Thoughts/Last July Update

Taking a brief break from headmastering.

A. The rental house is proving quite comfortable, if a little tight (it’s about 2/3 the size of our last house). One oddity: the owners don’t want us messing with the landscaping, which, IMHO, could use a little messing with. But I get it: their typical renter is not likely to improve matters.

For me, this means there are not too many possible spots to plant some vegitables. One obvious spot: a 4′ x 4′ hole in the pavement along a side yard, which seems to have been paved at some point as RV parking, maybe. Don’t know why this hole exists, but:

Took some scrap particleboard, lathered it in water sealer, let it dry for a few days, and – we’ll see. Not a long-term solution. Those are two tomatoes and a red bell pepper. Room for one more tomato?

We will have 4 months – August, September, October, and November – for tomatoes to grow. It’s been running about 100F during the day (but, thankfully, cools to around 60F at night) so good tomato weather. Shouldn’t be a frost before December… Anyway, worth a shot.

The little darlings.

B. Took some cuttings from our favorite trees before we sold the Concord house – the lemon in the backyard, the fig and Mineola in the front. The figs are quite happy:

Got one fig moved to a bigger pot, about 5 more to transplant.

The citrus – not so much. This is the third round of cuttings. All but one of the first set of cuttings died (took me far too long to get them into soil – citrus seems far less tolerant than the figs). Maybe a couple of the second set survived. Maybe. But the third set, which has only been potted for a couple weeks, seems good so far.

Other figs in the front; citrus in the back in the plastic tub. This is all on the back porch/patio.

I read that citrus must be grafted onto certified disease-free rootstock. I’ll look into that sometime early next year. For now, if I can just keep them alive until then, I will consider it a success.

All these little trees, or at least the best of them, get planted on the homestead – once we find and purchase one.

C. Attended the Chesterton Schools conference in Milwaukee. Great people, really fired up about education and especially Catholicism. Got to spend a little time with Dale Alquist, the world’s leading expert on Chesterton, founder of the American Chesterton Society and the Chesterton Schools Network. Very nice man. I gave him every opportunity to talk me out of writing a book about the history of American Catholic Education, but, alas! he simply refused. Rather, he even encouraged me. So now I guess I’m going to spend the summer trying to get that thing finished.

D. Now for something completely different. I’ve been thinking a lot about disreputable professions and Vo-Tech schooling. Traditionally, education, and especially higher education, was concerned chiefly with passing on a learned culture and all the skills needed to maintain it. It was a group effort: with the possible exception of the occasional Aquinas or Abelard, no one person could carry very much of that burden. Thus, while all scholars prior to modern times were expected to have a broad knowledge of the works of their fathers going back at least to the Greeks and Israelites – the Great Books part of the education – only the most brilliant and dogged became true masters of more than a tiny subset of All That. At least, that’s how the story looks to me.

But then the Research University was invented and realized at the University of Berlin in 1811 with Fichte as its first Rector. The purpose of higher education was shifted with dizzying rapidity from passing on and possibly contributing to a rich and awesome patrimony to ‘moving the world forward’ through focused research. By the end of the 19th century, every American university declared itself a Research University. The pathetic little colleges that tried to keep to the more ancient tradition were eventually staffed entirely by products of the research universities, and thus wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference except by sneering at our primitive and long-obviated ancestors.

But research doesn’t train up much of anything except future ‘researchers’. So where are your professions coming from? The original answer was generally some sort of apprenticeship. A wannabe lawyer ‘read’ law with an existing lawyer, and hung out his shingle once he became convinced he could do it on his own. (Abraham Lincoln famously declined to do this. Instead, he read the lawbooks on his own, then took half a year off to learn the first 6 books of Euclid so that he would know what ‘demonstrated’ meant. He seemed to do OK.)

Soon, what we now call vo-tech arose to help fill this need. For manual trades, vo-tech seems mostly to formalize and layer on some theory to the apprenticeship model. A would-be welder or diesel repair mechanic goes to school, where experts show him how to do it, and then certify him. This all helps him get that first job, after which he’s on his own.

Here’s where things get interesting. The more white-collar trades are also, you may have noticed, the most generally mistrusted and despised. When Dick the Butcher says “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” the groundlings laughed. If any lawyers were present, they were in better seats, and could immediately start in on doing what they do best: explaining away the clear implications of that line. While Dick was a murderer and scoundrel, he was saying what a lot of people were thinking: lawyers exist to protect their wealthy patrons and enrich themselves. The whole legal system was rotten; it is not for nothing that Bolt calls Thomas More the only honest judge in England in A Man For All Seasons, a play set only a couple generations before Shakespeare wrote Henry VI.

A century and a half of white collar Vo-Tech – teacher’s colleges, law schools, medical schools, business schools – have had as their chief mission to get people to forget how despised the guild members they anointed were. Read any early American accounts of schools – for every one where the teacher was beloved, you’ll find 10 where he was despised by the students, and the feeling was mutual. Doctors were used as a last resort, as the chances he would help were slimmer than the chances he would take your money and speed your death. Madame Bouverie contains one of many accounts of medical hubris.

And lawyers? Do we need to even go there? The institutions that were created to smooth over the public’s distrust gave themselves fancy names, established tests and certifications, and resolved to pretend that, no, it was not the professions themselves that were the problem, but the lack of exactly that oversight and certification that they, the high-end vo-tech schools provided.

Right. It is similar to the creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – what a grand name! – as an attempt to gloss over the crude fact that the people involved in making movies are known to be panderers and prostitutes. Not ALL of them, of course! No no no! It’s not the profession that’s the problem! Really! Look at our shiny statues and grand parties! And definitely don’t look at the personal lives of the powerful.

So business people built grand bank buildings, temples to the solidity of the money trades, because people know it’s all a game. Teachers are processed and certified and join a guild, insulated from the products of their teaching. Rarely is the failure of the schools allowed to be laid at the feet of the people whose job it is to make them succeed. Lawyers and judges dress funny and insist on their dignity, like porn stars who let it be known that they might go through all sorts of motions for the camera, but they draw the line someplace. Beyond that line lies shame, but it is art on their side of the line, no matter where they draw it. Doctors create gauntlets for future doctors to run through, so that they can remain proud of their 20 hour shifts during residency and downplay that all they do, in the end, is follow protocols created by somebody else, without the agency to even acknowledge their lack of agency.

And yet in that very class (the powerful – ed.) there may arise good men, and worthy of all admiration they are, for where there is great power to do wrong, to live and to die justly is a hard thing, and greatly to be praised, and few there are who attain to this. Such good and true men, however, there have been, and will be again, at Athens and in other states, who have fulfilled their trust righteously; and there is one who is quite famous all over Hellas, Aristeides, the son of Lysimachus. But, in general, great men are also bad, my friend.

Plato, Gorgias, near the end.

Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.

G. K. Chesterton

Author: Joseph Moore

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

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