Fichte, Part 3? 4? Where Were We?

Note: I’m reading and posting about Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762 – 1814) because he is widely recognized as a key figure in modern education. He greatly influenced von Humboldt’s reforms of the German school system, which in turn greatly influenced Horace Mann and that crowd. It’s important, I think, in any discussion of modern education to recognize just what kind of a nut Fichte was. 

About 2/3 through Addresses to the German Nation, and the word that keeps popping into my head is ‘humbug’. But that’s probably not fair, as Fichte seems to be drinking his own cool-aide.

High points so far:

– we have these quotations, famous among opponents of compulsory factory schooling:

“It is essential that from the very beginning the pupil should be continuously and completely under the influence of this education, and should be separated altogether from the community, and kept from all contact with it.”

and:

 ”Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.”

And, despite Fichte’s flights of rhetorical fancy, wherein he describes in florid detail the wonders to be achieved by truly German German education that is all, like, Germanalicious, he’s scant on details. He thinks poetry is good.  Kids have to be removed from their communities and get educated 24 x 7. When they’ve been thusly purged of all evil, limp-wristed un-German foreign influence, and infused with pure natural living Germanness, they will then rise above the current age, and a new truly German age, all German-y in its Germanaliciousness, will dawn. All nations will be drawn into this new age (like moths to a flame, one impoliticly imagines), and the serious, orderly, intellectually alive and – he goes there- holy German way of doing things will prevail.

Nothing creepy about that, uh-uh.

Much-needed comic relief is provided by context: these Addresses were delivered in French-occupied Berlin. So, imagine the good burghers and minor nobles of Prussia (who else has got time and money to attend paid lecture series?) having to walk past Napoleon’s French troops to get to the lecture hall to hear Fichte tell them how much better the Germans are than these lovers of dead languages and dead ideas, that the French are doomed to think dead thoughts and are indolent and locked into an historical dead end of dead death and OH MY GOD! THESE FRENCH LOSERS JUST KICKED OUR GERMAN HINIES ALL THE WAY FROM JENA TO BERLIN! AND IT WASN’T EVEN CLOSE!  They sit their prissy French hindquarters on our solid German furniture in all those solid German buildings they commandeered at gunpoint and tell us what to do, and we’re all, ‘Jawohl mein herrr!’ about it. Please, Herr Fichte, keep telling us how much better we are than them!

Or, as the Oracle Wikipedia has it:

In total, Napoleon and the Grande Armée had taken only 19 days from the commencement of the invasion of Prussia until essentially knocking it out of the war with the capture of Berlin and the destruction of its principal armies at Jena and Auerstadt. Most of the shattered remnants of the Prussian army (and the displaced royal family) escaped to refuge in Eastern Prussia near Königsberg, eventually to link up with the approaching Russians and continue the fight.

You can’t even pull a Fish Called Wanda and call it a tie.

Anyway, a brief high-level recap of Fichte’s points:  Continue reading “Fichte, Part 3? 4? Where Were We?”

Are Teachers Evil?

Let’s cut to the chase:  based on all I’ve written so far about education, teachers appear to be no more than unwitting tools of a concerted, ongoing, 200+ year effort to make students stupid, docile and utterly predictable. And, insofar as teachers are products of the education schools and are part of the education bureaucracy, they, too can be relied on to be stupid, docile and utterly predictable.

Is this accurate? Is this fair?

We all, I presume, had teachers we loved. I loved my 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade teachers. Can’t say I loved any of my high school teachers, but I respected a couple of them. These were teachers whose obvious love for the students managed to overcome, to some extent, what they were systematically doing to them.

But most of my teachers? Stupid? Well, yeah – too stupid to question why it was a good idea to teach kids as a class when in fact they could clearly see that some kids were way, way ahead of the lessons, some were merely ahead, some were behind – and a majority were bored and uninterested. They were stupid enough to keep doing the same things over and over and over again despite reality – a reality that demonstrated to everyone with eyes to see that kids learn different things at different paces, and that the whole idea of an age-based class was contrary and violent to the human nature and dignity of the kids.

A typical kid, if such exists, may at any one time find fractions impossible but read several grade levels ahead, or be great at kickball but terrible at relating to other kids, or have trouble writing legibly but be able to do long division in their head, or any other of a million combinations of talents, interests and skills that help make them a unique human being but defy any meaningful classification into a ‘class’.

