Wednesday, February 23, 2022

For an Education to be meaningful, its books must be more than 'just books'

"...As for literature--to introduce children to literature is to install them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served. But they must learn to know literature by being familiar with it from the very first. A child's intercourse must always be with good books, the best that we can find..."
-- Charlotte Mason - CHAPTER III - The Good and Evil Nature of a Child
The question of 'What do you mean by an education?', is one that's too rarely asked, and yet asked or not, it still shapes the answer to that question which is causing such an uproar today - what does and does not belong in a school library, and why (see previous post). When the question is asked, it's usually asked as you'd ask a baker about a cake - what ingredients were used and how was it prepared - which makes sense if the samples were tasty (and if not?). If we proposed that ingredients and preparation approach to education, to a schoolmaster like George Turnbull, it's unlikely that he'd permit the crude & pornographic ingredients found in many of our school libraries today, into his own, since as he put it in the overview to what his opening chapter of 'An Essay on Liberal Education'(1742)', would cover:
"Instruction in the science or art of right living is the chief lesson in education, to which all others ought to be rendered subservient, and what this science is, and what may justly be called false learning."
, he'd surely see such materials as those to be in conflict with the 'art of right living' and would be more likely to view them as the stuff of false learning, than as somehow being able to contribute to an actual education. But as we'll see, we don't have to travel all the way back to the 1700s to find that treating the nature, quality and content of books as if 'They're just books', as far too many librarians, educators and trolls do today, would have gotten you laughed out of school, and out of any & all polite conversations about them.

Unfortunately, that common sensibility began to change for far too many of us, as the understanding which our Founders' era had benefitted from, began to change, and changed further still, until ever more radical changes have brought us into such a state of flux that many community leaders and parents today, are eager to expose young children to the detritus of every momentary fad... for 'the greater good'... or at least to make a politically woke point.

The changes to how Americans educate themselves have taken us from being one of, if not the most literate and educated people at the opening of the 19th Century (with no official educational system); a people for whom Thomas Jefferson had earlier written the Declaration of Independence less as a means to instigate a revolution than to briefly state what was " expression of the American mind...", whose,
"... authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c..."
; a people for whom a couple of decades later The Federalist Papers would be written to inform and persuade the common farmer and 'man in the street' on the finer points of applying political philosophy and law to their own lives and to that of their posterity... to a people whose 'graduates' since the 20th Century have been mostly unwilling or unable to comprehend, or even to read, those works and ideas that were once the common fund of American thought, and many of whom are unaware of who our Founders even were, or have an understanding of what America is

All over the course of little more than a century - now that's revolutionary.

Because pulling weeds is a waste of time if you don't get at the roots, it's important to note that this didn't happen as a result of CRT or SEL, or Common Core, or the 1960s, and the fact that its roots run much deeper than that becomes self-evident with a comment made by Albert Jay Nock in the lectures he gave in 1931 at the University of Virginia ("The Theory of Education in the United States"), in relating what an Italian nobleman had told him of "a curious experience" that he had in our country, that:
"...He said he had been in America several times, and had met some very well-educated men, as an Italian would understand the term; but they were all in the neighborhood of sixty years old. Under that age, he said, he had happened upon no one who impressed him as at all well-educated..."
, in other words, whatever the ingredients that were used or how they were prepared, or how highly rated their educational baked goods were, when he sampled the results of our new educational recipe, he found it wanting and wondered what on earth had happened in our kitchens. Knock replied to him dryly, that the reason why was,
"... that our educational system had been thoroughly reorganized, both in spirit and structure, about thirty-five years ago, and that his well-educated men of sixty or so were merely holdovers from what we now put down, by general consent, as the times of ignorance..."
Two points to make on that: 
  • First, the time period of 'thirty-five years ago' which Knock mentioned, roughly 1895, was the height of the era of 'Progressive Education' sweeping through the classrooms of America, and while it may have taken decades more to complete the counter-revolution, the outcome of it was by 1931 already beyond question.
  • The second point is that most of those concerned about our schools today, would look at my grandpa's social studies textbook of 1902, and find it to be admirably full of facts to be memorized, 'rigorous' even, and would probably gladly trade my daughter's vapid and graphics laden social studies textbook of 2017 which also contains facts to be memorized, for it - and yet those of my grandfather's day were what had produced those which Knock's Italian friend had found to be so educationally wanting, and both of which led to the 1619 Project textbook which also contains facts to be memorized.
Facts aren't the issue... but facts alone and without a story to understand them within, might be
Those textbooks we utilize today may have fewer facts than those of a century ago, but facts aren't the issue with textbooks, though as facts alone are soon forgotten, that gets a bit closer to it (the details of that in the next post). Those textbooks which are our educational poison of choice today, may be less diluted with 'facts' than those of a century ago, but their function and form are the very same poison, and if we want to escape its ill effects, what we need is not a less potent form of the same poison that we're already poisoning ourselves with, but something that's different enough to actually contribute to our health, rather than assail it.

