Youngest son, who plays the fiddle, sings, and enjoys goofing around on the guitar, drums, and whatever else is lying about, got a little Akai mpk keyboard for his birthday a while back. He wanted to create And record music.
So do I.
Way back when hair bands ruled the earth, I was in some bands, and I, too, wanted to record some music. It was a little more complicated and expensive back then. Garage Band on your phone wasn’t a thing. So I have some seriously outdated experience, and, perhaps more important, some somewhat outdated equipment.
I had converted part of the garage into a recording studio 20+ years ago. Long story.
Anyway, space being an issue, cleared out a corner by my piano to set ups more modern, and much cheaper, DAW work area for the Caboose and me. Threw together a desk to maximize the available space. Like this:
The KRK V-8s I knew where they were, so I grabbed them (they’re sweet. Followed the advice I’d read somewhere: only spend real money on mikes, monitors, and instruments, because they don’t go obsolete every year. After the long obsolete Mac tower, the only real investment I made). Need to track down my little Mackie board and a bunch of cables and mics, download some software, hook it up, and we should be good to go.
The desk itself is oak veneer 1 1/4” particle board pieces I’d rescued from some old cubicles getting thrown out many years ago.
In yesterday’s post, mentioned that, via the Oracle Wikipedia, discovered a gentleman named Samuel Read Hall, an important figure in the American compulsory state-run school movement of the early 19th century. So, I poked around…
Turns out, he wrote a number of books and textbooks. And that the Internet Archives has several of them online for free. So, in my usual manner, I set aside the de la Salle I was reading to take a look. The tome titled The instructor’s manual: or, Lectures on school-keeping looked promising. I’m painfully aware of my lack of understanding and sources for exactly how schooling as we now know it took over America, and this, dating from the 1820s even though this edition is from 1852, seemed like a good place to look. It’s only a couple hundred pages…
The brief biographical information I could run down about Hall doesn’t provide many hints about how he came to be a champion of modern schooling, merely that he was such. He was the son of a clergyman, never went to college, and became a school teacher at age 19. He then devoted the rest of his life to education, campaigning for Massachusetts to establish a superintendent of common schools, at which he succeeded, and of which Horace Mann became the first office holder. At 27, he was a school principal; at 28, he founded and ran a teacher’s college and became a licensed minister. The rest of his long life was devoted to educating teachers and ministerial work.
Yet, somewhere, he absorbed the Pestalozzian approach to education, with a strong, if typically muddled, foundation in Rousseau. He’s a huge Prussian schooling fanboy.
When I entered the same field of labor, in 1816, there was scarcely a paragraph in the weekly newspaper, and not a single book or even tract within my knowledge, intended to aid the teacher, in knowing how to instruct and govern a school. Nor was there at that time a Teachers Institute or Normal School within the United States, or even Europe. The magnificent school system of Prussia, which has since awakened such deep interest in Christendom, was not then matured.
from the Introduction
Hall quotes with approval a contemporary reverend, as he presents a long list of all the ways a child’s education can shape him – a snippet from the end:
“…Carry him to the city of the Grand Sultan, and he will grow up a worshipper of Mohammed, and exhibit all the peculiarities of one of his most devoted sons. Let him live where the gospel sheds its benign and enlightening rays, and he will embrace the doctrines and rejoice in the precepts of Jesus.
” Such is the controlling influence which external circumstances must and will have upon all other children. And these external circumstances are nothing more or less than the concentrated influence, the whole education, through which a person passes, and by which he will be benefited or injured, in proportion to the healthful or baneful nature of the sum of this influence. Of what unspeakable importance, then, must it be to this heir of life and immortality, that this influence should be enlightening, elevating, and moral ; that he be under the influence of virtuous associates, judicious parents, and truly intelligent, virtuous, and patriotic teachers.”
I’ve wondered if the blank slate/formless clay idea gained ground with the separation of people from farming. A farmer knows that, while care and luck certainly figure into it, plant a carrot, get a carrot, not a brussel sprout. In other words, things are what they are, and all we can do is plant them in the proper soil and take good care and pray. Mostly, that works; sometimes, it doesn’t. Here’s Hall quoting the same author:
” The rising generation, like clay in the hand of the potter, are readily moulded into almost any shape, and will certainly take the form, adopt the principles, and fall into the habits which the all- fashioning power of education comprehending under that term whatever in the world around operates on the mind or heart shall give them. …The whole future condition of the rising generations, in all their mental, social, and moral interests, their present and future joys and sorrows, is involved in it. “
To his credit, Hall is trying to educate kids to be good, under an understandable definition of good: Christian and patriotic virtues, 19th century New England style. And, even more so, he recognizes parents as key. Hall differs from Fichte here, as Fichte wants New German Men, virtuous according to standards only unclearly understood. And parents are the problem education aims to address. The Apostles and their virtues and zeal would possibly be considered acceptably educated by Hall; they would be throwbacks to an earlier, superseded age to Fichte, and thus an unacceptable step backwards.
Perhaps I give Hall too much credit here.
Only lightly skimmed so far, There are lots of examples in the form of dialogues between student and teacher. Some of Hall’s advice is sound, such as not explaining difficulties using words the kids don’t understand.
I’m going to try not to spend too much time on this work, but do want to read it. If it proves helpful, Hall has a bunch of other stuff out there on the web as well.
While out here in the working class part of Contra Costa County, Antifa isn’t a huge or obvious presence, we are close by Berkeley and Oakland, where the revenge fantasies of those with daddy issues more often find a traditional Stalinist outlet.
But burning Oakland and Berkeley *again* is starting to lack that thrill of adventure. Why not, thinks the Antifa leadership, go to the other side of the Berkeley hills, where some rich people live, and where all the good high-end shopping is, and make our oppressed voices heard via smashing windows and looting stores and burning stuff down? Thus, ‘protests’ took place in Danville and Walnut Creek yesterday. Other nearby upscale cities – Pleasant Hill (borderline – mostly people who bought homes years ago, and saw the old California joke realized: I always wanted to own a million dollar home, but I thought I’d have to move.), Lafayette (similar, but with a dose of McMansions thrown in) – also got worried and Took Steps. We’ve got curfews and stern warnings in place in most nearby cities (not ours – yet).
Last evening, younger daughter drove to Danville, where she has a part-time job at a Costco, only to find the store shut down and all workers sent home. On her way back, the freeway was shut down – ‘protesters’ had stationed themselves in the northbound lanes. Gratifyingly, the Walnut Creek police warned them, gassed them, and hauled them off. But not before our daughter was forced onto surface streets – not entirely a happy situation. But she quickly found her way home like the Wise Men – by another route. Major relief.
