‘Remedial’ College Classes

I took about 2 years of remedial college classes, although that’s not what they were called. I came to St. John’s College in 1976 from a self-identified college prep high school, St. Paul’s in Santa Fe Springs, CA, with a mediocre GPA but killer SAT scores. The reality is that, at that time, St. John’s was in a down cycle, so that anyone who submitted all the essays required to apply (in something like English, I imagine, but maybe that was too high a bar?) got in. That was about the most writing I ever did up to that point, the petulant whining of a kid who was convinced that k-12 had been a total waste of time and had heard the siren’s call of all those wonderful books.

I was about as ready for college, especially the 22-25 units per semester, no ‘easy A’ classes that St. John’s demands, as I was to perform brain surgery.

Almost bombed out. The subject that almost killed my college career was Greek, which also happens to be the ‘remedial’ class. If only I were enlightened enough to be ashamed of myself. Reading education history, I come across random stuff like this, regarding Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, describing her course of study. Starting from before she was 10, and despite (?) being kept out of school:

My favorite studies were natural philosophy, logic, and moral science. From my brother Albert, I received lessons in the ancient tongues, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

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Mary Baker Eddy, a very well educated yet very loopy person. Education isn’t everything, but it beats the alternatives.

She was farm girl, the last of 6 kids, surreptitiously taught by her older brother, since her father thought her brain was too big for her. She evidently mastered them all. This was in the early 1800s.

Eddy’s case might be extreme, but the fact is that a nation of farmers and shopkeepers produced a steady stream of kids who knew Latin, Greek, and even sometimes Hebrew from a young age. Later, when the wedding of math and science had been successfully consumated, an educated kid also knew a bit of calculus, needed, for example, to understand Newton – who wrote in Latin.

Thus, the floor, the baseline, for someone wanting a college education was knowledge of Latin, Greek and calculus – because no self-respecting college was going to waste time getting kids up to speed with what farm girls and boys with any intellectual aspirations already knew.

But that changed. Ancient languages have been disparaged for some time now. In the topsy-turvy world of modern education, knowing ancient languages, far from being seen as the door to a wider intellectual and cultural world, is seen as sign you’re a narrow, musty specialist.

Thus, upon reaching St. John’s, I, like about 99.9% of modern Americans would, needed remedial Greek.(1) Having had no experience studying anything really hard, as in, you simply MUST memorize a boatload of rules and forms before you can make any real progress, I just about bombed out. I buckled down after being vaguely threatened with expulsion after my freshman year (“Mr. Moore knows no Greek,” I still hear my prof saying during don rags, the annual terrifying meeting where all your ‘tutors’ meet and talk about you as if you aren’t there. But you are.)

The happy ending, after a fashion: I really didn’t want to get thrown out of St. John – hey, reading all those books is really fun! – so I spent much of my sophomore year pulling late-nights with Liddell & Scott, a well thumbed tutti i verbi greci, and Sophocles, eventually writing a paper on Oedipus Rex tracing and commenting on every usage of verbs of sight throughout the text – it was good. Didn’t actually learn much Greek, but the paper won the day.

I’m still a terrible student, still know little Greek and less Latin, and could never have gained admittance to a real American college from 100 years ago. My respect for those who did graduate from real colleges is profound.

Back to today. One of my favorite education tidbits, often referred to here, is that about 50% of incoming UC Berkeley students must take remedial English, math, or both. Let that sink in: these are kids with 4.X GPAs, who took all the AP classes – and aced them – who had good SAT scores, who are the best of the best of best – but they can’t write or do math at a college level, as Berkeley imagines it. These kids are bright, so it should come as no surprise that the majority of them ace the remedial classes and go on to ‘succeed’ in their chosen fields.

I expect this percentage to go way down, not because students will suddenly start learning more math and better English before applying to Cal, but rather because Cal will move the goalposts and simply relabel what would have been remedial classes as something else, or eliminate or dumb down the requirements. It’s happened before – Latin, Greek and calculus, anyone?

The sad part, tragic, even, is not that so many need remedial training (however labeled), but that so many get degrees, including Masters and PhDs, without ever having their shortcomings remedied. Mine have not been remedied, alas, but I did get a peek into that larger world. It’s not all accessible to me, but I at least know it’s there.

To get college applicants to know Greek, Latin and math, all that needs to be done is to demand it -if kids 150 years ago could learn this stuff, so can kids today. We’re not born stupider today, we’ve been very intentionally and systematically made stupider. It starts with expectations.

Of course, that would result in many fewer people, under 10% I’d imagine, doing college. As giant, evil corporations, our fine colleges can’t have THAT. Why, if we gave the people what they needed and even in our better moments, wanted, we’d end up with a small population of college educated people and lots and lots of glorified trade schools. Which, in itself, would not be a bad thing.

I’d be in favor of trying to really educate everybody, starting at a young age, and then seeing how it comes out. Man’s gotta dream. Any real education starts with the utter destruction of pre-K – 12 schooling, the instrument by which we are made and kept stupid.

  1. Originally, when the Great Books Program was started, students took one year each of Greek, Latin, German and French. By the time I’d got there, they’d already throttled it back to 2 years of Greek and 2 years of French. To get into your Senior year, you had to pass a French reading exam, which I passed after the manner of St. Joseph of Cupertino: the text for the test was de Tocqueville, from a section I happened to be very familiar with. Lucky me? Still only know a little church Latin. Sigh.
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College and the Big Evil Corporation Model

Here’s an idea to keep in mind when thinking about our wonderful universities and colleges: these ivy-infested institutions are, when you get right down to it, rich, evil corporations.

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Super rich titan of industry, or major university president? Why not both?

