So in the previous post, I wound up with noting how the primary lesson which the new 'agricultural/mechanical colleges had to teach, was,
Then as now, what their intent was, was to keep the people who are formed by their environment (you there, rabble), in their environment, though modified by experts to optimum efficiency, so that real experts would be free to do what was best for them, and number one on their list was discrediting and doing away with the very materials and ideas which had formed the supports of Western Civilization for centuries. The fact that that knowledge and those ideas were what made their slick new technology possible, was simply ignored. Poof. Gone.
- the 'lesson' that classical learning, and all of its virtues, were so much hogwash,
- skills were more important to the little people than high falutin' ideas and history,
- the little people should stay in their place.
This was and is the message of those who are again calling themselves 'Progressives'.
How could this happen? Where did such ideas come from? Why the mania for such cultural suicide? There are many reasons, but for brevity's sake (coming from me, that's gotta make you laugh) we'll boil them down to three visible 'root causes', and look at how they began to be implemented, often by fine people with entirely different intentions in mind.
Without getting too distracted by the Philosophy itself (which takes shape with Descartes, but I, um, doubt you want to take a 20 pg. diversion down that alley. Maybe later), we'll concentrate on the delivery system, best exemplified by the new ideas of education of Rousseau, who in his political philosophy managed to popularize the idea that people shouldn’t worry about trying to become more civilized, since civilization was itself ‘the problem’. In his view, your choices were never really made by you, but instead are the result of what occurs outside of you in your environment, the effects of which are necessarily responsible for molding you into whatever sort of person your environment determines you will become. Ideas such as free will, virtue, goodness and particularly the family and private property, were seen as artificial creations of civilization, corrupting and doubly damned.
Rousseau’s ideas on education flowed from that philosophy and were just as bad, as the originator of 'child centered' notions, as expressed in his book "Emile", he advised letting the child lead his own education, he claimed this wasn’t the blind leading the blind, since the child was so much nearer to the state of mind of the 'noble savage' than that of the corrupted and civilized adult, therefore it is the child who actually knows better, if not more, which is a thread that has run through all of the variants of the radical left, in themes such as ‘back to nature’, ‘healthy food’, ‘environmentalism’, etc. In the Rousseauian view, the child should lead the way in his education, looking more to ‘if it feels good... do it!’ as their guiding light, rather than to the examples of those who supposedly know more and know better.
That forms the hippie-dippie naturalistic side of things. The other side, that of taking a more 'scientific' approach, meaning heavily measured and quantified, comes from the ideas of the skeptic Scottish Philosopher, David Hume, who concluded that outside of our own feelings, nothing could really be known or understood and no causes could ever really be known, the best that could be hoped for was whether something was likely or not, based upon experience. That being the case, the best we could do was to record and measure the after effects of events, never presuming to really know what caused them, but trusting instead only to quantifiable results... and of course anything that couldn't be quantified, should be neither respected nor trusted, from his ‘Treatise on Human Understanding”,
"...If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion...."This is where Reason made it's change from how it was commonly referred to as "Right Reason", chock full and intrinsically dependent upon Truth and Virtue, to, in a development which would have horrified Aristotle (the father of Logic), become interpreted as a mere faculty for logical calculation, and thoroughly suspect if it contained even one jot of imagination (hello Mr. Spock).
So far we've got two streams:
Neither stood on it's own...and the West probably would have survived their separate attacks... but there is a third cause, and that united them.
- Against civilization and towards the 'authentic' feelings of the 'noble savage',
- Distancing from Virtue, Classical heritage, Art, to a desiccated number crunching system of doubt and quantities
The third central cause was the scrambled egghead of Immanuel Kant. Kant is usually cited as the modern philosopher, the one who set the tune for all who followed after him (it's a little shortsighted, but not without reason). Kant had two big influences in his adult life; the 1st was Rousseau (the only adornment in his home was reportedly a single portrait of Rousseau), and particularly reading Rousseau’s ‘Emile’, which literally stopped his clock (well… it stopped the clock of his neighborhood. His neighbors, knowing that Kant was a bit of an obsessive compulsive, actually set their clocks by his afternoon walks which he always took at exactly the same time of the afternoon – except for the day he read Emile which was the only time Kant was ever late.) His second big influence was coming into contact with the ideas of Hume.
