Setting aside Parish School by Timothy Walch (1997) and returning to The Catholic School System in the United States, by James A. Burns, C.S.C. (1908) in order to catch up chronologically. I read today about French efforts to establish schools in New Orleans.
Burns notes that from its founding, the leaders of New Orleans sought to bring teachers from France to found schools in the tiny colony, and were answered by the Capuchins, who set up a boys’ school in 1725, and the Ursulines, who set a girls’ school in 1727.
The Capuchin school is no more, but a very New Orleans style hotel stands on the spot where it used to be. The Ursuline School is still in business.
So we have here physical evidence of not only French settlement in America, but of French concern for education. Burns describes the heroic efforts of the Capuchins and Ursulines in trying to educate children; he mentions the worry of the sisters when control of Louisiana passed to the Spanish and then back to the French and then to the US. Relations with the Spanish were of a culture class nature but things got worked out. Much more worrisome was post revolutionary and ferociously anti-Catholic France resuming control. Most of the Ursuline sisters fled to Havana, leaving only nine to work on the school.
Then America took over. The French experience with Republican government did not inspire confidence in the remaining sisters, who fired off a letter to President Jefferson, who assured them that the new government would not seize their property nor interfere in the school. Andrew Jackson’s wounded troops were cared for by the sisters after the Battle of New Orleans. He returned later as President to show gratitude.
I mention this merely to point out that that’s a lot of history for one little school in a city of a few thousand people. None of this is mentioned by Walch. It is not clear what selection criteria Walch is using here. A single missionary’s school in Arizona that died when he died warrants a paragraph or two; a couple of centuries of schools in New Orleans do not.
I mentioned Walch’s dismissal of the California Missions. Here is his conclusion:
For Spain and for the Church, the California Missions were an economic wonder. The use of native labor and the favorable climate allowed the missionaries to cultivate a vast quantity of land. The fruit, wine, and beef from California were among the best in the world, but the price was high. The hard labor killed off the the native population, and the decline of the mission system in California followed the demise of the native population.
I just skimmed through the notes of the chapter in which this above quotation occurs, and, unfortunately nearly all references are to modern historians and history books. Therefore, I’d need to dig through a library in order to find actual source materials instead of having them noted in the text, which is what Burns does.
It’s a huge question: what source materials justify the movement from the position of Burns, who calls Junipero Serra a saint and the California missions a miracle that only died, along with the more than 30,000 Indian Christians. as a result of the direct action of Mexican government – and quotes and otherwise references sources to support it – to Walch’s position above? Were there not 30,000+ Christin Indians in the missions when they were seized and destroyed by the Mexican government? If the missions were dying out because forced labor was killing off the Indians, how did the mission population grow to 30,000 in the first place? That might work over a short term or given a comparatively huge population of Indians to start with, but neither of those conditions prevailed.
Or did they? A source or two could clear this up. Instead – and I don’t know Walch is doing this, but he’s failed to provide any evidence he’s not – are we going to jump on the band wagon diparaging Fr, Serra and all things Catholic in California, that was all the rage when Serra was up for canonization? Are we just buying the Fabian program of rewriting history so that it matches ideology?
I don’t know. But I’ve read enough over a lifetime to know that a modern historian is not proved more reliable simply by virtue of being modern.
Still working my way through Parish School by Timothy Walch (1997) and The Catholic School System in the United States, by James A. Burns, C.S.C. (1908), with an equal or greater amount of effort spent tracking down references and googling background information. Very enlightening.
Because it is a much shorter work, I’m up to rereading sections covering the late 1800s/early 1900s in Walch while still back in colonial times with Burns. Walch covers the controversies and appeals to the Pope over disagreements in the Catholic hierarchy in America. Archbishop John Ireland, classified by Walch as a liberal, dreams of a day when Catholics can just send their kids to public schools and be done with it. After all, Ireland says, (here reflecting late Brownson) Americanism is fully compatible with Catholicism in its respect for the individual and freedom. Catholics should not fear immersion in Americanism just so long as the overt anti-Catholicism is purged. He seemed confident that it had been purged by 1890, when he was writing. Other archbishops threw their arms up in despair – Ireland was throwing the entire Parish School movement under the bus in order to make nice to non-Catholic Americans. If the public schools were acceptable, what was the point of having had thousands of parishes and millions of immigrants sacrifice to build and send their kids to parish schools?