The questions we should be asking ourselves, are what it is that we mean by Education, and how to tell it from its counterfeit, and how an educated people permitted that revolution to be waged upon themselves? Answer those, and we'll begin to see how to rectify matters. Don't however, allow yourself to be misled by the answers that are typically given, that we needed to create an educational system (and political controls over the public) so that 'all Americans would have the same understanding of America' - that was and is more of a useful pretext, than a true reason for them. After all, if that had been their true motivation, then they would have simply used the public trough to fund teachers and the materials they preferred to teach from, so that they could continue to teach what they had been teaching so successfully, to any of the public that was missing out on being taught.

That could easily have been accomplished without having to change everything about how Americans had already made America the most literate nation in history.

But where's the fun in that, eh?

In this post I want to focus on what is meant by an Education, so I'll leave the details of who, how, and why we ended up with the educational system we have for the next post, but as it did help redefine what we mean by getting an education, two points need to be noted about the new system:
  • First, that the new system's signature intention was to focus students on learning more 'practical' skills - accounting skills, agricultural skills, etc. - as useful for more quickly entering into the economy (the 19th Century version of "gotta learn the skills of the 21st century!"), which progressively took more & more attention off of those 'harmonizing sentiments' which had earlier been generated by the integrated focus of a traditional education.
  • Second, the new system was sold as being more efficient and was to be proven effective through 'measurable testing' of how many facts a student retained within their head, which was to both enable schools to scientifically certify a student's 'level of education', and to help businesses with picking its employees, and improving the economy (ever wonder where quizzes, tests and grades came from?). Doing that required our dis-integrating the materials of education into discrete subjects that would be taught and measured separately - mathematics taught without relation to Music; something called 'English' to be taught separately from History; History to be replaced by the new 'science' of 'Social Studies', and so on - for both students and teachers.
What was not pointed out, except by those who were mostly ignored, was that the integrated understanding of self and society which had for so long been understood as a central purpose of education, was being abandoned for the economic 'greater good', though with the very best of intentions, of course.

And of course, the answer to whether or not our new system of education, was successful at educating either students or teachers, or if it achieved anything like 'a greater good', was, IMHO, best given by Knock's Italian nobleman. But answering the question well for us today, requires considering not just what is meant by getting a good education, but about what an education - good, bad or indifferent - is, and then how to know if one has one, or not.

What do you mean by an Education?
If we look to our dictionaries for help in defining 'Education', they are helpful only in pointing out the differences that it seems we're already aware of and divided over. Webster's Dictionary of 1828 (the irony will be noticeable in the next post) defined 'Education' as:
EDUCA'TION, noun [Latin educatio.] The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.
, while Merriam-Webster's definition today, is more reflective of... today:
1a: the action or process of educating or of being educated
b: the knowledge and development resulting from the process of being educated
2: the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools
So we need to dig a little deeper.

Our word 'Education' comes to us by way of several Latin words: educere, educare, and educatus, meaning “to learn”, “to know” and “bring out, lead forth”. That is what Frederick Douglass was speaking of in 1894 as being the "Blessings of Liberty and Education", noting that those who lacked an education, learning only those skills that were useful to their masters, lived "... within the narrow, dark and grimy walls of ignorance. He is a poor prisoner without hope...", but that:
"...Education, on the other hand, means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light only by which men can be free. To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature. It is to deny them the means of freedom and the rightful pursuit of happiness, and to defeat the very end of their being..."
For clarity's sake, we should first separate what an Education is, from its quality - good, bad, or indifferent - and that is to inform and lead students into paths and patterns of thought and behavior for life. One implication of this is that what paths and patterns of thought and behavior that a school exposes a student to, whether in the classroom, or library, playground, etc., is educating them - and of course what the student engages in outside of school, also contributes to the education that they are receiving.

A Good education, such as what Fredrick Douglass was speaking of, is one that has a specific purpose that is in accordance with what is real and true, and utilizes materials that are suited to that purpose without at the same time detracting from it (which as Turnbull noted above, would justly be called 'false learning'). Those works then that are suited to leading the student up and out of darkness and into the light, by methodical attention to what is good, beautiful, and true, are going to be well suited to facilitating a good education, and those that do not, are not. Similarly with the character of their teacher and school staff.

