The Unknown Unknowns

“For neither good nor evil can last for ever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand.”
― Cervantes, Don Quixote

First, those front row kids? This is their finest hour. This is their payoff. All those years, sitting right up front, hanging on the teacher’s every word, doing exactly as told, regurgitating everything right on cue, never having been troubled by a single independent thought they didn’t promptly hunt down and kill, they are now sure that they, the most intelligent, most enlightened, most *moral* generation the onward march of Progress has ever produced, are helping put those evil, stupid back row kids in their places!

There’s another participation trophy in it for them, after all. Those people whose sense of self are formed by family, faith, community, who appreciate a pat on the back, but don’t need anyone to tell them they’ve done something worthwhile, who live in no fear of the disapproval of the authorities who approval they never wanted – they are sure getting theirs, oh boy! How dare we highlight their empty lives by, you know, acting like grownups and getting on with it. How dare we!

On a more generous note, these poor souls, abandoned by the parents, churches, and communities that should have helped give them an appropriate sense of worth, deprived of any chance to own either their own success or their own failure, getting their only sense of achievement, only sense of belonging, hell, only sense of family they ever got at school, desperately toeing the line, doing as told, fitting in – or else! face a yawning abyss where those of us who have roots and a sense of independent yet interdependent self have a soul. They despise those who reject and mock their world. This is their moment. Their sorry, pathetic moment. May God have mercy on us all.

Aristotle anticipated the whole history-doomed to repeat it thing in the simple statement: Anything that has happened is possible. All sorts of stuff might happen. Some predictable, some not so much; some good, some bad, some neutral; some the true nature of which is not evident for some time, and not evident to all people. Some unknowns out of left field, things that might makes things turn out in, let us say, unanticipated ways. So let’s indulge in wild speculation. More than usual, I mean.

  1. China falls. Way overdue. While a whole boatload of the leadership and their lackies deserve just about anything they might get, I wouldn’t wish a front-row seat to this on anyone. The act refuses to stay on stage. (I indulged in some fiction on this, just to blow off some stream)
  2. With the chaos that would result, a whole lot of fine American patriots (*cough*) would find their loyalties and funding up in the air. Uncertainty of this kind tends to result in some mix of over caution and insane overreaction.
  3. The infighting and purges get out of control before the pacification is sufficiently complete. Our new reptilian overlords then get too busy whacking each other to properly monitor the rest of us, and stuff happens.
  4. This one cracks me up: our new politburo screw up so bad that even the rabbits can’t swallow it. Never mind – ain’t happening. See: When Prophecy Fails (point #4) Holding onto ‘disconfirmed’ beliefs is hard on one’s own, but get a support group together, and – Bam! – people will believe anything, as long as all their buddies believe it.
  5. Some else happens. My money, if I had to be, would be on this.

Technology is different. In Don Quixote, Cervantes laments the introduction of firearms into warfare has made it so any coward can kill a brave man. This, from a man wounded at the Battle of Lepanto. We can hardly imagine how ugly was the close in fighting, even hand to hand, that the battle devolved into as the ships rammed each other and got entangled. Cervantes was a manly man to show up for that fight.

His disgust with those who can kill without themselves facing death would have been off the charts today. It’s only gotten worse since, in the sense that anyone who can work a joystick is now more deadly than Atilla.

MSNBC Remember this? Now, even if the claims of the Yemenis are just propaganda, and all those people were in fact terrorists, the point remains: a man who has probably never been in real physical danger in his life can order the deaths of men 10,000 miles away at no risk. And the tech has only gotten better.

MAY 22, 2013 / 6:21 PM / CBS/AP Again, all these men were enemies and deserved to die, we are assured. But, again – how brave do you have to be to kill them?

The H-Man’s thugs had to at least round up and shoot his enemies and competitors. We’ve moved beyond such primitive lack of intermediation. Our Lightbringer was able to watch people die from the comfort of his home. Our front row kids, who are, need I remind you, the most *moral* people ever, are unencumbered by primitive notions such as honor. Ends, means, whatever – that stuff is hard! Just tell us what to do!

Machiavelli assures his readers that, when the time comes to do dirty deeds, a prince will never lack for men willing to do them. Severian questions whether any have the necessary competence to build and run complex machines for very long. I wish I could agree, but even the Soviets got rocket science right. The Germans were the best of the best on the engineering front. So – I don’t know.

Personal Impedimenta, etc.

A. What a great word. Buried in the idea of things that hinder your journey is the idea of stuff you need for that journey, maybe, even, things essential for the purpose of the journey in the first place. Dictionaries consistently give the example of the baggage an army carries. But wouldn’t weapons, say, constitute a large part of that baggage? Weapons both hinder your travels AND allow you to do what you’re traveling to do: wage war. The examples I came across were in Manalive, where Innocent Smith carries a large bag full of items essential to his being Innocent Smith, and in The Metal Monster, where Dr. Goodwin’s scientific equipment are so described.

I seem to have accumulated a lot of impedimenta over the years. I hope it’s of the essential kind. Speaking of which –

Two years ago, several of you were kind enough to do a little beta reading on a couple of my stories, which I do deeply appreciate. For a number of reasons, I set aside almost all fiction writing then. Now, I’m jonesing to get back to it.

Rocky And Bullwinkle Moose And Squirrel GIF ...

In another context, someone (Severian?) was describing the nature of personal change, where one is doomed to failure if one simply tries to muscle through a particular activity – dieting, say, or writing books. Instead, to succeed in loosing weight or writing books, one must, cognitive-therapy style, become the sort of person who weighs an appropriate amount and writes books.

Easier said than done, of course, but at least it’s possible. In the great Catholic tradition of both/and, I will remind myself, as I diet and write, that I’m exactly the sort of guy to weigh around 210 and publish stuff. Do and believe.

And ignore that Bullwinkle never did pull a rabbit out of that hat of his, IIRC.

B. On the Covidiocy front, we’ve reached the point where we are plumbing the depths of the psychological damage done to our rootless, abandoned, manipulated population, children of all ages deprived of all normal human relationships, ‘raised’ by equally damaged parents, taught to worship the abstracted individual and, above all, that their personal worth derives from doing as they are told and saying what they are told to say. The family, village, and church being destroyed or abandoned, and the idea that purpose and satisfaction derive from duties we mostly don’t get to choose having been reduced to incomprehensibility, school becomes an oasis of order – do as you are told, and get a gold star! Get a degree, a job, a life! Get the only affirmation, the only sense of belonging, you may ever get. Woe to any who kick at this goad!

I wonder: is there anything at all that would convince the rabbits they’ve been had? What would it take for your typical Front Row Kid to admit: wow, I’ve been royally played. What can be stricken from the list, at least insofar as they are considered individually:

  • Evidence. It’s no so much that the rabbits don’t care about evidence, it’s that years of training have both 1) rendered them incapable of looking at or even knowing what evidence, as opposed to hearsay and bald unsupported statements, is, and 2) convinced them that parroting whatever the approved authority figure says IS considering the evidence. They don’t know what they don’t know, but are convinced they do.
  • The examples of our betters. Brix, it appears, is travelling to one her vacation homes and Christmassing with 3 generations of her family. So much for lockdowns, social distancing, etc. – for her, Pelosi, Newsom, and many others. Not that the rabbits have heard of this contempt, because the hairdos with journalism degrees are unlikely to mention it.
  • Their own lying eyes. How many rabbits personally know even 1 otherwise healthy person who died of COVID? Of course, this would require acknowledgement that the people, if any, they know whose deaths, in CDC terminology, *involved* COVID were well on their way to assuming their places in the Choir Invisible with or without the help of a respiratory virus. Which is a thought not allowed to enter their minds.
  • Basic logic. E.g., if masks work, then they are trapping billions of live, dangerous viruses. If so, handling used masks without a hazmat suit, gloves, a hazardous waste disposal containers, incineration, etc. would be SUICIDE! OH MY GOD!!! Yet, they are treated with less care and caution than a used Kleenex. Stuffed into and dragged out of pockets, fiddled with, thrown any old place, used for hours, days, weeks at a time. I find them on the street whenever I go walking. Same logical problems with social distancing: if 6 feet is good, why is there still a pandemic? If we’re not safe to meet indoors, why are stores still open? why are there lockdowns, when it’s safer outside? And so on.

