A Catholic High School, Circa 1904

Reading a short book, Report on a Visit to American Educational Institutions by an English educator sent to America to report on what the Americans were up to, circa 1904. He writes about the Catholic high school in Philadelphia:

The City of Philadelphia contains several high class public and private secondary schools, of which the writer had the pleasure of visiting the Roman Catholic High School and the Central High School. Dealing first with the Catholic High School, which was built some 12 years ago, with donations by Thos. Cahill, of the Knickerbocker Ice Company, the students number 300 (all boys), mostly drawn from the 80 parochial schools in Philadelphia. The staff consists of a Rector and Pro-Rector — both clerics — assisted by 18 lay masters. The course of study lasts four years, with a post-graduate course of one year for pupils entering the Universities, the curriculum being arranged by the diocesan superintendent. Candidates for admission must bring certificates of recommendation and pass an entrance examination which is fairly difficult, since out of 240 candidates last year only 120 were admitted. Of the 500 pupils ” graduated ” since the opening of the school, many have taken up the study of dentistry, law and medicine ; a few are drafted into the Seminary at Overbrook, and one or two have entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The course of study is a combination of Classical, Commercial and Manual Training, there being a common course for the first two years. In the third year Manual Training is replaced by Latin for the professional career, but no Greek is taught. The Manual Training consists of drawing, clay modelling, and wood carving, a special feature being that the pupils are taught to use both hands. Special rooms are provided for clay modelling, wood carving, architectural drawing and typewriting, the latter containing machines of various makes. A Chemical Laboratory holding 40 pupils and a Physics Room for 25 pupils are somewhat less elaborately fitted up.

Among the fine specimens of wood carving worked by the students were some types of Old English clock cases, an altar in the large Assembly Room, and vestment cases at the Churches of the Visitation and St. John the Evangelist.

This fine school, erected at a cost of £50,000, provides free tuition and books for all pupils from the Catholic Elementary Schools of Philadelphia, including the Catholic coloured schools.

No Greek?!? They call THAT a high school?

Seriously, most modern holders of Masters degrees couldn’t get into, let lone graduate from, this high school. (That’s because education, social services, and ‘studies’ degrees make up the bulk of master’s currently awarded, but you get my point.)

A more subtle point: the Catholics were in an arms race with the public schools at this time, as they were under constant attack for their poorly staffed and equipped parish schools. The public schools had yet to fall under the baleful influence of Dewey, whose goal was to prepare kids for the upcoming Revolution, not fill their heads with actual thoughts. Preparing kids to think for themselves, as Fichte observed, is not what schools are for. In addition, the public school advocates were in the process of ‘consolidating’ the one-room schools out of business, and thus had to show, somehow, that their big graded schools were better. Since the consolidated schools most certainly were not better in terms of customer satisfaction (students and parents tended to love their one room schools), cost efficiency (consolidated schools were about 4 times as expensive on a per-student basis), and time efficiency (6 hours a day plus homework for 9-10 months a year didn’t get better results than the shorter, less frequent school days of the rural schools), they mostly outspent the competition, while depriving them of government money at the same time.

So we got a glorious blossoming of well-equipped, well-staffed high schools with high standards in America that lasted in most places through the 1950s, or later if the schools were far enough from the major cities. Similar to the way moderns talk positively about Communism now that the bulk of Americans who knew first hand about it have died off, so the educators could move to fully implement Dewey’s (and Freire’s) ideas once those who had been educated outside the system died off or could be marginalized (e.g., Catholics and home schoolers). That’s the source not only of the dumbed-down woke death spiral in public education and the embrace of secular woo-woo by all ‘elite’ Catholic schools who still think they’ll get a seat at the cool kid’s table if only they conform to The Latest Thinking, but also of the perennial calls to ban homeschooling and private schools and to require public school attendance for everybody.

So the archdiocese of Philadelphia was moved to create what sounds like an excellent high school. Good times.

More Education History: Pestalozzi and American Normal Schools

Been busy, reading, researching, and taking notes on several books and collecting several more, plus some letters and essays. The pile keeps growing. Archive.org is the biggest single rabbit hole in existence.

Finally made some headway in discovering the origin of the age-segregated classroom that is the main feature of modern schooling, and its bane. First, finished up  The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi by J. A. Green. Surfing around, it seems Green in general and this book in particular are well-regarded by education historians. The book has been reprinted a few times since its 1905 debut, and shows up in the references in other books. Since I don’t read German, it is a little encouraging to find I’ve stumbled across a work that has begun to pass the test of time.

I’m coming to appreciate Pestalozzi more, at least, insofar as Green represents him. While he had practices and behaviors to which a modern parent would object, and his inability to explain his principles or, indeed, to understand what he was doing, remain stumbling blocks, at least he, himself, loved his students and treated them well.

Pestalozzi has this recurring idea of an ‘A-B-C’s’ of X, where X is a category or type of education, such as an A-B-C’s of reading, or arithmetic, or morality. Although he was not the kind of man to use terms like these, it’s a bit like Aristotle’s epistemology, where we start with a ‘this’, a thing that by its nature separates itself out from the background, generalize, and finally define the species and genus, moving from what is most readily known to us to what is more knowable by nature. Thus, the general pattern for Pestalozzi is something like sense-impressions, followed by analysis, followed by words. His point, made repeatedly, is that, without focused attention on the initial sense impression, without careful analysis of what one is seeing, the words used to express definitions will be at best crippled. He is concerned about what he sees as the damage caused by rote learning, where a child can succeed by parroting words he doesn’t understand.

All well and good. The result is that, to be a Pestalozzian teacher, one must learn to present appropriate sense impressions to the child, focus the child’s attention on every detail, and only then start in with the proper naming and defining of the thing. Thus, reading and writing are in some ways the capping activity, to be pursued once the child really understand the thing the words signify. Pestalozzi is very concerned that this process happen in the right sequence and degree appropriate for each child. Each area of learning, in Pestalozzi’s view, had its own appropriate A-B-C waiting to be discovered and made into a ‘science’. He thought his work here incomplete – he has discovered some, and made some progress on others, but at the end of his life did not think the ‘science’ fully fleshed out.

He calls his method ” the organic-genetic elementary method which aims at seeking out and establishing the unchangeable starting points and the unchangeable lines of progress in all instruction and education.” It is an unconditional principle of the method that it cannot put into the child what is not already there in germ. The child is made in God’s image. He is not a tabula rasa on which one may write from without, nor is he an empty barrel which has to be filled with strange matter, but a real, living, self- active power .which from the first moment of its existence is busied with its own development, using the materials presented to it by circumstance to that end.