A couple of issues are touched upon lightly that seem to need further expansion, and one critical point is ignored. Walch repeats throughout the text the idea that Catholics in general were envious of the comparatively well-funded and appointed public schools, with their trained and certified teachers, and that everybody knew attending a public school gave kids a leg up on getting ahead. Haven’t tracked down or even read through all his notes – there are many – but the quotations in the text that might support these views have so far invariably been from partisans in the disagreement, or at least clerics. We don’t hear from Paddy the cop or Hanz the baker or Gianni the line worker in the shoe factory on their views of pubic versus parish schools. They were probably too busy. But based on their works, the churches and schools they did build with their own money and sweat, one might imagine they would beg to differ.
We do know that certain *clerics* envied the public schools. Fr. Pace, Fr. Shields, Fr. Burns, Archbishop Ireland and other priests and bishops thought ‘modern’ ‘scientific’ schooling embodying the latest advances in ‘scientific’ psychology and ‘scientific’ pedagogy were marvels, and that the dedicated but untrained and uncertified sisters doing most of the teaching in Catholic schools were a bit of an embarassment.
Walch also asserts that non-Catolic Americans were consistently baffled by the Church’s resistance to public schools. Hadn’t the schools (eventually, after some bloodshed) removed the Protestant King James Bible from the curriculum? Sure, there was some dispute over history, where the influence of the likes of Francis Parkman made the Catholics in the New World buffoons on a good day and evil, conniving anti-Americans on most days. But hey, the morality presented in the readers and copybooks was almost identical! So, come on, Catholics, we’ve met you more than half way!
In other words, there was nothing but acceptance, nay, affection among Protestants for American Catholics, who wouldn’t dream of ramming their views down the throats of Catholic kids via the public schools. Too bad Al Smith was not able to tap into all this good will.
I think there might be more to it than that.
A far greater and less excusable omission is Walch’s total failure to include any *reasons* why Catholics in 1890 might be suspicious of the good intentions of those then in charge of public education. It is implied that their fears were largely anachronistic, based on an earlier time. But as readers of this blog are aware, such contemporary luminaries in education as William Torey Harris were pushing Hegelianism as the official view of the US Office of Education – you know, that Modernism stuff the popes kept going on about. Harris, who was in office as US Commissioner of Education at the time Ireland address the (secular) National Education Association with his pro-public schooling remarks, said:
“Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.”
Anything there a Catholic might object to, in principle? Harris also sought to make schools sensory deprivation tanks (“The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places … It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.”). Maybe somebody attending Mass in any one of the thousands of beautiful churches built by immigrants might object to this approach as being fairly explicitly anti-Catholic? No catechism in stone, just abstract thought?
So while the public schools were being lead by people dedicated to turning them into factories producing docile robots immune to beauty, the ‘liberal’ leaders of the Catholic Church were desperate to send Catholic kids to those schools, in the name of Progress and being Good Americans, and to the obviation of parish schools. In Walch’s telling, the opposition of the bishops he calls ‘conservatives’ is just this mystery, or at most them being fuddy-duddies stuck in the past.
Trying to stop getting sidelined and just finish these two books. Instead, I pulled down a short biography of Barnard, a contemporary and co-conspirator with Mann, because something Walch or Burns said made me think of Barnard…
Seaton is an obvious choice. Thoroughly expect the book on the right is another cheerleading job, but true believers tend to slip up and say what they really mean from time to time. I’ve read and briefly reviewed the Holy See’s Teachings on Catholic Schools, but want to reread it now, as I suspect there was more than a little judicious cherry picking going on. I remember nothing in these writings that Archbishop Ireland wouldn’t be completely down with. (He wanted the State’s role in education to be on a par with the parents and the Church. No, really, he thought that was a good idea.)
I really need to get that Educational Resources page going here…
It’s gratifying to find, so far, the source document referenced in the two books I’m currently working on – Burn’s The Catholic School System in the United States and Parish School by Timothy Walch – are more often than not readily available online. There are a couple of books so far that I’m going to need a good library to find for me, as they are either unavailable or expensive on line. But I’ve got plenty of reading material.
On the downside, that means that I get a few pages into Walch or Burns before I find something I’ve just got to look up, aaaaand, hours later, I’m neck deep in some obscure document or other. Come to think of it, that’s how I came to read Burns’ epic in the first place…
Well, can’t pass up a chance to read up on the schools under the Spanish and Mexicans in San Antonio in the early 1800s, especially their ‘curriculum, and curious disciplinary rules.’
