Book Review: William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure III

LECTURE III. January 21st, 1893. OPPOSITION BETWEEN PESTALOZZI AND HERBART AS EDUCATIONAL LEADERS. (found here. Lecture I review here, Lecture II here.)

This lecture is one run-on paragraph. I will break it up for convenience of discussion:

Pestalozzi laid great stress on sense-perception as the foundation of all school education. Herbart lays stress on the elaboration of sense-perception or rather upon the mental reaction against the impressions made on our senses. Thought goes back of the object to understand and explain its origin, how it became to be what it is, what purpose it is to serve. Thought sees objects in the perspective of their history. It studies causes and purposes.

The Herbart Harris refers to here is one Johann Friedrich Herbart,
(1776 – 1841) a German philosopher, psychologist and founder of the academic field of pedagogy. His principles of education are roughly Platonic, as he sees the fulfillment of the individual as only possible as a member of a civilization. Man is a political animal, after all, so no argument there on a general level. The trick here is implied in the phrase ‘productive citizen’ which Wikipedia uses to describe Herbart’s meaningful relationship between a man and his civilization. Does man derive his meaning and value from being a productive citizen? Or does the whole idea of a productive citizen depend on people having value and meaning prior to any production? In the first case, it might be logical and even merciful to cull any people – can’t really call them members of society in this context – who are not productive, since they cannot have meaningful lives without such production. Not that such an idea would occur to any Germans of that time…

Herbart is also said to be a follower of Pestalozzi, which supports my suspicion that Pestalozzi is more a Rorschach test than an actual teacher. My forays into Pestalozzi’s writings left me thinking he is nearly completely incoherent; when Fichte, a proto-Nazi, and Einstein, who was a student at a Pestalozzian school, both praise his methods, one has got to wonder if they are talking about the same thing. Herbart is said to differ from Pestalozzi in that Pestalozzi believed everything is built on sense perceptions, while Herbart believes cogitation on sense perceptions is the source of understanding and knowledge.

If that sounds a bit gobbly-goopy, it may be because it is. You get these men who want desperately to control how children learn – Fichte, Mann, Dewey, heck, Plato and on and on – and they start fighting over stuff that normal people, eve normal philosophers, would roll their eyes at. Watch a kid, especially a really small kid, and you’ll see someone obsessed with sense perception to the point where they’ll stick crap they pick up off the ground into their mouths (this is a big learning experience, btw. We don’t stop doing this because we’re told to, but because we insisted on doing it). AND one will see little minds working overtime to figure out how stuff works. It’s not that sense perception or cogitation is more or less important, but rather that it’s absurd upon inspection to imagine that adults need to do anything to promote either. Adults just need to refrain from screwing it up, which seems beyond the reach of these gentlemen.

I’m not going any deeper into Herbart, who I first heard of from these lectures, for now – this is all from a skim of Wikipedia, for which I promise to feel bad about later. Onward:

Thus thought is not as the disciples of Pestalozzi hold, a continued and elevated sort of sense-perception, but rather a reaction against it. It is a discovery of the subordinate place held by objects in the world ; they are seen to be mere steps in a process of manifestation, the manifestation of causal energies. A new perception is received into the mind by adjusting it to our previous knowledge ; we explain it in terms of the old ; we classify it, identify it ; reconcile what is strange and unfamiliar in it with previous experience; we interpret the object and comprehend it ; we translate the unknown into the known.

People learn by experiencing the world, thinking about what they experienced and trying as best they can to fit it in with everything else they know. Got it.

Does Harris suppose we can do anything about it? Does Harris imagine the process he (following Kant, more or less) describes ought to be somehow promoted or encouraged, let alone managed? That would be hubris-ridden nonsense, like believing the sun will not rise unless the shaman performs the correct rituals. You might as well try to teach kids hearts how to beat. But maybe that’s not where he’s going.

This process of adjusting, explaining, classifying, identifying, reconciling, interpreting and translating, is called apperception.

Yep, Kant. Apperception is one of those terms of art in Philosophy, pretty much meaning what Harris described above.

We must not only perceive, but we must apperceive ; not only see and hear, but digest or assimilate what we hear and see. Herbart’s “apperception ” is far more important for education than Pestalozzi’s “perception.” At first the memory was the chief faculty cultivated in education; then Pestalozzi reformed it by making the culture of sense- perception the chief aim; now with Herbart the chief aim would be apperception or the mental digestion of what is received by perception or memory.

Hmmm. How far back is the phrase “at first” meant to go? Certainly not all the way back to the Greeks, who before Socrates’s time had come to understand education as a function of friendship. They didn’t even write about how kids learned reading, writing and basic math, any more than they wrote about how you went to the market or walked down the street. Instead, the wrote about ephebia – schools for young men entering adulthood, where they spent 2 or 3 years training to be fit soldiers and learning how to be good citizens – why they should love their city-state and Greek culture in general. Then, the most promising and noble youths were taken under the wings of men of achievement, who acted as mentors, as described peripherally in Plato’s Symposium. (The occasional sexual aspects of these relationships, while real, are generally overstated and misunderstood.) An educated Greek would memorize Homer, but even that feat had the primary goal of immersion into Greek culture, especially understanding arete, the excellence toward which every Greek aspired and the measure by which they would be judged.

Or there’s St. Jerome’s 5th century advice to the noblewoman Laeta how she should teach her daughter Paula to read. This is not memorization training, at least not essentially. The essential part is the sharpening of Paula’s wit.

More Enlightenment (sic) nonsense: Harris and his crowd thought they were the smart people, first people to understand these things, and had a right and duty to guide lesser individuals. They started with memorization, therefore, the whole project starts with memorization. That people have successfully educated their children for as long as there have been people if acknowledged at all is pooh-poohed: maybe, but not educating them correctly!

Illustrations of the power of apperception to strengthen perception: Cuvier could reconstruct the entire skeleton from a single bone ; Agassiz the entire fish from one of its scales ; Winckelman the entire statue from a fragment of the face; Lyell could see its history in a pebble; Asa Gray the history of a tree by a glance.