How can anyone be so blind? Aren’t teachers idealistic people who love kids and have a burning desire to teach? What could possibly turn such people into mindless cogs? Teachers are not just the managers of a process – they are products of the process as well.  Education schools are renowned for their irrelevant classes, stifling bureaucracies, pointless busywork and failure to prepare their graduates for what to expect in a classroom. An education degree does not prepare one to teach math, or science, or history or English – it prepares you to be an educator.

Think of education school as first and foremost a filter: it filters out people with a low tolerance for all those things listed above – hate bureaucracy, busy work, and wasting time? Is your sense of justice offended by arbitrary rules? Is teaching math or English more important to you than being an ‘educator’?  Then you will most likely be filtered out.

This leaves us with more or less docile teachers, who will follow the orders themselves and impose orders on the kids, no matter how mindless or counterproductive those directives may be. The potential troublemakers have been largely filtered out.

Think I’m just making this up? Do you know any former teachers? What do they say about it?  If you don’t know any former teachers, you could read John Taylor Gatto.

So, we end up with many teachers who are stupid – in the sense of impervious to learning from their environment;  docile – in the sense of willing to follow orders without question; and predictable – in the sense that they are very unlikely to do anything unplanned. Well? Does this seem true to you? Compare this to reality for yourself.  Note that all this does not mean there won’t be the occasional maverick, or that the love of children may not survive on some level, or even that teachers aren’t perfectly nice people. But I challenge you: for every real maverick in a school, a person who does the right think even when it is ‘against the rules’, who treats kids as human beings with dignity, whose love of learning breaks out of the bureaucratic box, there are 9 who will conform with varying degrees of bitterness, whose contempt for their students (and, especially, their parents) is palpable, or who have long ago given up any ideals and are just putting in time until they can retire.

Or who move into administration as fast as they possibly can.

This is the nature of giant bureaucracies. This is what it means on the ground when you set ‘national standards’. This is what the architects of the school system have always wanted.

The usual fallback: that’s what school *IS*! It’s definitional! It has to be that way! No, it doesn’t. One-room schooling, where millions of Americans were educated, practiced in over a 100,000 schools for a century or more in this country, recognized this fact: that children learn in different ways and at different times. So, the teacher was in charge of a group of mixed ages, and her job (it was almost always a young woman) was to see where each child stood, assign a peer to teach them what they needed to know, and then, by means of ‘recitations’ – the child coming up to the teacher and reciting what they had learned – determine what progress was being made. In this way, children got to both learn and teach, got to see that they were a valuable part of the community, and got recognized as unique individuals.

One room schools achieved a remarkably superior level of education (just look at the readers they used and the math they had to do) with much lower ‘inputs’ – much fewer classroom hours and much less homework.  They were also under the complete and immediate control of the local families that supported them.

One room schools were the enemy of the scientific graded schools. They had to go. For one thing, the teachers were amateurs, not trained educators. They were known to and hired by the families whose kids were to be taught, meaning they had no loyalty to the high-minded concepts of Fichte and Horace Mann. They just wanted the kids to know enough to govern themselves, run their farm, and be responsible members of their community.

In conclusion: teachers in compulsory graded schools are not evil. What they do is.

Modern Education In the News: History Gets Ignored, In Accord with Current Educational Theory.

First, education in the news:

From the Catholic Exchange, we find out that Indiana has rejected the Common Core curriculum developed by the Gates Foundation in conjunction with the Obama administration. Two Indiana moms noticed that their kids’ homework was getting even lamer than usual, wondered why, and, after 18 months of attending meetings and asking principals and state

from wikipedia

reps – investigative journalism, I think it used to called – they discovered that their state had replaced the ‘respected’ Indiana state standards with Common Core without bringing the change to the attention of anyone.

Here is a section that is wonderful for the surprise that our intrepid moms experienced when they discovered that these new standards had been enacted in such a way that almost nobody, certainly not parents, was even aware it had happened. Any acquaintance with the history of education in America would have prepared them for this recurring theme: that parents and voters, when presented with the choice, almost never agree to what educational professionals want to do, and that since at least the 1860s, the preferred method of educators has been to get innocuous-sounding departments of education founded at the state level and in the universities from which they could achieve the goals the voters consistently voted down. Compulsory state education was voted down for years in Massachusetts despite Horace Mann’s rhetorical efforts to make it sound OK; states in the Midwest – Indiana, for example – voted down the ‘scientific’ classroom model in favor of locally controlled one-room schools for decades on end. And on and on.  Common Core would be just the latest step in a 200 year effort to ‘dumb down’ us peons, as we will discuss below.