Would some combination of these factors finally burst the bubble? The constantly evolving story, where it’s 15 days to flatten the curve to as long as it takes to create a vaccine (but not properly test it – what, don’t you trust Big Pharma and the billions in criminal fines they’ve paid for exaggerated claims and falsifying data?) to – I dunno, what are they claiming today?

These are all rhetorical questions, of course. Nothing so trivial as loss of liberty and sanity will cause the properly educated Front Row Kids to reevaluate their self-image as the smartest, best educated, most moral people in history. Such wunderkind couldn’t possibly be clueless rubes, ignorant of even the most basic principles of science and logic, mindless parrots of whatever they hear, easily-frightened, historically illiterate rabbits about as likely to think or act independently as the gears in a pocket watch. What would you rather be, the smart kid with membership in the circle of smart kids, or the kid suddenly alone, cut adrift from the only society he’s every really known?

Good thing I believe in miracles. Otherwise, I’d have to start throwing punches, and I’m too old for that.

C. Still have hardly decorated for Christmas. Stuff came up, and the available slots for family-time activity sort of vanished. Decorating by one’s self seems kinda sad. But we will get it done.

We have passed the point of her family/my family scrambling over holidays. Except for my MIL, who lives with us, parents are dead; brothers and sisters are far away or cowering rabbits or both. So no plans at that level of family. BUT: now we have a married daughter! Her in-laws, to their credit and with our approval, want to be friends. This daughter and her husband just bought a house, appropriately about 1 hr 15 min from each set of in-laws – just far enough for a little separation, but close enough for regular visitations and family activities.

So now we get to coordinate among our children’s families (well, 1 so far, but I’d bet 2 or even 3 extended family branches within the next few years). I’m digging it.

On the home-home front, failing to get commitment on what people want for Christmas dinner(s). The fam is not big on turkey – fine by me, a lot of work for something not really all that popular. Tried to ask after lamb – ambivalence. Then, partly in jest, suggested: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy – probably the most popular thing I make around here (1) (I do make d*mn fine fried chicken). I got the ‘not special enough’ response.

Seriously considering getting some ribeye steaks. That’s what I’d like to do. Maybe for Epiphany, when Middle Son and his girl will be in town. Or maybe a slab of salmon?

Merry Christmas to all!

  1. I love to cook. Things I regularly make for dinner, in order of family popularity: fried chicken; hamburgers; Napa cabbage tacos (fish, chicken, beef, or pork, using cabbage leaves instead of tortillas – makes for a much lighter meal), pork chops, various curries and rice. Make a lot of other things, too, but these are staples.

Damage Projection

For a couple decades, I straddled two very different worlds. On the one hand, my wife and I helped found and run a very alternative school. On the other, we are involved in a number of parish and other Catholic organizations. While there was always a certain number of people at the school who were there just because they wanted something different for their children, over time, it turned out, the bulk of the students and families were there because they were desperate or simply too antisocial or damaged – parents and children – to fit in anywhere else.

Eventually, the lunatics took over that particular asylum, and we were forced out by a cadre of gender theory dogmatists and their naïve dupes. All but the last of our 5 kids graduated from that school, and the last was already 15. Not a great loss, for us, at least.

Meanwhile, we were getting to know a bunch of people at church. While of course simply showing up at Mass doesn’t magically solve all your problems, so there remains plenty of suffering and craziness to go around among our friends from church, there is a spine of very basic and almost earthy sanity there.

Most bluntly, it’s not unthinkable among our church friends that a man and a woman could get married, stay faithfully married, raise a bunch of kids together, and still love and even like each other over the whole process. It’s not unheard of that children could love their parents and siblings and get along with them just fine. In short, what would have been considered normal human relationships in many places and times are not only possible, but an achievable norm for mast people. Indeed, numerous examples of this mythical monster, the happy family, walk among us.

Among the school crowd? There were only 2 other married couples in anything like a normal married relationship; almost all the kids came from broken, blended, or single-mother households. Kids raised by grandmothers; kids raised by a mother and this week’s boyfriend. Kids manipulated by divorced adults and forced, on pain of withheld affections or even contact, to mouth the party line, whatever it is today: that daddy or mommy is the bad guy, that sometimes people just stop loving each other, that – most damaging, perhaps – that the emotional and social problems that ended up bringing that kid to our school have nothing to do with the chaos of their home lives – if where they are living can even be called a home.

These poor folks cannot accept, and can only barely imagine, that two adults could suck it up and persevere for the sake of their own children and their own souls. They will not entertain the idea that people should choose and commit to mates who will be there for them and their kids, just as they, themselves, commit to be there for them. Either the reality of happily married life is seen as an oppressive fairytale or a simply unattainable goal.

Nope. They are looking for a soul mate, a Prince Charming, the perfect woman, or the one night stand who allows them to forget for a moment their own weightlessness. The want and find only someone who will never challenge them to grow out of their problems into an adult, a mother or father, an actual functioning human being.

The key: these poor folks very possibly don’t even know any happy, functioning families. Their own families, going back 2 or 3 generation now, very possibly do not contain a single happy, or even intact, family. These broken children of broken children might acknowledge the existence of happy marriages and families on an intellectual level, I suspect such relationships remain emotionally incomprehensible.

To such people, it cannot be that society is – or was, at least – built on exactly such marriages and families, let alone that the (only?) legitimate function of government is to secure the safety and provide the liberty needed for just such relationships to thrive. An amorphous, Orwellian idea – ‘social justice’ – is substituted for the the concrete and primary and radical reality of family.

This is bad enough, but I fear this sort of divorce from reality, where people deny the very existence of the practical if imperfect realization of ideals because they have not experienced such realizations in their lives, extends even further. Two examples: learning and politics.

Learning I’ve beaten to death here. Because almost everybody has been processed by the schools, we tend to think (insert bitter laugh here) that schooling equals learning. Slavish conformists, almost definitionally and certainly in practice intellectual mediocrities, have persevered through the higher levels of schooling and been awarded jobs as professors. Such are held up as the apex of erudition. Our star students, as likely to have met a unicorn as a truly educated person in the schools, are presented with these jokers as if they are the goal, the measure, of education.

Thus we have a generation of people so unfamiliar with what an educated person looks like that they mistake a mediocrity like Obama as a genius. He stands at the apex of the conformist mediocrity pyramid; they know no other standard.

Again, such ‘well-educated’ people cannot imagine that the government’s (possibly) legitimate interest in education means anything other than schooling as they know it. We will have our legions of B.O.; the idea that we might instead create an environment favorable to the rise of more Edisons or Faradays is simply incomprehensible. In fact, suggesting such a thing makes one the enemy. Listen to the rhetoric of the anti-homeschooling crowd.

Final example: if you grew up in Chicago, you must on some level resolve the cognitive dissonance of ‘democratically elected leaders’ and ‘haven’t had an honest, open election in 200 years.’ From what I can tell, this reality is simply ignored. I don’t suspect students are taught about the mob ties, murders, graft, bribery, and election fixing that make up Chicago’s political history.

If they even allow these thoughts to enter into their heads, they will consider such behavior normal and unavoidable. Isn’t that just politics? Your team has to steal elections because, if they don’t, the much worse other guys will! The idea that one might try to have fair elections and honest government seems like fantasy. Rather than holding up good government as a worthy, if rarely realized, goal, one toward which law, law enforcement, and public honor should be directed, people praise ‘honest graft’ and write paens to all the good Tammany Hall did,

This is, perhaps, the functional divide between blue and red: the governments in corrupt big cities – but I repeat myself – have created a world where trying to do anything different is seen as naïve and hopeless – having things run by Fred Roti or Billy Bulger or Kamala Harris (to pick three egregiously obvious examples of corruption) is just the way it is. Taking steps to change this falls into the same realm as taking steps to support families or learning – simply unimaginable.