Quote from Pestalozzi’s Lenzburg Address in Green’s The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi

And there’s something to this, especially when one considers what it must have been like in the schools of the time, where failure to comply with rote recitals might get a kid whacked with a ruler or worse. If you wanted to destroy a kid’s interest in learning, starting with memorization of things the kid doesn’t understand backed with corporal punishment would seem a pretty good way to do it. (1)

What is more important to Pestalozzi., the most important thing of all, is gaining the trust of the student, of loving each child and selflessly willing his good. The teacher in Pestalozzi’s view is an extension of the child’s family and particularly the child’s mother. He insists that, in the normal course of things, children should learn first and best from their own mothers, then from the larger family, and then, when ready, move on to more formal schooling.

Schooling should always aim to educate the child in a manner appropriate to his concrete situation. The children of laborers, artisans, and the wealthy get different education, appropriate to the life they will be living once their schooling is finished. There should be the possibility of further education to children who show particular promise. Thus, the child of a landowner might get Latin and Greek, while a farm boy usually won’t – unless he shows interest and ability in it.

I have commented before that Pestalozzi’s writings seem to be more a Rorschach test than instructions anyone could follow. He was a notoriously poor writer – Green makes a subtle plea for the readers understanding at one point, stating that, unless one has attempted to claw Pestalozzi’s German into English, one cannot appreciate the challenge. Further, his practice was consistently observed to be at odds with his (often poorly and inconsistently defined) principles. In one example, he lays down the principle that it is damaging to children for them to learn words before they understand what those words signify, then teaches the kids rhymes full of unfamiliar words for the fun of it. That he doesn’t see any contradiction in this is typical; that it baffled those trying to understand him is also a running theme.

Pestalozzi’s message of love and respect for children, his faith in there being one correct and scientific way to do education that merely awaited discovery, and his rejection of all previous methods of instruction made him a hero to the late 18th century Enlightenment crowd. That his most devoted followers would say it took years to understand the method, and then disagreed on what the method was, and that the people who came to study his method generally failed to successfully implement it, testify to, at least, his lack of clarity.

Green himself falls into this trap.

Then came the crushing events of 1806, followed, in the winter of 1807, by Fichte’s stirring Addresses to the German Nation in which the Prussian people were exhorted to seek national regeneration in the education of their children. Although Fichte criticised sharply certain details in Pestalozzi’s theory and practice, taking a general view he urged the Pestalozzian school as the true type.

Pestalozzi praises the family, especially mothers, as the indispensable first teachers of children; Fichte sees the family as the educational problem that his schools will solve. Pestalozzi wants to educate children for the world and situation they find themselves in; Fichte wants to educate children for an upcoming fantasy world which will supplant the current world in its entirety. Pestalozzi teaches children the 3 R’s to equip them for their future lives; Fichte discounts reading and writing as unessential to true education, an afterthought. Pestalozzi’s unspoken but inescapable goal is to equip children to be parts of their own families; Fichte wants unquestioned loyalty to the state to replace the all family loyalty.

Details. (2)

I will do a more detailed write-up of Pestalozzi’s A-B-C approach, which appears to be the heart of his ‘science’ of education at some future point. In reality, what made his schools work was his love of the children. He genuinely cared for their welfare, and sacrificed much to help them. This trumps any method, as long as love can overrule process at any point. This love of children is also how Catholic schools in America also succeeded as much as they did. The teaching sisters understood each student was a beloved child of God, even if they often imperfectly lived and expressed it.

That Pestalozzi was beloved by his students is attested by one of them:

One of the most interesting accounts of the work at Yverdun is that given by Vulliemin in his Souvenirs racontes a ses petits enfants. He entered the school as a pupil at eight years old. “Imagine, children, a very ugly man whose hair stood on end, whose face was deeply pitted with small-pox and covered with red blotches, with a ragged, untrimmed beard, without a necktie, with trousers half unbuttoned, and hanging in folds over stockings that were down over his clumsy shoes. Add to this an unsteady, jerky walk, eyes which sometimes opened wide and blazed with fire, and sometimes were half closed as if given up to inner observation. Think, too, of features which now expressed deep sadness and now the most benign happiness, and of a voice whose utterance was sometimes slow and sometimes quick, sometimes soft and melodious, and sometimes thunderously loud. This is a picture of him whom we called Father Pestalozzi.

“Him, whom I have just described, we loved; we all loved him, for he, too, loved us all. When it happened that we did not see him for a time, we were quite sad, so heartily did we love him; when he appeared again we could not take our eyes away from him.”

This former student mentions the drills in accurate sense-impression analysis in context of a field trip:

For the first elements of geography we were taken into the open air. They began by turning our steps to an out-of-the-way valley near Yverdun, through which the Buron flows. This valley we had to look at as a whole, and in its different parts, until we had a correct and complete impression of it. Then we were told, each one, to dig out a certain quantity of the clay, which was embedded in layers on one side of the valley, and with this we filled large sheets of paper, brought with us for the purpose.”

When we got back to school, we were placed at large tables which were divided up, and each child had to build with the clay, on the spot assigned to him, a model of the valley where we had just made our observations. Then came fresh excursions with more explorations. Thus we continued, until we had worked through the basin of Yverdun, and had observed it as a whole from the heights of Montela which command it entirely, and had made of it a model in relief. Then, and then only, did we turn to the map, which we had only now gained the power of correctly interpreting.”

Sounds charming and fun.

Pestalozzi is also in favor of less school, and, it would seem, less professionalism among those who teach:

My aim all through was to push the simplification of all means of instruction to such a point, that any common man might easily be put in a position to teach his children, thereby making it possible to dispense almost entirely with the need of schools for the first elements. Just as the mother is the child’s first physical nurse, so should he receive his first intellectual nourishment from her, and I look upon the tendency to send children too early to school and to substitute outside artifice for the home in the early education of children as a very serious evil. My experience quite confirmed these views. I am also more than ever convinced that the sooner we unite firmly and psychologically instruction with manual work, the sooner a race will arise which will discover, that what has been hitherto called learning need not take up one tenth part of the time or the energy which it has done in the past. My experience has certainly established two facts which will contribute to this end — first that it is possible to teach a large number of children even of different ages at one and the same time, and second that this large number may in many cases be taught they are engaged in manual work ….

Another departure for Fichte, who wants kids schooled entirely apart from their families for about a decade.

Much more to be thought over here. What needs to be kept in mind is that however poorly articulated and however many times his devotees failed in their attempts to implement them, Pestalozzi’s ideas dominated discussions of education in 19th century Europe and America like no other theorist.