Kant saw Hume's skepticism as a threat to religion and God himself (how much he must have actually thought of God can be guessed by his seeing him as being vulnerable to the prating of a foolish skeptic), and his ideas spurred Kant into philosophic action. As he said of Hume’s ‘Treatise on Human Understanding”, it ‘woke me from my dogmatic slumbers’, Kant was obsessed with eliminating the threat of Hume's skepticism, and the Enlightenment in general, and soon the confluence of the ideas of Rousseau and Hume, through an impossibly convoluted metaphysics and epistemology (theories of what exists, and how we know it) merged into a new, larger and much dirtier torrent, best summed up from his stated motive in the Preface to his Critique of Pure Reason,
"I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith."Why would a philosopher ("a lover of wisdom"), say such a thing? Because he was the first major philosopher to construct a philosophy not as part of his quest for truth, but as a means of discrediting another's, Hume's, in order to make safe beliefs he felt weren't able to stand on their own. I translate his comment as,
'We must divert people down a false trail so that we can be secure in our pretensions to a faith we don't really have in a God we fear isn't strong enough to defend himself against the Reason he Created', and the diversions and pretexts which he spun, and which his follower Hegel elaborated upon, resulted in a metaphysics so convoluted that Nietzsche said of it “They muddy the waters in order to make them appear deep.”
Divide and Conquer
You might ask what does the babblings of dead philosophers have to do with our problems today? Unfortunately, everything, because those few fools ideas have altered the thoughts and actions of the entire world, and especially those of America.
Those two events led Kant to write his tomes of camouflaged skepticism, whose ultimate point is that we cannot really know anything about reality, only our ideas of it. That we must accept duty as a primary, that nothing can be considered truly virtuous if it benefits you in any way, and that since we cannot know the deeper meaning of anything, we must accept on faith the feelings of the majority of people (which is at least quantifiable - hello Polls), and no one should trust at all what is not visible and measurable. Kant, whose stated purpose was to end the Enlightenment, pitched his ideas so as to appeal to the scientific movement which was central to the Enlightenment ideas sweeping the Western world and reaching their apex in America; by calling his ideas a “Copernican Revolution” after the astronomer who first proposed the Sun centered solar system. He worded his theories is such a way so as to appeal to the appearance of being scientific (lots of measurements and theories), while all the while deliberately undercutting the very thing which science relied upon – reality and our relation to it.
Kant said, in effect, finding a midpoint between Hume’s outright skepticism, and Rousseau’s nature worship, that reality was unknowable to man, the only thing we could know intellectually was our common feelings about it, and that anything else beyond what could be measured, could not be trusted as anything more than theory.
This fouled stream which flowed from Rousseau and Hume, and out through Kant, formed the basis for the ‘the new German Method'’ in education that was mentioned above, and with its focus upon indecipherable metaphysics; facts, no longer integrated by Principles, became little more than dis-integrated data, simple trivia to be quantified, the more, the better. And if something couldn't be measured, well then obviously it wasn't worth studying – all of which left quaint old fashioned ideas such as Virtue, the Good, and any other concepts which couldn't be expressed as a fraction, Individual Rights for instance, out in the cold and no longer respectable.
The treasure trove of Western Civilization, Homer, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Virgil, Plutarch, the Bible... went from the indispensable foundations of wisdom... to discredited baubles, entertaining diversions, of interest only by the impressionable, ignorant and easily deceived masses.
These new ideas were becoming the rage in Europe towards the end of the 18th century and they filtered back into America through a growing stream of new and more fashionable forms of philosophy and education, and because they appeared so scienctific-ish, with lots of measurements, theories and methods, so like in appearance to the science which had brought so much progress in other areas of life, these ideas must obviously be superior to the old fashioned ideas which people of our backward States still held to. And society conscious Americans, then as now, so impressed by the sniffy style of Europe, flocked to taking European tours, especially those who fancied themselves intellectuals, such as a certain chemistry professor, Charles Elliott, who we’ll hear more about soon, he took great interest in the new German universities and their new methods and was so impressed in fact that he couldn’t wait to take them back with him to his college, Harvard; and he was far, far from being alone, as we’ll see.
Here also we have the beginnings of two fundamentally opposed sets of ideas speeding out on a collision course;
This clash is the source of another modern innovation for Americans: the divide between what would be intellectually fashionable with the elites, but thought silly of by the vast majority of the people.
- that of the new European ideals, that nothing could really be known, but with educated guesses we could play the odds through examining everything that could be gathered, measured, analyzed and used under the direction of experts in such a way as to reshape the social environment, necessarily reforming people into exhibiting more ‘right responses’ within a society that would of course have to become more orderly and efficient;
- which went crashing headlong into the traditional American ideas that reality and truth were not only knowable but that a respect for both was central to becoming a virtuous and self governing person; that thoughtful consideration upon the best examples in Art, literature and history could aid us in developing the habits of virtue best able to help us overcome our faults, and that by follow those examples and lessons, a society might become more civilized, just and Good.