OK, I suppose, although I’d want a serious look at those reconstructions of Cuvier, Agassiz and Winckelman before conceding the point to quite that level. Be that as it may, I’m not sure such levels of expertise are the product of a particular kind of schooling. Not to give him too much credit, but Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink describes a similar if not identical result, except that the process by which an expert reaches his conclusion is mostly not conscious or even strictly rational. That level of expertise seems to be learned, but not taught, and to require some innate talent. Herbart, at least, is a blank slater – he doesn’t believe in innate talents. It the turtles of nurture all the way down.

Apperception adds to the perceived object its process of becoming. Noire has illustrated apperception by showing the two series of ideas called up by the perception of a piece of bread. First the regressive series dough, flour, rye ; and the processes baking, kneading, grinding, threshing, harvesting, planting, &c. Each one of these has collateral series, as for example, planting has plowing, plow, oxen, yoke, furrow, harrowing, sowing seeds, covering it, etc. The second series is progressive bread suggests its uses and functions; food, eating, digesting, organic tissue, life, nourishing strength, supply of heat, bodily labor, &c.

Ok, again. Yes, understanding something does mean putting it into a larger, more coherent, context.

The course of study in schools must be arranged so as to prepare the mind for quick apperception of what is studied. The Pestalozzian makes form, number, and language the elements of all knowledge. He unfortunately omits causal ideas, which are the chief factors of apperception ; we build our series on causally. Accidental association satisfies only the simpleminded and empty-headed.

Sure. Perhaps the course of study could be comparatively brief encounters with a mentor, who guides and reviews, and comparatively large amounts of time to experience and process the world?

I suspect that’s not where Harris is going with this.

Next up: Lecture IV.

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42

With a growing backlog of books to review (Polanyi: what a fraud! Oops, sorry, should have spoilered that!) and about 120 draft posts to clean up/finish/toss/whatever, I digress:

If you already know the answer to life, the universe and everything, such that your dearest, most heartfelt belief is that everything is explained and all ends known with certainty, all discussions either support the conclusion, or are irrelevant noise. The very idea that something, something real or even some line of thought, might not fit in with the already known and sacred conclusion is anathema. Those who insist on bringing up challenges to The Answer are to be silenced with extreme prejudice.

The only worthy intellectual exercise is explaining and expanding on just exactly how 42 is the answer. An intellectual exercises his mind and creativity in coming up with ever more ingenious and detailed ways of getting to 42. The new ways 42 is demonstrated to be the one and only answer is a great comfort to the true believer, and a shield and bulwark against any line of thinking that might cause unease.

This much should be obvious. A little more subtle: Since 42 is the answer beyond challenge, any way of getting to 42 is valid regardless of the method used. 42 is beyond logic, beyond criticism of any kind. It explains – it must explain! It explains everything! – all attempts to unseat it. While it might be possible to have esthetic arguments about how one way to get to 42 is more elegant or thorough or technically accurate, it would be bad form to criticize the logic or structure or heaven forbid, the truth of any explication, so long as it gets to 42 in the end.

From a purely pragmatic point of view, it might be helpful if some of the observations upon which the presentation (it won’t do to call it an argument) are true, or that some of the connections proposed (again, can’t invoke logic) are obvious and reasonably granted. When Polanyi and Marx point to the suffering of the urban poor when industry replaced rural life with slum life, they are pointing to something real. The emotional appeal is also real – what sort of heartless monster would be indifferent to the suffering of the children?

File:Child Labor in United States, coal mines Pennsylvania.jpg
Breaker Boys

Suffering, especially suffering that primarily benefits somebody else, is nothing to be laughed at. Ignoring the suffering of others is a bad thing (under a moral code that recognizes right and wrong, of course). Yet identifying suffering is not the same thing as understanding what causes suffering. Even less is it an argument for whatever solution one might want to propose.

Ultimately, the truth of the observations, references and connections made as part of the presentation meant to demonstrate the truth of 42 do not reflect – are not allowed to reflect! – on whether 42 is in fact the answer. Quite the contrary: 42 becomes the filter used to determine what lines will be pursued and which will be ignored, and what tidbits of reality will be allowed to intrude. Marx and Polanyi have their defenders, rabid defenders, even, despite reality and history (you know, what happened, as opposed to mythical History, which make things happen in the future). The Soviet Union didn’t quite pan out? Well, Polanyi was right about the Asian Financial Crisis! (Except for the part where it was a hiccup in the now 75 year long planet-wide rise in economic productivity and subsequent drop in poverty and violence. Places where the likes of Polanyi are taken seriously being the exceptions, of course). Workers of the world are still not revolting (they have, increasingly, nothing to lose but there vacation packages, hi-def flat screens, second automobiles and iPhones).

The existence of injustice in the world – and there’s plenty to go around, don’t get me wrong – does not in fact prove anything about whether 42 is the answer or not. Describing problems is cheap; solutions are not, and may not even be possible.

Your math proving 42 not add up to 42? No problem! You got the right answer, that’s what counts.

Feser and the Galileo Trap

File:Bertini fresco of Galileo Galilei and Doge of Venice.jpg
Galileo showing the Doge of Venice how to use a telescope.

Edward Feser here tackles the irrationality on daily display via the Covington Catholic affair, and references a more detailed description of skepticism gone crazy:

As I have argued elsewhere, the attraction of political narratives that posit vast unseen conspiracies derives in part from the general tendency in modern intellectual life reflexively to suppose that “nothing is at it seems,” that reality is radically different from or even contrary to what common sense supposes it to be.  This is a misinterpretation and overgeneralization of certain cases in the history of modern science where common sense turned out to be wrong, and when applied to moral and social issues it yields variations on the “hermeneutics of suspicion” associated with thinkers like Nietzsche and Marx.  

Readers of this blog may recognize in Feser discussion above what I refer to as the Galileo Trap: the tendency or perhaps pathology that rejects all common experiences to embrace complex, difficult explanations that contradict them. In Galileo’s case, it happens that all common experiences tell you the world is stationary. Sure does not look or feel like we are moving at all. That the planet “really” is spinning at 1,000 miles an hour and whipping through space even faster proves, somehow, that all those gullible rubes relying on their lying eyes are wrong! Similar situations arise with relativity and motion in general, where the accepted science does not square with simple understanding based on common experience.

