Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A tale of two lessons - Education outside, and inside, wackademia

An Educational Experience... and through the looking glass to its reverse
This last Saturday night, I had the pleasure of spending the evening in the company of people paying their beliefs the deepest respect possible – examining and questioning them -not doubting, but questioning, exploring, examining them - an important distinction. Sunday morning I awoke to the mirror image of that experience.

Lucretia And Tarquin
Education is alive and well in America... outside of our schools
This last Saturday night, about 25+ people gathered for about 3 hrs in the living room, dining and kitchen areas of a local residence, as they repeatedly have for several months running, to learn lessons they weren't taught in school. One of the homeowners, Jim, started the evening off with with a slide show recapping their previous lessons, which have led them from the political ideas of Thomas Hobbes Leviathan through Locke’s ideas of Individual Rights and liberty in society, to Montesquieu’s study of Republican government. He capped the review off with a good summary of the origin of the Roman Republic, complete with classic paintings, recounting the founding episode of the Roman Republic and it's break from their last King, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, over the rape of Lucretia by his son Sextus Tarquinius. Lucretia was going to take her own life rather than submit to him but she relented - for awhile - when he threatened to dishonor her in death. She waited until her husband and his company came home, told them the whole story and then took her own life before them, which brought on the vow by Lucius Junius Brutus,

The Dying Lucretia
‘ Brutus, while the others were absorbed in grief; drew out the knife from Lucretia's wound, and holding it up, dripping with gore, exclaimed, "By this blood, most chaste until a prince wronged it, I swear, and I take you, gods, to witness, that I will pursue Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and his wicked wife and all his children, with sword, with fire, aye with whatsoever violence I may; and that I will suffer neither them nor any other to be king in Rome!"
If the story seems unusual to you, or the notion of death before dishonor, it was an extremely well known tale in our Founders era, and it might be worth wondering why it, and many others like it, are recalled by so very few people today. You certainly won't find it in our schools proposed Common Core Curriculum. Jim's review concluded with the curious origin of the Fasces (visible on our early coins, Lincoln Memorial... and in the name 'Fascist'), and we were ready for the main event.

Jim introduced a new set of DVD lectures they were going to start in on, a total of 12 half hour lectures in all, from the Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution, given by Professor Thomas L. Pangle, Ph.D., University of Chicago, The University of Texas at Austin. Fair and balanced, Jim gave some of the Professors history, a tenure battle which he won on principle against Yale, and then resigned (he gets extra credit for that), and noted that the professor approaches issues from a Straussian point of view which some accuse of illiberal leanings. I’m no fan of Strauss, and IMHO that viewpoint does come out in his lectures here and there, but identified, it is defused, and takes nothing away from the fact that it’s a very good set of lectures (which I also own and recommend). Introductions complete, we began to watch the first of the evenings two lectures on the ratification debates over the constitution, between the Federalists and anti-Federalists.

Keep in mind, the majority of these people had previously had little or no interest in historical or ‘intellectual’ issues, few had ever had much interest in politics, but they were now voluntarily and eagerly looking into the historical basis of Classical Republicanism, how the ideas of Montesquieu differed from those, and how the Federalists and Anti-Federalist differed still from his, then, popular ideas. They are doing this because they feel a need to be better informed about the issues facing our nation today, and they recognize that that means they need to become better informed about the issues our nation was formed from, over two centuries ago.

What a concept, eh?

At the end of the first lecture there was a brief Q and A before stretching and walking about. Clusters of people formed and circulated about, locked in conversation while consuming cookies, cold cut snacks, coffee and punch, discussing the points made by the lecturer and their own impressions of them. Talking about what they liked and disliked, picking apart the ideas of Madison and Hamilton and the anti-Federalist positions of ‘Centinel’, ‘Brutus’ and others. Were they good? Were they right? Who had the better arguments? How has it worked out? How has the passage of time borne out the various claims and predictions of each side? How do these ideas apply to the world today? Do they?

With not a bit of difficulty, Jim rounded us all back to our seats for lecture two, followed by a lengthier Q and A, a little droning on by yours truly, and an excellent and very relevant discussion by David Roland on how he sees these issues applying to our lives today. David has helped form an organization together with his wife, and fellow attorney, Jenifer Zeigler Roland, called the Freedom Center of Missouri, to take up cases where the violation of constitutional issues, State and Federal, are affecting the liberty of us all (one recently in the news is the case where the City of Hazelwood forbade Girl Scouts from selling cookies in their own yard).
Note: There are no big money backers here, do yourself a favor, have a look at some of the cases they are championing, I think you’ll see they are defending your freedom, and if so, please click the Donate’ button, as I just did, $5, $10, anything you can contribute will help!

