More (or perhaps Moore) on Education

Any even half serious reading into education turns up a few themes over and over again. One of these is that not only is self-education the best education, it is the only education.

This truth is obscured somewhat by the occasional accident of education taking place at a school or university. Because there is often somebody lecturing and testing us, and it is possible (if unlikely) that we will learn something in the processes of taking notes and preparing for tests, we tend to associate what we may be said to have learned in a class with the mechanics of the class, rather than in our having applied ourselves to the the ideas presented in the books and by the teacher on our own initiative. We are trained to see learning as a result of having taken the notes and passed the test, rather than seeing the notes and tests as, at best, starting points for thought. Tests and notes might be helpful in some other context, where taking the notes is not merely a means to passing the tests and therefore the class. But in the context of a modern school or university, passing the classes and getting the Document of Approval is the goal – a goal which can demonstrably be achieved without any learning at all.

Image result for churchill
Churchill, for example:

My education was interrupted only by my schooling.

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.

I began my education at a very early age; in fact, right after I left college.


The text we call Aristotle’s Physics has long been supposed to be some student’s notes to some of Aristotle’s lectures. If so, these are the kinds of lecture notes that can educate, because it’s work to think about them – they are meaningless without thought. A lot of thought. Working through the Physics or indeed any of Aristotle’s works exercises the mind – educates us, in other words – more than getting a PhD’s worth of passed tests and classes under our hat bands. The point here is that you might find yourself working your way through the Physics in the course of getting a PhD, even a PhD in Philosophy – but it is hardly necessary. If you had the typical Analytic Philosopher infesting academia these days as your thesis advisor, thinking hard about the Physics would probably be a career limiting move.

But you’d learn something. If your newfound knowledge included disdain for Analytic Philosophers, all the better.

Sometimes, the importance of self education is emphasized through disparaging of classroom education. Sometimes, the writer will retain the (vain) hope that the classroom could, if properly managed, impart some education, but despairs of what it is used for today.

Image result for c.s. lewis
C. S. Lewis, from That Hideous Strength, on the effects of “education”:

Why you fool, it’s the educated reader 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’s our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the high-brow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.

The Greeks believed that true education was a form of and a result of true friendship. A friend, out of love, could educate his friend one on one. This individual encouragement is meant to inspire and aid the efforts of the student in self-education. (1) In other words, as in a platonic dialogue, the elder friend/teacher acted as a Socratic midwife to the younger friend/student, not as a lecturer in a classroom or even as a tutor of this or that subject. He would show the younger student what it was that the student needed to know, and guide and correct him – but as a friend. The younger student, out of love and gratitude (and ambition!) would study. That’s how you get a small town like Athens (less than half the size of the California suburb I live in) producing dozens of geniuses, building timeless monuments, writing hundreds of classic plays, poems, works of mathematics and philosophy, achieving a greatness seldom matched in human history, all over the course of a couple centuries. These United States have been around that long, have 500 times as many people, have vast technological advantages – have we done as well, proportionally? (2)

G.K. Chesterton
Chesterton, a self-educated man, takes a dim view of modern schools and their standardized outputs.

When learned men begin to use their reason, then I generally discover that they haven’t got any.

The purpose of Compulsory Education is to deprive the common people of their commonsense.

There is something to be said for teaching everything to somebody, as compared with the modern notion of teaching nothing, and the same sort of nothing, to everybody.


Catholics believe that each child is created in the image of God and is infinitely valuable in and of himself. This has tempered to some degree the evils inherent in classifying and controlling students through classroom schooling. The friendship model of education is much closer to the nature of the Catholic teacher/child relationship than graded classrooms, which defeat friendship and indeed personal relationships at every turn.

David Warren – and you should read him if you don’t already – yesterday made some comments that bear on this topic, so we’ll end with those:

I think of beloved old J. M. Cameron, who took me up as friend, mentoree, and “unregistered student” at Saint Michael’s College, back in those days. I once asked him directly, after he had been driven out by mandatory retirement, if there was anything all his best students had in common. He answered directly, “They were all self-taught.” In subsequent conversation I received a few mould-juicy anecdotes about how unwelcome they were in the universities, and how quickly most dropped out.

I think the reason our universities were so easily captured by the Leftist filth, was that they had already become institutes of planning; as opposed to education, which is risky and hard and in the fullest Platonic sense, personal.

  1. That this older successful men educate the younger promising men thing got competitive, where older men would vie to be the friend of the most beautiful (in the complete Greek sense of beauty) younger men and that these relationships sometimes became sexual was possible only because the Greeks believed such education based on friendship was essential to men becoming ‘excellent’ in the classic Greek sense. The whole sexual thing is probably overblown, and at least cannot be correctly understood within Freud’s insane and fraudulent schema.
  2. The Founders, who as a group are at least comparable to a generation of Peak Athenians, were also educated in what would today be considered a slapdash manner: little school here, some tutoring there, a whole lot of reading, and a huge dose of practical experience. Hey – let’s do that!

In Today’s Education News: The Kimono Slips

If it weren’t for double standards, our education establishment wouldn’t have any standards at all.

D.C. Public Schools graduation rate on track to decline this year. Of course, as is all but universally the case in newspaper articles about schooling, this article hides rather than reveals what’s going on here. You read enough of this stuff, and a clear pattern emerges: the education system investigates itself in order to produce two seemingly contradictory outputs. One the one hand, Something Must Be Done. That something, boiled down, is always, without exception, More Schooling. On the other hand, Something Is Being Done, and this time it will work!

