Catholic Schooling in America 1: Sources

According to plan, I am organizing source materials for a proposed book on the reform of Catholic Schooling in America.

This is depressing.

The earliest scholarly book on the history of Catholic education in America that I’ve some across so far is by a James A. Burns, C.S.C. The Catholic School System in the United States,  a two-volume set published in 1908. Reading it now.

Burns was a long-time president and fund raiser for the University of Notre Dame. What’s depressing about this is that Burns got his PhD at the Catholic University of America around 1906, and his thesis consisted of the introduction and first 5 chapters of this book. The Catholic University of America was home at that time to two great leaders in the movement to professionalize parochial schools, two priests I’ve run across before in my readings – E. A. Pace and Thomas E. Shields. So far, I have not run across a true critic of either of these men, rather, they are generally admired by everybody who writes of them, Burns being no exception, as he singles them out for thanks in the preface.

I may become that critic. Pace was devoted to scientific psychology, which, in last decades of the 19th and into the 20th centuries, was both all the rage in certain circles and about as scientific as phrenology. There’s no evidence it has gotten any better over the century since, as, last I checked, there were *16* recognized schools of psychology, from Freudian to Skinnerian to Cognitive Therapy. Contrast with any real science, where, while there might sometimes be multiple competing schools, scientists work to resolve them down to one school after a brief period of turmoil. Differences persist, even fundamentally competing theories, but arguments take place within an overall scientific context that all agree on.

These psychological schools, on the other hand, differ fundamentally in both their assumptions and what they are willing to consider evidence. It’s not like psychologists are concocting experiments to settle once and for all whether consciousness is an illusion or is a complex result of an Id/Ego/Superego structure or something else entirely. Nope, school A over here has its assumptions and processes, school B over there has theirs, and there’s not much to talk about. Skinner and Freud, for example, are not operating in the same intellectual universe, and neither is operating under the rules of science.

In short, Pace was a quack, and one in a long line of childless males willing to pronounce dogmatically on how children should be educated. It is truly remarkable how few (if any! I may be the first!) happily married fathers write about education. Nope, it seems men without children of their own – e.g., Locke, Rousseau (who indeed fathered children, just never raised any!), Pace, Shields – are the ones whose views have been overwhelmingly influential in modern schooling. Go figure.

Shields I’ve written of before. He is known as a Progressive Catholic educator by his admirers. How one can be a Progressive and yet not a Modernist as condemned by a couple popes around that time requires some heavily nuanced mental gymnastics. Progress, after all, is a jealous god. He ran a publishing house, and became the chief supplier of textbooks for Catholic schools in America. Reading some of these textbooks is on my to-do list, but even aside from that, I’ve long contended that textbooks are almost always bad in concept – they are key tools used to grade and manage children into a conformity pleasing to their betters.

Just found this, by a fan of his (presented as found):

Steeped in the knowledge of biology and psychology Shields developed an approach to Catholic education that was educationally progressive educationally, yet theologically orthodox. Though little known today, his scholarly and administrative achievements were considerable. In his time he was the Catholic educator closest in spirit to John Dewey.

Orthodox, yet close to – Dewey? Yikes.

So now I’m reading a couple of books where the treatment of these two is bound to be hagiographic. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

Author: Joseph Moore

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

3 thoughts on “Catholic Schooling in America 1: Sources”

  1. Joseph,

    I’m unsurprised that childess males write about kid’s education. The reason is really simple:
    1) We ACTUALLY EDUCATE the kids in real life and don’t have the time to jot down notes then come up with AWESOME THEORIES ™
    2) We just have to points to our kids-especially the boys- who’llrefuse and rebuke every educational theory those childless males ever came up with

    xavier

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