I’ve seen a couple of those viral videos of parents standing up to their local school boards and making a stink over the latest outrage – critical race theory, gender theory, the order not to watch what the school is teaching their kids, masks, vaccines, the whole load.
One wants to cheer them on, but, unfortunately, those brave, well-meaning parents just don’t get it. From Day 1, however you want to count Day 1, parents and families are the problem compulsory public schooling was invented to solve. By standing up and opposing the ‘educators’ on the school board, all these parents are doing is acting out the role those educators have already assigned them: the backward, ignorant, bigoted hicks from whom it is the school’s calling to ‘rescue’ their kids. Those educators are not trembling in fear, or trying to see how they can work with those parents. They are merely seeing confirmation of everything they already believe about those parents.
So, those educators might try to silence the parents, but, more probably, they’ll let them say whatever they want, then simply lie by omission and commission so that they can keep doing what they do. Go ahead and rant – behind the scenes, those ‘educators’ are working with their allies to simply criminalize your behaviors. Private schools? Home schooling? Those are merely trivial speed bumps, to be disposed of as the one room schools and classic liberal arts schools were disposed of, by the patient application of endless pressure until they conform or can be eliminated.
Three moments: one, in which ‘the system’ formally collapses but the behaviors persist; one where the primacy of compliance over sanity is illustrated; and finally one where schooling stops but never ends.
- From Clarissa’s blog: the USSR has collapsed, but decades of training persist in both the bureaocrats and the students:
In 1996 I was a college student in Ukraine. One day, we were sitting in class, the professor was speaking, the students were taking notes. Suddenly, an irate secretary from the Dean’s Office burst in. Interrupting the professor in mid-sentence she screeched,
“Everybody, get up and go out. You will be sweeping the alley outside. Now! You, too!” pointing at the professor.
The professor, a youngish guy we thought was very cool because he had traveled the world and spoke an almost fluent English blushed and started stuffing papers into his bag. Everybody got up. Except me.
“What’s going to happen if we don’t?” I asked. “This isn’t the USSR any longer. You can’t make us.”
“Get up and go sweep now!” the secretary bellowed. “Do what you are told!”
“No,” I said. “I’m a student, not a street cleaner. I’m not going to sweep. What can you do to me?”
The secretary looked apoplectic. The other students started shooshing me down.
“It’s OK, we’ll go, we are going right now!” they piped up in mousy little voices.
“You will go because you want to volunteer,” the secretary said. “It’s the right thing to do. The alley needs sweeping. You will go now.”
College students! The professor! All trying to silence Clarissa and get her to comply with the demands of a toothless tiger. Their training is complete.
2. A 16 year old girl who refused to wear a mask was handcuffed and taken out of school by police. Note: the police aren’t masked up; the students take off their masks to eat lunch. The issues is not some farcical sense of safety, but rather that a *student* dared to defy *school officials*. This young woman and her family and lawyer had decided not to put up with the bullying, and the school officials did the only thing they could do: call the cops and have a child handcuffed and hauled away. The option would have been to ignore her – and that would show weakness in front of the kids and their parents.
3. Finally, a personal story: two retired public school teachers ran an annual trip to Mexico so that high school age students could help build houses for the poor. There were usually as nearly as many adults as kids. Many of the adults made the trip year after year, even when they no longer had any kids involved. For 5 or 6 years, when our kids were the right ages, I went along.
The two teachers simply expected to lay down rules and for people to obey them – kids, parents, didn’t matter. Teacher says it, it’s rule, you do it. As you might imagine, almost everyone, kids and adults alike, went along with this without a peep. Except one year, the teachers decided that stopping in Tijuana on our way out for lunch and a little sightseeing was too dangerous, and so was not to be done. Well, one older gentleman, a guy who had run businesses and been mayor of his little town out in the sticks, who had gone on and helped organize the trip for many years, who, not surprisingly, was one of the most capable builders, he wasn’t buying it. Since my kids were catching a ride back with him, and he wanted to stop in Tijuana, he asked ME if I minded, AND asked my kids if they minded, and I of course said I don’t mind, do what you want. I can’t imagine a more competent guy for my kids to hang out with, I trust my kids, and the ‘risks’ of Tijuana were overblown, to say the least.
