American Writers on Education Before 1865: Education History Book Review

This short book is exactly what the title suggests: a summary of what American writers before 1865 had to say about education. Abraham Blinderman’s American Writers on Education Before 1865 summarizes, with light quotations, the views on education of many leaders and writers in the early years of our nation, interspersed with Blinderman’s often anachronistic commentary. The views of these writers are progressive and enlightened to the exact degree to which they conform to Blinderman’s opinions. The reader often learns as much about Blinderman’s attitudes toward education as he does about Franklin’s or Henry James’.

I read this and similar books for two reasons: to get pointed toward the players and writing to be further investigated, and to gain an understanding about how people writing these books think about education at the time they are written. Blinderman gives me as much insight into educational thinking circa 1975 as he does into the minds of early American writers. The list of further reading grows. Added a few names I didn’t previously consider researching, ‘researching’ here meaning, generally, surfing a bit to see if the source is worth more effort.

The list of writers in impressive, including the Founding Fathers and any number of prominent American writerss. The dominant views among the bulk of these writers, at least as summarized by Blinderman, were that education was really important, especially if you expected common people to participate in a republic; that schools in America were mostly terrible; that school teachers tended to be bottom of the barrel types who couldn’t get some other, better job; and that parents were the source of all these problems, being miserly and disrespectful to the teachers and loath to spend any money on school facilities and supplies.

The Brown Library at Virginia Western Community College had apparently had enough of this book.

The biggest revision to my thinking about American education history is making room for all these prominent Americans who thought their college experiences were a joke. I already knew, for example, about Harvard’s often turbulent student body, how these young men made mischief, drove out too strict presidents, and caroused. I’d always assumed the typical student still somehow made time for studying, that, despite the hi jinks, the graduates of Harvard had gotten some sort of education out of it.

Doesn’t sound like it. Mostly, the brighter the student, the more intent on getting an education, the less happy they were with their college experiences. Writing in 1820, John Trumbull, who graduated from and taught at Yale, wrote the Progress of Dulnes (sic), a satirical look at three ‘educated’ people who get nothing from years of elite schooling. Trumbull was a prodigy who probably needed little formal help to become educated; the well-off students who wasted their and his time at Yale seem to set him off.

Franklin’s Silence Dogood letters, written 50 years earlier by a similarly precocious 16 year old, lampoon college education. Franklin went on to write a short Proposal Relating to the Education of Youths in Pennsylvania, the erudite notes to which are twice as long as the short proposal – Blinderman speculates Franklin, with little formal education, is poking fun at his more learned readers by larding this short work with references and quotations such as would make any Princeton don proud. The real charm here, in character as I understand Franklin, is his confidence those readers wouldn’t get the joke.

Another surprise: a couple of these writers were not impressed by the German universities and gymnasia. Henry Adams, descendant of 2 Presidents, traveled Germany and thought their formal education rigid and rote.

Cool old book, right? May have to read it now….

The only mention of Catholic schooling comes when Blinderman reviews Orestes Brownson. Blinderman can hardly reconcile himself to Brownson’s Catholicism:

A dissenter all of his life, Brownson finally sought peace of mind in the structured conformity of Catholic doctrine. But he did not withdraw from the social battles raging outside the Church. He never forsook his new church – he died a Catholic – and involved himself fully in in the open and clandestine warfare raging between native Americans and the large number of Catholic immigrants.

p. 146

Brownson took the side of the public schools against Catholic criticism that they promoted immorality, noting that the Catholic schools in other countries certainly didn’t prevent immorality there. (Here’s one of many places where I really would have liked an exact quote. There is a reference…) I note two things: Brownson, for all his intellectual power, changed positions on many things many times, so that he at one time condemned public schools and at another defended them is hardly surprising; his Postmillennialist optimism in the perfectibility of man lead to some doozies, such as a belief that the post Civil War Federal government would of course respect state’s rights, the nation was destined to convert to Catholicism as the only creed that can support freedom under a republic, and that the rest of the Western Hemisphere would petition to be admitted to the Union under the now-clear federalist rules protecting their local rights from the meddlesome central government.

History has not been kind to these prognostications.

Brownson also reproved Catholic scholars for not forcefully taking sides in the social controversies of the day. Me, I’d be happy if Catholic scholars were more universal in taking the Church’s side in simple matters of dogma. Unlike his post war dreams of unity under the Church, he certainly got his wish here: now, you can’t shut up Catholic scholars taking sides in social issues of the day – almost invariably against the teachings of the Church.

The idea that someone of Brownson’s gifts and temperament would seek the truth relentlessly, find it in the Catholic Church, and cling to it firmly even when it wasn’t energetic enough in its support for his social concerns isn’t something Blinderman is going to easily grasp. That religious beliefs might justly and honestly have precedence over social beliefs is simply incomprehensible.

In general, Blinderman sees all lessening of religious influence on education as Progress. Virtually all the writers he reviews (Oliver Wendell Holmes would be an exception) acknowledge the need for religion to be taught, in order to promote public morality. By religion, these writers of course mean Protestant Christianity. Condemnations of Popery by these writers are sprinkled throughout the text.

Speaking of anti-Catholic sentiments, Samuel Goodrich was a new name to me. Many thousands of textbooks he wrote under the name Peter Parley were used in the common schools. Public school children would be taught stuff like this:

THE reign of Ferdinand and Isabella was disgraced by the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition. The design of this horrible institution was to prevent the people from adopting any but the Catholic religion.

Persons who were suspected of being heretics were thrown into damp and dismal dungeons. They were then brought before the inquisitors, who sat completely covered with long robes and hoods of sackcloth. Their faces were invisible; but they looked at the prisoners through two holes in their sack-cloth hoods.

If the accused persons would not plead guilty, they were tortured in various ways. Sometimes they were drawn up to the roof of the chamber by a rope, and after hanging a considerable time, the rope was loosened, so that they fell almost to the floor.

The rope was then suddenly tightened again, and the prisoner’s limbs were put out of joint by the shock. If he still refused to confess, the inquisitors rubbed his feet with lard, and roasted them before a fire. In short, their cruelties were too dreadful to be told.

When the inquisitors had satisfied themselves with torturing their prisoners, they prepared to burn them. The condemned persons walked in a procession, dressed in garments which were painted with flames. On their breasts they wore their own likenesses, in the act of being devoured by serpents and wild beasts.

Common School History, Peter Parley

And so on. A simple search of the text for words ‘Catholic,’ ‘Pope,’ and ‘Mary’ turn up many similarly fascinating and even-handed entries suitable for children of all ages. Blinderman only notes that the British were unhappy with the treatment they got in Parley’s books, and quotes a short passage illustrating his bigotry against the Chinese, but of Catholics, not a peep.

I read this book so you don’t have to. Unless you really want to, of course. Then, have at it! It is a short, easy read.

Education History: Connections

Possibly interesting stuff, perhaps not dead-on topic. We are at the Yard Sale of the Mind, after all.

You know how when you get a car, you immediately notice all the similar models driving around, that had, being just cars and all, previously escaped your notice? No? Well, whenever I delude myself into thinking I have an actual idea, it seems I notice similar ideas everywhere. On the one hand, it is comforting to think I’m not *just* a crazy poser; on the other, hey! That was *my* idea!

Regarding the Postmillennialism mentioned in yesterday’s post, David Warren did a post on Dickens, who was achieving literary success in England just as the Second Great Awakening was winding down in America. Many have noted the Romanticism in Postmillennialism, which elevates feelings over thinking. By comparison to the Puritans, with their rigid logic of predestination and the bondage of the will, and even Unitarian Universalists, and their equally logical, if less dour, conclusion that all are predestined to salvation, the rising sects of the Second Great Awakening had little use for thorough, logical theology. The Latter Day Saints, a pure product of that Great Awakening, are perhaps the cleanest and most Romantic of the participant sects. As a Mormon missionary will tell you, you question and study and pray hoping for that moment when the Spirit touches your heart, and gets your brain out of the way.

Which is almost correct. St. Teresa of Avila, who reasoned her way to faith as a child, and persevered and advanced despite no consolations – no sense of the Spirit touching her heart – for a decade and a half, and then was cautious ever after about her feelings even as she was enveloped in experiences of God’s love, is the full expression of the underlying truth.

As Chesterton points out somewhere: A lie is never so dangerous as when it is very nearly true.

Anyway: today Mr. Warren writes, to clarify his ‘paradoxical recommendation’ of Dickens:

He was among the writers (and artists generally) who contributed subtly to our post-Christian worldview, based on emotion, not remorseless thought. Who made, say, Christmas about giving presents to little children, rather than centrally about the birth of Christ. That doesn’t mean his works should be suppressed. On the contrary, they should be read and enjoyed, with this thought in mind. He moralizes, but in a way that may actually subvert morality, by substituting “feelings” for the hard truths, which are to die for.


