much all I ask. YMMV.
Music was provided by a pop band/choir of above average musicianship. The choices of music ran from insipid – who will rid me of these meddlesome Jesuits? – to OK, with commons that seemed based on high end evangelical Praise music, if I’m understanding that correctly. What I mean is that the music was less like that produced by people whose training in composition consists chiefly of having learned the chords to some Peter, Paul and Mary songs (Yo, Jebbies!) and more like what you’d expect from someone who’d learned the chords to some Brian Wilson and Carpenters songs, with a little power pop sensibility thrown in.
Maybe I’m completely off base here. Suffice it to say that the Commons, while not to my taste, were somewhat musically sophisticated, including some non-trivial harmony parts and syncopation that were not merely random (pretend here that I’m yelling “Jebbies!” in “Khan!” style). I’d never heard them or their like before.
As usual, I lost custody of my eyes long enough to scan the congregation to see if anyone was actually singing any of this stuff. There were about 10% (generously) of people moving their lips – not that you could hear anything coming out of them.
So, as is inevitable, we’ve come full circle: the good musicians in the parish do the music for, not with, the congregation. The differences are that, now, the music performed by the choir isn’t as good as it used to be, and that the entrance and recessional hymns are not warhorses that the congregation knows and can sing – without a worship aid.
Prepping madly for a stupid industry convention down in plastic-sterile Orlando, as well as today’s American History class, yet does that stop the blogging? Heck no!
1. To paraphrase: To be any more than coat of paint deep into history is to cease to support the classroom model of education. Yet this remains the biggest hurdle: most people, in my experience, actually believe that the only practical way to educate kids is by dividing them up into groups by age, and spoon feeding them tiny, disjointed pieces of information for hours and hours every day, day after day, for years on end – and that it’s only prudent to use the full coercive power of the state to make sure it happens. Failing to do this will result in mayhem!
There are two ways to see that this is wrong:
First, pick anything it is valuable to know, and you will find that there are many ways to learn it that have been tried and proven to work, often over centuries. The graded classroom model is only a couple hundred years old, and has only become ubiquitous over the last 100 years. So, how did all those smart people – Newton, Hildegard of Bingen, Jefferson, Aristotle, and on and on – get so remarkably well educated? They took few, if any, classes, and the classes they did take bore more of a resemblance to a post-doctoral seminar than to a modern middle school.
Programming is a current favorite – few if any superior programmers get that way by taking programming classes. Instead, they hack away on their own, join on-line forums, try programming hard stuff because it’s hard, and hang out with other programmers. It’s a sort of self-directed apprenticeship. The ‘final exam’ is about whether your programs work and if the other programmers can figure them out. These are the guys behind the digital age, not the ones with straight ‘A’s in some classroom.
I’ve used the example of piano lessons before: a 7 year old can take a half hour lesson once a week, practice 15 minutes a day, and, by the time she’s a 10 year old, be playing some serious music. Math could be taught the same way, and the student would get through everything 6 years of daily 40 minute classes typically cover in about a year. If the child has interest and aptitude, they can get through it a lot faster than that, as has been repeatedly demonstrated. When told that 6 years of grade school math could be covered in 20 weeks with 20 contact hours, Alan White, who had been an elementary math specialist for years in the public schools, said it was no surprise:
“Because everyone knows,” he answered, “that the subject matter itself isn’t that hard. What’s hard, virtually impossible, is beating it into the heads of youngsters who hate every step. The only way we have a ghost of a chance is to hammer away at the stuff bit by bit every day for years. Even then it does not work. Most of the sixth graders are mathematical illiterates. Give me a kid who wants to learn the stuff — well, twenty hours or so makes sense.”
And what about our colleges and universities? We don’t hear the same moaning about their failures, and in fact people come from around the world to study at them. So, can we assume the educational model used in college is better than the classroom model? It is different, more like piano lessons: several hours of independent study is assumed to be needed for every hour of instruction. Why don’t we do more of that? Why do we wait until college to shorten classroom time to an hour or two day, and give kids the rest of the time to study as they see fit? Is an 18 year old really that different from a 12 year old that this wouldn’t work?
