The American Education Experiment

      Considering the moral and religious metanarrative of the American educational system in its earliest era, it appears that philosophical humanism is a modern novelty. Real nonetheless is its presence in the early history of the United States as a proto-secularism emerging and coexisting with religious cultural structures. This competition continues in the present era, most noticeable in competing philosophies of education, interpretations of history, conflicts over the First Amendment, public expressions of religion, etc. This conflict is evident from the formative years of the American educational system.

A City on a Hill

     The American Experiment was forged in the new world; the product of independence from old world civilization and the steady expansion of nascent Protestantism, in its many forms. Hence, the educational enterprise was itself an experiment in largely Protestant catechesis as the emerging nation forged a new identity distinct from Mother England. Algera and Sink (2002) observed that not long ago in the American educational context, “The Bible served as the primary textbook for reading and the daily lessons reinforced a commitment to moral codes of behavior based upon the Scriptures” (p. 163). Moral education and conscience formation have been at the heart of the American educational enterprise. Noting the historical relationship of religion and society early in the Anglo-European context of American education, Walker, Kozma and Green (1989) write: “As it was in traditional English society, education in colonial society was centered in the family, the community, and the church” (p. 48).

     Large colonial families, particularly extended families, merged with evolving communities, so much that they were indistinguishable. The interplay of community and family extended the values of the family unit into the public sphere, “. . . and its instruction in the world of work and conduct of life” (p. 49). It was the church and home that provided the moral framework for the education of children, through both catechesis and modeling.

Education for moral stability

     In areas of largely Puritan influence, to aid in the stabilizing of families and society in the new world, laws were established in New England that attempted to secure the inculcation of both moral and religious values. As society’s vocational demands increased upon families, education was delegated to the community and the public schools emerged, supported by wealthy benefactors. “ . . . public schooling has developed as an institution controlled by the people that can be used to address problems perceived by the people; that is, the school has been perceived as an instrument for the implementation of public policy” (Walker, Kozma and Green, 1989, p. 50). Though they were the policies of the religious majority, “Religious instruction was believed to foster virtue, a characteristic many of the founding fathers emphasized as necessary to the citizenry of a republic” (Walker, Kozma and Green, 1989, p. 50). Harvard’s General Education in a Free Society (1945) made it clear the purpose of education was to train the Christian citizen: “Nor was there doubt how this training was to be accomplished. The student’s logical powers were to be formed by mathematics, his taste by the Greek and Latin classics, his speech by rhetoric and his ideals by Christian ethics [sic]” (Mattox, 1948, p. 9). 

     While this general sentiment was prevalent in the early colonies, among the Puritans it was rigorously employed as noted in the New England Primer (1690, a revision of the Protestant Tutor), Noah Webster’s Blue Back Speller (1790) and later Jonathan Fischer’s Youth Primer (ca. 1817). However, not long after the War of Independence with Great Britain, American society began to look to the public schools not simply to support a virtuous citizenry, but to prepare and train children for social and economic advancement (p. 53). The narrow Puritan vision was not shared by all.

Eucharistic Contradiction

     I’m making my way muttering through the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ. I’m humbled and challenged at the 2000-year-old tradition of the church that speaks of the union of husband and wife analogous to the union of Christ and the church. It makes modern and postmodern discussions about the ontological union appear trivial and nonsensical.  

A few notes from Cardinal Caffarra: “The status of the divorced and civilly remarried is in objective contradiction with that bond of love that unites Christ in the church, which is signify that actualized by the Eucharist.”

Caffarra explains that in the Catholic view, marriage consists of a bond that is not simply moral, but also ontological, because it integrates Christ into the marriage.  “The married person is ontologically consecrated to Christ, conformed to him. The conjugal bond is put into being by God himself, by means of the consent of the two (spouses).” Caffarra concedes that if the marital bond were only moral and not ontological, it could be dispensed. However, given the ontological nature of the sacramental bond, “the spouse remains integrated into such a mystery, even if the spouse, through a subsequent decision, attacks the sacramental bond by entering into a state of life that contradicts it .”