An indifferent education will differ from a good one, by having no definite purpose or attention in its actions and probably makes little distinction between the materials it uses or provides (very much like the 'read any books, they're just books' attitude that satisfies so many of our librarians, educators and trolls today) to lead its students' thinking, behavior, and lives with; less interested in dispelling the dark, than in compensating for it by focusing on external conditions and pleasures. Very likely it also employs teachers and staff whose character fails to reinforce, or even undermines, what goals it may claim to have for their learning.

And a bad education, whether out of ignorance or deliberate design, will use those materials that treat the light of truth as being a threat to those shadows it prizes above all else (hello '1619 Project'), leaving its students in the dark about their own nature, and of any reality that conflicts with the pursuit of power over others and the trappings of that (hello SEL & CRT).

The materials that Frederick Douglass used to become one of America's greatest essayists and orators (and he was largely self-taught), was a collection of plays, speeches, poems, and other examples of quality literature, called 'The Columbian Orator', which Douglass called his 'rich treasure' and 'noble acquisition'.

What Douglass himself valued, was a product of a couple of thousand years of educational experience in the Greco/Roman-Judeo/Christian West, had shown that a good education was best provided to students by leading them through the best stories, inquiries (History), and orderly thought in action (geometry, music, poetry, philosophy, science,) - which broadly speaking all falls under the heading of Literature - and that guiding students through that literature had been the primary means of putting the student's thoughts and actions on the path towards becoming what Frederick Douglass spoke of and became, a person whose knowledge of what is true and worth knowing for living a good life, ran at least as deep as it did wide; someone marked by orderly thinking that was reflected in their admirable manners and actions; someone far seeing in their thoughts across time, and able to organize and express them clearly and persuasively.

Such a person as that, showed themselves in their manner and speech to be free - or at least freer - of the shadow of unexamined thoughts, ignorance and prejudice about them, which, as Knock's Italian Nobleman noted, is detectable from meeting with them. One question for us is, how likely is it that those qualities of purpose, wisdom, and virtue, can be detected by having them fill out a multiple-choice test?

What the Italian Nobleman's 60+ yr old acquaintances knew, that we've forgotten
Someone who still had one foot firmly enough in that older ideal of education, to be alarmed by the steps he could see being taken into that ideological future which has become our present day, was an essayist I first ran across about a decade ago, named Charles Dudley Warner, who, BTW, would have been roughly amongst those over 60 yr old educated gentlemen which Knock's Italian nobleman was speaking of. Warner is someone who had a good deal of sense to say upon the subject of education, and especially about the use/misuse of Textbooks, which today are questioned only in terms of whether a particular one is, euphemistically speaking, 'good' or 'bad', while few bother questioning whether or not that very modern technology known as 'Textbooks', are a value at all, or an insidious danger, to a good education.

One particular essay which Warner wrote in 1890, "The Novel and the Common School", conveyed the alarm he felt over the direction that education was heading in, and there's one particular paragraph of it which I think gives the gist of the problem he saw and tried to warn his fellows about, that I want to walk us through in this post, noting the landmarks and paying attention to the lay of the land that we are in the midst of today.

What I take to be Warner's key paragraph, begins:
"The notion that literature can be taken up as a branch of education, and learned at the proper time and when studies permit, is one of the most farcical in our scheme of education..."
One thing to note about that, is that the notion that an education can be had without the works and stories - literature - which convey it, is a novel and foolish practice that's barely a century old... and it has become the norm today. Another, is that the notion that what a literature transmits can be thought of as being only a 'branch' of education, rather than the soil, root and trunk of what an education is developed through, is, and was once widely understood to be, absurd. And that has absolutely become the norm today.

Of course if that's true, as noted, then the answer to the question of 'What do you mean by an education?', was once understood to be very different from our claim today that it can be defined by the memorization of facts & algorithms and certified by taking standardized tests upon them - and not just a little different, but entirely different - and why that is, is worth thinking about.