Damage – psychological, economic, spiritual, political – is then projected onto reality. The idea that life is improved by pursuit of approachable ideals – here, of family, of learning, and of government – is simply incomprehensible. It has no recognized presence in the lives of so many people that they can’t or won’t even acknowledge it.

And we have to live with the results. There is no way to talk or vote our way out of this. Live well, and don’t give in or give up.

Flash Fiction: A Trumpet Sounds

Somebody got a nuke. 90 seconds after a pirate broadcast announcing that Heaven had withdrawn its mandate and the rest of the world was ordered to stand down, Beijing went up in a high megaton mushroom cloud.

The Chinese Communist Central Committee had been meeting in Beijing. Within minutes, conventional weapons began to strike sites around China, some obvious, some mysterious to western observers. It looked like a well planned decapitation. Not so well planned that the Middle Kingdom did not descend into chaos.

Dominos around the world began to fall. Over the course of hours, then days, then weeks, failsafes put in place by Chinese leaders and operatives released certain pieces of information to specific people and organizations most in a position to take action.

Information was distributed as the case demanded. Some figures were widely exposed, with selected watchdog and law enforcement people around the world getting it. Others found themselves confronted by individuals who they had done very wrong. Violent individuals. The Left, in particular, ate itself alive.

Shootouts broke out in the CIA and FBI, as players and agents found out exactly where they stood in the plans of their enemies and friends. Operators were given very specific information and very convincing evidence about who planned to do what to whom. The bloodbaths within the factions was worse than that between them.

Similar situations prevailed in tech, industry, and of course the political parties. Those who were not themselves killers certainly knew people who were, or quickly died. One third of the Catholic hierarchy went into hiding or otherwise disappeared. Exorcists found themselves very busy. The education leadership almost entirely vanished. College faculties whined, found that no one was listening, then found out some very unpleasant people were listening, and fell silent, but only after a few true believers were tarred and feathered.

The media spasmed, twitched, and died. At first, the major news organizations tried to spin hard, but this was so far off narrative no consistent story emerged, No one knew if the next story they ‘reported’ would get them killed and so reported nothing; a couple live on the air executions put a damper on the 4th estate’s enthusiasms, and it fell silent.

Social media suffered the same fate. Direct satellite uplinks created a new internet, outside the control of the tech oligarchs. The satellite network was too big to shut down or shoot down; anyone with a dish could get access outside the control of our betters. This favored those in the country and far from cities, who had dishes because they deplorably lacked cable. For a while, the Chinese disinformation machine tried to keep the flow going, but its operatives were coming under the same or greater pressure. Eventually, the idea of a citizen press became a reality.

The news, as reported by citizens and despite the wild rumors that inevitably got through, was more free and accurate than it had been in 200 years.

Banking, built as it is on trust and caution, effectively ceased. Those confident in their widely distributed wealth faced sudden poverty.

The assault on the White House was exciting, but ultimately brief and unsuccessful. A persistent and believable rumor arose that one heroic member of the President’s security detail discovered who the moles were in the nick of time, took direct action, and died for it – but not before the inside men’s cover was blown. Several fighter pilots, disobeying commands, shot down their peers coming in for bombing runs. Chaos broke out in the Pentagon. The ground assault was over in minutes, as the White House countermeasures worked like a charm. An eerie silence fell on Pennsylvania Avenue as properties all around burned.

And the President had a satellite uplink. The news now regularly carried his speeches and directives in full. Those outside the cities got their news and instructions unfiltered, and were the first to restore order.

All this took time, of course. The Chinese had merely installed safeguards to keep individuals in line; they had not intended it as a world-ending trip bomb. One high-level disappearance or public shooting would start to worry the next man in line; the empty offices, the rumors, the dead phonelines – eventually, Scripture was fulfilled: the guilty fled where none pursued. Even the Chinese, employing the ancient inscrutable cunning that had produced Sun Tsu, had not concerned themselves with what would happen if they all ceased to be in a flash of hydrogen fusion. The mechanisms they had laid in did not, of course, know this, and so the serpent uncoiled itself and fed for months, unsated.

It was almost a pity the Chinese Communist leadership was no longer around to enjoy it.

The rest of the world was not spared. True globalization had been achieved, where not only mammon, but guilt recognized no borders. There were a few Talleyrands, but very few. There were a few comfortable retirements in obscure third-world countries, but only financially comfortable. For months following the Chinese Event, mobs or hit men discovered a former executive in Bolivia or a political operative in New Zealand, and the results were not pleasant for them.

And that’s where we end up today. The relief efforts of flyover country and the rural areas of the other states, shipping in potatoes, flour, and beans to the smoldering cities, have kept many alive. For obvious reasons, flight from the cities to the country is heavily regulated at the point of a gun, but not out of malice. If the city populations are to be kept alive, then the country cannot be overwhelmed by people useless in the production of that food.

Leadership from Washington is, despite all history and suspicion, leading. Gradually, peace is penetrating back into the cities as looters are shot on sight, and traitors are tried and hanged. Once given a look into the bloody maw of the beast, most people are fine with this. Chicago, what’s left of it, anyway, holds out, of course. Seattle was promptly overrun by the more sane people from the suburbs. No one much knows what’s going on in L.A., as it has become in fact what it always was in its own mind – its own special universe.

No one knows how this will turn our. Taiwan and the surviving dissidents in Hong Kong have made large inroads into the coastal areas of China, but, in accordance with ancient tradition, the interior is ruled by warlords. The Catholic Church has become the main channel of order and charity over much of China. Japan, a spectator for the most part, is having a baby boom.

Europe is a mess. The Sons of the Winged Hussars have managed to restore some order in the East, and Poland, of course, rode it out all but unscathed. The operatives and traitors were exposed to few people’s surprise, and were tried and shot. Your average African and Latin American hardly noticed a difference, while those with ties to China tended to simply vanish.

We are all eagerly awaiting the election of the new pope.

History: Here in the Shallow End…

I just assigned a 16 page (Ariel, 12-point, standard margins) reading from Belloc’s Europe and the Faith to a bunch of 9th graders.

If you were a 9th grader, and some teacher assigned this:

A generic term has been invented by these modern and false historians whose version I am here giving; the vigorous, young, uncorrupt, and virtuous tribes which are imagined to have broken through the boundaries of the effete Empire and to have rejuvenated it, are grouped together as “Teutonic:” a German strain very strong numerically, superior also to what was left of Roman civilization in virile power, is said to have come in and to have taken over the handling of affairs. One great body of these Germans, the Franks, are said to have taken over Gaul; another (the Goths in their various branches) Italy and Spain. But most complete, most fruitful, and most satisfactory of all (they tell us) was the eruption of these vigorous and healthy pagans into the outlying province of Britain, which they wholly conquered, exterminating its original inhabitants and colonizing it with their superior stock.

There went with this strange way of rewriting history a flood of wild hypotheses presented as fact. Thus Parliaments (till lately admired) were imagined — and therefore stated — to be Teutonic, non-Roman, therefore non-Catholic in origin. The gradual decline of slavery was attributed to the same miraculous power in the northern pagans; and in general whatever thing was good in itself or was consonant with modern ideas, was referred back to this original source of good in the business of Europe : the German tribes. 

