St. Jerome’s Tips on Teaching a Child to Read

Via Twitter:

403 A.D., St. Jerome instructing Laeta how she should teach her daughter Paula to read. Over 1500 yrs later I got the exact same education.

First, this is utterly charming, especially given Jerome’s well-earned curmudgeonly reputation. Second, a literate woman teaching her daughter to read is given encouraging advise by a Church Father – those evil misogynistic Catholics at it again! Almost as bad as Francis de Sale’s obvious care and affection for “Philothea”.

But third, here is clear evidence that people believed that a mom could teach her own young daughter to read.  Everybody in every culture always believed that any responsible adult could teach their own children anything that similarly competent adults knew – reading, say, or basic math. Plato, 2400 years ago: Charging money to teach children what every competent adult knows is fraud.  The amazing thing: over the course of 150 years in the West, the newly developed class known as educators have managed to convince hundreds of millions of adults that they are *incompetent* to teach their own kids much of anything at all.

Recall that Horace Mann’s complaint, following Fichte, wasn’t that kids were deficient in reading and writing – they were *morally* deficient. No, really.

So, professional educators, from Day 1, with more or less personal awareness on the part of the personnel involved, have been committed to the *moral* education of our kids. Mann found out that this idea was repulsive to the citizens of Massachusetts, who would not vote for compulsory, tax-funded schools – for their kids. Once the Potato Famine sent a million Irish Catholics their way, then the good solid Americans were ready to make *those* people, patently morally inferior to *our* people,  attend moral reeducation camps – schools. In order to sell this, people had to be convinced, or at least cowed into silence on this issue, that parents, grandparents and so on are incompetent to teach their own children. Talk ‘performing to grade level’, don’t talk about educators’ more or less conscious contempt for the morality of the peons. See: the current phase of the sexual revolution, or critical theory, or ‘truth is relative’ or – you get the drift.

What constitutes morality may have changed, but the puritanical zeal of our betters to educate us, the unwashed masses, in it only keeps growing.


Author: Joseph Moore

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

6 thoughts on “St. Jerome’s Tips on Teaching a Child to Read”

  1. On the desire to send the Irish Catholics to the moral re-education camps (as you put it): I wonder if that’s why around here (Virginia) the bishop at one point (at least as late as the 40s) required parishes to have a school built before they could build a church.

    1. Historically, the German Catholic immigrants almost invariably built a school with their parishes; eastern European Catholics mostly did, Italians sometimes, and Irish almost never unless the Bishop was on the warpath (such as in NYC – in Boston, the bishops didn’t push, so there were few Catholic schools built in Irish parishes.) So, yes, a long history of this.

      Right before the turn of the 20th century, US catholic bishops petitioned the pope: could they excommunicate Catholics who had a catholic school they could send their kids to but refused? That’s how big a threat to the faith they considered the public schools. Huge argument was over whether the american states could be or should ever be trusted with the education of Catholics. (In a landmark case in the 1930s, Oregon law that outlawed Catholic schools was overturned by the Supreme Court, which affirmed as obvious that parents had the right to educate their children as they saw fit, so long as they educated them. But Oregon tried overtly try to outlaw Catholic schools.)

      The pope didn’t say yes unambigously, so the answer became no – and then, a couple Jesuits (why does it always have to be Jesuits) at the newly-formed Catholic University of America began pitching to incorporate ‘modern’ educational techniques into Catholic schools. A hundred years later, that’s what we’ve got – Catholic schools that fire or chase out of town any actual Catholic instructors teaching Catholic dogma. There are exceptions, of course – Newman List, small K-12 schools started by the laity – but the big schools, who want more than anything to sit at the cool kids table? Not so much.

      1. Thank you–that’s the sort of history synopsis I was hoping to prompt. I very much enjoy reading the way you present the history of education and the history of Catholics in the U.S.

      2. You are most welcome. Had to look it up, and of course I misremembered – the 2 priests at Catholic University of America were not Jesuits (those came later) but diocesan priests: Edward Pace and his student, Thomas Edward Shields. Pace was a founding member of the American Psychological Association in 1892, and received his education at a Leipzig University Under Wilhelm Wundt, founder of experimental psychology and son of a Lutheran minister. I’d assume he’d soaked up some Fichte and Hegel there, but who knows, more research is required. With Shields, his star student, he co-founded and was first editor of the Catholic Educational Review in 1911. Both he and Shields were famous for being champions of ‘progressive’ education.

        The unpleasant part: while the bishops were deeply concerned to keep modernist ideas out of the schools, Shields had sole control of the publishing house that put out the books used by Catholic schools all around the country. As the saying goes, amateurs study strategy, professionals study logistics: while the bishops were pursuing a strategy of resistance to progressive modernism, Shields simply ignored them – and took control of the supply lines. This, in the shadow of Pius X’s denunciation of modernism!

        The story gets even worse from there.

        I still hope to write a book or two about Catholic schooling – I’ve got a bookshelf of sources staring me in the face as I sit, and a bunch more stuff I found free on the web.

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