There is a not-entirely-subtle rejection of rationality that permeates education reformers from Luther through Fichte and on to Harris and Dewey. Luther famously distrusted argument; Fichte rejected the very idea of objective reality and wanted education to destroy the free will of the student (there is no such thing as reason without a free will); Harris speaks of “substantial education” as producing automata.; and Dewey was a Marxist, asserting the bondage of the will (and thus, reason) to class consciousness. Masked in Enlightenment optimism, especially as expressed in Americanism, this embrace of Romanticism and its reliance of feelings is, at its roots, a type of despair. In its more positive form, it is despair of our human powers, as when we recognize that our best efforts most often still fail, and thus we are moved to await a Savior; its darker manifestation is the paradoxical belief that the ignorant and immoral can be fixed if only we Enlightened can control them through education. This tyrannical optimism becomes murderous despair when it encounters objective reality in the form of real, sinful human beings, especially the specimen in the mirror. It is not surprising, in this context, that objective reality was rejected by Fichte and Marx. Their projects collapse unless they can be preserved from contact with the real world. Communism has never been tried, right?

I was wondering who Henry Edwin Dwight, the fellow who wrote Travels in the North of Germany 1825-1826, was. He lived a short life, and there were no biographies I could find on the web. But then, in other readings, I came across educator and reformer Timothy Dwight, part of a large and illustrious Dwight clan. Henry E. was the 7th of 8 sons of Timothy, who was president of Yale. Timothy Dwight, while ‘tied to the past’ according to Blinderman, pitched for women to be educated – although pitch is all he did – and imposed a degree of discipline at Yale. According to numerous critics, including a number of graduates, college life in American at the turn of the 19th century was a joke, with rich playboys and rowdies learning very little yet getting awarded degrees anyway. Dwight sought to put an end to this at Yale.

Seems we’ve come full circle. Funny, that.

Finishing up American Writers on Education Before 1865, by Abraham Blinderman. Published in 1975, it reviews what American writers had to say about educational from the colonial era to the Civil War – kind of like what the title might imply. Anyway, it is enough of a product of modern academia that Progressive is used unironically as a synonym for ‘good’ and conservative for ‘bad’. As those terms were understood in 1975. Anything that tends toward or foreshadows the heights of 1975 academic thinking is of course praiseworthy; anything that contradicts it is backwards. Thus, the gradual secularization of education is a good thing, even though the point reached by 1865 is merely an attempt at ‘mere Christianity’ circa 19th century America: Episcopalians would grudgingly make room for Congregationalists and Presbyterians, and even look the other way for Methodists, Baptists and Quakers, who would likewise tolerate the stuffy, way too papist Episcopalians. The non-sectarian schools of the era all used the King James Bible and history texts that painted the Church as the Whore of Babylon and the Reformers as heroes. One simply agreed not to think too hard about the mutually exclusive doctrinal issues that created the myriad sects in the first place, let alone discuss them in school. The unifying principle was hatred of Rome.

In this sense, the ultimate secularization of the school was partly the fault of Catholics, who were the one large group of people at the time excluded from the ‘mere Christians’. Under pressure from Catholics, the common schools jettisoned the KJV and, eventually, all talk of Christianity. (And, eventually, so did the Catholic schools, pretty much. But that’s another story.)

The universal complaint of these early American writers is the low quality of the common school teachers and facilities. Teaching was a low-paying, low respect job, which therefore often fell to those with few other prospects, or those who needed a little cash before going on to a real career. Since school funding was left up to local communities, they tended to pay the teacher as little as possible, and equip the schoolhouse as cheaply as possible. If only – if only! – the state would tax everybody to pay for schools, give decent salaries to the teachers, and force all children to attend school, the Millennium of peace and justice was sure to dawn right here in America, the most enlightened and free country in the world. Education theorist never seemed to notice the conflict between means and ends: we will make everybody free and just by forcing them against their wills to fund and send their kids to school.

Postmillennialism and Messianic Schooling

Pulling a few historical threads together. The Second Great Awakening ran from about 1790 to 1840, and was characterized by an underlying Romanticism – an elevation of feeling over thinking – and an American-flavored Postmillennialism. This period corresponds to a great awakening of fervor for public education. The theory I’m mulling over at the moment: that the public school movement is the secular arm of the Second Great Awakening, driven by the same sentiments, and holding to the same fundamental belief in the perfectibility of man.

The Blue Letter Bible , which seems a sympathetic source, describes Postmillennialism as follows:

The postmillennialist believes that the millennium is an era (not a literal thousand years) during which Christ will reign over the earth, not from an literal and earthly throne, but through the gradual increase of the Gospel and its power to change lives. After this gradual Christianization of the world, Christ will return and immediately usher the church into their eternal state after judging the wicked. This is called postmillennialism because, by its view, Christ will return after the millennium.

The postmillennialist sees the millennial kingdom as the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that he would become “a great nation” and that “all peoples on earth would be blessed” through him (Genesis 12:2-3). This holy reign will come about via gradual conversion (rather than premillennialism’s cataclysmic Christological advent) through the spread of the Gospel — this incremental progress is drawn from many pictures found throughout Scripture (e.g., Deuteronomy 7:22 and Ezekiel 47:1-12).

Postmillennial optimism is also nurtured through many of prophetic psalmody. The Psalms often speak of all nations fearing Him, salvation being known among all nations, the ends of the earth fearing Him, et cetera (e.g., Psalm 2:1-12Psalm 22:27Psalm 67:2Psalm 67:7Psalm 102:15Psalm 110:1). Another passage that well feeds this earthly optimism is Isaiah 2:2-3 in which the nations will stream to the righteousness of God.

The Postmillennialism of the Second Great Awakening rejected both the Calvinism and subsequent Unitarianism of Boston Brahmins, the fatalistic predestination of the former and the enervating total optimism of the latter. Rather, the circuit riders in their revival meetings wanted personal conversion to matter. Repentance from sins and good deeds performed in the name of the Lord were central to a living Christian faith. The Millennium of the Lord would be brought about by the conversion of more people to the (Baptist, Methodist, Latter Day Saints, etc.) Church. God was working through these Christians to bring about the righteous rule of Jesus on earth.

Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsilvania, Benjamin Franklin, 1749
Benjamin Franklin wrote a short work on education reform. Imagine. Adding it to the list.

The key aspects here: the world could be perfected by the efforts of people, personal conversion needed to manifest itself in actions and a pursuit of – dare I say it? – social justice. In the minds of the Revivalists, this was simply the Will of God as expressed in the Book of Revelation. They were making no arrogant assumptions, they were simply being the obedient sheep of the Good Shepherd, who would prosper the work of their hands to His glory.

America, with its millions of miles of unspoiled lands, and its newly-minted government of, by, and for the People, fed the hope that the corruption and exhaustion of the Old World could be escaped. Here was a fresh beginning, here God had prepared the way for his coming. You see this attitude in the Hecker and Brownson on the Catholic side, the Revivalists on the Protestant side – and, shorn of any sectarian deity, on the part of the education reformers.

All these parties believed, to a greater or lesser extent, that the Kingdom of Heaven was obtainable here and now, that it was our sacred duty to bring it to reality, and that we had the tools needed to do it. The Revivalists had the Bible and a yearning for ‘primitive’ Christianity; the most prominent Catholic intellectuals – Brownson and Hecker – were converts from exactly this Protestant world of faith. Very few cradle Catholics lived in America until toward the end of this period.

Then you have the education reformers. Those Boston Brahmins, centered at Harvard, were (in their own eyes, at least) the apex of American and, indeed, world culture. Then as now, Harvard is the measure against which intellectual pretensions are measured. You had, then as now, a elite appalled by the fervor of the plebeians. They were horrified by Andrew Jackson and his bad spelling and grammar, and the unsophisticated Revivalists (and their offspring, the Abolitionists). By 1800, the Puritan clergy who had run Harvard for a century and a half gave way to Unitarian Universalist, then secular ‘clergy’. Scripture was replaced as the measure of orthodoxy by Hegel, Darwin, and, eventually, Marx.

Yet, they shared the dream of a perfectible society. They would perfect it by making it more like their own society. What other standard of perfection could they hold?

Colonial era schools were almost all sectarian. Nobody back then was so foolish as to imagine school could be truly secular. The most they hoped for was a ‘mere Christianity’ flavored schooling, excluding, of course, any Popish influence.