Meanwhile the religious hatred these false historians had of civilization, that is, of Roman tradition and the Church, showed itself in a hundred other ways: the conquest of Spain by the Mohammedans was represented by them as the victory of a superior people over a degraded and contemptible one: the Reconquest of Spain by our race over the Asiatics as a disaster: its final triumphant instrument, the Inquisition, which saved Spain from a Moorish ravage was made out a monstrosity. Every revolt, however obscure, against the unity of European civilization in the Middle Ages (notably the worst revolt of all, the Albigensian), was presented as a worthy uplifting of the human mind against conditions of bondage. Most remarkable of all, the actual daily life of Catholic Europe, the habit, way of thought and manner of men, during the period of unity — from, say, the eighth century to the fifteenth — was simply omitted!

Europe and the Faith, Hillaire Belloc, CH 3

… would you be overwhelmed by it? Hate it? Love it? I’d forgotten how sophisticated Belloc’s prose is. Given the dumbed-down texts these kids are likely to have read up till now, even though homeschooling does give them a leg up on the horrifying depths to which public school has sunk, is it going to be too hard? Guess I’ll find out. (As a 9th grader, I could have handled it, but I’m a weirdo from way back.)

Also assigned were a couple pages from the beginning of Machiavelli’s History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy, but, by comparison to Belloc, that’s easy stuff.

Finally, I’m in the process of picking out some Lafferty, from his Fall of Rome, as yet another perspective. He is a scream:

“The dance is something with no survival, lacking verbal or pictoral record. The Goths may have had it. If they painted, it was not in a medium or on a material that has survived. Their history was unwritten. Their scientific speculation may not have gone beyond mead-table discussions and arguments. There is no record of their early philosophy. Since they were Germans, they must have constructed philosophical systems; and also, since they were Germans, these would have been erroneous.”

Lafferty, the Fall of Rome

Don’t think I’d have gotten that joke when I was 15. I want to find his descriptions of Alaric and Stilicho, and his narrative of the events that lead up to the sacking of Rome. In outline of the raw events, he of course agrees with Belloc; yet he assigns much greater, as in a dominant part, to the continued loyalties and emotions of many of the players, specifically, to Alaric and his men.

This book – how much is it worth to you?

Lafferty is of course not strictly writing history, in the sense that he’s relying on a contemporary poem as his main source for what makes his account different. We know what the Greeks thought about poets. 1

Aside: that book lists for over $800 on Amazon, with used copies running over $50. I’ve bought a couple copies over the years at nothing like those prices, but now…? Somebody somewhere need to reprint all of Lafferty – he’s too good to languish behind impossibly expensive out of print books.

  1. Plato: “Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.” OTOH, Aristotle: “Homer has taught all other poets the art of telling lies skillfully.”

Weekend Update: New Classes, Rain, Deacons, etc

A. Agreed to teach some 8th and 9th graders history this upcoming school year. It will be weird: some outdoor, socially distanced in person classes, some zoom, all mixed: since nobody will be required to be there in the flesh, we’ll almost certainly need to set every class up as a zoom meeting. Sigh.

A couple of very energetic Catholic homeschooling moms are behind setting up a new ‘hybrid’ school, where homeschoolers, once they reach the point where the topics to be studied do, in fact, require more expertise and time than they have to give, they have more formal classes the kids can take.

This point has been determined to be about 8th grade, which seems about right, for many kids, at least. Around that age, a lot of kids get a switch thrown, where their minds now function as adults minds, minus adult level experience. So I will be introducing them to what would have been a typical college-level approach to learning 100 years ago. and, indeed, what a college prep high school age kid would have experienced in the not so distant past: formal – we will call each other Mr. or Miss Lastname; an hour or more a week will be ‘seminar’ style; more time spent preparing for class than in class; very little slack for tardiness or inattention; regular short essays; selected reading from the classics.

The other part of this, consistent with my unschooling attitude: I’m not forcing anybody to do anything. I will do zero threats or cajoling. You want to be there and learn? Then here’s what is required. You show up prepared and on time, and hand in the assignments on time. Or you do something else. No hard feelings.

8th grade runs from prehistory through the Roman Republic; 9th grade from the Empire to the Black Death. With forays into the rest of world history – China, India, Africa, etc. As I have long said, understanding other cultures requires you understand your own, we’ll start with and emphasize our own.

We start in September. As it stands: Four 8th graders, 7 9th graders. Two 90 minute classes a week for each group, meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays, about 90 minutes each. One is more lecture/talk with the students. I’ll assign very short essays every few weeks, and teach them by example how to write figure out what they mean to say, and say it (yea, like I know how to do that).

I have a ton of work to do. Prayers would be appreciated.

B. Highs have been over 100F here for the last 4 days, and is predicted to remain above 100F for 4 more. This morning, was awakened around 6:00 a.m. by long, rumbling thunder, went outside to take a look. Beautiful orange skies, thunder in the distance, rainbow, light rain – very beautiful. For the last 3 hours, thunderstorms have rolled through the Bay Area. Tiny amount of rain – .03″ near hear, a quarter inch at higher elevations. But any rain at all is a surprise.

Hot, sweaty weather with thunderstorms? We seemed to have moved to Texas without leaving California. Average rainfall in August here is some tiny fraction of an inch. In a typical year it doesn’t rain at all from June through August.

Very unusual weather. In a week, we went from an unusually cool and windy summer with the threat of an early fall, to an unusually hot and nasty stretch. My peaches had just begun to ripen in mid-August – very late, should have been over in July. With this weather, will be picking everything over the next few days. We only have 2 small peach trees, and one is evidently taking this season off. But still.

C. Speaking of the front yard orchard:

Figs amidst rain-soaked leaves.

Citrus and morning glories.
Wider shot of the damp front yard orchard & vegetable garden.
Peaches.

D. An old friend, our late son Andrew’s godfather, was ordained a permanent deacon yesterday. Archbishop Cordeleone celebrated the ordination mass down the peninsula at St. Pius X parish in Redwood City, because of the on-going persecution of the Church in San Francisco. In San Mateo County, where St. Pius X is located, you can do an outdoor mass of up to something like 100 people, if masks and social distancing are enforced, and names and addresses are collected for possible contract tracing. So we had a much smaller crowd than would otherwise have been there. Each candidate for the deaconate could only have 9 ‘guests’ including his family.

The Cathedral in San Francisco, where this should have happened, seats thousands – you could put a few hundred people in there with everybody spaced 20′ apart, let alone 6′. Instead, we had to submit to humiliation rituals, and have a mass in 90F+ temperatures, with the sun beating down on the soon-to-be-ordained men – the way the various canopies and umbrellas were arranged, those poor men had to sit in the sun for about an hour. (Once ordained, they got to join the clergy in the shade.)

It was beautiful. I love and am so grateful for Archbishop Cordeleone. Good man, suffering mightily for his flock.

This COVID nonsense needs to stop.

D. I’m going to be very busy. Posts will probably be sporadic. More than usual, I mean.

E. A moment ago, huge very near thunder bolt shook the ground and set off car alarms. Rumbled for what seemed like forever. Got a couple minutes of decent rain.

A Catholic High School, Circa 1904

Reading a short book, Report on a Visit to American Educational Institutions by an English educator sent to America to report on what the Americans were up to, circa 1904. He writes about the Catholic high school in Philadelphia:

The City of Philadelphia contains several high class public and private secondary schools, of which the writer had the pleasure of visiting the Roman Catholic High School and the Central High School. Dealing first with the Catholic High School, which was built some 12 years ago, with donations by Thos. Cahill, of the Knickerbocker Ice Company, the students number 300 (all boys), mostly drawn from the 80 parochial schools in Philadelphia. The staff consists of a Rector and Pro-Rector — both clerics — assisted by 18 lay masters. The course of study lasts four years, with a post-graduate course of one year for pupils entering the Universities, the curriculum being arranged by the diocesan superintendent. Candidates for admission must bring certificates of recommendation and pass an entrance examination which is fairly difficult, since out of 240 candidates last year only 120 were admitted. Of the 500 pupils ” graduated ” since the opening of the school, many have taken up the study of dentistry, law and medicine ; a few are drafted into the Seminary at Overbrook, and one or two have entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The course of study is a combination of Classical, Commercial and Manual Training, there being a common course for the first two years. In the third year Manual Training is replaced by Latin for the professional career, but no Greek is taught. The Manual Training consists of drawing, clay modelling, and wood carving, a special feature being that the pupils are taught to use both hands. Special rooms are provided for clay modelling, wood carving, architectural drawing and typewriting, the latter containing machines of various makes. A Chemical Laboratory holding 40 pupils and a Physics Room for 25 pupils are somewhat less elaborately fitted up.

