Reading in Education History So You Don’t Have To: 2 Books – an 1870 Report & a Bio of Barnard

Just received this book:

Very preliminary thoughts, I’ve just started reading this. ULAN Press prints public domain books as reasonably nice paperbacks, including, as here, things of so little general interest I doubt they sold 1,000 copies. This book cover goes all “…” right before naming the year of this report – but then below shows 1890. OK – 1890, the 3rd year of the long reign of William Torrey Harris as US Commissioner of Education, smack in the middle of the peak turmoil among Catholics, who wanted a) very, very much to be accepted as Americans, and b) not to have their kids indoctrinated in anti-Catholic beliefs in the public schools. Thousands of parish schools were built during this period, anathemas were (unofficially) leveled against those Catholics who could send their kids to parish schools and didn’t – while Bishop Ireland was giving speeches before the National Education Association on how Catholics needed to go to public schools, expressing, I imagine, the views of sophisticated Catholic Americans, who found their more vehement coreligionists more than a little embarrassing…

So I ponied up to get this 579 page Report, thinking it would provide invaluable background materials for that crucial period, then eagerly crack it open to discover:

Um… That’s not what I wanted. Typo? Just what happens when people are printing small runs of low-margin, nearly unsellable books? I was disappointed.

Upon reflection, I decided to keep and read it. Education history from right after the Civil War up to about 1880 I don’t know much about, yet. The first wave of passion for state funded compulsory schools hit America in the 1820s and 30s, when American young men returned from Prussia after seeing Fichte’s ideas as realized by von Humboldt in the public schools there.

(One thing I need to investigate: how much time, if any, did these slumming scions of ambitious Americans spend in actual Prussian schoolrooms, versus how much time they spent hearing about how wonderful they were at Prussian universities? The contemporary French politician Victor Cousins begins his glowing and haranguing report of the Prussian schools by saying that he meant to spend some months investigating these institutions but ended up only having a couple weeks to look into them – yet he promptly writes hundreds of influential pages on the experience, which are promptly translated into English in America, where they are again very influential. Allowing for early 19th century travel times, how much time, really, could Cousins have spent in real classrooms? Any? Upon such slender fantasies are our educational edifices built.)

The influx of Irish immigrants in the 1840s and 50s as a result of the Great Famine flamed the Know-Nothings and helped make the idea of forcing kids into public schools more popular. Pre-war tensions and the War Between the States absorbed attention for the next decade and a half, and, in its aftermath, Northern educationists flooded the South and set up schools. Any local opposition could be ignored.

Where the trees have fallen, the weeds grow. What had been some fairly strong opposition to the notion of state-controlled mandatory schooling in the first half of the 1800s seems to have disappeared in the enthusiasms and chaos of the post war years – again, I don’t really know yet, but it seems to be true. Except in Catholic circles, where the obvious Protestant and anti-Catholic biases in the public schools and among their supporters inspired Catholics to found their own schools.

So let’s dig in to some background to this report:

Founded in March 2, 1867, the US Department of Education was first headed up by Henry Barnard, a man who spent exactly 3 unhappy months as a teacher at the age of 20 – and yet, after Mann, is the most influential ‘educationist’ of the period. I’m not expecting much from Wikipedia, but note the rather vague assumption of a life spent improving things in Barnard’s bio, without any concrete examples. A lot of “reorganized and reformed,” and “founded” stuff, not a lot of anything that clearly made life better for anyone:

Henry Barnard was born in Hartford, Connecticut on January 24, 1811. He attended Wilbraham & Monson Academy and graduated from Yale University in 1830. In 1835, he was admitted to the Connecticut bar. In 1837–1839, he was a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives, effecting in 1838 the passage of a bill, drafted and introduced by himself, which provided for “the better supervision of the common schools”, and established a board of “commissioners of common schools” in the state. He was the secretary of the board from 1838 until its abolition in 1842, and during this time worked indefatigably to reorganize and reform the common school system of the state, thus earning a national reputation as an educational reformer.

In 1843, he was appointed by the governor of Rhode Island agent to examine the public schools of the state, and recommended improvements; and his work resulted in the reorganization of the school system two years later. From 1845 to 1849, he was the first commissioner of public schools in the state, and his administration was marked by a decided step in educational progress. In 1845, Barnard established the first “Rhode Island Teachers Institute” at Smithville Seminary.

Returning to Connecticut, from 1851 to 1855, he was “superintendent of common schools”, and principal of the Connecticut State Normal School at New Britain, Connecticut.

In 1852, Barnard was offered the newly created position of President of the University of Michigan, but he declined. From 1859 to 1860, he was chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and agent of the board of regents of the normal school fund; in 1866 he was president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland; and from 1867 to 1870 he was the first United States Commissioner of Education, and in this position he laid the foundation for the subsequent work of the Bureau of Education.

Barnard’s chief service to the cause of education, however, was rendered as the editor, from 1855 to 1881, of the American Journal of Education, the thirty-one volumes of which are a veritable encyclopedia of education, one of the most valuable compendiums of information on the subject ever brought together through the agency of any one man. He also edited from 1838 to 1842, and again from 1851 to 1854, the Connecticut Common School Journal, and from 1846 to 1849 the Journal of the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction.

Servant of the Mouth of Sauron. Yes, for one year, he was President of my alma mater. Imagine.

Compare and contrast: his Italian contemporary John Bosco (1815 -1888) founded schools where thousands upon thousands of orphaned and abandoned boys were taken in, fed, clothed, and housed, given a first-rate education, and help finding apprenticeships and jobs. Hundreds of testimonials survive from the men who were taken in by Don Bosco. Then, inspired by the great saint, hundreds of other such homes/schools were founded around the world. Thousands of men and women dedicated themselves to his cause. Hundreds of Bosco schools are still around (even if the modern versions are but faint shadows of their founder’s passion – a high bar, it must be granted).

So – where are the testimonials for Barnard? Maybe in here?

Dude had a righteous beard. One fun thing to do: look for writings by former students praising their primary schooling. You can find some for Bosco and indeed for many one room schools. Paeans to PS 145 or Woodrow Wilson High School are – unknown. Be true to your school, just like you would to your girl!

Reading the Wikipedia bio caused me to grab off my shelf this more detailed bio. I think I also picked up a shorter one, too, but I didn’t see it in the 30 seconds I devoted to looking. So, let’s see, skimming this biography:

  • Son of a sea captain in Hartford
  • Graduated from Yale at 20
  • Described as “Fastidious and slightly snobbish.”
  • Taught school – for 3 months. That’s it for classroom experience for his entire life. He didn’t like it and wasn’t good at it.
  • Spun his wheels for a couple years, dabbling in politics, law, and intellectual pursuits
  • Toured D.C. and the nearby South
  • Admitted to the Connecticut bar at the age of 23
  • Went to Europe. Unlike his contemporaries, merely as a tourist on daddy’s dime. (Barnard comments in passing that it would be good if the immigration of the ‘bellicose” Irish to America could be stopped.)
  • Had enough money that he never really needed to work.
  • Elected to the Connecticut legislature in 1837, age 26

As a legislator:

He secured passage of a bill creating a board of commissioners to supervise the state’s faltering common schools, was appointed to the board, and in 1838 became its executive secretary.

Barnard, who found the schools poorly maintained and attended, wanted public education “good enough for the best and cheap enough for the poorest.” He believed that thorough moral training in the common schools was the surest safeguard of the community’s happiness. An intensive campaign featuring public meetings and teachers’ institutes, the creation of the Connecticut Common School Journal, which he edited, and a series of annual reports describing school conditions and suggesting remedies yielded legislation reorganizing the schools. But in 1842 a hostile assembly disbanded the board as “a useless expense.”

Your Dictionary Biography

Note:

  • “Moral training” – What are we to think of a Yale man who answers the eternal question “can virtue be taught” with a quick “yes” and presents himself as just the man to do it? We all need to get over the idea that public schooling was created to educate in any merely intellectual sense. The movement has always had at its core the idea that the state should empower “good” people to intervene to make sure everybody turns out correctly moral. The idea that such a thing as moral education cannot except accidentally happen through schooling seems never to have occurred to these folks.
  • “A useless expense” – An example of the antebellum opposition to state education initiatives. Of course, these hard-headed Yankees are the bad guys in this story, frustrating the pure and holy goals of the educationists. It’s way past time to ask if they were not, in fact, on to something. Barnard, so far in my light skim of this biography, comes off as a prissy elitist who was afraid to make enemies and retreated to writing whenever the going got tough – he lasted 3 months as a teacher, 9 months as President of St. John’s College, less than three years as US Commissioner of Education, throwing out ideas and giving speeches – but decades as editor and publisher of the American Journal of Education.

Barnard was succeeded as US Commissioner of Education by John Eaton (1829-1906), who held the office from 1870 to 1886. He was the man responsible for the Report with which this essay began. Another fascinating character, who later went on to become prominent in the

Eaton was educated at the Thetford Academy, which claims 7 prominent educators among its early graduates. The Academy was founded to fulfill a clause of the Vermont Constitution calling for the establishment of free secondary schools – 26 years after that constitution became law. Again, note the educational enthusiasm of the leadership seems to exceed the interests of the people.

The regulations require the students to regard all the proprieties of a sober, industrious and enlightened religious community. The teachers aim not to teach a sectarian creed, but to inculcate the great principles of morality and religion.”

Thetford Academy Website

I quote the above to illustrate something striking about early 18th century America that may be hard to grasp for us moderns: it was so close to possible to pretend that all the serious early American religious groups – Puritans/Presbyterians and their traditional enemies, the Episcopalians, as well as the spin offs such as Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, and Unitarians – agreed on morality that people generally did pretend it. Lewis’s concept of ‘Mere Christianity’ is the final expression of this fantasy.

This idea of essential agreement on a biblically-based morality, so close to true at least early on, was part of the foundation of the education of our future educationists. Once reality kicks in, and one sees that real people often disagree vehemently on what constitutes good morals, the options are to start another war on the heretics, or to jettison all areas of moral disagreement from the set of essential morals upon which we all agree.

America has embraced the power of ‘and’. The Civil War, Prohibition, and the current woke attempts to exterminate the unwashed are the wars; we’ve ‘compromised’ on morality to the point where buggering children is a lifestyle choice.

Barnard, when he toured Europe, commendably developed a taste for good wine. Would Eaton approve? Barnard’s father plied the New England-Caribbean trade routes, where American goods were typically paid for in rum produced by slaves on sugar plantations. The rum was then sold to Americans.. Well? Everybody cool with that? Our immunity to cognitive dissonance is nothing new, it’s just reached a new apex.

Eaton was an ordained Presbyterian minister and educationist, who entered the war as a Union chaplain and rose to brevet brigadier general for his work among the black freemen, work he continued until discharged from the army. He was a big part of the educational carpet bagging after the war, where New Englanders descended upon the South to found schools. In addition to his decade and a half as the US Commissioner of Education, he acted as President of several colleges including one in Alaska, and inspector of schools in Puerto Rico. He seems to have been very effective building up the education bureaucracy in DC and writing reports.

Busy man. Later in life, Eaton also was President of the American Society of Religious Education. A bit of digging around on the web reveals little about this society at the time Eaton would have been involved in it, except that the goal was to have biblical morality taught in the schools. Perhaps the passionate push for state controlled compulsory schooling would be best seen as yet another sect sprung from the 2nd Great Awakening.