Now, this notion, like most things this simple, doesn’t explain everything about ‘higher education,’ but, if judiciously applied, should serve to weed-whack some really stupid ideas and clear the ground for some actual thought. Plus, it’s factually true, at least about the name-brand institutions. Harvard, the big dog, has a $38.3 billion endowment, $44.6B in net assets, and an annual operating budget of $4.5B. For comparison, General Motors has net assets of $55.2B.

So, here goes:

Giant heartless corporations try to convince everyone they simply must have their products. You’ll never get ahead if you don’t have a college degree. You want to be a failure, like George Washington, Lincoln, or heck, Harry Truman? You want to live like that poor trade-school educated welder down the street, who owns his home, is debt-free and can get another job in about 15 minutes if he needs to? That’s what will happen to you if you don’t get a degree! Even though it’s patently nonsensical, doesn’t just about everyone you know think a college degree is all but essential to the good life?

To keep costs down and control high, evil corporations sow uncertainty and insecurity among their workers, You’ve all heard the stories about how evil corporations use the threat of replacing workers with a fresh-off-the-boat immigrants, to keep them in line and keep them from demanding more pay and better working conditions? Talk to a college professor lately? They all know that there are hundreds of people willing and able to take their job if anyone on campus finds anything at all lacking in them. Colleges used to offer tenure; now, it’s rare, as most classes are taught by adjuncts and grad students in most colleges in most fields. Not only are those non-tenure track people cheaper, they send a message to the tenured profs as well: we got backup plans if you screw up.

Giant, evil corporations willingly sell cheap, inferior products whenever they can, to maximize profits. To be admitted to Harvard 150 years ago, back when profs got tenure and under 10% of people went to college, you needed to pass a Greek and a Latin exam – and a calculus test. A college education *started* from a baseline that far exceeds the intellectual achievement of most PhDs today. (FYI: Most PhDs today are in education and social sciences.) Since only a tiny fraction of any population is likely to have the inclination and talent to learn Latin, Greek and calculus merely to get in to a good college, for the last century or so, colleges have been dumbing down their offerings to make sure they sell as much product as possible.

The first step was education schools, which generally date back to the second half of the 1800’s. For the last 150 years, inferior students (of course, there are exceptions. I assume.) who could not make it in a traditional college (think: Liberal Arts/Great Books + math, science, music, art, where that Latin, Greek and Calc would be put to use) could major in education, even get a PhD by doing ‘original’ research, and then get faculty positions teaching the next round of unqualified students. Over time – I’m estimating the other shoe fell around 1990 – the unqualified/dumb people with PhDs in participation trophy fields outnumber professors who might have a real education in something, and begin to call the shots and simply quash any opposition. You get stuff like this, for example (H/T to Rotten Chestnuts).

As a business strategy, as a way to maximize profits, this ‘create majors unqualified/dumb people can do’ has been a big winner! All studies fields, plus the non-RAD fields like English, History, Sociology, Psychology and so on, exist primarily to take the money from people who would not otherwise be able to hack college. Comparing such degrees to what a university degree used to be (and still is, in a few Great Books schools and the more RAD disciplines in some major schools) is like comparing finger painting to a Raphael portrait. Which is why the super-well-educated college grad is likely to say the finger paining is just as artistic as the Raphael…

Evil, rich corporations use their political influence to get the government to act in their best interests, despite what is good for or desired by people in general. It would be just like an evil corporation to get the government to all but require their product, create an elaborate tax-payer subsidized finance scheme to put people into debt to buy their product, and then try to get the government/tax-payers to take the bullet when the product doesn’t perform as advertised.

Student loans, anyone?

Enough. I’ve got an Academic VORP follow-up essay I’m working on, but it required real thought. Plus, there were some very good comments I didn’t answer because I wanted to expand on them. Sorry about that. Anyway, it’s now 3 days since I’ve written about bricks. Count your blessings! I mean, um, thanks for reading this humble blog.

Subtle Poison

Yes, we’re talking about schooling.

The late John Taylor Gatto said that the greatest achievement of modern schooling is that people can’t even imagine doing it any other way. That state controlled age-segregated graded compulsory schooling is poison is a major point of this blog. But it’s not enough to make sure your kids never see the inside of a state school classroom by homeschooling them or otherwise keeping them out of the clutches of state education machine. We – including myself, here – must comes to grips with the damage, the subtle ways being immersed in a state-schooled culture has poisoned us. That this damage often shows itself particularly in those who actively reject state schooling, and even those who have themselves been spared from the age-segregated classroom. shows how deep the poison runs.

Consider:

To recap: Pestalozzi, back at the end of the 18th century, set up the first in a series of his experimental schools in Switzerland. He came up with the idea that the proper way to educate a child was to have experts (e.g., Pestalozzi) predigest subjects, reduce them to well-defined tactile steps, and to insist the child master step 1 before being allowed to attempt step 2. He had this fear that a child left to learn anything on his own or in some way not shaped by a teacher would be end up morally and intellectually crippled, prematurely proud of his achievements and dismissive of things he could not learn readily on his own, and, in general, unmanageable.

His method required a detailed curriculum with very specific goals. But most importantly, Pestalozzian education requires frequent and intimate guidance of the student by his teacher. (1) Fichte, when he delivered himself of a series of lectures on how the German Nation could resume its manifest destiny to become the ruler of planet (for our own unenlightened good, of course), latched on to the Pestalozzian method as THE key step. (no, really.) Not because it was particularly suited to teaching the child math or reading or other such trivia, but because by it the loyalty of the child could be removed from family, village and church and be fixed entirely on the teacher – a teacher trained and certified by the state!