Among the fine specimens of wood carving worked by the students were some types of Old English clock cases, an altar in the large Assembly Room, and vestment cases at the Churches of the Visitation and St. John the Evangelist.

This fine school, erected at a cost of £50,000, provides free tuition and books for all pupils from the Catholic Elementary Schools of Philadelphia, including the Catholic coloured schools.

No Greek?!? They call THAT a high school?

Seriously, most modern holders of Masters degrees couldn’t get into, let lone graduate from, this high school. (That’s because education, social services, and ‘studies’ degrees make up the bulk of master’s currently awarded, but you get my point.)

A more subtle point: the Catholics were in an arms race with the public schools at this time, as they were under constant attack for their poorly staffed and equipped parish schools. The public schools had yet to fall under the baleful influence of Dewey, whose goal was to prepare kids for the upcoming Revolution, not fill their heads with actual thoughts. Preparing kids to think for themselves, as Fichte observed, is not what schools are for. In addition, the public school advocates were in the process of ‘consolidating’ the one-room schools out of business, and thus had to show, somehow, that their big graded schools were better. Since the consolidated schools most certainly were not better in terms of customer satisfaction (students and parents tended to love their one room schools), cost efficiency (consolidated schools were about 4 times as expensive on a per-student basis), and time efficiency (6 hours a day plus homework for 9-10 months a year didn’t get better results than the shorter, less frequent school days of the rural schools), they mostly outspent the competition, while depriving them of government money at the same time.

So we got a glorious blossoming of well-equipped, well-staffed high schools with high standards in America that lasted in most places through the 1950s, or later if the schools were far enough from the major cities. Similar to the way moderns talk positively about Communism now that the bulk of Americans who knew first hand about it have died off, so the educators could move to fully implement Dewey’s (and Freire’s) ideas once those who had been educated outside the system died off or could be marginalized (e.g., Catholics and home schoolers). That’s the source not only of the dumbed-down woke death spiral in public education and the embrace of secular woo-woo by all ‘elite’ Catholic schools who still think they’ll get a seat at the cool kid’s table if only they conform to The Latest Thinking, but also of the perennial calls to ban homeschooling and private schools and to require public school attendance for everybody.

So the archdiocese of Philadelphia was moved to create what sounds like an excellent high school. Good times.

More Education History: Pestalozzi and American Normal Schools

Been busy, reading, researching, and taking notes on several books and collecting several more, plus some letters and essays. The pile keeps growing. Archive.org is the biggest single rabbit hole in existence.

Finally made some headway in discovering the origin of the age-segregated classroom that is the main feature of modern schooling, and its bane. First, finished up  The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi by J. A. Green. Surfing around, it seems Green in general and this book in particular are well-regarded by education historians. The book has been reprinted a few times since its 1905 debut, and shows up in the references in other books. Since I don’t read German, it is a little encouraging to find I’ve stumbled across a work that has begun to pass the test of time.

I’m coming to appreciate Pestalozzi more, at least, insofar as Green represents him. While he had practices and behaviors to which a modern parent would object, and his inability to explain his principles or, indeed, to understand what he was doing, remain stumbling blocks, at least he, himself, loved his students and treated them well.

Pestalozzi has this recurring idea of an ‘A-B-C’s’ of X, where X is a category or type of education, such as an A-B-C’s of reading, or arithmetic, or morality. Although he was not the kind of man to use terms like these, it’s a bit like Aristotle’s epistemology, where we start with a ‘this’, a thing that by its nature separates itself out from the background, generalize, and finally define the species and genus, moving from what is most readily known to us to what is more knowable by nature. Thus, the general pattern for Pestalozzi is something like sense-impressions, followed by analysis, followed by words. His point, made repeatedly, is that, without focused attention on the initial sense impression, without careful analysis of what one is seeing, the words used to express definitions will be at best crippled. He is concerned about what he sees as the damage caused by rote learning, where a child can succeed by parroting words he doesn’t understand.

All well and good. The result is that, to be a Pestalozzian teacher, one must learn to present appropriate sense impressions to the child, focus the child’s attention on every detail, and only then start in with the proper naming and defining of the thing. Thus, reading and writing are in some ways the capping activity, to be pursued once the child really understand the thing the words signify. Pestalozzi is very concerned that this process happen in the right sequence and degree appropriate for each child. Each area of learning, in Pestalozzi’s view, had its own appropriate A-B-C waiting to be discovered and made into a ‘science’. He thought his work here incomplete – he has discovered some, and made some progress on others, but at the end of his life did not think the ‘science’ fully fleshed out.

He calls his method ” the organic-genetic elementary method which aims at seeking out and establishing the unchangeable starting points and the unchangeable lines of progress in all instruction and education.” It is an unconditional principle of the method that it cannot put into the child what is not already there in germ. The child is made in God’s image. He is not a tabula rasa on which one may write from without, nor is he an empty barrel which has to be filled with strange matter, but a real, living, self- active power .which from the first moment of its existence is busied with its own development, using the materials presented to it by circumstance to that end.

Quote from Pestalozzi’s Lenzburg Address in Green’s The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi

And there’s something to this, especially when one considers what it must have been like in the schools of the time, where failure to comply with rote recitals might get a kid whacked with a ruler or worse. If you wanted to destroy a kid’s interest in learning, starting with memorization of things the kid doesn’t understand backed with corporal punishment would seem a pretty good way to do it. (1)

What is more important to Pestalozzi., the most important thing of all, is gaining the trust of the student, of loving each child and selflessly willing his good. The teacher in Pestalozzi’s view is an extension of the child’s family and particularly the child’s mother. He insists that, in the normal course of things, children should learn first and best from their own mothers, then from the larger family, and then, when ready, move on to more formal schooling.

Schooling should always aim to educate the child in a manner appropriate to his concrete situation. The children of laborers, artisans, and the wealthy get different education, appropriate to the life they will be living once their schooling is finished. There should be the possibility of further education to children who show particular promise. Thus, the child of a landowner might get Latin and Greek, while a farm boy usually won’t – unless he shows interest and ability in it.

I have commented before that Pestalozzi’s writings seem to be more a Rorschach test than instructions anyone could follow. He was a notoriously poor writer – Green makes a subtle plea for the readers understanding at one point, stating that, unless one has attempted to claw Pestalozzi’s German into English, one cannot appreciate the challenge. Further, his practice was consistently observed to be at odds with his (often poorly and inconsistently defined) principles. In one example, he lays down the principle that it is damaging to children for them to learn words before they understand what those words signify, then teaches the kids rhymes full of unfamiliar words for the fun of it. That he doesn’t see any contradiction in this is typical; that it baffled those trying to understand him is also a running theme.

Pestalozzi’s message of love and respect for children, his faith in there being one correct and scientific way to do education that merely awaited discovery, and his rejection of all previous methods of instruction made him a hero to the late 18th century Enlightenment crowd. That his most devoted followers would say it took years to understand the method, and then disagreed on what the method was, and that the people who came to study his method generally failed to successfully implement it, testify to, at least, his lack of clarity.

Green himself falls into this trap.

Then came the crushing events of 1806, followed, in the winter of 1807, by Fichte’s stirring Addresses to the German Nation in which the Prussian people were exhorted to seek national regeneration in the education of their children. Although Fichte criticised sharply certain details in Pestalozzi’s theory and practice, taking a general view he urged the Pestalozzian school as the true type.

