Let us assume for a moment that we agree on a few basic points, points frequently made on this blog:
- That the education system as it exists now is the product of the efforts of a relatively small group of people who created it to further the goals of Johann Gottlieb Fichte: a docile population incapable of thinking anything their betters don’t want them to think, who have been successfully divorced from the loyalty and honor naturally accorded to their families, native cultures, religions and physical places the better to serve their masters;
- That this project has been a smashing success in America and Europe, among other places: that the mindless stupidity and mule-headed stubbornness with which we cling to conventional nonsense, the imperviousness to any real thought or ideas, the slavish sycophancy of the courtier classes in the media and elsewhere – these are the intended results of this project;
- That a key and insidious part of this project is to inoculate us against thought: despite all evidence, we are convinced that we are the brightest, most open-minded people ever, and thus must conclusively dismiss any ideas or evidence that suggests otherwise;
- That all basic skills that might, if applied to conventional beliefs, cause us to rebel against these controls are to be ruthlessly suppressed or channeled into the service of our betters: it is no accident that history, philosophy, science, math and logic have not only not been systematically taught in our schools, but instead have been rendered so boring and meaningless as to drive off all but a few eccentrics. The claim that ‘I hate math’ for example, is the sign that things are working as planned;
- Finally, that to escape from this morass, we need to reject the system of controls that create and enforce it – the compulsory, centrally controlled graded classroom model: drop into culture by loving what the system hates – Great Books, logic, history, science (real science, not Cosmos-level gee-whiz pablum, which merely serves the cause), family, religion and each other.
The progress of this effort across American history is clear. As one wag put it, we’ve gone in 100 years from teaching Greek and Latin in high school to teaching remedial English in college.
For the sake of the following argument, let us assume we agree on these propositions. I contend that this puts virtually all of in the position of an addict, someone whose life has become completely structured around feeding our addiction. Further, when we have those stray moments of epiphany, when the veil begins to lift and we begin to suspect things are not as they seem – that is exactly the point at which all those years of training, all those carefully ingrained habits of mind, kick in to prevent us from having any real thoughts.
Note that I’m speaking here of the products of our schools, which includes here any school that follows the graded classroom model, whether public public, private or religious, with one important caveat: it has only been since the 1930s that a majority of people have been educated this way, and only since the 1940s that almost everyone was, and only since the 1970s that the entire mechanism was universally in place. So, it’s possible, if one is old enough and happened to get schooled in some barbarous hinterland or other, that you got some real education. I, at age 56, managed, in retrospect, to straddle the conversion of Catholic grade school education in Southern California from something essentially subversive to a merely kinder, gentler and more selective version of the state schools. I suspect, in my case at least, that a little education snuck past the schooling. But, fundamentally, I’m as much a product of this system as anyone. People older than me, especially if they were educated away from the great population centers, stand a better chance of having gotten some real education.
Once, many years ago, I attended a highly structured and disciplined weight loss program. Ever since I’ve stopped playing many hours of basketball a day, I’ve put on weight, and was desperate enough to try this. Well, it worked – in the sense of me losing a vast amount of weight. BUT: much of the program was designed around reminding us that the trick is *maintenance* not weight loss – that, unless one were to completely change one’s eating and exercise behaviors, the chances are effectively zero that one would keep the weight off. The program leaders were even honest enough to tell us that the chances this effort would really succeed, as in really help us to keep the weight off, were very low – it’s that hard to change the habits of a lifetime.
I was a success story – I kept it off for 3 whole years, until I hurt my knee playing basketball, was unable to work out, got depressed, and gained it all back. Sigh. But, for those 3 years, I did change my behavior. It was really hard, and not perfectly consistent – but it was different behavior for me. But I fell back into the old habits with nary a ripple, once I stopped working on breaking them.
The point of this story: I am addicted to food. My relationship to food will never be healthy, nor natural, nor automatically correct. The program leaders warned us against being the type of person who, upon reaching an ideal weight, buys new clothes, throws a party – and never uses any of the carefully constructed aides and practices of the program, assuming that now that they are thin, they would never be stupid enough to eat their way to fat again. Which they always did. The program was full of those kinds of people.
Thus: I’ve been working on changing my habits of thought since at least high school, when the kimono parted enough for me to get a glimpse that what I was hearing was not the truth. The application to St. John’s College consisted of a bunch of essays, in which I rambled on as only a 17-year old nitwit can, full of righteous indignation about what a complete waste of time high school was, and how much I looked forward to reading the Great Books.
