It was Papa Angelicus whom he was about to see; that amazing old man who had been appointed Secretary of State just fifty years ago, at the age of thirty, and Pope nine years previously. It was he who had carried out the extraordinary policy of yielding the churches throughout the whole of Italy to the Government, in exchange for the temporal lordship of Rome, and who had since set himself to make it a city of saints. He had cared, it appeared, nothing whatever for the world’s opinion; his policy, so far as it could be called one, consisted in a very simple thing: he had declared in Epistle after Epistle that the object of the Church was to do glory to God by producing supernatural virtues in man, and that nothing at all was of any significance or importance except so far as it effected this object…
…he had said that on the whole the latter-day discoveries of man tended to distract immortal souls from a contemplation of eternal verities—not that these discoveries could be anything but good in themselves, since after all they gave insight into the wonderful laws of God—but that at present they were too exciting to the imagination.
Persecution, he said, was coming. … But persecution was not to be feared. It would no doubt cause apostasies, as it had always done, but these were deplorable only on account of the individual apostates. On the other hand, it would reassure the faithful; and purge out the half-hearted. Once, in the early ages, Satan’s attack had been made on the bodily side, with whips and fire and beasts; in the sixteenth century it had been on the intellectual side; in the twentieth century on the springs of moral and spiritual life. Now it seemed as if the assault was on all three planes at once.
But what was chiefly to be feared was the positive influence of Humanitarianism: it was coming, like the kingdom of God, with power; it was crushing the imaginative and the romantic, it was assuming rather than asserting its own truth; it was smothering with bolsters instead of wounding and stimulating with steel or controversy. It seemed to be forcing its way, almost objectively, into the inner world. Persons who had scarcely heard its name were professing its tenets; priests absorbed it, as they absorbed God in Communion—he mentioned the names of the recent apostates—children drank it in like Christianity itself. The soul “naturally Christian” seemed to be becoming “the soul naturally infidel.”
Persecution, cried the priest, was to be welcomed like salvation, prayed for, and grasped; but he feared that the authorities were too shrewd, and knew the antidote and the poison apart. There might be individual martyrdoms—in fact there would be, and very many—but they would be in spite of secular government, not because of it. Finally, he expected, Humanitarianism would presently put on the dress of liturgy and sacrifice, and when that was done, the Church’s cause, unless God intervened, would be over.
Written before WWI. Benson feared what would happen if the ‘humanitarian’ aspects of modernism – socialism – worked, what might happen if secular powers were able, by intelligent management, to eliminate the physical causes of human suffering, and, by making suicide a sacred, state-supported right, cause spiritual suffering to be something avoidable and individually chosen.
Looked at from Benson’s perspective, we have been spared, I suppose, the curse of successful socialism. He was writing before the horrors of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent horrors under Soviet, Chinese, Cambodian and so on, Communist regimes. His worries that secular management of everything would WORK proved baseless. Instead, we have the curse of those committed to the idea that a paradies is around the corner despite it never having resulted from previous efforts, that it will work if we just keep trying, in the face of mountains of evidence – and mountains of bodies – proving it won’t.
Hurray! I guess?
Question: In that last paragraph, did Benson overrate the shrewdness of secular government? Is he right about the adoption of the trappings of liturgy and sacrifice?
In yesterday’s post, mentioned that, via the Oracle Wikipedia, discovered a gentleman named Samuel Read Hall, an important figure in the American compulsory state-run school movement of the early 19th century. So, I poked around…
Turns out, he wrote a number of books and textbooks. And that the Internet Archives has several of them online for free. So, in my usual manner, I set aside the de la Salle I was reading to take a look. The tome titled The instructor’s manual: or, Lectures on school-keeping looked promising. I’m painfully aware of my lack of understanding and sources for exactly how schooling as we now know it took over America, and this, dating from the 1820s even though this edition is from 1852, seemed like a good place to look. It’s only a couple hundred pages…
The brief biographical information I could run down about Hall doesn’t provide many hints about how he came to be a champion of modern schooling, merely that he was such. He was the son of a clergyman, never went to college, and became a school teacher at age 19. He then devoted the rest of his life to education, campaigning for Massachusetts to establish a superintendent of common schools, at which he succeeded, and of which Horace Mann became the first office holder. At 27, he was a school principal; at 28, he founded and ran a teacher’s college and became a licensed minister. The rest of his long life was devoted to educating teachers and ministerial work.
Yet, somewhere, he absorbed the Pestalozzian approach to education, with a strong, if typically muddled, foundation in Rousseau. He’s a huge Prussian schooling fanboy.
When I entered the same field of labor, in 1816, there was scarcely a paragraph in the weekly newspaper, and not a single book or even tract within my knowledge, intended to aid the teacher, in knowing how to instruct and govern a school. Nor was there at that time a Teachers Institute or Normal School within the United States, or even Europe. The magnificent school system of Prussia, which has since awakened such deep interest in Christendom, was not then matured.
from the Introduction
Hall quotes with approval a contemporary reverend, as he presents a long list of all the ways a child’s education can shape him – a snippet from the end:
“…Carry him to the city of the Grand Sultan, and he will grow up a worshipper of Mohammed, and exhibit all the peculiarities of one of his most devoted sons. Let him live where the gospel sheds its benign and enlightening rays, and he will embrace the doctrines and rejoice in the precepts of Jesus.
” Such is the controlling influence which external circumstances must and will have upon all other children. And these external circumstances are nothing more or less than the concentrated influence, the whole education, through which a person passes, and by which he will be benefited or injured, in proportion to the healthful or baneful nature of the sum of this influence. Of what unspeakable importance, then, must it be to this heir of life and immortality, that this influence should be enlightening, elevating, and moral ; that he be under the influence of virtuous associates, judicious parents, and truly intelligent, virtuous, and patriotic teachers.”
I’ve wondered if the blank slate/formless clay idea gained ground with the separation of people from farming. A farmer knows that, while care and luck certainly figure into it, plant a carrot, get a carrot, not a brussel sprout. In other words, things are what they are, and all we can do is plant them in the proper soil and take good care and pray. Mostly, that works; sometimes, it doesn’t. Here’s Hall quoting the same author:
” The rising generation, like clay in the hand of the potter, are readily moulded into almost any shape, and will certainly take the form, adopt the principles, and fall into the habits which the all- fashioning power of education comprehending under that term whatever in the world around operates on the mind or heart shall give them. …The whole future condition of the rising generations, in all their mental, social, and moral interests, their present and future joys and sorrows, is involved in it. “
To his credit, Hall is trying to educate kids to be good, under an understandable definition of good: Christian and patriotic virtues, 19th century New England style. And, even more so, he recognizes parents as key. Hall differs from Fichte here, as Fichte wants New German Men, virtuous according to standards only unclearly understood. And parents are the problem education aims to address. The Apostles and their virtues and zeal would possibly be considered acceptably educated by Hall; they would be throwbacks to an earlier, superseded age to Fichte, and thus an unacceptable step backwards.