Don’t pass Go until you’ve firmly grasped the main feature here: the education system investigating and reporting on itself. Just as parents are strictly forbidden access to the classroom except under strictly controlled and supervised conditions, there is no independent ongoing oversight of schools. Think about how nice your job would be if no one else was allowed to review what you do, you got to define your own challenges and measure your success against standards you get to determine. I’ve read but have not independently verified that school finances are similarly opaque: they do not report or budget according to GAAP or any other standard, but report and budget in a manner unique to schools.

A prime feature of education as an institution is that its operations are all but invisible to the outside observer. At the K-12 level, this means simply keeping parents out of the schools when schooling is actually taking place. School boards, which used to represent parents’ interests, have dwindled in number and power until they provide, if anything, merely a place for putative adults to blow off steam. They used to hire and fire all school officials. Now? You’ll take what you’re given and be happy.

At the college level, in addition to banning parents from the classroom, the opacity of school operations has the additional weapon of ‘academic freedom’. There was a time, difficult as it is to imagine, when parents and even students could get even the President of Harvard fired. People who worked at colleges were expected to be outstanding individuals, since the formation of the youth was being entrusted to them.  But for about a hundred years now, under the guise of ‘academic freedom’, we peons who pay the bills aren’t allowed to judge, let alone fire, any professor – only their peers, with their magic peer-wisdom (peer review, anyone?) are even allowed to have an opinion. Very handy for critical theorists, deconstructionists and other parasitic bottom-dwellers.

But kids eventually graduate, or at least leave. Those kids, having been thoroughly processed (whether they graduate or not) are then handed back to the Public, as it were. As long as they were in school, they were in a certain sense invisible. We certainly couldn’t walk in and check on them, that’s for sure. But more deeply, they were in someone else’s custody and under someone else’s control. They were not our problem.

But once they graduate, they might just be our problem. Who is micromanaging them now? Now graduation fits the above description to a ‘t’ – the education establishment decides who gets to graduate according to rules they and they alone make up and enforce. If you read the article, note that the schools set standards, the schools failed to enforce those standards to allow for ‘improved’ graduation rates. THEN the schools decided to enforce them, at least a little, and graduation rates plummet.

What’s going on here – and, again, spend a few decades reading these sorts of articles, and it will be evident – is what I call a state of permanent education reform. There must be Problems to be solved. The solution must always be More Schooling. But the solution cannot be allowed to actually solve anything, because then the crisis would pass. We must believe there’s a crisis to justify the endless cries for more funding and more teachers – the guise More Schooling takes. The idea that less schooling could address all these problems must never be thought: Crimestop has been taught, perhaps the only thing successfully taught, for 3 generations now and running.

Reading that article, would you hire anyone based on his having received a diploma from a DC high school? Did you spot the part where a kid would flunk out if he skipped *30* classes? There’s only about 150 class days per year. The level of hand-holding – of extra credit, summer schools, special programs, of the system stepping in to manage the children in order to obtain (part of) the results the system wants – does not bode well for the future success of these kids once they’re on their own.

It’s long been contended by critics that only about 50% of public high school students in America graduate in 4 years. In other words, half drop out one way or another, even if many go back later to get a GED or finish up later. But nobody keeps track of this, because how is knowing what kids do after they escape the system supposed to help the system?

D.C. graduation rates reflect the percentage of students who receive their diplomas in four years. Twenty-six percent of students who started freshman year with the class of 2018 have either withdrawn or transferred out of the D.C. Public Schools system. The city still needs to determine how many of these students transferred to another school, and how many dropped out.

In other words, the single fact of most interest to the public – how do the students do after they’ve left – is the question the schools “still needs to determine”.

The next time you hear criticism of homeschooling, unschooling or any other method of raising children, remember that for every weirdo parent teaching their kid the world is flat (figuratively speaking) there are a 1,000 kids being processed by the current schools who can’t even graduate based on requirements determined by those same schools. The homeschooler will be judged by standards never applied to the public schools.

And that homeschooler took responsibility, and didn’t take public funds. The same can hardly be said for the public schools.


Science and ‘Scientific’ Education

When I’m cruising through my giant pile of education history books, the pernicious phrases  ‘scientific’ education and ‘scientific’ schooling keep popping up.

That word you keep using – I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Brief recap of the use of the word science: The ancient use of words ‘science’ and ‘scientific’ referred to the systematic and logical exploration of a topic. Only later did the ‘scientific’ method arise. Science in the original sense was developed from fragmentary origins by Aristotle into the method of inquiry he used, for example, in the Physics.

Aristotle’s standard formulation of his approach: we start with what is most knowable to us and move toward what is most knowable by nature. As with much Aristotle, this is stating an obvious, simple thing: if you want to know about, say, horses, you start with the actual horses at hand – most knowable to us – and move toward the generalized knowledge of horses as a genus – more truly knowledge. Aristotle will use examples like ‘four-legged’ to describe the sort of thing we’d learn from the horses at hand. We’d conclude that having four legs is natural to horses in general. Stuff about horses in general is more knowable by nature as follows: a particular horse may be brown and unusually skinny and short, but once you know enough individual horses, by the miracle of the human mind, you can understand something about horses in general. Horses can be many colors and sizes (but not all colors and sizes!) but all of them have 4 legs and eat grass.