It seems one Mr. Cox has obtained and translated from the Spanish a number of documents related to the founding, funding and structuring of the Public Free School of San Antonio, including a government document from 1828 laying out the details.
The curriculum is what one would expect: reading, writing, Spanish grammar, basic math and above all Catholic catechesis.
Not sure that’s a very cogent translation, but the gist seems pretty clear: each day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, the children were to memorize questions and answers from a standard catechism. Also, the Teacher was charged with teaching the children proper behavior at school, in the home, in church and on the street.
The school was designed for 70 students, and was to run 4 years, starting around age 12. The school’s structure is a military riff on the basic one-room school. Kids are divided up into groups – called Romans and Carthaginians! – in three ranks: Officers, who have mastered the bulk of what is being taught; Captains, who can at least read and write; and the remainder, who can at least read. It seems to be assumed that the kids all learned to read before going to school. The officers, in conjunction with the Teacher, would assign lessons, assign kids to deliver the lessons, and maintain order. Age is nowhere mentioned as a consideration – groupings were based on what you knew or needed to learn, and a kid could move up or down in rank based on his performance.
The Teacher’s role was one of management. He (it is simply presumed to be a man, and was in San Antonio) had at most 2 hours a day during which he, himself, might deliver lessons. He would be unlikely to use all of that time for that purpose, since he was also supposed to ‘hear lessons’ then as well.
Hearing lessons, or recitation, was the main tool used in one room schools to see how each child was doing. In the American one-room schools, the teacher, after having assigned kids as teachers and learners as needed, would then spend the day having each child come up and recite what they’d learned. Based on these recitations, future lessons would be assigned. Age didn’t figure into it. Learning what you needed to learn was the criterion. The San Antonio school seems to have been designed to operate in a similar way.
70 students is twice or more the enrollment of a typical American one-room school. It’s interesting that the Spanish in San Antonio would think 70 students needed to be divided into 2 groups, each of which would then be near the maximum of an American one room school. I wonder if they had any contact with the American rural schools?
The Teacher, then, must first manage the kids put in charge:
Cox is very dismissive of the efforts of the Spanish in Texas, pointing out the problems they had in getting these schools up and running and how obviously they fell short of their goals. Graft and theft are assumed at every turn, as is the indolence of the Spanish. When Walch reviews the efforts of the Spanish, he seems to agree with Cox and not so much with Burns, who has at least a few kinder words to say. Walch even repeats with qualified approval a quip by Francis Parkman:
Spanish civilization crushed the Indian, English civilization scorned and neglected him, and French civilization embraced and cherished him.
Hmmm. One might point out an inconvenient truth here: today, in the Americas where the Spanish once ruled, the populations are almost always made up of a large minority or even majority of people with Indian blood, including many purebred Indians; where the English ruled, Indians were all but exterminated. It would be hard to reconcile Parkman’s words with this reality. Perhaps he was not the impartial observer one would hope for in an historian? Here’s another Parkman quotation:
The monk, the inquisitor, and the Jesuit were lords of Spain,— sovereigns of her sovereign, for they had formed the dark and narrow mind of that tyrannical recluse. They had formed the minds of her people, quenched in blood every spark of rising heresy, and given over a noble nation to a bigotry blind and inexorable as the doom of fate. Linked with pride, ambition, avarice, every passion of a rich, strong nature, potent for good and ill, it made the Spaniard of that day a scourge as dire as ever fell on man.
You be the judge.
I’ll get to the California Missions and the French and English Catholic education efforts in America soon.
A. Ran into some very interesting stuff around the whole excommunicate Catholics who refused to send their kids to Catholic schools even when such were available and affordable. Walch tells the story differently than I’d read it before (where, I can’t remember and didn’t take notes! Never again will I not take notes! No, really, this time – for sure! It’s got to be in either the books on the shelf in front of me or in one of the myriad of links I’ve collected…)
Walch ascribes the incident to the machinations of one layman, a James McMaster, a convert who, with typical convert zeal, thought Catholics should send their kids to parish schools no matter what, to keep them out of the evil clutches of the state schools. On his own, he sent damning articles showing the evil of public schools to Rome, along with a memorandum asking if Catholics could justifiably send their kids to such schools.