The Second Great Awakening led to a period of antebellum social reform and an emphasis on salvation by institutions.

New religious movements emerged during the Second Great Awakening, such as AdventismDispensationalism, and the Latter Day Saint movement.

Wikipedia, of all things

I mean, check it out, just using Wikipedia’s three examples of new religious movements above: Adventism is the belief that the Christ is coming very soon; Dispensationalism believes the next (or perhaps current) dispensation is the 1,000 year reign of Christ, and that “each age of God’s plan is thus administered in a certain way, and humanity is held responsible as a steward during that time.” Later-Day Saints believe God may grant new, Scripture-level revelations at any time – that His plan can be spelled out anew in, for example, the previously unknown Book of Mormon. The fervor of the 19th century public school advocates is not only based on an understanding of Divine Will, but also the assumption that, with the right people as stewards, a perfect world can be brought into being right now. That God requires compulsory state-run schools is simply a new revelation. (1)

It would be hard to overemphasize the 19th century’s infatuation with progress and perfectibility. In such a state of mind, evils, even or especially the intractable evils that were historically classed under ‘man’s fallen nature’ were intolerable, and must be fixed at once. Many Americans were convinced that every wrong was not only within their power to right, but that the righting of all wrongs was a sacred duty. Like the woke today, and Prohibitionists of a century ago, arguing that human beings just aren’t like that merely infuriates them. The Abolitionists really were willing to burn the entire world down, if that’s what it took to end slavery. Arguments advanced by the more moderate factions, that slavery could be brought to an end over time without the horror of total war on the South and all the death and destruction that would entail, were the arguments of heretics. Those people down south were sinning, and we needed to fix it now. Mine eyes have seen the glory….

Similarly, the many were not sufficiently moral, as defined by, first of all, New England Puritans like Eaton and Barnard, and later by ministers of the other mainline and new Protestant sects. Therefore, it becomes ‘our’ duty to fix it, STAT! Never mind that the intractable ignorance, weakness of will, and inclination toward evil of us people is more a feature than a bug. Never mind that there was and remains precious little evidence that morality is something that can be imparted via compulsory graded classroom schooling. Never mind that the early 19th century was almost as heavily infested with drawing room revolutionaries challenging traditional morality as any time up to the 1950s. Nope, there is an undefined (but definitely not Catholic!) morality that needs to be beat into little heads! And we’re just the people to do it!

So now I’m several thousand words into this post, and haven’t even gotten to the book it is putatively about. More later….

  1. Wed or transfer this religious fervor to Hegelianism, and – oh, boy.

Public Schooling Sucks: Some Thoughts on History

I’ve seen a couple of those viral videos of parents standing up to their local school boards and making a stink over the latest outrage – critical race theory, gender theory, the order not to watch what the school is teaching their kids, masks, vaccines, the whole load.

One wants to cheer them on, but, unfortunately, those brave, well-meaning parents just don’t get it. From Day 1, however you want to count Day 1, parents and families are the problem compulsory public schooling was invented to solve. By standing up and opposing the ‘educators’ on the school board, all these parents are doing is acting out the role those educators have already assigned them: the backward, ignorant, bigoted hicks from whom it is the school’s calling to ‘rescue’ their kids. Those educators are not trembling in fear, or trying to see how they can work with those parents. They are merely seeing confirmation of everything they already believe about those parents.

So, those educators might try to silence the parents, but, more probably, they’ll let them say whatever they want, then simply lie by omission and commission so that they can keep doing what they do. Go ahead and rant – behind the scenes, those ‘educators’ are working with their allies to simply criminalize your behaviors. Private schools? Home schooling? Those are merely trivial speed bumps, to be disposed of as the one room schools and classic liberal arts schools were disposed of, by the patient application of endless pressure until they conform or can be eliminated.

Boy, isn’t this picture all sorts of ironic and symbolic and all that!

Three moments: one, in which ‘the system’ formally collapses but the behaviors persist; one where the primacy of compliance over sanity is illustrated; and finally one where schooling stops but never ends.

  1. From Clarissa’s blog: the USSR has collapsed, but decades of training persist in both the bureaocrats and the students:

In 1996 I was a college student in Ukraine. One day, we were sitting in class, the professor was speaking, the students were taking notes. Suddenly, an irate secretary from the Dean’s Office burst in. Interrupting the professor in mid-sentence she screeched,

“Everybody, get up and go out. You will be sweeping the alley outside. Now! You, too!” pointing at the professor.

The professor, a youngish guy we thought was very cool because he had traveled the world and spoke an almost fluent English blushed and started stuffing papers into his bag. Everybody got up. Except me.

“What’s going to happen if we don’t?” I asked. “This isn’t the USSR any longer. You can’t make us.”

“Get up and go sweep now!” the secretary bellowed. “Do what you are told!”

“No,” I said. “I’m a student, not a street cleaner. I’m not going to sweep. What can you do to me?”

The secretary looked apoplectic. The other students started shooshing me down.

“It’s OK, we’ll go, we are going right now!” they piped up in mousy little voices.

“You will go because you want to volunteer,” the secretary said. “It’s the right thing to do. The alley needs sweeping. You will go now.”

College students! The professor! All trying to silence Clarissa and get her to comply with the demands of a toothless tiger. Their training is complete.

2. A 16 year old girl who refused to wear a mask was handcuffed and taken out of school by police. Note: the police aren’t masked up; the students take off their masks to eat lunch. The issues is not some farcical sense of safety, but rather that a *student* dared to defy *school officials*. This young woman and her family and lawyer had decided not to put up with the bullying, and the school officials did the only thing they could do: call the cops and have a child handcuffed and hauled away. The option would have been to ignore her – and that would show weakness in front of the kids and their parents.

3. Finally, a personal story: two retired public school teachers ran an annual trip to Mexico so that high school age students could help build houses for the poor. There were usually as nearly as many adults as kids. Many of the adults made the trip year after year, even when they no longer had any kids involved. For 5 or 6 years, when our kids were the right ages, I went along.

The two teachers simply expected to lay down rules and for people to obey them – kids, parents, didn’t matter. Teacher says it, it’s rule, you do it. As you might imagine, almost everyone, kids and adults alike, went along with this without a peep. Except one year, the teachers decided that stopping in Tijuana on our way out for lunch and a little sightseeing was too dangerous, and so was not to be done. Well, one older gentleman, a guy who had run businesses and been mayor of his little town out in the sticks, who had gone on and helped organize the trip for many years, who, not surprisingly, was one of the most capable builders, he wasn’t buying it. Since my kids were catching a ride back with him, and he wanted to stop in Tijuana, he asked ME if I minded, AND asked my kids if they minded, and I of course said I don’t mind, do what you want. I can’t imagine a more competent guy for my kids to hang out with, I trust my kids, and the ‘risks’ of Tijuana were overblown, to say the least.

Well, when this got back to the teachers, I had to deal with a weeping woman asking my how I could have been complicit in such an outrage. She had told people what the rules were! The very idea that one adult simply does not have to do what another adult tells them to do was simply inconceivable to her – she was in charge! She was the teacher.

Note that nobody had any issues with any of the rules about safety while we were encamped in Mexico. We get it. We’re a bunch of kids and adults in a foreign country, so we want to behave well and be safe. But for years, a fun part of the trip was a stop in Tijuana on our way out to grab a bite and maybe buy some trinkets for folks back home. But this year, without any discussion, it was simply decided that it was now ‘unsafe’ to do what we’d done every year before. So it wasn’t a matter of the situation being any different – it was a matter of unsupported feelings that things weren’t as safe as they used to be. So, being a teacher, she just changed the rules. The very idea that other adults might want to have a say and would not instantly go along with whatever she decided brought her to tears.

Teachers are the first victims of schooling. They must be brought to heel, or filtered out.

Getting way long here. Wanted to start a discussion on the beginnings of all this, the mindsets of the people involved. Will limit it to two very early examples, and add more later as time permits. I think both these examples were in the minds of the later champions of state control of education – Fichte, Barnard, Mann, von Humboldt, Harris, certainly Dewey.

Sparta: At least the Spartans made no bones about their intentions: the family had to go so that the ‘free’ men could best defend and serve the state. Spartan children, if they passed inspection, were allowed to be raised by their mothers until age 7, at which point the state took over. Mothers and fathers did not live together, but were more or less temporary breeding couples to produce more Spartans.

Spartan boys were assigned a cohort at age 7, trained to be soldiers until age 18, typically spent a year or two spying on and terrorizing the Helots. They then became full soldiers at 20. At 60, they got to retire. Women were basically breeders, who trained the girls to grow up into the next batch of breeders.

A boy’s whole loyalty and sense of belonging was to his military band. Training was in loyalty and conformity. A boy had essentially no opportunity to develop any independent personality – and that’s the way Sparta liked it.

Despite that whole 300 mythology, the first duty of a Spartan was not war – it was to keep to Helots down. Sparta had conquered and enslaved the surrounding territories. Since you need a minimum of 8 or 9 people producing food for each Spartan soldier and mother not producing food, your slaves are going to outnumber your Spartan citizens something like 10 to 1. The fully-trained young men were sent among the Helots to make sure they knew who was in charge. This reign of terror over their slaves is what enabled the Spartans to sustain the standing army, famous for its bravery and discipline.

I find it difficult to accept how admired Sparta was by many in ancient world, and many people throughout the subsequent ages – but there it is. Sparta remained intact for centuries, but at what cost? Outside their reputation for military prowess and unbending discipline, they left nothing of much worth. Is that enough?

We live in a Sparta-haunted world. The image of Lycurgus reforming Sparta by top-down fiat seems to be a dream of our betters (if a nightmare for us little people!) By, effectively, removing the family from its natural position as the building block of society, modern would-be Lycurguses believe they, in their wisdom, could bring about a utopia of some sort – for our own good, of course.

Martin Luther’s Germany: Not passing judgement on Luther’s theology here aside from his stand on schooling and his relationship with the state in general. I discussed here Luther’s very un-Pauline habit of addressing his epistles largely to secular powers, who he never fails to attempt to recruit for his purposes, explaining what their new freedom requires of them.

Viewed from a strictly practical perspective, to make the Reformation stick, Luther had to overcome opposition from two main camps: first, from those German Catholics not buying his teachings, and second and more serious, from those who accepted his teachings too literally. The first group simply rejected the very idea of the five Solas; the second accepted them too much, so that they thought they, themselves, were as fit as Luther to interpret Scripture as they, themselves, were moved by the Spirit.

That sort of individual freedom of conscience, which later came to be associated with Luther somehow, was not at all what he meant: everyone was free to interpret Scripture the same exact way Luther did. To Luther, his was the only reading that was possible in accord with the primitive Church and under the guidance of the Spirit. If you thought Scripture meant something else, you were wrong. Contradict Luther much, and you were dead – at least, if Luther got his way.

Catholics were, for the most part, merely benighted. They could be and often were converted to believe as Luther did, and a good bit of Luther’s writing and preaching was directed toward that end. Other Protestants who accepted the principles that Scripture could be read and understood by any man under the guidance of the Spirit and acted upon those principles, yet failed to agree with Luther, were a more existential threat. From the very first, Catholics had been pointing out that, without Tradition and the authority of the Church, Scripture can be read in an almost infinite variety of contradictory ways. The existence of Sola-professing Protestants who did not agree with Luther on every point was a problem – for Luther.