Back to  Rise and Growth of the Normal School Idea in the United States. The Holy Grail of my research has been to discover the origins of the now ubiquitous age-segregated classroom. I suspected it traced back to Pestalozzi or at least to Fichte and von Humboldt. I was wrong. The bulk of the Prussian schools implemented in the 1810s and 1820s seem to be largely indistinguishable from American one-room schools in how they functioned; Pestalozzi himself always had age-mixed groups with plenty of peer-to-peer teaching.

In America, at least, the bane of age-segregated classroom with rigid, child-indifferent curricula seems to trace back to 1853 in Oswego, NY:

The history of the normal school at Oswego, N. Y., constitutes an important chapter not only in the history of the training of teachers, but in the history of the public schools of this country . It originated, indeed, out of the necessities of the public schools of Oswego. In the spring of 1853 these schools were organized and consolidated [‘consolidation’ was the process of eliminating local one-room schools and replacing them with much larger, centrally controlled schools – ed.] under a board of education. Under the new arrangement a mixed system of schools went into operation, and a close classification was soon adopted. So thoroughly was this perfected that each teacher had but a single class of children of nearly the same age and of the same stage of advancement. Every grade had the same daily programme, so that the superintendent could tell at any given hour of the day exactly what exercises were going on in any school in the city. All promotions were made upon the basis of examinations conducted under the direction of the superintendent, who prepared all the questions and marked all the answers on a scale of ten. The standings were published in the annual report.

But as admirable from a management point of view as schools thus structured must be, they left a little something to be desired, at least in the heart of E. A. Sheldon:

But Mr. E. A. Sheldon, who had been elected superintendent of schools in 1853, and who had originated this educational machine, was not satisfied with it. It seemed to him that something was wanted to give it life. As a mere machine, it was, indeed, worthy of all admiration. The definite tasks assigned to each teacher and pupil, each hour in the day, each day in the week, each week in the month, each month in the year, and each year in the course, were performed with praiseworthy exactness. Every rule and every definition was committed to memory with an exactness that defied criticism and applied with wonderful celerity. The system was, indeed, a perfect body, but it was dead, or rather it had never been alive. Words, words, words, were thrown into the hopper and the grist was nothing but words. The children could answer with great readiness all questions relating to what they had learned in their text-books, but outside of their text-books they were helpless. In a word, the system was an excellent machine for transferring the utmost possible amount of text-book information into the minds of the children, but as a means of developing latent powers, of cultivating permanent intellectual interest, of quickening and expanding the whole intellectual life, it was very defective indeed.

Couple of things to note. First, we see here the implementation of total teacher control. The only way to be sure that the students are doing *exactly* as directed is to direct the activities of the teachers with equal rigidity. This is a clear example of the filtering process much discussed on this blog: only people who could embrace such rigid direction need apply. In other words, anyone who had any active sympathy for the children and who wanted to really teach would never make it through the normal school. The second is that schooling any more different than what Pestalozzi practiced could hardly be imagined. The beloved and unpredictable father figure as teacher, leading kids of various ages on one impromptu adventure after another is about as completely incompatible with the ‘machine’ described above as could be imagined.

So, of course, Sheldon brings his machine to life by applying his understanding of Pestalozzian theory. He traveled to Canada, where he met a superintendent who had studied at a school in London that employed one of the teachers Pestalozzi himself trained, as well as the son of another such teacher.

When he returned to Oswego he resolved to thoroughly reconstruct the course of instruction and radically change the methods of teaching in the schools under his supervision. He resolved to begin this reformation at the bottom of the ladder and go up step by step. He accordingly laid out a detailed plan of work for the primary schools based on Pestalozzian principles.

How he went about implementing this new Pestalozzian undersstanding is telling:

The first year after the introduction of the new course of study Mr. Sheldon gave all his time and energy to the introduction of the new methods into the first year or lowest grade of the primary school. He met the teachers of this grade every Saturday, and during the following week he went through the schools of this grade, encouraging and aiding them in carrying out the instructions given the preceding Saturday. The second year he pursued the same plan with the next higher grade.

So, essentially, he kept the machine intact, kept the age-segregated grades and the teachers who had mastered and had experience tending the machine, and attempted, grade by grade, to implement a Pestalozzian approach on top of it.

The earlier one-room schools, structurally at least, were much more consistent with Pestalozzi’s practice than the new age-graded schools which had consolidated them out of existence. You could not but end up with a Frankenstein’s monster of a school, where some understanding of Pestalozzi’s theory is applied as a veneer to a system completely at odds with his practice, where kids are grouped for the convenience of the school and taught the same exact lessons according to an externally -established detailed schedule, by professional teachers trained for such an environment. The kindly and beloved old man encouraging kids to teach each other and taking pains that each child be taught what is appropriate for that particular child – that part, which is the part that might work, is tossed.

And then you run into the problem first expressed by Socrates: that when people are paid to teach what any competent adult knows, they will make the easy hard, and the quickly learned long.

The Oswego approach caught on like wildfire. Sheldon invited other educators to visit and comment, and the reaction was almost universally positive. Sheldon couldn’t keep his own teachers – once he had trained them up, other school districts would hire them away at salaries his own district was unwilling to meet. Thus, via impressed educators and teachers trained in the approach, the idea of a age segregated Machine cranking out educated students began to get the death grip on American education we see today.

Been a while since I posted, there’s a ton more here worth thinking about, but that’ll have to do for now.

  1. The psychologist Alice Miller reports that 19th century German child-rearing books advised fathers to break their children, to set them up to fail and punish them for that failure, in order to teach them to rely entirely on the authority of the father. Sick, but easy to see in the undoubtedly true stereotype of the knuckle-busting teacher.
  2. Reminds of a similar bit of wishful thinking from Fichte’s translator: “Some of the ideas and opinions expressed in the Addresses are obviously false and cannot be accepted, while others are gross exaggerations and require considerable modification. Little comment need be made on Fichte’s conception of the German language as the sole living language), or on his notion of the part that Germany has played and must still play in the process of the salvation of the world. His whole-hearted enthusiasm for things German inclines him at times to regard everything genuinely German as necessarily good, and everything foreign as necessarily bad. It is obvious what evil results would accrue from the logical development of such a conception. He greatly exaggerates the part played by Luther and by Germany in the reformation of the Church ; and it may be that his forecast of some of the good results that would follow upon the adoption of his educational reforms is fantastic and overdrawn. The fact, however, remains that these false and exaggerated ideas are but small blemishes in the work; they are easily explained, if not justified, when we consider the desperate state of the times, the exalted aim of the lecturer, the peculiar difficulty of his task, and his enthusiastic personality. In any case they do not affect to any considerable extent the tremendous influence of the Addresses at the time, and their great importance for the understanding of subsequent periods.

