Education Reading Update

I’m constructively working through my anxiety by reading. So far, got 3-4 books off John C Wright’s Essential SciFi Library list read or reading, and a good start on my collection of Thomas Shields and Edward Pace writings. Reviewed Shields’ First Book here. Am halfway through his Making and Unmaking of a Dullard, an autobiography of sorts, framed as a Platonic dialogue. Think Symposium, but with early 20th century Progressives instead of Alcibiades and Socrates. In other words, much less fun.

Also, found The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916 on Arhive.org. This is a periodical founded by Pace & Shields which ran for decades. Sigh. I’m going to slog through at least this volume, just to get a feel for it. Finally, have a dead tree copy of Shields’ The Philosophy of Education (1917) in the stacks here, got to fish it out and read it next. Then, I must return to Burn’s The Catholic School System in the United States, which I never finished reviewing. Burns got his PhD from Catholic University in 1906 under Shields and Pace, wrote the definitive history of American Catholic schools, and went on to be president of Notre Dame.

Shields, Pace, and Burns are the big dogs when it comes to Catholic education in America. Until they came along, parochial schooling and Catholic colleges were a bit of a free-for-all. For better and worse, they put some order onto Catholic schooling.

All three appear to me to be American Catholic Millennialists, believing that by application of scientific psychology to Catholic education, America can lead the Church to a perfect, or at least a better without limit, world. They are the foremost representatives of Americanism after the manner of Hecker and Brownson. It is fascinating that Pace and Shields were responsible for the article in the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia discussing the heresy of Americanism, where the pope’s and many Americans’ concerns that the American Church was being lead into Modernism by its some of its leadership were dismissed as a mere baseless misunderstanding.

Right.

The optimism and faith in progress of these men is all but unbelievable. They are just sure that, by applying modern scientific thinking to education, they can create perfect little American Catholics, who are of course without question the model for Catholics world-wide. Their late 19th century psychology and ideas about science are not an advance on phrenology. Seriously. We’ll get to that in a moment.

A couple notes:

The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916

– A large portion of this volume is devoted to an attack on the Carnegie Foundation’s views of education, as expressed in a recent report the Foundation had issued. The gloves are totally off. I have no real understanding of what the issues are, but I can guess. I’ll write this up when I’m done reading it.

– This raises the endless issue: now, I’ll need to find and read that Carnegie report, right? Sheesh. Everything I read points to multiple other sources that seem essential.

Making and Unmaking of a Dullard

– This dialogue seems to be little more than a gripe session about the interlocutors’ childhoods, in order to provide Shields with the opportunity of expostulating on his frankly silly psychological theories.

– Shields lists 7 ways a dullard, or idiot, or atypical child can be created, but focuses on one, the one to which he attributes his own difficulties in school: Alternating Phases of Development. Here’s how Shields puts it, in answer to the Judge’s request for an explanation:

“A full explanation of this physiological phenomenon, Judge, would involve a treatise on the physiology of the nervous system, but stripped of technicalities the important facts in the case are these. All vital functions are controlled by nerve currents….

“On the other hand, the process of mental development, as indeed all the phenomena of consciousness, rest upon high tension nerve currents in the cerebral cortex. Now, it frequently happens that a boy or girl grows very rapidly for a few years, during which period the physical organism makes such demands upon the nerve energy that the cortical tension is lowered and there is not sufficient nerve energy left to carry on the work of rapid mental development.

“We all know how injurious it is, for example, to indulge in mental work immediately after eating a hearty meal. When food enters the stomach it originates nerve impulses that draw the blood away from the brain for use in the processes of digestion. If brain activity be indulged in at this time, the blood is withdrawn from the viscera and forced into the brain under an increased pressure to furnish the required nerve energy and thus the digestive process is delayed and sometimes the digestive apparatus itself is injured.

“Now, we have a similar conflict going on between mental and physical development. It seldom happens that during childhood and youth the balance is preserved between the growth and development of the body and the growth and development of the mental processes. The extent to which this balance is disturbed and the length of time that each phase continues varies within wide limits.”

“If you exclude the children who have become dullards through any one of the six causes just enumerated, and arrange the children in any third or fourth grade room in accordance with their physical development, you will find them fairly well classified inversely as their mental capacity, that is, the brightest children will be the smallest and the largest children will be the dullest. Here and there puzzling exceptions to this rule will be found, but these are not sufficient to obscure the general truth.