Well, when this got back to the teachers, I had to deal with a weeping woman asking my how I could have been complicit in such an outrage. She had told people what the rules were! The very idea that one adult simply does not have to do what another adult tells them to do was simply inconceivable to her – she was in charge! She was the teacher.
Note that nobody had any issues with any of the rules about safety while we were encamped in Mexico. We get it. We’re a bunch of kids and adults in a foreign country, so we want to behave well and be safe. But for years, a fun part of the trip was a stop in Tijuana on our way out to grab a bite and maybe buy some trinkets for folks back home. But this year, without any discussion, it was simply decided that it was now ‘unsafe’ to do what we’d done every year before. So it wasn’t a matter of the situation being any different – it was a matter of unsupported feelings that things weren’t as safe as they used to be. So, being a teacher, she just changed the rules. The very idea that other adults might want to have a say and would not instantly go along with whatever she decided brought her to tears.
Teachers are the first victims of schooling. They must be brought to heel, or filtered out.
Getting way long here. Wanted to start a discussion on the beginnings of all this, the mindsets of the people involved. Will limit it to two very early examples, and add more later as time permits. I think both these examples were in the minds of the later champions of state control of education – Fichte, Barnard, Mann, von Humboldt, Harris, certainly Dewey.
Sparta: At least the Spartans made no bones about their intentions: the family had to go so that the ‘free’ men could best defend and serve the state. Spartan children, if they passed inspection, were allowed to be raised by their mothers until age 7, at which point the state took over. Mothers and fathers did not live together, but were more or less temporary breeding couples to produce more Spartans.
Spartan boys were assigned a cohort at age 7, trained to be soldiers until age 18, typically spent a year or two spying on and terrorizing the Helots. They then became full soldiers at 20. At 60, they got to retire. Women were basically breeders, who trained the girls to grow up into the next batch of breeders.
A boy’s whole loyalty and sense of belonging was to his military band. Training was in loyalty and conformity. A boy had essentially no opportunity to develop any independent personality – and that’s the way Sparta liked it.
Despite that whole 300 mythology, the first duty of a Spartan was not war – it was to keep to Helots down. Sparta had conquered and enslaved the surrounding territories. Since you need a minimum of 8 or 9 people producing food for each Spartan soldier and mother not producing food, your slaves are going to outnumber your Spartan citizens something like 10 to 1. The fully-trained young men were sent among the Helots to make sure they knew who was in charge. This reign of terror over their slaves is what enabled the Spartans to sustain the standing army, famous for its bravery and discipline.
I find it difficult to accept how admired Sparta was by many in ancient world, and many people throughout the subsequent ages – but there it is. Sparta remained intact for centuries, but at what cost? Outside their reputation for military prowess and unbending discipline, they left nothing of much worth. Is that enough?
We live in a Sparta-haunted world. The image of Lycurgus reforming Sparta by top-down fiat seems to be a dream of our betters (if a nightmare for us little people!) By, effectively, removing the family from its natural position as the building block of society, modern would-be Lycurguses believe they, in their wisdom, could bring about a utopia of some sort – for our own good, of course.
Martin Luther’s Germany: Not passing judgement on Luther’s theology here aside from his stand on schooling and his relationship with the state in general. I discussed here Luther’s very un-Pauline habit of addressing his epistles largely to secular powers, who he never fails to attempt to recruit for his purposes, explaining what their new freedom requires of them.