Lesson 1: just because you recognize that you’ve been had, doesn’t mean your crappy habits of thought get magically replaced by good habits. I was still the lazy, sloppy non-thinker I’d been thoroughly trained to be. I’d completed 12 years of careful, relentless training that said: stick with your group; your betters are the only measure of your success; there is glory in regurgitating what we tell you, but no honor in thinking for yourself. And no training in what it meant to do some research, think for yourself, establish principles, and reason logically from them. No habits of doing any intellectual hard work at all.
At St. John’s, I was a terrible student for 2 and a half years. If, like Dante, I get to meet those great pagan scholars I was supposed to be studying, I’ll fall to my knees in apology: you tried to tell me, you tried to fill me with the highest glory of purely human though – and I slept walked through it all, and have memories of your wisdom like images glimpsed in a dream.
Finally, halfway through my junior year, I started really studying – Kant’s metaphysics is lodged like a splinter in my mind. But Aristotle (outside the Physics, on which I have passing grasp) and all those wonderful ancient and medieval writers – not so much. I see them as fonts of wisdom and truth, but it’s not like I’ve drunk deeply enough to become properly intoxicated.
To this day I leap to conclusions, am lazy about research, rejoice when I discover someone (almost always on the web) who shares my views – these are bad habits, like eating between meals and slathering your 3rd piece of toast with butter.
My little story is presented here as a cautionary tale (and because it didn’t seem right to talk about anyone else): I’d like to think I’m rational, properly skeptical, a lover of truth. And I tend to think – hope, really – that a man who never went through the 12 to 16 or more year exercise in control called ‘school’ might be able to approach reason and truth in a natural way, like how fit people generally approach food without massive worry and planning. But for us, those who have been properly schooled and yet somehow managed to see glimpse a brighter, truer world anyway, the price of intellectual freedom is eternal vigilance.
This is the nature of our addiction. Like all addictions, it builds on something natural and even good: drugs, sex and food are all pleasurable; avoiding pain is natural and tends toward the good. Thus, our desire to fit in, to conform to our group’s norms, are intended to bind us to family, friends and tribe, and if nurtured within a healthy culture, blossom into a loyalty and love that are good – but can be used to bind us arbitrarily to the abstracted state. Schooling, which according to Fichte’s original design, would simply seize all children to remove them from family and culture for their entire childhoods, to make sure that their only loyalty was to the state, has, a mere practical accommodation, simply sucked up every minute of every day that it possibly can. The endless clamor for longer hours, no summer break, an earlier and earlier start to schooling – these are just the next step in a process that created kindergarten and ‘academic’ pre-schools, legislated everyone to go to high school and pressured everyone to attend college. The one-room school educated kids of 100 years ago went through something like 1/3 the schooling a modern 8th grader does, could read and write plan English and do all sorts of sums and calculations, and had read a small library’s worth of well written and moving prose and poetry – something one can get through college (with an education degree!) without being able to do today. BUT: that form of schooling was of, by and for the people – not the abstracted state, but the actual families and towns in which the schools were located.
To break the addiction, or at least get on the wagon, it is necessary to re-form the bonds to family, friends, church, and community that schooling has done its best to destroy. Note how odd and suspicious these days a close friendship between 2 men seems, let alone between and older and younger man. These were among the foundational relationships of all cultures. Yet, they seem unusual today, or strangely circumspect.
Or – and I’m guilty here – how suburbanites can live next door to people for decades without really ever getting to know them. (I can’t recall off-hand the names of the families that live across the street from us). Imagine any tribe or village that detached.
Especially relevant are our relationships with our children. Why, when our kids, especially our sons, say they hate school, do we not listen? Why do we accept the insane intrusion of homework into the only regular sliver of time left in which a family can enjoy each other’s company? This is basic – the whole rash of evil we inflict on kids, from neglect to divorce to killing them in the womb, has at its roots this failure to create a loving relationship with them. It is a basic goal of schooling to prevent that relationship from forming.
It is our personal relationships that give the lie to schooling, and the murderous relativism that underlies it. Once we have the web of relationships, we have a place to stand from which to challenge the state. This is why the state, and its tool the schools, do everything they can to destroy the family. Look around. How is it working out?
Only once we’ve paradoxically established out independence by embracing a loving interdependence can we hope to reason well. This is why Samwise Gamgee is more reasonable and logical than the head of the urban studies department at your local university.