Samuel Read Hall: Deep in the Warren

In yesterday’s post, mentioned that, via the Oracle Wikipedia, discovered a gentleman named Samuel Read Hall, an important figure in the American compulsory state-run school movement of the early 19th century. So, I poked around…

Turns out, he wrote a number of books and textbooks. And that the Internet Archives has several of them online for free. So, in my usual manner, I set aside the de la Salle I was reading to take a look. The tome titled The instructor’s manual: or, Lectures on school-keeping looked promising. I’m painfully aware of my lack of understanding and sources for exactly how schooling as we now know it took over America, and this, dating from the 1820s even though this edition is from 1852, seemed like a good place to look. It’s only a couple hundred pages…

The brief biographical information I could run down about Hall doesn’t provide many hints about how he came to be a champion of modern schooling, merely that he was such. He was the son of a clergyman, never went to college, and became a school teacher at age 19. He then devoted the rest of his life to education, campaigning for Massachusetts to establish a superintendent of common schools, at which he succeeded, and of which Horace Mann became the first office holder. At 27, he was a school principal; at 28, he founded and ran a teacher’s college and became a licensed minister. The rest of his long life was devoted to educating teachers and ministerial work.

Yet, somewhere, he absorbed the Pestalozzian approach to education, with a strong, if typically muddled, foundation in Rousseau. He’s a huge Prussian schooling fanboy.

When I entered the same field of labor, in 1816, there was scarcely a paragraph in the weekly newspaper, and not a single book or even tract within my knowledge, intended to aid the teacher, in knowing how to instruct and govern a school. Nor was there at that time a Teachers Institute or Normal School within the United States, or even Europe. The magnificent school system of Prussia, which has since awakened such deep interest in Christendom, was not then matured.

from the Introduction

Hall quotes with approval a contemporary reverend, as he presents a long list of all the ways a child’s education can shape him – a snippet from the end:

“…Carry him to the city of the Grand Sultan, and he will grow up a worshipper of Mohammed, and exhibit all the peculiarities of one of his most devoted sons.
Let him live where the gospel sheds its benign and enlightening rays, and he will embrace the doctrines and rejoice in the precepts of Jesus.

” Such is the controlling influence which external circumstances must and will have upon all other children. And these external circumstances are nothing more or less than the concentrated influence, the whole education, through which a person passes, and by which he will be benefited or injured, in proportion to the healthful or baneful nature of the sum of this influence. Of what unspeakable importance, then, must it be to this heir of life and immortality, that this influence should be enlightening, elevating, and moral ; that he be under the influence of virtuous associates, judicious parents, and truly intelligent, virtuous, and patriotic teachers.”

I’ve wondered if the blank slate/formless clay idea gained ground with the separation of people from farming. A farmer knows that, while care and luck certainly figure into it, plant a carrot, get a carrot, not a brussel sprout. In other words, things are what they are, and all we can do is plant them in the proper soil and take good care and pray. Mostly, that works; sometimes, it doesn’t. Here’s Hall quoting the same author:

” The rising generation, like clay in the hand of the potter, are readily moulded into almost any shape, and will certainly take the form, adopt the principles, and fall into the habits which the all- fashioning power of education comprehending under that term whatever in the world around operates on the mind or heart shall give them. …The whole future condition of the rising generations, in all their mental, social, and moral interests, their present and future joys and sorrows, is involved in it. “

To his credit, Hall is trying to educate kids to be good, under an understandable definition of good: Christian and patriotic virtues, 19th century New England style. And, even more so, he recognizes parents as key. Hall differs from Fichte here, as Fichte wants New German Men, virtuous according to standards only unclearly understood. And parents are the problem education aims to address. The Apostles and their virtues and zeal would possibly be considered acceptably educated by Hall; they would be throwbacks to an earlier, superseded age to Fichte, and thus an unacceptable step backwards.

Perhaps I give Hall too much credit here.

Only lightly skimmed so far, There are lots of examples in the form of dialogues between student and teacher. Some of Hall’s advice is sound, such as not explaining difficulties using words the kids don’t understand.

I’m going to try not to spend too much time on this work, but do want to read it. If it proves helpful, Hall has a bunch of other stuff out there on the web as well.

Further updates as events warrant.

De la Salle & Normal Schools

Am plowing through biographies and writings of the major players in Catholic schooling. Unfortunately, so far, have found nothing on Mother Seton’s teaching methods, which, given the timeframe of the early 19th century, would be interesting. Now looking over Jean Baptiste de la Salle, and creating a series of spreadsheets with timelines on them – since none of the stuff I’ve read so far correlates event s and lives in any sort of systematic fashion, guess I’ve got to do it.

De la Salle is credited with inventing the ‘Normal School’, viewed as the forerunner of all modern teachers colleges. The name comes from de la Salle’s observation that the impoverished boys he was trying to educate lacked even rudimentary social skills, and, further, so did the sort of men who would volunteer to teach them.

His first stab at addressing the issue was to simply invite the teachers over for dinner. In 1680, this caused great scandal among his relatives, since de la Salle was a nobleman with a mansion, and the teachers were all commoners. He found dinner wasn’t enough immersion in cultured life, so he had the commoner-teachers move in. His relatives managed, through legal wrangling, to get his house away from him, putting the kibosh on his uncouth fraternizing.

So he founded normal school, to instill in would-be teachers the norms of civilized life. The SJW have gotten to the Wikipedia page, and so we read:

In 1685, St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, founded what is generally considered the first normal school, the École Normale, in ReimsChampagneFrance. The term “normal” herein refers to the goal of these institutions to instill and reinforce particular norms within students. “Norms” included historical behavioral norms of the time, as well as norms that reinforced targeted societal values, ideologies and dominant narratives in the form of curriculum.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_school

Of course, there’s an implied judgement in there. It seems the writer doesn’t approve of the ‘ideologies and dominant narratives’ the likes of de la Salle would ‘instill.’ De la Salle made a timeless observation: You’ll get farther if you know how to act like a gentleman than if you always act like a thug. It’s along the lines of catching flies with sugar rather than vinegar.