The Revolution and its aftermath put many such schools out of business. The newly formed government, and the newly liberated people, had a war to fight and then recover from and a nation to build. According to Hall, it was only after the War of 1812 that Americans were confident enough and patriotic enough to turn their attention to the welfare of the nation their children would inherit, and to the education of those children.

By this time, the Second Great Awakening was in full swing. The idea that the world could be perfected through the efforts of men was dominant. So the education reformers had to speak the language of a bright, ever-improving future, which could only come about through the proper structuring and funding of common schools.

This is just a theory for the moment. What I have called Messianic Schooling here is not – it is clear from Fichte onward, perhaps even from Luther and Melanchthon, and on through the writing on the NEA website, that the proponents of compulsory state schooling believed that they could save the world by it. Therefore, those who would opt out are not merely people with different idea and goals. They – we – are enemies of progress, peace, and, ultimately, heaven on earth. We are not reasonable desenters to be tolerated, but evil enemies to be eliminated.

Updates, Methods, Madness

A. Once read a story about a severe case of psychosomatic illness, where a man was sure he had completely lost the use of his arm. Medical examination showed nothing unusual or unhealthy about the the limb. During a discussion with a doctor, the man reached over and picked something up with his ‘crippled’ arm – then returned it to its former crippled position. When the doctor pointed out that he had just used the very limb he was reporting as crippled, the man acted shocked and said no he hadn’t. His disorder was such that he really seemed to believe that he hadn’t done what the doctor, sitting right there, had seen him do.

This story was brought to mind by the poll results supposedly saying something like 70% of people support the lockup amd masks. Right – except when I’m out and about – scofflaw that I am – I notice and awful lot of other people out and about, many unmasked. Further, driving on the freeways, there’s nowhere near a 70% reduction in traffic – it might be down a little, but not so much as you’d notice. There’s still rush hour slowdowns, and, most telling, significant weekend traffic going and coming from Napa – just like there has been on nice sunny summer weekends for decades.

The most obvious cause is, of course, the use of supposed poll results to spread lies – a hoary tradition. But, based on more anecdotal evidence, I suspect there are a lot of people paying lip service to the lockup while largely going about their lives as if everything they want to do is some sort of exception that of course isn’t what the governors means by sheltering in place.

I would expect such people to be shocked by accusations of hypocrisy. I suspect many are not even clear-headed enough to recognize that’s what they’re doing.

Me, I go wherever I want, and grit my teeth for now and wear the damn mask whenever there’s a risk of getting somebody else in trouble, such as a store keeper or the local parish priest. I can just see some Karen suing them for letting me walk around like a normal person. But out on my own, walking around? They can go perform anatomically impossible acts of a private nature on themselves.

B. More anecdotal stuff: I have 4 medical professionals within my immediate family/friends. Two are retired nurses; one is an active nurse supervisor; one is an active surgeon. Two are cowering at home, terrified. Guess which 2? Yep, the retired nurses. The active nurse, who is in a position to know exactly how many COVID patients are being treated across a large medical medical system, is unimpressed. There’s no there there – single-digit patients admitted, and no deaths except where the patient was already seriously ill. The surgeon, who is a cancer survivor so in a theoretically much higher risk group, is furious at what has been done in the name of medical science, and scoffs at the lockup and masks.

Just some data points. Meanwhile, the bulk of the relatives are terrified rabbits. Friends, on the other hand, tend toward rational, data-driven skepticism no doubt politically motivated, conspiracy theory driven denial. Or something.

The book on the right references to book on the left.

C. The method of education history research has evolved into this: I start reading a major work, currently Burns’s Catholic School System in the United States. When there is some interesting reference in that text, I see if it is available on line. If so – and, so far, it almost always is – I read some of it to see if it is applicable. If so, I tend to reads some more.

That second text likely has interesting references in it as well, causing me to repeat the process. Right now, I am reading or have just finished reading:

  1. Burns, above, referenced in Walch’s Parish Schools, which I’m maybe 30% of the way through volume 1 or 2, wherein a reference is made to
  2. Gordy’s Rise & Growth of the Normal School Idea in the United States, in which are references to
  3. Dwight’s Travels in the North of Germany in 1825-26, which I have finished, and
  4. Hall’s Lectures on School-Keeping, which I’m almost done with.
How one gets cool old books on education for cheap.

Hall’s little book contains a long list of recommended textbooks, some of which are no doubt available on line for free; I’m also reading the dead tree addition of American Writers on Education Before 1865, put together by an Abraham Blinderman and published in 1975, part of a 2 volume set, the second of course being on American writers on education after 1865. That book references some of the books I’ve already read or started! So maybe there is an end to this?

I’ve made it my practice to download these books whenever possible, paste them into an Open Office doc and save it locally – just in case. Unfortunately, since these works seem to have been scanned from old library hard copies through somebody’s patient, lightly remunerated toil, the text versions are full of artifacts and weird formatting. Thus, I find myself formatting as I read, doing some corrections where the text was really odd as scanned. I do this partly because I’m cutting and pasting sections of particular interest into a separate “notes on … ” Open Office doc, and want it more legible, and partly just because I hate stupid hard to read formats.

At the moment, there are 9 Open Office docs open on my desktop. There are a bunch more in the file.

Tomorrow, I need to work on the outline for Book A – the more rhetorical, less scholarly work intended to convince Catholics that we need to stop this nonsense of trying to be kinder, ever so slightly more Catholic versions of public schools, and propose an alternative framework. Book B, much less important, is the more scholarly work with all the references and research. I want to try to do it this way, in 2 seperate books, to keep from bogging Book A down with too much detail, but since I like detail, to put it in Book B for the masochists out there.

D. Next up: return to reading Burns, then on to the great Catholic educators: De la Salle, Don Bosco, Seton, with some notes on Jerome, Augustne, Thomas and more. These great saints are obviously much more important to this project from a positive action point of view, but knowing what we’re up against is also essential.

Either concurrently or next, I need to revisit this short book of Vatican teachings on education put together by a American bishop for the USCCB. First read it a couple years ago, and got that ‘cherry-picked’ vibe, in that the selections contained no mention at all of any possible conflicts between church and state, but rather supported the certainly correct in theory position that the Church should work with the state on their common educational goals. The actual, non-theoretical world we live in doesn’t contain very many cases where the state’s educational goals are not in stark and irreconcilable contrast to the Church’s educational goals.

Education History Book Review: Lectures on School-keeping, Samuel R. Hall (1829)

Finished up Dwight’s letters – really, this time – and am on to another work mentioned by Gordy in his Normal School Idea book. Samuel Read Hall’s Lectures on School-keeping gets recommended by name in some teacher training legislation passed in New York in the 1830s. So let’s see what they’re on about.

Hall compiled a series of lectures on how to manage a school into this book in 1829, and it became popular, at least among education reformers. The need for a text on common school management was keenly felt by the reformers; they – that particular they with which Gordy is concerned, at least – wished that thorough training was required of any who would teach in the common schools, and that training include practical management. This book therefore, is a stop-gap. Hall says as much in the introduction:

However important such institutions are to the success of common schools, as yet, very few of them exist. This has led to the inquiry whether a publication of very practical character, containing such directions to instructors, as might be easily understood and applied, would not be of essential service. This inquiry has led to the publication of the following volume.


The thrust of the first 3 lectures is to convince the prospective teacher that parents are the enemy.

The instructer is engaged with a reference to his cheapness, or he is selected on account of relationship, or something equally unconnected with his character for morality, literature or ability to teach. The school commences, and parents seem to feel quite satisfied without further effort, or even inquiry, unless it be to know whether their children are severely punished. The business of the shop or the farm, claims as usual, the chief attention ; and the question, whether their children are making all the progress they ought, is very seldom asked. Little is known of the character of the school, beyond the report of the children themselves, or perhaps the remarks of the visiting committee.

Lecture I

Notice here how, on the one hand, the whole reason for common schools is the claim that parents are incompetent to teach their own children, and on the other, those same parents are chided for not overseeing that education for which they are assumed inadequate.

But this passage is the opening salvo of the message repeated in the first three lectures: the problem common schools and their state trained and certified educators are trying to solve is: the parents. And not just a few parents:

When the greater part of parents are indifferent to the character of the school, this feeling is very naturally extended to those who at first might have felt some solicitude on the subject. Thus habits of indifference have extended from family to family, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and from district to district. The effect becomes permanent, and year after year continues or increases it.

Lecture I

The parents don’t take school seriously. They think the farm and shop, and all the relationships running a farm and shop entail, are somehow more important than – what, exactly? Their kids almost assuredly could read, write, and cipher well enough to calculate how many pecks of peppers at 5 pennies a peck they need to sell to get new shoes for the plow horse. Schools would have to offer more to get the attention of such people. Mere promises that whatever the schools taught would be important and worthwhile were hardly enough to get folks to open their wallets.