Viewed from a strictly practical perspective, to make the Reformation stick, Luther had to overcome opposition from two main camps: first, from those German Catholics not buying his teachings, and second and more serious, from those who accepted his teachings too literally. The first group simply rejected the very idea of the five Solas; the second accepted them too much, so that they thought they, themselves, were as fit as Luther to interpret Scripture as they, themselves, were moved by the Spirit.
That sort of individual freedom of conscience, which later came to be associated with Luther somehow, was not at all what he meant: everyone was free to interpret Scripture the same exact way Luther did. To Luther, his was the only reading that was possible in accord with the primitive Church and under the guidance of the Spirit. If you thought Scripture meant something else, you were wrong. Contradict Luther much, and you were dead – at least, if Luther got his way.
Catholics were, for the most part, merely benighted. They could be and often were converted to believe as Luther did, and a good bit of Luther’s writing and preaching was directed toward that end. Other Protestants who accepted the principles that Scripture could be read and understood by any man under the guidance of the Spirit and acted upon those principles, yet failed to agree with Luther, were a more existential threat. From the very first, Catholics had been pointing out that, without Tradition and the authority of the Church, Scripture can be read in an almost infinite variety of contradictory ways. The existence of Sola-professing Protestants who did not agree with Luther on every point was a problem – for Luther.
From the beginning, Luther saw the hand of God in the support he received from German princes. For their part, German princes had chaffed under the meddling and arrogance of the distant, non-German Pope since at least the 10th century. Throwing off the spiritual yoke of Rome also meant getting out from under the political yoke.
Practically, any church independent of the state and making any spiritual claims at all upon the princes of that state is going to run afoul of those princes sooner rather than later, realpolitik being a thing. The solution since the beginning of history: states control religion. While they have been a spectacular failure through most of history, the Catholic Church’s attempts to stay free of state control is still one of the biggest outliers in history. The Great Schism – speaking simply historically here – lead to the creation of state-controlled Orthodox churches: Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, etc., all of which were firmly under the control of the local king or emperor, at least to the extent that the local patriarch was not likely to attempt to use his spiritual authority to dispose them- something Popes were known to try.
Luther ignored all this, and sided with the German princes, who happily supported him back.* Luther saw the support of the state as the hand of God, and so wrote to the princes and civic leaders under them to exhort them to continue to do God’s work.
Luther soon concluded that God’s work included compulsory state run schooling. He wanted every child to learn to read so that they could study Scripture; he wanted every child to learn to read in a state-controlled school so that they would reach the same conclusions from Scripture that Luther reached. The ‘risks’ of letting everyone read Scripture themselves and reach their own (Spirit-guided) conclusions were almost instantly apparent, once the Reformation got going.
Except for the few destined to be scholars, Luther and Melanchthon, who drafted up the original compulsory public school plan used by Luther, had little use for any schooling beyond the basics. Kids should learn to read, learn a little Latin, and then get on with making a living – all under the management and compulsion of the state. Clearly – and Luther talks about this – if you left such instruction to the discretion of parents, they would do it wrong!
When Fichte modernized Melanchthon’s and Luther’s plan 300 years later, he did away with anything recognizably Lutheran, and simply put the realization of the destiny of the state as the sole goal. To him, the distinction between the spiritual goals of individuals and the spiritual destiny of the (German) state was a misunderstanding, a lack of enlightenment. The value of the individual was the value that individual had to the state; the fulfillment of the state’s destiny was the personal fulfillment of the individual, insofar as personal fulfillment had any meaning.
And, of course, something this important could not be left up to parents. In fact, Fichte agrees with Luther that, left to parents, all the higher goals of education would get frustrated. Parents are the problem schooling is designed to solve. Fichte wanted to simply remove children from all family contact until their state schooling was complete. But more on that later.
* Today, the Lutheran and Catholic churches in Germany are tax-supported – the German Catholic hierarchy is the most likely to act independently from Rome on matters of morals and dogma. The German state has neutered religion – Catholic and Lutheran – in the public sphere, and has a choke collar on it financially.