This got the attention of people in Rome, who responded by sending a questionnaire to the American bishops. They responded and, at least according to Walch, were a bit put out. The pope got involved, and issued the Instruction of 1875, which favored McMaster’s take, but left things vague enough to provide leeway in the bishop’s actions. The bishops chose to ignore the instructions.
Walch’s sympathies are clearly with Progress, and he repeatedly states in this section of the book how Catholics thought their schools were often inferior to the public schools and parents concerned for their children’s futures would choose them for that reason. Besides, many if not most parishes did not have a desk in the parish schools for anything like all the Catholic children in the area. The bishops’ disregard for the rulings of Rome is seen as an inevitable and good thing. He quotes, of all people, Orestes Brownson as someone favoring having Catholic students attend public schools.
(Aside: Can’t resist talking Brownson! There’s a somewhat famous Brownson quotation deriding the very idea that the state should control education – “Where the whole tendency of education is to create obedience, all teachers must be pliant tools of government. Such a system of education is not inconsistent with the theory of Prussian society but the thing is wholly inadmissible here… According to our theory the people are wiser than the government. Here the people do not look to the government for light, for instruction, but the government looks to the people. The people give law to the government….to entrust government with the power of determining education which our children shall receive is entrusting our servant with the power of the master. The fundamental difference between the United States and Prussia has been overlooked by the board of education and its supporters.” However, this quotation is from around 1840. By 1865, Brownson was championing the idea that the US would both become Catholic by nature and necessity, and that the rest of the Western Hemisphere would convert (if necessary) and petition to join the Union. If one thinks the nation will become Catholic, then one might stop objecting to state run schools.)
The other view I’d come across was rather that some of what would now be called conservative Catholic bishops wanted the power to withhold the sacraments from anyone who could send their kids to a Catholic school and didn’t, and were disappointed with the vague answers the pope gave in the Instruction of 1875, but, obedient as they were, they let it go. By either take, this ended up encouraging people like Shields, Pace and Barns to view the public schools as some sort of ideal that the Catholic schools were to strive to achieve.
B. I have mentioned in passing that Fr. Thomas Shields, a scientific psychologist and pedagogue and, according to the meager sources I’ve found so far, a somewhat obscure Catholic Progressive educator, and Fr. James A. Burns, a prolific writer and fundraiser and one time president of Notre Dame, espouse and promote ideas concurrently being condemned by popes, namely, Modernism.
Here’s somebody’s summary of Pascendi dominici gregis subtitled on the Vatican website “Encyclical of Pope Pius X on the doctrines of the Modernists.” It’s well worth reading. This summary seems about right.
Burns first published in 1908, the year after the encyclical was proclaimed; Shields was active both before and after. One thing I read and didn’t makes notes on (a mistake I’m trying to avoid now!) quoted some late 19th century letters among American Catholic prelates on how backwards and hidebound the European Churches were, and how we Americans had to lead them into the glorious future. That attitude would seem congruent with the writings of Shields and Barns, and would explain their (so far – have lots more to read) silence on the teachings of this and previous encyclicals.
To take it point by point – modernist?:
Classic philosophy does not get discussed as a basis for education; the latest ‘advances’ are touted – yes;
Not directly, but see catechesis below – push;
Not directly, but that we are surfing the leading edge of Progress is merely assumed, with regular comments about how we used to do it poorly in the past, but now we’re doing it obviously better and scientific mow – qualified yes;
So far, there’s both these writers are pretty firm on dogma – no;
They both want to reform catechesis. On one paper I read, Shields is commended for his opposition to the Baltimore Catechism and in trying to implement the ‘findings’ of ‘scientific’ psychology to make sure children are not taught stuff too hard for them and are taught in ways that appeal to their feelings. This same author thinks Shields was vindicated in the 1960s when we *finally* ditched the Baltimore Catechism and started doing catechesis right. So that would be a – yes;
Burns, at least, is big on sacramentals and devotions, so – no;
One way to weaken the Church’s power to discipline would be to always step a little over the line and dare the proper ecclesiastical authories to react. That’s pretty much Shield’s M.O., don’t know about Burns, so – qualified yes
Both lead by example: Shields ignored the bishops whenever he felt like it, pushed for the professionalization of Catholic school teachers and for them to run the schools as they saw fit – moving authority from bishops to clergy and lay people. Burns is big on the Catholic National Education Association, by which Shields’ goals were pursued. This isn’t even looking at Notre Dame. This would be a big – yes;
Burns: “In the teaching of the purely secular branches she (the Church) has had no direct interest. She took the curriculum of secular studies such as she found it, and left its development to the operation of the ordinary laws of educational growth. Outside of the matter of religion, there has been no attempt to differentiate Catholic parish schools from other denominational schools or from the public schools.” This sounds OK on the surface, but what it means in practice, and what actually happened, was that Catholic schools accepted uncritically whatever methods and content is developed for the public schools provided it can be framed up as ‘secular’ knowledge. This is not good, when the public schools first goal is to promote control and a harmony, let us say, of ideas – modernist ideas. Think psychology, history and sociology. I’ll talk about this further in another post. So – yes.