Given that, the new European ideals saw the foundations of our Constitution, Greco-Roman/Judeo-Christian virtues and the ideas of Natural Law which sprung from them, as being, in Jeremy Bentham’s words “nonsense on stilts”. Most Americans on the other hand saw such elitist ideas such as 'reality wasn't knowable' as stupidity on stilts, and accordingly they dismissed them out of hand. It was the American’s dismissal of these new fashionable notions which led to Americans being branded as anti-intellectual – and that is a notion which is something that you really need to stop a moment and think over, from a historical perspective.
Here we have America, the most literate and free nation not only on the face of the earth but in all of the known history of man, the nation which argued – not fought, but verbally argued together about how best to peacefully adopt a new form of government. They conducted these arguments both in halls and through essays and counter essays in popular publications, eighty-four of which would become known as The Federalist Papers – one of the greatest examples of political science in the history of the world – for public consumption and consideration in order to persuade the normal American, both the man in the street... and the farmer in his field, into peacefully voting for an improved method of governing themselves. The ratification debates occurred nationwide, and at their conclusion, We The People chose by vote, to adopt the Constitution of the United States of America.
These are the people who would become known to the sniffy set of modernity as being “anti-intellectual”?!
Americans weren’t anti-intellectual, they were anti-stupid. There is a difference… or at least there can be.
Still, as the American people wouldn’t credit such obviously ridiculous ideas, being a practical people they simply brushed them off. But such a reaction, then as now, is a very dangerous thing to do. The ideas were ridiculous, but that didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous as well, and they were working their way into dividing the American people, through the sons and daughters that they thought they were sending off to become better Educated.
Oak Trees and Thistles and sharpening the point
The seeds of modernity were in part planted in our soil by some of the most eminent folks of the Founders era, one of several who helped sow these seeds of disaster, was the otherwise admirable Noah Webster, the originator of Webster’s Dictionary. He was one of those who early on began the push for ‘realism’ in education and the need to be more ‘scientific’, especially as Hume was mistakenly taken to represent it, and in an age which blended all of the new innovations abounding in sciences, technologies, industries and philosophies as each being equally improvements over what had been known in the past, he sought to push all of this new spirit of Progress into the ‘system’ of American Education. In 1788, while he was complaining that the classics – those materials which formed the Founders era, including himself - weren’t ‘useful’ enough (“recall Hume’s ‘Commit it then to the flames’”), he complained that educational materials needed to be more realistic, that they needed to be more focused on scientifically minded material, more concerned with just the facts and stripped of imprecise attributes such as imagination and beauty and so forth,
“The minds of youth are perpetually led to the history of Greece and Rome or to Great Britain; boys are constantly repeating the declamations of Demosthenes and Cicero, or debates upon some political question in the British Parliment. These are excellent specimens of good sense, polished stile and perfect oratory; but they are not interesting to children. They cannot be very useful, except to young gentlemen who want them as models of reasoning and eloquence, in the pulpit or at the bar.”Darn that stuff that’s ‘not useful except as models of reasoning and eloquence’. Hmmm. Anyone want to take a stab at what chiefly marks out embarrassing examples of somuh ov today’s ‘educated’ ‘U.S Americans’? A lack of reasoning and eloquence, perhaps? Interesting to note, when researchers discover a previously unknown document of ancient Greek or Roman origin, one of the methods they use to date when the document was written, early in the cultures history, at its height, or period of decline, is to examine how the artful use of language, mastery of grammar, and overall coherence and eloquence was.
Not useful except as models of reasoning and eloquence? Really? Try comparing the writing of James Madison and Barney Frank... I guarantee you that one of the first things you’re going to take note of, is the eloquence which Madison has, and Frank is destitute of, and the next thing is the adherence to principles and logic which Madison’s exhibits, and not only the lack of the same in Frank’s, but his in your face disdain for logic and explicit reliance upon crude emotion to ‘make his case’.
I guarantee you that future archaeologists, when they dig up the html scrolls of our time, they will most definitely look for the artful use of reasoning and eloquence, in order to determine whether a discovered document was written by Americans in our prime... or our decline.
Thinking that you can separate the ability to use language from the ability to think effectively, or separate fine examples of imaginative reasoning from intelligent thought, and intelligent thought from what is considered to be Good and worthwhile thought, and what would be bad and unworthy thought, and even a central presence, or lack, of the beautiful, not the modern mess in galleries today, but of actual Art… is thinking that has somewhere strayed into the most unimaginably unproductive of areas. Civility, manners, intelligence are found together with a respect for language and beauty, and without them, well... look around you.