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.

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!

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.

Education History Book Review: Dwight’s Travels in the North of Germany (1829)

That’s one deep rabbit hole, there. In Rise and Growth of the Normal School Idea in the United States reviewed a few days ago, Gordy mentions “Travels in the North of Germany in 1825-26,” written by a Henry E. Dwight. Dwight took a long trip to Europe in his mid-20s, and, after the practice of the day, wrote 500 pages worth of letters back home telling people about what he found in Prussia and thereabouts. Well, couldn’t pass that us, right?

Short and sweet: you needn’t read this book, unless you are very interested in this subject and time period. There are plenty of interesting observations in the parts I read, and Dwight is a pretty good writer, but it is a bit much. There’s no information I can find on the web about Dwight, outside his publishing this book. From internal references, Dwight was very ill toward the latter part of this trip. He died a few years later, in his 30s.

File:Rabbit hole warning.jpg
Gaius Cornelius / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

My time on this earth being limited and all, I cheated a little: I searched the text for school, normal, Fichte, and so one, then read the materials around those words, and then copied relevant sections into a Open Doc, formatted those selections – and got it down to 20 pages of material. So I missed Dwight’s no doubt invaluable opinions on politics, food, dress, and whatnot (I really don’t know with what he filled the rest of his letters) but do have some interesting stuff about the schools.

In the last review, of Gordy’s Normal School Idea book, I noted that he had received his PhD from the University of Leipzig, and that I didn’t know how much influence Prussia, and Prussian schooling and the research University model had had on that Saxon institution.

Seek, and ye shall find: Dwight found the universities and schooling in general in Saxony to be the finest he’d seen in the world, with a couple possible exceptions. Leipzig itself is singled out for praise: “The city of Leipzig deserves the greatest praise, for the efforts which it makes, and the expense which it incurs, to diffuse intelligence through every class of its citizens.” Saxony, along with the other minor German-speaking kingdoms, duchies, etc., could not contend with Prussia in any political or military way, so, he contends, they tended to focus on intellectual achievement. Leipzig and all of Saxony took the cake for best schools and universities, most advanced by Dwight’s lights. He wishes we would imitate them:

In the university of Leipzig, and perhaps in some others of Germany, lectures are delivered on education, in which the professor gives a historical view of the state of education in ancient and modern times, and examines all the important systems that have been formed upon this subject. In such a seminary as I have proposed, lectures of this kind, as well as those above referred to, should be given, and after a residence there of three or four years, young men would be qualified to instruct the great mass of the people, in such a manner, as to elevate the next generation far above the station filled by their fathers. Young men thus educated, would be certain of success, and by them every important vacancy would be filled.

So, 50 years later, when Gordy got his doctorate there, it is safe to assume he got a heavy dose of the latest educational thinking, Prussian style.

As mentioned many times before, the grail I seek in reading all this stuff from the early 19th century is an account of how the age-segregated classroom came to be a sacred norm. I did not find it here. Instead, Dwight describes one-room style village schools, run by a poorly-paid male teacher, overseen by the local Lutheran pastor and a regional Lutheran minister selected specifically for the job. These two men, the local pastor and the regional minister, are in turn overseen by a committee of 9 Lutheran ministers, which is governed by a minister appointed directly by the Crown.

Thus, Church, State, and School are one, just as Luther and Melanchthon had wanted it to be. Problem is, as Woody Allen put it: the lion and the lamb may lay down together, but the lamb won’t get much sleep. The state is running things here, paying the salaries of the ministers and teachers. In another context, Dwight recounts the efforts of the king to unite the Lutherans, what we might call the high-church Protestants, with the Reformed, or more low-church Protestants. From the point of view of the state, having competing sects was – inconvenient. But the king could never pull it off. Catholics, of which there were many millions, are not mentioned as any part of this state/church/school arrangement. Later in the century, the state’s preference for Protestants resulted in acts of overt persecution, which drove millions of German Catholics to emigrate to America. Until recent years, Americans of German descent made up the largest single group of Catholics in America.

According to Dwight, there existed in Germany in 1825 about 20,000 state grammar schools in Prussia, of which 17,000 were village schools, run by one teacher, who was trained, certified and appointed by the state, with local management provided by the (Lutheran) church. Since it’s one teacher over a bunch of mixed-age children in a small school building, there could not have been anything like age segregation.

The only hints come in Dwight’s description and lavish praise of the gymnasia of the Saxons. A gymnasium, a sort of college-prep high school that still exists in Germany, was run along much more structured lines. The training of these young scholars is, indeed, dazzling:

Dresden, 1826.

The Gymnasia of the north of Germany, are among the most interesting features of the literature of this country. They have long been considered superior to those of any other part of Europe ; and at no period within the last century, have they enjoyed a higher reputation, than at the present time. It is at these institutions that the foundation has been laid for that fame, which so many of the savans of this country have acquired ; and it is to them that the universities are indebted for their extensive reputation. No part of Germany has equalled Saxony in its system of classical education ; and no where have the gymnasia attained that elevated character, which they have long exhibited in this little kingdom….

During my residence in Germany, I have visited many of these institutions, particularly those of Saxony. The remarks which will here be made respecting them, are in many respects applicable to those of a superior character, in most of the northern states, but more particularly to those of this little kingdom….

The gymnasia of this country are divided into two classes: those which are private, where the boys are constantly under the eyes of the instructers, who live with them in the same edifice ; and those which are public, and which are established in the large towns, where the youth reside in the city, and recite and attend lectures at the gymnasium. The last class are frequently called schools, with an appropriate name, sometimes still retaining that of the patron saint of the church near which they are situated. The instruction, however, corresponds so nearly with that of the more private institutions, that they will here be included under the same name.

At the head of these schools is a Rector, or President, and a Conrector, or Vice-President. The instructers are divided into two classes, Ober und Unter Lehren, literally, upper and under teachers. Before an instructer is permitted to occupy a vacant place, he is examined by the Prufungs Commission, which consists of the professors of the university who lecture on those subjects which are taught in the gymnasium, and of the directors of the gymnasium. The first class of teachers must have made such progress in the department in which they desire to teach, as to be qualified to give lectures at one of the universities. The second class must have a thorough knowledge of their particular province. If to instruct in Greek or Latin, for example, they are required to be familiar with the principal writers, and to possess a critical knowledge of these languages. The same minute acquaintance with their departments, is necessary in the Other branches of instruction. The examination lasts five or six hours, and if found qualified, they are permitted to fill the vacant place of Unter Lehrer in any of the gymnasia which is offered to them….