This is all maybe 8 or 10 miles from here. We live in a working class neighborhood, little houses built in the 40s and 50s, nothing much worth looting, I should think. So, not really concerned – yet.
One irony: Danville and Walnut Creek are the homes to many current and retired athletes from the various Bay Area teams. It’s a very nice area, where a couple million can still get you a pretty nice house. Many if not most of these athletes are black. Most also get along very well with their neighbors – at least, in all my years living here, I’ve never heard of any issues.
(Personal stories: many years ago, I played on a city league basketball team. Several of the teams had players who were former Oakland A’s. Let’s just say they were a *little* more athletically gifted than your typical 35-ish city league players. I got dunked on my head a few times. Also, Steph Curry lives in Walnut Creek. A couple years ago, out local Safeway was all abuzz, as he’d dropped by to pick up a few things on his way home one day. He’s a demigod, at least, in these parts.)
There’s also a lot of retired military out here, and a few gun clubs. I could, in theory, walk a half-mile to a sporting goods store and get myself just about any legal firearm I might want. So, I wonder if the goon leadership has taken this into account. I, personally, am not armed (for now), but I can’t imagine if a riot happened on my street, some armed resistance would not readily appear…
UPDATE: Our county government, always one for overreaction and grandstanding, has issued a county-wide curfew starting at 8:00 tonight. Sigh.
(Started with a bitter, snarky, angry attack on our reptilian governor-thing and his petty, society-destroying tyranny, but who need any more of that? So, cutting to the chase:)
Our beloved eldest daughter was married yesterday to a fine young man. We are all thrilled for her. Due to the current unpleasantness, the wedding Mass and reception were up in the air until two days before the event. She and her new husband are both meticulous planners, and so had had detailed plans for this wedding in place for months. God evidently wanted to send the message: you are not in charge, but I love you and will make it better.
Although the “Science!” on what is or is not allowed changes with the governor’s socks, the young couple decided a month ago they would be married on the 30th as originally planned, even if it was just the two of them and a priest. Then the diocese said: 10 people max, all masked, may attend the wedding mass. Then, two days ago, it was upped to 30 people. So we got to have a wedding mass with immediate family, bridesmaids and groomsmen, and a photographer. This meant, of course, that anyone who had to travel was not going to be there. When the wedding was originally announced, family and friends from as far away as London were planning to fly in.
About a hundred people gathered in the church parking lot – properly socially distant from each other, as the Science! – any day now – will clearly demand:
Two weeks ago, when it became evident we were not to be ‘allowed’ to have a reception, we – the family – decided to become veritable pirates, and do some approximation of what we wanted to do, with implied obscene gestures and unprintable curses flung in the direction of Sacramento. I was ready to be the guy hauled off in handcuffs, if it came to it. Enough is enough.
We began to set up a wedding reception for 30 people in our backyard. The story becomes tear-jerkingly wonderful at this point: the number of people who showed up and worked like dogs to pull this off is truly amazing, and our family will forever be so grateful to them.
Tiny amount of background. We are not the neatest people. To put it mildly. We like projects, so there’s, um, stuff lying everywhere. I’ve got bricks and wood and, stuff, everywhere. My wife has her needlework and sewing and other artsy things. Similarly, basic stuff gets, um, less attention, e.g., we filled half a dozen large green waste containers with weeds and branches just cleaning up the backyard. So prepping the physical plant, as it were, was non-trivial. And that’s not the half of it.
But everybody pitched in. Start with our children: our youngest, 16, spent hours helping me clean up the yard, repairing broken things, hauling things around. He similarly helped my wife clean up inside the house. He took spreading wood chips and mulch on paths and other bare dirt areas as his own personal artistic project – and it looked good! At the last minute, he was arranging potted plants out on the patio to make sure everything looked good. Just a saint. What a good kid!
Next, one of the real heroes is younger daughter, 22. She flew back home from South Sudan two months ago as soon as a lockdown looked inevitable just to make sure she could be here for her sister. On an emotional level, it worked much better to have her be the coordinator with her sister than for either parent – the two of them could treat issues and decisions in a more jocular manner, important as the bride-to-be was understandably under incredible stress. Younger daughter took this role on with grace and style.
AND: baked this wedding cake:
AND: helped with fitting bridesmaids’ dresses, baking vast numbers of scones and sweet breads (the reception was a formal tea), shopping, coordinating, cleaning, bossing her brothers around, doing the layout and decorating – just amazing! Can’t say enough. All while remaining cheerful.
Next, older son, 24, flew in a week ago, the soonest he could get away from work. (He will be pulling major hours to make up for his time here when he gets back). Likewise, in a unterly cheerful and gung-ho manner, he threw himself into whatever needed doing, shopping, errands, and of course clean-up and set-up. His shining moment was on Friday night, when it became apparent that there was simply no way to keep the finger sandwiches cool – not nearly enough fridge/cooler space, and the pretty trays they were on could not be stacked much. So he brainstorms, finds 40 lbs of dry ice, some cardboard boxes, towels and a little desk fan, and puts together a makeshift refrigerator, large enough to lay out trays of little sandwiches so that they could be kept cool without smashing any of them.
Awesome. Next, 3 bridesmaids decided early on they would come no matter what. Two of them, uncertain of the dependability of air travel, jumped in a car and drove 2 days from Colorado, showing up Thursday. A third drove up from Southern California. From Friday morning through clean up late last night, the three of them without a moment’s hesitation threw themselves into set-up and final cleaning – and acted like it was no big deal. Totally wonderful!
A friend of my wife’s, someone who works 40 Days for Life with her, just shows up – for 2 long days – and cleans windows, organizes project materials, just whatever needed doing, smiling and laughing the whole time.
A old school friend of our daughters agrees to mange final set up while the rest of us are at the wedding Mass, a 45 minute drive away. She lost out of the 30 attendees allowed at mass, but, just like everybody else, cheerfully pitched in.
Did you notice the clouds in that second picture above? Weeks of nice, if a little hot, weather before the 30th; weeks of warm, dry, sunny weather forecast starting today. The 30th itself? Scattered thunderstorms. So on Friday night, after the team set up the tables, my wife and I tarped and weighted them all, just in case. The old school friend was to come over a few hours early, pull the tarps, finnish the formal tea set up – complicated! – and then, once we called from the wedding Mass to let her know people were on their way, fire up water pots, set out the charcuterie and lemonade, cue up all the sandwiches and baked good, and have it all pretty and ready to go for when the guests arrived. 25% chance of rain at the scheduled start time, tapering off to nothing over the next 2 hours.