I note here a reality: schools are an artifact and a conduit of culture. Either your schools teach and reinforce the culture, or they replace it. In de la Salle’s case, he wanted what he saw as a better culture taught to his charges, both students and teachers. In a sense, he was attempting to replace the culture, such as it was, of the impoverished boys and teachers in his charge; looked at another way, he was trying to take the best from the culture he shared with the poor, and make it more available to them. He certainly thought knowing how to act like a gentleman would improve the economic and social prospects of his students and teachers.

Our school cannot but serve the same purpose. They are not about the 3 Rs, and never were. The 3 Rs are just part of the culture the schools traditionally tried to pass on. All the great teachers of history knew they weren’t getting anywhere with students who did not know, for example, how to act toward a teacher. The great schools in Athens would not admit you unless you knew Euclid and Homer, as in: could do all of Euclid’s proofs, and recite the Iliad and the Odyssey. It was not so much that this proved you were a true Greek – although it did do that – as show that you knew how to study and learn. How to behave in school.

Fichte is therefore not breaking new ground in trying to use schools to impart a culture. His innovation is to teach that compulsory state-run Rousseauian/Pestalozzian schools could create a new and Utopian society in a generation or so – if only the influence of parents, family, religion, and village could be eliminated. This remains a (usually) tacit assumption of schools ever since.

Wikipedia continues:

The first public normal school in the United States was founded in Concord, Vermont, by Samuel Read Hall in 1823 to train teachers. In 1839, the first state-supported normal school was established by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the northeast corner of the historic Lexington Battle Green; it evolved into Framingham State University. The first modern teacher training school in China was established by educator Sheng Xuanhuai in 1895 as the normal school of the Nanyang Public School (now Shanghai Jiao Tong University) in Shanghai during the Qing dynasty.[2]

Massachusetts – it’s the Balkans of education: producing more history than it can consume locally. My curiosity was piqued by Samuel Read Hall – don’t remember him. A contemporary of Mann, but beat him to the punch in founding a Normal School. So, I clicked the link:

Hall was a preacher, or at least, a trained minister. At a young age – mid 20s – he was already running and founding schools. Wonder if he’s yet another childless man pontificating on children? The Oracle does not say.

In 1829, he helped found an educational society,  American Institute of Instruction , whose purpose was – to get Massachusetts to create the office od superintendent of schools. The succeeded. Horace Mann got the gig…

It is shocking/not shocking how often education reform seeks not so much improved education as the establishment of offices with the power, it is more or less sincerely hoped, to improve education.

Here’s Hall’s major beefs:

In his Lectures on School Keeping, he points out significant obstacles to the instruction of children in the American schools of 1829:

Lack of simple display media such as a globe of the world. (He is credited with inventing the blackboard, and the blackboard eraser)

Political factions within the school district, at war with each other at the expense of educational progress.

Wealthy citizens sending their children to private schools.

Schools exact no moral influence, in turn becoming a school for bad behavior.

Poorly qualified teachers.

Poor remuneration of qualified teachers.

Poor quality of textbooks, or lack of fitness for learning capacity of student.

It’s tempting to pick this apart. In 1829, America was less than 50 years removed from the Federalist Papers – published in the popular press, which would suggest that, in general, the newspaper-buying public could read at a very high level. And there were a lot of newspapers back then, publishing a lot of editions, so that public must have been large. Again, reading can only be an important part of schooling if the culture the school is passing along thinks it’s important. At any rate, it doesn’t look like reading was considered a problem by Hall.

“Political factions” – he doesn’t mean “people who disagree with me,” does he? Then again: rich people sending their kids to private schools as a problem suggests he does. Don’t want to read too much into this, but it is interesting that he doesn’t seem to want to reform those private schools, but rather, wants rich people’s kids in public schools like his. Again, one wonders: is ‘wealthy’ defined here as ‘willing to spend money to keep them out of my schools’?

Rabbit hole. Important note: once one recognizes schools as tools to impart culture, it becomes very, very important to consider who is in charge, what culture is being imparted. The news suggests: not the one any sane people would want imparted.

The Attack on Books

A large part of Marx’s appeal to the modern well-schooled student lies in Marx being the first and only example of thought they’ve been exposed to. All the authority figures they ever have in school accept the basic premises with greater or lesser degrees of awareness – because that is what they, themselves, were taught. (1) The student, again with varying degrees of awareness, accepts uncritically that everything is the result of the strangely willful movements of vast impersonal forces. Since every child has experienced deep feelings of helplessness, and, with the help of the schools, few have any sense of independent personal accomplishment (2), they can easily become convinced the individual is nothing but a twig afloat the river of events, where nothing he can do changes anything. History is presented as the story of oppression, without heroes, without valor, without any moments where an individual can shine or fail. (This, BTW, is why Star Wars ultimately HAD to be destroyed.) At the same time, witnessing to the Progress of History becomes the hallmark of virtue, even if you do it from the comfort of your living room couch.

Trouble in (the Worker’s) Paradise can be caused by other books. Marxists are pulled by the gravity of their faith into becoming, effectively, book burners. In the usual Orwellian fashion, the fury to get rid of competing books is framed as ‘being more inclusive’. We are to feel bad that few people of color, feminists and alphabet soup sexual deviants are included in the Western Canon, and only incidentally notice how these mediocrities squeese out real masterpieces of thought. Marx is a jealous, and, more important here, a tenuous, naked god.

A 3-‘n’ Western Cannon. Which is totally different. Or not….

Traditional Liberal Arts colleges have been relentlessly attacked by enlightened, progressive leaders since the middle of the 19th century, precisely because that is where most students first encounter the vast array of thought that precedes Marx, Fichte, Hegel and all the ‘Enlightenment’ thinkers back to Descartes (and, maybe, William of Ockham). Fichte (you knew we’d get there) saw reading as nothing but trouble, something to be taught, if at all, at the very end of a student’s education, after he’d been properly conditioned to do only what the state-approved authority figures told him to do.