Warner expands on that in the next line of his essay:
" It is only matched in absurdity by the other current idea, that literature is something separate and apart from general knowledge. Here is the whole body of accumulated thought and experience of all the ages, which indeed forms our present life and explains it, existing partly in tradition and training, but more largely in books; and most teachers think, and most pupils are led to believe, that this most important former of the mind, maker of character, and guide to action can be acquired in a certain number of lessons out of a textbook!"
However alien it might seem to us today, and whether or not it results in a good, bad, or indifferent education, the stories, inquiries, and scientific observations which make up the literature that a child is 'exposed to' (or that is absent from it), are what forms the basis of their education. An exceptional British teacher of Warner's time, Charlotte Mason (whose works reflected what was once good teaching and has shaped homeschooling for a century), held a view of education which I very much like, as 'The science of relations', which an examined reading of discloses to the student the interrelatedness of grammar, history, rhetoric, science, in all of literature, and that is exactly what our segmented class & course structure of modern education was designed to explode. Deliberately or not, and no matter what quality or coherence those stories may or may not have, and whether engaged through books, movies or tweet-streams - that 'literature' forms the nature of the education which those students' hearts and minds are being led through, and whether of mountains or molehills, that shapes the perspective from which they view our world through. For more on that, I highly recommend 'The Story Killers', by former Marine, classical school founder, and Hillsdale College Professor, Terrence O. Moore.

If you take a look at the quote by Charlotte Mason at the opening of this post, it's clear that what she and Warner were focused on wasn't instilling students with 'skills' or using them as activists to create an ideal new society. An education was to educate, to 'educare', to lead you out, and literature, broadly speaking, provides the mental landscapes that you might otherwise never have imagined or realized were already surrounding you; it orients your thinking towards important landmarks, and reveals those paths that the best minds have found worth travelling upon, and thinking through, and guided by the light of truth's correspondence to reality, it reveals how to separate substance from shadows, and enables a person to live in liberty, no matter their material circumstances or station in life.

One thing Warner and Mason agreed upon, was that their understanding of Education was worlds away from what could be provided through one of the earliest and most destructive of our 'education reforms', which was the modern technology of the Textbook. We'll return to this most destructive of modern technologies in the next post, but what was originally conceived of as 'brief essays of fact' were to teach 'the facts' of important historic, scientific, or 'culturally relevant events', to memorized so that students could be tested to ensure they knew what was important to *know* - but in what way could they 'know' such... facts? Facts shorn of what gave rise to them, carry no real knowledge or understanding of what it was that was considered to be important enough for them to know, and such rootless facts blow quickly away from our memory... leaving only the impression that something is known of them, or how they relate to the rest of what might have been known. As Mason put it - the textbook passes on 'pre-digested' intellectual food, its nutrients gone, leaving only the gristle of it behind.

Back to Warner's essay, picking back up where we left off:
" Because this is so, young men and young women come up to college almost absolutely ignorant of the history of their race and of the ideas that have made our civilization. Some of them have never read a book, except the text-books on the specialties in which they have prepared themselves for examination."
Keep in mind that Warner's not complaining that college students aren't learning these stories in college, but that these stories which once were and should still be familiar to all Americans and Westerners, regardless of their schooling, were unfamiliar to many of those even before entering college (BTW, if you became stuck on the word 'race', you are an example of the failure of modern education. You should learn how to overcome that). Again, this was in 1890, a time where the average college student, even grammar student, had orders of magnitude more familiarity with the 'literature' which Western Civilization was formed through, than we do today. Going back another hundred years would present you with an example of a very different college experience, which was commonly had in our Founders' era, see the “Education of the Founding Fathers of the Republic”, by James J. Walsh, 1933', where one of the things that might catch your attention, is that the college spectator sport of the day, was professors, students, and townspeople gathering to watch students make and support an argument before their professors and peers.

How we went from that understanding, to thinking that test scores and diplomas could certify that a person's useful skills meant that they were educated, is something we'll get into in the next posts. Continuing on with Warner's paragraph:
" We have a saying concerning people whose minds appear to be made up of dry, isolated facts, that they have no atmosphere. Well, literature is the atmosphere. In it we live, and move, and have our being, intellectually."
We are suffocating from the absence of that atmosphere today. Take a moment and read Terrence O. Moore's essay on Classical Education, where he notes that Grammar is being taught to students today, the question is why it is being taught as it is, and with the poor materials used to teach it with.
A classical education requires more than functional literacy, however. It teaches students from an early age high standards of grammar, precision in word choice, and an eloquence that can emanate only from a love of the language. Throughout his education, the student will be exposed to the highest examples of eloquence attained by the greatest writers and speakers of the language.
“. . . I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” — Shakespeare
“There is a tide in the affairs of men . . .” — Shakespeare
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” — Shakespeare
“These are the times that try men’s souls.” — Paine
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” — Churchill
These sentences are entirely grammatical. They could just as easily be used to teach grammar as “Bob is a big boy.” By preferring Shakespeare to an anonymous “See Bob” sentence (usually not well written) we teach three things rather than just one. We teach grammar. We teach cultural literacy. We also teach beauty. Our purpose is to introduce young people to the masters of the language so they themselves learn to employ force and beauty in their deployment of the spoken and written word.
Understand that whatever you might think of what Warner is referring to as literature that a child is being 'exposed to' today, the fact is that a child's mind is being formed from, and educated through, whatever 'literature', be it good, bad (or pornographic) - that is happening, the only question is about the nature of what it is that their minds are being formed from.