Continue reading “Modern Education In the News: History Gets Ignored, In Accord with Current Educational Theory.”

The Higher Education Mish-Mash

One of the central threads followed in The Metaphysical Club is the bifurcation over the 19th century of American college education into Science and Not Science.  Menand describes how Harvard moved over a couple generations from the embodiment of Puritan ideas of education to the the embodiment of Unitarian ideas. From there, it is a short logical hop to complete secularism. Harvard’s presidency went from a Puritan theologian, to a Unitarian theologian, to a scientist with no theological claims in about 50 years (don’t have the book in front of me, pardon me if the details are wrong – I think the sweep is right.)Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Meanwhile, you have statistical analysis, Darwin, and the Civil War leading educated Americans to call everything they believe into question. Part of this – a huge part of this – is that Protestant theology, especially as expressed in Puritanism and Unitarianism, doesn’t really have the solid philosophical and logical foundation to support a view of reality that includes and harmonizes Revelation and experience. The proof of this: the logic and metaphysical assumptions required for scientific investigation are a subset of Thomism, and not a subset of the metaphysics of Kant, Fichte or Hegel,* and most definitely not a subset of the thinking of Luther.

File:Holmes with signature cropped.jpgIn practical terms, a believing Harvard man in 1820 would expect the natural world to conform to Divine Revelation as clearly stated in Scripture. Up to around 1800, there really wasn’t a ton of overwhelming evidence that the natural world *didn’t* conform to Scripture, at least not evidence that couldn’t be comfortably explained away. The four corners of the earth is just a poetical image, not a statement of geophysics. But that the world and everything in it was created out of nothing about 6,000 years ago – that was harder to explain away if one is to cling to Scripture as the Protestant of the time typically did: as a bulwark against all that Jesuitical hair-splitting and Thomistic angels-on-pins-dancing characteristic of the Catholic Church. That path – taking the literal sense of Scripture as but one way to understand it – lead away from Sola Scriptura, lead to introducing external, non-spiritual elements into understanding. So, just as Catholics were unperturbed by having the Church define the Cannon of Scripture while Protestants were (and are) absolutely insistent on some other more acceptably spiritual mechanism, Thomists and Catholics in general are not upset by the thought that the world might be ancient, that Scripture might sometimes be more truthfully understood as poetry and theology than geophysics and biology, and, that in any event, the Truth is One, whether discovered through Revelation or revealed through study of the natural world, Protestants seemed compelled to either cling to Scripture and dispute the physical evidence, or acknowledge that Scripture is ‘wrong’. This battle, with a thousand degrees of nuance, is still being fought today.

Back to college education. Because of this more sophisticated understanding of reality and Revelation, Thomists, the founders of Europe’s great and ancient universities, were and are not unduly perturbed by evolution, natural selection or statistical uncertainty. In fact, they see these ‘problems’ as just more fascinating aspects of creation, and try to understand them both in themselves and as revealing of the nature of God. In practical terms, in a Thomistic university, natural science, philosophy and theology could live under the same roof, so to speak, and communicate with each other based on a shared understanding of the nature of reality and truth. But in 19th century America, the shared understanding, insofar as it existed, was far less robust – any understanding of the natural world was seen as having, as it were, a dependent existence – it must be understood within an already delineated understanding of Scripture. As more and more discoveries pushed and strained at this limitation, the unity of the college could not hold. Add in the horror of the Civil War, which destroyed many people’s faith in God, or at least in the God of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the unity broke down entirely: by the 2nd half of the 19th century, American universities have almost always consisted of two independent institutions sharing, with growing unease, buildings and a bureaucracy.

That this truce is ignored doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. I’ve mentioned before the whole Science Kicks the Creationist Dog aspect of academia: a hard scientist can’t complain (out loud) about the stupidity exhibited, for example, in the Women’s Studies  department, where students and teachers turn on the lights and fire up their laptops prior to discussing how Science has no valid claim to truth, it is in fact nothing more than a tool of oppression wielded by patriarchal misogynistic elites to keep women in line. So, instead of screaming to high heaven over the traitors to truth in the adjoining buildings, traitors who have a lot of influence with the administration and don’t shy away from publicly destroying the careers of people who challenge them, science fans bravely go after Creationists, who don’t do any of that stuff and have no pull and often no presence in their institution.

