Education Reading: Billington’s The Protestant Crusade 1800-1860

Taking some notes, marking some pages…

Short and sweet: the Protestant Crusade is excellent background reading. Really gives a feel for what was happening in the antebellum 19th century in America.

This extremely well sourced and detailed book was on the list as general background. I know so very little American history in general and Catholicism in America in particular that this seemed a good place to start. As has been the case repeatedly, books I’ve read for general background tend to have quite a bit to say about schooling. The Protestant Crusade contains a few choice tidbits about the part schools played in the conflict between the established Protestant Americans and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century.

For example: had not run across the Dudleian Lectures before. As the Oracle Wikipedia explains:

The Dudleian lectures are a series of prestigious lectures on religion at Harvard University, where they are the oldest endowed lectureship. They have been given every year from 1755 to the present. The lectures were endowed by Paul Dudley in 1750 with a sum of £133 6s 8d. Dudley specified that the topic of the lectures should rotate among four themes, so that students would hear each one before graduation:

1. The principles of natural religion.

2. The truths of scriptural revelation.

3. “The detecting and convicting and exposing the idolatry of the Romish church, their tyranny, usurpations, damnable heresies, fatal errors, abominable superstitions, and other crying wickedness in their high places”.

4. “The validity of the presbyterial ordination of ministers” (specifically, in the form practiced at the time in Scotland and Geneva, and among Englishmen who opposed the episcopal ordination of the Church of England).

Harvard: from its roots a bastion of civility and open-mindedness. These lectures were going strong at the beginning of the 19th century, and, according to Billington, they were widely published.

Another: the Ursuline sisters had a convent near Boston in the 1830s, to which wealthy non-Catholics sent their daughters for schooling. From Harvard’s own website, we read about how, around the turn of the century, the hellfire-style Calvinist Puritanism of Harvard’s founders had given way to Unitarian Universalism among the Brahmins. While this may seem like a huge swing, it actually makes sense: if people are saved through no merit of their own but solely through the unmerited will of God, why not everybody? It’s almost a quibble, theologically, over what the exact number of saved people is. And while the superficial change might seem striking – for a Unitarian, there’s no point in dressing like Solomon Kane or being all dour or even reading the Bible (you’re saved regardless of any of that) – in reality, the truly fundamental beliefs, those that really distinguished the Pilgrims from all other peoples, remained unchanged: that they’re the smart, righteous ones who by rights are and ought to be in charge.

But the unenlightened peons outside Harvard didn’t get with the program instantly. The poor Brahmins were faced with schools for their daughters that were still run along traditional Puritan lines. Better to send them to be schooled by Catholic sisters (!) than by people who would treat them all like little Hester Prynnes.

The commoners got even, I guess, by burning the convent to the ground in 1835, based partly on the usual accusations against the sisters – that the convent was a whore house for priests, that women were kept there against their wills, that the resulting illegitimate children were murdered and buried on the grounds. When inspection showed none of this to be true, it didn’t matter – those tricksy nuns obviously hid things really, really well. Billington suggests simple class resentments played some part.

One more, related accusation: the No Popery crowd also pointed out that Catholic schools like the Ursuline convent school were suspiciously available for well-off Protestants when they weren’t for poor Catholics, which proved that the Church was more interested in brainwashing Protestant kids than in educating their own. Hmmm.

Billington was not apparently Catholic, but seemed sympathetic to the plight of the millions of Catholic immigrants and their ongoing persecution by ‘nativists.’ I need to put together a timeline, with Brownson and Hecker, Mann and Bernard, Seton and Drexel mapped out against Archbishop Hughes, anti-Catholic publications, the Know-Nothings and the various riots and church burnings, etc. Also, really, really need to look at a few contemporary textbooks (Billington names a bunch, bless him!).

I wish he’d covered the next 50 years as well. What I’d like to see are books with this level of detail through Al Smith’s loss on up to the election of JFK.

I’ll write more on this soon. Still have a bit to go to finish it.

Education History: Thinking Through Chapter 1

Image result for historic classroom

Been reading about about Pestalozzi – specifically, The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi by John Alfred Green, W.B. Clive, University tutorial press, ltd. 1905. Following my own rules, I did read a bunch of Pestalozzi before reading about him (other than basic biographical details, which I think it’s always good to know when approaching an unfamiliar writer from an unfamiliar time and place). As I mentioned in my reviews of How Gertrude Teaches Her Children, Pestalozzi is all but incomprehensible, as even his most famous followers acknowledged more or less accidentally, when they said that you’ve got to work with Pestalozzi for a while before you start to understand what he’s up to. Certainly, based on my reading, it would be impossible to set up a Pestalozzian school base solely on what he’s written about his approach. Or rather, one could set up pretty much any school and find something in Pestalozzi that justifies slapping the Pestalozzian label on it.