In context – the context of 3,000 years of human thought – Marx is a patent dissembling minor leaguer. Aristotle and Thomas, the Book of Job, Sophocles, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Tacitus; Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton, and a dozen others (throw Gilgamesh and Beowulf in there, if you wish. I’ll add Sun Tsu), not to mention classical art, architecture and music, used to give at least some students a hint at what human genius looks like. These liberal artists in the classic sense were a bastion against the ambitious mediocrities that thrive, today, in our credential- and certification- addled world. Our Credentialarchy? Credentialocrity? I’m open to suggestions, here.

Since the great thinkers hardly ever agree in any detail, and more often vehemently disagree, one’s thinking gets honed trying to understand them: one gets used to the idea that really smart people can really, truly, disagree. Also – this is especially true of Aristotle and Thomas – one can see that opposing ideas are often each very appealing in themselves. One gets used to the idea that someone might have a very good point, and still be wrong, and that even brilliant people make stupid mistakes and harbor appalling bigotry, yet can still be right about other things.

It’s complicated out there. This appreciation of complexity and existence of multiple worthy viewpoints can somewhat immunize one against simple-minded theories that explain everything in one broad sweep – can raise one’s resistence to Marx, for example.

And so, as Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton and a Progressive icon, put it: the vast bulk of the people are to be denied the privilege of a liberal education and rather be fitted by public education for particular manual work. We are not to trouble our little heads with big ideas that might make life difficult for the likes of the extraordinarily well-credentialed Wilson.

This whole anti-intellectualism of the Marxists (against which label they will squeal like stuck more equal pigs, and make me laugh) is, in another example of Orwellian thinking, hiding behind their one fundamental belief: that they are smarter, more intellectual, than everybody else. Aristotle points out that a cultivated mind can consider an idea without accepting it; therefore, an uncultivated mind can (at best!) only consider ideas it has already accepted. This is what we are seeing when a Freudian analyzes the sexual hangups of his critics; when Hegel (and a host of others) classifies all who agree with him as the enlightened people, more or less tacitly dismissing all criticism as mere lack of enlightenment. And, preeminently today, when people are either woke or not, without any space in such a mental universe for one’s opponents to have a valid point, or even for them to be anything other than morally evil.

Books as a defense of civilized life are, as the saying goes, ‘downstream’ from family. The major attack, the prime position to be destroyed, remains the triumvirate of family, village and church. Right now, those with no or damaged families, who in any event reject family as foundational to culture, are burning neighborhoods and destroying the local businesses (and churches!) that make those neighborhoods at least potentially civilized. But this endless attack on the good, the true, and the beautiful, that has given us a crucifix in a bottle of urine and brutalist architecture, is hardly going to spare beautiful literature.

  1. Chesterton said students will readily ignore and forget what their teachers tell them, but will inerringly absorb what their teachers assume.
  2. What SAT was an acronym for changed from the ‘Student Aptitude Test’ – simply attempting to evaluate an unearned, morally neutral aptitude for academics – to the ‘Student Achievement Test’ – as if a high score was the Medal of Honor for kids. Those ‘front row kids’ now could study for the SAT -and, boy, do they ever! – instead of passively submitting to it as a diagnostic. It is the paradigm for everything considered an achievemnet in the front row kids’ lives: the approval of an outside authority that you’re worth-while.

Fichte Reread Wrap-up: We Are the Enemy

Rereading Fichte after having read many more modern compulsory state schooling advocates, one is struck by the constant echoes of him. When, for example, William Torrey Harris recommends dark, ugly schools buildings removed from the delights of nature, the better to train children to focus on their intellectual development, he is merely echoing Fichte’s dismissal of direct experience, of the very idea of objective reality, in favor of developing in children the ability to form and be guided by subjective conceptions. Or when that Harvard woman in the news bewails the ‘evils’ of homeschooling, she is but echoing Fichte, who blames all the evils of society on the family’s role in raising their own children, and insists education is something the state must OF COURSE exclusively perform, so that mankind can progress to the next level of enlightenment. More on this below.

It’s been almost 7 years since I first read Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation, the founding work modern compulsory state education and a declaration of war by the state on the family. In the Addresses, Fichte declares that the state has every right and a sacred duty to simply seize all German children, remove them from all contact with their families for the duration of their education, for their own good, but especially for the good of the Nation. He is a fiery, fanatical believer in the perfectibility of Man and thus of the State, believes the enlightened among us have a sacred duty to lead the unenlightened to the state-mandated Promised Land by whatever means necessary, and has identified education – state controlled, mandatory education – as the key to this Heaven on Earth.

The major thing standing in the way of achieving these ends, ends that justify, evidently, extravagant and brutal means, is the family. Within their families all children (with, I suppose, the exception of Fichte himself?) have been raised to be sensual, weak-willed sheep who do not love the Fatherland, from which all their virtue flows. Properly raised, these New German Men will be virtuous, selfless lovers of Truth, and, incidentally, obviate the need for a standing army. If the Fatherland needs defending, this properly educated, Fatherland-loving, physically fit generation will of course simply form an unbeatable, selfless fighting force against which no unenlightened mortals could possibly stand. (1)

Fichte delivered these Addresses as a series of lecture over the winter of 1807/8. He was evidently a very good orator; certainly, much of the Addresses read like fiery evangelical preaching. His audience for these talks, the admission fees to which paid the the Fichte family’s bills, were the sort of people who would pay money to be alternately flattered and harangued on wintry Sunday evenings. These were professionals living in French-occupied Berlin, butt-hurt over having had that loathsome creature Napoleon crush the previously invincible Prussian army like a bug. Literal blocks away from the site of these lectures, the government of the occupation had its offices.

Just because it’s easy to forget: in the early 1800s, around 80% to 90% of the population of Prussia, and every other nation as well, lived in the country. Farmers could only consistently produce 10-20% more food than was required to keep themselves alive; this put a cap on how many people could be engaged in activities other than farming. I mention this because farmers supplied not only the food, but also armies of any size of any nation. The major target of Fichte’s reforms, therefore, had to be the children of country people.

I’ve long suspected that the myth of the country bumpkin is a result of solid farmers not buying into the fantasies of city slickers. They must be stooopid, those country rubes, because all the smart people agree that anyone who disagrees with them is, you know, stupid. That there might be species of stupid just for those living in cities detached from the work of providing sustenance is an idea that seems to not have occurred to too many urbanites.