One world view leads you to this
The other leads you to this::
Do you begin to see the point?
Ok, back to the good intentions of Noah Webster. Mr. Webster went on to recommend that,
“… every child in America should be acquainted with his own country… he should lisp the praise of liberty, and of those illustrious heroes and statesmen, who have wrought a revolution in her favor…”Which I fully agree with, but what ‘interesting’ mode did he have in mind to communicate those wondrous people and deeds?
“A selection of essays, respecting the settlement and geography of America; the history of the late revolution and of the most remarkable characters and events that distinguished it, and a compendium of the principles of the federal and provincial governments, should be the principal school book in the United States.”Forget notions of eloquence, beauty and imagination; the new system of progress demanded facts and figures, Results! with no difficult ideas like integrated concepts and principles to slow you down and get in the way of what works - hello textbooks. Textbooks were quite literally tailor made for the new modernist style of thinking. Remember Cubberley from the previous post? I'll tie the two more tightly together later, but you think on it for awhile.
Webster was a good guy, I use his Dictionary often, but somehow he failed to imagine that those fact filled essays on geography might be about as interesting, exciting and inspiring as reading the… er… dictionary. Noah Webster was also one of the early proponents not only of textbooks, but of government involvement in public education,
“In our American republics, where [government] is in the hands of the people, knowlege should be universally diffused by means of public schools. Of such consequence is it to society, that the people who make laws, should be well informed, that I conceive no Legislature can be justified in neglecting proper establishments for this purpose.”Other famous founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, famously believed in such a policy, though to their credit none of them ever would have dreamed that the government, Federal or State, would control education, they simply wanted it to fund it… amazingly they never made the connection that who pays the piper calls the tune, nor the idea that small changes in details might introduce and steadily enable and reveal, principles over time that are opposed to your original goals. Interestingly, Webster witnessed this when he found himself 40 years later utterly amazed at the societal decline around him in 1837, and wrote to Charles Chauncey,
“Principles, Sir, are becoming corrupt, deeply corrupt; & unless the progress of corruption, & perversion of truth can be arrested, neither liberty nor property, will long be secure in this country. And a great evil is, that men of the first distinction seem, to a great extent, to be ignorant of the real, original causes of our public distresses.”It really didn’t matter that Webster intended to grow Oak trees, the fact is that the seeds he planted were those of thistles, and ever since as their counter-revolutionary principles have taken root they have been slowly choking us to death.
What do I mean?
When you make an effort to remove notions of eloquence, beauty and imagination from your curriculum, what you have remaining is a system concerned only with efficiency and progress and Right and Wrong have less relevance ("Commit it then to the flames!") than facts and figures in order to get Results. Results of the sort which experts, intent upon efficiency and unconstrained by pesky qualities such as ethics, can come up with the darndest of things.
For instance. Gretchen, at Missouri Education Watchdog happened upon this little gem, which is something I suggest might be worth keeping in mind;
We know what the purpose of the educational data system is from the Illinois Data System Warehouse Document.Isn’t that just the epitome of efficiency? Having detailed information about every aspect of a students life, their family and home life (we’ll look more about the data sets being gathered pretty much from birth now, in coming posts), enables the government to be aware of the number of workers who are available to be assigned for any purpose, in the nation’s workforce.
It is to provide the workforce:
“The term workforce is defined as consisting of the workers engaged in a specific activity, business or industry or the number of workers who are available to be assigned to any purpose as in a nation’s workforce.
The public workforce system is a network of federal, state, and local offices that function to support economic expansion and facilitate the development United States workforce. The system is designed to create partnership with employers, educators, and community leaders in order to foster economic development and high-growth opportunities in regional economies so that businesses find qualified workers to meet their present and future workforce needs. (Emphasis added)”
Does that not raise a ‘George Orwell’ shiver up the spine? If not... do you have one?
Maybe I’m being too touchy, too aware of and concerned about my individual rights, as defined by natural law, rather than that of what ‘the people’ might require of me for the greater good, but that doesn’t sound to me like anything which gives a goddamn about my choices and preferences, or those of my children and grand children. Personally an irrational efficiency, doesn't stack up to that for me.
This should be a lesson to conservatives and leftists alike, that the road of good conservative intentions, though perhaps slower, no less surely will see you winding up at that roads inevitable end, in hell.
How things went from Noah Webster’s good intentions to Arne Duncan’s intention to gather all the information that might be used to track the number of workers who are available to be assigned to any purpose 'as required'... we'll start tying the loose ends together in the next post.