That said, what does come through in what I’ve read of his so far:

  • the centrality of the teacher;
  • the primacy of ‘sense experiences’;
  • the need for constant management of the student;
  • the need for predigestion of the materials to be taught, so that they can be presented in a teacher-approved manner;
  • distrust of the student’s initiative: a student who thinks he’s mastered material without the mediation of a teacher will become stuck up and unmanageable.

Fichte looks to Pestalozzi as the inspiration of his proposed universal reform of education, although, in his Addresses he is very vague about the details. The only specifics: Fichte rejects Pestalozzi’s goal of helping the student find an appropriate place in society as quickly as possible by focusing on reading, writing, math, and completing tasks under supervision, and instead substitutes his famous goal of rendering the student incapable of thinking anything the (state trained and certified) teacher doesn’t want him to think. Further, Pestalozzi specifically favored children at least initially learning from their own mothers in the home – he titles his magnum opus ‘How Gertrude Teaches He Children’ after all – while Fichte wants the child completely removed from home for the duration of his education, in order to prevent entirely parental education of children.

But are these really so different? In each case, the teacher is directing the student toward a goal, managing his experiences so that, for example, he is prohibited from thinking he’s achieved anything outside the mediation of his teacher. Both Fichte and Pestalozzi believe the child’s fulfillment lies in filling a role in society; Fichte simply believes the state is the authority that decides what the state needs the child to do. It’s unclear – a recurring theme – how much influence Pestalozzi expected his teachers to exert on the career choices of his students, buty given the level of control his teachers are expected to impose, one could argue ‘a lot’. One could also argue ‘none’ – that’s the Pestalozzian Rorschach test in operation.

What remains, and remains so far undiscussed in the sources I’ve read, is the age-segregated classroom. Nothing I’ve read in Pestalozzi suggests this is essential to him, although there’s a lot of stuff that might be called ‘age-appropriate’ activities today. But for Fichte, the first order of business is to find some means of establishing the teacher as the sole authority in the kid’s life, replacing family, village and any god other than the state. The age-segregated classroom is a work of evil genius in this regard.

In a modern school, certain lessons, certain rules must be mastered before the putative instruction can begin:

  • You will be assigned a group. You have no input on this assignment.
  • You will stay with your assigned group at all times.
  • You will do whatever the teacher tells you to do as part of that group.
  • Your success at school will be judged by how well you stay with your assigned group.
  • Any activities undertaken as an individual, e.g., going to the bathroom at non-specified times, must be pre-approved by the teacher.
  • Mere mastery of the putative materials being taught does not exempt you from the group.

As John Taylor Gatto says, the real success of modern schooling is that we can’t even imagine doing it any other way. But of course, before 1800, rigid age-segregation was not the norm anywhere outside a military school. An ancient Greek boy attended the local ephebia at about age 16, because part of the original purpose of the ephebia was to prepare boy to be soldiers. The Greeks, not being insane, wanted close approximations of adult males in their armies. Boys tend to get in the way. But in this case, it was more the physical realities of battle than age itself which lead to this division. And so on – what a kid already knew and could do determined how he was educated going forward, not his age in and of itself.

So: Chapter One of the book will have to deal with the insanity of graded classroom instruction. I will lead with stories of people teaching children in all sorts of non-age segregated ways, among family, friends, and neighbors, which is the natural, obvious way to do it. St. Jerome’s advice to Paula; one room schools, choir schools of the Middle Ages. Off the top of my head.

I must try to undo what Gatto mentioned. I must try to get people to understand that there is nothing natural or good about graded classrooms, and much unnatural and evils.

Should be fun.

Education Reading Update: Hecker, Schlegel, and Fichte

The rabbit holes are infinite and eternal. Well, maybe not that bad, but, Lord, it isn’t good.

Trying to get my head around 19th century American Catholicism, in order to have some feel for how Catholics viewed education. Don’t need to become an expert, just know enough that I don’t make obvious and avoidable errors.

The two biggest names in mid-19th century American Catholicism are, it appears, Orestes Brownson and Thomas Hecker. They were friends, both converts from rather rigorous or at least enthusiastic Protestantism, Brownson from Calvinist Presbyterianism, Hecker from Methodism. From my modern perspective, which I am trying to make better informed, I would classify those two origins as pseudo intellectual dogmatic nonsense and mush-headed touchy-feely nonsense. While that’s sort of what they look like today, minus the numerous fractures and branches into other, more trendy (until they aren’t) errors, I suspect but am not yet confident that description more or less holds for the 1820s as much as the 2020s.