From the beginning, Luther saw the hand of God in the support he received from German princes. For their part, German princes had chaffed under the meddling and arrogance of the distant, non-German Pope since at least the 10th century. Throwing off the spiritual yoke of Rome also meant getting out from under the political yoke.

Practically, any church independent of the state and making any spiritual claims at all upon the princes of that state is going to run afoul of those princes sooner rather than later, realpolitik being a thing. The solution since the beginning of history: states control religion. While they have been a spectacular failure through most of history, the Catholic Church’s attempts to stay free of state control is still one of the biggest outliers in history. The Great Schism – speaking simply historically here – lead to the creation of state-controlled Orthodox churches: Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, etc., all of which were firmly under the control of the local king or emperor, at least to the extent that the local patriarch was not likely to attempt to use his spiritual authority to dispose them- something Popes were known to try.

Luther ignored all this, and sided with the German princes, who happily supported him back.* Luther saw the support of the state as the hand of God, and so wrote to the princes and civic leaders under them to exhort them to continue to do God’s work.

Luther soon concluded that God’s work included compulsory state run schooling. He wanted every child to learn to read so that they could study Scripture; he wanted every child to learn to read in a state-controlled school so that they would reach the same conclusions from Scripture that Luther reached. The ‘risks’ of letting everyone read Scripture themselves and reach their own (Spirit-guided) conclusions were almost instantly apparent, once the Reformation got going.

Except for the few destined to be scholars, Luther and Melanchthon, who drafted up the original compulsory public school plan used by Luther, had little use for any schooling beyond the basics. Kids should learn to read, learn a little Latin, and then get on with making a living – all under the management and compulsion of the state. Clearly – and Luther talks about this – if you left such instruction to the discretion of parents, they would do it wrong!

When Fichte modernized Melanchthon’s and Luther’s plan 300 years later, he did away with anything recognizably Lutheran, and simply put the realization of the destiny of the state as the sole goal. To him, the distinction between the spiritual goals of individuals and the spiritual destiny of the (German) state was a misunderstanding, a lack of enlightenment. The value of the individual was the value that individual had to the state; the fulfillment of the state’s destiny was the personal fulfillment of the individual, insofar as personal fulfillment had any meaning.

And, of course, something this important could not be left up to parents. In fact, Fichte agrees with Luther that, left to parents, all the higher goals of education would get frustrated. Parents are the problem schooling is designed to solve. Fichte wanted to simply remove children from all family contact until their state schooling was complete. But more on that later.

* Today, the Lutheran and Catholic churches in Germany are tax-supported – the German Catholic hierarchy is the most likely to act independently from Rome on matters of morals and dogma. The German state has neutered religion – Catholic and Lutheran – in the public sphere, and has a choke collar on it financially.

Education History Book Review: F. V. N. Painter’s Luther on Education (1889) pt 2

The “Saxony School Plan,” originally prepared by Melancthon and revised by Luther in 1538, was extensively adopted. The current abuses of the schools in studies and discipline were pointed out. “In order that the young may be properly taught,” says the Plan, ” we have established this form :

“i. The teachers shall see to it that the children are taught only Latin, not German or Hebrew as some have hitherto done, who have burdened their pupils with too many studies, which are not only useless but hurtful. . . .

” 2. They shall not burden the children with many books, but in every way avoid a distracting multiplicity of studies.

” 3. It is necessary that the children be divided into grades.”

Ch 3: PROTESTANTISM AND POPULAR EDUCATION.

My Google-fu failed to turn up the complete Saxony School Plan. This is a common feature of reading Luther: he is quoted, he is referenced, but his actual works are not as readily available as one would think they ought to be for someone so influential. In general, I suspect that his tendency toward scatology and verbal excesses might have discouraged Lutheran translators – better he be known via his hagiography rather than his own, less flattering, words. But a Saxony School Plan should be tame enough. Maybe I’ll stumble across it.

Reading *about* the plan on online sources from academics to libertarians indicates it was very influential. In it, one (allegedly) would find all the hallmarks of moderns state compulsory education, including graded classrooms, limited subjects, truancy enforcement, control, and record-keeping (how are you going to know who belongs in what grade?) .

The ‘history’ provided by Painter leaves out a number of awkward points. Just as with the Recusant English, there were plenty of Germans not buying what Luther was selling. By establishing compulsory schools backed by the state’s monopoly on violence, he could root out the ‘heretics’. This use of the state to achieve ‘religious’ ends explains something that at first seemed odd to me: Luther addresses his letters to people with political power, not the rank and file believers. While he uses Paul’s salutations –

To the Honorable Lazarus Spengler, Counselor of the City of Nuremberg,

My dear Sir and Friend: Grace and peace in Christ, our dear Lord and faithful Saviour, Amen.

– he, in this case, sends a sermon to a civic power, not the people to whom the sermon is to be addressed. And perusing the titles of the better known letters of Luther, this seems more the rule than the exception. While Paul and the writers of the Catholic Epistles direct their letters to the faithful or friends as politically powerless as Paul himself, Luther writes to princes and other worldly powers.

He has something he wants them to hear, and it isn’t the Gospels: Luther teaches that the state is as divine in its origins and rights as the Church. It is the duty of the faithful to obey the (Lutheran) state completely. Given the German history of the preceding few centuries, this was music to German princes’s ears.

A deal is being cut: in exchange for princely support for Luther’s Reformation, the princes get religion’s support for their power. To sweeten the pot, Luther encouraged the state to sack German monasteries and convents, similarly to what was done in England, enriching the secular government and removing what could have been a hotbed of resistance to Luther’s plans.

5 centuries earlier, in 1056, Henry III, the German Holy Roman Emperor, died when his heir, the future Henry IV, was only 5 years old. The elder Henry had used his control of Italy to determine who got to be Pope, deposing Pope Gregory VI when he got too uppity, and elevating puppets. His widow, fighting to keep control of the Empire until her son reached majority, was unable to exert similar control; when Henry did take the throne, he was too busy keeping the German princes in line to focus on who got to be Pope. During the funeral proceedings for Pope Alexander II, the people started shouting for Hildebrand of Sovana, a well known reformer, to be declared Pope. He, like good men tend to do, hid out in a monastery rather than become pope. But he was found, and the Cardinals made formal what the people had wanted, and Hildebrand became Pope Gregory VII.

The biggest issue facing Gregory was the Emperor’s meddling in Church affairs to the extent of deposing and installing popes. Seeing young Henry weak, he played hardball: Henry was going to acknowledge Gregory’s election and freedom and authority, or Gregory was going to release the German nobility from any obligations to Henry – something a good number already wanted. Also, he threatened the bishops and abbots under the Empire, who had largely gotten their positions through investiture – appointment by secular powers – that they would lose their jobs if they supported Henry.

Henry was just weak enough that this worked, sort of. Henry was pressured by his bishops and friendly nobles, and made to grovel in the snow before Gregory would restore him to power. Henry did not take it lying down, installing an antipope here, waging a little war there, but, all in all, a degree of independence was temporarily restored to Rome.

It didn’t last. Instead, we got centuries where political powers fought over who got to be Pope, and then used the Pope’s authority to enrich themselves, get revenge, and otherwise extend their political power. Ugly situation. From 1309 to 1376, popes were held by the (German) Holy Roman Emperor in Avignon in what is now France – the Avignon, or Babylonian, Captivity. (Story goes that the papal ‘palace’ in Avignon stood at the foot of a hill, upon the brow of which sat a massive castle and military complex, in case the Pope ever wondered how things stood.)

At this time, Dante, writing his Divine Comedy in exile, favored, at least in the Inferno, a united Holy Roman Empire that would manage secular affairs without interference in or from the Papacy, and a papacy that would stick to spiritual affairs. (And a Holy Roman Empire that would exterminator the Black Guelfs in Florence who had exiled him. Hey, he’s Italian.) The idea of separation of Church and State, broadly understood, was nothing new when Luther seemed to support it.

Up in Germany, the common perception in all this seems to have been that loathsome Italians were bullying and haughtily snubbing the locals. It was true that Popes, on their own initiative and working with their backers, acted very poorly, to say the least. Germans, who historically seem to have chips on their shoulders in every age, embraced Luther partly because he gave them a way to get out from under Roman rules. His Rome is the Whore of Babylon schtick was popular among many – especially the nobility.

Luther’s push for state-funded and controlled compulsory schools, in which every German boy and girl would learn to read the Bible and obey the state, was appealing. This must be seen in the context of Luther’s zeal against ‘heretics’. The idea that Luther wanted everyone to read and interpret Scriptures as the Spirit moved them is laughable: he famously favored burning ‘heretics’ at the stake, with particular focus on other Protestants. People were free to discover in Scripture that they agreed with Luther, in other words. He’s no different in this respect from Calvin and his followers, who ran Geneva as a theocracy, where disputing Calvin was a capital crime.

(One thing seems odd: Luther, while calling the Pope the Whore of Babylon, was less harsh on Catholics than on Protestant ‘heretics’. I suppose a Catholic was merely someone unenlightened who might still be saved, but a Protestant who used exactly Luther’s highly individual approach to understanding Scripture yet dared to reach conclusion other than Luther’s was an existential threat. I need to read more on this topic.)

That was a huge digression even by my standards. Back to the text. After many pages of polemic laced with a little history here and there, Painter finally gets around to his translations of two of Luther’s letters regarding education. Here’s Painter’s summary of Luther’s contributions, his lead in to the letters:

We leave it to the two treatises presented in the following chapters to supply what is lacking in this survey of Luther’s pedagogy. Looking back over the ground traversed, we realize that the great Reformer accomplished scarcely less for education than for religion. Through his influence, which was fundamental, wide-reaching, and beneficent, there began for the one as for the other a new era of advancement. Let us note a few particulars:

  1. In his writings, as in the principles of Protestantism, he laid the foundation of an educational system, which begins with the popular school and ends with the university.
  2. He set up as the noble ideal of education a Christian man, fitted through instruction and discipline to discharge the duties of every relation of life.
  3. He exhibited the necessity of schools both for the Church and the State, and emphasized the dignity and worth of the teacher’s vocation.
  4. With resistless energy he impressed upon parents, ministers, and civil officers their obligation to educate the young.
  5. He brought about a re-organization of schools, introducing graded instruction, an improved course of study, and rational methods.
  6. In his appreciation of nature and of child-life, he laid the foundation for educational science.
  7. He made great improvements in method; he sought to adapt instruction to the capacity of children, to make learning pleasant, to awaken mind through skillful questioning, to study things as well as words, and to temper discipline with love.
  8. With a wise understanding of the relation of virtue and intelligence to the general good, he advocated compulsory education on the part of the State.

In view of these facts, Luther deserves henceforth to be recognized as the greatest, not only of religious, but of educational reformers.

LUTHER ON STUDIES AND METHODS.

First Letter: CHAPTER IX. LUTHER’S LETTER TO THE MAYORS AND ALDERMEN OF ALL THE CITIES OF GERMANY IN BEHALF OF CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS.