This, and the next two points, are quite evident in current ‘catholic’ schools, but not yet evident in the writings of Shields and Burns – Incomplete
I think it’s safe to tentatively conclude, while leaving room for counter evidence, that since the early 20th century at the latest, our Catholic parish schools have been steered toward exactly the modernism that Pope St. Pius X specifically condemned.
I know you’re shocked.
C. Then there’s this nonsense: Bad science! Bad!.When feminists and other anti-science, anti-reason, anti-reality loonies get to decide what it is permissible to find, Orwell’s dystopia is already upon us. What the paper says and how strong its arguments are is irreverent to this point – we won’t know, because it’s not published! – merely that it can be memory-holed because of bad think.
The time to be nice has long passed. We must make a stink whenever the opportunity arises.
As mentioned yesterday, currently reading Parish School by Timothy Walch and The Catholic School System in the United States, by James A. Burns, C.S.C. , a two-volume set published in 1908. For the last few years, I’ve been trying to track down the when and why of the Catholic Church in America adopting the Prussian graded classroom model of school for all parochial schools and high schools. I think I’m on the right track. From the introduction of Burn’s epic:
In point of fact, however, there is a direct historic connection between the Catholic school system in this country and the Catholic school systems of various countries of Europe. The first Catholic schools here were offshoots of the existing school systems there. The founders and first teachers of our schools were products of the Catholic schools and colleges of Europe, and the institutions they established here were reproductions, to a great extent, of those in which they had been trained, or with which they were familiar in the Old World. All through the history of the Catholic school system in this country, this European influence is traceable through immigration, the religious Orders, and other agencies. It has been a potent factor in the making of our schools and colleges and in the molding of their character.
Oh. Duh. In my defense, it seemed amazing that the parish schools in America, founded in opposition to the express anti-Catholicism of the public schools, ended up adopting exactly the graded classroom model used by our Prussian model schools.
To recap: starting with the Potato Famine in the mid 1840s, millions of Catholic Irish immigrated, raising the Catholic population in the US from tiny to significant. According to a couple writers, the few Catholics in America before the Irish tended to be well-off English Recusants and their Catholic friends who knew enough to keep their heads down, mostly, and could afford to do it. They weren’t impoverished peasants showing up in the better neighborhoods looking for work.
The Irish were. They were desperately poor, and coming from a nation where they and their ancestors had suffered from centuries of English oppression. It’s also not entirely accurate to say the Irish fled Ireland. Some not insignificant portion had their boat fare for the crossing paid for by their English landlords, who did the math and found it cheaper to do that than to feed them as the laws at the time required. (The English hadn’t suddenly gone soft – they just knew a bunch of starving people without hope would be a lot of trouble to control.) The Irish departure from Ireland was not purely voluntary.
The response of the solid Protestant majority was to impose compulsory graded classroom Prussian schooling. Horace Mann and a host of others traveled to Prussia to study their schools, which were, ultimately, the outgrowth of Luther’s demand that the state compel all parents to send their kids to school, so that state-certified teachers could make good little Lutherans out of them. (It never seems to have occurred to Luther that the state might want to do anything else. He’d have made a good Socialist.) Parents might have other plans than what Luther considered the proper moral upbringing of their own children, and that was intolerable. Such families needed to be, at the very least, overridden. This is a consistent theme in German and, ultimately, all state-run schooling
So, in the 1850s, it was legal in Massachusetts for kids to work in a factory or attend a state school – but illegal to keep them home. If you were a good Protestant or at least a better-off non-Catholic, I’d imagine those charged with enforcing truancy laws might not focus on your neighborhood. Instead, focus on the Irish slums. Because truancy – keeping your child out of school unless he’s off working in a factory (likely as not run by one of Mann’s peers), even if at home with you – could lead to your child being taken away from you. The goal was always the destruction of Catholic families and faith. This is of a piece with the Know Nothings and the anti-Catholicism that has always been a constant in America.