Historically, science sometimes presents explanations that, by accurately accommodating more esoteric observations, make common observations much more complicated to understand. Galileo notably failed to explain how life on the surface of a spinning globe spiraling through space could appear so bucolic. By offering a more elegant explanation of the motion of other planets, he made understanding the apparent and easily observed immobility of this one something requiring a complex account. But Galileo proved to be (more or less) correct; over the course of the next couple centuries, theories were developed and accepted that accounted for the apparent discrepancies between common appearance and reality.

We see an arrow arch through the air, slow, and fall; we see a feather fall more slowly than a rock. Somehow, we think Aristotle was stupid for failing to discover and apply Newton’s laws. While they wonderfully explain the extraordinarily difficult to see motion of the planets, they also require the introduction of a number of other factors to explain a falling leaf you can see out the kitchen window.

Thus, because in few critical areas of hard science – or, as we say here, simply science – useful, elegant and more general explanations sometimes make common experiences harder to understand, it has become common to believe it is a feature of the universe that what’s *really* going on contradicts any simple understanding. Rather than the default position being ‘stick with the simple explanation unless forced by evidence to move off it,’ the general attitude seems to be the real explanation is always hidden and contradicts appearances. This boils down to the belief we cannot trust any common, simple, direct explanations. We cannot trust tradition or authority, which tend to formulate and pass on common sense explanations, even and especially in science!

Such pessimism, as Feser calls it, is bad enough in science. It is the disaster he describes in politics and culture. Simply, it matters if you expect hidden, subtle explanations and reject common experience. You become an easy mark for conspiracy theories.

I’ve commented here on how Hegel classifies the world into enlightened people who agree with him, and the ignorant, unwashed masses who don’t. He establishes, in other words, a cool kid’s club. Oh sure, some of the little people need logic and math and other such crutches, but the pure speculative philosophers epitomized by Hegel have transcended such weakness. Marx and Freud make effusive and near-exclusive use of this approach as well. Today’s ‘woke’ population is this same idea mass-produced for general consumption.

Since at least Luther in the West, the rhetorical tool of accusing your opponent of being unenlightened, evil or both in lieu of addressing the argument itself has come to dominate public discourse.

A clue to the real attraction of conspiracy theories, I would suggest, lies in the rhetoric of theorists themselves, which is filled with self-congratulatory descriptions of those who accept such theories as “willing to think,” “educated,” “independent-minded,” and so forth, and with invective against the “uninformed” and “unthinking” “sheeple” who “blindly follow authority.” The world of the conspiracy theorist is Manichean: either you are intelligent, well-informed, and honest, and therefore question all authority and received opinion; or you accept what popular opinion or an authority says and therefore must be stupid, dishonest, and ignorant. There is no third option.

Feser traces the roots:

Crude as this dichotomy is, anyone familiar with the intellectual and cultural history of the last several hundred years might hear in it at least an echo of the rhetoric of the Enlightenment, and of much of the philosophical and political thought that has followed in its wake. The core of the Enlightenment narrative – you might call it the “official story” – is that the Western world languished for centuries in a superstitious and authoritarian darkness, in thrall to a corrupt and power-hungry Church which stifled free inquiry. Then came Science, whose brave practitioners “spoke truth to power,” liberating us from the dead hand of ecclesiastical authority and exposing the falsity of its outmoded dogmas. Ever since, all has been progress, freedom, smiles and good cheer.

If being enlightened, having raised one’s consciousness or being woke meant anything positive, it would mean coming to grips with the appalling stupidity of the “official story”. It’s also amusing that science itself is under attack. It’s a social construct of the hegemony, used to oppress us, you see. Thus the snake eats its tail: this radical skepticism owes its appeal to the rare valid cases where science showed common experiences misleading, and yet now it attacks the science which is its only non-neurotic basis.

Book Review: William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure II

LECTURE II. Saturday, January 14, 1893. PROBLEMS PECULIAR TO AMERICAN EDUCATION. (found here. Lecture I review here.)

Harris begins his second lecture by describing what he means by ‘substantial education’:

There are two kinds of education. The first may be called substantial education, the education by means of the memory; the education which gives to the individual, methods and habits and the fundamentals of knowledge. It is this education which the child begins to receive from its birth. This sort of education is education by authority that is, the individual accepts the authority of the teacher for the truth of what he is told, and does not question it or seek to obtain insight into the reason for its being so.

At this point, I had to check whether Harris was married and had children. A quick perusal of the interwebs reveal that he married his childhood sweetheart, but if they had any children, the sources fail to mention it. Why this is relevant: the idea that children accept everything on authority could hardly be held by anyone who ever raised children. It’s a variation on tabla rasa, as if kids are waiting around for authority figures to lecture them, and accepting the lecture without criticism, and otherwise don’t learn anything. Anyone who has raised children can see that, starting from birth at the latest, the vast bulk of learning is done by the child on his own initiative. He absorbs the assumptions of the adults around him, to a large extent, without criticism, but any adult who has tried the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach will quickly see how much adult authority figures into what children accept without question.

It is this education by authority, the education of the past, that the modern or second kind of education seeks to supersede. This second kind may be called individual or scientific education; it is the education of insight as opposed to that of authority.

The man here using the word ‘scientific’ was heavily into phrenology and late 19th century psychology, among other things, so what he means by ‘scientific’ is clearly not ‘that which can be objectively verified through observation’ but rather more along the lines of ‘what my smart friends and I believe.’ This is relevant, since the advocates for progressive, modern, compulsory schools have long claimed their approach was scientific. That word they keep using – I don’t think it means what they think it means.

“The education of insight” is a very interesting phrase. Part of Hegel – a part most beloved by Marx – is the idea of speculative philosophy being a growing, progressing series of insights. Philosophy doesn’t advance through hashing things out via observations and logical deductions, but rather the Spirit/History reveals the next stage via revelation to the enlightened few. These revelations are called ‘insights’ and contradict the unenlightened stage of History currently prevailing, until both are subsumed and suspended in a new synthesis. The curious part: those lacking the insight cannot understand those who have it. Under Hegel, at least, the insight will slowly spread out from the chosen prophets until the consciousness of mankind is raised – or something. Marx is all about exterminating the unenlightened as the means by which enlightenment spreads.