Right after greeting the mayors and aldermen of Germany, Luther identifies the villains in this story:

And because selfish parents see that they can no longer place their children upon the bounty of monasteries and cathedrals, they refuse to educate them. “Why should we educate our children,” they say, ” if they are not to become priests, monks, and nuns, and thus earn a support?”

The hollow piety and selfish aims of such persons are sufficiently evident from their own confession. For if they sought anything more than the temporal welfare of their children in monasteries and the priesthood, if they were deeply in earnest to secure the salvation and blessedness of their children, they would not lose interest in education and say, ” if the priestly office is abolished, we will not send our children to school.” But they would speak after this manner; ” if it is true, as the Gospel teaches, that such a calling is dangerous to our children, teach us another way in which they may be pleasing to God and become truly blessed; for we wish to provide not alone for the bodies of our children, but also for their souls.” Such would be the language of faithful Christian parents.

This letter is a two-pronged attack on the lack of schooling: first, the state and wealthy individuals must fund schools, so schooling is available to everyone; second, the state must use its power to compel all children to attend school.

Luther starts with a subset of the second issue: parents who could afford to educate their children but won’t send their child to school. Luther, in his usual gentle, reserved style, labels such parents faithless non-Christians and impious worshippers of mammon.

Monasteries and cathedral schools, the places where promising boys had traditionally been sent to be educated, are condemned as the work of the devil. Only newly-founded state schools fulfill the needs of enlightened parents and the state. Fortunately, Luther has freed up some cash:

There is one consideration that should move every citizen, with devout gratitude to God, to contribute a part of his means to the support of schools — the consideration that if divine grace had not released him from exactions and robbery, he would still have to give large sums of money for indulgences, masses, vigils, endowments, anniversaries, mendicant friars, brotherhoods, and other similar impositions. And let him be sure that where turmoil and strife exist, there the devil is present, who did not writhe and struggle so long as men blindly contributed to convents and masses. For Satan feels that his cause is suffering injury. Let this, then, be the first consideration to move you, — that in this work we are fighting against the devil, the most artful and dangerous enemy of men.

Luther them cites Scripture, equating ‘you must instruct your children’ with ‘you must send your children to school to be instructed by somebody else’ – unless you want to be damned, of course. The state must step up and educate children because

…the great majority of parents are unqualified for it [educating their own children], and do not understand how children should be brought up and taught. For they have learned nothing but to provide for their bodily wants; and in order to teach and train children thoroughly, a separate class is needed.

From the very beginning: parents are the problem compulsory state schooling is intended to solve. Parents don’t understand how children should be brought up, but Luther, who fathered his first child at the age of 42, does.

…even if parents were qualified and willing to do it themselves, yet on account of other employments and household duties they have no time for it, so that necessity requires us to have teachers for public schools, unless each parent employ a private instructor. But that would be too expensive for persons of ordinary means, and many a bright boy, on account of poverty, would be neglected.

Second Letter:

CHAPTER X.

SERMON ON THE DUTY OF SENDING CHILDREN TO SCHOOL.
DEDICATORY LETTER.

To the Honorable Lazarus Spengler, Counselor of the City of Nuremberg

This letter consists of 3 parts: an introduction to Herr Spengler, and a sermon divided into two parts. The first half exhorts parents to send their kids to school to save their (parent’s and children’s) souls, and a second part exhorting parents to send their children to school for the benefit of the state, and explaining how the state has the right to compel school attendance. Bottom line: if you don’t send your kids to school, you’re going to hell.

Luther sends his sermon to Spengler and asks him to distribute it among the pastors and preachers in his jurisdiction. Key points:

The state is divinely ordained to a purpose less than the divine purposes of ministerial offices, but none the less essential:

But it [secular government] is still a beautiful and divine ordinance, an excellent gift of God, who ordained it, and who wishes to have it maintained as indispensable to human welfare ; without it men could not live together in society, but would devour one another like the irrational animals. Therefore, as it is the function and honor of the ministerial office to make saints out of sinners, to restore the dead to life, to confer blessedness upon the lost, to change the servants of the devil into children of God : so it is the function and honor of civil government to make men out of wild animals, and to restrain them from degenerating into brutes. It protects every one in body, so that he may not be injured; it protects every one in family, so that the members may not be wronged; it protects every one in house, lands, cattle, property, so that they may not be attacked, injured, or stolen.

The state has the right and duty to compel parents and guardians to send all kids to school:

But I maintain that the civil authorities are under obligation to compel the people to send their children to school, especially such as are promising, as has elsewhere been said. For our rulers are certainly bound to maintain the spiritual and secular offices and callings, so that there may always be preachers, jurists, pastors, scribes, physicians, school-masters, and the like; for these can not be dispensed with. If the government can compel such citizens as are fit for military service to bear spear and rifle, to mount ramparts, and perform other martial duties in time of war; how much more has it a right to compel the people to send their children to school because in this case we are warring with the devil, whose object it is secretly to exhaust our cities and principalities of their strong men, to destroy the kernel and leave a shell of ignorant and helpless people, whom he can sport and juggle with at pleasure. That is starving out a city or country, destroying it without a struggle, and without its knowledge. The Turk does differently, and takes every third child in his empire to educate for whatever he pleases. How much more should our rulers require children to be sent to school, who, however, are not taken from their parents, but are educated for their own and the general good, in an office where they
have an adequate support.

Fichte, when he updated Luther’s schooling ideas in 1809, damns Luther with faint praise and dismisses his theology. He also dismisses the idea that compulsory public schools are not to simply confiscate children Luther says kids who are not destined to become scholars might spend as little as an hour or two a day in school; Fichte want kids to be completely separated from family for the duration of their schooling. This is a quibble over details, once you accept the principle that the state, not the parents, has the ultimate right to educate kids. Under that rule, the state can demand as much or as little separation from the family as it sees fit, teach them whatever the state wants, and all other details of their schooling. Parents simply have no standing to complain.

The state needs your child:

You must indeed be an insensible and ungrateful creature, fit to be ranked among the brutes, if you see that your son may become a man to help the emperor maintain his dominions, sword, and crown — to help the prince govern his land, to counsel cities and states, to help protect for every man his body, wife, child, property, and honor — and yet will not do so much as to send him to school and prepare him for this work!

There is a lot more to these letters. The key points are as Painter summed them up: the state must provide schooling for ‘free’ to everyone, and compel attendance. Further, opposing compulsory schooling is treason and damns one to hell. Education is not the sort of things parents understand, and so cannot be left up to them. Graded classrooms are essential, as is the record keeping needed to make sure each child is in the right grade.

Education History Book Review: F. V. N. Painter’s Luther on Education (1889) pt 1

Painter, a vehement proponent of Protestantism and Whore of Babylon style anti-Catholic, has translated 2 of Luther’s letters on education, to make better known the great Reformer’s seminal contributions to compulsory state-funded graded classroom schooling. All that stuff which we associate with modern schooling is proposed and defended by Luther, starting in 1520.

This work is really 2 short books, the first of which is Painter’s take on the Reformation, the second his translations of two of Luther’s letters. Therefore, I’ll do this in two parts. The first is Painter’s “historical introduction”:

The fact that no great character can be fully understood without an acquaintance with the age in which he lived and the movements with which he was identified, led to the preparation of the first four chapters as a historical introduction.

Preface

These first four chapters make up about 60% of the work, and are not exactly what anyone not as on fire with Protestant zeal as Painter would call ‘balanced’. No one, Catholic or Protestant, would dispute the general claim of profound hellish corruption of the Church’s hierarchy in the 16th century. But no one who understands the effects of investiture can honestly point to the Church herself as the primary cause. When every bishop and abbot is a partisan, and often a relative, of the local prince or king, appointed at their pleasure based on loyalty or politics, and the Pope appointed by Emperors with no regard to the candidate’s spiritual suitability, then perhaps the secular government might seem a more likely locus to place blame. The issue is not simply that the Church was deeply involved in politics, but that the leaders of the Church had gotten their positions because of politics.

Yet, to Painter, Gregory VII’s attempt to pry control of the Church out of secular hands is seen as yet another foul Popish plot. That Gregory frustrated the attempts of the German Emperor Henry IV to appoint a pope to his liking is not the occasion for any introspection on the role of German emperors in corrupting the Church, but seen as overwhelming evidence of Papal perfidy.

Painter’s opening chapters contain a little history, true, but like the writings of Luther himself, quickly segue to polemic no matter what the topic putatively under discussion. The Catholic Church is irredeemably evil, the chosen tool of Satan, and an enemy of Protestant America. The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Painter goes so far as to defend the Albigensians, whose insane and destructive Gnosticism is pretty far from even Painter’s idea of Christianity, because the Church crushed them. He didn’t get around to defending the Aztecs, but one imagines he would, given his premises and zeal.

All good things that have happened in the West, and, indeed, the world, since 1517 are the result of Protestantism. America is a Protestant enterprise (no argument there from me) in which is no place for Catholics. American Catholics are (to the surprise of actual Catholics) awaiting orders from the Pope to whom all spiritual and temporal allegiance is sworn. Protestant Americans want to educate everyone; the Church wants to keep people stupid. One quotation will have to suffice:

Yet the Papacy is not favorable to the education of the masses. It seeks above all things absolute obedience on the part of its adherents. Intelligence among the laity is recognized as a dangerous possession; for it ministers to their independence in thinking, and makes them more critical of the teaching imposed upon them by priestly authority. Any activity displayed by the Papacy in popular education is forced by the existence of Protestant schools. The establishment of parish schools giving an education worth the name, is a measure of self-defense. The Jesuits, with all their lauded activity in education, never had the intellectual elevation of the masses at heart. With them education was a means of combating Protestantism, and of begetting a bigoted attachment to the Roman Church. Wherever the Papacy has had full control of education, the masses have been brought up in ignorance. It is a Jesuit maxim that ” A few should be well educated ; the people should be led. Reading and writing are enough for them.” When Victor Emmanuel took possession of the Papal States in 1870, only five per cent, of the population could read and write. In thrift and intelligence Catholic countries do not compare favorably with Protestant countries. Macaulay’s judgment on this point is as just as it is positive. ” During the last three centuries, to stunt the growth of the human mind has been the chief object of the Church of Rome. Throughout Christendom, whatever advance has been made in knowledge, in freedom, in wealth, and in the arts of life, has been made in spite of her, and has everywhere been in inverse proportion to her power. The loveliest and most fertile provinces of Europe have, under her rule, been sunk in poverty, in political servitude, and in intellectual torpor, while Protestant countries, once proverbial for sterility and barbarism, have been turned by skill and industry into gardens, and can boast of a long list of heroes and statesmen, philosophers and poets.”

Yet, somehow, scholars are not lacking among the canonized saints of the Church, which Church invented the university, and so on. Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaître, among many thousands of other Catholic scientists and inventors, might find Painter’s analysis amusing.

Painter believes compulsory state education is an unmitigagted good, and that Catholic opposition to it is proof of the nefarious goals of the Papacy:

From the preceding discussion we may easily deduce the line of action that is necessary to protect our institutions, particularly our public school system, against papal aggression.

1. We should carefully observe the insidious movements of the Papacy.

2. Recognizing the separation of Church and State wisely made by the Constitution, we should nowhere tolerate sectarian legislation.