Halfway through final set up, as we are driving back, cloudburst. 1/2″ of rain over maybe an hour. She and a friend she brought to help her quickly retarp all the tables, bring in any food, and – wait. We get home, pouring rain, I grab a push broom and start sweeping an inch of water off the patio – it drains poorly – and we wait. Forecast says the storm should blow through any minute – and it soon does. HOWEVER, our back yard is completely shaded by two ancient walnut trees – a huge part of its charm – and every little stir of the wind brings further showers of drips off the leaves. So we wait some more.
Finally, the sun comes out and quickly dries things out. The tea that should have started around 2 p.m. starts after 4. But everyone was in a great mood, and had been socializing inside, and so were perfectly charming and happy as we rolled out the tea. Here’s some pictures:
It hardly needs saying that the mother of the bride worked her fingers to the bone on this, cleaning, baking, jam making, sewing, mothering. She hardly slept the last few days; she was still abed at 9:00 a.m. today, very unusual for her. Another hero. I’m sure I’m missing a few. But the number of people who cheerfully pitched in at the last minute to pull this off – and everything was lovely – was staggering. We are all so grateful.
Two families partied until around 9:00. Tea followed by cake and champagne and coffee, followed by some pizza and chicken. Social distance was not maintained. Nobody turned us in.
So, that’s where I’ve been the last few days. This morning, warmed up some coffee from last night, and grabbed some leftovers (a small mountain remains – we made 2X+ as much as could possibly have been eaten. Tradition!) and sat out on the patio typing this, a happy and grateful father of the bride.
Rereading Fichte after having read many more modern compulsory state schooling advocates, one is struck by the constant echoes of him. When, for example, William Torrey Harris recommends dark, ugly schools buildings removed from the delights of nature, the better to train children to focus on their intellectual development, he is merely echoing Fichte’s dismissal of direct experience, of the very idea of objective reality, in favor of developing in children the ability to form and be guided by subjective conceptions. Or when that Harvard woman in the news bewails the ‘evils’ of homeschooling, she is but echoing Fichte, who blames all the evils of society on the family’s role in raising their own children, and insists education is something the state must OF COURSE exclusively perform, so that mankind can progress to the next level of enlightenment. More on this below.
It’s been almost 7 years since I first read Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation, the founding work modern compulsory state education and a declaration of war by the state on the family. In the Addresses, Fichte declares that the state has every right and a sacred duty to simply seize all German children, remove them from all contact with their families for the duration of their education, for their own good, but especially for the good of the Nation. He is a fiery, fanatical believer in the perfectibility of Man and thus of the State, believes the enlightened among us have a sacred duty to lead the unenlightened to the state-mandated Promised Land by whatever means necessary, and has identified education – state controlled, mandatory education – as the key to this Heaven on Earth.
The major thing standing in the way of achieving these ends, ends that justify, evidently, extravagant and brutal means, is the family. Within their families all children (with, I suppose, the exception of Fichte himself?) have been raised to be sensual, weak-willed sheep who do not love the Fatherland, from which all their virtue flows. Properly raised, these New German Men will be virtuous, selfless lovers of Truth, and, incidentally, obviate the need for a standing army. If the Fatherland needs defending, this properly educated, Fatherland-loving, physically fit generation will of course simply form an unbeatable, selfless fighting force against which no unenlightened mortals could possibly stand. (1)
Fichte delivered these Addresses as a series of lecture over the winter of 1807/8. He was evidently a very good orator; certainly, much of the Addresses read like fiery evangelical preaching. His audience for these talks, the admission fees to which paid the the Fichte family’s bills, were the sort of people who would pay money to be alternately flattered and harangued on wintry Sunday evenings. These were professionals living in French-occupied Berlin, butt-hurt over having had that loathsome creature Napoleon crush the previously invincible Prussian army like a bug. Literal blocks away from the site of these lectures, the government of the occupation had its offices.
Just because it’s easy to forget: in the early 1800s, around 80% to 90% of the population of Prussia, and every other nation as well, lived in the country. Farmers could only consistently produce 10-20% more food than was required to keep themselves alive; this put a cap on how many people could be engaged in activities other than farming. I mention this because farmers supplied not only the food, but also armies of any size of any nation. The major target of Fichte’s reforms, therefore, had to be the children of country people.
I’ve long suspected that the myth of the country bumpkin is a result of solid farmers not buying into the fantasies of city slickers. They must be stooopid, those country rubes, because all the smart people agree that anyone who disagrees with them is, you know, stupid. That there might be species of stupid just for those living in cities detached from the work of providing sustenance is an idea that seems to not have occurred to too many urbanites.
Perhaps this attitude has some parallels today?
Fichte begins with and sprinkles liberally throughout his talks the claim that Germans are responsible for pretty much all progress and everything good in the world. He partly attributes this to the natural character of Germans, partly to his claim that Germans have a natural language. The two causes interact: because German Germans never learned a conqueror’s language, they understand the world and express themselves plainly, in words that come directly from common experience. The pointed reference here is to the French, ethnically Germanic for the most part, as the Franks were a German tribe, yet conquered by Rome more or less and speakers of a highly degenerate form of their conquerors language. When he speaks of the German Nation, he means all native German speakers.
Fichte considered states as passing fads, almost, and sees them as each in its own way an expression of fundamental Germaness. The existence of separate German states is no major hindrance to his theories, in other words. One might say: German states are downstream from the German nation to which these Addresses are addressed. The high destiny of the German nation overwhelms and vouchsafes the purity and success of any truly German state. This primacy of German manifest destiny to lead the world to the next phase of Fichte’s 5 stages of human development will keep the state honest, as it were. In any event, Fichte never for a moment entertains the idea that any state pursuing his grant plan might be fundamentally corrupt. Nope: nothing can possibly go wrong with the state exercising its police power to round up everyone’s children and enforce isolation on them, imprisoning them for years with no visitation rights. Fichte goes farther: it is as CERTAIN as day follows night his education system will produce selfless, obedient, patriotic adults who will lead the German Nation and then the world to Nirvana.
Another familiar theme:
Now, assuming that the pupil is to remain until education is finished, reading and writing can be of no use in the purely national education, so long as this education continues. But it can, indeed, be very harmful; because, as it has hitherto so often done, it may easily lead the pupil astray from direct perception to mere signs, and from attention, which knows that it grasps nothing if it does not grasp it now and here, to distraction, which consoles itself by writing things down and wants to learn some day from paper what it will probably never learn, and, in general, to the dreaming which so often accompanies dealings with the letters of the alphabet. Not until the very end of education, and as its last gift for the journey, should these arts be imparted and the pupil led by analysis of the language, of which he has been completely master for a long time, to discover and use the letters. After the rest of the training he has already acquired, this would be play.