By the end of the evening the (still) highly regarded figures of Madison and Hamilton did not come through these discussions unscathed, but they did come through it better understood by all, and all were looking forward to the next gathering, when they will go through another couple lectures, looking still further into the detailed issues of the great debate.

Again, these are regular people... policemen, teachers, salesmen, techies, homemakers, a couple of which are bloggers such as myself, another who runs a popular email list and even a constitutional lawyer; people who are gathering together in order to try and better understand the system of the Constitution of the United States and the American way of life, which, through their various Tea Parties, they are making their best efforts to defend and protect.

It was one of the most heartening evenings I’ve spent in quite awhile... and I’ve every reason to believe this isn’t an isolated incident. Similar scenes are happening around the nation, either as Jim and friends are doing in their own homes, or as I and many others have been doing in more typical classroom settings, where we are reading and discussing books and videos about what it is that goes into saying that you're an American. People are, on their own, and in groups, studying, reviewing and discussing books such as the Five Thousand Year Leap (there are four FTYL classes occurring right now in the St. Louis area that I know of), and others such as We Still Hold These Truths, as well as engaging in groups sessions like Jim's or participating in  Webinar’s such as that of the upcoming Hillsdale College session this Saturday morning (4/16/11) - personally I hope that the in-home meetings are outstripping the classes, but whatever the case it is extremely encouraging that these are taking place, and I of course encourage any of you out there to follow suit.

I’ve long said that this is the only way I see of actually helping to save our nation from the illiberal ignorance, the shallow ‘common sense’ assumptions and the parasitical demagoguery which is consuming us, and to our credit, this system of self education is happening around the nation. We The People are turning our attention to where it is  truly needed, seeking to understand critical ideas, events and history, and educating ourselves about them. All the politics and all of the legislative battles, no matter how well funded, no matter the number of ‘wins’ that may be made, none of that will achieve any lasting effect, unless We The People change our understanding of why those ‘wins’ are useful and why they are necessary.

Through the looking glass into the opposite of education in wackademia
My Saturday night educational experience contrasted greatly with what I saw Sunday morning, courtesy of a C-SPAN rebroadcast from the ‘church of reason’ preached from an Ohio college classroom. Their cameras broadcast a class from a typical college classroom in American wackedemia, on the History of Progressivism and Theodore Roosevelt by one Mitchell B. Lerner, Associate Professor of Ohio State University at Newark's History Department.

Neither Examining nor Questioning are words I’d use to describe the 90 min class I witnessed. Lerner strutted about as he, er, exuberantly regaled the class about the wonderful intentions and achievements of the 19th and early 20th century progressives, their admirable efforts in service of the little people, and their effort to ‘fix that wagon’ of America. I kid you not, not once did he question the history or basis for the progressives beliefs, not once did he wonder aloud whether the ideals he so obviously admired, and clearly expected to be admired, might be misplaced, or in any way faulty, and not once did he engage in anything like a discussion of whether or not such efforts might have been constructive or destructive to the rights, liberty, or lives, of We The People.

The absolute closest he came to giving any criticism of the proregressives, was when he admiringly said of Theodore Roosevelt’s actions when intervening in the Mine Workers strike, that he,
“... probably had no legal or constitutional right for doing it, but that doesn’t stop Teddy Roosevelt!”
He simply took it as a matter of faith that their ideas were good, and as such he preached them to his class. He began with a one sentence definition of Progressivism:
“America’s first comprehensive and national response, America’s first real successful response to the changes sweeping America as a result of industrialization and urbanization process.”
Ok... ‘successful’? Obviously they had much political success, and he recounts how they swept local government, mayoral positions, governors offices, etc, but do you interpret that use of ‘success’ to be limited to simply winning political contests? Personally, especially while watching and listening to him, I took that to mean that their movement was a correct, right, good, necessary and thank-god-they-came-along-when-they-did! form of success. Such a thing might be appropriate to say, IF it were backed up with why the professor thought it was so, together with an examination of the pro’s and con’s of their positions and actions – but that didn’t happen. At all.

He continued his summary with ticking off their,
“Four fundamental beliefs
1. Government can be good [and he adds“nothing earth shattering to us... we accept that...” - and don't you forget that students]- first to see the Federal Govt as a benevolent agent for change.