3. Maintaining the right of the State to educate its citizens, we should forbid the appropriation of any public funds to sectarian schools.

4. All public school offices should be filled with recognized friends of popular education.

5. The rights of conscience should be maintained and defended by the State.

In order to present the appearance of a united Protestant front against Catholics, Painter is here resorting to something like what Lewis called ‘mere Christianity,’ this fantasy under which some undefined subset of Protestants are really all basically primitive evangelical Christians despite disputes over dogma that had fractured them into dozens of flavors even by Painter’s time. Are Mormons Christians? How about Jehovah’s Witnesses or Seventh Day Adventists? Unitarians? Why not? When reading the contemporary writings of the early 19th century, it’s not unusual to come across a Presbyterian, say, who is sure his Methodist neighbor is going straight to Hell. The earlier Protestants were hardly afraid of dogma, and believed it a life or death matter. Painter certainly does, although what exactly those dogmas are and who, exactly, he considers his co-religionists, is unclear. What is clear from history: the one thing that united 19th century Protestants was hatred of the Catholic Church.

Painter’s freedom of conscience is, when fully played out, what we have today: it is unpardonable bigotry to say anyone isn’t whatever they say they are, or to condemn anything they want to do. Painter himself is a huge fan of the vigorously judgmental Luther – just read anything Luther wrote about anything for examples. The judgement of Catholics that the Church holds the full truth of Christianity is a claim any proper Lutheran or Calvinist or Methodist would have once sternly made for their own beliefs as well. And – this is critical – if you believe that your church holds the fullness of the Faith, it would be incumbent upon you to convert as many people as possible to this Truth, AND to do whatever you could to have this truth embodied in society, in culture, and in law – for everybody’s objective good. When we say that America is a Protestant nation, is this not what we mean? That the laws, culture, and society are the expression of the Protestant beliefs of the Founding Fathers and the culture that produced them? And that, finally, the dissolution of America that we are experiencing right now is also an expression of that culture, which never was as homogenous as myth would have it? The New England Calvinists despised the Virginia Episcopalians, and visa versa, for one example among many. These inherited animosities and the manifest drive toward fragmentation are as much a part of the Protestant roots of America as the reverence for individual conscience and faith in the perfectibility of man.

Wow, I fell into exactly what Painter did: using a format – him, an introduction; me, a book review – to expound our personal beliefs. Oops. To yank this back on topic: for my purposes, Painter’s introductory chapters merely reiterate that the beliefs that drove the Know-Nothings back in the first half of the 19th century were still going strong in the second half. Separating out, as much as we can, the mere anti-Catholic bigotry, we can ask: Did the Know Nothings have a legitimate grievance? Largely, yes – Catholic immigrants were being used by Tammany Hall and other thuggish governments as a way to get and hold power. Fresh off the boat, Catholic immigrants got housing, food, a job funded by graft and corruption, and a meeting with a judge on the take who granted them citizenship in defiance of the law. These newly-minted Americans were then told how to vote, and woe to any who dared question it! Thus, Democratic party machines got and held power in major American cities, power they continue to hold, for the most part. It was an immigration problem foreshadowing the one we have now. The Know Nothings had a legitimate case for wanting tighter immigration and naturalization laws.

But, alas! Those corrupt political machines were never really cleaned up. Rather, their practices became normalized and invisible. Thus, instead of having a Fred Roti run Chicago, you merely have an understanding that no one who actively opposes the machine is every getting anywhere. So, you shut up and go along, or move out. The Roti family may not be around to off troublemakers like in the good old days, but that’s only because challenges to the system are simply cut off much more elegantly now.

And many Catholic are complicit in this. One can hardly blame them for accepting with gratitude the help of Tammany Hall or the job as a policeman in Chicago, back in the day, but at some point, the lightbulb will go on – unless one actively works to keep it off.

So, at the same time, the last few decades of the 19th century, we have Painter saying that the efforts of Catholics to keep their kids out of pubic schools amounts to treason; Catholic bishops saying that it is the duty of every parish to build a Catholic school, so that every Catholic child in America can be educated outside the virulently anti-Catholic public schools; and Archbishop Ireland telling the NEA that, eventually, all Catholic children will attend public schools.

It’s messy and confusing. Painter ends up ‘winning’ this battle, in that Catholic schools now produce graduates who have no allegiance to anything the Church teaches, in the unlikely event they even learn what those teachings are. But his victory is Pyrrhic: the pure and noble Protestantism he loved is, if anything, even deader.

Education History Book Review: Shield’s Making and Unmaking of a Dullard

Thomas Shields (1862-1921), a priest and doctor of psychology at Catholic University of America, wrote his Making and Unmaking of a Dullard in 1909. Although written in the form of a dialogue taking place at weekly dinner parties over the course of months, it is universally considered his autobiography. As a dialogue, it is a resounding failure: no one besides the author comes off any deeper than a cardboard cutout, nor contributes much of anything except leading questions that simply interrupt the flow of Shields’s story.

Archive.org is wonderful

This book reinforces an impression long held: the central figures in American education history are, almost without exception, unimaginative mediocrities. Horace Mann or William Torey Harris would, I imagine, bore one to tears ov er a beer, if they every did something so common; Shields comes off as precisely the sort of academic Silence Dogood or Mark Twain would have a field day with. The one exception, whose native brilliance sometimes shines through his prose, is, alas, a force for evil. John Dewey is a sharp dude, and a horror. Other intelligent men, like Brownson and Hecker, merely wrote about education without being crowned as ‘educationists’. And they have their own issues.

Back to Shields. Here is the list of participants in the dialogue, with as much as I can glean about their personalities and roles:

  • Mr. O’Brien – the host?
  • Mrs. O’Brien – The O’Briens make obvious statements or ask obvious questions
  • Miss Russell/Miss Ruth – model teacher in the Lee School; “eminently qualified to enlighten us on the characteristic features of the modem school- room.” She provides the latest news on education trends.
  • Judge Russell – her father? A judge, who also had a horrible experience in school but overcame it to become a judge. A gruff, elderly voice. O’Brien announces at the beginning that Judge Russell will need to keep the peace between the next two characters.
  • Dr. Studevan – Shields
  • Professor Shannon – Shields’s adversary, I guess. He provides the current wisdom, and reads articles from magazines. Maybe the Simplicio of the scene?

Bottom line: except for the O’Briens, each of these characters delivers a brief monologue or two early in the festivities, makes a few remarks, then, essentially, disappears half-way through. I never once wondered what the Judge or Shannon was going to say about anything – they, and all the characters, are, effectively, furniture.

One fascinating thing: complaints made about the schools in 1909 sound oddly modern. For example, Shannon quotes at length from G. Stanley Hall: *

“Many of the boys, especially in the upper classes of the high schools, are so out-numbered that they are practically in a girls’ school, taught by women at just that age when vigorous male control and example are more needed than at any other time of life. The natural exuberance of the boy is often toned down, but if he is to be well virified later, ought he not in the middle teens, and later, to be so boisterous at times as to be rather unfit for constant companionship with girls ? Is there not something wrong with the high school boy who can truly be called a perfect gentleman, or whose conduct and character conform to the ideals of the average unmarried female teacher? Boys need a different discipline, moral regimen, atmosphere, and method of work. Under female influence certainly — as, alas, too often under that of the male teacher — form now always tends to take precedence over content. The boy revolts at much method with meager matter, craves utility and application. Too often, when the very germs of his manhood are burgeoning, all these instincts are denied, and he is compelled to learn the stated lessons which every one else in the country is learning at his age, to work all day with girls.”

“the February number of Munsey’s

I think this is meant to be a dig at Shields, as he was (I think – have to look through the notes) a major proponent of women teachers, which would mesh with the weird otherwise content-free adversarial relationship between Shannon and Shields. Also, it’s worth remembering that American ‘educationists’ had only recently managed to sell the idea of high school for everyone. 15 or 20 years earlier, few would be talking about high school age boys not getting enough exposure to manly-men in school, because teen age boys weren’t in school for the most part.

Back to Shields. His laboriously-told story is that, at the age of 9, his teacher judged him unfit for any academic pursuits, labeled him ‘Studevan’s omadhaun’ (an Irish term meaning fool) and sent him home to work on the farm. Shields’s says that he had learned how to read and perform the multiplication tables, but had merely been advanced too far – he couldn’t quite manage the 3rd Reader, had been humiliated and terrified into a silence he could not overcome. Thus, from age 9 to 16, interrupted briefly at age 13 by another failed attempt at school, he stayed home and worked on the farm. He forgot almost all the math and reading he had learned, and accepted the judgement of his teacher and family: he was simply a dullard, incapable of any intellectual achievement.

As he entered his 16th year, a slowly-developing sense that he wasn’t so dumb after all accelerated. Farm work left a lot of time for thought, and he tried to figure out the various measures used on the farm, and the working of the farm equipment. Finally, he became obsessed with building a stump-puller based on his understanding of how levers and pulleys worked, secretly modified an abandoned machine to that end, snuck it out to the fields when his family was at Mass – and yanked up some stumps.

Now convinced that he could at least become a mechanic, he began to pursue knowledge, recovering his ability to read, and, I suppose, the rest is history. At least, this is where the story ends.

Early in the story, the interlocutors discuss how the dullard – by which they seem to mean any child uninterested or incapable of doing as they are told – is the bane of all teachers. Miss Russell and Professor Shannon read or recite statistics and stories illustrating the appalling frequency of dullards – half of NYC kids, for example, were, in modern terms, not performing to grade level. Shannon generously points out that a huge percentage of those kids are immigrant children trying to learn English at the same time they are trying to keep up in school, but allows that, even so, there a lot of idiots out there.

Finally, the create something of a taxonomy of dullards. They identify 7 ways a kid can become an idiot:

  • heredity,
  • disease,
  • environment,
  • malnutrition,
  • defective senses,
  • fright,
  • alternating phases of physical and mental development

I don’t know anyone who would argue that the first 6 causes are not real, and, in the story, no one disputes them. Note here that Shields creates a single class – dullards – into which he puts all kids who are not cooperative or responsive in school. The nearsighted and hard of hearing are classed with the bored and violent, and the truly mentally deficient, and so on. But Shields is not interested in the first 6 causes because they do not apply to him, and so they are not developed at all. Instead, we focus on his pet theory: that kids alternate phases of physical and mental development, and that trying to get a kid to learn when he’s in a phase of physical development is futile and injurious. Pardon the long quotation, part of which I’ve already quoted in my earlier preliminary review – here is Shields explanation of his theory:

“A full explanation of this physiological phenomenon, Judge, would involve a treatise on the physiology of the nervous system, but stripped of technicalities the important facts in the case are these. All vital functions are controlled by nerve currents. The quality and quantity of every secretion, as well as body temperature, respiration, and the circulation of the blood, depend upon appropriate nerve currents. And not only this, but the nutrition and growth of every organ and gland, of every cell in the body, are dependent upon the same source. A broken bone, for instance, if it be deprived of its proper nerve supply, will never heal.

“On the other hand, the process of mental development, as indeed all the phenomena of consciousness, rest upon high tension nerve currents in the cerebral cortex. Now, it frequently happens that a boy or girl grows very rapidly for a few years, during which period the physical organism makes such demands upon the nerve energy that the cortical tension is lowered and there is not sufficient nerve energy left to carry on the work of rapid mental development.