A key part of the Church’s response was to found parish schools. In many ways, the Parish Schools were a remarkable achievement, built, managed, and financed largely by independent groups of Catholics, staffed by religious orders, educating millions of American kids over many decades. My siblings and I all attended Catholic schools, as did many of my friends and neighbors. But from the bishops’ perspective, the results were mixed: even at their peak (1960) fewer than half of Catholic kids attended Catholic schools.
Public schools were ‘free’ after all, and immigrants are poor. Bishops understood this, but still sought (and failed to obtain) papal permission in the late 19th century to excommunicate anyone who sent his kids to public school if a Catholic school was available and affordable. That’s how seriously the bishops took the threat of the public schools.
Yet, even with this well-founded fear of letting the adversarial state educate Catholic kids, all parish schools to this day, even those few that are vigorously orthodox, are little more than kinder, gentler versions of public schools.
Somehow, that seemed like a good idea? Look at graded classroom schools: what insanity inspired people to accept having their kids rigidly segregated by age? We take it for granted now, but there’s no rational basis for it at all! It’s not ‘efficient’ or ‘scientific’ – there’s no evidence of that, and never was! Seriously, no one ever ran a side-by-side comparison of different models of schooling to see which worked better for some clearly understood definition of ‘better’. The sort of slapdash studies or comparisons that did and do happen, such as comparing test result (whose tests? testing for what?) tend to show, before elaborate ‘adjustments’, that just about anything – tutoring, homeschooling, one room schools, any of the many ‘alternative’ schools – produce better results even on the self-serving tests developed for the public schools. So much so that there’s a sort of industry around doctoring data explaining away this phenomenon.
The reality, clear in all the writings of all the advocates of the graded classroom schools, from Luther to Fichte to Mann to Barnard to Dewey to today, is that the point isn’t the 3 Rs. It is control, for the state is a jealous god. Graded classroom are favored precisely because they disrupt family relationships that could oppose the state.
Recall that over almost all of America in the 19th century, many if not most kids attended one-room schools, where family and neighbors learned side-by side regardless of age. Teachers assigned kids to teach each other with little regard for age. Natural relationships were reinforced. Results were *better* as measured by the state school’s own tests than those of graded school, despite what the propaganda from the time to this day asserts.
Thus ‘educators’ hated, fought & tried to kill off one-room schools. How are kids to be controlled if their loyalty is to home and village – and Church? Much better to school them in doing what they’re told regardless of natural relationships. Thus, graded classrooms.
Yet, ultimately, all parish school came to use the graded classroom model! How did this happen? Short answer: this battle was already a century or more old back in Europe. Messy compromises had been struck, where the Church could run schools if they followed state models.
Immigrants brought these compromises with them. German Catholics, the single largest group of Catholic immigrants and founders of the most parish schools, brought what they knew with them, evidently having long forgotten the origin: exact copies of state schools but run by Catholics. Prussian model graded classroom schools.
On to more research. I’ve got tabs open (hope this computer doesn’t die suddenly!) on many of the people who come up in the discussions, many I had not heard of before. And it seems I’ll need to get up to speed on a bunch more history, especially the Kulturkampf, which I believe largely overlaps the period of greatest German Catholic immigration to the US.
According to plan, I am organizing source materials for a proposed book on the reform of Catholic Schooling in America.
This is depressing.
The earliest scholarly book on the history of Catholic education in America that I’ve some across so far is by a James A. Burns, C.S.C. The Catholic School System in the United States, a two-volume set published in 1908. Reading it now.
Burns was a long-time president and fund raiser for the University of Notre Dame. What’s depressing about this is that Burns got his PhD at the Catholic University of America around 1906, and his thesis consisted of the introduction and first 5 chapters of this book. The Catholic University of America was home at that time to two great leaders in the movement to professionalize parochial schools, two priests I’ve run across before in my readings – E. A. Pace and Thomas E. Shields. So far, I have not run across a true critic of either of these men, rather, they are generally admired by everybody who writes of them, Burns being no exception, as he singles them out for thanks in the preface.