See how that works? A child is only praised, only succeeds in school, when he does exactly what the teacher demands. The teacher is a certified product of a state education bureaucracy, expected to follow carefully prescribed paths and deliver kids ‘performing to grade level’. What the teacher then necessarily demands of the student is compliance with a detailed curriculum, with an arbitrary set of goals and timelines. A ‘good student’ – and what parent doesn’t want his child identified as a good student? – is thus one who does exactly what the teacher says. Nothing the kid does outside the classroom matters; success is defined as pleasing the teacher by passing tests and not making a fuss.(2)

A family might want its children to be nice to grandma, help out around the house, feed the chickens, learn the viola, make dinner, help dad plow the south 40, sing in the Sunday choir or a million other things. A kid in such an environment, as Fichte well knew, might not put the state’s interests first! School is meant to remedy that situation.

Yet you hear even homeschoolers talk about grade level, as if it is some sort of objective standard. What’s really happening: all those years of training in school, during which the parents learned that complying was the only measure of success, has lead them to seek the approval of the state even when rejecting state schooling! See? Our kids are performing to grade level! We are good parents! Just say no.

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Nice standardized kids in nice neat rows.
  • Age segregation is an unnatural horror. At no other time or place in our lives are we limited to interaction with only people of our own age, not a work, not in our families, not in church, not when just hanging out in public. At home, we share a life with people older and often younger than ourselves. The real, fundamental relationships we do not choose give meaning to our lives. Enforced arbitrary relationships do not.

Extra curricular activities – and notice how we call normal activities healthy people do ‘extra curricular’ – such as kiddie sports leagues and even musical and dance activities are almost always arranged by grade or age. Why? If you’re worried the older kids will make life harder on the little kids, remember that athletic and musical talents, just like academic talents, are not distributed fairly by age. Example: When I was in 8th grade, I was a mediocre basketball player; my two little brothers, in 6th and 4th grade, were comparative athletic freaks. When we played on the playground before or after school, all three Moore brothers played with the other 8th graders, because that was roughly their competence levels. During school, however, and on formal teams, they generally played with kids their own ages, and, from a competitive standpoint, dominated them. Point: in our free time, we did something fair, so that games were competitive and fun; in school, we competed with kids our age, which worked out fine for me, but not so good with the kids playing with my little brothers.

The same dynamics go on in the classroom, except the more precocious kids (and this classification changes from subject to subject and grade to grade!) get shipped out or ignored, or learn to make trouble to get some attention.

Yet, even outside school, parents tend to invest actual energy in getting their kids together with others their age, not recognizing that kids LEARN to play only with kids their own ages, both in informal and more formal settings. The stickball and touch football games in the street outside the house did not follow those rules. Great lessons in socializing are learned when older kids tone it down and little kids step it up in order to play together. Anybody with a big (happy) family sees this all the time.

  • You are not incompetent to teach your children. As Socrates said, anyone who charges money to teach children what any competent adult knows is committing fraud. Yet, somehow, we imagine some magic happens in educations schools, whereby the bottom 10% (generally) of college students get some superpower needed to teach our 6 year old that the ‘A’ in ‘ate’ says its name, or 3 times 7 is 21, or that June is abbreviated ‘Jun’.

Or do you think you need special training to understand what’s going on in Huckleberry Fin, oops, can’t read that racist stuff, um, Anne of Green Gables, no, too sexist, um, Chronicles of Narnia, nope, that whole God thing, um – well, what do you think they’re reading? Do you think they’re learning to think by regurgitating the one right answer found at the back of the teacher’s edition of whatever passes for reading materials these days?

Does the magic of state certification make a teacher better? How? It’s all part of the mythology of grade level: your kid, my kid, everybody’s kid needs to be in a group of 6 year olds when they’re 6 years old, and needs to have a state certified teacher to make sure they understand that only state certified teachers can teach them, to make sure that they perform at grade level like all the other 6 year olds. Because….

  • The management tricks of the classroom are not how we learn. OK, class, who can tell me what we discussed last week? How does the word micromanagement make you feel? OK, anybody else? I’m looking for another word. Don’t forget to raise your hand! Don’t speak out of turn. Wait to be called on. There will be a test.

Does it occur to you that nobody outside a classroom ever acts like this? If somebody were to come up to me and ask me what we talked about last week, and expected me to guess until I said what they wanted to hear – I’d put up with that?

Here’s another St. John’s College story: right off the bat, day one, we went to our first class, and found out that 20 people can sit around a table and talk about something without raising hands, with interruptions as long as they’re polite about it (you can be polite about interruptions, just check out the dinner table conversations in any happy family), that people will generally listen and take turns without any policing by the teacher.

Speaking for myself, I was not a particularly mature 18 year old, far from it, and neither were most of the other kids in my classes – and it took about 90 seconds to get the hang of it. You get better at it as you go along, but just wanting to hear what others think about something you’ve all studied, wanting to get your say said, and not wanting to be seen as a bore or a fool – these things go a long way toward cultivating civil discussion. Every Johnny I’ve ever talked about this with agrees that these civil, engaged conversations were what we all missed most about St. John’s.

Every time I go to a talk or participate in some sort of educational endeavor, I see people falling back into what are, essentially, crowd control techniques masquerading as teaching. Other lame schooling tricks no self-respecting adult should put up with include small group discussions on specified questions, on the assumption we can’t all just talk it over and need guidance to know what to think about; constant shifts from one thing to another, like changing topics or speaker or medium, on the assumption no one can pay attention for more than 5 minutes; attempts to take whole topics and predigest them down to itty bitty bits or just generally dumbing topics down in the dread fear that somebody might not get it, or, worse, get it in some non-approved way.