Pestalozzi praises the family, especially mothers, as the indispensable first teachers of children; Fichte sees the family as the educational problem that his schools will solve. Pestalozzi wants to educate children for the world and situation they find themselves in; Fichte wants to educate children for an upcoming fantasy world which will supplant the current world in its entirety. Pestalozzi teaches children the 3 R’s to equip them for their future lives; Fichte discounts reading and writing as unessential to true education, an afterthought. Pestalozzi’s unspoken but inescapable goal is to equip children to be parts of their own families; Fichte wants unquestioned loyalty to the state to replace the all family loyalty.

Details. (2)

I will do a more detailed write-up of Pestalozzi’s A-B-C approach, which appears to be the heart of his ‘science’ of education at some future point. In reality, what made his schools work was his love of the children. He genuinely cared for their welfare, and sacrificed much to help them. This trumps any method, as long as love can overrule process at any point. This love of children is also how Catholic schools in America also succeeded as much as they did. The teaching sisters understood each student was a beloved child of God, even if they often imperfectly lived and expressed it.

That Pestalozzi was beloved by his students is attested by one of them:

One of the most interesting accounts of the work at Yverdun is that given by Vulliemin in his Souvenirs racontes a ses petits enfants. He entered the school as a pupil at eight years old. “Imagine, children, a very ugly man whose hair stood on end, whose face was deeply pitted with small-pox and covered with red blotches, with a ragged, untrimmed beard, without a necktie, with trousers half unbuttoned, and hanging in folds over stockings that were down over his clumsy shoes. Add to this an unsteady, jerky walk, eyes which sometimes opened wide and blazed with fire, and sometimes were half closed as if given up to inner observation. Think, too, of features which now expressed deep sadness and now the most benign happiness, and of a voice whose utterance was sometimes slow and sometimes quick, sometimes soft and melodious, and sometimes thunderously loud. This is a picture of him whom we called Father Pestalozzi.

“Him, whom I have just described, we loved; we all loved him, for he, too, loved us all. When it happened that we did not see him for a time, we were quite sad, so heartily did we love him; when he appeared again we could not take our eyes away from him.”

This former student mentions the drills in accurate sense-impression analysis in context of a field trip:

For the first elements of geography we were taken into the open air. They began by turning our steps to an out-of-the-way valley near Yverdun, through which the Buron flows. This valley we had to look at as a whole, and in its different parts, until we had a correct and complete impression of it. Then we were told, each one, to dig out a certain quantity of the clay, which was embedded in layers on one side of the valley, and with this we filled large sheets of paper, brought with us for the purpose.”

When we got back to school, we were placed at large tables which were divided up, and each child had to build with the clay, on the spot assigned to him, a model of the valley where we had just made our observations. Then came fresh excursions with more explorations. Thus we continued, until we had worked through the basin of Yverdun, and had observed it as a whole from the heights of Montela which command it entirely, and had made of it a model in relief. Then, and then only, did we turn to the map, which we had only now gained the power of correctly interpreting.”

Sounds charming and fun.

Pestalozzi is also in favor of less school, and, it would seem, less professionalism among those who teach:

My aim all through was to push the simplification of all means of instruction to such a point, that any common man might easily be put in a position to teach his children, thereby making it possible to dispense almost entirely with the need of schools for the first elements. Just as the mother is the child’s first physical nurse, so should he receive his first intellectual nourishment from her, and I look upon the tendency to send children too early to school and to substitute outside artifice for the home in the early education of children as a very serious evil. My experience quite confirmed these views. I am also more than ever convinced that the sooner we unite firmly and psychologically instruction with manual work, the sooner a race will arise which will discover, that what has been hitherto called learning need not take up one tenth part of the time or the energy which it has done in the past. My experience has certainly established two facts which will contribute to this end — first that it is possible to teach a large number of children even of different ages at one and the same time, and second that this large number may in many cases be taught they are engaged in manual work ….

Another departure for Fichte, who wants kids schooled entirely apart from their families for about a decade.

Much more to be thought over here. What needs to be kept in mind is that however poorly articulated and however many times his devotees failed in their attempts to implement them, Pestalozzi’s ideas dominated discussions of education in 19th century Europe and America like no other theorist.

Back to  Rise and Growth of the Normal School Idea in the United States. The Holy Grail of my research has been to discover the origins of the now ubiquitous age-segregated classroom. I suspected it traced back to Pestalozzi or at least to Fichte and von Humboldt. I was wrong. The bulk of the Prussian schools implemented in the 1810s and 1820s seem to be largely indistinguishable from American one-room schools in how they functioned; Pestalozzi himself always had age-mixed groups with plenty of peer-to-peer teaching.

In America, at least, the bane of age-segregated classroom with rigid, child-indifferent curricula seems to trace back to 1853 in Oswego, NY:

The history of the normal school at Oswego, N. Y., constitutes an important chapter not only in the history of the training of teachers, but in the history of the public schools of this country . It originated, indeed, out of the necessities of the public schools of Oswego. In the spring of 1853 these schools were organized and consolidated [‘consolidation’ was the process of eliminating local one-room schools and replacing them with much larger, centrally controlled schools – ed.] under a board of education. Under the new arrangement a mixed system of schools went into operation, and a close classification was soon adopted. So thoroughly was this perfected that each teacher had but a single class of children of nearly the same age and of the same stage of advancement. Every grade had the same daily programme, so that the superintendent could tell at any given hour of the day exactly what exercises were going on in any school in the city. All promotions were made upon the basis of examinations conducted under the direction of the superintendent, who prepared all the questions and marked all the answers on a scale of ten. The standings were published in the annual report.

But as admirable from a management point of view as schools thus structured must be, they left a little something to be desired, at least in the heart of E. A. Sheldon:

But Mr. E. A. Sheldon, who had been elected superintendent of schools in 1853, and who had originated this educational machine, was not satisfied with it. It seemed to him that something was wanted to give it life. As a mere machine, it was, indeed, worthy of all admiration. The definite tasks assigned to each teacher and pupil, each hour in the day, each day in the week, each week in the month, each month in the year, and each year in the course, were performed with praiseworthy exactness. Every rule and every definition was committed to memory with an exactness that defied criticism and applied with wonderful celerity. The system was, indeed, a perfect body, but it was dead, or rather it had never been alive. Words, words, words, were thrown into the hopper and the grist was nothing but words. The children could answer with great readiness all questions relating to what they had learned in their text-books, but outside of their text-books they were helpless. In a word, the system was an excellent machine for transferring the utmost possible amount of text-book information into the minds of the children, but as a means of developing latent powers, of cultivating permanent intellectual interest, of quickening and expanding the whole intellectual life, it was very defective indeed.

Couple of things to note. First, we see here the implementation of total teacher control. The only way to be sure that the students are doing *exactly* as directed is to direct the activities of the teachers with equal rigidity. This is a clear example of the filtering process much discussed on this blog: only people who could embrace such rigid direction need apply. In other words, anyone who had any active sympathy for the children and who wanted to really teach would never make it through the normal school. The second is that schooling any more different than what Pestalozzi practiced could hardly be imagined. The beloved and unpredictable father figure as teacher, leading kids of various ages on one impromptu adventure after another is about as completely incompatible with the ‘machine’ described above as could be imagined.

So, of course, Sheldon brings his machine to life by applying his understanding of Pestalozzian theory. He traveled to Canada, where he met a superintendent who had studied at a school in London that employed one of the teachers Pestalozzi himself trained, as well as the son of another such teacher.

When he returned to Oswego he resolved to thoroughly reconstruct the course of instruction and radically change the methods of teaching in the schools under his supervision. He resolved to begin this reformation at the bottom of the ladder and go up step by step. He accordingly laid out a detailed plan of work for the primary schools based on Pestalozzian principles.