“We all know how injurious it is, for example, to indulge in mental work immediately after eating a hearty meal. When food enters the stomach it originates nerve impulses that draw the blood away from the brain for use in the processes of digestion. If brain activity be indulged in at this time, the blood is withdrawn from the viscera and forced into the brain under an increased pressure to furnish the required nerve energy and thus the digestive process is delayed and sometimes the digestive apparatus itself is injured.

“Now, we have a similar conflict going on between mental and physical development. It seldom happens that during childhood and youth the balance is preserved between the growth and development of the body and the growth and development of the mental processes. The extent to which this balance is disturbed and the length of time that each phase continues varies within wide limits.”

“If you exclude the children who have become dullards through any one of the six causes just enumerated, and arrange the children in any third or fourth grade room in accordance with their physical development, you will find them fairly well classified inversely as their mental capacity, that is, the brightest children will be the smallest and the largest children will be the dullest. Here and there puzzling exceptions to this rule will be found, but these are not sufficient to obscure the general truth.

“The eagerness and ambition of the smaller children, coupled with their quickness of movement, indicate high cortical tension. If these children are constantly over stimulated, as frequently happens, their physical development may be retarded for some years. In extreme cases they are to be found among those children whom over-fond mothers are in the habit of regarding as too bright or too good for this world. Less aggravated cases not infrequently result in permanent invalidism. This is particularly true of girls when the period of over stimulation is carried beyond the twelfth or the fourteenth year. If these precocious little ones escape disease and death from over stimulation they will finally reach a time in which the balance swings in the opposite direction and physical development, so long retarded, sets in with unusual rapidity. The ensuing mental phase is characterized by lack of energy which to the uninstructed is pure laziness.

“If the pupils are at this time entrusted to incompetent teachers the discouragement into which they fall is likely to degenerate into permanent dullness from which they make no further effort to escape. And thus it happens that precocious children are seldom heard from in after life. I am quite convinced, however, that when the precociousness is not due to inherited or acquired disease this result may be prevented by competent teachers. But in the present condition of our schools the chances of permanent success are much better where the physical development of the child is in the ascendant during the early years of school life. Here the danger to health from over stimulation is avoided and when at last the processes of physical development begin to slow up, if the discouragement is not too deep, mental life may awaken to a new vigor.

“Either extreme, however, is difficult to manage and may prove dangerous in the hands of incompetent or careless teachers. A balance between the two processes of development is the safest and may be considered the condition of typical children. The development of these children should accordingly determine the work of the grade and their condition should form the ideal towards which the teacher should constantly strive to lead the developmental processes in the atypical children.”

CHAPTER V – Alternating Phases of Physical and Mental Development

Recall that Shields is a professor of psychology at Catholic University of America, under Fr. Edward Pace, founder of the Psychology department at that school, and a student of Wilhelm Wundt. To quote Wikipedia:

A survey published in American Psychologist in 1991 ranked Wundt’s reputation as first for “all-time eminence” based on ratings provided by 29 American historians of psychology. William James and Sigmund Freud were ranked a distant second and third.[6]

So the ‘scientific’ stylings of Shields are by no means some outlier – he’s but one step removed from the greatest psychologist of his age. It would be straightforward, if a bit time-consuming and tedious, to, you know, *test* those theories of his, after the manner of actual scientists, plenty of whom were contemporaneously extant. But psychologists prefer insight, after the manner of Hegel and Marx – you just *know* what’s what, because you’ve thought about it at and you’re just so smart and enlightened. Rather than examining those perplexing outliers – guys like me, who have always been among the largest and quickest children in any classroom I’ve ever been in – indeed, rather than setting up any sort of systematic approach to examining his assumptions, Shields just runs with it. He concludes – and keep in mind, he is among the most influential ‘educationists’ in American history – teachers need to retard the progress of – dumb down – the smart kids in order to save them from the all but inevitable sickness, death, or at least invalidism, that will inevitably result from letting them study what they want.

The key aspects here:

  • Highly trained teachers are essential
  • Constant monitoring of students is essential
  • Any error in technique can have devastating consequences
  • Graded classrooms are essential
  • The average student’s learning capacity (within a graded classroom) is the standard to which all students will be held.
  • Exceeding that standard is as bad or worse than falling beneath it
  • All of the above are Science!(tm)

How about, just for kicks, another set of conclusions from the same data Shields presents?

  • Schooling from age 9 to 16 is unnecessary – Shields got none, and he became an elite professor at an elite university
  • Better to grow up on a farm and do useful work than go to school.
  • If you skip 7 years of schooling, you can catch up in a matter of months.

Shields does have Shannon Simplicio point much of this out, only so that he can mock him and (very unconvincingly) shoot it down.

It is from men like Shields and thinking like this that modern schooling has been built.

Next up: F. V. N. Painter’s Luther on education; including a historical introduction, and a translation of the reformer’s two most important educational treatises (1889). About half-way through. All I can say: if you want to understand why Catholics wanted nothing to do with public schools, Mr. Painter will explain it to you.

* Hall is another 19th – early 20th century psychologist, the usual mixture of eugenics fanatic and ‘educationist’. Then as now, psychology, perhaps even more than other academic fields, attracts nuts and mediocrities who, enabled by education and certification, are then hellbent on telling saner, happier people how to live.

Education Reading Update

I’m constructively working through my anxiety by reading. So far, got 3-4 books off John C Wright’s Essential SciFi Library list read or reading, and a good start on my collection of Thomas Shields and Edward Pace writings. Reviewed Shields’ First Book here. Am halfway through his Making and Unmaking of a Dullard, an autobiography of sorts, framed as a Platonic dialogue. Think Symposium, but with early 20th century Progressives instead of Alcibiades and Socrates. In other words, much less fun.

Also, found The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916 on Arhive.org. This is a periodical founded by Pace & Shields which ran for decades. Sigh. I’m going to slog through at least this volume, just to get a feel for it. Finally, have a dead tree copy of Shields’ The Philosophy of Education (1917) in the stacks here, got to fish it out and read it next. Then, I must return to Burn’s The Catholic School System in the United States, which I never finished reviewing. Burns got his PhD from Catholic University in 1906 under Shields and Pace, wrote the definitive history of American Catholic schools, and went on to be president of Notre Dame.

Shields, Pace, and Burns are the big dogs when it comes to Catholic education in America. Until they came along, parochial schooling and Catholic colleges were a bit of a free-for-all. For better and worse, they put some order onto Catholic schooling.

All three appear to me to be American Catholic Millennialists, believing that by application of scientific psychology to Catholic education, America can lead the Church to a perfect, or at least a better without limit, world. They are the foremost representatives of Americanism after the manner of Hecker and Brownson. It is fascinating that Pace and Shields were responsible for the article in the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia discussing the heresy of Americanism, where the pope’s and many Americans’ concerns that the American Church was being lead into Modernism by its some of its leadership were dismissed as a mere baseless misunderstanding.

Right.

The optimism and faith in progress of these men is all but unbelievable. They are just sure that, by applying modern scientific thinking to education, they can create perfect little American Catholics, who are of course without question the model for Catholics world-wide. Their late 19th century psychology and ideas about science are not an advance on phrenology. Seriously. We’ll get to that in a moment.

A couple notes:

The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916

– A large portion of this volume is devoted to an attack on the Carnegie Foundation’s views of education, as expressed in a recent report the Foundation had issued. The gloves are totally off. I have no real understanding of what the issues are, but I can guess. I’ll write this up when I’m done reading it.

– This raises the endless issue: now, I’ll need to find and read that Carnegie report, right? Sheesh. Everything I read points to multiple other sources that seem essential.

Making and Unmaking of a Dullard

– This dialogue seems to be little more than a gripe session about the interlocutors’ childhoods, in order to provide Shields with the opportunity of expostulating on his frankly silly psychological theories.

– Shields lists 7 ways a dullard, or idiot, or atypical child can be created, but focuses on one, the one to which he attributes his own difficulties in school: Alternating Phases of Development. Here’s how Shields puts it, in answer to the Judge’s request for an explanation:

“A full explanation of this physiological phenomenon, Judge, would involve a treatise on the physiology of the nervous system, but stripped of technicalities the important facts in the case are these. All vital functions are controlled by nerve currents….

“On the other hand, the process of mental development, as indeed all the phenomena of consciousness, rest upon high tension nerve currents in the cerebral cortex. Now, it frequently happens that a boy or girl grows very rapidly for a few years, during which period the physical organism makes such demands upon the nerve energy that the cortical tension is lowered and there is not sufficient nerve energy left to carry on the work of rapid mental development.

“We all know how injurious it is, for example, to indulge in mental work immediately after eating a hearty meal. When food enters the stomach it originates nerve impulses that draw the blood away from the brain for use in the processes of digestion. If brain activity be indulged in at this time, the blood is withdrawn from the viscera and forced into the brain under an increased pressure to furnish the required nerve energy and thus the digestive process is delayed and sometimes the digestive apparatus itself is injured.

“Now, we have a similar conflict going on between mental and physical development. It seldom happens that during childhood and youth the balance is preserved between the growth and development of the body and the growth and development of the mental processes. The extent to which this balance is disturbed and the length of time that each phase continues varies within wide limits.”

“If you exclude the children who have become dullards through any one of the six causes just enumerated, and arrange the children in any third or fourth grade room in accordance with their physical development, you will find them fairly well classified inversely as their mental capacity, that is, the brightest children will be the smallest and the largest children will be the dullest. Here and there puzzling exceptions to this rule will be found, but these are not sufficient to obscure the general truth.

“The eagerness and ambition of the smaller children, coupled with their quickness of movement, indicate high cortical tension. If these children are constantly over stimulated, as frequently happens, their physical development may be retarded for some years. In extreme cases they are to be found among those children whom over-fond mothers are in the habit of regarding as too bright or too good for this world. Less aggravated cases not infrequently result in permanent invalidism. This is particularly true of girls when the period of over stimulation is carried beyond the twelfth or the fourteenth year. If these precocious little ones escape disease and death from over stimulation they will finally reach a time in which the balance swings in the opposite direction and physical development, so long retarded, sets in with unusual rapidity. The ensuing mental phase is characterized by lack of energy which to the uninstructed is pure laziness.

CH V, Alternating Phases of Development

So, quick children need to be slowed down by the expert educationist, so as not to overdo their nerve energy or their cortical tension and thus damage their minds and become invalids. You can see the beginnings of No Child Left Behind here: the solution is to dumb down the bright kids – for their own good – and make sure the slower kids get to catch up. All very scientifiliciously described.

That a kid might grow and learn well if encouraged to follow his own interests is not to be considered. Instead, the bright child is to be frustrated in his desire for learning, on the basis of a half-backed theory that is buzzword-compliant, circa 1910, but has little else to recommend it. As Lewis (I think) put it: say you are going to experiment on children, and everybody is up in arms. But say you’re putting them in an experimental school, and all is good.

– Again, Shields has his interlocutors refer to or quote from contemporary sources that I’ll have to at least look up.

Got a lot more reading to do. Further bulletins are events warrant.

Education History Reading: Thomas Shield’s First Book (1917) pt 1?