So, we need to be asking: how do kids really learn things worth learning? And then ask: what is it, again, that they learn at school?
Second, the classroom model manifestly fails to teach kids anything a reasonable parent would want them taught. In colonial New England, before there were any compulsory schools at all, literacy was higher than it is now. How? The Federalist Papers would published in the newspaper; Thomas Paine’s tracts were read by large numbers of people. These works would be considered college-level English these days – not that your typical college student has the intellectual chops to understand them very well.
It’s not just the drop-outs that the schools fail: the kids who get A+ grades with advanced placement classes as often as not are placed in remedial classes once they get to college – typically, for writing and math. Again, what exactly did they learn over 12 years and AP classes if not writing and math? And then, after a semester of remedial work, they are typically up to speed. Wait – college achieves in a semester what couldn’t be achieved by 12 years of classroom schooling?
Please consider that the graded classroom model is not some sort of divinely-mandated requirement, but rather is a 200 year old experiment, cooked up by certain people and, for the most part, inflicted on Americans against their wills. It’s one with worse results than any number of other approaches – as long as the desired result is educated people.
3. William Briggs remains on the job. And here. I work with a guy who has regularly, for years and years, stated, in public, that a. there are too many people; and b. that he hates people. Yet he took great offence when I suggested he lead by example.
This is depressing on so many levels. If they are not obliged to by law, our public schools do not teach about the Holocaust, or World War II? I’d love to know if they are aware of the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift? Pearl Harbor? This is pretty recent history!
Even more than the dazzling ignorance of the college kids in the video, I’m appalled by the concept that people think it’s appropriate to pass laws to specify what gets taught in history class. History should be taught both to pass on a cultural – what has happened that makes us who we are and tells us where we are going – and as scholarship – how do we know what we know. Once you get to the point where the only way to make sure some history gets taught is to use the full coercive force of government via the law, you’ve lost the war even if you win the battle.
The more subtle thing going on here: history, like math and science, is a gateway to real thought – fairly early on in studying history, you have to engage the critical and logical faculties of your mind. But thinking is not what the public schools are for – as Woodrow Wilson, a great champion of pubic education, said: public education is intended to fit the great mass of people for specific manual work, not to trouble their little heads with the Important Stuff like running the country – guys like Wilson take care of that for us poor little dears.
Thus, the three subjects in which the typical high school or college student is almost completely ignorant are math, science and history. Schools fail to teach these things because they never intended to. To take each in turn:
Math: Can you balance your checkbook? If so, you are overqualified for a high school diploma. It is informative to look at Euclid’s Elements, a book written to actually teach math. It starts, not with formulas and times tables, but with logic – Euclid lays out his assumptions, and starts right in showing how one reaches true mathematical conclusions via clear, logical steps. Note that this book is the culmination of the wisdom of many brilliant people with centuries of experience teaching math.
Contrast with the current method used in our schools: we start in with memorization and formulas, cut into tiny pieces preferably unrelated to anything in the real world, delivered over and over again as lectures in 30 or 40 minute doses, year after year. This assures that 1) the kids that get it early are bored stiff; 2) the kids that get it late or never learn that they are stupid; and 3) everybody, barring a miracle, learns that math is both hard and boring, and to be avoided unless you’re some sort of weirdo genius type.
The over-arching achievement of modern math instruction: nobody develops the habit of thinking logically.
Science: similar to math instruction, except that the schools can shove it to the side as an esoteric specialty field more easily than can be done with math. Classroom school science is taught as a series of facts, not as a method. Even when experiments are performed, there is a presumed right answer, and you fail if you don’t get it. Thus, the true discipline of natural science, which unites Aristotelian logic with careful observation, and involves an unavoidable element of doubt (and an unfortunately easily avoided dollop of humility, when done honestly) is never learned at all, but is replaced with a form of ancestor worship. Science has shown, and all that.