Image result for weird horseWhen applied in this manner to natural objects, Aristotle’s ‘scientific’ approach is not much different in nature than what modern hard (read: real) scientists do, including the part about where all conclusions are conditional: given the horses we have looked at are really representative of horses in general, and that we’ve perceived what we think we’ve seen correctly, then horses are of such and such nature. Aristotle would have never asserted that what he knew about horses rose to the level of certain knowledge, such as can be achieved in mathematics and logic. But it was interesting, and not unworthy. Aristotle didn’t care much that it was also useful – the tamer of horses better know what horses are like! And the city-state needed horses! – that came later with the likes of Francis Bacon. To Aristotle, the satisfaction of knowing something was the short term reward; the goodness of cultivating one’s mind and the excellence that results from such cultivation were the long term benefits. Making a buck, not so much.

To get from Aristotle’s approach to modern science, three things were missing: experimentation(1) – the idea that one could tease out knowledge from nature by making it jump through carefully controlled hoops; math – the idea that many of the relationships so teased out could best be expressed through numbers and formulas; and motivation – that whole ‘conquer and subject Nature to Man’s will’ thing. The Franciscan friar and scholar Roger Bacon is often credited with adding experimentation in the 13th century, although this is disputed (historians love to view the ancients through modern biases – see? Bacon was advanced – like us!). Be that as it may, Bacon’s writings pointed in the direction of  the increased importance of careful observation of the natural world as a way to knowledge. (His contemporary Albertus Magnus, a Dominican friar and scholar, whiled away some of his time making careful observations and drawings of plants – much like Darwin 650 years later – so the successful ideas again prove to have many fathers.)

Once experimentation and math got added to the mix over the next couple centuries, and people like Francis Bacon (the bring-home-the-bacon Bacon, as it were) promulgated the dogma that the purpose of science is to be useful (2), we’d reached both what we’d recognize as the the modern scientific method – and a great divide.

Without the math and especially experimentation, and, for really modern science, without the need for discoveries to prove themselves useful and profitable in the real world, science could trundle along including any number of subjects and approaches. Many things might be thought of a science, loosely speaking, in the old sense of something thought about rationally and systematically, that are not at all science in the current sense.

On one side of the divide, then, we have science in the full modern sense of the term – a body of knowledge that was teased out by careful experimentation, generally expressed at least in part through mathematics, and which has proven useful in some sense. This usefulness may merely be as an aid to further understanding (such as astronomy or even Darwinian evolutionary theory) but most often it means cold hard cash. Maxwell’s equations are used to make sure the lights go on when you throw the switch; Einstein’s discoveries are used to give you your correct location when you use the GPS function on your phone. And people have made a lot of money making use of that science, and we are all better off for it.

Sorry (slightly. Very slightly) if I’m bursting any bubbles here: Systematic, mathematic and profitable. That’s the science to which we owe allegiance. Pure knowledge for knowledge’s sake is lovely stuff, I am a fan, but the crass truth is that we’re never as sure about the claims of science as we are when somebody puts it into practice – and nothing motivates that like cold, hard cash.

On the other hand, there is a form of envy? Ambition? Greed? that compels some people to put on the sacred lab coat of science and claim that their pet ideas are science, even if there’s no systematic, replicable experimentation behind it and no one has challenged or is even allowed to challenge their ‘discoveries’. They then claim their ‘science’ is owed the same allegiance we pay to the science behind all the wonderful tech and gadgets that have given us, among other things, cars and phones, clean water, lots of food and long lives. Some – Freud, for an egregious example – wanted to be famous SO BAD that they just make stuff up and call any who object bad names. Others – their name is Legion – infest our colleges and schools so that they can inflict their ‘insights’ unchallenged on callow children. No systematic, repeatable experimentation? No solid math?  Nobody making the world better by applying these discoveries? No science, no allegiance owed.

Phrenology springs to mind as an historical example – serious people worked up what they took to be a serious scientific theory about how different areas of the brain created or controlled ‘propensities’, higher and lower ‘sentiments’ and so on. Phrenologists had theories about how the physical configuration of the skull could tell us about the mental condition of the brain inside it. They had all sorts of case studies, after a fashion, which proved their theories to their satisfaction.

The idea that you’d need careful definitions and double-blind, controlled studies preferably conducted by non-believers didn’t really seem to occur to fans. As is so often the case with complicated ideas about human behaviors, it would be difficult if not impossible to concoct an experiment that illuminates phrenology’s claims. How does one define a propensity, say, such that anyone could do a double-blind a study  to shed light on what sort of correlation, if any, exists between skull shape (or brain configuration – there were different flavors of phrenology) and such a propensity, as compared to some other propensity? One can imagine an ‘instrument’ of some sort by means of which one person could gather information about subjects and some other person could judge from that information to what degree any particular subject had this or that propensity, and then other people could survey their craniums (inside or out or both, I suppose) and someone else could attempt to correlate skull/brain topography to various propensities – but nothing remotely like this was ever done, as far as I can discover with the minimum amount of research I’m willing to do for a blog post. Way too much work, I imagine, for the armchair pseudo-scientist.

All the foregoing is to simply show that the term ‘science’ in the modern world is used equivocally. There’s the science that’s *hard* in at least 2 senses of that word, the science that leads to the tech that leads to better living (or at least works!). Then there’s the ‘science’ that is a combination of wishful thinking and browbeating and child abuse (telling self-serving lies to 18 year old under pain of expulsion from at least the cool kids club and maybe college itself isn’t abuse?).