Here Harris is talking about what normal people call understanding. Does a kid understand what he is taught (insight) or merely parroting what he’s heard (authority)? It would seem Harris is thinking schooling can impart insight in a non-authoritarian manner. Kids who in his view have become mindless automata via accepting everything they know on authority, will at some point, somehow be brought to the freedom of individuality (1) through – compulsory standardized schooling!

When this kind of education is acquired, it frees the individual from the authority of the other. Under the system of education by authority when told, for instance, that the sum of three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, this will be blindly believed only as long as authority sanctions this belief; but when an insight into the reason for this geometrical truth is obtained, no change of authority is able to make the individual doubt.

Really? Harris imagines a teacher, with grim authority, simply telling a kid that the sum of the angles in a triangle equals two right angles, and the kid just buying it, no questions asked. The kid, having been told this, simply does not or cannot try to understand it? I did not think math instruction had universally ‘advanced’ to this point as of the late 19th century. Nowadays, of courses, grade school teachers of math who understand or even just don’t loathe math are the exception.

I think, rather, that kids are curious, and try to understand things, at least until it is beaten out of them by a decade or two of schooling. It’s not a switch waiting for some enlightened adult to throw.

But there is this danger in the system of education by insight, if begun too early, that the individual tends to become so self-conceited with what he considers knowledge gotten by his own personal thought and research, that he drifts toward empty agnosticism with the casting overboard of all authority. It is, therefore, necessary that this excessive conceit of self which this modern scientific method of education fosters, be lessened by building on the safe foundations of what has been described as the education of authority. The problems of the reform movement centre, therefore, on the proper method of replacing this authoritative or passive method of education by education through self-activity.

This is the thing about education theorists such as Fichte, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Mann and here Harris: they frame the problem wrong. Harris really thinks that a kid who learns how to exercise his curiosity in a constructive way is going to be conceited and unmanageable? The result of this is “empty agnosticism with the casting overboard of all authority”? Again, did this man know any children? Somehow, a kid who sees Euclid’s proof that the sum of the angles in a triangle add up to two right angles is going to get conceited, if he sees it too early? Or might he not gain a respect for the genius of ancient Greek geometry, and an appreciation of rigorous reasoning?

We see here the outlines of a plan: Harris would have education by authority practiced from kindergarten (he was a big advocate of the kindergarten movement) without any contamination by ‘insight’. The little dears must learn to OBEY. Then, at some later date (Harris was also a huge factor in establishing compulsory high school) such well-trained automata will be ready to accept insights. But this form of education is a synthesis: both the automaton and the free individual exist in a creative tension, neither contradicting nor obviating the other.

So, how do you foster this creative tension, where students are both obedient to authority yet free to gain insights? Text books! No, really:

There is another problem that of the method of study. Germany advises us to teach by oral methods, by giving pieces of information and insight orally by word of mouth. But the American educators have blundered upon what may be defended as the correct method, namely, the text book method. It was merely the outcome of an unconscious trend. The method is of course liable to very serious abuse, but the good points greatly outweigh the bad. It has the advantage of making one independent of his teacher ; you can take your book wherever you please. You cannot do that with the great lecturer, neither can you question him as you can the book, nor can you select the time for hearing the great teacher talk as you can for reading the book. And it is true that nearly all the great teachers have embodied their ideas in books.

Germany, implementing Fichte, had as its educational goal to replace the father with the state, on Fichte’s theory that what a child desires more than anything is the approval of his father. It’s a simple matter, per Fichte, to remove the child from the family and replace the authority of the father with the state in the person of a state appointed and certified teacher. Thus trained, the child will be unable to think anything his teacher does not want him to think.

Textbooks, from a German perspective, might interfere with this instillation of blind loyalty to the state, as the kid might learn something without the explicit approval of the state/father. Thus, the student learns only what the teacher explicitly tells them.

While it seems Harris has here in mind more general books, as he explicitly mentions “nearly all the great teachers have embodied their ideas in books,” he was himself a producer of what we now call textbooks: books specifically produced for use by school children. It is unclear, at least at this point, what exactly Harris means here. Does he was students to read Euclid and Rousseau, say, on their own? Or does he mean text books to be mere extensions of the teacher’s authority, mere receptacles of approved ‘insight’?

The greatest danger of text-book education is verbatim, parrot-like recitation; but even then from the poorest text-book a great deal of knowledge can be gleaned. Then there is the alertness which in any large class will necessarily be engendered by an intelligent understanding and criticism of the results arrived at by different pupils in discussing a certain piece of work given in his own words. And then there is the advantage to be found in the fact that with the text-book the child can be busy by itself.

It remains unclear to me what Harris means by text books. Modern textbooks, with the possible exception of some more advanced math and science books, are characterized by predigestion: they have taken the subject and determined what correct thoughts about it are, as evidenced by the presence of questions at the ends of chapters, with the correct answers in the teacher’s edition. Nothing so open-ended as what Harris suggests – “intelligent understanding and criticism of the results arrived at by different pupils” – if he, indeed, intends to encourage free discussion.

Lastly, there is the problem of discipline. There should be very little corporal punishment ; the milder forms of restraint should be used. The child that is brought up accustomed to the rod loses his self respect, and may become the man who must have police surveillance. Silence, punctuality, regularity and industry are fundamental parts of a “substantial education” as much as the critical study of mathematics, literature, science and history is a part of the ” education of insight.” These two kinds of education, that of authority and that of self-activity, should be made complementary.

One can make the case that Harris is making simple common-sense observations, that kids need discipline enough to be quiet, show up regularly and work hard in order to learn anything, and that these must be inculcated prior to any particular subject matter. He calls this basis ‘substantial education’ and holds that it – discipline and enculturation – make one a mindless automaton. Yet, unless you achieve this level of discipline and conformity, you cannot hope for a liberal education, what Harris calls an “education of insight”.

I hear echoes of Pestalozzi here, where a child is to be lead step by step down a path designed by his teacher, not allowed to move on until a given step is mastered, as well as echoes of Fichte and the Blank Slate contingent. Harris’s prescriptions may sound good, but it flies in the face of experience with actual children. Kids learn different things in different orders at different speeds, and their native curiosity and intellectual capacities vary enormously. Their appreciation for and capacity to conform to behavioral norms, such as when be quiet, how hard and long to work on something, how to pay attention also vary, so that one 6 year old might sit quietly working for an hour with no trouble, while another can’t hold still for 5 minutes.