How he went about implementing this new Pestalozzian undersstanding is telling:

The first year after the introduction of the new course of study Mr. Sheldon gave all his time and energy to the introduction of the new methods into the first year or lowest grade of the primary school. He met the teachers of this grade every Saturday, and during the following week he went through the schools of this grade, encouraging and aiding them in carrying out the instructions given the preceding Saturday. The second year he pursued the same plan with the next higher grade.

So, essentially, he kept the machine intact, kept the age-segregated grades and the teachers who had mastered and had experience tending the machine, and attempted, grade by grade, to implement a Pestalozzian approach on top of it.

The earlier one-room schools, structurally at least, were much more consistent with Pestalozzi’s practice than the new age-graded schools which had consolidated them out of existence. You could not but end up with a Frankenstein’s monster of a school, where some understanding of Pestalozzi’s theory is applied as a veneer to a system completely at odds with his practice, where kids are grouped for the convenience of the school and taught the same exact lessons according to an externally -established detailed schedule, by professional teachers trained for such an environment. The kindly and beloved old man encouraging kids to teach each other and taking pains that each child be taught what is appropriate for that particular child – that part, which is the part that might work, is tossed.

And then you run into the problem first expressed by Socrates: that when people are paid to teach what any competent adult knows, they will make the easy hard, and the quickly learned long.

The Oswego approach caught on like wildfire. Sheldon invited other educators to visit and comment, and the reaction was almost universally positive. Sheldon couldn’t keep his own teachers – once he had trained them up, other school districts would hire them away at salaries his own district was unwilling to meet. Thus, via impressed educators and teachers trained in the approach, the idea of a age segregated Machine cranking out educated students began to get the death grip on American education we see today.

Been a while since I posted, there’s a ton more here worth thinking about, but that’ll have to do for now.

  1. The psychologist Alice Miller reports that 19th century German child-rearing books advised fathers to break their children, to set them up to fail and punish them for that failure, in order to teach them to rely entirely on the authority of the father. Sick, but easy to see in the undoubtedly true stereotype of the knuckle-busting teacher.
  2. Reminds of a similar bit of wishful thinking from Fichte’s translator: “Some of the ideas and opinions expressed in the Addresses are obviously false and cannot be accepted, while others are gross exaggerations and require considerable modification. Little comment need be made on Fichte’s conception of the German language as the sole living language), or on his notion of the part that Germany has played and must still play in the process of the salvation of the world. His whole-hearted enthusiasm for things German inclines him at times to regard everything genuinely German as necessarily good, and everything foreign as necessarily bad. It is obvious what evil results would accrue from the logical development of such a conception. He greatly exaggerates the part played by Luther and by Germany in the reformation of the Church ; and it may be that his forecast of some of the good results that would follow upon the adoption of his educational reforms is fantastic and overdrawn. The fact, however, remains that these false and exaggerated ideas are but small blemishes in the work; they are easily explained, if not justified, when we consider the desperate state of the times, the exalted aim of the lecturer, the peculiar difficulty of his task, and his enthusiastic personality. In any case they do not affect to any considerable extent the tremendous influence of the Addresses at the time, and their great importance for the understanding of subsequent periods.

American Writers on Education Before 1865: Education History Book Review

This short book is exactly what the title suggests: a summary of what American writers before 1865 had to say about education. Abraham Blinderman’s American Writers on Education Before 1865 summarizes, with light quotations, the views on education of many leaders and writers in the early years of our nation, interspersed with Blinderman’s often anachronistic commentary. The views of these writers are progressive and enlightened to the exact degree to which they conform to Blinderman’s opinions. The reader often learns as much about Blinderman’s attitudes toward education as he does about Franklin’s or Henry James’.

I read this and similar books for two reasons: to get pointed toward the players and writing to be further investigated, and to gain an understanding about how people writing these books think about education at the time they are written. Blinderman gives me as much insight into educational thinking circa 1975 as he does into the minds of early American writers. The list of further reading grows. Added a few names I didn’t previously consider researching, ‘researching’ here meaning, generally, surfing a bit to see if the source is worth more effort.

The list of writers in impressive, including the Founding Fathers and any number of prominent American writerss. The dominant views among the bulk of these writers, at least as summarized by Blinderman, were that education was really important, especially if you expected common people to participate in a republic; that schools in America were mostly terrible; that school teachers tended to be bottom of the barrel types who couldn’t get some other, better job; and that parents were the source of all these problems, being miserly and disrespectful to the teachers and loath to spend any money on school facilities and supplies.

The Brown Library at Virginia Western Community College had apparently had enough of this book.

The biggest revision to my thinking about American education history is making room for all these prominent Americans who thought their college experiences were a joke. I already knew, for example, about Harvard’s often turbulent student body, how these young men made mischief, drove out too strict presidents, and caroused. I’d always assumed the typical student still somehow made time for studying, that, despite the hi jinks, the graduates of Harvard had gotten some sort of education out of it.

Doesn’t sound like it. Mostly, the brighter the student, the more intent on getting an education, the less happy they were with their college experiences. Writing in 1820, John Trumbull, who graduated from and taught at Yale, wrote the Progress of Dulnes (sic), a satirical look at three ‘educated’ people who get nothing from years of elite schooling. Trumbull was a prodigy who probably needed little formal help to become educated; the well-off students who wasted their and his time at Yale seem to set him off.

Franklin’s Silence Dogood letters, written 50 years earlier by a similarly precocious 16 year old, lampoon college education. Franklin went on to write a short Proposal Relating to the Education of Youths in Pennsylvania, the erudite notes to which are twice as long as the short proposal – Blinderman speculates Franklin, with little formal education, is poking fun at his more learned readers by larding this short work with references and quotations such as would make any Princeton don proud. The real charm here, in character as I understand Franklin, is his confidence those readers wouldn’t get the joke.

Another surprise: a couple of these writers were not impressed by the German universities and gymnasia. Henry Adams, descendant of 2 Presidents, traveled Germany and thought their formal education rigid and rote.

Cool old book, right? May have to read it now….

The only mention of Catholic schooling comes when Blinderman reviews Orestes Brownson. Blinderman can hardly reconcile himself to Brownson’s Catholicism:

A dissenter all of his life, Brownson finally sought peace of mind in the structured conformity of Catholic doctrine. But he did not withdraw from the social battles raging outside the Church. He never forsook his new church – he died a Catholic – and involved himself fully in in the open and clandestine warfare raging between native Americans and the large number of Catholic immigrants.

p. 146

Brownson took the side of the public schools against Catholic criticism that they promoted immorality, noting that the Catholic schools in other countries certainly didn’t prevent immorality there. (Here’s one of many places where I really would have liked an exact quote. There is a reference…) I note two things: Brownson, for all his intellectual power, changed positions on many things many times, so that he at one time condemned public schools and at another defended them is hardly surprising; his Postmillennialist optimism in the perfectibility of man lead to some doozies, such as a belief that the post Civil War Federal government would of course respect state’s rights, the nation was destined to convert to Catholicism as the only creed that can support freedom under a republic, and that the rest of the Western Hemisphere would petition to be admitted to the Union under the now-clear federalist rules protecting their local rights from the meddlesome central government.

History has not been kind to these prognostications.

Brownson also reproved Catholic scholars for not forcefully taking sides in the social controversies of the day. Me, I’d be happy if Catholic scholars were more universal in taking the Church’s side in simple matters of dogma. Unlike his post war dreams of unity under the Church, he certainly got his wish here: now, you can’t shut up Catholic scholars taking sides in social issues of the day – almost invariably against the teachings of the Church.

The idea that someone of Brownson’s gifts and temperament would seek the truth relentlessly, find it in the Catholic Church, and cling to it firmly even when it wasn’t energetic enough in its support for his social concerns isn’t something Blinderman is going to easily grasp. That religious beliefs might justly and honestly have precedence over social beliefs is simply incomprehensible.