Which brings us to today’s point:  There is no science behind ‘scientific’ schooling. No careful studies were ever done showing that grouping children by age and feeding them all the same instruction at the same time regardless of what those kids already knew for hours and months and years on end is better than any other approach or even works at all. (3) No studies were ever done showing that this approach succeeds better than any other approach or even no approach at all. There’s no evidence to show compulsory graded schooling yields better results than 1-room aged mixed schooling, homeschooling, or unschooling or any other approach, for that matter.

There is NO science behind the modern schools. None. Nada. It’s ‘science’ in the same way Freud’s ad hominem harranges and phrenologists’s pretty diagrams are science. In other words, not science at all.

Modern schooling does demonstrably work considered as a tool for the destruction of the families and communities that might oppose the total state. There’s some science behind that idea, although not generally expressed in those terms.

  1. I’m saying experiment for the sake of brevity. Please include ‘careful, replicable observation’ under ‘experiment’ in this sloppy blog post. Yes, astronomy can be a modern science.
  2. Through the expedient of making scientists like Bacon rich and famous. Or maybe I’m seeing things through my modern biases?
  3. For example: control for parents: if a child has successful, happily married parents, does modern school contribute anything to the likelihood of that child’s future success? Similarly, if a child has a single drug-addicted parent and lives in squalor and neglect, does school help? Intervention might help – but is school the best or even a workable form for such intervention? Inquiring scientific minds would like to know.

Catholic Schools Week p. 5: History Wrap Up

In previous posts, here, here and here, we quickly ran through some high points and low points in the history of Catholic Schooling in America. Picking up where we left off:

The Supreme Court decision in the 1930s case of the blatant anti-Catholic Oregon laws outlawing Catholic and other private schools and mandating government schools left the Church free to continue its program. The ruling basically said that, yes, parents have the right and duty to educate their kids BUT the state also has a duty to see to it that its citizens get educated. This seems on the surface a reasonable and workable position. Catholics get to run their own schools, yes, but the state gets to decide whether or not they’re doing a good job, and, at least implicitly, could step in with whatever amount of management, rules, laws, and curriculum it saw fit to ensure the schools were ‘educating’ Catholic school students to the state’s satisfaction.

Two points here: First, the potential for state interference in Catholic schools may seem like fear mongering, as the state has not – so far – intervened too often or too egregiously. For now, I merely want to point out that the Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t actually preclude on the surface any amount of state interference. Just as the state has found the ideal expression of the Prussian model unworkable – they have not yet simply seized our kids and barred the family from any role in education – they have so far found it unnecessary to, say, have state monitors in every Catholic classroom. It would be hard to argue, philosophically and legally, that the state couldn’t do if they wanted to. They just haven’t so far.

The second point is our need to recognize WHY the state has let Catholic schools slide. First of all, the state education departments generally get a passive acceptance if not a downright enthusiastic response to their ideas from Catholic educators. See, for example, how Common Core got adopted by most diocesan Catholic school systems without much discussion until after the fact. There are many reasons for what might seem to be a shocking degree of acquiescence to the state’s education programs, given that the parochial schools were founded precisely to Catholic kids out of state schools. But that popular Catholic fervor has, like, sadly, all distinctly Catholic fervor, all but died. It was pretty much dead by the time Kennedy became President, crushed at least partially under weight of the immigrant’s need to fit in that the Kennedy’s embodied. A concession here, a compromise there, and – hey! We’re real Americans, too! In the phrase American Catholic, the ‘American’ part comes first.

Further, National Catholic Education Association has been, from its founding, dedicated to the idea of teacher professionalism and, from that same founding, at odds with the bishops. Under the NCEA, the teachers’ core belief is that THEY are the PROFESSIONALS, and the bishops should take direction from them. This was evident from Day 1, and is yet another sign of what people will do to be part of the cool kids club. NCEA members are JUST AS GOOD as any other teachers, especially the public school teachers. They’re ideally certified by the state and everything! Frankly, that’s the problem.

Just as the state achieves the goal of separation of child from family by simply mandating longer and longer school years and hours and piling on the homework and extra-curricular activities, it can achieve its goals without overt steps if the Catholic school commit themselves to simply becoming better versions of state schools, with a tiny and decreasing bit of that God-person thrown in. Once the graded classroom model was adopted by Catholic schools, the state has been getting 90% of what it wants anyway. Here’s the oft-quoted line from William Torry Harris with which readers of this blog are no doubt familiar:

“Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.”

Harris was the US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906. He was involved in the rapid spread of ‘scientific’ ‘consolidated’ schools and the war waged against one-room schools. (One topic of research for the book I hope to write is Harris’ approach to Catholic schooling. His fell hand can be seen in the escalating attacks of the state education departments on the established, successful and beloved one room schools set up, funded and run by local parents. Can’t imagine he didn’t get into the anti-Catholic school show. But research required.) The NCEA was founded in 1904, during the time when Harris’ attitudes represented the most modern, progressive thinking on education. Harris was a leader in the cool kids club that NCEA members wanted, more or less consciously, to be a part of.

(Aside: Harris says a number of other equally insane things about schooling, this is just my favorite. It is of course hidden in a bunch of bland truism and vague Hegelian blather. Freire follows a slightly different template: it’s only after reading a couple hundred pages on the plight of the poor that he cuts to the chase of how the oppressors – anyone who opposes him, by definition – will of course need to have their stuff seized, be locked up and, well, maybe killed – for their own and and everybody else’s good. Context and thorough reading are needed to find the nasty needles in the pablum piles of education writing.)