Perhaps I give Hall too much credit here.
Only lightly skimmed so far, There are lots of examples in the form of dialogues between student and teacher. Some of Hall’s advice is sound, such as not explaining difficulties using words the kids don’t understand.
I’m going to try not to spend too much time on this work, but do want to read it. If it proves helpful, Hall has a bunch of other stuff out there on the web as well.
I hope to update it regularly, as I work to outline/draft a book on what is wrong with, and how to fix, public education in general and Catholic schooling in particular. As it is, it’s not 10% of the stuff I’ve read/am reading. Sheesh.
So, if you’re looking for reading materials, like, say, you’re an insomniac….
A large part of Marx’s appeal to the modern well-schooled student lies in Marx being the first and only example of thought they’ve been exposed to. All the authority figures they ever have in school accept the basic premises with greater or lesser degrees of awareness – because that is what they, themselves, were taught. (1) The student, again with varying degrees of awareness, accepts uncritically that everything is the result of the strangely willful movements of vast impersonal forces. Since every child has experienced deep feelings of helplessness, and, with the help of the schools, few have any sense of independent personal accomplishment (2), they can easily become convinced the individual is nothing but a twig afloat the river of events, where nothing he can do changes anything. History is presented as the story of oppression, without heroes, without valor, without any moments where an individual can shine or fail. (This, BTW, is why Star Wars ultimately HAD to be destroyed.) At the same time, witnessing to the Progress of History becomes the hallmark of virtue, even if you do it from the comfort of your living room couch.
Trouble in (the Worker’s) Paradise can be caused by other books. Marxists are pulled by the gravity of their faith into becoming, effectively, book burners. In the usual Orwellian fashion, the fury to get rid of competing books is framed as ‘being more inclusive’. We are to feel bad that few people of color, feminists and alphabet soup sexual deviants are included in the Western Canon, and only incidentally notice how these mediocrities squeese out real masterpieces of thought. Marx is a jealous, and, more important here, a tenuous, naked god.
Traditional Liberal Arts colleges have been relentlessly attacked by enlightened, progressive leaders since the middle of the 19th century, precisely because that is where most students first encounter the vast array of thought that precedes Marx, Fichte, Hegel and all the ‘Enlightenment’ thinkers back to Descartes (and, maybe, William of Ockham). Fichte (you knew we’d get there) saw reading as nothing but trouble, something to be taught, if at all, at the very end of a student’s education, after he’d been properly conditioned to do only what the state-approved authority figures told him to do.
In context – the context of 3,000 years of human thought – Marx is a patent dissembling minor leaguer. Aristotle and Thomas, the Book of Job, Sophocles, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Tacitus; Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton, and a dozen others (throw Gilgamesh and Beowulf in there, if you wish. I’ll add Sun Tsu), not to mention classical art, architecture and music, used to give at least some students a hint at what human genius looks like. These liberal artists in the classic sense were a bastion against the ambitious mediocrities that thrive, today, in our credential- and certification- addled world. Our Credentialarchy? Credentialocrity? I’m open to suggestions, here.
Since the great thinkers hardly ever agree in any detail, and more often vehemently disagree, one’s thinking gets honed trying to understand them: one gets used to the idea that really smart people can really, truly, disagree. Also – this is especially true of Aristotle and Thomas – one can see that opposing ideas are often each very appealing in themselves. One gets used to the idea that someone might have a very good point, and still be wrong, and that even brilliant people make stupid mistakes and harbor appalling bigotry, yet can still be right about other things.
It’s complicated out there. This appreciation of complexity and existence of multiple worthy viewpoints can somewhat immunize one against simple-minded theories that explain everything in one broad sweep – can raise one’s resistence to Marx, for example.
And so, as Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton and a Progressive icon, put it: the vast bulk of the people are to be denied the privilege of a liberal education and rather be fitted by public education for particular manual work. We are not to trouble our little heads with big ideas that might make life difficult for the likes of the extraordinarily well-credentialed Wilson.
This whole anti-intellectualism of the Marxists (against which label they will squeal like stuck more equal pigs, and make me laugh) is, in another example of Orwellian thinking, hiding behind their one fundamental belief: that they are smarter, more intellectual, than everybody else. Aristotle points out that a cultivated mind can consider an idea without accepting it; therefore, an uncultivated mind can (at best!) only consider ideas it has already accepted. This is what we are seeing when a Freudian analyzes the sexual hangups of his critics; when Hegel (and a host of others) classifies all who agree with him as the enlightened people, more or less tacitly dismissing all criticism as mere lack of enlightenment. And, preeminently today, when people are either woke or not, without any space in such a mental universe for one’s opponents to have a valid point, or even for them to be anything other than morally evil.
Books as a defense of civilized life are, as the saying goes, ‘downstream’ from family. The major attack, the prime position to be destroyed, remains the triumvirate of family, village and church. Right now, those with no or damaged families, who in any event reject family as foundational to culture, are burning neighborhoods and destroying the local businesses (and churches!) that make those neighborhoods at least potentially civilized. But this endless attack on the good, the true, and the beautiful, that has given us a crucifix in a bottle of urine and brutalist architecture, is hardly going to spare beautiful literature.
Chesterton said students will readily ignore and forget what their teachers tell them, but will inerringly absorb what their teachers assume.
What SAT was an acronym for changed from the ‘Student Aptitude Test’ – simply attempting to evaluate an unearned, morally neutral aptitude for academics – to the ‘Student Achievement Test’ – as if a high score was the Medal of Honor for kids. Those ‘front row kids’ now could study for the SAT -and, boy, do they ever! – instead of passively submitting to it as a diagnostic. It is the paradigm for everything considered an achievemnet in the front row kids’ lives: the approval of an outside authority that you’re worth-while.
Rereading Fichte after having read many more modern compulsory state schooling advocates, one is struck by the constant echoes of him. When, for example, William Torrey Harris recommends dark, ugly schools buildings removed from the delights of nature, the better to train children to focus on their intellectual development, he is merely echoing Fichte’s dismissal of direct experience, of the very idea of objective reality, in favor of developing in children the ability to form and be guided by subjective conceptions. Or when that Harvard woman in the news bewails the ‘evils’ of homeschooling, she is but echoing Fichte, who blames all the evils of society on the family’s role in raising their own children, and insists education is something the state must OF COURSE exclusively perform, so that mankind can progress to the next level of enlightenment. More on this below.
