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

Obvious Absurdities

     In 1944, Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis wrote a volume called The Abolition of Man. Lewis was a specialist in medieval literature and subtitled this work “Reflections on education with special reference to teaching English in the upper forms of schools.” Lewis had encountered several books and began noticing a trend in English education that parallels the erosion in America. He recognized what is now called deconstructionism in a book he called The Green Book. He interacted with the authors of this text throughout the volume. Lewis observed that the authors were suggesting —as modern constructivism does—that the meaning in a text is subjective; that there is no meaning to anything other than that which the self gives—a feeling, an impression, but certainly there is no meaning in the thing itself (Lewis, 1944).  He notes, “If the view held by [the authors] were consistently applied it would lead to obvious absurdities” (Lewis, 1944, p. 3). 

     Further he says, “The schoolboy who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant” (p. 4). Lewis’ concern is not so much what the authors intended in their book, but with the effects it will have in generations. The effects are subconscious, not obvious. The authors do not state, “This is our motive and our worldview,” but that is what comes out. 

     It is fallacious to say that a statement means nothing. Sentences in formal logic are not statements; statements have truth value, sentences do not: e.g., a command is not a sentence. “What color is middle C?” is not only a question, but it is nonsense. The authors of The Green Book (similar to deconstructionists) wrote that there was no meaning in printed text. Lewis exposes the fallacy and demonstrates that they really do not believe that, for they write as if their book had meaning. The statement, “There is no meaning in this text,” is similar to saying “There are round squares.” 

      Lewis’ book was a clarion call regarding the erosion of culture by the abandonment to subjectivity. Much like Aquinas, Lewis emphasized without the proper place of reason, the foundations for truth, meaning and ethics would be indiscernible. He feared the growing trend and the publication of more such books as The Green Book (Lewis 1944). In terms of human behavior, Lewis sought to explicate what he (borrowing from Confucianism) dubbed the Tao, the way of moderation, values common to most cultures– what Aquinas and the Western moral tradition have identified as “natural law.” In the appendix, he lists selections from cultures all over the world that share this natural outlook regarding human behavior. Lewis (1944) ends the first chapter of the book with a casual warning of the consequence of the subjectivity of morality. 

And all the time—such is the tragic-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour [sic] for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’ or dynamism or self-sacrifice or ‘creativity.’ In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour [sic] and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful (p. 26).

Not what but who

      The Christian movement answered the pagan search for meaning beyond the stars and revealed the God who brought the children of Israel out of the house of Pharaoh by their baptism in the Red Sea (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-2). The Christian narrative reveals that this God has come to us personally in the man Jesus Christ (John 1:18), revealing the Mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (cf. Colossians 2:9; John 14:9: Hebrews 1:1-4) and answering the problems/ tensions in pagan philosophy when he says he is “the way [metaphysics] the truth [epistemology] and the life [axiology]” (John 14:6). The definitive answer to the “what” of Aristotle’s metaphysic is a “who,” that is, a person, whose identity is canonized in the Creed of Nicaea (325 AD).

Skeptical of Skepticism

“But the new rebel is a sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton. “Orthodoxy.”


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