Fichte, 9th Address, pp 136
To sum up: a kid is to spend, effectively, 24 x 7 X 365 in school for around 10 years, learning to be a good German, how to really focus on the task at hand (2) but doesn’t learn reading and writing (and, one assumes, arithmetic) until something like age 15 or 16. If you can read and write, you don’t have to pay attention to the teacher as much – you can take notes, and review later. This will not do, as the child is to accept the state trained and certified teacher in the place of his displaced father, and fulfill his need for approval and love by pleasing that teacher. The magical education works, according to Fichte’s understanding of Pestalozzi, by having the student utterly emotionally dependent on pleasing the teacher, doing what the teacher wants him to do in the way the teacher wants it done, always eager for approval. There is no fallback: by design, a child who fails to please his teacher has no recourse, not to family, not even to books. His family has abandoned him, as far as he knows, and he’s not allowed to explore the world through reading, where he might come across other ways in which people interact.
The scary part: it works great. Modern schooling attempts to achieve the same dynamic by telling the parents, who themselves were schooled in the same way, that they are bad parents if they don’t enforce homework on their child, effectively extending to the home and parents the duty to please the teacher. That the bulk of homework is busy work is the point: it’s not the work itself that is important, it’s the discipline that doing the work as commanded enforces.
Fichte is alive and well in modern schooling. ‘Educators’ are trained and filtered by their willingness to perform busy work and regurgitate nonsense on command, then certified. Teachers may and often do have goals and ideals of their own – these are at best irrelevant, as the structure of the schools is the message. You will sit in the class in which you are placed; you will do what the teacher tells you to do; you will ‘succeed’ by regurgitating what the teacher tells you. Anything else is at best superfluous.
You end up with well-schooled, ‘front row’ (3) people who are utterly convinced of their intellectual and moral superiority, functionally innumerate, scientifically and historically illiterate, convinced that regurgitating whatever the approved authority figure is saying at the moment is the apex of intelligence, and utterly terrified of examining the basis of their confidence. They react with anger to anyone who dares challenge them on any point of their received beliefs. They have received their identity through their schooling (as it was designed to do); any challenge to any idea is thus a personal attack, and proof the challenge is stupid and evil.
See, for example, the knee-jerk shutdown of criticisms of the current lockdown.
I’ve read in a number of places that German soldier in the World Wars consistently inflicted 30% higher casualties than they received. Those soldiers were educated in schools founded by von Humboldt after the recommendations of Fichte, so maybe there’s something to this claim? But the Prussian state could never quite pull off the whole ‘seize all children from the cradle and prohibit all contact with their families’ thing – which is probably why they lost both those wars…
The psychologist Alice Miller talks about how children are, of necessity, desperate for love and approval, which they get automatically in any even marginally healthy family. Parents and siblings who are not monsters hold and talk to the baby and interact with the child daily. She also mentions in a couple of her works the standards of German child-rearing manuals from the 19th century, how fathers were instructed to make sure their sons failed at certain tasks just so that they could be punished. Otherwise, if the child were to experience only love, acceptance, and patience, he may not learn to understand discipline and authority. All love is conditional, in other words. Somebody else will need to research what, if any, effect Fichte had on those manuals, or visa versa.
From the linked article, proof, if any needed, that arrogance makes you stupid:
Front row kids:
Mobile, global, and well educated
Primary social network is via colleges and career
Intellect is primary. View world through framework of numbers and rational arguments
Meaning (and morality) comes from careers and intellectual puruits
Faith is irrational. They see themselves as beyond race and gender
View their lives as better than their parents and their children’s lives will be better than their own
As mentioned earlier, I’ve been rereading Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation, since I now have a lot more historical and philosophical context than I had when I first read them several years ago. What follows are a few quotations that, this time, grabbed my attention, and a little light discussion.
For anyone new here: Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was the founder of modern compulsory state schooling – schooling of, by, and for the state. He inspired von Humboldt, who embraced his goals and implemented his program in Prussia starting in 1810. Horace Mann and the other founders of American state schooling traveled to Prussia in the first half of the 19th century to admire and learn from the Prussian Model of state-controlled schooling. Many got PhDs from Prussian universities – the PhD was invented at the University of Berlin, founded by von Humboldt, where Fichte was chair of philosophy and Rector. The U of Berlin was the first modern research university, intended to train the elites who would become the implementers of Prussian Schooling and to further train the products of such schooling, for the good of the state.
Harvard, always the leading University in America, became a research university over the last few decades of the 19th century under its president Charles Eliot. As Wikipedia puts it:
But Eliot’s goal went well beyond Emersonian self-actualization for its own sake. Framed by the higher purposes of a research university in the service of the nation, specialized expertise could be harnessed to public purposes.
Eliot had spent 2 years in Europe studying schooling. The threads leading from Fichte to all modern state-controlled schooling are solid. We are to this day attempting to implement his program.
It’s key to understand Fichte to understand how we’ve gotten to where we are today: school versus parents for the souls of the children.
In his 9th Address, Fichte expands on the requirement that children be removed for all parental control and influence for the duration of their education, which will be supplied by state-certified Masters:
To put it more briefly. According to our supposition, those who need protection are deprived of the guardianship of their parents and relatives, whose place has been taken by masters. If they are not to become absolute slaves, they must be released from guardianship, and the first step in this direction is to educate them to manhood. German love of fatherland has lost its place; it shall get another, a wider and deeper one; there in peace and obscurity it shall establish itself and harden itself like steel, and at the right moment break forth in youthful strength and restore to the State its lost independence. Now, in regard to this restoration foreigners, and also those among us who have petty and narrow minds and despairing hearts, need not be alarmed; one can console them with the assurance that not one of them will live to see it, and that the age which will live to see it will think otherwise than they.
9th Address, pp 127.
See how that works? Petty, narrow-minded people with despairing hearts will be alarmed at having the state seize and physically remove their children from them for duration of their education, for the purpose of training them to restore the state to its proper independence. Such people – us! – are to be consoled with the assurance that none of us will live to see the state restored to its glory. We may miss our children, but we won’t have to endure the glorious future.
A little later, Fichte endorses the methods of his older contemporary Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi as key to his new national education. Problem is, Pestalozzi endorsed mothers as the key to education, assuming much valuable learning would be done in the home under their care. He even wrote the Mother’s Book, because, of course, mothers needed to be told how to do it right.