It's also worth noting that despite having problematized, decentered or otherwise done away with the stories of the West, even the *Woke* rely upon stories - the ideological fabrications which they call 'lived experiences', are what they view as being central to teaching how Critical Theory, CRT, SEL & DEI will transmit their anti-Western bigotry into the next generation. They know what they're doing. The truth is that our trolls, librarians & educators prefer the worthlessness of worksheets, textbooks, 'lived experiences', pap, sleaze and even porn, for conveying the education which they intend your kids to swallow, digest, and so become reflected in their thinking, manners and actions. Why they choose that, over the literature that Warner referred to... is well worth your giving some serious consideration to.

Elaborating on lessons, Warner continues:
" The first lesson read to, or read by, the child should begin to put him in relation with the world and the thought of the world. This cannot be done except by the living teacher. No text-book, no one reading-book or series of reading-books, will do it. If the teacher is only the text-book orally delivered, the teacher is an uninspired machine."
Psst! Teachers: They want
more than virtual classrooms

The idea of a teacher as an uninspiring machine, distasteful and even horrific as it was to Warner, was (and still is) the ideal that was being aimed at by 'progressive reformers' who'd swallowed whole the swill of behaviorists such as Wilhelm Wundt (see 'The Leipzig Connection'), and as a result of their 'following the science!', the old expectations and requirements that teachers should actually know the subjects they were teaching, were dropped, and they were instead taught (programmed) in their new Teachers Colleges, on how to use acting techniques to present 'texts' as if they knew what they were saying, and how to prompt the desired questions from students, so as to parrot back the answers found in the back of the teacher's version of the textbook. The Pro-Regressive view of education, is less about education, than one of a grand and uniform national stimulus/response experiment in the laboratory that was and is our 'public education system' (and it shouldn't be too tough to guess what role that puts your kids into).

The goal of having teachers as uninformed automatons of a 'reading-book or series of reading-books' was an ideal they dreamed of someday achieving (hey teachers, care to guess why computers have become so popular in our schools today? Or what use that pedagogists will have for living breathing teachers, once they can get away with (you know, like how they 'get away with' porn in the library) programming a bot or avatar to do what you do transmit their material exactly as they intend them, in their 'virtual classes'?). Students are shaped by their lessons, and the shapes that emerge from lessons taken from the better stories of literature, is going to differ greatly from what emerges from lessons taken from textbooks, worksheets, games, movies, twitter threads, etc.,. Add to that the fact that the teachers who teach them, are rarely at liberty to teach as they might choose to teach (policies & program dictate their actions and responses), they are being transformed into that long desired 'content delivery system' for transmitting the school system's approved lesson plans, for what is an unworthy education, into your child, and into our future.

" We must revise our notions of the function of the teacher for the beginners. The teacher is to present evidence of truth, beauty, art. Where will he or she find it? Why, in experimental science, if you please, in history, but, in short, in good literature, using the word in its broadest sense. The object in selecting reading for children is to make it impossible for them to see any evidence except the best. That is the teacher's business, and how few understand their business! How few are educated!"[emphasis mine]
How impossibly far away does what Warner is recalling from the vantage point of 1890, seem in comparison with the Nikole Hannah-Jones's 2021 perspectives that we are surrounded with today? What you will not find in today's 'Lived Experiences', is "truth, beauty, art", which is a natural consequence of both the *Woke*'s rejection of 'objective truth', and the moderate's pragmatic indifference to it. Continuing:
" In the best literature we find truth about the world, about human nature; and hence, if children read that, they read what their experience will verify. I am told that publishers are largely at fault for the quality of the reading used in schools—that schools would gladly receive the good literature if they could get it. But I do not know, in this case, how much the demand has to do with the supply."
It is critically important to keep in mind that 'the best' (horrific, but popular) pedagogists of today (those who teach your teachers what and how and why to teach your children what they'll learn), openly state that Truth - usually enclosed by them in scare quotes as 'objective truth' - is impossible to attain, and that all 'truths' are subjective, and that power is alone worthy of their grasping for and pursuing. Keeping in line with understanding that purpose, means that lies and lying are sometimes necessary and useful tools for gaining power over others and over society (for 'the greater good', of course), and they have grade-level expectations for transforming it (and your child, and you) into being a means for their ends.