I mention the above because, as I read them, these Protestant roots and habits of thought, especially as shaped by the post-Revolutionary and post-Civil War American experiences, seem to color everything. There is an optimism in these writers that appears almost insane from a modern perspective, along with that American distrust of authority that Brownson seems to deal with more realistically than Hecker. The big questions here are how widespread these attitudes were – I’d bet, pretty widespread, given the stature of Hecker and Brownson in 19th century American Catholic intellectual life – and how much these attitudes influenced Catholic thinking on education.

Brownson I’ve discussed much here. He was prolific, meaning I’ve only read a tiny fraction of his output. Fortunately, the Brownson Society has put his publications online, indexed them, and included the topic ‘education’ in that index – reducing the amount of essential Brownson reading to maybe a 100 more pages. Not that reading more would hurt, but must prioritize if I hope to get these books done in this lifetime.

Servant of God Rev. Isaac Thomas Hecker is the real puzzler. He founded both a religious order – the Paulists – and a magazine – The Catholic World. That magazine ran for over 130 years, and published many essays by Brownson, and more by Hecker. (Rabbit Hole Alert: the very first issue, from April of 1865, has an essay entitled The Christian Schools of Alexandria. Too much to read!).

The very first Hecker I’m reading is from The Church and the Age, a set of 12 of his essays taken from The Catholic World. As mentioned in my end of the year recap post, Hecker both praises obedience to the Church and Pope, and claims that an emphasis on obedience in response to Protestant disobedience has lead to the current effeminate state European Catholicism. We Americans can fix this by paying more attention to the Spirit. It’s a case where the rhetorical arrangement of ideas all but forces a conclusion that contradicts what, on the surface, is the argument. In this case, nothing could be more traditional and orthodox than a call to a greater commitment to the life of the Spirit, but by opening with a paen of sorts to obedience, and a rousing defence of the 1st Vatican Council’s declaration of Papal infallibility, such a call comes off as a criticism of obedience. If, instead, the call to a more spiritual life had merely, in the course of things, mentioned that the Spirit necessarily works through the Magisterium, such that there is no possibility that the impulses of the Spirit would ever direct one against obedience to Christ’s Church, and just left it at that, no issues would ever have been raised. But Hecker at the same time discusses the sorry state of European Catholicism and damns with effusive praise, so to speak, obedience. The inescapable conclusion is that less obedience is what is required if we (Americans) are to escape the effeminate state of European Catholicism, even if he tiptoes around actually saying as much.

On the bookshelf, staring down at me, is The Protestant Crusade, which I have barely started, along with biographies of Seton, Barnard, LaSalle, Bosco, and other educators, as well as books on education by Barnard, Piaget, and others, next to many books of criticism from the likes of Gatto. On the Kindle or my laptop are works by Fichte, Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Torrey Harris, etc., as well as various works referenced in Walch’s Parish School , including the indispensable The Catholic School System In The United States: Its Principles, Origin, And Establishment by J. A Burns. And then there’s more general references, such as Plato’s Republic and Marrou’s History of Education in Antiquity. Then comes all the snippets, links, essays, and articles on my laptop.

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Hecker’s beard is beyond reproach, I’ll grant.

And I add to this every time I sit down to read: Hecker mentions Schlegel, a German literary critic and philosopher and another convert, who shares Hecker’s conviction that this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius, so to speak:

“We are about to see,” said Schlegel, “a new exposition of Christianity, which will reunite all Christians and even bring back the infidels themselves.”

Hecker, the Church and the Age

What we got instead was the oldest of old-school powers doing their thing in the Concert of Europe followed by a century of ideologically-driven global war and genocide, build upon foundations laid by the same group of German philosophers to which Schlegel belonged: Kant, Fichte and Hegel.

So now I’ve dug up some stuff on Schlegel, throw it on the pile. The very next sentence:

“This reunion between science and faith,” says the Protestant historian Ranke, ” will be more important in its spiritual results than was the discovery of a new hemisphere three hundred years ago, or even than that of the true system of the universe, or than any other discovery of any kind whatever.”