So, now, this situation prevails: in one and the same institution, an 18 year old can spend 4 or 5 years and 100 grand plus getting trained in:

a. the scientific method as applied to a particular hard science, such as chemistry or physics. In the course of these studies, the student will learn a lot of math and perform experiments and projects where the difference between correct and incorrect, or success and failure, will often be easily apparent o both the student and the professor. A degree is awarded if the student proves to be satisfactorily competent in producing objectively correct or successful results in his field;

b. the conventional and completely self-referential thinking du jour of whatever Humanity or soft ‘science’ they have chosen. In this context, there is no objective measure of correct or successful completion of projects. Success depends entirely on the ability to regurgitate a certain theories and ideas on command. Degrees are awarded to students who display sufficient conformity to the thinking of the student’s academic specialty.

Of course, these are purified extremes – there are grey areas, occasional overlapping, and cross-politicization, such as Skinnerians playing at science, and scientists playing at philosophy. And it is quite possible to teach fields such as History and Philosophy with a high degree of rigor. Doesn’t seem to happen much, but still.

The impression I got at the universities and colleges I’ve hung out at over the last 40 years: the hard science people tend to hold the non-science folks in contempt; the non-science folks seem to be hide their well deserved defensiveness behind a wall of condescending arrogance. In general, academics seem to be about as thin-skinned and needy as any group I’ve ever run into.

On top of all this are the professional schools – MBA, CPE, etc. – which are cash cows and tend to exist in an alternate universe separate from the rest of the school.  They are a frauds of a different kind, but that’s off topic.

One supposes this can’t go on. Why would the customers – the people who pay the college bills – put up with this? especially now, when a college degree is hardly a meal ticket? Two solutions loom:

Financial ruin. So far, our fine colleges and universities have managed to push the ‘financial ruin’ part of the equation onto the students and parents. Eventually – I suspect soon – the music will stop. A college price war is already brewing over the net, it seems to me. When a degree won’t get you a job that can pay off what the degree cost, market forces demand that costs come down – or else. Academic inertia being what it is, my money is on ‘or else’ for many schools.

Reconsolidation. Hey, what if we started with the idea that the Truth exists, and is One? Some religious schools, especially Catholic schools, are trying this – Thomas Aquinas College springs to mind. This has the huge, incalculable benefit – science *needs* philosophy to refine its logic and check its arrogance – and visa versa. The worst tendencies towards philosophical flightiness can often be checked, it seems to me, by seriously looking at the natural world.

As usual, I’ve left out several times as much as I’ve put in here. Time is short!

* Science and Thomism share the assumption that I, the inquirer, exist, as do other people and scientists; the world exists independent of me and my investigations; that thoughts and ideas can be communicated between men via language and mathematics; that, while men possess an intellectual nature commensurate on some level with the natural world, the world can prove my thoughts and ideas wrong. Further, the law of non-contradiction holds,  and, more subtly, the world is worth investigating scientifically.  This set of ideas is not shared by the Big Boys of Philosophy who came out of (and, in the case of Kant and Hegel, explicitly acknowledge their acceptance of) Protestant theology, nor is it shared by any of the other great schools of thought – Buddhist, Muslim, etc.

Report on the Current State of Public Education

From (whistling past the existential question of if it’s possible to have a steady-state) Crisis via New Advent, we get the following discouraging report on what it’s like to be a teacher in a public school if you have any grip on logic, history or culture (let alone religious beliefs). I’m curious if people – meaning here both my regular readers – find this report surprising in any way.

Here’s a recap:

The grandfather of public education, John Dewey, had a great hand in effectively purging the Great Western Tradition, human nature and the human soul from the developing reductionist algorithms the schools formulate to craft the modern citizen.

In this respect, Dewey was merely continuing in the tradition established by Fichte in the early 18oo’s, which in turn was based on Luther and, less directly, on Plato, with stops along the way at Hobbes and Locke and others. According to this tradition, the primary purpose of schools is to create the kind of subjects the state wants. Just as a mafia don describes what he does in terms of providing needed order and stability in a violent world, people like Dewey describe what they are doing  in terms of egalitarianism and justice. It is not discussed that the price and method of this more just world is the destruction of  the inherited culture of their students, who are thereby generally turned against their parents. Any existing culture is replaced it with a culture of conformity to the state. It’s just business, nothing personal.