As a consequence, the admission of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to the sacrament of penance and the Eucharist would not only market change in Sacramento practice or discipline; it would introduce a fundamental contradiction into the Catholic doctrine concerning matrimony, and therefore also the Eucharist.

RITC, p. 28f

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Marriage and the Sequential Self

     Admittedly, a cursory reading of the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage as a sacrament, is a daunting task. Part of my new task as the pastoral associate at our parish is marriage counseling. Of course, as a former Presbyterian minister this task was not nearly as complicated.  In my former denominational home, while giving allegiance to the Westminster confession of faith, there was still a certain degree of subjective playroom which a minister or parishioner or anyone for that matter, a personallist hermeneutic.  This is the reality of our era, and an unfortunate result of sola scriptura.

     2000 years of dogmatic teaching in the Roman Catholic Church regarding marriage is certainly a wealth of information; it is not only a wealth of information – it is a clear cut guideline with clear boundaries on what a Christian marriage is and what it is not. It’s the last part that is the most eye-opening. In a culture that is post-Christian and postmodern the idea of transcendentals is a forgotten and extinct dinosaur.

     Robert Doearo, OSA, notes in the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ

… People today are taken in by the concept of “sequential” or “serial” selves that has developed in contemporary philosophy. This concept encourages a shift in traditional believe about human nature; specifically it promotes the view that personal identity changes during one’s lifetime. [John] Rist observes that “many hardly believe themselves to be from conception to death” because they “are subject to such ongoing and psychologically radical variations as they proceed through life” (67).  Hence, these people would conclude, “I am not the same person as I was when I married, and my wife is not the same person either”, resulting in a belief that their marriage has become “a fictional relationship” (68).

That certainly explains a lot…

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Educated “Just Enough”

The early days of the Republic saw the emergence of a unique American educational theory; however, it was a product of the times of revolution, enlightenment and individualism. Religious foundations were laid in American soil in a time of reformation and immigration to the new world. However, there was no universal or state religion or denomination that carried the force of unity among the many state churches. As the new nation took form, the foundations of Puritanism crumbled in New England within a generation. While Jefferson and Madison gave a nod to nature’s God in the Constitution, they

. . . gave clear evidence of the coming dethronement of religious education and values from the curriculum. Although denominational forces were to control formal education . . . throughout much of the nineteenth century, the republican theorists clearly stated what would become the secularized education of the twentieth century (Gutek, 1995, p. 182)

With the swell of immigration in the 1800s, “The revolution in industry brought a factory system to the cities, new machinery to the factories, and new workers to run the machines” (Walker, Kozma and Green, 1989, p. 56). Jefferson’s and Franklin’s efforts at common public schools for common folk unfortunately produced a dual citizenry: those rich and well-educated could enjoy higher and broader learning in private, denominational (Latin or classical/humanist) schools. The poor however, were educated just enough to be productive citizens.

From my dissertation…

Categories: Dissertation, Education

A Turning Point

The Thirty Year’s War persuaded everybody that neither Protestants nor Catholics could be completely victorious; it became necessary to abandon the medieval hope of doctrinal unity, and this increased men’s freedom to think for themselves, even about fundamentals. The diversity of creeds in different countries made it possible to escape persecution by living abroad. Disgust with theological warfare turned the attention of able men increasingly to secular learning, especially mathematics and science. These are among the reasons for the fact that, while the sixteenth century, after the rise of Luther, is philosophically barren, the seventeenth century . . . marks the most notable advance since Greek times.

Betrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, p. 525

Education in Flux

A recent report from the Washington Post showed 175,000 New York students opting out of the common core testing process.  I discovered in my doctoral research on the history of education, that one could argue on the basis of evolution in general that certain children are more gifted than others – if gifted is an appropriate term for natural selection. It should be obvious that some children have a higher intelligence than other children. This is genetic as well as environmental. I have long argued that certain children have a genetic predisposition to obtain higher goals than others – again this is genetic and environmental. Perhaps “higher goals” is incorrect; let us say varied and differentiated goals. Many aspire to be physicians, scientists and the like. Others aspire to sell crack.