2. Industry can be good but needed to be tamed and brought under control [no discussion of what affects such ‘control’ might have upon Individual Rights, Property Rights, Liberty, etc... shhh move along]

3. Humanity was good. Progressives believed in people... very much about shaping public opinion, educating and guiding people for change [anyone else hear Rousseau’s “They must be forced to be free” in that?].

4. Incredible faith in social science, experts, could sit down, analyze a problem, issue massive reports and come up with solutions for modern life.
Solutions... from experts... issued to ‘solve’ the problems which they saw inherent in modern American life.

Not a scintilla of recognition shown for how pregnant that summary is with meaning, unintended consequences and potential for abuse... a phrase such as ‘The Final Solution’ didn’t even seem to buzz about his ears or eyebrows, no hint that there might be a darker side to all that hope and change stuff. Not a hint was dropped that there might even have existed another view of Roosevelt's vaunted ‘Trust Busting’, such as is indicated here; or that regulatory law might benefit the rich far more than the poor. I'm not asking for or expecting his agreement here, but as a teacher he should have at least  explored, or even just raised the fact that many people do question the wisdom of such policies. Nope. The uninformed ‘common sense’ inherent in his characterization of the progressives actions is simply assumed by him to be sufficient and goes unquestioned in his classroom. It is in this way that, in the choice between ‘what is right and what it easy’, the typical college classroom opts out for what is easy.
The Choice of Hercules (between the easy and hard road)

According to this professor, the Progressives simply brought change to help America... successfully. Itsallgood. Move along.

Professor Lerner goes on to say that,
“Progressives used these tools as weapons to restore qualities America needed, order, stability, social justice, that industrialization started to change.”
At least the first part is accurate. And he did offer one very important lesson, which we will hopefully learn from today, and that was that Progressivism first began its successful run by imposing its solutions at the local level. He notes that "it begins locally, primarily in the cities and works its way on up”, and goes on to give some detail about these efforts, such as one of the first, in Chicago no less (Duh), with,
"...Houses designed to help with poor, Hull House in Chicago 1889, by 1910 there were 400 social settlement houses in America.
 Volunteers would come to live in inner cities, where they would reach out to local communities... in many ways... offered educational programs to people struggling to survive in city life. Education, English language classes for immigrants, social gathering, cooking, sewing, offered space for mtgs, neighborhoods, union, anything they needed to soften the edges of industrial society."
Note:This is a lesson we need to learn for ourselves today, not by repeating the history of what the proregressives did, but, as Mark Twain might say, by rhyming with it. We need to bring our ideas in to visible action on the local level, and I think organizations such as  Freedom Center of Missouri, noted above, are perfectly suited to that sort of task; very visibly righting the wrongs of expert solutions which govt has imposed upon our fellow citizens. That, and house to house ‘classes’ of course,... and...? If you want to help change the world, there’s a question for you to pursue, how can you help bring your ideas of constitutionally limited government into action in your community?

There was of course no class discussion of why the proregressives efforts came about, no discussion of where they got their ideas from (see my previous posts ), or why they felt the current system was ‘out moded, old and broken’; is it possible that he covered some of that in previous classes?... perhaps... but my bet is that if they were discussed, they were ‘examined’ with the same level of scrutiny as the other assertions made in this class.

At the end, Professor Lerner asked
“Ok, questions, comments, complaints [stony silence from class]... ok, you’re outta here”.
So there you have two contrasting views of Education in action, like night and day... don't you think?

[Mea Culpa - sorry folks, I didn't realize I had my Nike keyboard out last night. I think I've removed most of the massive run on sentences... never try to rush something out by midnight - there's a lesson to learn!]


Unknown said...

That was very enjoyable to read Van. Thanks. If I lived in your area I totally would have been there to take part. I love that kind of stuff and to do it with people who are willing to actually have a conversation about it and who realize that the issues transcend the labels that we throw on everything is even more enjoyable. Keep it up. You guys should think about recording it or webcasting it. If copyright laws would allow that.

Van Harvey said...

Thanks Lance. It really was fun all itself, and interesting... why not try putting something like it on yourself?

I know you're left coast and all, but you might have fun, and you might end up with a new take on the ideas if you start out from them... and what's the worse that could happen?

Other than becoming a Classical Liberal I mean... or a conservative... and have to move....

Hey, you'd get a whole new appreciation for Sam Adams Stout.