Fichte will have none of it:
His book for mothers contains the foundation of his development of all knowledge; for, among other things, he relies very much on home education. First of all, so far as this home education itself is concerned, we have certainly no desire to quarrel with him over the hopes that he forms of mothers. But, so far as our higher conception of a national education is concerned, we are firmly convinced that, especially among the working classes, it cannot be either begun, continued, or ended in the parents’ house, nor, indeed, without the complete separation of the children from them…. Not until a generation has passed through the new education can the question be considered, as to what part of the national education shall be entrusted to the home.
ibid, pp 138
A key part of Fichte’s love for Pestalozzi resides in the later’s emphasis on the child’s need for constant supervision and management, that education must be under the control of masters or terrible things will happen. Fichte wants to make sure the state is the one training and paying the right kind of masters.
Fichte tosses out the family from any roll in educating their own children. What about that other great educational force, the church? In America, prior to Mann & Co., Americans believed that the education of children belong solely in the hands of families and their churches. By the end of the 18th century, the population in America was near 100% literate, as home, churches, and private schools educated almost everyone, apart from slaves who were purposely kept uneducated. As Orestes Brownson commented, in America, having the state educate our kids is making our servant into our master. It was a century-long battle to get Americans to accept the goodness and necessity of state-controlled schools.
In Address 11: On whom will the Carrying-out of this Scheme of Education devolve? (answer: the State), Fichte recaps history, where, according to him, the state stayed out of education for pathetic reasons.
In modern Europe education actually originated, not with the State, but with that power from which States, too, for the most part obtained their power—from the heavenly spiritual kingdom of the Church. The Church considered itself not so much a part of the earthly community as a colony from heaven quite foreign to the earthly community and sent out to enrol citizens for that foreign State, wherever it could take root. [note: ‘foreign’ is about as strong a put-down as Fichte uses, the opposite of German, his highest praise.] Its education aimed at nothing else but that men should not be damned in the other world but saved. The Reformation merely united this ecclesiastical power, which otherwise continued to regard itself as before, to the temporal power, with which formerly it had very often been actually in conflict. [note: Luther sought to have the state seize monasteries and turn them into state schools; much of his correspondence was with secular leaders urging them to pursue various programs. Eventually, we reached the point today where German churches are state-supported institutions.] In that connection, this was the only difference that resulted from that event; there also remained, therefore, the old view of educational matters. … The sole public education, that of the people, however, was simply education for salvation in heaven; the essential feature was a little Christianity and reading, with writing if it could be managed—all for the sake of Christianity. All other development of man was left to the blind and casual influence of the society in which they grew up, and to actual life. Even the institutions for scholarly education were intended mainly for the training of ecclesiastics. Theology was the important faculty; the others were merely supplementary to it, and usually received only its leavings.
Address 11, pp 164
Finally, is there any role for the Church? (He’s talking Lutheran, or at least. Protestant, churches here. That the Catholic Church might have a role was of course beyond consideration.) Not really:
Now, if for the future, and from this very hour, we are to be able to hope better things in this matter from the State, it will have to exchange what seems to have been up to the present its fundamental conception of the aim of education for an entirely different one. It must see that it was quite right before to refuse to be anxious about the eternal salvation of its citizens, because no special training is required for such salvation, and that a nursery for heaven, like the Church, whose power has at last been handed over to the State, should not be permitted, for it only obstructs all good education, and must be dispensed with. On the other hand, the State must see that education for life on earth is very greatly needed; from such a thorough education, training for heaven follows as an easy supplement. The more enlightened the State thought it was before, the more firmly it seems to have believed that it could attain its true aim merely by means of coercive institutions, and without any religion and morality in its citizens, who might do as they liked in regard to such matters. May it have learnt this at least from recent experiences—that it cannot do so, and that it has got into its present condition just because of the want of religion and morality!
ibid, pp 166
There’s a lot going on in this paragraph:
Fichte asserts that the Church has at last surrendered its power to the State, and that this is a good thing;
The state has an entirely different aim for education than the Church
The state should not ‘permit’ the Church, which should be ‘dispensed with’
The state is concerned with education for life on earth. Earlier, Fichte described how this whole afterlife business interferes with men doing what men – German men, of course – need to do to bring about heaven on earth, that we obtain immortality through making the nation stronger and better, and need to embrace the goals of the nation (German, of course) and focus on that
The state has previously ignored religion and morality in education, but now must take it up. Earlier, he argues that state education IS simply education in religion and morality, that reading and academics can and should be delayed until the end of the educational period, if indulged in at all. The important thing is to teach children to love the fatherland and do what they are told by their masters.
“Recent experiences” include having their armies crushed and lands overrun by the loathsome French, who, even as Fichte was delivering these talks, were sitting in the seats of power just blocks away.
Upon a second reading, there is a ton more to Fichte than I initially picked up. He is the prophet for the Messianic State, a true believer in the German people’s natural superiority and leadership, and sees the Spirit unfolding in history as being the ultimate reality. He solves the noumena/phenomena issues by simply declaring our subjective experience of the world IS the world. Thus, he wants education to focus on developing in children the ability to construct in their minds conceptions independent of any reference to the outside world. These images would include first an idealized Fatherland, to which all love ad devotion would be directed.
Fichte was that kind of personality who is either your staunchest friend or worst enemy, a sort of super-high functioning Borderline Personality case. He was certainly heroic in certain respects, such as nursing his wife back to health, despite the risk he would catch her disease (he did – it killed him), and on the other hand get himself fired for being a self-righteous jerk.
Got another ‘final’ COVID 19 post all cued up, but let’s talk Education History!
Decided to reread Fichte’s foundational Addresses to the German Nation which you can find discussed at some length here on this blog. After having finished rereading Parish Schools and more Pestalozzi, it seemed necessary to reread with, one hopes, a deeper understanding, the work that underlies the schooling that we are enduring today.
The general rule – don’t read about somebody until you read what they have to say for themselves – having been observed here, I also started DuckDuckGoing (totally a verb) around to find further information on particular points in Fichte’s philosophy.
Aside: Severian turned me on to David Stove, the late sort of Neo Positivist Australian philosopher, who, while fundamentally as crazy as the next anti-metaphysician (also totally a word), spent his career providing the desperately necessary mockery of the pure nonsense spouted by Hegel, Kant and the whole clown car of modern philosophers. He tends to simply quote them, and holds up their own words for well-deserved ridicule. I haven’t read anything of his where he goes after Fichte, but that would be a fun ride. Ultimately, what all these lunatics and posers need to be deprived of is people taking them seriously. The only response to such nonsense is to ignore or mock them. They never should have been able to raise their heads in a legitimate university spouting such idiocy. But I digress…
One chapter in my much to be yearned for (by me, at least) education history book will be titled “Messianic Schooling,” containing an account of history of the belief that the world can only be saved by schooling, that there is one right way to educate, and, once everybody is educated that way, heaven on earth will be achieved. Fichte will get a starring role; poor Pestalozzi, who never could see, or at least, never could articulate, the political ramifications of his ‘discovery’ of the one, perfect way to educate children, is mere putty in the hands of Fichte. Pestalozzi sees the (properly instructed, using his textbooks) mother as the ideal educator. Fichte loves Pestalozzi’s idea of having every student’s every school minute managed by a (state trained and certified) teacher as a reason to simply discard the family. Family is a bad influence on children; the state will of course do a much better job once mom and dad are out of the way.