Without years of classroom training, no adult would put up with this treatment. Many, if not most, of us have been completely crippled by the whole participation trophy approach, where the class serves to create a group to which attendance is the only real achievement. But anyone who can actually do anything real will more or less consciously tune out these management tricks, just as they tuned them out for however much school they did.

These four things – there are others – are the poisonous residue of graded classroom education. They are tools of control, not tools of learning or teaching. If no competent adult would put up with it, no child should have to put up with it either. Yet, we really can’t imagine doing it any other way.

  1. Pestalozzi’s approach was seen by many – Einstein, for example, who attended a Pestalozzian school for part of his education – as a vast improvement over the rigidity, intimidation and physical discipline common in other schools. And who knows? Maybe young Albert lucked into great teachers. The point I’m making is, failing an outstanding and profoundly sympathetic teacher, this micromanagement of the child’s life will quickly become a bureaucratic nightmare – and such it has become.
  2. Fichte wanted all children physically removed from their families as soon as practical for the duration of their educations. Since this power grab by the state was too much even for obedient Prussians and Americans, or maybe too expensive, we’ve since settled on merely tying up virtually all of a child’s life with school, school activities, and homework, and reducing parents to mere enforcers of the school’s goals – you do help your kid with his homework every single night for as many hours as it takes, right?

Orwellian Euphemisms, pt 3: Modern Education, etc.

Modern Scientific Education is not modern – the basic ideas trace back at least to the late 18th century – has no basis in science, and is most certainly not education. Old-school ideological indoctrination would be a better name for it. As readers of this blog know, good old Fichte kicked off the current compulsory state schooling craze back in 1811. He took ideas from Pestalozzi, most importantly that the child needs to be lead step by step through a pre-digested curriculum by a trained teacher, never allowed to proceed to the next step unless and until his teacher approves, never allowed to study what he found interesting. He blended those ideas with what would be startling notions of the superiority of the German race – startling, that is, if we’d never heard of the Third Reich. But as mentioned here often, the particular goal, whether it’s a Puritan utopia, rule by the Master Race, training up useful idiots for the glorious people’s revolution or some other End Time fantasy, is something that can be changed with relative ease, once the mechanism of control is in place.

Thus, you get graded classroom run by state-certified teachers with state-approved curricula. Kids are thrust into grades based on age, not on what they know or are interested in – what could be less important, or, indeed more harmful than allowing the kid any say? Then, you make sure only state-certified teachers can teach them, very specifically keeping the parents out (1) of the picture, except as enforcers (homework, anyone?) of what they, the teachers, teach. What the teachers teach, what education schools filter for, is doing what you’re told. Ever notice that among the most common complaints teachers make is that they have to spend so much time on discipline that they have little time to teach anything else? The poor dears! They haven’t figured out that the discipline IS the lesson. Conforming, just as the teachers themselves did to get certified, IS the goal.

Curriculum warrants its own section of euphemisms:

No Child Left Behind: All children forced to the same low level of mediocrity.

Common Core: Elite fringe. Seriously, in what sense is Bill Gates, whose foundation funded this mess, shooting for ‘common’? In what sense are painful explications of one way among many to solve basic math problems ‘core’? (2)

Side note: once you start getting into the history of public education in America, one pattern stands out: how much of the public education project is carried out out of sight by unelected people. Just as Common Core was foisted off on people who had never heard of it until it was enacted, the war against parental control as manifested in one-room schools tended to be waged by nameless bureaucrats enacting regulations far from the public eye. Throughout the second half of the 19th century up through the early 20th, state level education departments were set up with minimal public involvement. Only people who’d gotten degrees from Prussian universities, or, later, only grads from the education schools those Prussian (Fichte-style) educators had set up, got appointed or hired. A homogeneity of thought completely at odds with the then-current American educational practices dominated. For example. This played well into a time-tested propaganda technique: make a change, or merely assert a change has been made, and answer all objections with the equivalent of stare decisis: this is settled policy! The time for discussion has passed!

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“What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? For heaven’s sake mankind, it’s only four light years away you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that’s your own lookout.”
  1. I’ve spoken to parents who volunteered to help in the classroom, and even some who did – I’ve not yet heard of an experience that wasn’t frustrating and trivializing to the parent, and uncomfortable for the teacher. This gets tried because simply baldly stated the truth – hand over your kids and get out of our way – is, as yet, a tough sell to a lot of parents. Progress on this front is being made.
  2. I get it that she’s explaining a method, but that’s one of a bunch of methods people with some feel for math might use, each rather idiosyncratic. Once you get the hang of math, you’ll come up with ways to solve the simple problems like this one in your head – but probably not that one. The mechanical version is straightforward – why not start there? What, if anything, is gained doing it this way?

Orwellian Euphemisms, pt 1 Academic Freedom

Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism.

Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought…

George Orwell, 1984, Appendix 1949

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another…

…Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification… 

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. 

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, 1946

Academic Freedom. This lovely phrase is supposed to mean that academics are free to pursue whatever line of thinking they want without having to worry about being attacked. Only their peers are qualified to criticize them, as everyone else is assumed to lack the necessary expertise to understand them. Think of it this way: you hire a plumber or an auto mechanic, but are forbidden to judge their work. Instead, only other plumbers and auto mechanics can say if the drain drains or car runs well. Even though you paid for the work, you are in fact prohibited from raising any issues, lest you infringe on the sacred freedom of the plumbers and mechanics, whose arts and mysteries are outside your ken, you commoner, you.

That’s academic freedom. (1) What could possibly go wrong?