And here, in the last part of Warner's paragraph, we see the action of the would-be defender of Education, from Webster (next post), to Warner, and into our day, in that they step into the error that unknowingly to them has enabled our world to become what it has become today, and that foot which Warner had in the Education which our Founders' generation had formed themselves from, is betrayed and left behind, with the step which he advises (unaware of its implications) our taking into line with our world of today,
"I am certain, however, that educated teachers would use only the best means for forming the minds and enlightening the understanding of their pupils. It must be kept in mind that reading, silent reading done by the scholar, is not learning signs and calling words; it is getting thought. If children are to get thought, they should be served with the best—that which will not only be true, but appeal so naturally to their minds that they will prefer it to all meaner stuff. If it is true that children cannot acquire this taste at home—and it is true for the vast majority of American children—then it must be given in the public schools. To give it is not to interrupt the acquisition of other knowledge; it is literally to open the door to all knowledge...."[emphasis mine] 
How our understanding of Education became what it is today, began with the good intentions of people who looked into the immediate future, without carefully considering what kind of future might be had from breaking with their own past, and that break resulted in our original Semantic Deception, whereby the same word 'Education', came to mean two very different meanings, one of which was useful in gaining public support, to implement still other very different meanings and purposes, through educational experiments that were to create a system to nudge, ensnare, and conform its student's minds to whatever ideological issue which 'those who know best' had concluded was for the 'greater good'. That latter meaning never had any interest whatsoever in carrying forward the original idea of education which Warner still had one foot in, and instead were and are intent upon first ignoring it, then vilifying and condemning every aspect of it, and eventually eliminating all memory of that understanding, in order to 'remake the world anew', in their own idealized view of how you should be compelled to live, or as Godfather Rousseau put it: "They must be forced to be free. "

What Warner failed to realize, as has nearly everyone who's succeeded him on down to today, is that what was once meant by the word Education, was being gradually altered, from what was taken for granted, such as 'To John Adams from Samuel Adams, Sr., 25 November 1790',
"...Should we not, my friend, bear a gratefull remembrance of our pious and benevolent Ancestors, who early laid plans of Education; by which means Wisdom, Knowledge, and Virtue have been generally diffused among the body of the people, and they have been enabled to form and establish a civil constitution calculated for the preservation of their rights, and liberties..."
, where Education was understood as a means to the light of truth which set a person free and enabled them to discover how best to live in liberty. That understanding was unintentionally in the process of being reversed - the turn away from an ideal of what is right and true, towards what is useful, had gotten that ball rolling, and from there it became a simple matter of course before it became the political plaything of the 'progressive' educationistas who intended it to be used as a political tool of and means to power to reform the people into the ideal of 'those who know best', as the 'Father of Critical Pedagogy', Henry Giroux, acknowledged in an interview, that:
"...Critical Pedagogy must be seen as a political and moral project and not a technique. Pedagogy is always political because it is connected to the acquisition of agency... illuminates the relationships among knowledge, authority, and power... pedagogy is a deliberate attempt on the part of educators to influence how and what knowledge and subjectivities are produced within particular sets of social relations..."
The purpose of a mandatory public school system was from the very beginning, to establish political controls over those same people that it would be instructing in what and how to think, the fact that it began with better purposes, in no way deterred it from quickly tending towards worse ones.

To answer how these changes came about, and why, we need to get at the roots so that we aren't surprised by those same weeds growing back yet again, and that requires looking at the role that some of our most respected Founding Fathers played in them. How their good intentions played into the hands of those with the worst of intentions, in the next post.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Tragic Libraries of Education: 'They're just books'

What should, and should not be, in a school library? Who decides that? Do school libraries serve different purposes than public libraries? Is removing books from a school library the same thing as banning or censoring books? Questions like these have been swirling around and heating up the controversy between parents, librarians, educators (and trolls), in our schooling debates, though the first one is usually the only one that's asked openly (and answered as superficially as possible). While dealing with some trolls recently, it struck me as interesting, and not a little bit concerning, that there are similarities in how both trolls and many conservative parents 'pragmatically' approach these questions of what should be done about such books, and I think something needs to be done about that, ASAP.