Note also that this is the era during which Lincoln taught himself by candlelight enough to become a famous lawyer and eventually President, Edison was pronounced a dunce, only to go on to become the greatest inventor in history, Brownson became a great scholar attending no school but borrowing every book he could find, (1) and a steady stream of farm boys got into elite universities after, somehow, learning Greek and Latin more or less on their own. On the surface, at least, reality seems to contradict the concerns of the education reform crowd.

The moral pretentions of the early educators surely would have rankled then as much then as they would now: the schools are telling you, mom and dad, that you are not moral enough to raise your own kids.


If “to send an uneducated child into the world is like turning a mad dog into the street,” all are under obligations to regard with high interest, those institutions which furnish the means of mental culture to the great mass of people. That parent, who is indifferent to the intellectual food of his children is certainly as guilty as he, who, through indifference, permits his offspring to feed on poisonous food, or should disregard the calls of nature, and make no provision for them in meat and drink. He disregards his own happiness as well as that of his children. What comfort can he expect to take in them in. age, if he neglect to lay the foundation of their usefulness while they are under his control? Parents can rationally expect but little from children of riper years, if they have neglected to furnish them when young, with such knowledge as would direct them in the path of virtue and filial duty. I see no object more revolting to me, than an undutiful and unkind son. I see no distress more acute, than that of a parent, whose child is brought into shame and disgrace. Parents who are indifferent to the character of the schools which their children attend, do not reflect how severe the consequences may be to their own happiness. How pungent have been the feelings of a father or mother, when attending the trial of a son indicted for some high crime committed against the laws of the land, when, after conviction the wretched criminal has upbraided them as the cause of his ruin, by having been negligent of his education !

Lecture I

And on and on. Hall seems to think that, were it not for the ministrations of the schools, we’d be up to our necks in criminals – and it is the fault of all those terrible parents! Yet American history is pretty much a collection of stories about how self-educated men came together and founded a nation.

This parent-bashing goes on for 3 full lectures. Parents are greedy, exploitive, lazy, ignorant, dense. The first lesson, therefore, in school-keeping is: the parents are the enemy. Educators, in contrast, are upright fonts of sweetness and light. To oppose or refuse to fund the designs of Hall & co. is therefore the depths of degradation and dereliction of duty. All other efforts of the enlightened educator are built upon this foundation.

Is it any wonder these folks worked to pass compulsory school laws, which gave truancy officers the power to simply remove children from their families if they found out of school? That’s the state reached in Massachusetts under Mann.

Also, if you’re wondering where that whoe ‘you’re an evil person if you don’t send your kids to public school’ accusation comes from:

” Well; if we cannot have a good school at home, we can send to the Academy.” Such institutions are now so numerous, that there is little difficulty in carrying into execution this resolve. In this respect, it is undoubtedly true, that Academies and Grammar schools are exerting an unfavourable effect on the common schools of our country.* In many other respects their influence is favourable. It is certainly a subject of great importance to the success of elementary institutions, that the wealthy should strive to increase their usefulness, and elevate their character. The influence of the example of this class does a great deal to injure these institutions, for many are governed very much in their estimate of things, by the opinion and conduct of the rich. By withdrawing their influence and assistance, the work is left to those who have not the means, and often to those who have not sufficient weight of character to afford the requisite support. Hence the public sustain much injury, and, though it is not the design of the rich to do wrong in this way, yet a very little reflection must show, that an evil to the community, of considerable magnitude, is unquestionably the result Every thing is a public evil that serves to depreciate the value of those institutions, in which the stamp of character is fixed on the great majority of people.

Lecture II

At least Hall is generous enough to allow that rich people – anyone who can afford a private school being by his definition rich, evidently – aren’t evil on purpose. But failing to support the public institutions as envisioned and managed by the likes of the parent-despising Hall is a “public evil”.

We hear this same condemnation today from our self-appointed betters in the public education industry, although, in keeping with Critical Theory, there is no mercy or forgiveness possible for those in the wrong. We who have any reservations about the public school project are irredeemable evil, and, it is necessarily implied, need to die.

There’s more, but this is long enough for now. I will need to do a further review of the following chapters.

  1. See this passage from the Brownson Society biography:

But it seems clear that his unusual childhood was not an unmitigated misfortune, for it turned him in his earliest years to reading as a substitute for other pursuits, and developed in him an insatiable appetite for books. In the home in which he lived there was the King James Bible, Watt’s Psalms and Divine Songs, The Franklin Primer, Edward’s History of the Redemption, and a few other volumes. Having begun on these – there was no public library in the vicinity – he scoured the neighborhood for what he could find. In the home of one gentleman he found the English classics of Queen Anne’s reign, in another home fifty volumes of the English poets, in still another a work on universal history. Further inquires turned up Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding, Pope’s Homer, various monographs of American history, books on the planting of the colonies, on wars with the Indians, Robinson Crusoe, Philip Quarles and the Arabian Nights. Although he did not understand all that he read, he devoured them all the same; reading was his supreme delight. Whenever he had a moment of leisure, he always had a book in his hand. In later life he was to say, “I have had my joys and sorrows, but I have never known or imagined on earth greater enjoyment than I had as a boy lying on the hearth in a miserable shanty reading by the light of burning pineknots some book I had just borrowed. I felt neither hunger or thirst, and no want of sleep; my book was my meat and drink, home and raiment, friend and guardian, father and mother.” (18) Here surely we have kinship with Abe Lincoln.

Education History Book Review: More Rise & Growth of the Normal School Idea in the United States by J. P. Gordy (1891)

Getting back to Gordy’s epic circular, before moving on to a few books he references that sound interesting.

First, some long quotations, recounting the state of teacher training in the 1830s in New York. At the time, three ‘academies’ had taken it upon themselves to set up teacher training programs, and their graduates were filling the common school teacher positions in the area around those academies. Gordy, who when he wrote this book taught at the original state teachers college in Ohio, is not entirely down with the idea that private schools, responding to economic opportunity, started training teachers on their own without oversight by the state. Therefore, he spends a chapter talking about how the State of New York, when reviewing the need for trained teachers, understandably but mistakenly thought the situation was in hand. Private schools were meeting local demand without any mandates or funding by the state. But that’s not the way the Idea of the Normal School was supposed to be Progressing!

The state legislature took a look at teacher training, and decided they had some funds lying around that they could use to support those three academies and incent other schools to set up education departments.

This work was undertaken by these academies without aid from the State, simply in response to a demand created by public opinion for better prepared teachers. The first law passed in New York, and indeed in this country, making provision for the education of teachers for the common schools was passed May 2, 1834. The act is as follows :

Section 1. The revenue of the literature fund now in the treasury, and the excess of the annual revenue of said fund hereafter to be paid into the treasury, or portions thereof, may be distributed by the regents of the university, if they shall deem it expedient, to the academies subject to their visitation, or a part of them, to be expended as hereinafter mentioned.

Sec. 2. The trustees of academies to which any distribution of money shall be made by virtue of this act shall cause the same to be expended in educating teachers of common schools in such manner and under such regulations as said regents shall prescribe.

At some point, New York State set up a “literary fund.” It seems, from context, that ‘literature’ at the time meant all serious writing and, by extension, all serious academic pursuits. Dwight uses it that way for sure, and it seems that’s what is meant here. So there is already some money. What to do with it?

A special meeting of the board of regents was held May 22, 1834, and a committee of three was appointed ” to prepare and report to the regents at some future meeting a plan for carrying into practical operation the provisions” of the law.

The committee consisted of Messrs. Dix, Buel, and Graham, and at the annual meeting of the board, held January 8, 1835, it reported through its chairman, Regent John A. Dix, [who went on to become a famous Civil War Union general for whom Ft. Dix is named] ” a plan for the better education of teachers of common schools.”

This elaborate report — it covers 26 pages of an octavo volume — is well worthy of a careful perusal, not only because of its historical interest as outlining the first plan for the training of teachers ever presented in this country, but because of the ability and thoroughness with which the subject is discussed.

After an emphatic statement of the importance of the subject, the report proceeds to discuss the provisions for the training of teachers made by France and Prussia. [you know, places where the state would throw you in jail for expressing unapproved political opinions – ed.] That the necessity of providing for the training of teachers was not felt when the common-school system was established is explained by the fact that there were at that time a large number of experienced teachers who had been teaching private schools ready to be enlisted into the service of the public schools.