Perhaps this attitude has some parallels today?

Fichte begins with and sprinkles liberally throughout his talks the claim that Germans are responsible for pretty much all progress and everything good in the world. He partly attributes this to the natural character of Germans, partly to his claim that Germans have a natural language. The two causes interact: because German Germans never learned a conqueror’s language, they understand the world and express themselves plainly, in words that come directly from common experience. The pointed reference here is to the French, ethnically Germanic for the most part, as the Franks were a German tribe, yet conquered by Rome more or less and speakers of a highly degenerate form of their conquerors language. When he speaks of the German Nation, he means all native German speakers.

Fichte considered states as passing fads, almost, and sees them as each in its own way an expression of fundamental Germaness. The existence of separate German states is no major hindrance to his theories, in other words. One might say: German states are downstream from the German nation to which these Addresses are addressed. The high destiny of the German nation overwhelms and vouchsafes the purity and success of any truly German state. This primacy of German manifest destiny to lead the world to the next phase of Fichte’s 5 stages of human development will keep the state honest, as it were. In any event, Fichte never for a moment entertains the idea that any state pursuing his grant plan might be fundamentally corrupt. Nope: nothing can possibly go wrong with the state exercising its police power to round up everyone’s children and enforce isolation on them, imprisoning them for years with no visitation rights. Fichte goes farther: it is as CERTAIN as day follows night his education system will produce selfless, obedient, patriotic adults who will lead the German Nation and then the world to Nirvana.

Another familiar theme:

Now, assuming that the pupil is to remain until education is finished, reading and writing can be of no use in the purely national education, so long as this education continues. But it can, indeed, be very harmful; because, as it has hitherto so often done, it may easily lead the pupil astray from direct perception to mere signs, and from attention, which knows that it grasps nothing if it does not grasp it now and here, to distraction, which consoles itself by writing things down and wants to learn some day from paper what it will probably never learn, and, in general, to the dreaming which so often accompanies dealings with the letters of the alphabet. Not until the very end of education, and as its last gift for the journey, should these arts be imparted and the pupil led by analysis of the language, of which he has been completely master for a long time, to discover and use the letters. After the rest of the training he has already acquired, this would be play.

Fichte, 9th Address, pp 136

To sum up: a kid is to spend, effectively, 24 x 7 X 365 in school for around 10 years, learning to be a good German, how to really focus on the task at hand (2) but doesn’t learn reading and writing (and, one assumes, arithmetic) until something like age 15 or 16. If you can read and write, you don’t have to pay attention to the teacher as much – you can take notes, and review later. This will not do, as the child is to accept the state trained and certified teacher in the place of his displaced father, and fulfill his need for approval and love by pleasing that teacher. The magical education works, according to Fichte’s understanding of Pestalozzi, by having the student utterly emotionally dependent on pleasing the teacher, doing what the teacher wants him to do in the way the teacher wants it done, always eager for approval. There is no fallback: by design, a child who fails to please his teacher has no recourse, not to family, not even to books. His family has abandoned him, as far as he knows, and he’s not allowed to explore the world through reading, where he might come across other ways in which people interact.

The scary part: it works great. Modern schooling attempts to achieve the same dynamic by telling the parents, who themselves were schooled in the same way, that they are bad parents if they don’t enforce homework on their child, effectively extending to the home and parents the duty to please the teacher. That the bulk of homework is busy work is the point: it’s not the work itself that is important, it’s the discipline that doing the work as commanded enforces.

Fichte is alive and well in modern schooling. ‘Educators’ are trained and filtered by their willingness to perform busy work and regurgitate nonsense on command, then certified. Teachers may and often do have goals and ideals of their own – these are at best irrelevant, as the structure of the schools is the message. You will sit in the class in which you are placed; you will do what the teacher tells you to do; you will ‘succeed’ by regurgitating what the teacher tells you. Anything else is at best superfluous.

You end up with well-schooled, ‘front row’ (3) people who are utterly convinced of their intellectual and moral superiority, functionally innumerate, scientifically and historically illiterate, convinced that regurgitating whatever the approved authority figure is saying at the moment is the apex of intelligence, and utterly terrified of examining the basis of their confidence. They react with anger to anyone who dares challenge them on any point of their received beliefs. They have received their identity through their schooling (as it was designed to do); any challenge to any idea is thus a personal attack, and proof the challenge is stupid and evil.

See, for example, the knee-jerk shutdown of criticisms of the current lockdown.

  1. I’ve read in a number of places that German soldier in the World Wars consistently inflicted 30% higher casualties than they received. Those soldiers were educated in schools founded by von Humboldt after the recommendations of Fichte, so maybe there’s something to this claim? But the Prussian state could never quite pull off the whole ‘seize all children from the cradle and prohibit all contact with their families’ thing – which is probably why they lost both those wars…
  2. The psychologist Alice Miller talks about how children are, of necessity, desperate for love and approval, which they get automatically in any even marginally healthy family. Parents and siblings who are not monsters hold and talk to the baby and interact with the child daily. She also mentions in a couple of her works the standards of German child-rearing manuals from the 19th century, how fathers were instructed to make sure their sons failed at certain tasks just so that they could be punished. Otherwise, if the child were to experience only love, acceptance, and patience, he may not learn to understand discipline and authority. All love is conditional, in other words. Somebody else will need to research what, if any, effect Fichte had on those manuals, or visa versa.
  3. From the linked article, proof, if any needed, that arrogance makes you stupid:

Front row kids:

Mobile, global, and well educated

Primary social network is via colleges and career

Intellect is primary. View world through framework of numbers and rational arguments

Meaning (and morality) comes from careers and intellectual puruits

Faith is irrational. They see themselves as beyond race and gender

View their lives as better than their parents and their children’s lives will be better than their own

Schooling as State Control: Some More Fichte

As mentioned earlier, I’ve been rereading Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation, since I now have a lot more historical and philosophical context than I had when I first read them several years ago. What follows are a few quotations that, this time, grabbed my attention, and a little light discussion.