The boys usually enter these institutions from nine to thirteen years of age, and remain from five to seven years, in proportion to the improvement they have made. The first two or three years are devoted to acquiring a knowledge of Greek, Latin, and mathematics ; in which they are drilled with a minuteness of intellectual discipline, which I have never seen in the other schools of Europe. The succeeding years are passed in pursuing history, ancient and modern geography, French literature, Latin and Greek exegesis, &c. To acquire a thorough knowledge of these languages, they are taught to write and speak Latin, and in some of the institutions to write Greek. Subsequently, they translate from Greek into Latin, and sometimes from Latin into Greek. All the conversation, when the recitation is classical, is then held in Latin. The boys write Latin prolegomena to the ode or book they are reciting, which is first criticised by their companions, and then by the professor. The desire of victory that you often see in the objections which the rival scholars bring against the individual to whose dissertation they have listened, as well as the ingenious defence which he makes, calls forth a literary enthusiasm in these combats, which would excite the admiration of any one, who had seen only the grammar schools of our country. In some cases, they write Latin poetry, by translating an ode of Klopstock or Schiller, or if they are the favourites of Apollo, they present their own effusions in Latin verse These are publicly read by the authors, and criticised by their companions, and then by the instructer. Those who do not possess this talent, write Latin prose, which is read and examined minutely by their companions. The instructed often dictate to them passages from the poetical and prosaic works of the German classics, which they translate into Latin. They are then required to read it, and one after another is called upon to point out the defects which exist in the translation, giving his reasons in Latin. By pursuing this course for several years, you will easily perceive that they must attain a knowledge of the grammatical structure of that language, unknown in most countries. Accordingly, you discover that most German students speak it with great fluency and correctness.

The same severe discipline is pursued in other languages, though in none excepting the French, do they arrive at a similar degree of excellence, it not being thought necessary to speak either Greek or Hebrew.

In the languages, they read a part or the whole of Euripides, the Iliad and Odyssey, Xenophon, Herodotus, Demosthenes, Aristophanes, &c. Virgil, Horace, Cicero, Quintilian, Tacitus, Livy, &c. some of the French classics, and a few books of the Old Testament in Hebrew. In mathematics, they study arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry, conic sections, spherics and logarithms. In few, if any, of these institutions, are natural philosophy, chemistry, botany, and mineralogy, pursued farther than to become acquainted with the great outlines of these sciences.

… The school is divided into six or seven classes, in addition to those of Hebrew and French, for all the scholars do not study these languages. When one of them does not maintain his proper standing, he descends to the class immediately below the one of which he was a member. You find, it is true, some who do not make great progress, for dunces exist here, as well as in other countries. You observe however an enthusiasm, an intellectual discipline, and a proficiency, which, so far as my knowledge extends, you will find in the schools of no other country.

…There is another advantage which these institutions enjoy over those of every other country ; the admirable subdivision of mental labour which is visible in all of them. So much has been said on this subject, in my remarks on the universities, that it will not be repeated here. Our country is so defective in this respect, so satisfied are we to continue in the same beaten track, in which our forefathers walked, that I cannot avoid alluding to some of the other defects which exist in the grammar schools of our country. Most of these institutions, particularly in the northern states, have but one instructer, whose province it is to educate young men for the colleges and universities. The grammatical instruction in Latin and Greek, as far as they are acquainted with it, in geography and mathematics, in one word, in every thing that is required for admission into our literary institutions, is taught by them. In each of the gymnasia of Germany, however, there are from eight to twelve instructers, to each of whom a different department is assigned. Here are usually from two to three instructers in Greek, and as many in Latin. One devotes his time almost exclusively to the grammatical construction of the language, one or more to the literature. As each has his particular province, and that of limited extent, he arrives at an excellence in his own department, which is rarely seen in other schools. Some of the instructers have a reputation for classical literature, which extends throughout Germany. The names of Thiersch, Crusius, Bornemann, and others, are universally known here, by the editions and translations of the classics which they have published, and the fame of the former many years since reached our shores. It is no very unfrequent thing for men thus distinguished, to receive invitations to the vacant chairs of the universities, and which they do not always accept, as they find the situations they fill so desirable. They view this as an employment for life, one which is so much respected, in which they act so well their parts, that they are perfectly satisfied.

Dwight is here praising something only possible in large, well-funded schools: specialization. In a village school, with 20 or 30 kids and limited resources, an expert in Greek grammar cannot be employed, except that he is competent in all areas of instruction. In America, the compulsory schools being imposed on rural areas were known as ‘consolidated’ schools – the invention of the school bus and the construction of rural highways made it possible, starting in the 1930s, to ‘consolidate’ all the little one-room schools in a rural area into one big (and much more expensive, even on a per-student basis) school, in which specialization could then be applied. A kid could take classes, in other words. What was essentially a tutor/student relationship in village and rural schools became a lecturer/student relationship. The tutor under the village or rural school could be a fellow student, as it generally was in rural America. The lecturer in the gymnasium had to hold a different sort of authority, Classes had to accommodate him to at least some extent. Structure and schedule became central.

Also note the passage about classes: the students were divided into classes, but were divided, at least in Dwight’s time, by ability, not solely by age. So my quest continues…

Dwight shares the anti-Catholic sentiments of the typical American Protestant of the time. While much of his asides come off as potshots – for example:

The gymnasia of Austria, are such as one would anticipate from a sovereign, who declared to one of the literary men of his empire, that ” he did not want any learned men, he only wanted good subjects,” or in other words those who would remain perfectly submissive, and pay without a murmur the exorbitant taxes which are imposed upon them.

… he makes some more substantive criticisms as well. Pardon the long quotations:

These schools owe their modern origin to the Reformation. Fortunately for the cause of literature, Melanchthon and Luther saw the necessity of providing other means of education for their countrymen, than those which had previously existed. To this subject they devoted much of their attention; and through their influence, the funds of the monasteries which had been confiscated by the dukes and electors of the north, were appropriated to this object. Hence arose many of the universities and gymnasia of this part of Germany, which at that period were so well endowed, that they have continued burning and shining lights to the present time, and promise to enlighten millions yet unborn. To this event we must impute much of the intellectual superiority of the north to the south of Germany. In whatever light an enlightened Catholic may view the expulsion of the monks and the confiscation of their property, he will be forced to acknowledge, that a great temporal good has resulted from it.