In the mean old days, before we had academic freedom enshrined as a foundational principle of our universities, without which certain unspecified evils were sure to beset us, people like provosts and parents and financial backers assumed they had a say in who taught and what they taught. They could get professors fired for being immoral or teaching treasonous or merely insane things.

In addition to the merely pedestrian libertines among the professorial class, Marxists, Freudians, and other frauds didn’t like this state of affairs. So, by the 1930s, anytime anyone attacked academics for being frauds or traitors or simply lunatics, all the good people would circle the wagons and declare: academic freedom! All criticisms, no matter how reasonable, are summarily dismissed as lacking standing. All sorts of idiocy and evil are thus immunized from attack.

This use of “academic freedom“ has proven indispensable to Marxists and their useful idiots as they took over the schools. Insiders were subject to political power plays; outsiders were excluded from the discussion.

Thus, 18 year olds are subject to a homogenous intellectual environment, where they’ll never hear any professor say, for example, that the idea that everything is a social construct is self refuting and moronically stupid. Nope, all they’ll see are heads nodding in agreement. This complete homogeneity of thought, this utter enslavement of academics to a single school of ‘thought,’ in fact, enslavement to a single political idea, is the necessary and intended result of academic freedom.

  1. Yes, college professors are glorified plumbers and mechanics, only much less useful. I went there.

Links & Thoughts: Being Nice, Care, Membership vs Achievement

A. Was talking with a 6 year old of my acquaintance, nice little boy. He was telling me that he gets to go to first grade next year, because he was nice and followed the rules. He said almost all the kids in his class get to go to first grade, there was only one boy who was in doubt, because he was always in time out because he talked. I opined that it was pretty normal to want to talk when you’re with your friends, but my young friend said this boy talked all the time and almost never even raised his hand.

No mention of learning anything, except that the price of advancement is being nice and doing what you are told. The young woman who taught at our school (she quit – another victim of the gender fascists discussed here earlier) was in the room. Sotto voce, I asked: how subversive should I get? She seemed to be for it, but I, thinking of this boy’s immigrant single mom, decided not to sow discontent too directly.

His 8 year old brother showed up. He showed me a set of paper strips whereupon were written compliments from his classmates. These included ‘funny,’ ‘generous,’ ‘kind,’ ‘friendly,’ and so on – I half expected ‘punctual,’ as these comments didn’t seem like the kinds of things the 2nd graders I’ve known would come up with on their own. He gets to go to 3rd grade. He is a very nice boy, too.

Once in a while, these kids will tell me about something they’ve learned, all excited about reading hard words or being able to figure out some math. I wonder how much of their school experience is really about learning basics. It seems all but completely about learning to be nice and follow orders.

On a more subtle and damaging level, any sense of real achievement is subverted into awards for mere conformity. Real achievement allows a child to develop a healthy sense of independence, a notion that he, himself, can do worthy things that are not merely plays for somebody else’s approval. (1) Our schools systematically defeat this, by rewarding compliance and compelling empty compliments. It’s telling that one side of the political spectrum went so far as to make ‘you didn’t build that’ a sort of mantra and litmus test. The very idea of achievement is seen as a bad thing. As people of low or no achievement, they hate and fear precisely the independence their opponents admire and hold up as an ideal.

This process of rewarding compliance while defeating any sense of real achievement is an implementation of Fichte’s goal of reassigning a child’s natural loyalties to the state, based on his claim that what a child wants more than anything is the approval of his father. Fichte stated this desire can easily be redirected into seeking the approval of a (state certified) teacher. The goal, according to Fichte, is to destroy family and paternal loyalty and replace it with loyalty to the state (for the child’s own good, of course).

B. These two items over at Rotten Chestnuts are worth a read: The Man of the Hour and Haidt’s “Righteous Mind”. The first opens:

Academics, of course, are all in on “social” explanations of historical phenomena.  Being weak, ineffective people themselves, with no experience of life, the very idea of a Caesar frightens and repels them… so they construct theories of History in which it is impossible for a Caesar to exist.  On this view, “social forces” (what they used to call “the relations of the means of production”) tore the Roman Republic apart; the Empire was its inevitable next stage.  Assign whatever name you like to the Imperator — whether Caesar, Marius, Sulla, or Miles Gloriosus, he’s just the temporary face of the vast, impersonal social forces that control our fate.  None of this “History is just the biographies of great men” for them!

Academics as the type specimens of the “Kool Kids Klub membership is the only achievement” crowd. In connection with Great Men, Severian observes something that should be obvious: any culture recognizable as a culture over many generations produces people who are motivated and equipped to

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Rome produced him on purpose.

continue that culture. This should be a night follows day level truism. He gives Julius Caesar as an example, who as a 15 year old kid was sent on family diplomatic missions, given command of family guards, and took it upon himself to hunt down and execute some pirates who had kidnapped him and held him for ransom. While Julius was likely more talented than the run of the mill scion of a Roman patriarch, his training was typical. A teenage boy is hankering for some responsibility. The Romans, even if they may seem to us to have gone a bit far, gave such responsibility to their sons as befitted the keepers of a Republic (or an Empire, as needs may be).

Image result for pride parade
Our schools produce these folks on purpose as well.