It’s been almost 7 years since I first read Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation, the founding work modern compulsory state education and a declaration of war by the state on the family. In the Addresses, Fichte declares that the state has every right and a sacred duty to simply seize all German children, remove them from all contact with their families for the duration of their education, for their own good, but especially for the good of the Nation. He is a fiery, fanatical believer in the perfectibility of Man and thus of the State, believes the enlightened among us have a sacred duty to lead the unenlightened to the state-mandated Promised Land by whatever means necessary, and has identified education – state controlled, mandatory education – as the key to this Heaven on Earth.
The major thing standing in the way of achieving these ends, ends that justify, evidently, extravagant and brutal means, is the family. Within their families all children (with, I suppose, the exception of Fichte himself?) have been raised to be sensual, weak-willed sheep who do not love the Fatherland, from which all their virtue flows. Properly raised, these New German Men will be virtuous, selfless lovers of Truth, and, incidentally, obviate the need for a standing army. If the Fatherland needs defending, this properly educated, Fatherland-loving, physically fit generation will of course simply form an unbeatable, selfless fighting force against which no unenlightened mortals could possibly stand. (1)
Fichte delivered these Addresses as a series of lecture over the winter of 1807/8. He was evidently a very good orator; certainly, much of the Addresses read like fiery evangelical preaching. His audience for these talks, the admission fees to which paid the the Fichte family’s bills, were the sort of people who would pay money to be alternately flattered and harangued on wintry Sunday evenings. These were professionals living in French-occupied Berlin, butt-hurt over having had that loathsome creature Napoleon crush the previously invincible Prussian army like a bug. Literal blocks away from the site of these lectures, the government of the occupation had its offices.
Just because it’s easy to forget: in the early 1800s, around 80% to 90% of the population of Prussia, and every other nation as well, lived in the country. Farmers could only consistently produce 10-20% more food than was required to keep themselves alive; this put a cap on how many people could be engaged in activities other than farming. I mention this because farmers supplied not only the food, but also armies of any size of any nation. The major target of Fichte’s reforms, therefore, had to be the children of country people.
I’ve long suspected that the myth of the country bumpkin is a result of solid farmers not buying into the fantasies of city slickers. They must be stooopid, those country rubes, because all the smart people agree that anyone who disagrees with them is, you know, stupid. That there might be species of stupid just for those living in cities detached from the work of providing sustenance is an idea that seems to not have occurred to too many urbanites.
Perhaps this attitude has some parallels today?
Fichte begins with and sprinkles liberally throughout his talks the claim that Germans are responsible for pretty much all progress and everything good in the world. He partly attributes this to the natural character of Germans, partly to his claim that Germans have a natural language. The two causes interact: because German Germans never learned a conqueror’s language, they understand the world and express themselves plainly, in words that come directly from common experience. The pointed reference here is to the French, ethnically Germanic for the most part, as the Franks were a German tribe, yet conquered by Rome more or less and speakers of a highly degenerate form of their conquerors language. When he speaks of the German Nation, he means all native German speakers.
Fichte considered states as passing fads, almost, and sees them as each in its own way an expression of fundamental Germaness. The existence of separate German states is no major hindrance to his theories, in other words. One might say: German states are downstream from the German nation to which these Addresses are addressed. The high destiny of the German nation overwhelms and vouchsafes the purity and success of any truly German state. This primacy of German manifest destiny to lead the world to the next phase of Fichte’s 5 stages of human development will keep the state honest, as it were. In any event, Fichte never for a moment entertains the idea that any state pursuing his grant plan might be fundamentally corrupt. Nope: nothing can possibly go wrong with the state exercising its police power to round up everyone’s children and enforce isolation on them, imprisoning them for years with no visitation rights. Fichte goes farther: it is as CERTAIN as day follows night his education system will produce selfless, obedient, patriotic adults who will lead the German Nation and then the world to Nirvana.
Another familiar theme:
Now, assuming that the pupil is to remain until education is finished, reading and writing can be of no use in the purely national education, so long as this education continues. But it can, indeed, be very harmful; because, as it has hitherto so often done, it may easily lead the pupil astray from direct perception to mere signs, and from attention, which knows that it grasps nothing if it does not grasp it now and here, to distraction, which consoles itself by writing things down and wants to learn some day from paper what it will probably never learn, and, in general, to the dreaming which so often accompanies dealings with the letters of the alphabet. Not until the very end of education, and as its last gift for the journey, should these arts be imparted and the pupil led by analysis of the language, of which he has been completely master for a long time, to discover and use the letters. After the rest of the training he has already acquired, this would be play.
Fichte, 9th Address, pp 136
To sum up: a kid is to spend, effectively, 24 x 7 X 365 in school for around 10 years, learning to be a good German, how to really focus on the task at hand (2) but doesn’t learn reading and writing (and, one assumes, arithmetic) until something like age 15 or 16. If you can read and write, you don’t have to pay attention to the teacher as much – you can take notes, and review later. This will not do, as the child is to accept the state trained and certified teacher in the place of his displaced father, and fulfill his need for approval and love by pleasing that teacher. The magical education works, according to Fichte’s understanding of Pestalozzi, by having the student utterly emotionally dependent on pleasing the teacher, doing what the teacher wants him to do in the way the teacher wants it done, always eager for approval. There is no fallback: by design, a child who fails to please his teacher has no recourse, not to family, not even to books. His family has abandoned him, as far as he knows, and he’s not allowed to explore the world through reading, where he might come across other ways in which people interact.
The scary part: it works great. Modern schooling attempts to achieve the same dynamic by telling the parents, who themselves were schooled in the same way, that they are bad parents if they don’t enforce homework on their child, effectively extending to the home and parents the duty to please the teacher. That the bulk of homework is busy work is the point: it’s not the work itself that is important, it’s the discipline that doing the work as commanded enforces.
Fichte is alive and well in modern schooling. ‘Educators’ are trained and filtered by their willingness to perform busy work and regurgitate nonsense on command, then certified. Teachers may and often do have goals and ideals of their own – these are at best irrelevant, as the structure of the schools is the message. You will sit in the class in which you are placed; you will do what the teacher tells you to do; you will ‘succeed’ by regurgitating what the teacher tells you. Anything else is at best superfluous.
You end up with well-schooled, ‘front row’ (3) people who are utterly convinced of their intellectual and moral superiority, functionally innumerate, scientifically and historically illiterate, convinced that regurgitating whatever the approved authority figure is saying at the moment is the apex of intelligence, and utterly terrified of examining the basis of their confidence. They react with anger to anyone who dares challenge them on any point of their received beliefs. They have received their identity through their schooling (as it was designed to do); any challenge to any idea is thus a personal attack, and proof the challenge is stupid and evil.