Self control and cultural norms are learned at home. Fichte saw this as a problem to be solved by the state. Don Bosco, working with boys who didn’t have a home, understood that he must supply some of what his boys lacked in order for them to succeed, but never imagined the home to be the source of all social ills. Rather, he saw the lack of a home as the problem.

Harris clearly seems to think school – and he was huge force in making compulsory, state-run K-12 schools the norm – is the place where civilization is learned, not home. He advocated for the forced removal of American Indian children from their homes, in order to inculcate in them a
“lower form of civilization” suitable for their inclusion in society. For completely benevolent reasons, of course.

On to Lecture III.

Book Review: William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure I

Turns out my man William Torrey Harris never wrote a book on his philosophy of education, but after the manner of Fichte, delivered himself of a lecture series on the subject. Given in 1893, they are a mercifully short series of mercifully short lectures. Harris gave 5 short lectures. I’ll take them one at a time.

LECTURE I. January 7th, 1893. THE LITERATURE OF EDUCATION

It’s tempting to quote the lecture entire, as it is so short. Instead, please go read it at the link provided, if you’re interested.

Harris begins with a brief description of how various cultures educated their children, with a variety of goals in mind:

The first and most important of all educational literature is that showing the ideals of a people the literature on which they are brought up generally the sacred books which reveal what the people regard as divine ; consequently what is the highest ideal to be realized. China, for example, has Confucius and Mencius, showing the family as the type of the social whole. These writings furnish the contents of the mind of the Chinese minute observances of etiquette ; how to behave towards one’s elders and superiors in rank ; towards one’s inferiors or juniors ; towards one’s equals. Chinese schools are almost exclusively devoted to filling the memory of the pupil with the ethical maxims of these sacred books, so that the mind shall be full of family etiquette. The aim of Chinese education was to teach the young how to behave ; that of the Persians, how to ride, shoot, and speak the truth a faculty not much thought of by the Hindus. The Persian differs from the Buddhist in that the latter wishes to get rid of the world, while the former attempts to conquer the real. The Phoenicians, again, furnish a contrast to Chinese education. Their object was to wean the child from the family ; whereas the Chinese endeavor to educate the young so that they will become submerged in the family. The Phoenicians aimed to create a love of adventure. Their children were educated in myths. The stories in Homer’s ” Odyssey ” must have been derived from the tales of the Phoenician sailors, which were calculated to engender a hunger and thirst for adventure, so that the young Phoenician would gladly get on board ship and go to the ends of the world in the interests of trade. The Greeks were imbued with the new world-principle of a spiritual and beautiful individuality. They thought more of the games which they practised in the evenings on the village green than of the tasks by which they earned their bread. They learned history and geography from the second book of Homer’s “Iliad.” They thought not of commercial education, like the Phoenicians, but of that heroic individual who furnished a beautiful ideal. Later on, Greek education became more scientific and more reflective. The Roman concentrated his whole mind on the will. He went beyond the circle of his city, and studied to cause even foreigners to live under the same laws with himself. Freedom meant more to him than to any of the Asiatic nations. It meant the power of the individual to hold, alienate, and devise property.

It’s tempting, and perhaps justified, to dismiss this as just more Hegelian claptrap. Instead, I’ll attempt to show how it is Hegelian claptrap. First, much of what he says is true. Different cultures do educate their children differently. Hegel-style is to start with truisms, to which any challenge will appear as nit-picking pedantry. But among the truisms, stick in some stuff that sounds like what you’ve already introduced but does not in fact stand on the same common-sense foundation. Thus, we can accept the notion that the Chinese build their culture on family, since it doesn’t contradict anything the typical educated Westerner knows about China. We then slip in stuff about Phoenician education, about which, to my knowledge, very little is known. I mean, I have read a good bit about Greek educational practices, and the documentary evidence before 500 B.C. is very sparse. Much more Greek writing survives than Phoenician. Therefore, it would be curious bordering on fantastic if there somehow existed substantial historical support for any theory of Phoenician educational practices.

Curious, I googled ‘Phoenician Education’ and the first thing that popped up was this:

Education
Based upon their way of seeing the world (cosmogony), the Phoenicians focused on fulfilling their mission of being inventors and discoverers and spreading their knowledge all over the world.

Not that this proves anything, but this site at least isn’t pointing at any writings. Following the same approach as Harris, we back into what their educational goals were based on their ‘cosmology’ and what they did, which is presumed to result from that cosmology, then extrapolate way, way past the data to imagine they were motivated by a desire to fulfill a ‘mission’ of ‘being inventors and discoverers and spreading their knowledge all over the world.’

Here, again, we see the fell effect of Hegel and Marx: the atomic explanation is rejected out of hand in favor of the vast, irresistible movement of Spirit and History. The atomic explanation, built up from what the units of society – people, families – do without any reference to presumed inexorable historical forces, might be that successful trade lead to more successful trade, and that kids grew up in families and cities engaged in trade, leading to educated opinions about everything from ship building to accounting getting passed on and refined from generation to generation. Hegelians/Marxists refuse to admit such explanations, as History or Spirit are dogmatically assumed to exist as the cause of all things, people being mere double-predestined puppets.

And this is before we note that there’s nothing in the behavior of the actual Phoenicians we know about to make us imagine they were motivated by much of anything beyond an immediate desire to get and hang onto wealth and power, and show off their wealth and power. People being people, in other words.

We do know that the Phoenicians were great sailors and traders. We can, perhaps, use this fact to support the claim: Phoenicians were sailors and traders, therefore their educational practices may have been directed toward producing traders and sailors. Or, more likely and humbly, their educational practices did not prevent a good number of men becoming sailors and traders.

Harris then lays down a ‘must have’ : “The stories in Homer’s ” Odyssey ” must have been derived from the tales of the Phoenician sailors, which were calculated to engender a hunger and thirst for adventure, so that the young Phoenician would gladly get on board ship and go to the ends of the world in the interests of trade.” As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this form of statement reminds me of the Von Daniken books I read as a tween, wherein he’s always making statements about how this or that must have been caused by space aliens. Even back then, this triggered a ‘must it have?’ reaction on my part. Also note the word ‘calculated’ – Harris wants to imagine that the education of Phoenician youth was something somebody calculated, and that these calculations resulted in choosing adventurous myths as the curriculum. In other words, he anachronistically imposes what he is up to on people living millennia ago in very different cultures (Punic culture was not homogenous over time and space. No culture is.)