The second, regarding Jonathan Haidt’s book asserting politics is a function of morality, where he talks about classifying liberal and conservative, left and right, whatever, using 5 categories – care, fairness, authority, loyalty, and purity. (Note: that’s stretching the idea of morality past the breaking point, at least, as understood in the West for the last 1,000 years, but whatever.) Severian points out how Haidt’s analysis is exactly opposite of reality:

Start from the top.  Care?  Liberals very ostentatiously don’t give a shit if their policies actually help or not.  How’s gay marriage going, for instance?  Anyone bother to follow up on that?  Did that loving gay couple ever get those hospital visitation rights that we were told, in story after heart-wrenching story, was the whole reason for gay marriage in the first place?  As I’ve pointed out before, you’d think the Left would at least be doing some victory laps at this point — “haha silly wingnutz, you said the sky would fall if the gays got married, and look!”  But…. nope.  Obergefell might as well have happened in the 17th century, for all the Left cares about it now.  Ditto the Great Society, the War on Poverty, Head Start, and all the other great Liberal crusades of the past 50 years.  They very obviously did the opposite of what they were supposed to, but if Liberals bother to think about them at all — which they only do if you hold their feet to the fire — they just mutter “needs more funding” and change the subject.

Again, we have the dichotomy whereby, on the one hand, people who value achievement (and, therefore, more likely than not, have achieved stuff) tend to strongly care about if and how a proposal is supposed to work, meaning, among other things, they’ve had to wrestle with what ‘work’ means. On the other hand, there are the people I’m always going on about, for whom membership is the only achievement. They care only about signaling they are in the club, and seem truly baffled when people like me keep asking how a proposal is supposed to work, and, indeed, what work means.

My favorite example: when Obamacare was first on the table, I kept hearing wildly ridiculous claims, such as the profits of the drug and healthcare companies would cover the additional costs, and the implicit idea that ‘health care’ is like pork bellies or soy futures – completely fungible, so that the cost of healthcare in, say, Brazil, whatever that means, is somehow relevant to what we call healthcare here in America.

So I did a little research and crunched some numbers. Um, no. It was painfully clear that Obamacare supporters cared only about supporting Obamacare, as in no way was better, cheaper healthcare going to result from it, as events have since demonstrated. But to even go in the direction of considering likely results is a no-no, you hater, you.

  1. It should not need to be said that individual success and the healthy independence it engenders do not exclude appreciation the contributions of others nor make one antisocial. On the contrary, it seems more common for one to both achieve nothing and fail to be grateful. It’s difficult for ingrates to be sociable.

The Epistemic Closure of the Left pt 2: Method, Goals

Continued from part 1, Definitions, Origins.

Method

Just as the compulsory, state-run, graded classroom model, with the weight of government funding and enforcement behind it, eventually crushed all competing models, the research university crushed or assimilated all those classic liberal arts colleges. The complete conquest of k-12 took until the 1960s; post secondary education didn’t completely fall until the 1990s, it seems. True liberal arts colleges, and those few primary schools that don’t use the graded classroom model, are like those isolated Japanese soldiers who, holed up on their islands, refuse to admit the war is over. The goal – the creation of a docile and obedient population loyal only to the state through the destruction of the home, family, village and church – are the same as those of Fichte’s primary and secondary schooling.

How did this happen? Pournelle’s Iron Law states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Dr. Pournelle, who worked for and with any number of bureaucracies in his lifetime, concludes:

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

A moment’s reflection should convince anyone who has any experience with bureaucracies, or even with people in general, of the truth of the Iron Law. In colleges, professors dedicated to their field will gladly let others take care of what at first looks like routine administrative matters. These routine administrative matters include, or will soon come to include, screening applicants for teaching positions. Say three professors in the English Department volunteer to work with the administration’s hiring department to do the initial screening of all applicants. The professors who want nothing more than a chance to share their love of Milton or Melville and beat a little grammar into thick undergrad skulls will gladly let them do it. At first, the three profs may get to hire their guy once in a while, or screen out somebody who they find objectionable – the guy who laughed at deconstructionism, or thought that, no, really, Shakespeare is the greatest writer in English. Over time, and by winning all the close decisions, only professors who are kindred spirits will get hired. Eventually, the department will speak with one voice – the voice of those eager to advance their power in the organization.

By patient application of subtle or not so subtle bias and pressure over a long enough time, the professors in any university will eventually include only those the bureaucracy finds amenable. This is not an accident, nor something that might or might not happen. Given a large enough bureaucracy, take over by the career bureaucrats is inevitable. They will then “make the rules, and control promotions within the organization.”

Given that those dedicated to the bureaucracy are now in control, how did we end up with this particular Marxist epistemic closure, where our young are taught to think moronically stupid, self-refuting ideas like ‘everything is a social construct’ are the apex of intellectual achievement? As discussed at length on this blog, modern compulsory graded classroom schooling is a mechanism for producing docile, conforming people incapable, as Fichte put it, of thinking anything their teachers don’t want them to think. I concluded part 1 by observing that this mechanism can be used by whoever controls its application – by whoever controls the organization’s bureaucracy. In other words, while Fichte may have wanted the products of his schools to think one way and conform to one norm, there’s nothing in the system itself that prevents it from being used by others to enforce another set of thoughts or cause conformity to some other norm.

Here’s where a distinction needs to be made. We’ll start with something Goebbels said: Give me a Red (a communist) and I can turn him into a Brown (a Nazi) in 10 days. I have no doubt that an evil genius Marxist, parallel to Goebbels, could make the same claim in reverse. The mindset is the important thing, a sort of container that determines the shape of acceptable thoughts and actions while being able to hold different content, depending on the desires of those in control. (1)

The mechanism here works independently of any particular ideology. Fichte had in mind creating a Greater Germany of sorts, purified of foreign influences, that could take its place as leader of the world (nothing scary about that, right?). Mann, who along with Barnard became the early American champions of compulsory state schooling after having visited Prussia and seen it at work, seemed at first to want to get those stubborn New England farmers to be more reasonable (they didn’t seem to like working long hours at the new factories owned by him and his friends – go figure). Later, he seemed more inspired by the goal of making good Protestant Americans out of the unwashed Irish Papist immigrants. (He got a lot more support from the farmers for this second goal than for the first). That goal – Americanizing (Catholic & Jewish) immigrants (into good solid Protestants, after the manner of the Prussian Lutherans under Fichte and von Humboldt) – sustained the movement through the end of the 19th century.