For anyone new here: Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was the founder of modern compulsory state schooling – schooling of, by, and for the state. He inspired von Humboldt, who embraced his goals and implemented his program in Prussia starting in 1810. Horace Mann and the other founders of American state schooling traveled to Prussia in the first half of the 19th century to admire and learn from the Prussian Model of state-controlled schooling. Many got PhDs from Prussian universities – the PhD was invented at the University of Berlin, founded by von Humboldt, where Fichte was chair of philosophy and Rector. The U of Berlin was the first modern research university, intended to train the elites who would become the implementers of Prussian Schooling and to further train the products of such schooling, for the good of the state.

Harvard, always the leading University in America, became a research university over the last few decades of the 19th century under its president Charles Eliot. As Wikipedia puts it:

But Eliot’s goal went well beyond Emersonian self-actualization for its own sake. Framed by the higher purposes of a research university in the service of the nation, specialized expertise could be harnessed to public purposes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_William_Eliot#Harvard_presidency

Eliot had spent 2 years in Europe studying schooling. The threads leading from Fichte to all modern state-controlled schooling are solid. We are to this day attempting to implement his program.

It’s key to understand Fichte to understand how we’ve gotten to where we are today: school versus parents for the souls of the children.

In his 9th Address, Fichte expands on the requirement that children be removed for all parental control and influence for the duration of their education, which will be supplied by state-certified Masters:

To put it more briefly. According to our supposition, those who need protection are deprived of the guardianship of their parents and relatives, whose place has been taken by masters. If they are not to become absolute slaves, they must be released from guardianship, and the first step in this direction is to educate them to manhood. German love of fatherland has lost its place; it shall get another, a wider and deeper one; there in peace and obscurity it shall establish itself and harden itself like steel, and at the right moment break forth in youthful strength and restore to the State its lost independence. Now, in regard to this restoration foreigners, and also those among us who have petty and narrow minds and despairing hearts, need not be alarmed; one can console them with the assurance that not one of them will live to see it, and that the age which will live to see it will think otherwise than they.

9th Address, pp 127.

See how that works? Petty, narrow-minded people with despairing hearts will be alarmed at having the state seize and physically remove their children from them for duration of their education, for the purpose of training them to restore the state to its proper independence. Such people – us! – are to be consoled with the assurance that none of us will live to see the state restored to its glory. We may miss our children, but we won’t have to endure the glorious future.

A little later, Fichte endorses the methods of his older contemporary Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi as key to his new national education. Problem is, Pestalozzi endorsed mothers as the key to education, assuming much valuable learning would be done in the home under their care. He even wrote the Mother’s Book, because, of course, mothers needed to be told how to do it right.

Fichte will have none of it:

His book for mothers contains the foundation of his development of all knowledge; for, among other things, he relies very much on home education. First of all, so far as this home education itself is concerned, we have certainly no desire to quarrel with him over the hopes that he forms of mothers. But, so far as our higher conception of a national education is concerned, we are firmly convinced that, especially among the working classes, it cannot be either begun, continued, or ended in the parents’ house, nor, indeed, without the complete separation of the children from them…. Not until a generation has passed through the new education can the question be considered, as to what part of the national education shall be entrusted to the home.

ibid, pp 138

A key part of Fichte’s love for Pestalozzi resides in the later’s emphasis on the child’s need for constant supervision and management, that education must be under the control of masters or terrible things will happen. Fichte wants to make sure the state is the one training and paying the right kind of masters.

Napoleon at Jena. The bad guys in Fichte’s world.

Fichte tosses out the family from any roll in educating their own children. What about that other great educational force, the church? In America, prior to Mann & Co., Americans believed that the education of children belong solely in the hands of families and their churches. By the end of the 18th century, the population in America was near 100% literate, as home, churches, and private schools educated almost everyone, apart from slaves who were purposely kept uneducated. As Orestes Brownson commented, in America, having the state educate our kids is making our servant into our master. It was a century-long battle to get Americans to accept the goodness and necessity of state-controlled schools.

The Prussian army. Also, after a fashion, the bad guys, as they lost to the French!

In Address 11: On whom will the Carrying-out of this Scheme of Education devolve? (answer: the State), Fichte recaps history, where, according to him, the state stayed out of education for pathetic reasons.

In modern Europe education actually originated, not with the State, but with that power from which States, too, for the most part obtained their power—from the heavenly spiritual kingdom of the Church. The Church considered itself not so much a part of the earthly community as a colony from heaven quite foreign to the earthly community and sent out to enrol citizens for that foreign State, wherever it could take root. [note: ‘foreign’ is about as strong a put-down as Fichte uses, the opposite of German, his highest praise.] Its education aimed at nothing else but that men should not be damned in the other world but saved. The Reformation merely united this ecclesiastical power, which otherwise continued to regard itself as before, to the temporal power, with which formerly it had very often been actually in conflict. [note: Luther sought to have the state seize monasteries and turn them into state schools; much of his correspondence was with secular leaders urging them to pursue various programs. Eventually, we reached the point today where German churches are state-supported institutions.] In that connection, this was the only difference that resulted from that event; there also remained, therefore, the old view of educational matters. … The sole public education, that of the people, however, was simply education for salvation in heaven; the essential feature was a little Christianity and reading, with writing if it could be managed—all for the sake of Christianity. All other development of man was left to the blind and casual influence of the society in which they grew up, and to actual life. Even the institutions for scholarly education were intended mainly for the training of ecclesiastics. Theology was the important faculty; the others were merely supplementary to it, and usually received only its leavings.