That’s why schools have to be mandatory, and why the heavy artillery these days is directed at homeschoolers and unschoolers – because some people will figure this out, and decide that, no, they don’t want their culture destroyed, and they don’t see their highest calling as being useful tools of the state.

The teachers themselves, who are products of a process – education certification – designed to select out or break down any subversive enough to think for themselves, are taught to think of themselves as saviors and martyrs, not as enforcers of cultural conformity.

The public schools have been systematically eliminating real standards for decades.  The vertical order of things in the real world is artificially and forcefully turned to horizontal. Research shows that when one group excels, the rest of the student body may suffer attacks of envy and low self-esteem.  This response to excellence is not tolerated.

Yes. And? I’ve elsewhere argued that the success of public schools now recalled fondly by those who attended them prior to the 1960’s was due to the existence of millions of graduates from locally controlled one-room schools. As long as that competing model – graded classroom schooling is about as far as you can get from the age-blended peer-to-peer teaching of the one-room schools – kept producing better ‘output’ at lower costs, the factory school model had to at least pretend to care about actual learning. Once the one-room schools were closed, and the numbers of their graduates started falling, then factory schools could dispense with the charade of caring about actual learning. Thus, after a couple transitional decades, we reach our current state.

It must occur to us all that there really isn’t such a thing as a teacher that doesn’t reference at least some kind of standard of truth; even if that standard is one’s own mind. This is the case for the modern relativists who must comprise nearly the entire body of public school teachers.

Yep. Sometimes, in our ‘you can be anything you want to be’ society, we fail to notice just exactly how much filtering goes on. Some filtering is based on nature and objective reality – you want to play professional football? That’s a career choice not open to slow, clumsy out-of-shape people.* But increasingly, the filters are based on certification, which doesn’t necessarily correspond to any special talent or aptitude, but rather to ability to play the game, whatever the game is.** So, you very often hear or read teachers talking about how nothing in their education degrees prepared them for the reality of teaching in a classroom.

I’ve often wondered if an education degree doesn’t render a large segment of its recipients effectively unemployable in the real world. If you really and truly bought in to what they’re selling, would anyone outside of government ever hire you? A related question higher up the educational food chain: there is clearly no demand for, say, critical theory practitioners outside of academia. Insofar as any of the millions of kids exposed to such ‘thinking’ took it seriously, they, too, would be unemployable – except by government, where certification precedes and often obviates skill.

So, Mr. Mazzeo is stuck working in an environment peopled by educators, who, in addition to any personal allegiance they may have for the whole public school project, probably suspect on some level that they are all but unemployable outside the education bubble.

There are only two really radical protests left to most people: 1) get married, stay married and have a bunch of kids; 2) don’t send them to public schools, or any private schools based on the public school model. Do that, and you’ll really tick of a lot of people.

*Oddly, professional football is open to women – just as soon as a 300 lbs woman who can bench 250 lbs 25 times and run a sub 5 second 40 with the skill to apply crushing blocks to 250 lbs linebackers come along, every team in the NFL will want to talk to her. The barrier isn’t being female.

** In my case, I noticed early on in getting my MBA that the goal was not so much to teach anything concrete as to filter out anyone who wasn’t willing to play the corporate game. Hiring a freshly minted MBA is a significant investment for any company. They want to know, first and foremost, that their new hire isn’t likely to find corporate life intolerable or decide to pursue a career in chaining themselves to trees as a professional protester. The math and accounting and marketing you can pick up.

More from Dr. Boli – Is Your Child Reading?

This about sums it up:

is-your-child-reading

If only he were kidding. From John Taylor Gatto:

At the start of WWII millions of men showed up at registration offices to take low-level academic tests before being inducted.1 The years of maximum mobilization were 1942 to1944; the fighting force had been mostly schooled in the 1930s, both those inducted and those turned away. Of the 18 million men were tested, 17,280,000 of them were judged to have the minimum competence in reading required to be a soldier, a 96 percent literacy rate. Although this was a 2 percent fall-off from the 98 percent rate among voluntary military applicants ten years earlier, the dip was so small it didn’t worry anybody.