Reference is made to the fact that the St. Lawrence, Oxford, and Canandaigua Academies have established a course of lectures and exercises for the preparation of teachers, and since this has been done with very little aid from the State it is inferred that more generous assistance is all that is necessary to enable them to reach the desired end. The success of the St. Lawrence Academy is particularly dwelt on. The schools in its neighborhood are almost entirely supplied with teachers by its students, and they receive on the average $40 a year more than before a department was established for training them.

The question of creating separate institutions for the training of teachers [the direction in which History is Unfolding, natch] has repeatedly been before the legislature, but it was deemed more advantageous to establish teachers departments in the academies, and this may now be considered the special policy of the State.

The revenue of the literature fund then in the treasury, which, according to the law of May 2, 1834, was to be devoted to making provision for the training of teachers, is stated to be $10,040.76, and the annual excess of that revenue which could be applied to this purpose would amount to about $3,500. The former sum could at once be devoted to making provision for the education of common-school teachers in existing academies, but it was too small to be divided among all the academies of the State. The limited sum at their disposal made it necessary to select a small number of academies, [IOW, the state chooses economic winners & losers – ed.] but these, for the sake of public convenience, must be in different parts of the State, within reach of every county. The committee recommended that one academy be selected in each senatorial district, as there were eight of such districts, and as a smaller number than eight could not be selected with due regard to public convenience.

The committee further recommended that each of the eight academies should be supplied with the same apparatus and with equal facilities for undertaking the proposed course of instruction. They thought that $500 for each academy would be sufficient for the purchase of apparatus, library, etc., and that in addition they should receive $400 annually for the support of a competent instructor.

Then the Committee describes what constitutes an acceptable teacher candidate:

The committee thought it evident that the course of study should include all those subjects which were regarded as indispensable to a first-rate teacher of the common schools. They recommended that no student should be admitted to the teachers’ department who had not passed such an examination as the regents required to entitle him to be regarded as a scholar in the higher branches of an English education. The subjects which he should pursue should be —

(1) The English language.
(2) Writing and drawing.
(3) Arithmetic, mental and written, and bookkeeping.
(4) Geography and general history, continued.
(5) The history of the United States.
(6) Geometry, trigonometry, mensuration, and surveying.
(7) Natural philosophy and the elements of astronomy.
(8) Chemistry and mineralogy.
(9) The Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the State of New York.
(10) Select parts of the Revised Statutes and the duties of public officers.
(11) Moral and intellectual philosophy.
(12) The principles of teaching*.

No other subject should be required to enable the pupil to obtain a diploma, but other subjects should not be excluded if any academy desired to introduce them.

In addition to what a modern person might expect a well educated teacher to know in 1834, we have drawing, bookkeeping (to teach or to do as part of school keeping?), mensuration, surveying, the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the State of New York, and select parts of the Revised Statutes and the duties of public officers. Nothing objectionable and much to be commended in that list. Then we add: moral and intellectual philosophy. and the principles of teaching. I’ve read ahead, so I know that the ineffable Pestalozzi figures large in the principles of teaching, and that there will be no place for Catholic moral and intellectual philosophy in the common schools – this will not be stated as such, just assumed, after the manner of the sentiments expressed by Dwight quoted a couple posts ago. Gordy reiterates at intervals throughout the text the greater importance of moral training in the common schools, and that the state trained and certified teacher – not dad, mom, the family, and church, who are each subject in their unique ways to unacceptable levels of laxity – is the correct channel through which such moral training is to be delivered.

What’s missing from this list is the Latin, Greek, and more advanced math used to justify having highly trained and certified teachers. Harris and Gordy follow the Prussian gymnasia in their dream curriculum, training up polyglot and mathematically accomplished kids ready for Harvard at 15. But that ideal – if it is an ideal – is not shared by the New York regents. Most of the listed required subjects could easily be taught by any competent adult, and those that need more specialized training are pretty much less important in proportion to how unusual the skills to teach them are. And this list won’t get you into 19th century Yale or Brown.

The level of education expressed in the New York regent’s list above is what William Torrey Harris calls ‘substantial education’:

There are two kinds of education. The first may be called substantial education, the education by means of the memory; the education which gives to the individual, methods and habits and the fundamentals of knowledge. It is this education which the child begins to receive from its birth. This sort of education is education by authority that is, the individual accepts the authority of the teacher for the truth of what he is told, and does not question it or seek to obtain insight into the reason for its being so.

William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure II

Substantial education, delivered ‘scientifically’, produces automata:

Ninety-nine out of a hundred people in every civilized nation are automata, careful to walk in the prescribed paths, careful to follow prescribed custom. This is the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual under his species.

William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure I

I discuss this quotation here and elsewhere on this blog. What’s fascinating is that the education reformers in New York are claiming to aim for having common schools produce good citizens capable of taking their role in the government of our Republic. Harris, the Hegelian phrenologist, thinks on the other hand that this sort of education suits one only to following orders. In this sense, Harris is the true heir of Fichte, who believed the destruction of free will in children is the sole goal of compulsory state schooling. A properly schooled kid under Fichte would simply be incapable of willing anything his teacher didn’t want him to will. Free will is replaced by an automatic love of, and obedience to, the German nation. This is all done for the good of the nation and the kid (there is no possible conflict, as Fichte understands the good).

Harris’s and Gordy’s understanding of the purpose of schooling would have been a very hard sell to Americans in the early 19th century. As it is, what changed between then and when Harris and Gordy were writing was not so much the attitudes of Americans as the approach of the champions of public education: they learned to talk about this sort of thing only to each other and in obscure journals, and talk the 3 Rs to us peons. The real work is done out of sight as much as possible. Thus, state education departments, standards, and curricula are created in the darkness, and presented as fait accompli. Common Core is just the latest example of what’s been going on for a century and a half.

Harris does have an original thought of a sort: he thinks that kids taught to be mindless conformists can be made into real thinkers – by, of course, achieving Hegelian enlightenment:

It is this education by authority, the education of the past, that the modern or second kind of education seeks to supersede. This second kind may be called individual or scientific education; it is the education of insight as opposed to that of authority.

I know Harris means Hegelian enlightenment here, because he doesn’t think there is any other kind.

Back to the book.

The committee then proceeded to make detailed suggestions in regard to the above-mentioned subjects of study. The teacher should be familiarized with the best methods of teaching the alphabet. Blackboards and slates should be used in teaching spelling, so that the eye might assist the ear in detecting mistakes. In teaching arithmetic much use should be made of visible illustrations, and the subject should be made as practical as possible by selecting as examples such operations as the pupil must be familiar with in after life, though it should be so taught, at the same time, that the pupil might receive the maximum amount of mental discipline. Instruction in principles of teaching should be thorough and extended, not confined” to the art of teaching or the best modes of communicating knowledge, but including also such moral instruction as might aid the teacher in governing his own conduct, and molding the character of his pupils. The text-book recommended was Hall’s ”Lectures on School Keeping;” and as reading books “Abbott’s Teacher,” ” Taylor’s District School,” and the “Annals of Education” were recommended.

I’ve tracked down a couple of these books. I’ll do “Lectures on School-keeping” next – it’s fascinating.

Getting an early start on state-level micromanagement, the Committee next recommends specific classroom hardware:

The committee thought that each academy should be furnished with a library well supplied with the best authors on the subjects in the prescribed course, but were of the opinion that the selection of the books ought, for a time at least, to be left to the academies. The committee, however, made out a list of apparatus, with prices, which they thought necessary for each of the eight academies. It is as follows, with the prices annexed so far as they can be ascertained :

Orrery $20. 00
Nuniera 1 frame and geometrical solids 2. 50
Globes 12. 00
Movable planisphere 1 . 50
Tide dial 3.50
Optical apparatus $10. 00
Mechanical powers 12. 00
Hydrostatic apparatus 10. 00
Pneumatic apparatus 35. 00
Chemical apparatus 25. 00
One hundred specimens of mineralogy 10. 00
Electrical machine 12. 00
Instruments to teach surveying 80. 00
Map of the United States 8. 00
Map of the State of New York 8. 00
Atlas 5. 00
Telescope 40. 00
Quadrant 15. 00

Inflation calculators don’t go back to 1834. Prices have gone up by 26 times since 1913, meaning that, even if there were no inflation between 1834 and 1913, that orrery cost the equivalent of $520.

Like that Dwight book, can’t seem to let this one go, even as I accumulate a (by now vast) set of additional period books to read. Onward!

The Big Flex

There was a story a couple years ago about a naive student in Chicago, who discovered that all you had to do to get your name on the ballot for alderman was collect a bunch of signatures and submit them to city hall. So he did it, collecting several times the required number of signatures.

