Education Reading Update

I’m constructively working through my anxiety by reading. So far, got 3-4 books off John C Wright’s Essential SciFi Library list read or reading, and a good start on my collection of Thomas Shields and Edward Pace writings. Reviewed Shields’ First Book here. Am halfway through his Making and Unmaking of a Dullard, an autobiography of sorts, framed as a Platonic dialogue. Think Symposium, but with early 20th century Progressives instead of Alcibiades and Socrates. In other words, much less fun.

Also, found The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916 on Arhive.org. This is a periodical founded by Pace & Shields which ran for decades. Sigh. I’m going to slog through at least this volume, just to get a feel for it. Finally, have a dead tree copy of Shields’ The Philosophy of Education (1917) in the stacks here, got to fish it out and read it next. Then, I must return to Burn’s The Catholic School System in the United States, which I never finished reviewing. Burns got his PhD from Catholic University in 1906 under Shields and Pace, wrote the definitive history of American Catholic schools, and went on to be president of Notre Dame.

Shields, Pace, and Burns are the big dogs when it comes to Catholic education in America. Until they came along, parochial schooling and Catholic colleges were a bit of a free-for-all. For better and worse, they put some order onto Catholic schooling.

All three appear to me to be American Catholic Millennialists, believing that by application of scientific psychology to Catholic education, America can lead the Church to a perfect, or at least a better without limit, world. They are the foremost representatives of Americanism after the manner of Hecker and Brownson. It is fascinating that Pace and Shields were responsible for the article in the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia discussing the heresy of Americanism, where the pope’s and many Americans’ concerns that the American Church was being lead into Modernism by its some of its leadership were dismissed as a mere baseless misunderstanding.

Right.

The optimism and faith in progress of these men is all but unbelievable. They are just sure that, by applying modern scientific thinking to education, they can create perfect little American Catholics, who are of course without question the model for Catholics world-wide. Their late 19th century psychology and ideas about science are not an advance on phrenology. Seriously. We’ll get to that in a moment.

A couple notes:

The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916

– A large portion of this volume is devoted to an attack on the Carnegie Foundation’s views of education, as expressed in a recent report the Foundation had issued. The gloves are totally off. I have no real understanding of what the issues are, but I can guess. I’ll write this up when I’m done reading it.

– This raises the endless issue: now, I’ll need to find and read that Carnegie report, right? Sheesh. Everything I read points to multiple other sources that seem essential.

Making and Unmaking of a Dullard

– This dialogue seems to be little more than a gripe session about the interlocutors’ childhoods, in order to provide Shields with the opportunity of expostulating on his frankly silly psychological theories.

– Shields lists 7 ways a dullard, or idiot, or atypical child can be created, but focuses on one, the one to which he attributes his own difficulties in school: Alternating Phases of Development. Here’s how Shields puts it, in answer to the Judge’s request for an explanation:

“A full explanation of this physiological phenomenon, Judge, would involve a treatise on the physiology of the nervous system, but stripped of technicalities the important facts in the case are these. All vital functions are controlled by nerve currents….

“On the other hand, the process of mental development, as indeed all the phenomena of consciousness, rest upon high tension nerve currents in the cerebral cortex. Now, it frequently happens that a boy or girl grows very rapidly for a few years, during which period the physical organism makes such demands upon the nerve energy that the cortical tension is lowered and there is not sufficient nerve energy left to carry on the work of rapid mental development.

“We all know how injurious it is, for example, to indulge in mental work immediately after eating a hearty meal. When food enters the stomach it originates nerve impulses that draw the blood away from the brain for use in the processes of digestion. If brain activity be indulged in at this time, the blood is withdrawn from the viscera and forced into the brain under an increased pressure to furnish the required nerve energy and thus the digestive process is delayed and sometimes the digestive apparatus itself is injured.

“Now, we have a similar conflict going on between mental and physical development. It seldom happens that during childhood and youth the balance is preserved between the growth and development of the body and the growth and development of the mental processes. The extent to which this balance is disturbed and the length of time that each phase continues varies within wide limits.”

“If you exclude the children who have become dullards through any one of the six causes just enumerated, and arrange the children in any third or fourth grade room in accordance with their physical development, you will find them fairly well classified inversely as their mental capacity, that is, the brightest children will be the smallest and the largest children will be the dullest. Here and there puzzling exceptions to this rule will be found, but these are not sufficient to obscure the general truth.

“The eagerness and ambition of the smaller children, coupled with their quickness of movement, indicate high cortical tension. If these children are constantly over stimulated, as frequently happens, their physical development may be retarded for some years. In extreme cases they are to be found among those children whom over-fond mothers are in the habit of regarding as too bright or too good for this world. Less aggravated cases not infrequently result in permanent invalidism. This is particularly true of girls when the period of over stimulation is carried beyond the twelfth or the fourteenth year. If these precocious little ones escape disease and death from over stimulation they will finally reach a time in which the balance swings in the opposite direction and physical development, so long retarded, sets in with unusual rapidity. The ensuing mental phase is characterized by lack of energy which to the uninstructed is pure laziness.

CH V, Alternating Phases of Development

So, quick children need to be slowed down by the expert educationist, so as not to overdo their nerve energy or their cortical tension and thus damage their minds and become invalids. You can see the beginnings of No Child Left Behind here: the solution is to dumb down the bright kids – for their own good – and make sure the slower kids get to catch up. All very scientifiliciously described.

That a kid might grow and learn well if encouraged to follow his own interests is not to be considered. Instead, the bright child is to be frustrated in his desire for learning, on the basis of a half-backed theory that is buzzword-compliant, circa 1910, but has little else to recommend it. As Lewis (I think) put it: say you are going to experiment on children, and everybody is up in arms. But say you’re putting them in an experimental school, and all is good.

– Again, Shields has his interlocutors refer to or quote from contemporary sources that I’ll have to at least look up.

Got a lot more reading to do. Further bulletins are events warrant.

Author: Joseph Moore

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

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