And so on. Dubious claims, some fairly outrageous, most often taking the form of generalizations easy to square with the idea that Spirit or History is *causing* people to do things, are tucked in between truisms and bland deductions. This also sets up a field rich in opportunities for Motte and Bailey defences: when you question something doubtful, your interlocutor can defend something obvious nearby. That’s for when they don’t just dismiss you as unenlightened, which is Hegelians and Marxists favorite argument.

This first lecture contains the infamous quotation, which in context doesn’t sound nearly as ominous on first pass:

Education is meant to give one an insight into the genesis of these things, so that he can detect an element of each in the threads of his civilization. Ninety-nine out of a hundred people in every civilized nation are automata, careful to walk in the prescribed paths, careful to follow prescribed custom. This is the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual under his species. The other educational principle is the emancipation from this subsumption. This is subordinate, and yet, in our time, we lay more stress upon it than the other. Look at the French Revolution. What a prodigious emancipation that was.


Harris is asserting ALL ‘substantial’ education reduces 99% of EVERYBODY to automata. What makes such education ‘substantial’ is the content – this is Hegel-speak – which, as he has shown above, varies from civilization to civilization. He then allows for one other, subordinate, educational principle: escape from this subsumption of the individual. More Hegel: contradictions are said to be suspended and subsumed in a synthesis, which syntathis become the thesis for the next movement of the dialectic. So: individuals have wants and needs (thesis); so does the society within which those wants and needs are best met (antithesis). The individual is subsumed as an automaton in the synthesis, which is a society to which he sacrifices (and yet does not sacrifice) his individuality for the sake of having existence and meaning. The next step, which is subordinate in that it stands upon the society (synthesis) created in the previous subsumption, is for the individual to understand and somehow be emancipated from his status as an unconscious automaton, while at the same time remaining suspended as automaton.

Harris sees this emancipation as the movement of the Spirit in our current phase of History. In a chilling bit of foreshadowing, he’s not very explicit or concerned about the millions of deaths that resulted from the French Revolution and the wars it gave birth to, but rather sees a ‘prodigious emancipation.’ Pay no attention to the Committee for Public Safety!

Conclusion: in context, this quotation remains terrifying, just not in the exact sense in which I have seen it used, and have used it myself.

Comenius taught the emancipation of the individual from the printed page. Spencer says that the modern school system is all wrong, and has a tendency to get away from science and cause students to waste time over the dead languages. Emancipation has now become the important side of the educational question. But the student of advanced education must first avail himself of the wisdom of the race, and learn how not to be limited by it. He cannot progress unless he is a free man, for he must not be so much subsumed that he cannot investigate scientifically, and with safety to himself, all problems that present themselves.

The goal for education Harris sets out in this first lecture is for a student to first learns his own culture, with all its rules, standards and aspirations, and then get free enough from them to investigate scientifically (i.e., as an Hegelian) all problems that present themselves.

Sounds nice. A decade after Harris gave these lectures, Woodrow Wilson addressed a graduating class from Princeton’s School of Education, explained how the schools need to fit the vast bulk of people for labor. The little people must forgo the luxury of a liberal education (which is at least plausibly what Harris has in mind) in order to be fitted to do their jobs. Wilson is clear that this whole emancipation thing is not for everybody – automata is the end-state for the masses.

Next up: Lecture II – Problems peculiar to American Education.

A Couple More Links, and Sola vs Schola Revisited

I’ve written here before on the importance of the setting in which philosophical enquiry is done. This is summed up by Sola vs Schola: Are you, like Descartes, Hume, and Kant, contemplating your navel in your private, sunless room? Or are you going a round with other philosophers and students in a Greek academy or medieval university? In the first case, you can pretend to doubt everything – the world, the room you sit in, even yourself. No smirking sophomore buddy is there to sneak up behind you, as you hold forth on the compelling nature of radical doubt, and smack you on the back of the head, and then act all innocent while explaining that he could not have smacked you, as he does not exist, and anyway, what’s with this whole ‘smacking the back of your head’ phenomenology? Awful lot of unsupportable assumptions in there…

In the second case, there is.

Image result for back of head
If I don’t exist, I can’t whack this dude on the back of his head. But I can. Therefore, etc. QED

So we can see that Sola – alone – leads quickly and inevitably to insanity, while Schola – a school or group – has within itself certain corrective forces, called ‘other people,’ whose presence, specifically, whose unwillingness to be dismissed as fantasy, offer at least some chance to stay sane. In the modern world, philosophy falls broadly into two camps: the sons and daughters of Sola occupying one (and occupying virtually all University teaching positions) while the children of the schools, the sons and daughters of Aristotle and Thomas, hold the other.

With that in mind, here is an essay that floated to me across the ether unbidden: The Crisis: Nothing New? The author asserts that the situation we, specifically, the Church, are in today differs substantially from all previous challenges to the Church and, more broadly, sanity.

Now, in all sane societies, it has long been understood that, when you come into the world, you come into a whole network of relationships, rights and duties, which you did not choose, but which in a sense choose you. You can’t legitimately say, “I didn’t choose to be born into this family, this town, this country, so I owe none of them anything.”

But to Enlightenment ideologues, the social world is made up of autonomous individuals who form only those relationships they choose. Things like family, Church, governments, and so on are institutions set up by evil people to oppress other people. Of course, the ideology does recognize that autonomous individuals can form alliances with other autonomous individuals to protect themselves from each other, but, in principle, this is the closest it comes to recognizing any concept of community. But basically, there is no such thing as community, or an ordered society, or an ordered universe, ordered to a common good, but only the mechanical arrangement of fragments of matter, including human matter. And no Creation.

It is easy to see how this outlook could evolve in time into nihilism, and that is exactly what has happened in the lifetime of those of us who are now elderly.

Sola versus Schola, but written large across all relationships.

In the religious ed classes I’m involved in in our parish, I tend to point out that things in the Church have always been bad, as she is made up of people no better than any of us. The author of the above is asserting that this round of heresies (and the corruption that necessarily follows) is worse.