I’m about 40% of the way through my rereading of the Adresses, and, yep, it’s a lot clearer this time around. This time, his fanatical confidence in human perfectibility shines through, as does how he bases all this on poetical and mystical ‘insights’, not on anything as mundane as a sensible argument. He sees 5 stages of human development, identifies Germany and the world at large as stuck in Stage 3, and a moral imperative to all right thinking German men* to do what it takes to get us to the next level.
Sort of like a video game.
Thus have we endeavoured to pre-figure the whole Earthly Life of Man by a comprehension of its purpose;—to perceive why our Race had to begin its Existence here, and by this means to describe the whole present Life of humankind: …There are, according to this view, Five Principal Epochs of Earthly Life, each of which, although taking its rise in the life of the individual, must yet, in order to become an Epoch in the Life of the Race, gradually lay hold of and interpenetrate all Men; and to that end must endure throughout long periods of time, so that the great Whole of Life is spread out into Ages, which sometimes seem to cross, sometimes to run parallel with each other:—1st, The Epoch of the unlimited dominion of Reason as Instinct:—the State of Innocence of the Human Race. 2nd, The Epoch in which Reason as Instinct is changed into an external ruling Authority;—the Age of positive Systems of life and doctrine, which never go back to their ultimate foundations, and hence have no power to convince but on the contrary merely desire to compel, and which demand blind faith and unconditional obedience:—the State of progressive Sin. 3rd, The Epoch of Liberation,—directly from the external ruling Authority—indirectly from the power of Reason as Instinct, and generally from Reason in any form;—the Age of absolute indifference towards all truth, and of entire and unrestrained licentiousness:—the State of completed Sinfulness. 4th, The Epoch of Reason as Knowledge;—the Age in which Truth is looked upon as the highest, and loved before all other things:—the State of progressive Justification. 5th, The Epoch of Reason as Art;—the Age in which Humanity with more sure and unerring hand builds itself up into a fitting image and representative of Reason:—the State of completed Justification and Sanctification. Thus, the whole progress which, upon this view, Humanity makes here below, is only a retrogression to the point on which it stood at first, and has nothing in view save that return to its original condition. But Humanity must make this journey on its own feet; by its own strength it must bring itself back to that state in which it was once before without its own coöperation, and which, for that very purpose, it must first of all leave. If Humanity could not of itself re-create its own true being, then would it possess no real Life; and then were there indeed no real Life at all, but all things would remain dead, rigid, immoveable. In Paradise,—to use a well-known picture,—in the Paradise of innocence and well-being, without knowledge, without labour, without art, Humanity awakes to life. Scarcely has it gathered courage to venture upon independent existence when the Angel comes with the fiery sword of compulsion to good and drives it forth from the seat of its innocence and its peace. Fugitive and irresolute it wanders through the empty waste, scarcely daring to plant its foot firmly anywhere lest the ground should sink beneath it. Grown bolder by necessity, it settles in some poor corner, and in the sweat of its brow roots out the thorns and thistles of barbarism from the soil on which it would rear the beloved fruit of knowledge. Enjoyment opens its eyes and strengthens its hands, and it builds a Paradise for itself after the image of that which it has lost;—the tree of Life arises; it stretches forth its hand to the fruit, and eats, and lives in Immortality.
“Ponderous Teutonic prose” indeed. Fichte was dogged by accusations of atheism. You may notice the lack of that God person in the above, and the Pelagianism of his take on Man’s role in his own redemption. This could hardly be any more contrary to Luther, and, indeed, in the Addresses he does get around to damning the great reformer with faint praise. The progression is perhaps familiar: just as in America at almost the exact same time, the great Calvinist Puritan tradition of the absolute depravity of man became, almost suddenly, the Unitarian Universalist position of salvation for all, Fichte was preaching to the Germans that they must move from the depraved Third Age – “The Epoch of Liberation … the Age of absolute indifference towards all truth, and of entire and unrestrained licentiousness:—the State of completed Sinfulness,” to the 4th, “The Epoch of Reason as Knowledge;—the Age in which Truth is looked upon as the highest, and loved before all other things:—the State of progressive Justification.”
Notice, also, the lack of any family references. We move, in Fichte’s philosophy, almost directly from the individual to Mankind as a whole, with only a brief stop with our neighbors to pick up consciousness, self-consciousness, and morality. Fichte’s whole philosophy is built upon the self-positing ‘I’ which finds self-conscious in the recognition of the ‘Not-I’. We’re on the threshold of stage 4, where peace, love, and understand will bloom everywhere, once the state supplants the family and beats a little of Fichte’s pure love of Truth into our children. Until then, we’re screwed:
I, for my part, hold that the Present Age stands precisely in the middle of Earthly Time; … In other words, the Present Age, according to my view of it, stands in that Epoch which in my former lecture I named the third, and which I characterized as the Epoch of Liberation … the State of completed Sinfulness.
Surfing around for some back-up materials, found this which ties together Fichte’s 5 Ages with his plan for national education (although the author, it seems, is simply wrong about where Fichte believe Mankind stands – not in the 4th on the threshold of the 5th age, but in the 3rd on the threshold of the 4th, as stated above):
In 1804-1805, Fichte delivered a series of lectures entitled Characteristics of the Present Age (Grundzüge des Gegenwärtigen Zeitalters), in which he outlined five stages of human development. Having travelled from the primal state of noble savages in ‘the Age of Innocence’, through dark ages, absolutism, and the ‘State of Progressive Justification’, mankind was now on the threshold of ‘the state of completed justification and sanctification’. Indeed, the ideals of the French Revolution had been characteristic of the State of Progressive Justification, but to reach political nirvana it was not enough to rely on the ideals of the French, which in any case had been undermined by the conquering forces of Napoleon. So in 1807 – the year after Hegel had described seeing ‘the world spirit on horseback’ in the guise of the French emperor, and at a time when the Germans were at a historical nadir and the once all-powerful Prussia was a shadow of its former military self – Fichte proposed that the Germans had to seize the day. In fourteen addresses, delivered as entertainment for bourgeois Berliners on Sunday afternoons in the winter of 1807, Fichte asserted that the Germans had a historical role: namely that of shepherding humanity into the bliss of a cosmopolitan utopia.