Temporal being the operative word here. But even on the temporal level, the monasteries stood somewhat distinct from the state, centers of power that could defy earthly powers. For Luther, having the state confiscate the monasteries served the purpose of eliminating one place from which opposition to Luther could arise. Luther’s idea of turning the monasteries into state-controlled schools had little to do with elevating the literary achievements of Germans, and everything to do with using state power to turn out good little Lutherans. Like Fichte centuries later, he evidently could see no serious risk that the state might want to use the schools to its own advantage. Ironically, Fichte saw Luther’s mandatory state school idea as a way for the schools to crank out good little Fichteans – who cannot, by the way, simultaneously be good little Lutherans.

A more damning passage:

It is an interesting subject to every traveller in Europe, to observe the difference which exists in the respective means of education in Protestant and Catholic countries. This is most clearly visible in Germany. In the Protestant states of the north, most of the peasantry can read and write, while in Austria and Bavaria the proportion is very small. Wurtemberg which touches Bavaria, has a comparatively enlightened peasantry. When you travel through Switzerland, you can easily discover by the relative neatness of the villages and the prosperity of the people, as well as by their intelligence, whether you are in a Catholic or Protestant canton. Travel through Saxony, and you will not discover a child of ten years old, who has not acquired the rudiments of education ; but cross the Bohemian boundary, and you will soon perceive that the peasantry are comparatively ignorant. In France after minute inquiries in every part of the kingdom which I visited, I learned that of the adults among the Catholic peasantry, a large proportion of them could neither read nor write ; while among the Protestants, almost every child was instructed.

Far be it from me to imply that Catholic countries have not done much, very much, to promote the cause of literature. The efforts of Leo X. to revive the spirit of learning in Italy, exalt him, notwithstanding his anathemas against the Protestants, above the great mass of monarchs, who have embraced the religion of the Reformers. The patronage afforded by his father, Lorenzo de Medici, to letters and ‘the fine arts, will be remembered with gratitude by students, when Florence shall be no more.

The great difference, however, between Protestant and Catholic countries, consists not in the number of scholars and artists who have been patronised, but in the foundation which has been laid for instructing the great mass of the people. Compare the Protestant countries of Europe, England, Denmark, Sweden, Saxony, and Prussia, for example, with Italy, Spain, and Portugal, or even with France. Look at Holland, and then at the Netherlands ; at Protestant and Catholic Ireland. Look above all at the United States of America, and contrast it with Mexico and the republics of the South. Whence comes this mighty difference in European nations, which a few centuries since were all equally superstitious, and equally degraded ? Why has Italy, for a long period the lamp of Europe, always had a peasantry but little superior in knowledge to the animals of her soil ? Why are the common people of the Roman states, at this day, among the most ignorant and degraded of Europe ? There the wealth and power of the Catholic Church has centered ; nations for ages have brought thither their tribute ; and still her peasantry have always been ignorant and debased. It does not result from the want of means on the part of the government. The money expended in the festivals of Rome for several centuries, would have provided all the people during that period with adequate means of instruction. The difference is found in the principles of Catholics and Protestants. The Reformers saw that an ignorant people were easily reduced to mere machines ; that the only mode of securing to them their proper character, was by providing adequate means of
instruction ; and that without this instruction, the victory which they had gained would soon be lost. In every Protestant country, these means were accordingly provided by them, or by their successors, and the inhabitants of these countries have been the only nations, the great mass of which have been taught to read and write. It is on this elevated ground that the Protestant takes his stand; it is here that he feels an emotion of triumph swell his bosom, when he looks to what the Reformation has done to benefit the human race. He here beholds in a most striking manner, the difference between nations who receive their creed from compulsion or from conviction. It is after such a comparison, or rather contrast, that he places the Reformers among the illustrious benefactors of mankind.

As one St. John’s tutor would famously ask: Is it true? It cannot be denied that, from a simple organizational perspective, Catholic countries tend toward chaos. To compare Germany or even England to Spain, or America to Mexico is – painful. Yet, for example, somehow, Italians, who, politically, generally make a herd of cats look like a drill team, nonetheless got an awful lot of beautiful art, music, and literature done, dwarfing anything Germany has put out. I think I’d have had more fun hanging out in an Italian than a Prussian village, but who knows? The great German-speaking composers came from the Catholic south more often than the Protestant north (but – Bach is worth quite a few Schuberts…) .

And then there’s the not exterminating the natives thing Catholics did, which made their political history in America much more – interesting?

But still: If Dwight is even half right, or rather if Catholic immigrants to America believed this attitude was even half right, the persistent inferiority complex of American Catholics makes a lot more sense.

Book Review: Burn’s “Catholic School System in the United States”, part 2: CH II & III – Colonial Era

In a previous post, the Introduction and the philosophical underpinnings to this work were reviewed; Chapter II, which covers Spanish and French schools created in New Mexico, California, Florida, New Orleans, and Texas, was discussed here a couple years ago. We’ll look a little deeper at a few issues. Chapter III covers the English colonies here.

The Ursuline Sisters in New Orleans used what looks a lot like the Lancasterian system in their school for girls: some of the “brightest and best behaved” girls were put in charge of less advanced students:

Some features of the Ursuline system of teaching were surprisingly modern, and throw a new light upon the educational ideas and methods of the period. One of these features was the employment of pupil-teachers, called in the Rules “dizainieres.” [leaders of 10 – ed.] They were selected from among the brightest and best-behaved girls, and their office was to assist the teachers in class-work and in the maintenance of discipline. They were to be changed every three or four months. Each dizainiere had her group of ten or so to look after. She admonished them of their faults, of which she was not, however, to Inform the teacher, except it became necessary for their correction. Among other duties, she distributed the text-books to her charges at the beginning of class, and locked the books up again carefully just before school was dismissed. Text-books were free, although they were precious things in those days, and hard to obtain. She taught the prayers to beginners, and often helped during the recitations, standing near the teacher, and interrogating the members of her band. The system was in many respects like the system of pupil-teaching which Lancaster almost a century later introduced into the United States.

Burns, Catholic School System in the United States, CH II

I love the charming practices of swapping out these leaders every 3-4 months, of forbidding snitching unless it required a level of discipline only the sisters were permitted to dispense, and of letting them lead the ‘examin’ of those in their charges. These are not just very human practices that reinforce relationships other than that of student and teacher, not just a better way of teaching and learning than endless lectures, but most important, teach that the teacher is not the sole competent authority. Somebody else can teach, too! Even another kid!