See, for example, the knee-jerk shutdown of criticisms of the current lockdown.
I’ve read in a number of places that German soldier in the World Wars consistently inflicted 30% higher casualties than they received. Those soldiers were educated in schools founded by von Humboldt after the recommendations of Fichte, so maybe there’s something to this claim? But the Prussian state could never quite pull off the whole ‘seize all children from the cradle and prohibit all contact with their families’ thing – which is probably why they lost both those wars…
The psychologist Alice Miller talks about how children are, of necessity, desperate for love and approval, which they get automatically in any even marginally healthy family. Parents and siblings who are not monsters hold and talk to the baby and interact with the child daily. She also mentions in a couple of her works the standards of German child-rearing manuals from the 19th century, how fathers were instructed to make sure their sons failed at certain tasks just so that they could be punished. Otherwise, if the child were to experience only love, acceptance, and patience, he may not learn to understand discipline and authority. All love is conditional, in other words. Somebody else will need to research what, if any, effect Fichte had on those manuals, or visa versa.
From the linked article, proof, if any needed, that arrogance makes you stupid:
Front row kids:
Mobile, global, and well educated
Primary social network is via colleges and career
Intellect is primary. View world through framework of numbers and rational arguments
Meaning (and morality) comes from careers and intellectual puruits
Faith is irrational. They see themselves as beyond race and gender
View their lives as better than their parents and their children’s lives will be better than their own
As mentioned earlier, I’ve been rereading Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation, since I now have a lot more historical and philosophical context than I had when I first read them several years ago. What follows are a few quotations that, this time, grabbed my attention, and a little light discussion.
For anyone new here: Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was the founder of modern compulsory state schooling – schooling of, by, and for the state. He inspired von Humboldt, who embraced his goals and implemented his program in Prussia starting in 1810. Horace Mann and the other founders of American state schooling traveled to Prussia in the first half of the 19th century to admire and learn from the Prussian Model of state-controlled schooling. Many got PhDs from Prussian universities – the PhD was invented at the University of Berlin, founded by von Humboldt, where Fichte was chair of philosophy and Rector. The U of Berlin was the first modern research university, intended to train the elites who would become the implementers of Prussian Schooling and to further train the products of such schooling, for the good of the state.
Harvard, always the leading University in America, became a research university over the last few decades of the 19th century under its president Charles Eliot. As Wikipedia puts it:
But Eliot’s goal went well beyond Emersonian self-actualization for its own sake. Framed by the higher purposes of a research university in the service of the nation, specialized expertise could be harnessed to public purposes.
Eliot had spent 2 years in Europe studying schooling. The threads leading from Fichte to all modern state-controlled schooling are solid. We are to this day attempting to implement his program.
It’s key to understand Fichte to understand how we’ve gotten to where we are today: school versus parents for the souls of the children.
In his 9th Address, Fichte expands on the requirement that children be removed for all parental control and influence for the duration of their education, which will be supplied by state-certified Masters:
To put it more briefly. According to our supposition, those who need protection are deprived of the guardianship of their parents and relatives, whose place has been taken by masters. If they are not to become absolute slaves, they must be released from guardianship, and the first step in this direction is to educate them to manhood. German love of fatherland has lost its place; it shall get another, a wider and deeper one; there in peace and obscurity it shall establish itself and harden itself like steel, and at the right moment break forth in youthful strength and restore to the State its lost independence. Now, in regard to this restoration foreigners, and also those among us who have petty and narrow minds and despairing hearts, need not be alarmed; one can console them with the assurance that not one of them will live to see it, and that the age which will live to see it will think otherwise than they.
9th Address, pp 127.
See how that works? Petty, narrow-minded people with despairing hearts will be alarmed at having the state seize and physically remove their children from them for duration of their education, for the purpose of training them to restore the state to its proper independence. Such people – us! – are to be consoled with the assurance that none of us will live to see the state restored to its glory. We may miss our children, but we won’t have to endure the glorious future.
A little later, Fichte endorses the methods of his older contemporary Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi as key to his new national education. Problem is, Pestalozzi endorsed mothers as the key to education, assuming much valuable learning would be done in the home under their care. He even wrote the Mother’s Book, because, of course, mothers needed to be told how to do it right.
Fichte will have none of it:
His book for mothers contains the foundation of his development of all knowledge; for, among other things, he relies very much on home education. First of all, so far as this home education itself is concerned, we have certainly no desire to quarrel with him over the hopes that he forms of mothers. But, so far as our higher conception of a national education is concerned, we are firmly convinced that, especially among the working classes, it cannot be either begun, continued, or ended in the parents’ house, nor, indeed, without the complete separation of the children from them…. Not until a generation has passed through the new education can the question be considered, as to what part of the national education shall be entrusted to the home.
ibid, pp 138
A key part of Fichte’s love for Pestalozzi resides in the later’s emphasis on the child’s need for constant supervision and management, that education must be under the control of masters or terrible things will happen. Fichte wants to make sure the state is the one training and paying the right kind of masters.
Fichte tosses out the family from any roll in educating their own children. What about that other great educational force, the church? In America, prior to Mann & Co., Americans believed that the education of children belong solely in the hands of families and their churches. By the end of the 18th century, the population in America was near 100% literate, as home, churches, and private schools educated almost everyone, apart from slaves who were purposely kept uneducated. As Orestes Brownson commented, in America, having the state educate our kids is making our servant into our master. It was a century-long battle to get Americans to accept the goodness and necessity of state-controlled schools.
In Address 11: On whom will the Carrying-out of this Scheme of Education devolve? (answer: the State), Fichte recaps history, where, according to him, the state stayed out of education for pathetic reasons.
In modern Europe education actually originated, not with the State, but with that power from which States, too, for the most part obtained their power—from the heavenly spiritual kingdom of the Church. The Church considered itself not so much a part of the earthly community as a colony from heaven quite foreign to the earthly community and sent out to enrol citizens for that foreign State, wherever it could take root. [note: ‘foreign’ is about as strong a put-down as Fichte uses, the opposite of German, his highest praise.] Its education aimed at nothing else but that men should not be damned in the other world but saved. The Reformation merely united this ecclesiastical power, which otherwise continued to regard itself as before, to the temporal power, with which formerly it had very often been actually in conflict. [note: Luther sought to have the state seize monasteries and turn them into state schools; much of his correspondence was with secular leaders urging them to pursue various programs. Eventually, we reached the point today where German churches are state-supported institutions.] In that connection, this was the only difference that resulted from that event; there also remained, therefore, the old view of educational matters. … The sole public education, that of the people, however, was simply education for salvation in heaven; the essential feature was a little Christianity and reading, with writing if it could be managed—all for the sake of Christianity. All other development of man was left to the blind and casual influence of the society in which they grew up, and to actual life. Even the institutions for scholarly education were intended mainly for the training of ecclesiastics. Theology was the important faculty; the others were merely supplementary to it, and usually received only its leavings.