I may become that critic. Pace was devoted to scientific psychology, which, in last decades of the 19th and into the 20th centuries, was both all the rage in certain circles and about as scientific as phrenology. There’s no evidence it has gotten any better over the century since, as, last I checked, there were *16* recognized schools of psychology, from Freudian to Skinnerian to Cognitive Therapy. Contrast with any real science, where, while there might sometimes be multiple competing schools, scientists work to resolve them down to one school after a brief period of turmoil. Differences persist, even fundamentally competing theories, but arguments take place within an overall scientific context that all agree on.
These psychological schools, on the other hand, differ fundamentally in both their assumptions and what they are willing to consider evidence. It’s not like psychologists are concocting experiments to settle once and for all whether consciousness is an illusion or is a complex result of an Id/Ego/Superego structure or something else entirely. Nope, school A over here has its assumptions and processes, school B over there has theirs, and there’s not much to talk about. Skinner and Freud, for example, are not operating in the same intellectual universe, and neither is operating under the rules of science.
In short, Pace was a quack, and one in a long line of childless males willing to pronounce dogmatically on how children should be educated. It is truly remarkable how few (if any! I may be the first!) happily married fathers write about education. Nope, it seems men without children of their own – e.g., Locke, Rousseau (who indeed fathered children, just never raised any!), Pace, Shields – are the ones whose views have been overwhelmingly influential in modern schooling. Go figure.
Shields I’ve written of before. He is known as a Progressive Catholic educator by his admirers. How one can be a Progressive and yet not a Modernist as condemned by a couple popes around that time requires some heavily nuanced mental gymnastics. Progress, after all, is a jealous god. He ran a publishing house, and became the chief supplier of textbooks for Catholic schools in America. Reading some of these textbooks is on my to-do list, but even aside from that, I’ve long contended that textbooks are almost always bad in concept – they are key tools used to grade and manage children into a conformity pleasing to their betters.
Just found this, by a fan of his (presented as found):
Steeped in the knowledge of biology and psychology Shields developed an approach to Catholic education that was educationally progressive educationally, yet theologically orthodox. Though little known today, his scholarly and administrative achievements were considerable. In his time he was the Catholic educator closest in spirit to John Dewey.
Orthodox, yet close to – Dewey? Yikes.
So now I’m reading a couple of books where the treatment of these two is bound to be hagiographic. Wish me luck!
John Taylor Gatto, a former New York State Teacher of the Year, used to buy editions of books with his own money to have his kids read, to avoid having framing questions and canned answers at the end of each chapter. Just as Stalin said he didn’t care who ran, just as long as he got to count the votes, the impetus behind modern textbooks is that they don’t care (too much) what you read, so long as they get to pick the questions and grade you on the answers.
Here I will resist the temptation to wax poetic about the wonder and joy of reading, of being swept up into unknown worlds and ideas, because that not only isn’t the point of textbooks, but positively what they are designed to prevent. The best result from the perspective of the creators of the modern school is that you, the bright, eager student squirming in you desk, waving your hand to be called on, learn to give the correct predigested answer in response to one of the set of allowable questions. 12, 16 or more years of this, with approval tempered or withheld for anything except the right answers, you will have reached the goal of modern schooling as described by its founding light, Johann Gottlieb Fichte:
”Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.”
(What kicks in next is the process described best, perhaps, in C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, where the properly schooled, seeking always approval, seeking always the approved answers, aspire only to be a part of some inner circle, with intellectual and moral considerations poo-pooed and dismissed. But I digress.)
Failing that, the schools will settle for making you hate reading, and thus history, philosophy and so on. Adults trained to seek official approval above all else are good, but just so long as most people don’t get any ideas – good book and even bad books are alarmingly full of ideas – the goal of state management of everything can be achieved.
Math textbooks deserve special mention. They are intended to steer as many kids as possible away from math, since math can be a sort of gateway to actual thought. Only the few, who tend to be geeks and outcasts, are ‘good at math’. They will need to be watched and managed. They most often end up in careers that keep them away from other people.
(Another aside: learning Euclid from the source has been a life-changing experience for many people, regardless of how ‘good’ and ‘math’ they imagine themselves to be. So the Elements is never used in the classroom, except in a few Great Books schools, even though people have learned from it for millennia.)
Textbooks in modern schooling are used to enforce conformity of thought. ‘We’ need them to keep the rabble in line, and to teach them to always seek professional approval.
If you and your children don’t want to disposable cogs in somebody else’ plans, avoid textbooks. Avoid school.