I don’t know, I don’t have a broad enough historical perspective to say that Ambrose’s challenge at the hands of an Arian emperor were less threatening to the Church than what goes on today, or the rise of Islam or the Protestant Revolt. Those also seem pretty bad. But the point warrants consideration.

Next, I’m struck by a more subtle inconsistency (or, if you’re feeling less generous, hypocrisy) in today’s world: the same people who claim progressivism, socialism or communism (insofar as there’s any difference. Hint: not materially) are enlightened and kind and the only future worth pursuing are also very unlikely to promote or even notice what the people behind such movements actually say. That the Communists have said repeatedly that they not interested in reforming the system, but are pursuing whatever moves the world toward revolution – well? That the Fabians* said that they were promoting Communism by working for anything that would lead to communism, but – wolf in sheep’s clothing is their coat of arms – hiding the fact that what they are promoting is moving us toward communism – well?

So we live in a world where Communists promote Progressive and Socialist ideas only because and only to the extent that they believe these ideas will promote revolution. Communists repackage these ideas with plenty of lipstick and misdirection, and then simply lie. But their intent is out there for anyone to see, in print, in their own words, if they want to. It’s not the liars that concern me here, it’s the many, many useful idiots who just refuse to look.

That’s spelled out in this article here.

*The Fabians have fallen into a sweet and sticky Kafkatrap of their own making: What could be more Fabian than not openly joining the Fabian Society? Or denying your communist aims? Or even having the Society itself sort of peter out over the years? All of those things are exactly what one would expect the most dedicated Fabians to do! Thus, Polanyi and Keynes we ‘attracted’ to the Fabian Society, but never formally joined (although the London School of Economics was a Fabian project, and Keynes was their guy) – Well? Are they Fabians? Not formally joining is exactly what a prudent Fabian would do….

Weekend Update & Link-fest

A. Trying to write a review of Polanyi’s Great Transformation, and it’s painful. I’ll get it done in the next few days. Pure Communist propaganda hiding behind reams of faux erudition. Since a simple straightforward statement of his Marxist ideas would invite withering criticism from anyone who has not drunk the kool aid, he lards on irrelevancies with the implied ad hominem – you only disagree because you are not enlightened enough to get it. Or cold-hearted – look at all this suffering! If only enlightened managers had control, why, they’d fix everything! But don’t look at the gulags or killing fields.

He wrote a few years before Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, and before the post-war worldwide economic boom (still ongoing, despite a few comparatively brief hiccups) began driving world-wide material poverty and suffering down and health and life expectancies up year after year, everywhere in proportion as Marxist ideas are not implemented. Back then, it was still possible for your typical Marxist to claim the Soviet Union is the future that works, not a bloodbath of totalitarian control. Funny how that didn’t pan out.

B. Revisiting the heresy of Americanism. Foxifer was kind enough to link to my humble speculations over on American Catholic. The comments are interesting.

It’s easy (and convenient) to dismiss Americanism, as the near-contemporary Catholic Encyclopedia and, to a lesser extent, Wikipedia today do, as a phantom heresy: just some rabble rousers getting in the Pope’s ear, Pope overreacts, nothing to see here, move along.

Related image

But let’s break that down a bit. The Pope’s letter to Cardinal Gibbons is a typical Vatican-style letter (old school division) where the praise is general and the condemnations relatively more specific. A more general way to state the issue: are you judging America by the Church’s standards, or the Church by America’s? Pope Leo XIII condemned:

  1. undue insistence on interior initiative in the spiritual life, as leading to disobedience
  2. attacks on religious vows, and disparagement of the value of religious orders in the modern world
  3. minimizing Catholic doctrine
  4. minimizing the importance of spiritual direction

Unless one is in utter denial, the absolute best one could seriously argue here is that Leo jumped the gun by a few decades. But I don’t think that’s the case.

In the last post, I mentioned in this connection Archbishop John Ireland, the leading ‘liberal’ in the American hierarchy at the turn of the last century. He’s yet another figure I’ll need to find out a lot more about. Superficially, at least, his actions imply serious cluelessness or worse, casual dishonesty. Right around this time, he gave a speech before the National Education Association, an institution that was viewed by many Catholic leaders as, at the very least, latently anti-Catholic. The NEA’s main thrust, then as now, was improving the lot of public school teachers through support of compulsory public schools and standardization through certification of teachers. The Catholic Church ran thousands of private schools staffed by religious sisters who were trained on the job and whose relevant certification was that they were Catholic sisters, not tools of a state that hated Catholics.

For Ireland to address such a crowd and suggest that, soon and very soon, Catholics would just accept the public schools and send their kids there, would be – insane? Unbelievably clueless? Dishonest? At the very least, wouldn’t this idea be something you’d float among the other bishops first? You know, the people who shepherd the flocks whose toil and money went into building all the parochial schools created specifically to keep their kids out of the public schools? When the other bishops reacted with predictable horror, Ireland tried to downplay the incident. The pope’s letter Gibbons, especially in light of his previous letter praising those who sacrificed much to keep their kids out of anti-Catholic schools, certainly would not have cast Ireland in a positive light.

Ireland’s actions could be seen as supporting at least points 2, 3, and 4 from Leo’s letter. You send your kids to public schools, and they’re learning by immersion that 1. the vows taken by those Catholic sisters teaching in the parochial schools don’t really matter much, certainly not as much as state certification; 2. at best, not hearing Catholic doctrine every day in the classroom, with the very real likelihood you’ll hear subtle and not so subtle disparagement of doctrine, is no big deal; and 3. being undirected spiritually – again, a best-case scenario – is perfectly OK for kids, as their parents will of course undo all the damage and supply the guidance between 5:30 and bedtime, minus dinner and homework time.

But the most important observation: everything the Pope condemns has passed into routine Catholic practice in America at some point in the last century or so. It either sprang Athena-like from some Progressive forehead in, I dunno, 1955? 1960?, or it was in fact a current among certain Catholics dating back to some period before Leo’s letter. How we personally feel about God and Church teachings is primary; vocations have fallen off a cliff, relatively speaking; priests are afraid (or letting their silence imply consent to dissident positions) of speaking out about hard doctrine from the pulpit or anywhere else for that matter; and spiritual direction? What’s that?