Address 11, pp 164
Finally, is there any role for the Church? (He’s talking Lutheran, or at least. Protestant, churches here. That the Catholic Church might have a role was of course beyond consideration.) Not really:
Now, if for the future, and from this very hour, we are to be able to hope better things in this matter from the State, it will have to exchange what seems to have been up to the present its fundamental conception of the aim of education for an entirely different one. It must see that it was quite right before to refuse to be anxious about the eternal salvation of its citizens, because no special training is required for such salvation, and that a nursery for heaven, like the Church, whose power has at last been handed over to the State, should not be permitted, for it only obstructs all good education, and must be dispensed with. On the other hand, the State must see that education for life on earth is very greatly needed; from such a thorough education, training for heaven follows as an easy supplement. The more enlightened the State thought it was before, the more firmly it seems to have believed that it could attain its true aim merely by means of coercive institutions, and without any religion and morality in its citizens, who might do as they liked in regard to such matters. May it have learnt this at least from recent experiences—that it cannot do so, and that it has got into its present condition just because of the want of religion and morality!
ibid, pp 166
There’s a lot going on in this paragraph:
Fichte asserts that the Church has at last surrendered its power to the State, and that this is a good thing;
The state has an entirely different aim for education than the Church
The state should not ‘permit’ the Church, which should be ‘dispensed with’
The state is concerned with education for life on earth. Earlier, Fichte described how this whole afterlife business interferes with men doing what men – German men, of course – need to do to bring about heaven on earth, that we obtain immortality through making the nation stronger and better, and need to embrace the goals of the nation (German, of course) and focus on that
The state has previously ignored religion and morality in education, but now must take it up. Earlier, he argues that state education IS simply education in religion and morality, that reading and academics can and should be delayed until the end of the educational period, if indulged in at all. The important thing is to teach children to love the fatherland and do what they are told by their masters.
“Recent experiences” include having their armies crushed and lands overrun by the loathsome French, who, even as Fichte was delivering these talks, were sitting in the seats of power just blocks away.
Upon a second reading, there is a ton more to Fichte than I initially picked up. He is the prophet for the Messianic State, a true believer in the German people’s natural superiority and leadership, and sees the Spirit unfolding in history as being the ultimate reality. He solves the noumena/phenomena issues by simply declaring our subjective experience of the world IS the world. Thus, he wants education to focus on developing in children the ability to construct in their minds conceptions independent of any reference to the outside world. These images would include first an idealized Fatherland, to which all love ad devotion would be directed.
Fichte was that kind of personality who is either your staunchest friend or worst enemy, a sort of super-high functioning Borderline Personality case. He was certainly heroic in certain respects, such as nursing his wife back to health, despite the risk he would catch her disease (he did – it killed him), and on the other hand get himself fired for being a self-righteous jerk.
A. When I say ‘functionally innumerate’ I mean unable or unwilling to understand what a set of numbers mean. This is distinct from the ability to do math, but obviously related. Thus, you do get model builders and people with the title: scientist, who may have learned a lot of math, but are nonetheless functionally innumerate: they lack the ability or, worse, the interest, to try to understand what it is they’re looking at.
I’m guessing 99% of people are functionally innumerate in this sense. To such people, a thousand, a million, a billion and a trillion are just big numbers, with maybe a vague notion that each step is bigger in some unclear manner from the one before it.
Thus, when you say: “100,000 Americans may die of COVID 19,” all the innumerate hear is: big, scary number. The functionally numerate immediately think: “accross how big a population?” And: “compared to what background death rate?”
Then, we perform a little math – in our heads, because we’re just trying to get an idea of scale. We also suspect with near-certainty that any such numbers are going to be sloppy, so getting the result accurate out to a bunch of decimal places isn’t worth the trouble. Just ball-park it, see what we’re talking about.
So: the US population is about 330M. The 2020 background death rate is about 0.888% (that’s a UN estimate based on trends over decades, prior to the COVID 19 outbreak.) So, let’s see: a 0.1% risk of death = 1 in 1,000 Americans dying – from COVID 19 which would mean 330,000 dead, right? So, if we think 100,000 people will die this year from COVID 19, then our COVID death rate is right around 0.03%.
Thus – and this is an absolutely simple minded analysis, since no disease affects every group in a populations the same way – 100,000 COVID 19 deaths would increase the imaginary typical American’s risk of dying this year from 0.888% all the way up to 0.918%.
The functionally innumerate cannot grasp that this is trivial, that we’ve gone from just under 9 people out of 1,000 dying to just barely over 9 people out of 1,000 dying. The hypothetical average American’s risk of death has not increased to any meaningful degree. They still see that big, scary number, 100,000, which, in their minds, might as well be 1,ooo,000 or even 100,000,000. It’s just a scary thing, that is all.
This is before the obvious caveats: e.g., that 60% (most likely; not all states report this, but based on the rest of the West) of the deaths are nursing home patients. Not *just* the elderly, but the elderly who are sick enough to be incarcerated, and have a median 3 to 15 month life expectancy once they become incarcerated. In other words, COVID 19 is generally killing people who were, sadly, going to die soon anyway. So, reduce that 0.03% by, say, 50% – now (remember, we’re just ballparking here) that’s around a 0.15% increased chance of death – from a background rate of 0.888% up to a COVID-added rate of 0.903% – this is what the functionally numerate would call ‘noise’ – a level of change that’s probably well within the sloppiness of the underlying numbers.
And the most obvious caveat of all, something known from the very earliest analysis done in China, and confirmed EVERYWHERE: If you’re younger – like under 65 – and healthy, your chances of dying of COVID 19 are, effectively, 0.
BUT: not zero! So the occasional seemingly healthy person will catch (or be more or less plausibly assumed to have caught) COVID 19 and, tragically, die.
These deaths, of seemingly healthy people, is, at most, 5% of the deaths. I get this number by looking at something reported out of New York: 95% of the victims had (usually multiple) pre-existing morbidities. That would mean 5% of COVID victims are otherwise healthy. Again, we’re spitballing here, could be off, but, based on everything I’ve seen, not by a whole lot.
Thus, out of our 100,000 assumed deaths, 5,000 would be people who weren’t already seriously ill. Thus, we can cut the risk of a healthy person dying of COVID 19 down to 1/20th of that .015% – now we’re really in background noise territory.