from Philosophy Now magazing, Matt Qvortrup’s Brief Life of Fichte
Love ‘delivered as entertainment for bourgeois Berliners on Sunday afternoons in the winter of 1807’ – man’s gotta pay the bills. Further:
Kant had argued that trade liberalisation – what he called ‘the spirit of commerce’ (der Handelsgeist) – would slowly but surely lead to a kind of brotherhood of man. Fichte agreed with Kant that the “whole race that inhabits our globe will… become assimilated into a single republic including all peoples” but he did not see free trade, let alone economic liberalism, as the path to perpetual peace. Rather, he feared that the economic competition between states would generate new enmities that would lead to war. Moreover, unlike his former mentor’s espousal of classic economic liberalism, Fichte made a case for economic protectionism and a planned economy in Der geschlossene Handelsstaat (The Closed Commercial State, 1800). This book’s defence of social justice facilitated by government intervention is but one of the reasons it has been labelled the first systematic case for the welfare state.
The Closed Commercial State was a philosophical Rubicon for Fichte. He maintained that all people eventually would be united into a single “peoples’ republic of culture,” and here he began to consider how this would be achieved, gradually coming to the conclusion that the German people could play a pivotal role in the process of creating a cosmopolitan utopia.
Marx, anyone? Since God, to Fichte, is something like the drive toward morality as expressed in Human history, Marx is pretty much all there even before Hegel picked up the baton and wrapped it in even more dense and ponderous Teutonic prose.
The Germans themselves were not yet ready to take on the burden of educating humanity. True, their language enabled them to utter deep thoughts, and so potentially to spread reason to the rest of mankind. But in order to fulfil their mission, the Germans themselves needed educating. Thus educational reform, not military strength, was Fichte’s key policy proposal. And in his Second Address he went to great lengths to explain how the aim of education was to make active and creative individuals who would “learn with enjoyment and love, purely for the sake of learning itself.” The aim was to facilitate “the capacity to spontaneously construct images that are not at all replicas of reality, but are capable of becoming models for reality.”
You may also see Pestalozzi peaking through here. “The capacity to spontaneously construct images” could have come straight from any of his works. The important part for Fichte is having children spontaneously imagine and be moved to action by perfect images of their own creation – in accordance with Reason, ‘natch. He’s after, almost exactly, what John Lennon described in his execrable song: bringing into being a purely imaginary reality in accordance with Reason.
It’s easy if you try.
The point here, of course, is that this is the philosophical underpinnings of modern state schooling: schooling is the means to messianic salvation. This – the promise of an Utopia to be achieved via the state’s training of children – is what Mann and Torey Harris and the NEA at its founding were attracted to and embraced. There is no discussion of ‘the basics’ – reading, writing, and ciphering don’t and never did figure into it. It’s simply not what these folks are interested in. The plan is and has always been: get kids away from their families to form them into the new citizens of the coming paradise on earth.
Therefore, homeschoolers and other dissidents cannot be ignored or tolerated. We are heretics, keeping the enlightened from achieving Paradise! Wrong has no rights, here. Burning at the stake is too good for us. The goal, except peripherally, is not staffing factories and armies. That might be OK, as an interim step, during the period where the Vanguard must rule absolutely to usher us sheep toward the eventual Worker’s Paradise (thanks, Lenin, for clearing that up for us) – but that’s not what, in the vision of its founding light, modern compulsory state schooling is for.
* Literally, men of the male persuasion: Fichte argued that “active citizenship, civic freedom and even property rights should be withheld from women, whose calling was to subject themselves utterly to the authority of their fathers and husbands.” – Wikipedia
Ah! Not only am I reformatting a work – J. A. Green’s The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi – because I found the online sources almost unreadable – I’m going down endless rabbit holes, looking up people, places, historical events, ideas, books, etc., as they come up in the text. So far, I’m only about 35 pages into what will end up, once reformatted, as a 150 or so Google docs page book (maybe 300 pages in a traditional format?). But there are nuggets.
I confess to an intellectual shortcoming (one of many, not even counting ones I don’t know I don’t know): I take undue delight when I find a scholar agreeing with something I figured out. I mean, I should hope other people see what I see, but it’s nice to see it in print.
Case in point: Pestalozzi saw his life’s work not so much as addressing the immediate needs of abandoned and orphaned children as solving some ancient intractable problem with education. Therefore, in some ways his practical examples, the schools he actually ran according to his poorly-articulated principles, are considered by him the true illustration of his point. Yet this didn’t stop him and his followers from writing ideas out, ideas so uniformly vague and conflicting that they became little more than a Rorschach test for later ‘educators’.
This passage in Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World, by Sarah Anne Carter, says it more politely:
“This imprecision also offered ample opportunity for the next generation of educators to put his ideas into action in a range of ways.” Right. Fichte, who it turns out met Pestalozzi in 1793 and encouraged him to write out his philosophy of education, by 1808 can recommend Pestalozzian schooling as the panacea for all that ails Germany, with *slight* modifications: the state replaces the family entirely, not because the family is absent, but because the family always mis-educated the child in loyalties other than that due the state (hint: all and absolute). Pestalozzi’s focus on educating children in valuable skills so that they can take a suitable place in society needs to be flipped: the state will determine what it needs the properly-trained products of its schools to do.
I’m looking for evidence Pestalozzi rejected this interpretation, as he far outlived Fichte and lived through the first implementations of Prussian schooling modeled after Fichte’s ideas, largely by Fichte himself through the agency of the newly-founded University of Berlin where he was rector. Pestalozzi was a near-legend of impolitic behavior (one source of his repeated failures anytime he had to work with people who were not his hand-picked padawans), so I’d be nearly compelled to believe he approved if he didn’t publicly disagree. We’ll see.
Pestalozzi’s How Gertrude Teaches Here Children, called by Green “by far the most important of his writings,” meanders about without saying much of anything, except reiterating the central role of mothers in the education of the children – the one thing Fichte is clear he is against. Rather than mothers being the first and finest and essential teachers, they, along with fathers and family in general, are for Fichte the problem. Fichte doesn’t suggest helping mothers do a better job, rather, he wants the state to take children away from their mothers as early as possible.