The trolls had pounced upon a parent's group that dared show an interest in a handful of biographies for kids, from Mark Twain to Ronald Reagan & Justice Scalia, which the trolls - literally judging the books by their covers - condemned as being propaganda, because, obviously, a publisher that'd publish books 'exclusively about right wing figures!' (Mark Twain?), could only be peddling propaganda, and misinformation and that "shouldn't be allowed around inquiring young minds". And of course, being trolls, and *woke* ones at that, they were quick to dismiss any concerns about conservative books being removed, decentered or discarded from school libraries, as being no more than hysterical rants over 'objective truths' that do not apply or exist, because, after all:
'They're just books'
Naturally, if those books concerned leftist themes and heroes (one troll had helpfully suggested a nice bio of Ruth Bader Ginsberg would be more appropriate for students than one on Scalia), or even porn, well then... obviously, as 'every librarian, and educator' (and troll) understands all too well, 'every student needs to have free and unfettered access to all such materials', and it's nothing short of a fascistic assault upon liberty itself, for any such books to be withheld from those same inquiring young minds. That completely ignores, of course, the Left's recent efforts (and successes) to have Dr. Suess books and 'To Kill a Mockingbird', 'Huckleberry Finn', and more, removed from school libraries... but focusing too much on their inconsistency, leads you to assume that they care about either reality, truth, or consistency between the two (that'd be 'epistemic adequacy'), which in fact is what they not only fundamentally deny, but is the central focus of all of the *Woke*'s attacks (their efforts to replace 'epistemic adequacy' with 'social epistemology', amounts to replacing objective truth with polling those who know best). Don't let yourself get sidetracked by that, you only aid them. Worry about your own inconsistencies, which is what I want to focus on here.

Clearly the actions of such trolls, librarians, and educators, show that they are fully aware that books are much more than 'just books', and that they understand that there's a larger issue involved here, than only the particular books that are present in, or purposefully absent from, a school's library. What is concerning to me though, is that too many conservative parents act towards those books as if they do believe that:
'They're just books'
What I mean by that is that although parents are rightly appalled that their children are being exposed to overly crude, age inappropriate, and even pornographic materials (from bizarre fetishes, to rape, and incest) in their school libraries, they rarely pursue matters beyond having those particular books physically removed, as if the only problem is the physical or virtual presence of those objects, which will somehow be resolved by removing them, but how and why those books got there in the first place too often gets no more than a 'tsk-tsk' of attention (if a baby-sitter in your neighborhood left porn out for your kids and began chatting them up about it, would you send your kids back to be watched by them if they promised to remove it? Hello?). Such pragmatic behavior by parents is a tacit admission that in their minds,
'They're just books'
If you don't see the issue here, you may rest assured that the trolls, librarians, and educators who selected the books you despise, and rejected the books you love, do, because how those particular books 'somehow got there', wasn't due to any one person's error in judgement, they were chosen, and chosen for a purpose, and chosen to further that purpose. Parents and anyone else with an interest in how students are educated at their expense (that'd be everyone), need to learn to push a bit past the superficial thinking which those same schools once taught them to settle for, and begin recognizing that such books as those are there for a purpose, and that purpose actively guides what is stocked in their library, it informs your schools' lesson plans, assemblies, activities, and even the posters that are put up (or not) on classroom walls. That purpose is actively driving those messages which your child's thinking is expected to conform to, and those who believe in it will fight tooth and nail to see to it that those ideas and messages - which the particular books in question are only the more visible carriers of - will continue to be felt in as many student's heads as possible, through every meaningful aspect of their school.

Having spent a few decades digging into the ideas and intentions behind those purposes, I'm no longer surprised by the actions and comments of such trolls, librarians, and educators, but it baffles the hell out of me that the parents who in fact do love their children, and do want the best for them, behave as if removing a few particular books, is somehow going to sanitize and neutralize the ideology which is using that school to occupy its students thoughts with.

IOW: The books found in the school's library are an effect of what causes them to be selected. Removing some effects (the books) isn't going to alter or remove their cause (the ideology that drives such choices).

Which brings me to the question that usually goes unasked: Do school libraries serve different purposes than public libraries? Short answer: Yes. Do most school libraries understand (or admit) that? As 'mission statements' of school libraries typically say:
"to learn and appreciate the power of information "
, and the fact that the attitude typically expressed by most school libraries is that
'it doesn't matter what you read, as long as you read!'
, which is as inexcusable as a dietician saying 'It doesn't matter what you eat, so long as you eat - veggies, or twinkies, or sweetened carcinogens, makes no difference, just eat and keep on eating!', I think it's safe to say that the answer to that is: No.

But the reality is that a public library provides the widest possible selection of materials to serve whatever purposes that its patrons might seek to pursue. A school's library, OTOH, has, or should have, a very different purpose:
  • To serve and support the education which that school is providing to its students.
It is neither banning nor censoring, to remove books that do not align with, or support, or that runs contrary to the education which that a school library is there to support, but it is negligence, at best, to add or retain books that run contrary to the education which that library's school is supposed to be providing.