To put it another way, in the Christian metanarrative, the Bible makes it clear that the human person has been given gifts and talents by God to be used responsibly. It is true therefore, that some people will indeed have a greater intelligence toward greater ends. When I argued that point and several of my education classes, I was dubbed a racist regardless of the fact that I never brought up race or ethnicity. Here’s a quote from my dissertation regarding Benjamin Franklin’s goal for public education:

Benjamin Franklin voiced concerns for a secularized education. Inspired by Puritan cotton Mathers “essays to do good,” Franklin like most Americans and many political philosophers, was only nominally religious. Walker, Kozma and Green (1989) point out that Franklin publicly supported self education and noted that higher education only appeared to be useful to train clergy. Students of lower economic and social classes were minimally educated for the working class. “For Franklin, the most useful studies were those that gave the student mastery over his own language: the ability to read and understand, right clearly and speak effectively” (p. 54).  A pragmatist, Franklin’s educational theory would not be realized or implemented until the later 19th century.

Compulsory education is in an Egalitarian mistake that assumes all children are equal. Compulsory education for those not genetically wired for education will be torture for them. Education is a privilege not a right especially not a right guaranteed by the Constitution. It’s my opinion that there are plenty of people who would benefit from Benjamin Franklin’s observation.  There are plenty of students who were calls and multitudes of problems precisely because they simply don’t want to be there and perhaps their gifts and talents in a variety of directions should be given a chance in a trade or an apprenticeship. In fact, to think in purely pragmatic terms someone to send certain jobs or trades are superior to others; but his society of equal opportunity different peoples gifts in talents in the workforce should be recognized as equal because there are plenty of people who don’t want to do the jobs that other people do – and those that do them do them well. They should be given the opportunity to excel at their gifts, and not suffer through a standardized education system that forces them into some sort of socialist or Marxist mold. I have said for years, that the current education system in this country is much like a no cut policy on a basketball team. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m not that athletic – and I recognize my athletic and abilities. However, if I’m to play on the team and are to be considered equal to everyone on the team despite the fact that there are more talented basketball players than myself, then they need to lower the net so that I can make the three pointer. That is the mistake of modern education.

A Distant Memory

“As long as I stay in the circle, I’ll be Ok,” I thought.  I couldn’t handle my emotions.  I couldn’t deal with the fact that I had seen my loving, happy mongrel of a dog alive one minute and gone the next.  The neighbor chased the car of reckless speed addicts halfway up the street.  I didn’t notice her running as such; it should have been comical since she was somewhat obese.  I was shocked.  Out of my mind and wanting to be alone, I ran off behind my house and drew a circle in the dirt to put a barrier between the demons and myself.  Where did I get such an idea?  I was about four years old.

What demons?  I was angry and sad and blind from streaming tears.  I don’t remember the cleanup or any sort of burial.  Just the joy of my heart getting ripped out and flattened all over the road.  Demons?  The voices or impressions or weight of conflict.  Stay in the circle, just stay there. Until it’s safe to get out.  Where did I get this primordial and irrational ritual?

We were Baptists.  I didn’t know anything else existed.  I remember the floral patterns on the vinyl flooring inside the single-wide trailer as I lay in the floor crib, having just been abandoned by my Mother on a Sunday morning.  I think I was two.  I remember moments of loud noise.  The shouting and what I later understood to be piano music, from a variously tuned upright wooden piano.  The loud man stood behind a wobbly stick with a big lid… A podium.  I would wake up in uncomfortable itchy clothes.  The floor was cold and hard and smelled like what I later identified to be a combination of moisture, mold, and engine oil.  It looked lingers today like the rusty cologne of a loud Baptist preacher; in an old warehouse no doubt.  The bigger people all standing and collecting their stuff; they laughed and schmoozed about I don’t know what.  Those were my first memories of the Other and fold-up metal chairs.

Categories: Hello Blue Sky

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