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Ranke looks like a refugee from a Dickens Faire. Which makes sense, given when he lived…

So, who’s this Ranke fellow? Leopold von Ranke, 1795 – 1886) was a German philologist, historian, and devout Lutheran. (1) He was appointed to the University of Berlin in 1824 by the Minister of Education – yep, that University of Berlin, the first modern research university, set up by von Humboldt a decade earlier. Von Humboldt, you recall, was a major Fichte fanboy, and, put in charge of Prussian education reform, installed the state-controlled age-segregated graded classroom model proposed by Fichte. He appointing Fichte to be head of the Philosophy faculty at the University; Fichte was elected rector the next year. More materials to read.

Then, reading about Ranke, I run into Julian Nida-Rümelin, a living German public intellectual (I guess they still have those in Germany?). He’s a critic of modern education, although it seems a weak one – he doesn’t advocate burning the whole thing to the ground, as I do. In reading just the brief Wiki article on him, I come across the Bologna Process, which is not only a way to turn scraps of meat into a theoretically edible substance, but is also an EU committee instituted to standardize higher education….

Ah! The dreaded Black Rabbit Hole of Despair! It’s all so interesting…

I’ve been cutting and pasting passages as I go, and will end up with a huge electronic pile of index cards. For the first book, which is directed to a more general audience, I’m not going to need much of it, but for the more scholarly back-up book, I will.

The Education References project, to become a page on this blog, inches forward.

1. Aside: in my ongoing efforts to blame everything on Luther, I note here how many wacky thinkers come out of the Lutheran theological tradition. This would be an effect, I should think, of trying to make sense of the L-Man, whose mythology doesn’t quite comport with the foul-mouthed, petty, scandalously heretical (e.g., asserting Jesus had lots of adulterous sex) and largely incoherent mad man his copious writing reveal. I’ve long wondered if Hegel’s motivation in replacing being with becoming isn’t a result of his noting that, if logic holds and truth is eternal, Luther is a raving lunatic.

Schooling Disinformation: Example from the Wild

This little gem popped up on Twitter:

Now, I don’t know anything about Mr. Cheong, so this is not a general endorsement of his views, but he’s dead on here. Couple bullet points:

  • “Academic freedom” is an Orwellian euphemism. Unlike anyone else working at any other job, what academics are free from is any outside oversight at all, anyone judging their work or their character, including, especially, the people who pay their salaries. They are free, in other words, to impose the tyranny of the bureaucracy – the tyranny of whoever shows up for all the meetings.
  • Dissidents have no choice but to set up their own colleges. In most fields of study, the dissident will simply not get hired, get passed over for tenure, driven out or otherwise silenced.
  • What the dissident is dissenting from is, fundamentally, that the jokers currently in charge ought to be in charge; this seems to generally take the form of not teaching the party line.
  • Thus, you get PragerU, St. John’s College (refounded as a Great Books school back in the 30s, when academic freedom was first enforced and classical (or, more simply, ‘real’) education was being thrown into History’s dustbin) and the whole smorgasbord of Catholic and Christian schools.

One of the first books I read on education history was One-Room Schools of the Middle West: An Illustrated History. Over the course of describing the rise, decline and fall of those schools, beloved of both the children who attended them and farmers who built and supported them, the author talks about how the champions of ‘consolidated’ schools at first tried to claim their schools produced better ‘product’ – better educated children. But their very own tests and standards proved them wrong: the one-room educated kids did better (at a fraction of the inputs in time and money) and went on to college and careers at a higher rate than their graded-classroom peers. So they just changed the attack vector: consolidated schools were all up to date, well supplied (they ought to be, since they cost something like 4X as much per unit), neat and tidy! One-room schools were old fashioned, poorly supplied and tended to have about the same level of furnishings as the parlors of the houses of the farmers they served.

The schools ARE the good being promoted. Any angle will do. What’s good for the kids is getting them standardized in school, so pointing out how they are better off without it is, to the champions of public schooling, missing the point.

That Thomas Aquinas, St. John’s and, I suppose, PragerU do better by the standards of the students and their parents isn’t irrelevant so much as it is heretical to consider it important. PragerU is the target today, because it’s comparatively large and growing. All the little Catholic and other Christian colleges that deliver something like a classical education taken together don’t have 10% of the enrollment of the University of California, and have been thus far largely ignored.*

That’s likely to change. Stuff’s about to get real.

*It’s just rumor, for the most part, but the long delay Thomas Aquinas College experienced in getting approval from the State of Massachusetts for their Springfield campus is difficult to explain except as the action of an educational establishment that didn’t like them. As it is, they can’t hire any non-Catholics for any positions if they hope to escape the imposition of state laws that no Catholic institution can abide by. Massachusetts: at the forefront of totalitarian education policies for over 200 years.