In the 1890s, William Torrey Harris reimagined the goal to be good solid Hegelians, which is not so different on one level, as Hegel always considered himself a devout Lutheran. The critical distinction: Hegelians reject logic in favor of enlightenment, a direct infusion of knowledge into the soul. The Spirit is unfolding itself through History, after all, and cannot be limited by human reason. I suspect the distinction between Hegelianism and more traditional Lutheranism (and, by effortless extension, Protestantism in general) would have been lost on most all of Harris’s audiences, aided greatly by Hegel’s impenetrable prose, especially as deployed by a third-rate Hegelian like Harris.(2)

And so on – we’ll get to the details in a moment. Here, I merely want to call attention to how the goals of compulsory state schooling changed more or less dramatically over time, yet caused hardly a ripple of discontent among advocates. What really mattered was that the good, smart, forward-looking people get to control the unwashed masses. Mann, anticipating C. S. Lewis with a sort of Protestant Mere Christianity, thought all would be well if the many could set aside their differences and accept the sort of non-sectarian Protestantism shared by him and his upper class buddies.(3) I contend that the general desire of the well off and their courtiers was to control the masses; the details were not all that important, so long as those smelly poorer people were under control.

Goals

After the Great War and the Russian Revolution, and exacerbated mightily by the Great Depression a dozen years later, the idea that society and specifically the economy needed to be managed by the smart people came to be taken for granted by virtually all educated people, who, of course, assumed they were the smart people who would be doing the management. In such an atmosphere, Marxism and Fascism were seen as forward-looking models of state control, for the presumed benefit of the working classes.

On a more practical level, as recounted by Bella Dodd in her autobiography The School of Darkness, Soviet agents and their useful idiots began to recruit from and then infiltrate the schools. They did this by becoming, whenever possible, the bureaucracy of various teachers unions. Dodd, herself a teacher and then college professor, rose to the head of the New York City Teachers’ Union, where she then furthered the careers of like-minded individuals – that whole “write the rules, and control promotions” thing the Iron Law talks about.

Dodd states that 1940 -1942, when the State of New York got around to investigating Communist influence in their schools (the Rapp-Coudert Committee), the Communists were able to use misdirection to confuse the public, labelling the state’s efforts to root out Communist teachers as an attack on public schools in general. They also launched attacks on the politicians behind the investigation, using their well-organized activists to campaign against them. Sound familiar?

Communist teachers were coached on how to avoid being found out; those with too public track records of being Communists were sacrificed. Dodd estimated that 40-50 Communist teachers and professors were found out, leaving about 1,000 in place, to continue the work of remaking the New York schools in their image. Similar situations prevailed in numerous other state teachers unions.

Another thread: In 1923, the Frankfurt School, associated with Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, was founded with the purpose of promoting Marxist social analysis in academia, commonly known as Critical Theory. In 1933, the Nazis shut it down; it moved to America and found a home at Columbia University.

In the fashion ubiquitous to Marxists, critical theorists practice a sort of philosophical pettifoggery, drafting all sorts of extraneous and peripheral ideas in supposed support of what are, essentially, a couple Marxist dogmas. It is not at all important that you learn what Hegel, Husserl or Heidegger said, merely that you can identify them as the Three Hs of Critical Theory. Marx, Lenin and Gramsci, in addition to not sharing a first letter, might make what you’re up to too transparent. All three of the Hs are legendarily obtuse (“It just is nothing foreign to consciousness at all that could present itself to consciousness through the mediation of phenomena different from the liking itself; to like is intrinsically to be conscious.” – 1st Husserl quote that came up on Google) and are the models and apex of that academic approach/pathology whereby mere obscurantism is presented both as the height of erudition and an impenetrable barbican against all criticism. How can one criticize what one doesn’t understand? For these reasons, incomprehensibility becomes a prime goal of Marxist academics.

In Sinclair’s notes to the Inferno, he comments on a scene in hell Dante draws from life – the preening of the condottieri, I think, but I’m not looking it up – by quoting a contemporary commentator: “Everyone has seen it.” I’m going the same route here: dip a toe into college life anytime in the last 30 years, and what you’ll meet, predominantly, are professors and their sycophants, some true believers and many useful idiots, the thinnest skinned, least happy people you’ll ever find, smirkingly sure of their superiority and hair-trigger brutal in their reactions to any challenge to it. They are the desired fruit of Critical Theory, incapable of thinking anything their teachers don’t want them to think. All that bluster and rage are there to ensure no evil thoughts get through. Epistemic closure has been achieved.

Marxist social analysis consists, for all practical purposes, of applying to all situations the dogma: all evil in the world is caused by oppression. Since this is manifestly contradicted at every turn (4), Marxists further promulgate the dogma that everything is a social construct. This latter dogma is a more pretentious rephrasing of the classic propaganda line “the individual is nothing, the collective is everything.” In turn, this rephrasing is itself a rephrasing of Marx’s famous, if poorly articulated (hey, the dude admired Hegel) claim that class determines consciousness.

How this works is trivial: merely by offering evidence and using logic, I reveal my class consciousness, and have identified myself as not a member of the tribe. As such, my claims, ideas and arguments are summarily dismissed and I am conclusively presumed to be unenlightened at best and an evil racist Nazi Fascist at worst. If I offer evidence and reasons why I’m not an evil racist Nazi Fascist – oops! I’ve simply reconfirmed the original judgement.