Fr. Thomas Edward Shields (1862-1921) was a professor at Catholic University, who, along with Fr. Edward Pace, founded the psychology department there. He was one of the most influential Catholic educators of the early 20th century.

Here, we begin a review of his First Book, a little tome intended for 6 year olds. In many ways, it is a charming book: Shields organizes each of the 10 chapters in 4 parts: a scene from nature, a scene from family life, a scene from the life of Christ, and a simple song. Sections are illustrated with nice art. The kids are supposed to learn reading from this book, as well as get a bit of nature and art. Teachers are advised to read how to teach singing in Shield’s Teacher’s Manual of Primary Methods. But the main point of the book is to teach religion, specifically, Catholicism. The overall approach is integrated: nature, art, the family, music, the Gospels, are all used to inculcate a little Jesus into the tender young minds.

But – you knew there was going to be a ‘but’ – Shields remains a Progressive and a 19th century psychologist. He can’t stop with a charming, unobjectionable little book. Nope, he needs to introduce a bunch of theory. He has to believe that the little tykes could become so much better if properly lead by properly educated teachers according to scientific psychology. The tacit judgement: all those kids who have not been guided by fully trained teachers according to scientific principles are somehow flawed, and fail to live up to what they could have been.

Yikes. Like Pestalozzi, Shields believes in the constant monitoring of every student by a trained teacher, who then directs the student according to sound scientific principles. In other words, leaving the kids to figure anything out on their own is mere disaster. Also, subtly and almost certainly unintentionally, the family is being held to an impossible ideal. To illustrate this, let’s take his nature examples first. In the very first one, Shields describes a mother robin caring for her hatchlings. All very sweet and beautiful. The charming story is used introduce the child to the idea of family and ultimately divine love and care.

But what happens when the poor kid learns that bird very often kill their own chicks? That, in many species, the mother shoves the less perfect hatchlings out of the nest to their deaths, in order to concentrate her energies on their bigger, healthier siblings? Nature isn’t nice.

Similarly, the book describes family life in charming terms, where Mother selflessly cares for her children, and Father selflessly protects and provides for them all. Well? Sure is a good image and a proper ideal, but very few families are going to live up to it always and everywhere. What happens when an individual kid’s experiences don’t line up with this ideal? Since it is tied very tightly to Shield’s exposition of the faith, where Jesus’s love for us is presented as a more perfect version of our parents’ love for us, and, indeed, of robins’ love for their chicks, a failure anywhere along that line invites the kid to disbelief.

Not saying Shields’s approach is wrong, exactly – I want kids to believe in the goodness of nature and family – but it is laying what could be dangerous landmines for particular kids. On the plus side, maybe a kid will be enabled to see that his family isn’t living up to the ideal, and judge his family, and not the ideal, as the problem. It’s different, fundamentally, than reading Little House on the Prairie or Little Women, which are examples of particular families and include lots of problems and even tragedies. Here, in Shields’s book, the ideal family is presented as a realized ideal – kids are invited to see their families as such. Seems dangerous to me, or at least, an open invitation to a certain kind of problem that could be avoided by a different approach – say, reading the kids the books just mentioned.

More generally, the problems here are twofold: first, the idea that a late 19th century psychologist had ‘scientifically’ determined the best way to educate every kid is absurd. Merely setting up ‘laboratories’ to measure psychical phenomena doesn’t mean you are doing or discovering anything real. You might be able, for an example from the 19th century, to determine how long, exactly, people need to see a picture flashed before their eyes before it registers at all on their minds. And? Does that lead to any coherent theory of education? Indeed, what happens instead is that theories far beyond what any observation could support are crowbarred into a lab coat and called ‘science’. John Tylor Gatto observed that there isn’t anything like science behind any of the popular theories of education – it’s just biases, prejudices, and handwavium all the way down. Shields does nothing to disabuse me from Gatto’s view.

Second, and this is a general issue observable in Hecker, Brownson, Pace, Shields, Burns and all the 19th century ‘educationists’ from Fichte and Mann on – Progressivism, if it means anything, means a belief in the perfectibility of man in the here and now. If that belief happens not to be true, then you’ve set up an educational system that is bound to leave teacher, students, and theorist disappointed, to say the least. One could then change one’s opinion to match reality (ha! I slay me.), despair, or double down. Of the last 2 options, despair is the better by far. We’ve already seen how well doubling down works.

Maybe I’ll do a part 2, and go into details of this particular book. First, I find it enlightening to find out a little bit about these titans of Catholic education. To their credit, both Shields and Fr. Edward Pace were instrumental in the creation of the wonderful 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia. However, reading the excerpt quoted below made me realize I love that old encyclopedia because of the way Catholic issues are written about – I never read anything in it to see how, for relevant example, contemporary psychology was written about. Seems I’ll need to read that sort of thing at some point, to balance out my take.

So, who is Thomas Edward Shields? Here what Encyclopedia.com has to say:

Educator; b. Mendota, MN, May 9, 1862; d. Washington, DC, Feb. 15, 1921. The son of Irish immigrants, he was somewhat unruly as a child and finished his formal schooling late. He was admitted to St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, WI, in 1882, and to St. Thomas Seminary, St. Paul, MN, in 1885. At St. Thomas he published his first book, Index Omnium (1888), which was designed to help professional men correlate data gathered from wide reading. After his ordination on March 4, 1891, he studied for his Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. His dissertation, The Effect of Odors Upon the Blood Flow (1895), influenced psychological research, and in 1902 he joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, as an instructor in psychology.

Shields soon transferred his interest to education. In 1905 he set up a correspondence course, supplemented by diocesan summer institutes, for sisters in the expanding Catholic school system. He established the university’s department of education in 1909 and served as its first chairman. The following year he founded the Catholic Educational Review. In 1911 he conducted the first Summer Institute for Catholic Sisters at the university, and he founded the Sisters College, of which he was dean. In 1912 he was instrumental in securing the adoption of the University Affiliation Program. To correlate the curriculum of the Catholic school, Shields wrote a series of four widely used texts in religion. He was also the author of The Education of Our Girls (1907), a dialogue; The Making and Unmaking of a Dullard (1909), a description of his youth; and The Philosophy of Education (1917), the first Catholic book of its kind in English. He was perhaps the leading Catholic educator in the U.S. during the first quarter of the 20th century.

For Edward Pace, we turn to Wikipedia (so sue me – it’s succinct and accurate as far as it goes):

Edward A. Pace (July 3, 1861 – April 26, 1938) was a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. He was the first native Floridian to be ordained a diocesan priest.

Pace did his doctoral work in psychology in Germany with Wilhelm Wundt. He wrote his dissertation on Herbert Spencer and evolution.

Pace was extensively involved with the early development of The Catholic University of America. He was the first professor of psychology at CUA, and was the founding dean of its School of Philosophy. He held several administrative positions throughout his career, and was involved with many of the University’s academic initiatives. He was one of the general editors of the edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia completed in 1914. In addition, Pace contributed to the founding of Trinity College, Washington, D.C.

In 1892 he became one of the first five psychologists elected to the American Psychological Association by its charter members. He was co-founder of the American Philosophical Association (1893), cofounder of the Catholic Philosophical Association (1926), co-founder and first editor of Catholic Educational Review (1911), cofounder and coeditor of the journal New Scholasticism (1926). Between 1907 and 1912 he was one of the leading editors of the fifteen-volume Catholic Encyclopedia. He was appointed by President Hoover to the National Advisory Committee on Education in 1926.[1]

Here’s Shields in his element, from Wikisource, the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia:

As applied to a mental process, assimilation derives all its force and meaning from the analogy which many educationists have found to exist between the way in which food is incorporated into the living tissue and the manner in which truth is acquired by the growing mind. That education means the assimilation of truth is almost a commonplace in modern pedagogy. Few, however, have felt the full force of the comparison or realized how completely the psychological in this as in other instances follows on the lines of the physiological. Just as the living cell cannot delegate the task of assimilation, so the mind cannot by any contrivance of educational methods evade the task of performing the assimilative process for itself. All that the teacher can do is to prepare the material and to stimulate the mind of the pupil; the pupil himself must perform the final act of acquiring knowledge, namely the act of incorporating into his mind the truth presented to him. In the second place, the mind cannot take over into its own substance a complex truth as such. The truth must first be broken up into less complex component parts, which are assimilable by the mind in its present condition of development.

There is little profit, for example, in placing before the pupil a finished essay, unless the pupil is taught to analyze the finished literary product into its constituent elements, and to reconstruct those elements into a living whole. This, of course, implies much more than the task of summarizing each paragraph and labelling it more or less happily. When the term assimilation is used with reference to mental development, it is well to remember that, while it originally referred to the building up of anatomical elements, these elements, once constructed, have an immediate psychological bearing. Each particle of matter that is lifted into the living tissue acquires thereby a functional unity, that is, it is brought into functional relation with every other particle of the organism. Similarly, a truth once incorporated into the mind sheds its light on the entire mental content, and is in turn illuminated by every previously assimilated truth. Acting on these principles, the up-to-date educationist insists: first, that each new truth should be not only an addition to the stock of knowledge of the pupil, but also a functional acquisition, something that stimulates the pupil’s mind to increased activity; secondly, that in every educational endeavor the centre of orientation should be shifted from the logical centre of the body of truth to be imparted to the present needs and capacities of the growing mind.

Portents & Omens

We’ll start with the more traditional:

Tonight, the full moon rising over Concord, CA, was large and red: (Phone camera does not do it justice.)

The state is on fire, I hear, which not only makes the moon look red, but is a portent in itself.

Next, and this is a weird one: a possum became roadkill a block up our street. Nothing out of the ordinary in that – except a full on 6′ wingspan freakin’ vulture was pecking at it this afternoon. On a residential street in the middle of California suburbia. Never seen that before.

Blood moons, infernos, vultures. All end-timey and everything.

On a more serious note: Clarissa reports that upon her return to campus, she discovered that her college library had disposed of 80% of their humanities books over the summer – without asking or informing the faculty, not even a department chair such as Clarissa. Didn’t sell them, didn’t give the faculty and students a chance to pick through them, didn’t give them away – destroyed them.

The only thing surprising about this is that it’s surprising. Think of any educational initiative over your lifetime. 10 to 1 you only heard about it either after the fact or as part of some political game. This is no accident. Back in the first half of the 19th century, Horace Mann had a heck of a time getting his program of state-controlled compulsory schools past the voters. Seems the fine people of Massachusetts were slow to see the advantages of taxing themselves in order to be forced to surrender their children to the state for education. New England was already literate and numerate – somebody was buying all those copies of the papers running the Federalist debates and making the Last of the Mohicans a best seller modern publishers could only dream of, and somebody was running all those cottage industries and farms.

Mann got lucky, in the ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ sense, and used the scary influx of poor, dirty, uneducated, and Catholic Irish immigrants to get his program through – while the natives themselves didn’t see the need of schools for themselves, they were much more easily convinced that those papist potato-eaters’ kids needed the right kind of Jesus pounded into their skulls.

