In previous posts, here, here and here, we quickly ran through some high points and low points in the history of Catholic Schooling in America. Picking up where we left off:
The Supreme Court decision in the 1930s case of the blatant anti-Catholic Oregon laws outlawing Catholic and other private schools and mandating government schools left the Church free to continue its program. The ruling basically said that, yes, parents have the right and duty to educate their kids BUT the state also has a duty to see to it that its citizens get educated. This seems on the surface a reasonable and workable position. Catholics get to run their own schools, yes, but the state gets to decide whether or not they’re doing a good job, and, at least implicitly, could step in with whatever amount of management, rules, laws, and curriculum it saw fit to ensure the schools were ‘educating’ Catholic school students to the state’s satisfaction.
Two points here: First, the potential for state interference in Catholic schools may seem like fear mongering, as the state has not – so far – intervened too often or too egregiously. For now, I merely want to point out that the Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t actually preclude on the surface any amount of state interference. Just as the state has found the ideal expression of the Prussian model unworkable – they have not yet simply seized our kids and barred the family from any role in education – they have so far found it unnecessary to, say, have state monitors in every Catholic classroom. It would be hard to argue, philosophically and legally, that the state couldn’t do if they wanted to. They just haven’t so far.
The second point is our need to recognize WHY the state has let Catholic schools slide. First of all, the state education departments generally get a passive acceptance if not a downright enthusiastic response to their ideas from Catholic educators. See, for example, how Common Core got adopted by most diocesan Catholic school systems without much discussion until after the fact. There are many reasons for what might seem to be a shocking degree of acquiescence to the state’s education programs, given that the parochial schools were founded precisely to Catholic kids out of state schools. But that popular Catholic fervor has, like, sadly, all distinctly Catholic fervor, all but died. It was pretty much dead by the time Kennedy became President, crushed at least partially under weight of the immigrant’s need to fit in that the Kennedy’s embodied. A concession here, a compromise there, and – hey! We’re real Americans, too! In the phrase American Catholic, the ‘American’ part comes first.
Further, National Catholic Education Association has been, from its founding, dedicated to the idea of teacher professionalism and, from that same founding, at odds with the bishops. Under the NCEA, the teachers’ core belief is that THEY are the PROFESSIONALS, and the bishops should take direction from them. This was evident from Day 1, and is yet another sign of what people will do to be part of the cool kids club. NCEA members are JUST AS GOOD as any other teachers, especially the public school teachers. They’re ideally certified by the state and everything! Frankly, that’s the problem.
Just as the state achieves the goal of separation of child from family by simply mandating longer and longer school years and hours and piling on the homework and extra-curricular activities, it can achieve its goals without overt steps if the Catholic school commit themselves to simply becoming better versions of state schools, with a tiny and decreasing bit of that God-person thrown in. Once the graded classroom model was adopted by Catholic schools, the state has been getting 90% of what it wants anyway. Here’s the oft-quoted line from William Torry Harris with which readers of this blog are no doubt familiar:
“Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.”
Harris was the US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906. He was involved in the rapid spread of ‘scientific’ ‘consolidated’ schools and the war waged against one-room schools. (One topic of research for the book I hope to write is Harris’ approach to Catholic schooling. His fell hand can be seen in the escalating attacks of the state education departments on the established, successful and beloved one room schools set up, funded and run by local parents. Can’t imagine he didn’t get into the anti-Catholic school show. But research required.) The NCEA was founded in 1904, during the time when Harris’ attitudes represented the most modern, progressive thinking on education. Harris was a leader in the cool kids club that NCEA members wanted, more or less consciously, to be a part of.
(Aside: Harris says a number of other equally insane things about schooling, this is just my favorite. It is of course hidden in a bunch of bland truism and vague Hegelian blather. Freire follows a slightly different template: it’s only after reading a couple hundred pages on the plight of the poor that he cuts to the chase of how the oppressors – anyone who opposes him, by definition – will of course need to have their stuff seized, be locked up and, well, maybe killed – for their own and and everybody else’s good. Context and thorough reading are needed to find the nasty needles in the pablum piles of education writing.)
State and University Education departments were founded and are run by people who, if they think at all, thing like Harris, who thinks like Mann, Fichte and von Humboldt. You got nowhere with state or university education departments if you opposed these ideas. That’s the case to this day – there was never a vigorous academic or political debate of various educational philosophies, they were not allowed. That’s how, 150 years later, most people can’t even imagine school as anything but the little butts in seats micromanaged by ‘experts’ model.
Here are some source materials. The key points shared by these thinkers summed up:
- Education is totally managed by experts, with no parental input desired or even tolerated.
- Schooling recognizes no bounds. If it proves desirable to forcibly remove children and separate them from their families and communities for years on end, that would be OK.
- The goals of the state are completely coextensive with any legitimate goals of the children and families. If the child or the family object, they are not just wrong, but immoral and traitorous. No, really – it is that clear.
- The only value an individual has is as part of the state. T
- Finally, unstated but always present: the children of the leaders don’t attend these schools. The educational needs of the powerful are not the same as those of the weak.
Of course, this isn’t packaged exactly this blatantly. Fichte, for example, saves the good stuff for towards the end of his Addresses to the German People and just sort of tosses them in; Harris writes in dry journals rarely read by anyone besides his coreligionists and sycophants, the kind of things PhD students would research. For the peons – and classroom teachers are definitely among the people Woodrow Wilson (he was president of Princeton for a while) wanted to spare from the extravagance of a liberal education – are to be fitted for the jobs their betters want them to do, in the manner Harris describes.
Think outside the box? What box?
My fear is that I might in my researches turn up some poor soul who convinced himself that those goals above were perfectly OK, so long as the tools were in the hands of our *Catholic* betters. That would be tragic. I hope instead that the basic human need to fit in, to be part of the tribe, overpowered the good sense of Catholic educators and put us on this educational slippery slope without much conscious though. Because, boy, if they actively chose this… Visions of millstones.
Overt anti-Catholic bigotry largely went underground around the time of JFK (no worries – it’s making a comeback! Your hopes of martyrdom are not total fantasy!). Well before that time, most Catholics, including the people running Catholic schools, seem to have made peace with the idea of state schooling: while parochial schooling was certainly still promoted within the Church, it’s not like many Catholics couldn’t sleep at night if their kids went to the convenient – and free! – public schools. After all, Catholic schools by then would be almost indistinguishable from public schools if it weren’t for the uniforms, crucifixes, occasional nun and proximity to a church building. Add a little dollop af
CCD Faith Formation, and there’s nothing left to argue about. And then you gradually forget even that smidge of Catholic training – heck, the Catholic schools largely do!
By now, for most Catholics and the many non-Catholics who send their kids to Catholic schools, such schools really are nothing more than better versions of public schools. Such parents might hope their kids will be spared the overt violence and apathy so apparent in so many public schools and maybe learn a few things they’ll need to get into a good college. Few if any seem to hope their kids will get a heavy dose of Catholicism – if they can imagine what that would look like.
We can only start considering a truly Catholic education once we’ve rejects the graded classroom model and embrace a Catholicism that makes us Catholic Americans and not the other way around. As long as that model persists, the state is getting what it wants – obedient, mindless drones. That they are nominally Catholic drones doesn’t matter to the state, so long as they can be counted on to do as they are told – like so many of our ‘Catholic’ congressdroids. That’s the goal, That’s what the model was built 200 years ago to produce. And it works.