Education Reading Update & Thoughts

Currently finishing up Parish Schools (part 1 of my review here), and rereading A History Of Education In Antiquity. That’s a fascinating read, but very detailed and long (plus, my old paperback copy is starting to fall apart, and Amazon lists the cheapest replacement at $20 – sheesh!) 

Education of an Urban Minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833-1965 arrived yesterday, and a quick perusal was not encouraging: a sociological study written in the 1970’s, when, after almost a century and a half of steady if not spectacular growth, the Chicago parish schools were starting to crater, just as the American Catholic educational hierarchy gave itself magisterial authority and decreed that all that awkward Catholic stuff about dogma and especially sex doesn’t really matter. Why, the introduction wonders, at this of all points in history, are Catholic parents no longer as interested in making the large personal and financial sacrifices required to send their kids to these school? 

Why, indeed. Too bad the period covered ends before Chicago public schools reached the logical apex of Dewey’s reforms by becoming at the same time the best paying and worst performing schools in the nation, thus presenting those Catholic parents with some pretty ugly choices.(1) So, it’s with a certain morbid fascination that I look forward to reading this book.

Still waiting for The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schoolswhich will go to the top of the list once it arrives. Due any day now. 

Some observations:

A. Schools are about culture, not about ‘the Basics’, however those basics are defined. In the Greek schools of antiquity, the key texts were Homer – for over a 1,000 years, an educated Greek was expected to know his Iliad and Odyssey, and could recite long passages from memory. (2) Homer’s stories defined what excellence meant to a Greek – that was the point. And so on – Fichte, Mann, Dewey and that crowd are all about changing the culture. The supposed basics virtually never come up for discussion. (3)

B. Thus, fights over schooling are fights over culture. In America, the Protestant leadership wanted to impose Protestant culture on Catholic immigrants. Catholics built parish schools in which their own culture (especially and inescapably their own religion) were passed on.

The early years were full frontal assaults: In public schools, reading was taught from the King James Bible complete with Protestant commentary attacking the Church, largely Protestant hymns and prayers were used, and ‘history’ was told from the Protestant rabidly anti-Catholic perspective (some things never change!). Catholics objected, especially since they were not only required to send their kids to these schools, but were taxed to pay for them! (4)

Later, the efforts became much more sneaky.

C. The weakness exploited in America to move this agenda forward is the immigrant’s nearly frantic desire to fit in. Catholics, especially the Irish who have such a tragic history with government and culture, felt compelled to conform to anything American, as long as it wasn’t an open attack, to counter the constant accusation that Catholics couldn’t be real Americans. The graded classroom was presented as modern and scientific and above all American, so was very appealing. The anti-Catholicism built into it is subtle.

  1. Except, of course, for those gold-souled politically connected elites, who can send their kids to the local Sidwell school-equivalent.  For example, the  University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, founded by John Dewey, are feeder schools for the Ivy League – perfect! And in keeping with Dewey’s belief that it is a waste of time to teach the vast bulk of kids how to think for themselves, such schools, while touting their ‘diversity’, end up training only those who show promise of getting into elite colleges. A few blocks away, on the South Side, it’s an impoverished war zone. What about those kids? Oh, well, can’t make an omelette and all that – as Dewey himself mentioned in his defense of the vast carnage of the Russian Revolution.
  2. One of the fun things about rereading the Republic and the Dialogues in general is how much Socrates will quote Homer – and how his interlocutors took it for granted.
  3. Plato once even mentions that anyone who charges money to teach what any competent adult knows is committing fraud. Bingo.
  4. You probably thought public schools were secular. Ha! No more then than now. It’s just the underlying Protestantism that’s changed, evolving from Puritan to Unitarian to Progressive, which, historically, is what happened at Harvard and elsewhere. The one constant: belief that if only they were in charge and had enough power, they could make things right. I and my family and everyone outside the mold are, it turns out, problems to be fixed.  Schooling is the way to fix us!

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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