First, city hall challenged the signatures, claiming that they needed to be reviewed for validity. Then people were sent to those who had signed, and many were convinced to sign an affidavit saying they retracted their signatures. The student’s name was not allowed onto the ballot, even though he did everything right. His only appeal would have been to the state attorney general, who happened to be the sitting alderman’s sister.

The student got a lawyer, who stated that he was surprised at the alderman’s heavy handed tactics, that he had expected a much more straightforward and traditional rigged election, after the long-established customs of Chicago.

I think he missed the other long-standing Chicago tradition of the flex. Since at least the election preceding the Hay Market Riots, when the ballot boxes from the districts supporting opposition candidates could be seen by those supporters floating down the rivers after the polls closed, the powers that be in the the City That Works work by letting the little people know who is in charge.

Now, after that same Chicago Outfit, brought en masse to Washington, had 8 straight years at the levers of national power, only to have some outsider get his name on the ballot and win, we are in the middle of the biggest flex in American history. We little people are being told in no uncertain terms who is in charge, and that our efforts to put our betters in their place will result in us being put into ours with professional-level force. As Orwell described in 1984, that the individual pieces of what we’re being made to do make no sense in themselves and are inconsistent with each other is the point: it’s no good if people do what you tell them to do because they think it’s the right thing to do – we must be made to do what they tell us to do solely because they told us to do it.

Closed; Opened; Closed. Wear masks; don’t; do. Flatten the curve; wait for cases to fall; wait for a cure; wait for a vaccine. Above all, panic as long as we tell you to panic. The police will enforce compliance with every rule. You get away with backyard parties and shamelessly showing your face in public at our pleasure, which we can forcefully revoke at any time. Our chosen ones can burn you houses and businesses down and even kill you with our blessings.

And there is nothing you can do about it.

Yet the powerful don’t need public displays of their power unless it is threatened.

Illustration of Haymarket square bombing and riot

Education History: More Notes from Dwight’s Travels in the North of Germany in 1825-26

Plan was to just skim this book. Oh, well…

In Dwight’s Travels in the North of Germany in 1825-26 he mentions a couple of times an odd thing, or, at least, something I was unaware of: the reticence of Germans throughout the German Confederation to talk about politics or religion:

An American, mingling in society in this country, is much surprised at the difference he observes in the topics of conversation prevalent here, and with us. The strict censorship which has for so long a period governed the press, as well as the dread produced by the daily sight of gendarmes, and by a consciousness of the accurate and extensive information which the government possesses through its system of espionage, prevents all appearance of political discussion in a mixed circle. The numerous diversities of creeds which exist in this country, as well as the very great indifference which most persons feel respecting the dogmas of the Lutheran Church, have excluded religion from among the topics of conversation in society. In conversing with a gentleman, if you introduce a political subject, he looks around him cautiously to see who may be near, and then replies to you in a whisper, conveying but an imperfect idea of his real sentiments. So accustomed are they to a restricted press, that there seems to be but one general feeling on this subject ; the necessity of silence. When alone with them, they will sometimes partially banish their fears, and inform you that every thing is not exactly as they would wish ; but there are then so many explanations and suggestions added before the conversation ends, that you are left in doubt as to their real sentiments. It makes my American blood boil when I see this cowardly spirit ; but I should probably feel very differently had my neck been galled by the yoke of submission, and were my fears ever alive lest my fate might become as mysteriously dark as that of some of their friends or acquaintances on whom suspicion has rested. Not only in Prussia, but in every country which I have visited, has it been my constant habit to express my thoughts on all political subjects, except as to the administration of the government under whose protection I happened to be at the time, with the same freedom as in my own country. I knew that my passport would protect me from personal outrage, and that the only inconvenience that could befal me, would be an order to leave the country ; a punishment less disagreeable to me than that of putting fetters on my mouth. When thus conversing, the Prussians look at me with surprise at my boldness, and by a continued silence, leave me in doubt as to their real sentiments, or give a whispered acquiescence.

So the Germans, at the time von Humboldt reformed their schools, were cowed into silence about political issues by threat of punishment. Since church, state, and school were all one, headed up by state, of course, religious or political discussions, insofar as those were substantively different, were carefully monitored and controlled in the universities and the gymnasia that fed student to them.

Boundaries of the German Confederation with Prussia in blue, Austria in yellow, and the rest in grey. Via Wikipedia

In my near complete ignorance of German history, I was unaware of what shook out after that whole getting conquered by Napoleon thing. The Holy Roman Empire was ended in 1806, the same year Napoleon won the Battle of Jena and humbled Prussia. After Napoleon was finally defeated and driven out in 1815, the German Confederation was founded by the Congress of Vienna, where representatives of the European powers tried to divvy up the mess left by the collapse of Napoleon’s French Empire. These were hard-headed politicians with no use for all that revolutionary republican claptrap – they wanted order, and a balance of power that would prevent more of the major wars Europe had just been through. This made for an awkward situation between Protestant Prussia and Catholic Austria, both lumped together in the Confederation even though they were competitors for German loyalty. Their inability to compromise crippled the Confederacy, making it hard to do anything. (Perhaps, to the rest of Europe, having Prussia and Austria unable to unite and get anything done might seem a positive?)

The European powers, having gotten a good close look at the results of the French Revolution, were not interested in progress and enlightenment, since, practically speaking, those ideals took the form of murder and mayhem. Yet, then as now, the Universities were hotbeds of the Latest Thinking. So when a liberal student named Sands murdered a famous conservative playwright Kotzebue in 1819, the government took the opportunity to crush anti-government sentiments and organizations in the universities and gymnasia:

The murder of Kotzebue furnished the governments with an admirable pretext for declaring that a conspiracy existed in the universities of Germany. Professors and students were arraigned before the tribunals, and the Central Untcrsuchungs Commission, which had been established some time before, was constantly occupied. Many on whom suspicion rested, were arraigned before it, and one Professor after another was displaced. Many of the students were imprisoned, and at the subsequent trials in Prussia, not a small number were sent to the penitentiaries ; some for life, and others from two to ten years. The governments were very glad of an opportunity of exhibiting their lower, in order to strike terror into the minds of the students. They pretended that these conspiracies existed all over Germany, and that the monarchs and the existing governments were in danger of being overthrown. The censorship was made much more severe ; the gymnastic establishments connected with the universities, which were believed to be one of the principal sources of this spirit of disorganisation [interesting choice of words – ed.], were abolished ; and the societies among the students were crushed by the strong arm of power. The number of the sufferers and the severity of their punishment, proved a most effectual lesson to those who had escaped, and the feeling which had been seen at the Wartburg festival, entirely disappeared. Instead of talking about their Fatherland, union, and liberty, the students found barely time enough to reorganise their Landsmannschaften, and fight the duels which according to their ideas, necessarily grew out of these institutions. On the subject of politics, not a mouth whispered, unless in the confidence of intimacy ; and a traveller passing at that time through Germany, might not have discovered that a single individual was dissatisfied with the governments. The Germans now speak more openly on the subject, and many of them do not hesitate to say, that the young men who were imprisoned, suffered most unjustly ; that the pretended conspiracy never existed ; and that the governments only availed themselves of this pretence to diminish the liberties of the people. They dreaded, say they, to have their conduct pass the scrutiny of the press, or of conversation ; and under a pretext of danger, they have seized this occasion to fetter our minds, and throw us back into the despotism of the last century.

The governments within the German Confederation succeeded, it seems, for a generation or two at least, in suppressing demands for a more democratic and republican form of government.

Yet the idea of revolutionaries in the universities and gymnasia is at odds with Dwight’s general observation on German government:

The Germans are doubtless the easiest people in Europe to be governed. They are much less ardent than the French or the other nations of the South of Europe, and it requires far greater aggression to rouse them to a public expression of their feelings. So long have they been accustomed to submit to a foreign or native master, that they appear to have no thoughts of making an effort to improve their condition. It is true that this subject made some noise in the universities a few years since ; but that excitement ceased with the abolition of the secret societies ; and at the present time, no one thinks of opening his mouth upon it. A powerful cause will produce no greater effect here, than one of a feeble character in France. Such a burst of national feeling as has recently been seen there, at the death of General Foy, will probably never be witnessed in this country, unless some great event should agitate the public mind. French blood is too hot, and too rapid in its movements to allow them to remain tranquil; and if they do not act, they will at least talk. This too they do in a manner which often excited my surprise. At table d’hotcs, in diligences, and in private circles, the proceedings of government are discussed with a freedom not surpassed by any thing in our political debates. The only latitude we enjoy that the French do not, is our liberty of speaking and writing as we please of the President of the United States, while they are compelled publicly to speak and write respectfully of the king. In private circles, however, they call him a bete, and a cochon. Nothing of this kind is heard here. If the monarch is ever alluded to, it is to pass an eulogium on some act of his life, or at the most to express a hope that he would pursue a different course.