“The eagerness and ambition of the smaller children, coupled with their quickness of movement, indicate high cortical tension. If these children are constantly over stimulated, as frequently happens, their physical development may be retarded for some years. In extreme cases they are to be found among those children whom over-fond mothers are in the habit of regarding as too bright or too good for this world. Less aggravated cases not infrequently result in permanent invalidism. This is particularly true of girls when the period of over stimulation is carried beyond the twelfth or the fourteenth year. If these precocious little ones escape disease and death from over stimulation they will finally reach a time in which the balance swings in the opposite direction and physical development, so long retarded, sets in with unusual rapidity. The ensuing mental phase is characterized by lack of energy which to the uninstructed is pure laziness.

CH V, Alternating Phases of Development

So, quick children need to be slowed down by the expert educationist, so as not to overdo their nerve energy or their cortical tension and thus damage their minds and become invalids. You can see the beginnings of No Child Left Behind here: the solution is to dumb down the bright kids – for their own good – and make sure the slower kids get to catch up. All very scientifiliciously described.

That a kid might grow and learn well if encouraged to follow his own interests is not to be considered. Instead, the bright child is to be frustrated in his desire for learning, on the basis of a half-backed theory that is buzzword-compliant, circa 1910, but has little else to recommend it. As Lewis (I think) put it: say you are going to experiment on children, and everybody is up in arms. But say you’re putting them in an experimental school, and all is good.

– Again, Shields has his interlocutors refer to or quote from contemporary sources that I’ll have to at least look up.

Got a lot more reading to do. Further bulletins are events warrant.

Education History Reading: Thomas Shield’s First Book (1917) pt 1?

Fr. Thomas Edward Shields (1862-1921) was a professor at Catholic University, who, along with Fr. Edward Pace, founded the psychology department there. He was one of the most influential Catholic educators of the early 20th century.

Here, we begin a review of his First Book, a little tome intended for 6 year olds. In many ways, it is a charming book: Shields organizes each of the 10 chapters in 4 parts: a scene from nature, a scene from family life, a scene from the life of Christ, and a simple song. Sections are illustrated with nice art. The kids are supposed to learn reading from this book, as well as get a bit of nature and art. Teachers are advised to read how to teach singing in Shield’s Teacher’s Manual of Primary Methods. But the main point of the book is to teach religion, specifically, Catholicism. The overall approach is integrated: nature, art, the family, music, the Gospels, are all used to inculcate a little Jesus into the tender young minds.

But – you knew there was going to be a ‘but’ – Shields remains a Progressive and a 19th century psychologist. He can’t stop with a charming, unobjectionable little book. Nope, he needs to introduce a bunch of theory. He has to believe that the little tykes could become so much better if properly lead by properly educated teachers according to scientific psychology. The tacit judgement: all those kids who have not been guided by fully trained teachers according to scientific principles are somehow flawed, and fail to live up to what they could have been.

Yikes. Like Pestalozzi, Shields believes in the constant monitoring of every student by a trained teacher, who then directs the student according to sound scientific principles. In other words, leaving the kids to figure anything out on their own is mere disaster. Also, subtly and almost certainly unintentionally, the family is being held to an impossible ideal. To illustrate this, let’s take his nature examples first. In the very first one, Shields describes a mother robin caring for her hatchlings. All very sweet and beautiful. The charming story is used introduce the child to the idea of family and ultimately divine love and care.

But what happens when the poor kid learns that bird very often kill their own chicks? That, in many species, the mother shoves the less perfect hatchlings out of the nest to their deaths, in order to concentrate her energies on their bigger, healthier siblings? Nature isn’t nice.

Similarly, the book describes family life in charming terms, where Mother selflessly cares for her children, and Father selflessly protects and provides for them all. Well? Sure is a good image and a proper ideal, but very few families are going to live up to it always and everywhere. What happens when an individual kid’s experiences don’t line up with this ideal? Since it is tied very tightly to Shield’s exposition of the faith, where Jesus’s love for us is presented as a more perfect version of our parents’ love for us, and, indeed, of robins’ love for their chicks, a failure anywhere along that line invites the kid to disbelief.