The real question to be asked is what is the nature of the education which that school is providing, and how one book or another helps with that (and very likely reveals it), because whether they admit that to be their mission or not, a school library's books are not selected (or rejected) haphazardly on the basis of,
'They're just books'
, but because their meaning and presence (or absence) is serving and supporting what that school wants its students to learn, value, and become.

Rumor has it that a local school district is about to overrule parents' objections to books they consider to be inappropriate because there are no psychological studies proving that they're harmful. Is that the standard of what books your kids can be exposed to in school?

Those who stock a school library's shelves with selections such as 'Crank', Gender Queer', 'All boys aren't blue', and the like, do so because in their judgement, those materials align with their pedagogical beliefs about what education should instill into their students, those books conform with their ideals. Those are the materials which they want shaping your kids hearts and minds, and right now they are winning them. And those materials which do not conform with their ideals, such as the central works of Western Civilization, are 'decentered', discarded, and excluded, in favor of whatever pulp is most popular in the latest fads they're promoting under 'read anything, just read! (as long as it isn't 'western-centric)'.

Make no mistake: Students are receiving exactly the education that these educators, librarians and trolls want them to receive, and those who treat effects as causes, and expect that removing a book will lead to fewer effects, without dealing with what caused it to be chosen, are being just as foolish as those who think that:
'They're just books'
Worse, such deflections and evasions help those making such choices, to achieve their 'Brave New World'. Books about incest, rape, are not in conflict with their ideals, and those ideals are what students are being educated to value; those are the ideas and ideals that they hope will occupy your child's thoughts, because 'children are the future', and the future they are seeking, is the kind of future that can be more easily imposed upon those who dwell upon such ideas and activities. Who is surprised by this, and why? The trolls, librarians, and 'educators' who clearly understand the lie behind:
'They're just books'
, are not surprised by the lies they're telling or promoting, while too many parents still seemingly presume their deceptions to be but errors, or carelessness, and nothing more. That's a problem.

It's also a problem that the nature of the lessons which are taught (or ignored) in a school, are taught in order to affect the nature of what your future family, friends and community leaders will be shaped into - that is what drives what books will and won't be in its libraries. That purpose, that mindset, that 'Critical Pedagogy', not only preceded the placement of crude and pornographic books in their schools' libraries, but it is what led those who staff them to calculate that they could and should attempt to get away with slipping porn into students reading materials without parents noticing it, just as it has led thousands of trolls, librarians and educators to "Vow To Defy State Bans on Critical Race Theory" (hey, haven't we been told that defying 'democratic government' endangers 'democracy!'? Huh.) in support of the communist Howard Zinn Project, and it is emblematic of the thinking that will continue to operate upon those students' minds - such as encouraging students to think about their sexual preferences by comparing those to which pizza toppings they might prefer - despite any momentary inconveniences that might be encountered by the removal of a few particular books, or personnel, or classes, due to the parental complaints or legislative mandates of the moment.

A Serious Question
How compatible is the 'education' which our school systems are providing, with who you want your kids, your future family, friends and community leaders, to be? Parents, and everyone else, need to begin taking education seriously, which means realizing, as the *Woke* do, that 'getting an education' is about more than school mascots, sports, and kids marking time by memorizing facts & getting good grades to get a diploma and prove they picked up enough useful skills to get a good job (not even businesses trust in that anymore).

Rest assured that a school, especially a *Woke* one, doesn't see any book as being 'Just a book', or itself as "Just a school", or what it is delivering into students minds as being "Just an education", but they very much appreciate the lack of thought that so very many of us have given to the matter, so that they can continue doing what they've devoted their lives to doing to your kids minds, and society as a whole, which is what they believe the schools are there for.

A good education is something rather than nothing, and meaning something rather than anything, it can't be supported by just anything at all, and such efforts must make it a lesser thing. The act of teaching implies that there is a destination which the student does not yet know how to navigate to, and does not know which false trails and pitfalls to steer clear of. Once they do know the way, once they've reached adulthood, then they can go their own way and explore what, where, and how they will, but not until then, and I seriously question the wisdom and intentions of any adult who'd allow the student to make their own choices about which road to go down and how fast to travel upon them without parental supervision. If you understand that books are more than 'just books', and that discrimination and discretion are required in providing students an education, then we should give more consideration to the question of 'What do you mean by an education?', and what role it is that books play in getting one - which is what we'll start looking into in the next post.