This seems to be yet another case where elites want people who can easily be lead, without considering that such people may be lead anywhere. A goal of the schools, both in their Prussian origins and as adopted by Americans and the rest of Europe, is a certain uniformity of thought, framed up as training in the morality needed to be a ‘good’ German or a ‘patriotic’ American. The machinery thus established to this end can then be used by whoever controls it to whatever end the new masters want. In Germany, the Nazis eventually got to drive; in 2020 America, it is Critical Theorist and their useful idiots.

Perhaps having the schools cultivate, or at least not actively undermine, the natural loyalty of children to their family, village, and faith could help prevent battles over the reins of state schooling and the subsequent destruction of society.

Finally, and tangentially to our purposes here, Dwight visited Strasburg’s Gothic Cathedral. His description is interesting:

It surpasses, however, all Gothic edifices I have seen, in the solemnity of its interior. No other structure presents windows of such colouring, where light is thrown into hues so brilliant and so variegated, or where they blend and are contrasted with so intense beauty. It is the only edifice which ever made me feel the solemn gloom I had anticipated, on entering a Gothic cathedral of the old world. Here I found it more than realised, and felt how admirably such edifices are fitted to excite the passions of a superstitious age. The monuments which you meet in these structures, remind you not only that you will ere long be numbered with the dead, but, in the images and bas reliefs which adorn them, they tell you of the virtues of those who are there reposing. The paintings which rise above the altars, often relate the miracles of the great founder of our religion, or of some of the saints who imitated his example, in all the power of poetry ; a poetry, too, which more than the “poet’s pen, bodies forth the forms of things unknown,” and gives them a reality. Others delineate that awful day, when the graves shall open, and the Judge shall condemn the wicked, or present a view of that world of anguish whose gates are barred for ever. This art has done more for the Catholic religion, than the Inquisition with all its racks and tortures. It is more concise than logic or even mathematics, as it reveals at a glance all that the soul dreads or hopes for ; and not unfrequently carries a conviction to the heart, which no arguments can efface. Such paintings are doubly powerful from the gloomy light by which they are seen* which corresponds so admirably with the subjects delineated. To the ignorant, they reveal the future, and around it they throw a solemnity as awful as eternity. I could easily realize, that in the zenith of the Catholic religion, before the light of Protestantism had in some measure penetrated the gloom of these edifices, that no one could enter them without becoming still more superstitious, and without finding his reason at times overpowered by feeling, as through their almost holy light, he saw the solemn ceremonies of the Catholic church, when at the height of its power.

Dwight is doing his darndest not to let this whole Catholicism thing get to him:

Europe does not present a greater contrast than an Italian and a Protestant metropolis. Here the churches are the only constant external objects which remind you that you are in a religious country. South of the Alps the Catholic religion meets you wherever you turn your eyes. In the morning, when you awake, it appears in the consecrated wax candle, with a painted representation of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove ; in the crucifix ; or in the picture of Santa Maria, or of some one of the saints, which is suspended near your bed. Having left your couch to take a ramble, you perceive it in the hundreds of triangular hats and black and purple stockings of Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, and Novitiates. At the corners it presents itself in the form of a Madonna, with the infant Jesus in painting or in sculpture ; again in the crucifix carried through street after street, succeeded by a long procession of the clergy ; in men or women, with dominos covering their faces, and soliciting money for the mother of God; in a multitude of dirty, bare-footed, lazy monks, with faces as round as the moon, begging you to give something to a poor capuchin, or to one of some other order. At the next turn it appears in the sister of charity, arrayed in garments as black as Tarturus ; or in a prostrate multitude kneeling bareheaded to the host, and looking at you as you pass by them, with your head covered, as if, with the expression, “you will burn for this.” You hear it in the matin and vesper bell, and from every beggar who accosts you, smoothing his petition with the names of a dozen saints, to give more force to his entreaty. You hear it again in the devotee who stands under a picture or crucifix and counts his beads, while lie repeats and re-repcats his Pater Noster and Ave Maria, calling upon la Virgine beatissima as his greatest protector ; and in the music which precedes a procession in honour, not of God, but of the patron saint of the city through which you are passing. You taste it in the meagre fish dinners which you get on Friday. You smell it in the incense which you inhale as you enter one of the churches ; and your nose perceives its effects in the dirty priest or monk who happens to be near you. Sometimes you even feel it in the jog of the devotee, who reminds you that you must kneel, for Christ (viz. a wafer) approaching. In one word, it occupies all your senses ; being seen, felt, heard, smelt, or tasted, by every traveller who crosses the Alps.

He thinks, of course, that all this all Catholic, all the time stuff this is a bad thing. Huh.

Bait & Switch: More Education History

In his Rise and Growth of the Normal School Idea, Gordy goes after the Lancasterian school movement hard. Lancasterian schools were, effectively, one-room schools writ large: one teacher would oversee many students of different ages, perhaps a hundred or more. He would assess what each child needed to learn, and assign students to teach each other. Progress was monitored during recitations by each child to the teacher. Upon the student successfully learning one thing, a new student-teacher might be assigned to teach that the student the next. Most kids would act as both teacher and learner many times over the course of their schooling.

The positive social aspects of Lancastrian education should be obvious: kids must get to know each other – if they don’t already – and learn to respect each other and work together. Kids get recognized as masters of certain thing, like reading or spelling or basic math, when they are called upon to teach them, while at the same time being the student in other subjects. The learning itself, rather than the mere authority of the teacher, is the overall organizing principle and goal of such a school.

Gordy hated it:

It is hardly necessary to point out that the hopes entertained of Lancasterian schools were based on two misconceptions: (1) That teaching consists in imparting knowledge; and (2) that all that is necessary to impart this knowledge is simply to know as much as is to be imparted. Dr. Bell said, ” Give me 24 pupils to-day and I will give you back 24 teachers to-morrow.”

It is a ‘misconception’ that teaching consists in imparting knowledge? This is largely a reference to the *moral* nature of schooling. How can a young child be expected to do what an experienced teacher does?

That he [the child teacher, or ‘monitor] is competent to the important task of an educator can never be supposed. In developing the faculties and forming the character of a child ; in devising the best means of counteracting evil habits already acquired, and, if possible, of eradicating them and substituting good ones in their stead ; in inventing expedients for drawing forth exertion accommodated to various dispositions and eccentricities of mind ; in furnishing illustrations of the principles to be enforced or of the knowledge to be communicated, drawn from objects level to the youthful capacity and suited to the various forms of inquiry, perplexity, and doubt; in knowing how to interest the inattentive, to arouse the sluggish, to allure the wavering, to encourage the timid, to aid the slow, to guide the impetuous, and to awe the wayward ; and, [here’s the punchline] what is of more consequence than all, in exercising that secret moral and religious influence over the gradually developing character of the pupil, which the looks, the tones of voice, the whole deportment of the teacher serve to produce quite as much as the precepts which he utters in the accomplishment of these objects, the great ones to be secured in the education of youth, how can a young monitor for a moment be put into competition with an adult and experienced teacher ?

Horace Mann - Daguerreotype by Southworth & Hawes, c1850.jpg
Haven’t thrown up a picture of Mann in a while.

The publisher of this work was the US Department of Education headed up by William Torrey Harris. In a series of lectures, reviewed here, Harris lays out a high school curriculum very much like that of the gymnasia of Saxony described in the last post: Greek, Latin, Math for the core, with literature and sciences filling it out. Gordy references Dwight’s description of the gymnasium curriculum wit approval, which should please his publisher, who has a very similar idea in mind for American high schools. Harris is remembered today chiefly for normalizing the idea of high school as an essential part of education. When he took the job of Commissioner of Education in 1889, most kids did school through the equivalent of 6th or 8th grade, and then went to work in a farm, factory, or shop. By the time Harris stepped down in 1906, the idea that every kid should finish high school had become widespread.

Here’s the bait and switch: when Dwight was writing in 1825-26, probably the majority of Americans had learned to read at home, on Grandma’s knee, as it were, from the King James Bible, the one book it was all but certain every household owned. In New England, where the meager soil and hard winters turned every farmer of necessity into a craftsman/small business owner, a kid could hardly escape the math involved in those occupations. So what we now think of as an elementary education was largely accomplished, or at least significantly kick-started, at home, by amatuer teachers, before the child ever saw the inside of a classroom.