Not saying Shields’s approach is wrong, exactly – I want kids to believe in the goodness of nature and family – but it is laying what could be dangerous landmines for particular kids. On the plus side, maybe a kid will be enabled to see that his family isn’t living up to the ideal, and judge his family, and not the ideal, as the problem. It’s different, fundamentally, than reading Little House on the Prairie or Little Women, which are examples of particular families and include lots of problems and even tragedies. Here, in Shields’s book, the ideal family is presented as a realized ideal – kids are invited to see their families as such. Seems dangerous to me, or at least, an open invitation to a certain kind of problem that could be avoided by a different approach – say, reading the kids the books just mentioned.

More generally, the problems here are twofold: first, the idea that a late 19th century psychologist had ‘scientifically’ determined the best way to educate every kid is absurd. Merely setting up ‘laboratories’ to measure psychical phenomena doesn’t mean you are doing or discovering anything real. You might be able, for an example from the 19th century, to determine how long, exactly, people need to see a picture flashed before their eyes before it registers at all on their minds. And? Does that lead to any coherent theory of education? Indeed, what happens instead is that theories far beyond what any observation could support are crowbarred into a lab coat and called ‘science’. John Tylor Gatto observed that there isn’t anything like science behind any of the popular theories of education – it’s just biases, prejudices, and handwavium all the way down. Shields does nothing to disabuse me from Gatto’s view.

Second, and this is a general issue observable in Hecker, Brownson, Pace, Shields, Burns and all the 19th century ‘educationists’ from Fichte and Mann on – Progressivism, if it means anything, means a belief in the perfectibility of man in the here and now. If that belief happens not to be true, then you’ve set up an educational system that is bound to leave teacher, students, and theorist disappointed, to say the least. One could then change one’s opinion to match reality (ha! I slay me.), despair, or double down. Of the last 2 options, despair is the better by far. We’ve already seen how well doubling down works.

Maybe I’ll do a part 2, and go into details of this particular book. First, I find it enlightening to find out a little bit about these titans of Catholic education. To their credit, both Shields and Fr. Edward Pace were instrumental in the creation of the wonderful 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia. However, reading the excerpt quoted below made me realize I love that old encyclopedia because of the way Catholic issues are written about – I never read anything in it to see how, for relevant example, contemporary psychology was written about. Seems I’ll need to read that sort of thing at some point, to balance out my take.

So, who is Thomas Edward Shields? Here what Encyclopedia.com has to say:

Educator; b. Mendota, MN, May 9, 1862; d. Washington, DC, Feb. 15, 1921. The son of Irish immigrants, he was somewhat unruly as a child and finished his formal schooling late. He was admitted to St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, WI, in 1882, and to St. Thomas Seminary, St. Paul, MN, in 1885. At St. Thomas he published his first book, Index Omnium (1888), which was designed to help professional men correlate data gathered from wide reading. After his ordination on March 4, 1891, he studied for his Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. His dissertation, The Effect of Odors Upon the Blood Flow (1895), influenced psychological research, and in 1902 he joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, as an instructor in psychology.

Shields soon transferred his interest to education. In 1905 he set up a correspondence course, supplemented by diocesan summer institutes, for sisters in the expanding Catholic school system. He established the university’s department of education in 1909 and served as its first chairman. The following year he founded the Catholic Educational Review. In 1911 he conducted the first Summer Institute for Catholic Sisters at the university, and he founded the Sisters College, of which he was dean. In 1912 he was instrumental in securing the adoption of the University Affiliation Program. To correlate the curriculum of the Catholic school, Shields wrote a series of four widely used texts in religion. He was also the author of The Education of Our Girls (1907), a dialogue; The Making and Unmaking of a Dullard (1909), a description of his youth; and The Philosophy of Education (1917), the first Catholic book of its kind in English. He was perhaps the leading Catholic educator in the U.S. during the first quarter of the 20th century.

For Edward Pace, we turn to Wikipedia (so sue me – it’s succinct and accurate as far as it goes):

Edward A. Pace (July 3, 1861 – April 26, 1938) was a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. He was the first native Floridian to be ordained a diocesan priest.

Pace did his doctoral work in psychology in Germany with Wilhelm Wundt. He wrote his dissertation on Herbert Spencer and evolution.