Pestalozzi is routinely called a Romantic, was expressly a follower of the ideas expressed in Rousseau’s Emile (ick) and therefore takes a ‘state of nature is better and purer than the civilizations that muck it up’ approach. To be fair, he seems more particular in his criticism: he’s dealing with the specific shortcomings of the war-torn civilization of Switzerland in the decades surrounding the turn of the 19th century. When you end up with scores of orphaned or abandoned starving children wandering the streets as a result of ongoing wars, and have church and state largely impotent to do anything about it, it would be easy to get a little down on so-called civilization. At one point, Pestalozzi did manage to gather the local orphans together into an old convent, only to have French soldiers return, commandeer the orphanage, and throw him and the children out. Once the French were done ‘living off the land’ – seizing all the food they could steal from an already starving population – they left. But the local authorities refused to let him reopen his orphanage…
So, yes, civilization as locally manifested didn’t seem to do much good for any but the top few percent of the people. Pestalozzi to his credit focused on addressing the specific civilizational shortcomings – e.g., lack of family, moral compass, food, a sense of belonging and being loved – that left children starving in the streets and ill-equipped for any decent place in society if they somehow survived.
Fichte at least functionally is a blank slater: he is going to make children into whatever the state needs.
When we segregate children arbitrarily by age, and then manage their every moment, we deprive them of the opportunity to develop a very valuable and joyful skill: working things out and getting along with other people. Anyone who comes from a big family, or a big extended family, accepts as a given that people of widely varying ages and abilities can get along with each other just fine (and not, too, but that’s valuable to learn as well). Cooking a meal and making a jigsaw puzzle are both things where anyone older than a toddler can contribute, as are a hundred other things. The modern and frankly insane idea that we *need* age-segregated classrooms to “socialize” children has proven to be a disaster on many levels. That such schooling now extends to almost every waking hour via homework, pre- and after-school programs, and other extracurricular activities, has squeezed out any opportunity a kid might otherwise have to learn how to get along with people on his own initiative.
On that thread, most of the commenters seem to be teachers, and most agree that grouping kids by ability makes more sense than grouping them by age regardless of ability. Some, however, defended age-grading regardless of ability, because that’s how kids get socialized.
Mr. Cynic had some good observations both on the thread and in the comments here. One to single out: on reddit, some expressed concerns that age mixing would promote more bullying and sexual misbehavior(!): Mr. Cynic:
Sure. The thing is we have this issue NOW. In the absence of data proving otherwise I see no reason to assume that the issue of pedophilia and abuse will be so bad ability-segregated teaching is impossible.
Another regular reader Richard A, in reference to that reddit thread, commented here:
I was struck by two comments indicating support for the current model.
“I think you’re ignoring the importance of schools for teaching kids valuable social skills. And keeping kids within their own age group is gonna be the best way to do this as at these ages, even somebody being one year older or younger is seen as a huge difference. Helps kids build continuity in friendships and whatnot as well.”
Lots of valuable responses related to bullying being a major “socializing” experience. But not many pointing out that the only reason “being one year older or younger is seen as a huge difference” is because you’ve been teaching children since they started their schooling that it is a huge difference. In a normal community, you’re always relating to a wide range of ages all the time.
“I agree that grouping kids by ability is a better idea, but I think it’s still important to take age into account. If you have a 16 year old in a class full of 12 year olds, that can cause some issues.”
Our host will know better than I, but this seems to me to be a deliberately extreme example. For one thing, didn’t most schooling according to the one-room-schoolhouse model end about fourteen or fifteen? That is, about puberty back in those days? A sixteen-year-old is one who had the aptitude and calling for advanced education. And secondly, the question is still being presented in terms of the age-segregated model. A sixteen-year-old wouldn’t commonly be in a room full of twelve-year-olds. He would be one of three of four in a room full of children who spanned the range from six (say) to sixteen. Kind of like what one’s experience would be if one were home-schooled in a large family.
My response (after editing out all the stuff the cat put in walking across the keyboard):
Your comment: “But not many pointing out that the only reason “being one year older or younger is seen as a huge difference” is because you’ve been teaching children since they started their schooling that it is a huge difference.” – that’s it entirely. Two kids meet – seen this a million times – and within seconds one of them will ask: “what grade are you in?” Turns out that’s the critical piece of information: do I fear you, hold you in contempt, or treat you as a peer? Can I even play with you? That’s if the kid has been properly socialized by the schools. If the kid is lucky enough to have a bunch of siblings and cousins, he may not care too much, violate schooling taboos and go ahead and treat the other kid like – a kid.
Two personal stories:
The parochial school I attended back in the 60s had enough students that each grade was divided into 2 classes of around 40-50 kids each. (Those were the days!) At recesses, we were released onto one big playground, with general grade restrictions on where we could play. These were not inviolate, but rather were in place (I think) so that the bigger kids wouldn’t just overrun the whole playground at the expense of the little kids. We not only didn’t play with the kids in higher or lower grades – we generally didn’t play with kids our own age from the other classroom!
The medium is the message. Certainly, the sisters and lay teachers hd no interest in keeping two groups of 2nd graders separate, except when it was time to line up and go back into our classrooms. We just did it on our own. We got the message.
The kids stayed with their classroom as they moved up grades. Around 5th grade, the school decided to shift some kids around, maybe to keep more even numbers or male/female mix – there had been some attrition. It was weird, was talked about for weeks amongst us kids. The ‘new’ kids had to go through a transition period before they were completely accepted. I don’t know if they were ever as completely on our team as those of us who’d been together since 1st grade.
Back then, big families and lots of cousins were the norm, so the divisions were routinely violated. Not as much as they were routinely observed, however. One such violation was perpetrated by my family: I am the oldest of three boys bringing up the rear in our family of 9 kids. My two little brothers were both insanely precocious athletically, way outliers for their ages. (Both won all CYO MVP-type honors in multiple sports. I am a relative klutz.). So, when playing sports on the playground, we would often team together: 8th grader, 5th grader, and 3rd grader. The youngest was certainly smaller than the 8th graders (until about 5th grade). Our middle brother once had to punch some kid’s lights out for picking on the youngest during a game. That’s how we did it back then. Nobody was suspended, no parent meeting was called, because nobody went crying to the teacher. Frontier socialization. Worked good.
And then afterwards, we’d all go back to our respective classrooms.
At our former Sudbury school, age mixing was absolute: all the kids 5 – 19 together all the time. Often, some surly teenage boy would acquire a young padawan, some little kid that saw him playing a video game or making chainmail or something, found it cool, and so hung around. This more often than not worked to their mutual benefit: the little kid got attention from an older kid he admired, while the older kid found that people (in the form of guileless little kids) could just like him and even admire him, at a very uncertain point in life.
In general, kids can and do work these things out routinely. When there is a mix of ages and, more important, skills, they’ll pick games that allow for it. RPGs are an example, as are various other make-believe games.