The other people who learned from Mann’s experience were the freshly-minted educators – not teachers, no, those had been around for millennia, but certified, Prussian-trained Educators. They saw that the unenlightened masses were nothing but a hinderance to their program, and thereafter sought to cut them out of the process as much as possible. Thus, sympathetic state legislators and governors would set up State Departments of Education with broad and vague powers. These departments all worked together and with the college schools of education – they were the same people, the heads of state education departments and the chairs of university ed schools, educated in Prussia or by Prussian-educated Americans, sharing in Fichte’s vision of using compulsory schooling to turn the population into obedient sheep. From Day 1, the gatekeepers were able to simply shoulder out anyone with any other ideas, thus becoming that which they desired to create: a large body of mindless drones incapable of any independent thought.

The educational ideas and policies created by our educational elite are never honestly debated. They are concocted in the dark and presented as fete accompli. Remember how Common Core was just there one day, with no warning or discussion? That’s typical, and has been for almost 200 years.

So the librarians – educators all – at Clarissa’s university saw no point to consulting anyone. They, and they alone, get to determine which books the students and faculty will have access to. Clarissa mentions how, back in the Soviet Union where she grew up, libraries presented slim pickings unless you were interested in a book by Brezhnev. Now, her university library presents the students with lounge chairs and racism posters instead of books.

From several sources, I’ve seen videos of outraged parents protesting the imposition of Gender Theory and Critical Race Theory in their local grade schools at their local school board meetings. Never discussed, never brought to a vote, just wacko theory imposed against the wills of the parents. Poor fools! I totally support the thinking of these parents, but if they imagine the professional educators on the school board are going to change based on something an ignorant, racist parent says, they are delusional. Those professional educators are absolutely unshakably certain they are right, and that the positions of the parents are exactly the ignorant, racist, sexist, patriarchal, and so on, ideas that they, the educators, have been established to root out and destroy.

Parents are the problem compulsory state schools were founded to solve.

Working

How could anyone fall for such obvious nonsense? This question, in various forms, some much less polite, has been nagging at us for decades now. Standard answers to particular incarnations of these questions have been formulated: Marxism is a revenge fantasy for people with daddy issues; years of government training produces mindless sheep by design; participation trophy culture teaches sticking to your group *is* the achievement; theories by which any personal lack of achievement or feelings of inadequacy are conclusively presumed to be somebody else’s fault appeal to many, especially grown children of divorce.

This morning, adding another divide: how you think of work. Up until about 1900, half or more of Americans lived on farms or at least in rural communities. On a farm, there is near instant feedback on many of your efforts. Didn’t feed the chickens and gather the eggs? The results of that failure will soon come home to roost. Labors and the outcomes of those labors were spread across a range of timeframes: it might take an hour to eat the green beans you just picked; a month to see what you planted growing in the garden; a season to harvest the wheat; a couple years to get to finally plant the bottom land you spend a couple years clearing, and 5 years or more before that vineyard and orchard start producing in volume.

While farming isn’t unique in this regard – any real craftsmanship has similar effort and payoff timeframes – it was formative for many millions of Americans for 200+ years. Even if we never set foot on a farm, chances are we lived among relatives who did or used to, so that the farmer’s instincts about work were something we all, or almost all, absorbed to some degree at least.

A farmer knows:

  • Many things figure into the outcome of my efforts. Some I can control, some not.
  • The number 1 thing I can control is my efforts.
  • The number 2 thing I can control is my skill level.
  • Diligent application of effort and skill tremendously improve my chances of a good outcome.
  • No effort and no skill all but guarantee a bad outcome.
  • Try as I might, sometimes things don’t work out as planned.
  • Sometimes, you get lucky. Don’t count on it.

We’ve replaced the near-universal experience of farm life with the near-universal experience of compulsory graded classroom schooling. Farmers saw, moment by moment, year by year, the direct relationship between their effort and skill and the quality of their lives. Sure, the world was then as it is now, unpredictable – unfair, one might even say – such that the race doesn’t always go to the swift, and so on. But the general pattern was unmistakable: the industrious and skillful did better, in the long run, than the lazy and stupid, in what seemed like a pretty direct proportion to how industrious and skillful one was.

Things could and did often go wrong: the rains didn’t come, or came too much, or came at the wrong time; the horse pulled up lame; bugs ate the turnips; somebody got sick and died. Even the most industrious and skillful farmer could get wiped out by disasters out of his control. For centuries, in America at least, the most common attitude seems to have been: Stuff happens. Keep your head down, say your prayers, and keep working. Keeping on is what a man or a woman worthy of the name does. (1)

I have mentioned here the big bait and switch of public education. Reaching prominence in the late 19th century and championed by William Torey Harris, and not finally ending until the 1960s under the influence of John Dewey, the sales pitch for compulsory public schools included the claim that kids – the smart ones, anyway – would need a serious education at least through high school. The key feature of this new educational standard was that Mom and Dad and the nice young lady teaching in the local one room schoolhouse would not be able to deliver it. Nope, only highly trained and skilled teachers processed through the Normal Schools could teach all that Greek, Latin, Calculus, and Science little Eta and Ira were going to need to – work in a Ford factory? 16 years after Harris was outlining his ideal curriculum, Woodrow Wilson was telling the New York City School Teachers Association:

We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

So that idea that America needed standardized, highly-trained teachers in order to produce these excellent little Hegelians was ignored by the President of Princeton when talking to these highly trained teachers, in favor of producing plenty of obedient manual workers. Inside, this is how the higher-level drones talk; the rhetoric we little people were until recently subjected to still lightly echoed Harris. Now, of course, it’s Dewey (and Frere) all the way.

Harris thought What America Needed was a bunch of well-trained Hegelians to Move Us Forward as the Spirit Unfolded Itself Through History. He was not a very practical man. Dewey, a huge fan of the Russian Revolution and Marx, stood Harris’s Hegelianism on its head, and preached a kinder, gentler education jail that would leave students stupid and compliant. (2) That’s the model we’ve been implementing since the 1960s at least.

Initially, public schools that in fact aspired to Harris’ ideal level of 1 – 12 education were created; many Catholic parochial schools attempted to follow suit. High schools – a few, at least – were becoming prep schools for admission to Harvard. The small minority of kids who did successfully attend these schools did get an education that makes modern Master’s in most fields look like finger painting by comparison.

Farmers were convinced or mollified by the claim that these modern consolidated schools were teaching the sort of things a kid needed to learn for the brave new world they would be facing. Once the Depression and the Dust Bowl and the invention of the school bus wiped out the already-dying one room schools, the one last public competitor to the One Best System For All that Fichte, Pestalozzi, Mann, etc. dreamed of imposing was removed. The pedal was taken off the gas, although the momentum seems have been enough to coast through the next 30 years still maintaining the pretext that schools were intended to make everybody elite. (One of the reasons I love Have Space Suit Will Travel is Heinlein’s brutal takedown of Kip’s public high school – written in 1958. The mask had already slipped.)

My parents were born in 1917 and 1919; dad grew up on a farm in Oklahoma, mom among Czech farmers in East Texas – although her dad was a sheet metal guy. Both had that ‘just do it’ attitude about work. Dad, who started his own sheet metal fabrication company at age 45, would remind us kids that 10-12 hours a day in the shop were still far better than farming in Oklahoma. They were a part of that huge wave of country kids who moved to the city. (My parents moved to SoCal – thank you, Lord!). I, sadly, saw but did not experience the farmer’s work ethic and feedback loop. By farming standards, I’m incredibly lazy – yet considered some sort of high-energy output machine by some of my friends. Even a little taste, it seems, leaves its mark.

It’s no coincidence that the core employees at my dad’s shop were escaped hillbillies and immigrants from Mexico. Billy Joe and Delbert and Juan and Jose (who went by John and Little Joe (being the smallest of 3 Joes working there)) shared my dad’s Just Do It farm boy approach.

Meanwhile, kids attending school succeeded by doing what they were told and regurgitating on command. When I was a kid in the 60s, it was still possible to achieve some limited objective success around the edges of school – sports did not yet hand out participation trophies, you could objectively win a pinewood derby. But, in general, there were even then no real objective measures of success within school. Indeed, real success was denigrated: we were supposed to learn to read, but, if you did, your reward was to sit in class bored out of your mind while every other kid learned to read. Clearly, ‘group cohesion’ trumped any actual achievement. Same with math, writing, EVERYTHING: one earned suspicion and soul-destroying boredom by actually promptly learning anything at school.

I have a bunch of hobbies which produce concrete results: I build stuff out of wood and bricks. As I type, I am surrounded by things I have made with my own two hands. Meanwhile, I was possibly the worst student you will ever meet. Wish I could say I was a rebel, but honestly, I was a passive-aggressive coward, constantly testing the limits of how little work one could do in school without getting into serious trouble (ans: very, very little.). Unfortunately, this has lead to my own underappreciation of mental work. Writing is just barely becoming ‘work’ to me.

But what if that’s all you’ve got? I’m thinking of several acquaintances from college who, in the unlikely event they were ever to do a physical project, would feel like brave adventurers on an anthropological expedition. Let’s go experience what it’s like for the little people! They saved their papers and projects their school as proud and admirable work products, proof that they are ‘accomplished’. Certainly, in the eyes of the school, anything else they accomplish outside school is a hobby, in no way comparable to their ‘achievements’ in school.

Here’s the distinction: I look at the dining room table I’m sitting at as I type, the brick pizza oven I built, the shed, playhouse, bookcases, fences I put up. I take a daily tour of the fruit trees I’ve planted and the garden I’ve put in. None of these things are masterpieces, some are borderline junk – but I don’t need anyone’s approval for their base existence. They speak for themselves; good, bad, or indifferent, I made them. The works of my hands, however humble, have given me more pleasure and satisfaction than any desk job or scholarly achievement. I’m primitive that way.

Meanwhile, how does a good student know they are a good student? In what sense can one be, objectively, a good student, and how does this sense line up with what it means to be a good student in the eyes of the schools? Do their papers and test scores speak for themselves?

When I look at the penultimate former president, the glorious Light Bringer, that toward which our age aspires and from which its self-image flows, I see someone whose measure of success is simply the approval of others, others who can’t help but disparage and despise those who disapprove of him. When I think of the people he grew up around, his academic commie mom and her commie parents and the sort of crowd they would hang with, and I can see O getting patted on the head and told what a good, smart boy he is – at the same time he’s cycling through fathers and father figures who can hardly be troubled to stay in touch, and a mom who does her thing without any apparent regard for what her own son wants or needs.

Whenever I’ve been part of a voluntary work party at schools or church, a critical part of how successful they have been at getting any work done is how well organized they are: are there lists of clearly-defined tasks? Some method of assigning them? Somebody who can answer questions? Lacking this management structure, work days in my experience devolve to a bunch of people standing around and a few people working. As a people, it’s not just that we don’t seem to know what to unless somebody tells us what to do, it’s that we don’t know, on a pretty deep level, if we’ve even done something unless we get that pat on the head, that gold start, that participation trophy.

  1. All that said, if we are to accept the results of the votes of people’s feet, farming sucks, at least compared to other options. Given the option, the children of farmers have voted overwhelmingly for city life, factory and office work, and an apartment in the city or house in the suburbs.
  2. Haven’t read anywhere Dewey formalizing this goal – that perhaps had to wait for Frere, another huge fan of Marx and author of texts used in Ed Schools for 50 years now. Frere says that there is no point to an education that does not radicalize the students. Reading, writing, math are a distraction from the goal of overthrowing the System, man.

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.