BUT: our intrepid ‘news’ media is stone guaranteed to find every one of those deaths and make sure we all know about them. And the functionally innumerate will see those incredibly rare cases as PROOF we’re all going to die if the government doesn’t save us.
And even this is before the issues around what is being counted and how, which puts another level of downward pressure on any risk numbers. The risk to anyone not already toeing the threshold of St. Peter’s Gate is: 0. As in, nada. As in, wear a helmet, because a meteorite might hit you in the head level risk.
So, we have our well-schooled yet functionally innumerate population absolutely terrified COVID 19 will kill them unless the government forces all the mean people to behave like political prisoners – just as they, themselves, are proudly behaving! – or else we’re all going to die!
And don’t get me started on much fun it is to get lectured about ‘the science’ by the scientifically illiterate, who are basically the same people.
Bottom line: if we were believably talking about half a million dead, maybe – maybe – we could justify the so far hidden but not therefore any less real cost of the lockdown on the health of all those millions of people who have lost their jobs, strained their relationships, and had their risks of stroke and heart attack raised with their anxiety levels. Kids getting beaten by stressed out unemployed parents; old folks needlessly terrified into a heart attack; borderline alcoholics going all in due to despair; depressed people killing themselves. These are just as real risks, and more widespread and serious, than anything posed by COVID 19.
B. Possums. Got possums in the backyard. When I turned the compost, which is in a box set on bricks on the ground to keep it more level, and got to the ‘floor’ which becomes the ‘top’ when you flip it, I flushed out 3 young possums hiding there. I was startled, and said a bad, bad word.
I like nature’s little creatures as much as the next suburban kid who never had to deal with them on a farm, but – nah. I’ve put in a nice garden, and don’t need possums deciding that my fruits and vegitables look good, once they’ve finished eating the oranges off our neighbor’s tree. Judging from the peels under the compost bin, that’s what they’re now living on.
A few years back, I paid unconscionable money to have an expert trap and remove a family of possums from under my shed. Don’t want to do that. But the options do not inspire confidence. Maybe I should borrow a dog for a week or two?
C. Regular reader J. J. Griffing commenting on my review of John C. Wright’sPhoenix Exultant, recommended The Far End of History, a story by the same author, that involves one of his best characters from the Golden Age trilogy: Atkins, the last soldier. I recommend it, but only after reading a bit of the trilogy so you have a better idea of Atkins.
So, was thinking I’d list some of my favorite John C. Wright characters, and ask you all: who’d I miss?
Order is not a ranking. Maybe we could do that later?
and I’ll think of a bunch more I’ll be embarrassed to have forgotten as soon as I publish this…
D. Less concerning than the possums, but more immediate: something is eating a lot of my little plants, but not the usual suspects as far as I can tell. Little holes in the leaves, which, in the worst cases, leave lacework leaves that then die. Don’t see any caterpillars, or any bugs at all, really, but do see vast numbers of sow beetles and pill bugs – we seem to have both in great numbers. In our compost bin, they have found their perfect environment, and have bred accordingly. Thus, when I sift out some compost to add to the plants, I see thousands of them crawling around in it. Then, I imagine, removed from their copious supplies of rotting materials in the compost bin, they start in on the live leaves.
Or maybe it’s some other bug? There are sure plenty of suspects around. Earwigs, some other crawlies I don’t recognize. I tend to go very light on the chemicals.
Sow beetles and pill bugs, known by a hundred local names, are cool in themselves – not insects, but crustaceans more closely related to lobsters than bugs. Also found out your basic garden varieties can live 3 years, and that closely-related species, some huge, live in the oceans.
Nonetheless, I may have to find a way to reduce their numbers pretty soon, while I still have live seedlings in the ground. Or figure out what else is eating them.
Short and sweet: The Golden Age, first of a trilogy, is fun book, set thousands of years in the future yet strangely appropriate to our own time. Packed with memorable characters and Wright’s usual boatload of fascinating ideas. Read it now.
This book, along with the rest of the trilogy – The Phoenix Exultant and the Golden Transcendence – were about eye-high, when I’m seated, in the bookcase to my left where the SF&F I’m supposed to have read by now is kept. The education stuff, once seated in my office, is above eye level straight ahead, and thus easier to ignore…
Just finished rereading this, noticed I’d never reviewed it. Reminds me of Lord of the World in one critical respect: it asks the question – what if things work out? What if the promised Golden Age is indeed brought about by human effort? Benson sets his story right about now, and the ‘technology’ that succeeds is centralized control of everything – a plausible enough fantasy for the earliest years of the 20th century, before WWI, the Russian Revolution, WWII and the Cold War made it seem too fantastical. Wright sets his story many thousands of years into the future, and gives hints about all the wars and troubles humanity went through to get there, but, by this time, (almost) all people – vanilla and enhanced, and machine intelligences, and collective minds – believe they are in a Golden Age, free from want and violence, free to enjoy fantasies both mundane and esoteric.
Both Benson and Wright address: What could possibly go wrong?
One exception is our protagonist, Phaeton, son of unimaginably brilliant and rich Helion, who is attending the once-in-a-millennium months-long party known as the Transcendence. Here, along with entertainments and competitions, possible future scenarios for the next thousand years will be presented for public approval. These scenarios are worked out by the Peers – the richest, most powerful minds in the Solar System, of which Helion is one – with the aid of sophotechs – strictly computer intelligences that run everything for maximum human comfort and freedom, after a fashion. Once a consensus on a desirable future is reached, the sophotechs will do whatever is necessary to make it happen.
Technology has advanced to the point where no one need see or experience or remember anything they don’t want. Depending on individual wealth, a person might live in a vivid construct of their own design, produced and managed by their own sophotech, if they’ve got one. Individuality is expressed in what kind of construct one chooses to live in, and under what rules. Should it be ‘realistic’? Should all pleasures and pains be enhanced? Beautiful? Under what standard of beauty?
A person can choose where to be within these various constructs, whether to see things as they appear to the naked eye, to filter out unpleasant things, to add more pleasant things, or to simply become immersed in a complete dreamworld. People can chose to see the world from other people’s ‘perspective’ – that is, within the constructs and rules other have chosen. Memories and minds themselves can be recorded, stored, transferred, and destroyed.
All sophotechs cooperate in creating the Earth Mind, which is the greatest intelligence in the Solar System, who keeps everything pleasant and peaceful, and to whom all turn for guidance.