WWII was over in 1945. Six years later another war began in Korea. Several million men were tested for military service but this time 600,000 were rejected. Literacy in the draft pool had dropped to 81 percent, even though all that was needed to classify a soldier as literate was fourth- grade reading proficiency. In the few short years from the beginning of WWII to Korea, a terrifying problem of adult illiteracy had appeared. The Korean War group received most of its schooling in the 1940s, and it had more years in school with more professionally trained personnel and more scientifically selected textbooks than the WWII men, yet it could not read, write, count, speak, or think as well as the earlier, less-schooled contingent.

A third American war began in the mid-1960s. By its end in 1973 the number of men found noninductible by reason of inability to read safety instructions, interpret road signs, decipher orders, and so on—in other words, the number found illiterate—had reached 27 percent of the total pool. Vietnam-era young men had been schooled in the 1950s and the 1960s—much better schooled than either of the two earlier groups—but the 4 percent illiteracy of 1941 which had transmuted into the 19 percent illiteracy of 1952 had now had grown into the 27 percent illiteracy of 1970. Not only had the fraction of competent readers dropped to 73 percent but a substantial chunk of even those were only barely adequate; they could not keep abreast of developments by reading a newspaper, they could not read for pleasure, they could not sustain a thought or an argument, they could not write well enough to manage their own affairs without assistance.

In 1882, fifth graders read these authors in their Appleton School Reader: William Shakespeare, Henry Thoreau, George Washington, Sir Walter Scott, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Bunyan, Daniel Webster, Samuel Johnson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others like them. In 1995, a student teacher of fifth graders in Minneapolis wrote to the local newspaper, “I was told children are not to be expected to spell the following words correctly: back, big, call, came, can, day, did, dog, down, get, good, have, he, home, if, in, is, it, like, little, man, morning, mother, my, night, off, out, over, people, play, ran, said, saw, she, some, soon, their, them, there, time, two, too, up, us, very, water, we, went, where, when, will, would, etc. Is this nuts?”

Someone St. Thomas might have considered an educated man is a dangerous fellow – he thinks for himself; what Fichte, the founder of modern Prussian schooling, considered an educated man is one incapable of thinking what his betters don’t want him to think. America’s public schools were built by people who studied at the feet of Fichte’s Prussian disciples – this is a fairly well known historical fact. Read the bios of the leading American academics in the 2nd half of the 19th century. Prussian schools were the first to offer PhDs – it became de rigueur for Americans with academic aspirations to pilgrimage to Prussia. Then, the holders of the PhD became the gate keepers to all jobs in academia – and all jobs in the newly established education bureaucracies that were the life work of Horace Mann and his followers.

It’s an interesting story – all over America, farmers would vote down all efforts to impose ‘scientific’ ‘consolidated’ schools: why spend more to have strangers educate your sons and daughters somewhere you can’t keep an eye on them? Farmers liked their one room schools just fine – and those schools produced better graduates by just about any measure.

So, in the ignoble history of politics, the education crowd back-doored the establishment of education departments through the legislature – just a department to make sure the noble citizens of Iowa or Indiana were getting properly schooled. The sole purpose of those departments early on was to undermine the one-room schools. Only once those schools were eliminated – and demographics and the Great Depression had largely eliminated them by the end of WWII – was it possible to implement the real goals outlined above.

Fichte, Part II

Weird, but in the past I’ve found the quote I wanted easily via Google. Here it is, but not with exact line-and-verse citation. I recall that it’s from Addresses to the German Nation, but have not verified yet or exactly where:

 “Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.”

It is interesting – and no coincidence – that Luther’s perhaps 2nd most influential work is “On the Bondage of the Will” – a work that, to me anyway, expresses the central tenets and nature of Protestantism(1) far better than that adolescent polemic “On the Liberty of Christians“. (Seriously: I can maybe see if your basic reading material is the local paper – or some schmuck’s blog – that you might find Christian Liberty impressive. But I read it after having recently read Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas, the Bible, and – nah. Reads like a teenager trying to pick a fight with a grown up.)

Luther was in favor of compulsory schooling and didn’t believe in free will – a mix with predictable results. How you get, by steady small steps, from Luther to Fichte, and from there to Hegel, Marx, and on to Occupy Wall Street is a subject for a series of posts I’m still working on.

1. Turns out Luther thought so, too, a fact I was unaware of until I googled around just now for a on-line copy.

Fichte, Part I

In a comment to this post on the deep-revolving John C Wright’s blog, I promised to dig up more information on Johann  Fichte, a philosopher bridging Kant and Hegel, and viewed as sort of a transitional figure. He’s quite amazing, really – it’s bracing, to put it one way, to read such ideas stated so baldly.