State and University Education departments were founded and are run by people who, if they think at all, thing like Harris, who thinks like Mann, Fichte and von Humboldt. You got nowhere with state or university education departments if you opposed these ideas. That’s the case to this day – there was never a vigorous academic or political debate of various educational philosophies, they were not allowed. That’s how, 150 years later, most people can’t even imagine school as anything but the little butts in seats micromanaged by ‘experts’ model.

Here are some source materials. The key points shared by these thinkers summed up:

  • Education is totally managed by experts, with no parental input desired or even tolerated.
  • Schooling recognizes no bounds. If it proves desirable to forcibly remove children and separate them from their families and communities for years on end, that would be OK.
  • The goals of the state are completely coextensive with any legitimate goals of the children and families. If the child or the family object, they are not just wrong, but immoral and traitorous. No, really – it is that clear.
  • The only value an individual has is as part of the state. T
  • Finally, unstated but always present: the children of the leaders don’t attend these schools. The educational needs of the powerful are not the same as those of the weak.

Of course, this isn’t packaged exactly this blatantly. Fichte, for example, saves the good stuff for towards the end of his Addresses to the German People and just sort of tosses them in; Harris writes in dry journals rarely read by anyone besides his coreligionists and sycophants, the kind of things PhD students would research. For the peons – and classroom teachers are definitely among the people Woodrow Wilson (he was president of Princeton for a while) wanted to spare from the extravagance of a liberal education – are to be fitted for the jobs their betters want them to do, in the manner Harris describes.

Think outside the box? What box?

My fear is that I might in my researches turn up some poor soul who convinced himself that those goals above were perfectly OK, so long as the tools were in the hands of  our *Catholic* betters. That would be tragic. I hope instead that the basic human need to fit in, to be part of the tribe, overpowered the good sense of Catholic educators and put us on this educational slippery slope without much conscious though. Because, boy, if they actively chose this… Visions of millstones.

Overt anti-Catholic bigotry largely went underground around the time of JFK (no worries – it’s making a comeback! Your hopes of martyrdom are not total fantasy!). Well before that time, most Catholics, including the people running Catholic schools, seem to have made peace with the idea of state schooling: while parochial schooling was certainly still promoted within the Church, it’s not like many Catholics couldn’t sleep at night if their kids went to the convenient – and free! – public schools. After all, Catholic schools by then would be almost indistinguishable from public schools if it weren’t for the uniforms, crucifixes, occasional nun and proximity to a church building.  Add a little dollop af CCD Faith Formation, and there’s nothing left to argue about. And then you gradually forget even that smidge of Catholic training – heck, the Catholic schools largely do!

By now, for most Catholics and the many non-Catholics who send their kids to Catholic schools, such schools really are nothing more than better versions of public schools. Such parents might hope their kids will be spared the overt violence and apathy so apparent in so many public schools and maybe learn a few things they’ll need to get into a good college.  Few if any seem to hope their kids will get a heavy dose of Catholicism – if they can imagine what that would look like.

We can only start considering a truly Catholic education once we’ve rejects the graded classroom model and embrace a Catholicism that makes us Catholic Americans and not the other way around. As long as that model persists, the state is getting what it wants – obedient, mindless drones. That they are nominally Catholic drones doesn’t matter to the state, so long as they can be counted on to do as they are told – like so many of our ‘Catholic’ congressdroids. That’s the goal, That’s what the model was built 200 years ago to produce. And it works.


Catholic Schools Week p. 4: How Did We Get Here? Continued More

By the 1920s, the efforts of American bishops greatly aided by many teaching orders had built hundreds of parochial schools. Efforts were not consistent, however. In New York, lead by a series of strong and committed bishops, most parishes also had a parish school. (Alas, even then, the Church was never fully able to keep up with demand. Catholic immigrants arrived faster than schools could be built and teachers hired.) In Boston, efforts were less focused. I’d have to look it up (not looking stuff up for these blog posts – wait for the book) but I don’t think Catholic school attendance among Catholics there ever reached 50%.

Part of this has to do with the nationality of the immigrants. German immigrants tended to come from well-ordered towns where individual positive involvement with local government was not uncommon – people would get together in towns and villages an *do* stuff. One of the things they did was run schools. So, when challenged by the bishops to fund and build schools, German Catholic immigrants got right down to business: almost every parish formed to serve German immigrants has a school. Italian immigrants were a much more mixed bag: (speculation follows) while village life was common, the power of local aristocracy (and mafias!) loomed large. People couldn’t just get together and do something like build a school without considering political ramifications. I suspect (more research needed!) this tended to put a damper on local initiative. At any rate, Italian parishes (outside New York, where the whip was cracked and the bishop stood in for the aristocracy) were more spotty about support for schools.

The Irish had a couple chips on their shoulders: they were, along with Sicilians, southern Italians and Jews, the most despised immigrants. They had a harder time getting jobs and fitting in. Plus, they had no experience of benevolent or even merely indifferent government – for centuries, they had been ruled by the English and treated as slaves when they weren’t actively being exterminated. The English weren’t exactly going to encourage the Irish to build and run their own schools. So while many beautiful churches and parish schools were built by and for Irish immigrants, it was not something they seem to have taken to easily. The Irish could be mustered to build a church. Getting them to then sacrifice for a school seems to have often been too much.