Pace was extensively involved with the early development of The Catholic University of America. He was the first professor of psychology at CUA, and was the founding dean of its School of Philosophy. He held several administrative positions throughout his career, and was involved with many of the University’s academic initiatives. He was one of the general editors of the edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia completed in 1914. In addition, Pace contributed to the founding of Trinity College, Washington, D.C.

In 1892 he became one of the first five psychologists elected to the American Psychological Association by its charter members. He was co-founder of the American Philosophical Association (1893), cofounder of the Catholic Philosophical Association (1926), co-founder and first editor of Catholic Educational Review (1911), cofounder and coeditor of the journal New Scholasticism (1926). Between 1907 and 1912 he was one of the leading editors of the fifteen-volume Catholic Encyclopedia. He was appointed by President Hoover to the National Advisory Committee on Education in 1926.[1]

Here’s Shields in his element, from Wikisource, the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia:

As applied to a mental process, assimilation derives all its force and meaning from the analogy which many educationists have found to exist between the way in which food is incorporated into the living tissue and the manner in which truth is acquired by the growing mind. That education means the assimilation of truth is almost a commonplace in modern pedagogy. Few, however, have felt the full force of the comparison or realized how completely the psychological in this as in other instances follows on the lines of the physiological. Just as the living cell cannot delegate the task of assimilation, so the mind cannot by any contrivance of educational methods evade the task of performing the assimilative process for itself. All that the teacher can do is to prepare the material and to stimulate the mind of the pupil; the pupil himself must perform the final act of acquiring knowledge, namely the act of incorporating into his mind the truth presented to him. In the second place, the mind cannot take over into its own substance a complex truth as such. The truth must first be broken up into less complex component parts, which are assimilable by the mind in its present condition of development.

There is little profit, for example, in placing before the pupil a finished essay, unless the pupil is taught to analyze the finished literary product into its constituent elements, and to reconstruct those elements into a living whole. This, of course, implies much more than the task of summarizing each paragraph and labelling it more or less happily. When the term assimilation is used with reference to mental development, it is well to remember that, while it originally referred to the building up of anatomical elements, these elements, once constructed, have an immediate psychological bearing. Each particle of matter that is lifted into the living tissue acquires thereby a functional unity, that is, it is brought into functional relation with every other particle of the organism. Similarly, a truth once incorporated into the mind sheds its light on the entire mental content, and is in turn illuminated by every previously assimilated truth. Acting on these principles, the up-to-date educationist insists: first, that each new truth should be not only an addition to the stock of knowledge of the pupil, but also a functional acquisition, something that stimulates the pupil’s mind to increased activity; secondly, that in every educational endeavor the centre of orientation should be shifted from the logical centre of the body of truth to be imparted to the present needs and capacities of the growing mind.

Rereading Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength”

Some people don’t like this book, but it is my favorite Lewis after “Till We Have Faces,” which is his masterpiece and a great book by any standards. I’ve read the Space Trilogy any number of times, and, while Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra are among my favorite books, I find my thoughts most often returning to scenes in the last book of the Trilogy, what Lewis called a fairytale for grown ups.

When we headed out for our little trip mentioned a couple posts ago, I grabbed some books that happened to be lying about to take for in-car reading. Then, again almost on a whim, chose That Hideous Strength out of the pile on the drive up. Perhaps an odd choice for reading on a romantic getaway, perhaps not in our current world. So for the first hour and a half that we drove, before the weather, scenery, and winding roads required we put the top down on the car for the last half hour, my beloved read out loud.

So many quotable passages! Here’s one: Mark Studdock is told to write a piece of propaganda for Fairy Hardcastle, while trying to figure out what is going on with the N.I.C.E:

“I don’t believe you can do that,” said Mark. “Not with the papers that are read by educated people.”

“That shows you’re still in the nursery, lovey,” said Miss Hardcastle. Haven’t you yet realized that it’s the other way round ?”

“How do you mean ?”

“Why, you fool, it’s the educated readers who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers ? He takes it for granted that they’re all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the lead paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem: we have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the highbrow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.”

“As one of the class you mention,” said Mark with a smile, “I just don’t believe it.”