On a more general level, for example, a black man who murders a policeman is not only not a murderer, he’s not even violent, by definition. He is a member of an oppressed group, therefore the violence is being done *to* him, so that his actions are not themselves violent, but are the violence of the oppressing group expressing itself downstream, as it were. And so on, for all actions everywhere. All evil is the result of oppression. The oppressed as such cannot do violence. Anything that appears to contradict this is a social construct of the oppressors.

The final dogma, Gramsci’s contribution to the cause: All social structures are tools of the oppressors created and enforced to maintain their hegemony. Family, marriage, chuch, village, “gender,” corporations – etc. are not activities or characteristics of individuals but rather tools of oppression. Therefore, the only thing that can be done to improve the world is to promote the destruction of all social structures. Trying to encourage people to be better, let alone trying to improve yourself, is delusional. The individual is nothing.

The pretzel logic that results from any attempt to apply these dogmas, known as intersectional theory, means pretty much everyone is both an oppressor and a victim of oppression. A black man is oppressed by whites by virtue of being black but oppresses women because he’s a man. A well-off Asian lesbian oppresses the poor but is herself oppressed by men and non-Asians, and is a bigot if she refuses to have sex with a transgender man who claims he’s a lesbian. And so on, to whatever degree of spaghetti reasoning you care to take it. This results in such amusing sights as people simultaneously performing ritual self-shaming while claiming exalted victim status. With a glorious tear in their eye, of course.

All this activity is cloaked in spectacularly Orwellian euphemisms, of course. Since all simple direct speech, like all simple direct experience, puts these idiotic dogmas to the lie, we end up calling mindless conformity “critical thinking”; totalitarian power grabs by tiny minorities “democratic action”; fascist brutality “antifa”; using people’s misery to manipulate them “fighting for social justice.” Slavery is freedom, ignorance is knowledge, and war is peace. All brutality, misery, abuse and manipulation can be described in preformulated happy language that allows the speaker to avoid coming to grips with what he is doing. Allows them to keep at bay the cognitive dissonance which this epistemic closure generates on contact with reality, in other words.

Final historical note: as related by Menand in The Metaphysical Club, another key piece was put in place in the 1930s: the concept of academic freedom was elevated to the level of essential truth. The problem academic freedom was meant to address was that the people paying the bills, the poor rubes, imagined they might have a say over who got to be a professor and what the colleges taught. Professors who caused public scandal, such as Charles Sanders Peirce, were unemployable due to the pressure brought by parents and benefactors and the administrations that had to answer to them. The then-modern approach to psychology, with its dogmas of sexual repression and the sexualization of childhood, got some push-back in the same way.

Solution? Assert as a dogma that only those expert in a field are fit to criticize those who share their field. No non-expert understands enough of what is going on to offer valid criticisms. A corollary, unspoken as far as I am aware, is that the behaviours of such enlightened folks were also off-limits. Thus, somebody like me, for example, who is simply well read and intelligent, is disqualified from pointing out the Emperor’s nakedness (5).

Combine the two main points here, and you get: those who work for the bureaucracy make the rules and govern promotions AND everyone outside their little club is presumptively disqualified from offering any criticism. The faculty is homogenized; non-faculty disallowed from all discussion. The appearance of educated consensus is presented, cowing the ignorant children we send to college and helping the miseducated slavish conformists selected by the bureaucracy as ‘scholars’ to preen in their stolen glory.

The goal of the Frankfurt School and the Soviet agents and their teams of useful idiots was to commandeer the educational system in America and redirect it toward creating Marxist epistemic closure (getting ‘woke’) in all children and young adults. This goal has been all but achieved – what remains are efforts to eliminate all private schools. Google “ban private schools” to see how that’s going. Check out who backs such efforts.

All this takeover of the schools is a step in the ultimate goal of destroying all current social structures, so that the End Times will arrive, bringing with them a new heaven and a new earth, people by new Soviet men, living in a Worker’s Paradise. The best part is that this results from proper consciousness, so that the individual – who is nothing, remember – needn’t actually build the new superstructures. They just happen. All the individual need do is cooperate with other woke people in the destruction of the current society.

Notes to part II

  1. It’s also true that the feud between Marxists and Fascists is blood feud, a sibling rivalry, so moving from one to the other isn’t all that much of a move. Both are obsessed with purity, blame everything on a largely fictionalized set of oppressors, don’t believe in God (and, boy, do they hate Him!). The people in the oppressor class are largely the same individuals, it’s only a question of what order one puts the nouns: e.g., do you hate the Jews because they’re capitalists, or hate the capitalists because they’re Jews? Then, you pick a goal: class or nation? In practice, they’re almost the same thing: the Internationale was Russia in all but rhetoric.
  2. I can well imagine a future teacher or solid citizen, after hearing one of Harris’s lectures, innocently asking: “So, your plan is to make children into good solid Protestants, right?” and Harris answering with equal innocence: “Sure!”
  3. This, coming on the heels of the first few decades of the 19th century, a period where, for example, Methodists were sure Presbyterians were damned to Hell, and visa versa. (Spoiler: they got over it.)
  4. Freire says that a worker who beats his wife is not, himself, guilty of oppression or even violence, since he only beats his wife because he is oppressed – the real violence is being done by the Capitalists and their stooges. This presents a dilemma Freire doesn’t address: if Worker Juan beats his wife because he’s oppressed, what causes his equally oppressed neighbor Worker Pao not to beat his, but to bring her flowers? A non-Marxist might conclude there’s some personal culpability or virtue involved in this difference, the possibility of which is categorically denied by Marxists. The individual is nothing, the collective everything, after all.
  5. In the words of Katharine Hepburn: so few people look good naked.