The sophotechs will not, however, interfere with human desires that are merely self-destructive. Private rights, including property rights, are pretty much absolute. It’s a libertarian paradise, up to a point. The Peers are unimaginably wealthy, and like it that way. People routinely join group minds, which is, effectively, suicide after the manner, but much more pleasantly than, being assimilated by the Borg. Or submerge themselves in a dream world from which they can never be reawakened.
Phaeton quickly realizes something is wrong in his beautiful dreamworld, something he can’t quite remember. Wandering the vast parklands created for the Transcendence, he encounters a cryptic old man who offers a few baffling hints, and a strange blue Neptunian. The Neptunians are among the few who aren’t enraptured by the current state of affairs, and thus live past Neptune out where they can enjoy a degree of freedom – miserable (by comparison) lonely freedom.
The Neptunian tries repeatedly to get Phaeton to accept some seemingly harmless direct mental interactions, to grant some direct access to his mind, which Phaeton rejects. The Neptunian hastily departs just as Atkins, the last soldier and the one mind in the Oecomene left who can wield deadly violence for the state, shows up, and yet another cryptic encounter befalls Phaeton.
The story then deploys the amnesia device: protagonist wanders from clue to clue, trying desperately to discover what he has forgotten. He discovers his memories are locked away somewhere, and that he agreed to their removal, and agreed not to retrieve them…
Wright fertile imagination always supplies many characters to his stories. Here, among many others, we meet Gannis, a group mind and an adversary, Daphne, Phaeton’s wife, Helion, his tragic father, and, best of all, Radamanthus, the house sophotech for Helion’s and Phaeton’s manor house. Radamanthus has a wonderful sense of humor, appearing in the constructs sometimes as a portly butler, sometimes a geometric figure, but, usually, as a penguin.
The book ends with what is almost literally a cliffhanger, after a trial scene reminiscent of the climax of heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel. On to the Phoenix Exultant.
Such a cool word. Chesterton uses it in Manalive (1912) to describe the stuff Innocent Smith carries with him in his large yellow Gladstone bag; A. Merritt uses it to refer to all the science gear Dr. Walter T. Goodwin is having lugged across the Himalayas in the Metal Monster (1920). These are the only 2 occasions I can recall ever having seen this lovely word, used by two English masters of the English language writing a century ago. Impedimenta carries both the meaning of the tools essential for a job, and something that weighs one down on a journey.
I prefer reading books written in English that are at least 75 years old; 100 is better. While American written English was much better back then as well, late 19th/early 20th century English English is like a dip in a cool stream, bracing and refreshing. Even when I disagree with what the author is saying, the language allows me to think I’m engaged with a civilized, clear mind, someone I could argue with over a pint and leave good fellows well met.
This is, perhaps, an expression of what might be called my intellectual impedimenta, that collection of information and habits that are the tools I lug around with me to do the work of trying to understand things.
I hardly consider myself an expert on politics and history (insofar as those two things can be separated), barely and hesitantly championing any truly political positions, yet, with a small bookcase worth of history and politics under my hat, it seems I’m depressingly far more qualified than 99% of folks. Few if any people are qualified to hold strong political opinions about much of anything. The very idea that we are fit to propose or vote on grand, sweeping programs is absurd. I am well aware that I’m not one of the few if any; about the only sweeping program I’m willing to back is the effort to sweep more things down to a local level, where real people can take action on things we have some chance of understanding.
We are told, on the one hand, that voting is a sacred civic duty; we are even instructed to do something the Founding Fathers never dreamt to impose on us: decide who the parties should run for President, or even what Senators should represent our state. In America, not having the ‘right’ to vote makes one sub-human, or at least sub-adult. Voting has been elevated to the one pure definition of complete personhood.
On the other hand, many if not most of us don’t often, if ever, vote; election days are not even national holidays. We get a voter pamphlet and sample ballot, pre-digested information assembled by people we assume know better than us what’s going on, which few of us study for more than a few minutes. Then we fill out a multiple-choice quiz just like all the tests we took in school. Our ‘leaders’ tell us what the right answers are. Team A or Team B? Chocolate or vanilla? Few could tell you what, in terms of policy or goals, we are voting for, in anything other than content-free platitudes, let alone describe how the mechanisms of politics could achieve the goals. We just know we don’t trust the other team.
(Put the two together: if voting determines our personhood, and voting is a trivial exercise in crowd control that most voting-age people skip at least some of the time, just how valuable is our person in the eyes of the state? How does the value of Homo electoribus compare to the value of a child of God? Who is doing the valuing?)
In Manalive (review soon, I hope) Chesterton has his Irish lawyer Michael Moon argue against a brace of officious doctors in their efforts to have the highly eccentric Innocent Smith dragged before a magistrate and committed:
It is true that there’s too much official and indirect power. Often and often the thing a whole nation can’t settle is just the thing a family could settle. Scores of young criminals have been fined and sent to jail when they ought to have been thrashed and sent to bed. Scores of men, I am sure, have had a lifetime at Hanwell when they only wanted a week at Brighton.
Next: I don’t really know much math, but I do seem to have that math intuition, if that’s what it is, that allows some people to spot unreasonable numbers on inspection: like orders of magnitude off outputs, given the inputs, as we saw with reporters imagining Bloomberg, by spending $500M on his election bid, somehow spent a million dollars per American. Or that medical industry profits could pay for universal health care.
Or that a few thousand people sadly dying out of a Chinese population of more than a billion people means we’re all going to die! I mean, die soon, rather than eventually.
Here’s a little less obvious a case, explained by the admirable Mike Flynn. He presents an elegant example of the problem of very accurate but not perfect testing done over a huge number of people. Basically, small errors, such as false positives only 5% of the time, will mean 50,000 false positives when a million people are tested. If the infection rate is low – and, right now, the infection rate for the dreaded Kung Flu is pretty low – then the number of false positives can be in the same neighborhood as the number of people actually infected. The infection rate will be overstated because it will be confused with the ‘tested positive’ numbers, which include all the false positives. So, mass testing will tend to significantly overstate the number of people infected, even if the accuracy – the sensitivity – of the test is 95%.
And then there are false negatives, too. Mr. Flynn explains it all much better. The real take-away is that numbers need to be understood; measurements are ‘facts’, meaning, ‘things made’ and most definitely do not speak for themselves. One of my favorite examples is butterflies. A few years back, it was reported that a certain butterfly population had fallen some ridiculously accurate percentage, something like 73.6%. Because of this, we were assured we were all doomed unless we committed to Do Something Right Now.
It all begins to fall apart as soon as you ask: how do you count millions of butterflies? One by one? How do you know you didn’t miss a whole bunch? Slightly, but only slightly, more subtle: how do you determine the normal range of butterfly population fluctuations? Unless you can count them, and count them for years and years, through thick and thin, how can you know that it doesn’t just so happens that, some years, there are lots more butterflies than other years?