“Good Lord ! ” said the Fairy, “ where are your eyes ? Look at what the weeklies have got away with! Look at the Weeldy Question. There’s a paper for you. When Basic English came in simply as the invention of a free- thinking Cambridge don, nothing was too good for it; as soon as it was taken up by a Tory Prime Minister it became a menace to the purity of our language. And wasn’t the Monarchy an expensive absurdity for ten years ? And then, when the Duke of Windsor abdicated, didn’t the Question go all monarchist and legitimist for about a fortnight? Did they drop a single reader? Don’t you see that the educated reader can’t stop reading the high- brow weeklies whatever they do ? He can’t. He’s been conditioned.”

CH 5

As I’ve frequently said here: it’s not enough for the schools to render their inmates mindless, obedient sheep, they must also immunize them against ever having a thought by convincing them they are the most enlightened, intelligent, and moral people to ever walk the face of the earth.

A second point is to note that propaganda has, as we business people like to say, a target market. Any halfway sophisticated propaganda is written and promulgated with a particular demographic in mind. Lewis, writing during the concluding years of the war, had seen it in action first hand. Propaganda appeals, fundamentally, to people’s vanity. Smart, enlightened people all believe X; only stupid, backward people believe Y. The little people, the workers and shopkeepers and so on, just want to be left alone in peace, and so are a hard target for propaganda. But people who have become convinced that they are the most enlightened, intelligent, moral people ever – and who have been conditioned away from entertaining any other view – are eager to know what the teacher wants them to parrot, lest they be cast into the outer darkness to wail and gnash their teeth with the unwashed.

Before and immediately after the Night of the Long Knives, it was not important to Goebbels and his team what the little people believed. Those little people had learned over the centuries that their leaders regularly knifed each other, and that there was little they could do about it except to keep their heads down. But it was important that no serious pushback for government-sponsored extra-legal mass executions be permitted to simmer. Thus, propaganda was aimed at judges, the police, the press, university professors, and the professional class in general, a class that, like our own, was convinced they were the best educated, most enlightened, most moral people ever to grace the planet.

It was an easy job, in other words. In 1934 Germany, the well-educated wanted to be on the winning team first of all. They were easily convinced that letting their government commit a few thousand murders to prevent what they were told was a coup attempt was not only justified, but mandated by patriotic prudence. Thus, no arrests were made, no trials held, no lectures delivered opposing the murders, no articles published questioning the government. Rule by government murder was accepted and praised by all the best people. The underclasses were hardly a concern, merely unfinished business to be mopped up later.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity! While half-truths and fear are often used to soften up the target – to quash whatever residuum of thought might linger after all that schooling – the main appeal of propaganda is vanity. The Kool Kids all think A; only the losers think B. You don’t want to be a loser, do you? All the Kool Kids will look down on you.

Easy-peasy.

Anyway, half way through the reread. Fun stuff, if terrifyingly prescient and depressingly accurate accounts of current events can be called ‘fun.’

Working

How could anyone fall for such obvious nonsense? This question, in various forms, some much less polite, has been nagging at us for decades now. Standard answers to particular incarnations of these questions have been formulated: Marxism is a revenge fantasy for people with daddy issues; years of government training produces mindless sheep by design; participation trophy culture teaches sticking to your group *is* the achievement; theories by which any personal lack of achievement or feelings of inadequacy are conclusively presumed to be somebody else’s fault appeal to many, especially grown children of divorce.

This morning, adding another divide: how you think of work. Up until about 1900, half or more of Americans lived on farms or at least in rural communities. On a farm, there is near instant feedback on many of your efforts. Didn’t feed the chickens and gather the eggs? The results of that failure will soon come home to roost. Labors and the outcomes of those labors were spread across a range of timeframes: it might take an hour to eat the green beans you just picked; a month to see what you planted growing in the garden; a season to harvest the wheat; a couple years to get to finally plant the bottom land you spend a couple years clearing, and 5 years or more before that vineyard and orchard start producing in volume.

While farming isn’t unique in this regard – any real craftsmanship has similar effort and payoff timeframes – it was formative for many millions of Americans for 200+ years. Even if we never set foot on a farm, chances are we lived among relatives who did or used to, so that the farmer’s instincts about work were something we all, or almost all, absorbed to some degree at least.