(Aside –  a current personal example of what I’m talking about: the parishes around here often have more Spanish-speaking Latin Americans than English speaking parishioners. Several of my friends have ministries to the Spanish speaking, and talk about how hard it is to get the Mexicans in particular to own responsibility for the parish. They don’t really see it as their job to fund and take care of it. Looking at the last century of Mexican history, this makes some sense. The Church was – still is – persecuted in Mexico. For several generations now, open support for church activities was a career-limiting move at best. People from other Latin American countries are free of this problem to greater and lesser extents.)

That’s on the local level. The good news was that millions of Catholic kids were getting some education, mostly by religious sisters. They were winning by subtraction: the real victory was keeping them away from the state schools. The evils inherent in the graded classroom model were mitigated in Catholic schools by the belief that each kid was a child of God with an infinitely valuable immortal soul for whose salvation the adult teachers were somewhat responsible, as opposed to a blank slate on which the state’s will was to be written.

In the 1930s, with local power weakened by the Great Depression, states began to consider taking more drastic steps to curb or destroy Catholic schools. Oregon passed a law that outlawed private schools and required attendance at state schools. The case went to the US Supreme Court.

Now, if the law had been allowed to stand, other states were ready to try it, too. If you’ve been following these blog posts, you should see that the goals of the education establishment as founded in this country by Horace Mann included getting rid of exactly the kind of schools Catholics were setting up: local and outside state control. Catholic schools and one-room schools were the major stumbling blocks on the road to complete state control of all education, and thus were relentlessly attacked.

But the Supreme Court struck the Oregon law down. Before we dance in the streets, we should consider the nature of the victory and arguments. The Church and other private schools did not argue that the state had no place interfering with a parent’s God-given right and duty to educate his own children. Instead, they argued that the state has a critical interest in the education of children, but that as long as the parish schools conformed to the general guidelines and submitted to testing and inspection, they should be left alone. The Supreme Court agreed – that while the state had a duty (and therefore a right) to see to it that children got educated, the actual mechanisms should be left to the parents.

Note that the Church won the battle but lost the war: we could have or own schools, just so long as we complied with state education department rules and tests. Now, the smarter people at the top of the educational establishment were no doubt buoyed by this ruling: if the Catholic schools could be compelled to use the graded classroom model and test kids to make sure they were ‘performing at grade level’, the eventual outcome was assured. For the state is a jealous god.

The funny part is – and more research is needed here – the Catholic schools had already by this time adopted the graded classroom model, advertised as ‘scientific’ and ‘progressive’, without the need for state compulsion.  They already structured their curricula around ‘grade level’ rather than on the person interests and skills of the child. They already used graded textbooks. They had already separated the children by age with no regard paid to kinship or friendship. All the state had to do was watch.

And they got their wish. Rare is the parish school where a kid will learn familiar prayers and attend Mass and learn any doctrine. More likely, a huge percentage of the kids are not even Catholic. Their parents just want them out of the public schools, and have no fear their kid will come out Catholic – or, worse, that if they did it would have any meaningful effect. The milk toast Catholics the schools produce are indistinguishable from muddle-headed Gaia worshipers, where recycling is a virtue but following Catholic doctrine is strictly optional – and sort of icky and backwards.

Here in California, remarkably one of the less controlling states as far as education goes, Catholic parents have set up K-12 schools and colleges to get away from the horror and failure of the established Catholic schools. O, the irony! The founders of these schools probably never considered doing anything other than the graded classroom model! They don’t understand what Chesterton and Lewis point out many times: what you tell a kid may or may not take, but what you *assume* without discussion they absorb forever! So, these lovely schools – at the moment, they are lovely, in the bloom and vigor of their youths – have embraced the seeds of their own destruction.

For the kids will learn more deeply and profoundly that anything they are actively taught that 1) the most important inviolate thing is to stick to your assigned group; 2) people in charge will assign you to a group; 3) it doesn’t matter (much) what you already know or are interested in, you will study what we tell you to study; 4) experts will tell you how you’re doing  & define competence and success for you; and 5) it doesn’t matter who your friends and family are, those relationships are not as important to sticking to your assigned group and doing what you’re told.

(That last item may need a little expansion: to pick a familiar example, in American one-room schools, families and neighbors made up the entire student population. Kids were not segregated by age. Instead, family and neighbor relationships were taken as a given and reinforced by the school. It would be you brother or neighbor who taught you how to read cypher, and your cousin or sister you in turn taught. Compare and contrast to modern schools. Imagine how different schooling would be if the one-room model was adopted and adapted for modern city use, rather than being exterminated by the fans of the Prussian model.)

Of course, these messages are contradicted by the very real love and care of the faculty of these newer parent-run Catholic schools. The message of Christ – of love and sacrifice and most particularly the infinite value of each human soul – is a far stronger and more powerful message than that people must conform to the will of the state (which is why the state tries to bury it!). And the little saints and good people behind these schools can keep them on track for some time with the grace of God. BUT: those messages – Fichte’s and Mann’s and the NEA’s and Freire’s and Marx’s – that the child is blank slate, family is less important than school, and we all ar tools to be used to achieve the state’s ends – will, in the end, win by attrition so long as they lurk unrecognized in the graded classroom model itself.

This victory of the state is not a theory. It’s what has happened to all the beautiful and well-intentioned parochial schools already. Which is why parents form new Catholic schools. And why those schools, too, will eventually fail unless they reject the graded classroom model.