Address 11, pp 164

Finally, is there any role for the Church? (He’s talking Lutheran, or at least. Protestant, churches here. That the Catholic Church might have a role was of course beyond consideration.) Not really:

Now, if for the future, and from this very hour, we are to be able to hope better things in this matter from the State, it will have to exchange what seems to have been up to the present its fundamental conception of the aim of education for an entirely different one. It must see that it was quite right before to refuse to be anxious about the eternal salvation of its citizens, because no special training is required for such salvation, and that a nursery for heaven, like the Church, whose power has at last been handed over to the State, should not be permitted, for it only obstructs all good education, and must be dispensed with. On the other hand, the State must see that education for life on earth is very greatly needed; from such a thorough education, training for heaven follows as an easy supplement. The more enlightened the State thought it was before, the more firmly it seems to have believed that it could attain its true aim merely by means of coercive institutions, and without any religion and morality in its citizens, who might do as they liked in regard to such matters. May it have learnt this at least from recent experiences—that it cannot do so, and that it has got into its present condition just because of the want of religion and morality!

ibid, pp 166

There’s a lot going on in this paragraph:

  • Fichte asserts that the Church has at last surrendered its power to the State, and that this is a good thing;
  • The state has an entirely different aim for education than the Church
  • The state should not ‘permit’ the Church, which should be ‘dispensed with’
  • The state is concerned with education for life on earth. Earlier, Fichte described how this whole afterlife business interferes with men doing what men – German men, of course – need to do to bring about heaven on earth, that we obtain immortality through making the nation stronger and better, and need to embrace the goals of the nation (German, of course) and focus on that
  • The state has previously ignored religion and morality in education, but now must take it up. Earlier, he argues that state education IS simply education in religion and morality, that reading and academics can and should be delayed until the end of the educational period, if indulged in at all. The important thing is to teach children to love the fatherland and do what they are told by their masters.
  • “Recent experiences” include having their armies crushed and lands overrun by the loathsome French, who, even as Fichte was delivering these talks, were sitting in the seats of power just blocks away.

Upon a second reading, there is a ton more to Fichte than I initially picked up. He is the prophet for the Messianic State, a true believer in the German people’s natural superiority and leadership, and sees the Spirit unfolding in history as being the ultimate reality. He solves the noumena/phenomena issues by simply declaring our subjective experience of the world IS the world. Thus, he wants education to focus on developing in children the ability to construct in their minds conceptions independent of any reference to the outside world. These images would include first an idealized Fatherland, to which all love ad devotion would be directed.

Fichte was that kind of personality who is either your staunchest friend or worst enemy, a sort of super-high functioning Borderline Personality case. He was certainly heroic in certain respects, such as nursing his wife back to health, despite the risk he would catch her disease (he did – it killed him), and on the other hand get himself fired for being a self-righteous jerk.

More as time allows.

Fichte and Messianic Schooling

Got another ‘final’ COVID 19 post all cued up, but let’s talk Education History!

Fichte

Decided to reread Fichte’s foundational Addresses to the German Nation which you can find discussed at some length here on this blog. After having finished rereading Parish Schools and more Pestalozzi, it seemed necessary to reread with, one hopes, a deeper understanding, the work that underlies the schooling that we are enduring today.

The general rule – don’t read about somebody until you read what they have to say for themselves – having been observed here, I also started DuckDuckGoing (totally a verb) around to find further information on particular points in Fichte’s philosophy.

Aside: Severian turned me on to David Stove, the late sort of Neo Positivist Australian philosopher, who, while fundamentally as crazy as the next anti-metaphysician (also totally a word), spent his career providing the desperately necessary mockery of the pure nonsense spouted by Hegel, Kant and the whole clown car of modern philosophers. He tends to simply quote them, and holds up their own words for well-deserved ridicule. I haven’t read anything of his where he goes after Fichte, but that would be a fun ride. Ultimately, what all these lunatics and posers need to be deprived of is people taking them seriously. The only response to such nonsense is to ignore or mock them. They never should have been able to raise their heads in a legitimate university spouting such idiocy. But I digress…

One chapter in my much to be yearned for (by me, at least) education history book will be titled “Messianic Schooling,” containing an account of history of the belief that the world can only be saved by schooling, that there is one right way to educate, and, once everybody is educated that way, heaven on earth will be achieved. Fichte will get a starring role; poor Pestalozzi, who never could see, or at least, never could articulate, the political ramifications of his ‘discovery’ of the one, perfect way to educate children, is mere putty in the hands of Fichte. Pestalozzi sees the (properly instructed, using his textbooks) mother as the ideal educator. Fichte loves Pestalozzi’s idea of having every student’s every school minute managed by a (state trained and certified) teacher as a reason to simply discard the family. Family is a bad influence on children; the state will of course do a much better job once mom and dad are out of the way.

I’m about 40% of the way through my rereading of the Adresses, and, yep, it’s a lot clearer this time around. This time, his fanatical confidence in human perfectibility shines through, as does how he bases all this on poetical and mystical ‘insights’, not on anything as mundane as a sensible argument. He sees 5 stages of human development, identifies Germany and the world at large as stuck in Stage 3, and a moral imperative to all right thinking German men* to do what it takes to get us to the next level.

Sort of like a video game.