A farmer knows:

  • Many things figure into the outcome of my efforts. Some I can control, some not.
  • The number 1 thing I can control is my efforts.
  • The number 2 thing I can control is my skill level.
  • Diligent application of effort and skill tremendously improve my chances of a good outcome.
  • No effort and no skill all but guarantee a bad outcome.
  • Try as I might, sometimes things don’t work out as planned.
  • Sometimes, you get lucky. Don’t count on it.

We’ve replaced the near-universal experience of farm life with the near-universal experience of compulsory graded classroom schooling. Farmers saw, moment by moment, year by year, the direct relationship between their effort and skill and the quality of their lives. Sure, the world was then as it is now, unpredictable – unfair, one might even say – such that the race doesn’t always go to the swift, and so on. But the general pattern was unmistakable: the industrious and skillful did better, in the long run, than the lazy and stupid, in what seemed like a pretty direct proportion to how industrious and skillful one was.

Things could and did often go wrong: the rains didn’t come, or came too much, or came at the wrong time; the horse pulled up lame; bugs ate the turnips; somebody got sick and died. Even the most industrious and skillful farmer could get wiped out by disasters out of his control. For centuries, in America at least, the most common attitude seems to have been: Stuff happens. Keep your head down, say your prayers, and keep working. Keeping on is what a man or a woman worthy of the name does. (1)

I have mentioned here the big bait and switch of public education. Reaching prominence in the late 19th century and championed by William Torey Harris, and not finally ending until the 1960s under the influence of John Dewey, the sales pitch for compulsory public schools included the claim that kids – the smart ones, anyway – would need a serious education at least through high school. The key feature of this new educational standard was that Mom and Dad and the nice young lady teaching in the local one room schoolhouse would not be able to deliver it. Nope, only highly trained and skilled teachers processed through the Normal Schools could teach all that Greek, Latin, Calculus, and Science little Eta and Ira were going to need to – work in a Ford factory? 16 years after Harris was outlining his ideal curriculum, Woodrow Wilson was telling the New York City School Teachers Association:

We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

So that idea that America needed standardized, highly-trained teachers in order to produce these excellent little Hegelians was ignored by the President of Princeton when talking to these highly trained teachers, in favor of producing plenty of obedient manual workers. Inside, this is how the higher-level drones talk; the rhetoric we little people were until recently subjected to still lightly echoed Harris. Now, of course, it’s Dewey (and Frere) all the way.

Harris thought What America Needed was a bunch of well-trained Hegelians to Move Us Forward as the Spirit Unfolded Itself Through History. He was not a very practical man. Dewey, a huge fan of the Russian Revolution and Marx, stood Harris’s Hegelianism on its head, and preached a kinder, gentler education jail that would leave students stupid and compliant. (2) That’s the model we’ve been implementing since the 1960s at least.

Initially, public schools that in fact aspired to Harris’ ideal level of 1 – 12 education were created; many Catholic parochial schools attempted to follow suit. High schools – a few, at least – were becoming prep schools for admission to Harvard. The small minority of kids who did successfully attend these schools did get an education that makes modern Master’s in most fields look like finger painting by comparison.

Farmers were convinced or mollified by the claim that these modern consolidated schools were teaching the sort of things a kid needed to learn for the brave new world they would be facing. Once the Depression and the Dust Bowl and the invention of the school bus wiped out the already-dying one room schools, the one last public competitor to the One Best System For All that Fichte, Pestalozzi, Mann, etc. dreamed of imposing was removed. The pedal was taken off the gas, although the momentum seems have been enough to coast through the next 30 years still maintaining the pretext that schools were intended to make everybody elite. (One of the reasons I love Have Space Suit Will Travel is Heinlein’s brutal takedown of Kip’s public high school – written in 1958. The mask had already slipped.)

My parents were born in 1917 and 1919; dad grew up on a farm in Oklahoma, mom among Czech farmers in East Texas – although her dad was a sheet metal guy. Both had that ‘just do it’ attitude about work. Dad, who started his own sheet metal fabrication company at age 45, would remind us kids that 10-12 hours a day in the shop were still far better than farming in Oklahoma. They were a part of that huge wave of country kids who moved to the city. (My parents moved to SoCal – thank you, Lord!). I, sadly, saw but did not experience the farmer’s work ethic and feedback loop. By farming standards, I’m incredibly lazy – yet considered some sort of high-energy output machine by some of my friends. Even a little taste, it seems, leaves its mark.