Catholic Schools Week p. 3: How Did We Get Here? Continued

We left our brief and unannotated summary of the history of Catholic schooling in America around the turn of the last century. At that time, the bishops for the most part remained firm in their support of Catholic schools in opposition to the public schools. It was clear public school – compulsory, Prussian model built upon ‘blank slate’ theory – were set up specifically to destroy the Catholic faith – as well as family and local community.

A little context: Back in 1811 in Berlin, Fichte had proposed schooling as the solution to the problem of German national unity – if only progressive, right thinking people could break the local, family and religious bonds that compete with loyalty to the state, and replace them with unthinking obedience to the will of the state (as embodied by the likes of Fichte), all problems would be solved! The German people could assume their rightful place as leaders and teachers of mankind!

All we need to do to achieve this earthly paradise, Fichte taught through a series of very popular public lectures, is physically remove all children from their parents and start right in training kids to do exactly what their teachers tell them to do. Kids must learn to reject home, village and their village’s God. They must learn to mistrust their own inclinations and instead realize that only the approval of their teachers matters. Their freedom lies in becoming completely subservient to the will of the State as expressed by their teachers. Once properly trained, they will become a new people, fit for the new  enlightened and progressive paradise.

(If you hear in Fichte foreshadowing of Hegel, Marx and Nazis, you are not wrong.)

This went over so well in Prussia that von Humboldt put Fichte in charge of the newly-established University of Berlin, where the details of how to deliver such an education were worked out. (For example: nothing says ‘control’ like bells, arbitrary social arrangements like age-grouping, and needing permission to go to the bathroom – let’s do that!) Mann, and just about every American education reformer for the next 50 years, went to Prussia to learn how to do it. After Mann returned from his tour of Prussia in 1841, he became an even greater cheerleader for Prussian schooling in America – he had seen the future (well, at least up until maybe Great War) and it worked!

The unholy rage for central control of everything was in full bloom all around, and the example of the bloodbath and ruin of Russian Revolution and Nazi Germany had not yet presented the case studies of how such efforts to perfect Man in this world play out. I imagine that, then as now, if you had too strong and too public doubts about all this, you were unlikely to get invited to the cool kid’s parties. Once it’s been established that external approval by the proper authorities IS the measure of all things – the central goal of our system of schooling – how could it be otherwise?

(As an aside: in Lord of the World, written just before WWI, Benson could plausibly speculate that centralized control worked just great under its own term. Seemed to be working at the time. He contemplated the horrors that would result from a tidy, efficient world at ‘peace’ bought roughly under Fichte’s terms. Those with eyes to see had not yet been disabused by small h history.)

So we have a Catholic hierarchy in America consisting mostly of German and especially Irish bishops, many of whom were themselves immigrants or children of immigrants, trying to provide for the spiritual needs of millions of often uneducated and desperately poor Catholics. The need for Catholic schooling was just one of many things they had to worry about.

The Catholic University of America was founded in 1887. Catholics had been founding universities since the 12th century – Catholics invented the university – so CUA is hardly surprising. I need to do much more research here, but from the admittedly incomplete reading I’ve done so far, it seems that at least in part, CUA was a manifestation of the outsider’s desire to fit in. It wasn’t enough to reject the grim Calvinism (in its myriad mutated forms) of Harvard – we had to have a big university, too! And it will be *just like* those Ivy schools, only Catholic.

The trouble is, where do you draw the line? How much of what goes on at Harvard can a Catholic university baptize, and how much needs to be utterly rejected?

Somehow, somewhere in this timeframe, the graded classroom model became the American Catholic school model. Again, I must remind the reader that this idea that kids should be segregated by age, spoon-fed certain subjects in the same way, governed by bells and always under the teacher’s unquestioned authority  is NOT normal, nor historical, nor, especially, Catholic. It is an innovation by viritent anti-Catholics instituted to control people like us. Yet, somehow, it became the unquestioned norm of Catholic schools in America.

At this time, parallel to the need for teachers was a ‘need’ for teaching materials that could be used in a graded classroom Catholic school.  A couple priests on the faculty of CUA took it upon themselves to produce such materials, structured to reinforce the graded classroom style (you know, a 1st grade this, a third grade that). There seems to have been some friction with the bishops at this time over who exactly was in charge. The bishops had not granted any formal or exclusive right to publish Catholic textbooks, yet de facto, that’s what happened. The publishers seem to have been far more sympathetic to modernism than the bishops. This foreshadows the conflicts we see today, where the local bishop, who is legally and morally in charge of any schools that call themselves Catholic in his diocese, is opposed at every step by faculty and even parents if he tries to impose anything too overtly Catholic on them.

By the 1930s, when states such as Oregon made efforts to simply ban Catholic schools outright, they had already come to be kinder, gentler versions of Prussian schools where you could pack a rosary without getting into trouble. But the structure – and therefore inescapably the goals – of Prussian schooling were ubiquitous

To be fair, up until the 1960s (I caught the tail end of this) it was customary to start the day at a Catholic school with Mass, and to stop and pray the Angelus, and to pray before classes and to otherwise be demonstratively Catholic. I was present in schools when these traditions died, and the Catholicism of Catholic schools became little more than the marketing gimmick it almost always is today.

To be continued.

Catholic Schools Week p. 2: How Did We Get Here?

This will be a quick skim no references version. The deep dive heavily referenced version is the book or two I hope to write in a few years when I’ve retired.