Thus have we endeavoured to pre-figure the whole Earthly Life of Man by a comprehension of its purpose;—to perceive why our Race had to begin its Existence here, and by this means to describe the whole present Life of humankind: …There are, according to this view, Five Principal Epochs of Earthly Life, each of which, although taking its rise in the life of the individual, must yet, in order to become an Epoch in the Life of the Race, gradually lay hold of and interpenetrate all Men; and to that end must endure throughout long periods of time, so that the great Whole of Life is spread out into Ages, which sometimes seem to cross, sometimes to run parallel with each other:—1st, The Epoch of the unlimited dominion of Reason as Instinct:—the State of Innocence of the Human Race. 2nd, The Epoch in which Reason as Instinct is changed into an external ruling Authority;—the Age of positive Systems of life and doctrine, which never go back to their ultimate foundations, and hence have no power to convince but on the contrary merely desire to compel, and which demand blind faith and unconditional obedience:—the State of progressive Sin. 3rd, The Epoch of Liberation,—directly from the external ruling Authority—indirectly from the power of Reason as Instinct, and generally from Reason in any form;—the Age of absolute indifference towards all truth, and of entire and unrestrained licentiousness:—the State of completed Sinfulness. 4th, The Epoch of Reason as Knowledge;—the Age in which Truth is looked upon as the highest, and loved before all other things:—the State of progressive Justification. 5th, The Epoch of Reason as Art;—the Age in which Humanity with more sure and unerring hand builds itself up into a fitting image and representative of Reason:—the State of completed Justification and Sanctification. Thus, the whole progress which, upon this view, Humanity makes here below, is only a retrogression to the point on which it stood at first, and has nothing in view save that return to its original condition. But Humanity must make this journey on its own feet; by its own strength it must bring itself back to that state in which it was once before without its own coöperation, and which, for that very purpose, it must first of all leave. If Humanity could not of itself re-create its own true being, then would it possess no real Life; and then were there indeed no real Life at all, but all things would remain dead, rigid, immoveable. In Paradise,—to use a well-known picture,—in the Paradise of innocence and well-being, without knowledge, without labour, without art, Humanity awakes to life. Scarcely has it gathered courage to venture upon independent existence when the Angel comes with the fiery sword of compulsion to good and drives it forth from the seat of its innocence and its peace. Fugitive and irresolute it wanders through the empty waste, scarcely daring to plant its foot firmly anywhere lest the ground should sink beneath it. Grown bolder by necessity, it settles in some poor corner, and in the sweat of its brow roots out the thorns and thistles of barbarism from the soil on which it would rear the beloved fruit of knowledge. Enjoyment opens its eyes and strengthens its hands, and it builds a Paradise for itself after the image of that which it has lost;—the tree of Life arises; it stretches forth its hand to the fruit, and eats, and lives in Immortality.

“Ponderous Teutonic prose” indeed. Fichte was dogged by accusations of atheism. You may notice the lack of that God person in the above, and the Pelagianism of his take on Man’s role in his own redemption. This could hardly be any more contrary to Luther, and, indeed, in the Addresses he does get around to damning the great reformer with faint praise. The progression is perhaps familiar: just as in America at almost the exact same time, the great Calvinist Puritan tradition of the absolute depravity of man became, almost suddenly, the Unitarian Universalist position of salvation for all, Fichte was preaching to the Germans that they must move from the depraved Third Age – “The Epoch of Liberation … the Age of absolute indifference towards all truth, and of entire and unrestrained licentiousness:—the State of completed Sinfulness,” to the 4th, “The Epoch of Reason as Knowledge;—the Age in which Truth is looked upon as the highest, and loved before all other things:—the State of progressive Justification.”

Notice, also, the lack of any family references. We move, in Fichte’s philosophy, almost directly from the individual to Mankind as a whole, with only a brief stop with our neighbors to pick up consciousness, self-consciousness, and morality. Fichte’s whole philosophy is built upon the self-positing ‘I’ which finds self-conscious in the recognition of the ‘Not-I’. We’re on the threshold of stage 4, where peace, love, and understand will bloom everywhere, once the state supplants the family and beats a little of Fichte’s pure love of Truth into our children. Until then, we’re screwed:

I, for my part, hold that the Present Age stands precisely in the middle of Earthly Time; … In other words, the Present Age, according to my view of it, stands in that Epoch which in my former lecture I named the third, and which I characterized as the Epoch of Liberationthe State of completed Sinfulness

Fichte, Characteristics of the Present Age/Lecture 2

Surfing around for some back-up materials, found this which ties together Fichte’s 5 Ages with his plan for national education (although the author, it seems, is simply wrong about where Fichte believe Mankind stands – not in the 4th on the threshold of the 5th age, but in the 3rd on the threshold of the 4th, as stated above):

In 1804-1805, Fichte delivered a series of lectures entitled Characteristics of the Present Age (Grundzüge des Gegenwärtigen Zeitalters), in which he outlined five stages of human development. Having travelled from the primal state of noble savages in ‘the Age of Innocence’, through dark ages, absolutism, and the ‘State of Progressive Justification’, mankind was now on the threshold of ‘the state of completed justification and sanctification’. Indeed, the ideals of the French Revolution had been characteristic of the State of Progressive Justification, but to reach political nirvana it was not enough to rely on the ideals of the French, which in any case had been undermined by the conquering forces of Napoleon. So in 1807 – the year after Hegel had described seeing ‘the world spirit on horseback’ in the guise of the French emperor, and at a time when the Germans were at a historical nadir and the once all-powerful Prussia was a shadow of its former military self – Fichte proposed that the Germans had to seize the day. In fourteen addresses, delivered as entertainment for bourgeois Berliners on Sunday afternoons in the winter of 1807, Fichte asserted that the Germans had a historical role: namely that of shepherding humanity into the bliss of a cosmopolitan utopia.

from Philosophy Now magazing, Matt Qvortrup’s Brief Life of Fichte

Love ‘delivered as entertainment for bourgeois Berliners on Sunday afternoons in the winter of 1807’ – man’s gotta pay the bills. Further:

Kant had argued that trade liberalisation – what he called ‘the spirit of commerce’ (der Handelsgeist) – would slowly but surely lead to a kind of brotherhood of man. Fichte agreed with Kant that the “whole race that inhabits our globe will… become assimilated into a single republic including all peoples” but he did not see free trade, let alone economic liberalism, as the path to perpetual peace. Rather, he feared that the economic competition between states would generate new enmities that would lead to war. Moreover, unlike his former mentor’s espousal of classic economic liberalism, Fichte made a case for economic protectionism and a planned economy in Der geschlossene Handelsstaat (The Closed Commercial State, 1800). This book’s defence of social justice facilitated by government intervention is but one of the reasons it has been labelled the first systematic case for the welfare state.

The Closed Commercial State was a philosophical Rubicon for Fichte. He maintained that all people eventually would be united into a single “peoples’ republic of culture,” and here he began to consider how this would be achieved, gradually coming to the conclusion that the German people could play a pivotal role in the process of creating a cosmopolitan utopia.

ibid

Marx, anyone? Since God, to Fichte, is something like the drive toward morality as expressed in Human history, Marx is pretty much all there even before Hegel picked up the baton and wrapped it in even more dense and ponderous Teutonic prose.