It’s no coincidence that the core employees at my dad’s shop were escaped hillbillies and immigrants from Mexico. Billy Joe and Delbert and Juan and Jose (who went by John and Little Joe (being the smallest of 3 Joes working there)) shared my dad’s Just Do It farm boy approach.

Meanwhile, kids attending school succeeded by doing what they were told and regurgitating on command. When I was a kid in the 60s, it was still possible to achieve some limited objective success around the edges of school – sports did not yet hand out participation trophies, you could objectively win a pinewood derby. But, in general, there were even then no real objective measures of success within school. Indeed, real success was denigrated: we were supposed to learn to read, but, if you did, your reward was to sit in class bored out of your mind while every other kid learned to read. Clearly, ‘group cohesion’ trumped any actual achievement. Same with math, writing, EVERYTHING: one earned suspicion and soul-destroying boredom by actually promptly learning anything at school.

I have a bunch of hobbies which produce concrete results: I build stuff out of wood and bricks. As I type, I am surrounded by things I have made with my own two hands. Meanwhile, I was possibly the worst student you will ever meet. Wish I could say I was a rebel, but honestly, I was a passive-aggressive coward, constantly testing the limits of how little work one could do in school without getting into serious trouble (ans: very, very little.). Unfortunately, this has lead to my own underappreciation of mental work. Writing is just barely becoming ‘work’ to me.

But what if that’s all you’ve got? I’m thinking of several acquaintances from college who, in the unlikely event they were ever to do a physical project, would feel like brave adventurers on an anthropological expedition. Let’s go experience what it’s like for the little people! They saved their papers and projects their school as proud and admirable work products, proof that they are ‘accomplished’. Certainly, in the eyes of the school, anything else they accomplish outside school is a hobby, in no way comparable to their ‘achievements’ in school.

Here’s the distinction: I look at the dining room table I’m sitting at as I type, the brick pizza oven I built, the shed, playhouse, bookcases, fences I put up. I take a daily tour of the fruit trees I’ve planted and the garden I’ve put in. None of these things are masterpieces, some are borderline junk – but I don’t need anyone’s approval for their base existence. They speak for themselves; good, bad, or indifferent, I made them. The works of my hands, however humble, have given me more pleasure and satisfaction than any desk job or scholarly achievement. I’m primitive that way.

Meanwhile, how does a good student know they are a good student? In what sense can one be, objectively, a good student, and how does this sense line up with what it means to be a good student in the eyes of the schools? Do their papers and test scores speak for themselves?

When I look at the penultimate former president, the glorious Light Bringer, that toward which our age aspires and from which its self-image flows, I see someone whose measure of success is simply the approval of others, others who can’t help but disparage and despise those who disapprove of him. When I think of the people he grew up around, his academic commie mom and her commie parents and the sort of crowd they would hang with, and I can see O getting patted on the head and told what a good, smart boy he is – at the same time he’s cycling through fathers and father figures who can hardly be troubled to stay in touch, and a mom who does her thing without any apparent regard for what her own son wants or needs.

Whenever I’ve been part of a voluntary work party at schools or church, a critical part of how successful they have been at getting any work done is how well organized they are: are there lists of clearly-defined tasks? Some method of assigning them? Somebody who can answer questions? Lacking this management structure, work days in my experience devolve to a bunch of people standing around and a few people working. As a people, it’s not just that we don’t seem to know what to unless somebody tells us what to do, it’s that we don’t know, on a pretty deep level, if we’ve even done something unless we get that pat on the head, that gold start, that participation trophy.

  1. All that said, if we are to accept the results of the votes of people’s feet, farming sucks, at least compared to other options. Given the option, the children of farmers have voted overwhelmingly for city life, factory and office work, and an apartment in the city or house in the suburbs.
  2. Haven’t read anywhere Dewey formalizing this goal – that perhaps had to wait for Frere, another huge fan of Marx and author of texts used in Ed Schools for 50 years now. Frere says that there is no point to an education that does not radicalize the students. Reading, writing, math are a distraction from the goal of overthrowing the System, man.

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.