Anyway, here is an article by Stephen Hicks, who I do not know anything about, except that his well-written summary of Fichte’s teachings says what I want to say, only better.  An excerpt:

On the other hand, the new education must consist essentially in this, that it completely destroys freedom of will in the soil which it undertakes to cultivate, and produces on the contrary strict necessity in the decisions of the will, the opposite being impossible. Such a will can henceforth be relied upon with confidence and certainty.[76]

Unfortunately, it is difficult to do this under contemporary living arrangements, in which children go to school and then return to corrupting influences in their homes and their neighborhoods at the end of the day. “It is essential,” Fichte then urged, “that from the very beginning the pupil should be continuously and completely under the influence of this education, and should be separated altogether from the community, and kept from all contact with it.”[77]

Sound familiar? It should: the way this separation is accomplished today doesn’t even require physical separation: parents, themselves products of the schools, have been trained to not interact with their children in straight-forward human ways springing from love and affection. Rather, the parent-child relationship is characterized by the parent acting a the enforcement arm of the school outside school- it is somehow Mom’s and Dad’s job to see that homework, extra-curricular activities and the resulting exhaustion fill up the child’s every waking hour.  Once children – the ‘good’ students – learn the lesson that their worth depends on how they do in school, then Fichte’s goal is achieved: they police themselves, doing only what the school tells them to do, and rejecting any though that they might be wasting their time – and destroying their souls.

“You Just Don’t Get It” and the Death of Reason

Started to write an essay on how ‘You just don’t get it’ as used in modern discourse (to use the term loosely) is among the scariest and most dangerous phrases you’ll hear. That effort got totally out of hand, metastasizing into several thousand words on the Death of Reason, with side trips through my meager understanding of the history of philosophy, theology, the Reformation, Descartes, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Marx, Freud as well as science, modern politics and education and, well, frankly, what I think about just about everything. Came to three conclusions: The ‘You just don’t get it’ essay deserves another (shorter) shot; that the other stuff I wrote I can maybe refashion into a series of posts on the death of reason; and that Marx Freud would be an OK name for one of those ironic alternative bands.

So, here’s the short essay on ‘You Just Don’t Get It’ ™

Continue reading ““You Just Don’t Get It” and the Death of Reason”

Hegel: Part the Second – the Science of Logic 1

Skipping ahead from the Philosophy of History, which I’ll hold off commenting on until I’ve read the unabridged version, let’s skip to the somewhat more interesting and fundamental Science of Logic.  We’ll come back to this again once I’ve read the unabridged whole, but, for now, here’s a couple points:

One of the things most annoying about Hegel is his refusal to name names. I suppose he could be, like Newton in his Principia, simply snubbing the posers who aren’t smart enough to follow his argument without a few signposts along the way. That was certainly the approach of his slightly older contemporary Fichte. At least Newton was honest about it – don’t remember the exact quote, but basically when told that his explanations could be made a lot clearer, said that it would be better if stupid people just gave up left it to the smart people like him. So Hegel begins by saying people used to believe X, then people believed Y, and now, really enlightened people believe Z – leaving it to the reader to figure out that X is Aristotle, Y is Kant, and Z – well, this one he owns up to, being enlightened and modern and all – is Hegel.

This Don’t Say Who I’m Talking About would be trivial except that Hegel largely avoids the terminology and descriptive methods that Aristotle and Kant use, thereby creating simultaneously a terminology mapping and argument reformatting challenge. Unlike Thomas, say, who considers it mandatory to restate his opponent’s position in terms his opponent would agree to, Hegel seems to believe that he’s doing somebody a favor by restating his opponent’s positions in his – Hegel’s – terms.

What this means for the reader is that, to get 15 pages in, one must figure out who Hegel is talking about, decipher Hegel’s description, and then see if that description is a fair representation of the original argument – only then can you proceed to trying to understand Hegel’s positions.

Annoying, but overcomeable. Which leads to the second issue – what I’m thinking of doing is picking out a few important representative passages, and restating them in both cleaner sentences and, where possible, in  more traditional terms. This is fraught with danger, but it seems to me the only way to do that one thing Hegel is demonstrably bad at: clearly stating what he’s up to. A philosopher beloved of totalitarians, royalists, communists, national socialists, progressives, classic liberals – that’s a philosopher who has failed to be clear. That’s on him, not his serious followers.