Dwight, Gordy, and Harris could not accept the three R’s as real education, because to do so would be to obviate their entire project of compulsory state run schools with state-trained and certified teachers. If Grandma could teach reading, and dad and Uncle Bob could show a kid the math needed to keep track of sales of family’s farm and craft goods, then those professional teachers and compulsory schools had better darn well provide something more.

But did the people want something more? I think the answer is yes and no. A certain percentage of people everywhere, I suppose, are satisfied with doing the work appropriate to their position in their culture. I may be farmer or stone mason, and sleep each day satisfied that I did my job righteously and to the satisfaction of my family, fiends, and village. I may want nothing more. Others, the sort of people who write books (and blog posts!) are not satisfied that simply.

The Leipzig gymnasia Dwight admired served a small – estimates are around 6% – select portion of the population. He says not one in 100 were the sons of peasants, that all that Greek and Latin and math was for the sons of the burghers and minor aristocracy. These then made up the university students once graduated, and the military officers and managers of the state bureaucracy once done with college.

In America, according again to Dwight, 3 out of 4 college students were the sons of farmers. The job opportunities for college grads were, originally, the ministry and law (although, like Lincoln, you hardly needed a degree to be a lawyer). Only later did enough government bureaucracy jobs open up to make that a widely viable job market for the college grad – and, generally, a degree was not a requirement until historically recent times. In the 1950s, the President didn’t have a college degree. Our obsession with college is that new.

It was pretty clear, back at the turn of the 19th century, that a high degree of literacy, enough to read the Federalist Papers, the King James Bible, and the newspapers and novels published then, could be obtained without the aid of highly trained schoolteachers. Therefore, one would need to promote the idea that something like the elite education of the Leipzig gymnasia was what was needed for American children.

In his attack on Lancastrian schooling, Gordy takes exactly that tack. He writes that immediately following the Revolution, the Founders, grounded in history as they generally were, distrusted democracy and yearned for some sort of republican aristocracy.

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the party which had charge of the Government for the first 12 years of our national existence did not believe in a democratic form of government. Hamilton wanted an aristocratic republic, and, failing in that, he endeavored by his financial policy to bring the wealth of the country to the support of the Government. He did not believe in the capacity of the people for self-government. ” The people,” he is reported to have said at a dinner, “the people is a great beast.” The whole strength of his wonderful genius was exerted in devising ways and means for making a stronger government than the framers of the Constitution intended to make, in order that it might be strong enough to hold the people in check.

As was Alexander Hamilton, so was the Federalist party. Accepting a republican form of government rather as a necessity than as a thing in itself desirable, the able men of the party had little interest in plans for educating the masses of the people, because they felt them to be inherently impracticable, and necessarily visionary.

But, according to Gordy, that all changed:

But with the close of the war of 1812 a new era dawned. Then the belief in the capacity of the people for self-government first became the creed of the nation and not of a few advanced thinkers only like Jefferson. The Democratic party — the only party practically for 18 years after the war of 1812 — through the influence largely of such men as Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun* had become a national party. With no questions of importance as to foreign policy to distract their attention, patriotic and philanthropic men were left free to give their thoughts to questions for elevating the masses of the people, and fitting them for the responsible task of self-government. A genuine national patriotism had been born, and with the love of the whole country came the desire for the perpetuity of the Union. This naturally led to reflections upon the means of making it perpetual. The result was what has well been called the ” revival of education.”

The people who had fought and won the Revolution, descendents of people who risked everything to come to an often hostile land, were not fit to govern themselves – BUT the aristocracy of “patriotic and philanthropic men” could consider what steps to take might result in “elevating the masses of the people, and fitting them for the responsible task of self-government.”

I’m not entirely ignorant of history, and the behavior of many people right this moment doesn’t exactly inspire trust in the demos’ facility for self government, so I share the those early aristocrats’ concern. That said, this idea of “elevating the masses” might easily, in the hands of men who have an unshakeable confidence that they, unlike those masses, are perfectly fitted for self government, lead inexorably to a desire to impose control, and call it elevation.

The inescapable conclusion here is that these men believed, in Gordy’s view at least, that whatever education Americans in general were getting in 1800 was not adequate to a self-governing people. Insead, they needed, not just more education, but education as described above, where the state trained and certified teacher could exercise “that secret moral and religious influence over the gradually developing character of the pupil, which the looks, the tones of voice, the whole deportment of the teacher serve to produce quite as much as the precepts which he utters in the accomplishment of these objects, the great ones to be secured in the education of youth.”

Again, a recurring theme here is the failure to acknowledge that anything could go wrong. Gordy, along with Harris, Mann, and all the way back to Fichte, seems to assume that the problem is getting a bit into the horse’s mouth, with the assumption that of course only good people with the best educated intention will ever be in the saddle. Since “the masses” were very reluctant to tax themselves to pay for, and submit themselves to the management of, schools after the fashion envisioned by Fichte, etc., the history of education in America is a history of subterfuge and misdirection. Recall how Common Core was developed and implemented: nobody had even heard of it, let alone gotten a chance to review and critique it, until after it had been imposed. This is not an exception but rather business as usual for compulsory state education advocates.

So, the bait: education needs to be reformed so that the people are better able to govern themselves. This reform entails rejected any form of education – Lancasterian and the related models such as one-room schoolhouses, parish schools, homeschooling – in favor of the one, best solution of state funded and managed compulsory graded classroom schooling by state trained and certified teachers – excuse me, ‘educators’ – because everybody needs all those hard subjects dad and grandma can’t teach. Like the Latin and Greek and calculus taught in those wonderful Prussian gymnasia.

The switch: what we have today, which pales (and horrifies!) in comparison to what the homeschooled and one room schooled kids got a couple centuries ago.

At a time when the California teachers union is calling for defunding the police and abolishing charter schools as conditions for returning to work – no, really – it is opportune to think about how we got the professionalized teachers we have today.

Another Thing About Taking Your Chances

I’ve mentioned before the problem of assuming false homogeneity, that because something happens, its chance of happening is the same for everybody. Put that way, I hope it’s patently silly. But, in case it isn’t:

Ralf Roletschek / CC BY-SA (

About 0.01% of the US population will die of prostate cancer this year. You are a member of the US population. What is your chance of dying of prostate cancer this year?


  1. if you are not a man, zero;
  2. if you are a man under 40, very, very close to zero;
  3. if you are a man over 65, higher than 0.02%;
  4. if you are a black man over 65, about 60% higher than for a white man over 65;

And so on. Take away: With the exception of everyone eventually dying of something, measures of risk across a population are meaningless to individuals. You have to know more about how the risk applies to you, personally.

Several people are eaten by sharks every year. What are your chances of being eaten by a shark this year?


  1. if you never go near an ocean, zero;
  2. if you rarely swim in the ocean, very slightly above zero;
  3. if you surf daily in Australia, somewhat above zero, but still very, very slight.

So, if, for some reason, you are worried about being eaten by a shark, simply stay out of the world’s oceans and seas, and you’re good to go!

So, now to the big one: Somewhere between 0.15 and 0.26% of Americans who get infected by the coronavirus die. What are your chances of dying if you get infected by the coronavirus?

  1. if you are under 25 years old, zero; *
  2. if you are under 45 and otherwise healthy, very, very close to zero, as in, no measurable chance of dying of COVID;
  3. if you are very sick already, you have a measurable chance of dying if you catch the virus – comparable to your chance, as a very sick person, of dying of any nasty infection;
  4. if you are 85 years old and very sick, a serious chance.

And so on. Most of the population, being younger than 45 and healthy, have effectively no chance of dying of COVID. You might as well wear shark repellent in Iowa as worry about COVID, if you are under 45 and healthy. Even old guys like me, a 62 year old who is somewhat overweight (a real risk factor) but otherwise healthy, have so small a risk it would be neurotic to worry about it.

Be careful around sick people, especially elderly sick people, wash your hands, cover your face when you cough or sneeze like a civilized person – and, that’s about it. Lockups and masks are simply stupid.

Addendum: If you buy *two* lottery tickets instead of one, your chances of winning are twice as good! However, your chances of winning no matter how many tickets you buy short of thousands of tickets are still so stupidly low as to be effectively zero. Similarly, your chances of catching or transmitting the virus may – may!- be reduced if you wear a mask. But your risk, and the risk to others, remains microscopic for almost everybody as described above whether you wear a mask or not. For those under 25, the risk is zero with and without masks; for those under 45 and healthy, the risk is likewise zero with and without masks. Conclusion: wear a nice fresh mask when visiting the very sick and elderly, and maybe if you are very sick and elderly. Otherwise, you may as well wear a helmet to reduce you meteor-to-the-head risk, or a deep sea diving suit 24/7 to *really* cut the risk of transmission…

*a few dubious claims to the contrary notwithstanding