Of course, I generalize, and, at least in some areas, a corner has been turned. But anyone who thinks this is not the state of the American Catholic Church is living in a bubble. Go teach a 1st communion or confirmation class, and get back to us.

C. Related: turns out Isaac Hecker, the French intro to whose biography triggered Leo’s letter to Gibbons, was in fact well acquainted with Orestes Brownson, and was greatly influenced by him – Hecker reconsidered and then joined the Catholic Church after Brownson converted, and they discussed the matter in correspondence. He became a priest after consulting Brownson. So, while I have no first-hand information on Hecker’s views as yet, Brownson’s views I’ve discussed here. Writing as the Civil War concluded, Brownson was extremely optimistic about the Church’s future in America, declaring that it was God’s Providence that had created America in order to form one united Catholic nation comprising the entire Western Hemisphere. Since the principles upon which the Republic is established can only be supported by uniquely Catholic doctrines (that’s Brownson, not me, to be clear), it becomes inevitable that all the states of the New World will join America:

There was no statesmanship in proclaiming the “Monroe doctrine,” for the statesman keeps always, as far as possible, his government free to act according to the exigencies of the case when it comes up, unembarrassed by previous declarations of principles. Yet the doctrine only expresses the destiny of the American people, and which nothing but their own fault can prevent them from realizing in its own good time. Napoleon will not succeed in his Mexican policy, and Mexico will add some fifteen or twenty new States to the American Union as soon as it is clearly for the interests of all parties that it should be done, and it can be done by mutual consent, without war or violence. The Union will fight to maintain the integrity of her domain and the supremacy of her laws within it, but she can never, consistently with her principles or her interests, enter upon a career of war and conquest. Her system is violated, endangered, not extended, by subjugating her neighbors, for subjugation and liberty go not together. Annexation, when it takes place, must be on terms of perfect equality and by the free act of the state annexed. The Union can admit of no inequality of rights and franchises between the States of which it is composed. The Canadian Provinces and the Mexican and Central American States, when annexed, must be as free as the original States of the Union, sharing alike in the power and the protection of the Republic—alike in its authority, its freedom, its grandeur, and its glory, as one free, independent, self-governing people. They may gain much, but must lose nothing by annexation.

Brownson, the American Republic

Note first the primacy of place given to American doctrines, as the clear expression of what is implicit in Church teaching. Next, we have, as the cool kids say, immanentized the eschaton big time. Finally, note the implicit criticism of Europe and the non-American Church. If America is the (Hegelian historical?) expression of the Church, the European Church is chopped liver, more or less.

Now we look back at the French writer of the introduction to Hecker’s biography, who was by all accounts looking to America and America’s native saint (Hecker is a Servant of God as of 2008, first step toward canonization) for inspiration in restructuring European Church/State relations and in moving power to the people.

What could possibly go wrong?

D. I found this totally refreshing and revealing:

College Student to Synod Organizers: Don’t Listen to Me!

“What really matters is if I listen to the Church and learn from its wisdom.”

Even as the bishops attending this month’s Youth Synod in Rome strive mightily to demonstrate that they hear the wishes and concerns of young people, I was surprised when a Catholic college student told me that he doesn’t much care if the Church listens to him.
Isaac Cross first heard about the Youth Synod when he was asked to participate in the preparatory survey. One of the opening questions has stuck with him: “As a young person, do you feel that the Church listens to you?”

Isaac didn’t like the question.

“What really matters is if I listen to the Church and learn from its wisdom,” he told me. “The Church is built upon thousands of years of tradition and doctrine, and I have especially found at college how striving to understand that doctrine of the Church is a vital means of strengthening [one’s] faith.”

I don’t like lies. From the late 60s on, it was one lie after another from advocates of Church reform: we were told that all the changes were mandated by Vatican II – no, they were not; we were told the new music was for us kids – no, it was not, no one ever asked us if we wanted insipid pseudo-folk music; they claimed to be listening to us – never happened, except for those kids coached to say what our managers wanted to hear. All objections were treated as tantamount to heresy, never mind that no where in the documents actually issued by the Church Council could support be found for what was being rammed down our throats. (1)

So, here’s a kid willing to state the obvious: kids are stupid. We love them, we trust them, we educate them by example – but we would be even more stupid to expect wisdom from the mouth of babes on any but a rare exception basis. Goodness, innocence and charity, yes – the sense in which we are to be like children. But not so much gun control, immigration and tax policy. Or Church direction.

E. Don’t remember where I wandered across this:

“Time to Consider Changing the Name of Woodrow Wilson High School”?

Seems – finally – someone noticed that Wilson’s racism as evidenced by his resegregation of the federal government, which involved demotion or out and out firing of thousands of black federal workers, was a bad thing. Who’da thunk it? As an icon of progressive liberal thought, as architect of the League of Nations, as a champion eugenics and of public schooling (designed, after the wishes of the recently retired William Torrey Harris, to keep the population stupid and docile), Wilson has gotten the usual Liberal pass. See, a Confederate hero, for example, even if not a slave owner or even if personally opposed to slavery, is to be condemned – and here’s the important part – without discussion. A progressive hero is to be lionized, again, without discussion. And have schools named after him.

This could be very dangerous. What if people start looking even harder at Wilson? What if they start looking at, oh, Margaret Singer? John Dewey? (He’s got schools named after him, too.) Heck, any of the left’s heroes from around that time? If we give them a pass because all the cool kids were doing it at the time, I hope we’ve kept those Confederate statues safe, because we’d need to put them back up on the same principle.

Not that consistency has ever mattered much. I predict that their betters will put the anti-Wilson forces back in line, and nothing will happen. But I’d love to wrong, and I’d love to see dominos start to fall. Logic does have its own inertia and gravity, requiring a strong, steady stream of lies to keep it at bay. But the lies cannot be recognized as lies by too many people, or the damn breaks.

  1. As mentioned elsewhere, I have recently been blessed to attend the Novus Ordo said reverently in Latin ad orientem with chant – in other words, as the actual council documents describe it. If that had been allowed, back in the 60s and 70s, most of trauma – and it was traumatic – caused by the sudden, vehement and merciless adoption of the Spirit of Vatican II version of the Mass could have been avoided. One suspects the trauma was the point for many of those involved in implementing the changes.