In general, Blinderman sees all lessening of religious influence on education as Progress. Virtually all the writers he reviews (Oliver Wendell Holmes would be an exception) acknowledge the need for religion to be taught, in order to promote public morality. By religion, these writers of course mean Protestant Christianity. Condemnations of Popery by these writers are sprinkled throughout the text.

Speaking of anti-Catholic sentiments, Samuel Goodrich was a new name to me. Many thousands of textbooks he wrote under the name Peter Parley were used in the common schools. Public school children would be taught stuff like this:

THE reign of Ferdinand and Isabella was disgraced by the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition. The design of this horrible institution was to prevent the people from adopting any but the Catholic religion.

Persons who were suspected of being heretics were thrown into damp and dismal dungeons. They were then brought before the inquisitors, who sat completely covered with long robes and hoods of sackcloth. Their faces were invisible; but they looked at the prisoners through two holes in their sack-cloth hoods.

If the accused persons would not plead guilty, they were tortured in various ways. Sometimes they were drawn up to the roof of the chamber by a rope, and after hanging a considerable time, the rope was loosened, so that they fell almost to the floor.

The rope was then suddenly tightened again, and the prisoner’s limbs were put out of joint by the shock. If he still refused to confess, the inquisitors rubbed his feet with lard, and roasted them before a fire. In short, their cruelties were too dreadful to be told.

When the inquisitors had satisfied themselves with torturing their prisoners, they prepared to burn them. The condemned persons walked in a procession, dressed in garments which were painted with flames. On their breasts they wore their own likenesses, in the act of being devoured by serpents and wild beasts.

Common School History, Peter Parley

And so on. A simple search of the text for words ‘Catholic,’ ‘Pope,’ and ‘Mary’ turn up many similarly fascinating and even-handed entries suitable for children of all ages. Blinderman only notes that the British were unhappy with the treatment they got in Parley’s books, and quotes a short passage illustrating his bigotry against the Chinese, but of Catholics, not a peep.

I read this book so you don’t have to. Unless you really want to, of course. Then, have at it! It is a short, easy read.

Education History: Connections

Possibly interesting stuff, perhaps not dead-on topic. We are at the Yard Sale of the Mind, after all.

You know how when you get a car, you immediately notice all the similar models driving around, that had, being just cars and all, previously escaped your notice? No? Well, whenever I delude myself into thinking I have an actual idea, it seems I notice similar ideas everywhere. On the one hand, it is comforting to think I’m not *just* a crazy poser; on the other, hey! That was *my* idea!

Regarding the Postmillennialism mentioned in yesterday’s post, David Warren did a post on Dickens, who was achieving literary success in England just as the Second Great Awakening was winding down in America. Many have noted the Romanticism in Postmillennialism, which elevates feelings over thinking. By comparison to the Puritans, with their rigid logic of predestination and the bondage of the will, and even Unitarian Universalists, and their equally logical, if less dour, conclusion that all are predestined to salvation, the rising sects of the Second Great Awakening had little use for thorough, logical theology. The Latter Day Saints, a pure product of that Great Awakening, are perhaps the cleanest and most Romantic of the participant sects. As a Mormon missionary will tell you, you question and study and pray hoping for that moment when the Spirit touches your heart, and gets your brain out of the way.

Which is almost correct. St. Teresa of Avila, who reasoned her way to faith as a child, and persevered and advanced despite no consolations – no sense of the Spirit touching her heart – for a decade and a half, and then was cautious ever after about her feelings even as she was enveloped in experiences of God’s love, is the full expression of the underlying truth.

As Chesterton points out somewhere: A lie is never so dangerous as when it is very nearly true.

Anyway: today Mr. Warren writes, to clarify his ‘paradoxical recommendation’ of Dickens:

He was among the writers (and artists generally) who contributed subtly to our post-Christian worldview, based on emotion, not remorseless thought. Who made, say, Christmas about giving presents to little children, rather than centrally about the birth of Christ. That doesn’t mean his works should be suppressed. On the contrary, they should be read and enjoyed, with this thought in mind. He moralizes, but in a way that may actually subvert morality, by substituting “feelings” for the hard truths, which are to die for.

Retractiones

There is a not-entirely-subtle rejection of rationality that permeates education reformers from Luther through Fichte and on to Harris and Dewey. Luther famously distrusted argument; Fichte rejected the very idea of objective reality and wanted education to destroy the free will of the student (there is no such thing as reason without a free will); Harris speaks of “substantial education” as producing automata.; and Dewey was a Marxist, asserting the bondage of the will (and thus, reason) to class consciousness. Masked in Enlightenment optimism, especially as expressed in Americanism, this embrace of Romanticism and its reliance of feelings is, at its roots, a type of despair. In its more positive form, it is despair of our human powers, as when we recognize that our best efforts most often still fail, and thus we are moved to await a Savior; its darker manifestation is the paradoxical belief that the ignorant and immoral can be fixed if only we Enlightened can control them through education. This tyrannical optimism becomes murderous despair when it encounters objective reality in the form of real, sinful human beings, especially the specimen in the mirror. It is not surprising, in this context, that objective reality was rejected by Fichte and Marx. Their projects collapse unless they can be preserved from contact with the real world. Communism has never been tried, right?

I was wondering who Henry Edwin Dwight, the fellow who wrote Travels in the North of Germany 1825-1826, was. He lived a short life, and there were no biographies I could find on the web. But then, in other readings, I came across educator and reformer Timothy Dwight, part of a large and illustrious Dwight clan. Henry E. was the 7th of 8 sons of Timothy, who was president of Yale. Timothy Dwight, while ‘tied to the past’ according to Blinderman, pitched for women to be educated – although pitch is all he did – and imposed a degree of discipline at Yale. According to numerous critics, including a number of graduates, college life in American at the turn of the 19th century was a joke, with rich playboys and rowdies learning very little yet getting awarded degrees anyway. Dwight sought to put an end to this at Yale.

Seems we’ve come full circle. Funny, that.

Finishing up American Writers on Education Before 1865, by Abraham Blinderman. Published in 1975, it reviews what American writers had to say about educational from the colonial era to the Civil War – kind of like what the title might imply. Anyway, it is enough of a product of modern academia that Progressive is used unironically as a synonym for ‘good’ and conservative for ‘bad’. As those terms were understood in 1975. Anything that tends toward or foreshadows the heights of 1975 academic thinking is of course praiseworthy; anything that contradicts it is backwards. Thus, the gradual secularization of education is a good thing, even though the point reached by 1865 is merely an attempt at ‘mere Christianity’ circa 19th century America: Episcopalians would grudgingly make room for Congregationalists and Presbyterians, and even look the other way for Methodists, Baptists and Quakers, who would likewise tolerate the stuffy, way too papist Episcopalians. The non-sectarian schools of the era all used the King James Bible and history texts that painted the Church as the Whore of Babylon and the Reformers as heroes. One simply agreed not to think too hard about the mutually exclusive doctrinal issues that created the myriad sects in the first place, let alone discuss them in school. The unifying principle was hatred of Rome.

In this sense, the ultimate secularization of the school was partly the fault of Catholics, who were the one large group of people at the time excluded from the ‘mere Christians’. Under pressure from Catholics, the common schools jettisoned the KJV and, eventually, all talk of Christianity. (And, eventually, so did the Catholic schools, pretty much. But that’s another story.)

The universal complaint of these early American writers is the low quality of the common school teachers and facilities. Teaching was a low-paying, low respect job, which therefore often fell to those with few other prospects, or those who needed a little cash before going on to a real career. Since school funding was left up to local communities, they tended to pay the teacher as little as possible, and equip the schoolhouse as cheaply as possible. If only – if only! – the state would tax everybody to pay for schools, give decent salaries to the teachers, and force all children to attend school, the Millennium of peace and justice was sure to dawn right here in America, the most enlightened and free country in the world. Education theorist never seemed to notice the conflict between means and ends: we will make everybody free and just by forcing them against their wills to fund and send their kids to school.