And:

The Germans themselves were not yet ready to take on the burden of educating humanity. True, their language enabled them to utter deep thoughts, and so potentially to spread reason to the rest of mankind. But in order to fulfil their mission, the Germans themselves needed educating. Thus educational reform, not military strength, was Fichte’s key policy proposal. And in his Second Address he went to great lengths to explain how the aim of education was to make active and creative individuals who would “learn with enjoyment and love, purely for the sake of learning itself.” The aim was to facilitate “the capacity to spontaneously construct images that are not at all replicas of reality, but are capable of becoming models for reality.”

ibid

You may also see Pestalozzi peaking through here. “The capacity to spontaneously construct images” could have come straight from any of his works. The important part for Fichte is having children spontaneously imagine and be moved to action by perfect images of their own creation – in accordance with Reason, ‘natch. He’s after, almost exactly, what John Lennon described in his execrable song: bringing into being a purely imaginary reality in accordance with Reason.

It’s easy if you try.

The point here, of course, is that this is the philosophical underpinnings of modern state schooling: schooling is the means to messianic salvation. This – the promise of an Utopia to be achieved via the state’s training of children – is what Mann and Torey Harris and the NEA at its founding were attracted to and embraced. There is no discussion of ‘the basics’ – reading, writing, and ciphering don’t and never did figure into it. It’s simply not what these folks are interested in. The plan is and has always been: get kids away from their families to form them into the new citizens of the coming paradise on earth.

Therefore, homeschoolers and other dissidents cannot be ignored or tolerated. We are heretics, keeping the enlightened from achieving Paradise! Wrong has no rights, here. Burning at the stake is too good for us. The goal, except peripherally, is not staffing factories and armies. That might be OK, as an interim step, during the period where the Vanguard must rule absolutely to usher us sheep toward the eventual Worker’s Paradise (thanks, Lenin, for clearing that up for us) – but that’s not what, in the vision of its founding light, modern compulsory state schooling is for.

* Literally, men of the male persuasion: Fichte argued that “active citizenship, civic freedom and even property rights should be withheld from women, whose calling was to subject themselves utterly to the authority of their fathers and husbands.” – Wikipedia

Blank Slates, State of Nature, Pestalozzi & Rorschach Tests

Ah! Not only am I reformatting a work – J. A. Green’s The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi – because I found the online sources almost unreadable – I’m going down endless rabbit holes, looking up people, places, historical events, ideas, books, etc., as they come up in the text. So far, I’m only about 35 pages into what will end up, once reformatted, as a 150 or so Google docs page book (maybe 300 pages in a traditional format?). But there are nuggets.

I confess to an intellectual shortcoming (one of many, not even counting ones I don’t know I don’t know): I take undue delight when I find a scholar agreeing with something I figured out. I mean, I should hope other people see what I see, but it’s nice to see it in print.

Case in point: Pestalozzi saw his life’s work not so much as addressing the immediate needs of abandoned and orphaned children as solving some ancient intractable problem with education. Therefore, in some ways his practical examples, the schools he actually ran according to his poorly-articulated principles, are considered by him the true illustration of his point. Yet this didn’t stop him and his followers from writing ideas out, ideas so uniformly vague and conflicting that they became little more than a Rorschach test for later ‘educators’.

This passage in Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World, by Sarah Anne Carter, says it more politely:

(I stumbled across this passage in this interesting sounding book while searching for something else, but the book is just a little bit too far outside the target for me to have time to read it. Sigh.)

“This imprecision also offered ample opportunity for the next generation of educators to put his ideas into action in a range of ways.” Right. Fichte, who it turns out met Pestalozzi in 1793 and encouraged him to write out his philosophy of education, by 1808 can recommend Pestalozzian schooling as the panacea for all that ails Germany, with *slight* modifications: the state replaces the family entirely, not because the family is absent, but because the family always mis-educated the child in loyalties other than that due the state (hint: all and absolute). Pestalozzi’s focus on educating children in valuable skills so that they can take a suitable place in society needs to be flipped: the state will determine what it needs the properly-trained products of its schools to do.

I’m looking for evidence Pestalozzi rejected this interpretation, as he far outlived Fichte and lived through the first implementations of Prussian schooling modeled after Fichte’s ideas, largely by Fichte himself through the agency of the newly-founded University of Berlin where he was rector. Pestalozzi was a near-legend of impolitic behavior (one source of his repeated failures anytime he had to work with people who were not his hand-picked padawans), so I’d be nearly compelled to believe he approved if he didn’t publicly disagree. We’ll see.

Pestalozzi’s How Gertrude Teaches Here Children, called by Green “by far the most important of his writings,” meanders about without saying much of anything, except reiterating the central role of mothers in the education of the children – the one thing Fichte is clear he is against. Rather than mothers being the first and finest and essential teachers, they, along with fathers and family in general, are for Fichte the problem. Fichte doesn’t suggest helping mothers do a better job, rather, he wants the state to take children away from their mothers as early as possible.

Pestalozzi is routinely called a Romantic, was expressly a follower of the ideas expressed in Rousseau’s Emile (ick) and therefore takes a ‘state of nature is better and purer than the civilizations that muck it up’ approach. To be fair, he seems more particular in his criticism: he’s dealing with the specific shortcomings of the war-torn civilization of Switzerland in the decades surrounding the turn of the 19th century. When you end up with scores of orphaned or abandoned starving children wandering the streets as a result of ongoing wars, and have church and state largely impotent to do anything about it, it would be easy to get a little down on so-called civilization. At one point, Pestalozzi did manage to gather the local orphans together into an old convent, only to have French soldiers return, commandeer the orphanage, and throw him and the children out. Once the French were done ‘living off the land’ – seizing all the food they could steal from an already starving population – they left. But the local authorities refused to let him reopen his orphanage…

So, yes, civilization as locally manifested didn’t seem to do much good for any but the top few percent of the people. Pestalozzi to his credit focused on addressing the specific civilizational shortcomings – e.g., lack of family, moral compass, food, a sense of belonging and being loved – that left children starving in the streets and ill-equipped for any decent place in society if they somehow survived.

Fichte at least functionally is a blank slater: he is going to make children into whatever the state needs.

Onward!

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.

Image result for classroom historical
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?

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).

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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.