Thus, we end up with few who can think scientifically about anything, but many who, alternately, worship science or dismiss it as irrelevant to real life. We get a world where people either ‘believe’ in claims that should be fully subject to truly scientific uncertainty and skepticism, or are ‘deniers’ – no in-between. And scads of people who think astrology and personality studies based on brain scans are science, too! And many who, having had their core beliefs beaten down with dogmatic scientism, reject the claims of science out of hand (these folks – creationists, for example – have a really good case, it’s just not the case they think they have). And, finally, we are infected with many who value science precisely and only to the extent that it can be used to browbeat and marginalize people – people who don the Sacred Lab coat of Science! and make the oracular pronouncements, typically for personal or political gain, but sometimes as duly puffed up useful idiots.
But again, as with math, the opportunity to learn how to think rationally has been not only missed, but forcibly suppressed in favor of conformity.
History: History is both the hardest thing to teach honestly and the easiest to co-opt for other purposes. See, for example, Marx, who learned from Hegel how to use theory to filter history so that it only shows you what you want to see. Or take Columbus – the modern tendency is to determine if he is a villain or a hero *first*, then check to see what facts support that conclusion.
Yet, in grammar school, one might suppose that kids would learn a bunch of true stories, the bare outlines at least, with emphasis on the more interesting stuff that makes the story good. That way, our kids would build up a base of knowledge upon which to build a more detailed and subtle understanding over the years. I mean, what kid can’t get into the story of Squanto? Or Zuan Chabotto? Or, of course, Washington and Adams and Jefferson? And a million others? This seems to be the general approach that was used from time immemorial until the one-room schools were shut down in the 1940s. Then, as the teachers and products of those one room schools shrank to an insignificant percentage of the school staff and population – by 1970 or so – it was possible to fully implement the graded classroom method of fragmentation and incoherence: 30-40 minute classes on predigested ‘subjects’ removed from any context and rendered as boring as possible.
And, by making history a political football – exactly what passing laws to mandate what topics must be covered achieves – we make it ever more easy for the schools to do the minimum, to comply with the law and leave everything else out.
Which suits the overall goal just fine. What happens when the kid who learned in early grades what heroes Washington and Lincoln were finds out they had flaws and enemies, even? And that their enemies even had some good points? You know, you actually have to think! You have to judge the sources (or even become aware that there are always sources – an idea that seems to truly baffle even intelligent, well-educated adults!). A kid would need to develop habits of scholarship and logic and judgement.
Well, we can’t have that! imagine how awkward it would be for major party campaign managers if people habitually expected more than content-free slogans, sound-bites and charisma. And so, we don’t do any of that real history stuff.
With this background, it’s no wonder our colleges get staffed with blood sucking parasites who teach that history is to be deconstructed along some flavor of Hegelian/Marxist/Freudian lines, that science has no legitimate claims on our loyalty, and that logic is just a tool of capitalist/patriarchal/racist oppression. Reason and truth are the enemies of Progress.
Two final notes: first, us old guys, say over 50, simply had a different school experience than kids are having today, and not just in the more obvious headline making sense of kids getting suspended for making a gun with their hand or talking about God in class. We are the last people educated by people at least some of whom had real educations themselves, who learned in places like one-room schools or Catholic schools. In these old time schools, there was a clear connection between culture and society, on the one hand, and what was expected of the student on the other. Simply put, kids were being educated to take an adult role in a coherent society. Now, after a 150 year relentless assault, that coupling has been completely severed: today, kids are being educated to become part of a dream world utterly different from any existing culture. a world where people choose their identities from within a Cartesian dream state, entirely free from any outside considerations, and where the only evil permitted to be recognized is passing judgement on whatever someone else has chosen to be. At least so long as they have not chosen to be a critic of this dreamworld, or to believe in an objective God or even an objective reality – those choices are bigoted and judgmental and evil!
We’re now entering the third generation since this sea change, and are enjoying all the slippery slope outcomes the most cynical among us feared – and then some. Even the cynic might have imagined we’d get a few more decades along before we started marrying our goats.
Finally, I am truly inspired and honored that the kids at Diablo Valley School asked me to teach them American history. Tomorrow, we do exploration, discovery and early settlements. I’ve got some great stories to tell!