Ursuline Convent in New Orlean, 1734

According to Burns, the sisters were very much beloved. Their schools remain in Louisiana today. In general, Burns’ tone is much more upbeat about these early efforts than, say, Walch’s. I’ve got to wonder: on the one hand, it is fair to wonder how much of Burns’ more positive take is due to his personal investment in Catholic schooling, being a star product of Catholic University and a champion of Catholic education. But his sources, the ones I’ve tracked down so far, are either at least as positive as he is, or patently of the Francis Parkman school of revisionist anti-Catholic ‘history’. It is a mistake to think the answer is to split the difference, to imagine the reality was somewhere toward the middle between the positive takes of Burns and his sympathetic sources and Parkman and his clear anti-Catholic (and especially anti-Spanish) biases. Recall the use of the Spanish Inquisition by the English as a byword for wanton Catholic cruelty, ignoring both the utterly barbaric practices under the English Reformation and the relative – relative – moderation of the actual Inquisition. The English, in their zeal, would slowly crush a young mother to death, after stripping her naked and tying her spread eagle on the ground. She – St. Margaret Clitherow – endured this, rather than subject her children – HER CHILDREN! – to torture. And then there’s that whole hung, drawn, and quartered thing, which, done right, goes on for a while. These are the people calling the Spanish Catholics barbarians for burning someone at the stake.

And writing almost all the early English language history of the period.

So, given the choice, and given that the modern historians are much more likely to err in the direction of Parkman and the dominant Critical Theorists who make Parkman look like balance incarnate, and the positive flavor of Burns, I’ll tentatively judge that the reality was much closer to Burns’s take. Until evidence to the contrary, etc.

I’m still looking for the moment Catholic Americans abandoned the sound practices of, for example, the Ursulines and their age-mixed, participatory approach, for the insanity that is the age-segregated classroom. One of the things the Lancasterian and related methods permitted was for a single teacher to lead a large number of students, because he had a large number of junior assistants. The focus was not, as it is today, on the teachers authority. Rather, the teacher had authority only to facilitate learning. The learning itself had the ultimate authority, which any sufficiently well-behaved and bright student might wield as needed.

The teacher being the sole authority and replacing parental authority with state authority is Fichte’s central ideas.

Lots of other good stuff, but I’ve touched on it already elsewhere. Moving on to Catholic schools in America in the English colonies, the surprise is that there were some. Burns relates the stories of schools in Maryland and even New York, up until just before 1700. From the time of the unseating of the Catholic James II in 1688 in favor of the anti-papist William and Mary, up until the Revolution caused Americans to set aside their religious spats for a time, getting involved in a Catholic school could get you deported to England, facing a life sentence in English jails.

One of the principal features of this long period of persecution, which lasted down to the outbreak of the American Revolution, was a continual effort to prevent Catholics from giving a Catholic education to their children. It was sought to render impossible the establishment of Catholic schools, the teacher being liable to perpetual imprisonment. That Catholics would seek to evade the laws and escape the legal penalties by employing teachers of their own faith to give instruction to their children at home, or to the children of a neighborhood together in some convenient house, was anticipated, and even this was interdicted. A Catholic father was liable to a fine of 40 shillings per day if he employed any but a Protestant teacher or tutor to instruct his child.^ If he sought to procure a Catholic education for his son by sending him across the sea to St. Omer’s, or some other of the Jesuit colleges in Europe founded for this very purpose, he became liable to a fine of £100.’ Poor Catholics were thus effectually deprived of all opportunity to give their children a Catholic education, except in so far as they were able to instruct them themselves. Wealthy Catholics fared somewhat better, as it was easier for them to secure a private tutor, and it was less difficult for them to conceal the fact. They could afford, too, to send their sons to Europe to study, and, in spite of the stringency of the laws and the vigilance of the authorities, they often found means to do so without being discovered. One great help to this end was afforded by the use of an alias, the student assuming a new name by which he was known during the time of his journey to Europe and his stay there. This was a favorite practice of the Jesuits during times of persecution.

Burns, Catholic School System in the United States, CH III

I was surprised that Catholics did get a couple schools and maybe a college or two going in the early days of the colonies, and not surprised at their eventual criminalization.

Now onto the Revolutionary period.

Addendum: here is yet another case where the NPCs have taken over Wikipedia. The writer says of the academy set up by the original sisters: “educating a number of Catholic Hispanic girls and women from socially privileged families in central and South American countries. ” No mention that these women left France, endured a horrendous 5 month sailing trip, during which they were chased by pirates, and the last part of which was them slowly working their was to the settlement after getting stranded miles downriver from New Orleans, spending several nights camping in the swamps. No mention of the deaths of many of these women from diseases shortly after they got there, AND no mention of the school they founded taking in the local poor girls as day students from the beginning.

These women were adventurers and heroes of the first order. But let’s pretend they just showed up and built a school for rich girls.

Book Review: Burn’s “Catholic School System in the United States”, part 1: Introduction

Reviewing – really, putting out my notes to the text – on this book a bit at a time, as it and its companion volume are long. Fr. Burns wrote much of this as his PhD thesis at Catholic University in 1906, and expanded and published it as a book in 1908, and then a follow up volume in 1912. This first volume covers the history of American Catholic schooling from colonial times to 1840; the second from 1840 to the first years of the 20th century. This division is logical, as Catholic immigrants did not start arriving in great numbers until the 1840s, which really changed the game for Catholic schooling.

This was the first scholarly effort to document the American Catholic school movement, and remained the go-to work on the topic until very modern times. I’ve read pieces of this book and commented on them as part of following up on the references in Walch’s Parish School, but had not done yet a thorough cover to cover read.

The preliminary materials and introduction are very interesting. First, as noted in previous comments on this work, Burns is deeply indebted to Thomas Shields and Edward Pace, fellow priests and professors at Catholic University. They were founding faculty of the school of psychology at that institution, and mentored Burns. Shields ran a Catholic textbook publishing company for many years

Now, here I’ll own up to a strong prejudice: everything I’ve ever read of and about psychology in the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century impressed upon me what preposterous frauds the key players were from its founding. Freud? C’mon. The dude set a standard for ad hominem responses to anyone who dared question him that has been followed by every poser since. You only disagree with Freud because you’re sexually repressed, don’t you see?

What is lacking in the early psychologists: that peculiar type of humility real scientists have, where they prefer to understate rather than overstate their claims. In a robust science, it is expected that any claims will be run through the gauntlet of critical appraisal by one’s peers. Thus, it is simply better style, if nothing else, to acknowledge uncertainties, note possible problems, and generally make claims with a bit of hesitancy, if only in the hopes that your peers will be more sympathetic.