A key point you’ll need to keep in mind to understand the following: the form we consider normal for schooling is an historically recent invention. The idea that a nation should separate its young into ‘classes’ by age and teach every child in that class the same materials in the same way regardless of their existing knowledge, intelligence, interests and natural family relationships would have struck sane people as at least bizarre until about 150 years ago. If it weren’t for pervasive Stockholm Syndrome, it would strike us as bizarre as well.

When such schooling, known as the Prussian model, was first proposed in America by Horace Mann, Massachusetts’ and the nation’s first state secretary of education, around 1838, it was widely opposed. Literacy was about 99% in the North at the time – somehow, people were getting educated without the involvement of the state government and taxes! The hard-headed farmers and shopkeepers of New England were not about to tax themselves to get something – educated children – they already had.

Then starting in 1845, Mann got his lucky break: the Great Famine in Ireland resulted in many thousands of Irish immigrating to Massachusetts. Having suffered under the murderous fist of the English for centuries, having the culture and religion crushed, and being treated as slaves, the Irish understandably did not fit in. They weren’t good little Protestants.

These same hard headed New England farmers and shopkeepers were now sold the idea that compulsory public schools on the Prussian model were needed – to make good little Protestants out of the filthy Papist Irish via removing their children from their care and indoctrinating them in good solid Protestant teaching.

And the voters bought it. It became illegal to not send your kid to school – your kids could be taken away from you if found at home during school hours. Of course, those same kids could be working in a factory owned by Mann’s friends and peers – that was fine, so long as they were removed from the evil influence of family. That’s a key feature of Prussian schooling, which in its pure form (rarely advertised) advocates for the complete removal of the child from the family as soon as practical – say, once weened – for the kid’s entire childhood. No, really – you’ll need to read the book, all this is laid out at the founding of the public school movement. Complete removal of children from families has not proven economical or practical – yet. Instead, the school day and school year just keep growing, to reduce as much as possible the baleful influence of family.

As more and more Catholics came into the country, the bishops, with varying degrees of fervor, began pushing for the construction of Catholic schools. They were so desperate to prevent the Protestantization of the faithful via the schools that, at one point, they sought to get Vatican permission to excommunicate any Catholic parent who could send his kids to a Catholic school but refused. The pope, very probably not really understanding the situation, would not allow it. The bishops – this will shock you – went along with the pope’s decision without a fuss.

At no point did more than 50% of Catholic kids attend Catholic schools. The results we see today are exactly what those bishops feared. They would weep to see the secularization of almost all Catholic schools today.

Recall that not too many years later, in 1907, Pope St. Pius X issued his condemnation of modernism. Now, a pope will not bother condemning something in such dramatic fashion unless he sees it as a real and present danger. The example of what happened in American Catholic schools is just the sort of thing that PASCENDI DOMINICI GREGIS was written to address.

It is common and understandable that immigrants would desire to become accepted and acculturated. Many Catholic immigrants and their children wanted to be more American than the Americans. I remember reading somewhere that enlistment rate, for example, were and are higher for naturalized Americans and their children than for native-born Americans. There is a strong urge among Catholics to make their schools better examples of the public schools, so much so that today, you find Catholic schooling touted as a better version of public schools, higher test scores, better college admission rates, better future financial success, and so on. What’s not emphasized or explained in other than very broad and do-gooder terms is what makes Catholic schools Catholic. Mass attendance, prayer life, adherence to the teachings of the Church – these are not much discussed.

Not only did those largely German and Irish 19th century bishops fail  to get most Catholics into their schools, by the 1960s, it made hardly a lick of difference if they did.

Back to the timeline. Unfortunately,  by the late 1800s higher education in America had completely fallen under the spell of Hegelians and Marxists – and thus, we created a class of educated Catholics who, sharing with their less educated brethren the desire to fit in,  kept looking for ways to adapt the Catholic schools to the newest and best thinking at  (Calvinist=>Unitarian=>Hegelian/Marxist) Harvard. And boy, are those Ivy League schools down with compulsory Prussian education!

So, while the bishops obeyed Rome and stopped threatening the real risk of damnation on those who refused to send their kids to Catholic schools, other Catholics were doing their best to make those Catholic schools conform in spirit to the public schools.

A note on teachers, then we’ll put this aside for now and take it up again later. One of the biggest challenges the bishops faced was finding teachers. This was exacerbated by money – except in a few places, immigrants were both being taxed to pay for the public schools and then asked to contribute to the Catholic schools. There was very little money to pay teachers. So the bishops looked to religious orders to supply them. Demand was so high that young women – it was almost always women – would find themselves in the classroom teaching with only a year or two of preparation.

The religious orders both newly formed and old emphasized community life for the nuns, based on centuries of experience: they knew that if these young women lived in community with more experienced sisters, they could be taught how to teach while having their vocation strengthened and supported. The option – sending the young sisters away to some education school or other – was too risky to their callings even apart from the expense. Some orders and diocese tried to form their own education schools, but that proved expensive.

When the National Catholic Education Association formed in 1904, one of its chief missions was to professionalize Catholic grade school teachers. What this meant was sending them to education schools and getting them paid. This often put them at odds with the bishops and religious orders.

The NCEA eventually succeeded to a large extent. What this means is that for the last century, the best educated Catholic school teachers are taught in education departments founded and run by people completely on board with the methods and goals of Prussian education. Starting with Mann, every state and university education department in America has been established by devotees of the Prussian model. They are the gatekeepers.

Once we can start imagining education without the insane graded classroom model, we can start imagining true Catholic education.