You don’t need much more than that to start getting more than a little suspicious of an awful lot of what passes for Science! these days.
Old guy advise to whippersnappers who may one day want to do something scholarly: when you get the chance to learn German, French, Latin, and Greek – DO IT!
I’m you’re Cautionary Tale right here: turns out that there’s tons of critiques and descriptions of Pestalozzi – in German. Hecker loomed large in France. Latin and Greek are kind of essential, too.
I used to be able to read a little French, but that atrophied away decades ago; German I took when I was 15, didn’t take at all; Greek I took for a couple years, but guess what? One must work at Greek like training to be a marathon runner – can’t let very many days go by without putting in some serious time and effort. And Latin I know only through singing a ton of church Latin – the Nicene Creed contains about 90% of any Latin vocabulary I might pretend to know.
Being at the mercy of translators isn’t so bad, usually, but here I worry a little. Example: I’m reading The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi by a J. A. Green, B.A., Professor of Education at the University College of North Wales. Green’s preface begins:
In this attempt to expound the fundamental doctrines of Pestalozzi, I have been chiefly indebted to two admirable articles by Wegel in the XXIII and XXIV Jahrbücher dee Vereins filr wissenschaftliche Padagogik, entitled “Pestalozzi und Herbart.” In the vast extent of German Pestalozzian literature, these articles are generally acknowledged to be the most satisfactory critical account of Pestalozzi’s doctrines.
“In the vast extent of German Pestalozzian literature” I’m thinking there are going to be a wide variety of takes on what Pestalozzi was up to, and that, given the Sahara-like dryness of the topic, few have been clawed into a civilized tongue translated into English. When I reviewed How Gertrude Teaches Her Children, which seems to be considered his clearest declaration of his philosophy and methods, I noted how Pestalozzi’s writings seem little more than a Rorschach test wherein anyone, from Einstein’s kindly teachers to Fichte in his proto-Nazi ravings, could see what they needed for their purposes. Indeed, the translators of that volume mention Pestalozzi’s peculiar use of words:
These terms are difficult, for apparently we do not grasp Pestalozzi’s thought. We neither read nor follow him. If we walk in his ways, we may see what he saw; if we repeat his experiments, we may in some measure share his thought. Doing leads to knowing. He has been blamed for not defining his terms. He gives instead the history of this conception, the circumstances which led to it, its development, and his schemes founded on it. ” There are two ways of instructing,” he said ; ” either we go from words to things, or from things to words. Mine is the second method.”
Why does it need to be either/or? Perhaps there is a third way, one that uses things-to-words and words-to-things as appropriate? Does not any child old enough for formal education already possess enough awareness of the world gained through ‘sense impressions’ to skip the picture-book phase? The key recurring element of the Pestalozzian approach, the one that all his followers, in their disparate routes, from Einstein’s teachers cutting him some slack to Fichte’s legions of state-certified teachers micromanaging every spoon-fed moment, is the primacy of the *teacher*. It is How Gertrude Teaches, not How Gertrude’s Children Learn, after all.
Even more basic, Pestalozzi does not inspire confidence in his ability to move from things to words when he, himself, cannot seem to put into words the methods he employed for many decades. Seeing is believing, I suppose, but then everything, especially becoming a teacher after the manner of Pestalozzi, can only be learned as a sort of apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is not the kind of schooling the state has settled upon.
Keep uncovering more books that I have to read, or at least think I do. I knew this was a vast field; I did not think so much of it would be relevant to my purposes. Generally, I plan to eschew sources more recent than the 1950s at the very latest; my quarry is the story of the complete surrender of the Catholic schools to the state’s idea of education, after almost a century of fighting hard against it. Looks like the end came with more of a whimper than a bang, and was completely over by the 1930s. What strikes me now, and struck Archbishops Ireland’s and Gibbon’s opponents at the time, was the relatively swift and total shift from an adversarial relationship with the state schools to a slavish imitation of them. Bishops like Hughes in NY had waged war to keep as many kids as possible out of state schools; Ireland thought Catholic schools were a stopgap, and wanted to hand education over to the state, or at least to its surrogates and mirror images in the form of diocesan school school superintendents and certified teachers under the supervision of the state. These new ‘professional’ ‘educators’ would ensure that Catholic education conformed to the state’s wishes, that classes were taught in a state approved manner from state approved curricula. The Supreme Court ruling in Pierce v. Society of Sisters codified what Ireland had proposed: that the state has a coequal and independent interest in the education of children, and can rightly oversee and, where it deems necessary, overrule the educational decisions of parents. As Legaldictionary.net puts it in their summary of the ruling:
Nothing stops the State of Oregon, or any state, from regulating private schools to ensure quality. However, a state government cannot use its power to arbitrarily and unreasonably destroy the existence of private schools.
And who gets to regulate private schools to ensure quality, I wonder? Chief Justice Hugo Black, a former KKK member and bitter anti-Catholic, maybe? Who in 1947 started the tradition of applying the anti-establishment* clause of the 1st Amendment to any state *tolerance* of Catholic expression in public?
Pierce v. Society of Sisters was proclaimed a victory for the Catholic schools, because the court did in fact strike down an Oregon law banning them. Lost in the celebration was enshrining into law the state’s right to oversee *all* education. The old idea, championed by the Church and, indeed, virtually all American Protestants up until the end of the 19th century, was that parents and their churches had the primary rights and duties towards education of the young, and that the state had only subordinate and derivative rights, if, indeed, any. Nope, here is enshrined in law the idea Ireland promoted, that the state’s has rights to meddle in, and, indeed, manage, the education of your kids, and that these rights are neither derived from nor subordinate to parental and religious rights.
We are to simply trust that the Hugo Blacks of the world won’t overdo it, that the overwhelming force wielded by those at the reins of the state are not going to be brought to bear on a few uppity citizens here and there. They wouldn’t dream, for example, of mandating sex ed completely at odds with Catholic religious beliefs. As Woody Allen put it: the lion may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.
All this has lead me to the frankly wild Americanism of American Catholics, complete validation of the accusation that they (we!) are Americans first, and Catholics second. This ceases to be a mere truism once its clear that it is the decision-making paradigm: “American” is the solid thing; Catholic must be flexible and conform.
*It’s like people have no idea ideas have any context, as if we must struggle to understand what establishment of a religion means, instead of looking at the English history in which that term arose, or in the colonies where it where it was implemented here, or in the way it was (not) applied to all the Bible reading and religious education that was considered essential to public education well into the 1930s. Nope, it means something else entirely, new and mysterious.