Instead, what we ended up with is ‘academic freedom’: the dismissal of all questions by anyone who isn’t a credentialed psychologist on the sole basis of his not being a psychologist. Such a credential only available to those who get through the gate manned by – credentialed psychologists. See: ‘replication crisis‘ for details on how that works.

This dynamic – over-certainty of scope and claims, lack of interest in criticism from those not on the team – was already the reality in 1908, when Burns penned this book. And he simply can’t resist: the introduction is more about his Progressive, 19th century psychology-driven take on schooling than about what happened. It’s odd – one paragraph is a triumphant touting of the greatness of the parish schools and the Church that inspired them, the next is either speculating on how great things will be when further Progress is made, or gentle rebukes that more Progress hasn’t yet been made.

He states three principle that drive Catholic parish schooling:


Here Burns means simply moral training. Can virtue be taught? Maybe, but his third principle is how it would be done. What can be done is to help create a habit of thinking of life’s endless decisions in moral terms. I’m good with this.


He belabors it much, but what he seems to be after is that religious education is, at the same time, part of a coherent whole and conditions how that whole is understood. He’s worried that catechisis can be, and often is, done in a vacuum, without constant reference to the rest of knowledge. Burns wants – his example – the Incarnation understood in an historic, geographic, and cultural setting, and to inform the student’s understanding, in turn, of those subjects.

I’m down with that. A formal classroom setting using textbooks – Burns is totally down with textbooks – is likely the worst possible place to get it done, but in theory, that’s what we want.

He deplores question/answer drills, which, he assures us, the modern psychology of education has moved beyond. While he, himself, acknowledges the centrality of doctrine and even dogma, the outline of the seeds for singing kumbaya while sitting cross-legged on the floor and calling it religious ed are easily discernible.


Catholic schools should be patently Catholic, all the time:

“There is the influence of the appointments and ornaments of the schoolroom itself, which may be made to speak lessons of order, neatness, virtue, and religion day by day, silently, but none the less effectively, through appeal to the eye and the esthetic sense.

“It is the aim of the Christian school to turn all such things to account for the attainment of its specific end. If the teaching of religion is a thing of supreme importance in the work of the school, then every influence that can be made use of to make the religious instruction more effective and fruitful ought to be employed. The selection of teachers with special reference to their moral and religious character ; the admission of only such pupils as belong to the religious faith which the school endeavors to foster and propagate; the placing of religious pictures and objects of piety in conspicuous places on the school walls ; the use of religious songs, as well as common oral prayers and devotions; the organization of religious societies — through these and kindred means the pupil is continually surrounded with an atmosphere of religion and piety in the schoolroom which supplements and reinforces the work of formal religious instruction.”

Here we agree. I would make this my first and only principle – do this, and the rest will follow.

Here are some illustrative quotations from the Introduction, with a few comments:


The interest of the Church in the schools has always centered about these fundamental principles. In the teaching of the purely secular branches she has had no direct interest. She took the curriculum of secular studies such as she found it, and left its development to the operation of the ordinary laws of educational growth. [Yikes. Hegel is peeking out from the nearby bushes- ed.] Outside of the matter of religion, there has been no attempt to differentiate Catholic parish schools from other denominational schools or from the public schools. [This is the problem: while we think in ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ terms, the public schools are playing a winner-takes-all cage match.] The tendency has been rather the other way.

“While Catholics, however, have clung faithfully to the historic ideals of the Christian school, it needs but a slight acquaintance with the history of Catholic schools in the United States to make one realize that the working out in practice of the principles outlined above is a matter which opens up grave difficulties and problems. If we compare, for instance, the teaching of religion in the parish schools to-day with the teaching of it a few generations ago, it will be seen that great changes have taken place. Religion had a larger place formerly in the curriculum than it has now. The catechetical drill was more thorough, and took up more time. More importance was attached to it. The value to the growing mind of a knowledge of the truths of faith, simply as knowledge, was better evidenced in practice formerly. Not that the principle itself, perhaps, that religious truth, when properly taught, has a high educative value, is any less accepted now. But conditions in the school have changed. Secular studies have been multiplied. To make room for them, the time given to religious instruction has been cut down. There are some compensations, of course, for this. Methods of teaching religion have improved. The ill- prepared teachers of the early days, often with little or no religious training themselves, have been replaced by teachers who are devoted to the service of religion by profession. The more distinctly religious atmosphere of the school is relied on to-day to do much of what was formerly done by direct instruction and drill. [Then, when the religious atmosphere has been dispensed with, there’s nothing left of religious education…]

“Not only have there been great changes in the extent and methods of religious teaching in our schools in the past, but great differences in both these respects exist to-day. Parish schools are sometimes found within a few blocks of each other in which the teaching of religion is about as different as it could be, the dogmatic content remaining the same. In some schools, the sum total of the religious influences at work hardly extends beyond the bare half hour of catechism-teaching. In others, religion is kept in the foreground all the time. In some instances, the desire to rival the rich and varied program of the neighboring public schools [!] has caused a paring down of the religious work of the school to such an extent that anything like a religious atmosphere is scarcely possible. [See above. This is the state to which gravity pulls a school that does not make the constant, express efforts needed to stay Catholic.] On the other hand, we see schools whose standard in secular studies is quite as broad and as high as that of the best public schools of their class, [To be fair, at this time William Torrey Harris was promoting an academic program for public schools that would put a modern Bachelor’s and most modern Masters degrees to shame. Whether any schools got there in practice is something I don’t know.] which are still able to include in their program various exercises of piety as well as classes in religious instruction.”

“It is evident, in fact, that, on the religious side, the parish school of to-day is very far from having reached the term of its complete development. [There’s that loathsome ‘one perfect way’ concept again, toward which all right-thinking schools must be progressing. Burns seems unable to imagine there might be a million good ways to do education, and that the perfect is the enemy of the good.] It is still in a partly embryonic condition. The adjustment of means to end and principles has to become much closer and to proceed much farther before anything approaching a satisfactory condition as regards religious training can be said to be attained. In point of religious teaching, the development of our schools is, on the whole, far behind their development in respect to secular studies. [? See the passages above – far behind?] This is a strange fact, and it would be a grave menace to the future of our schools, did not a consideration of the causes that have brought about this condition, in the light of the past history of the schools, warrant the hope of a fuller development in the future on the religious side. The need of greater unification, or at least simplification, [Dewey, anyone?] of the school curriculum, is now widely recognized, and the fuller realization of this need, together with the growing movement for more effective religious instruction in the school, will doubtless lead our educators and teachers in time to give to the teaching of religion the place of supreme importance it deserves.