Monday, October 31, 2022

The Power of Ignorance: 'Back to Basics' Reform

As Americans hurried into the opening of the 20th Century, most did not notice that the old ideas which ever fewer Americans were still being educated well enough in to understand, were being left ever further behind with each new reform, and with each new graduating class. In defense of the students' parents, keep in mind that the 'norms' of today - grades, graded tests, textbooks, standardized tests - these were still new ideas to most people of the time, and they were dazzled by the claims that the 'new!' and 'better!' ideas of 'progressive education', would be able to more 'scientifically' measure & guide their student's progress and ensure them a better life. As noted in earlier posts in this series, there were those who did see what was happening, people like Charles Dudley Warner, Alfred Jay Knock, and Irving Babbitt too, and many others who fought long & hard against the tide, but they were mostly dismissed as being 'old fashioned', especially by those who were busily congratulating themselves for being 'pragmatic!' and modern.

As the reform pattern of 'reform, endorse, excuse and reform again' was busily churning out one new 'plan' after another over the course of the 19th Century and into the 20th - from the Boston Public School Plan, on up to the St. Louis plan, the Cincinatti plan, etc., - individual complaints about their graduates' level of knowledge and competence, would periodically garner an uncomfortable amount of negative public attention. When that happened a little something extra was needed to reassure the public that their schools would 'get back to basics!', and justify doubling down with still larger reform efforts. During one of those peak periods of complaints, the NEA approached Harvard's longest serving president in 1892, the education reformer Charles W. Eliot, to head up a task force of scholars for their recommendations on how best to go about 'fixing secondary education'.

Sidebar: If that 'old and outmoded' thing seems to make some sense to you, keep these points in mind:
1) our Founders Era was closer in time by several decades to the Progressive Era, than the Progressive Era is to us today,
2) the Hi-Tech of the pre-manned-flight age (the Wright Brothers 1st flight was in 1903, Dewey & Co began making this idiotic 'argument' in the 1890s) being the telegraph & mechanical processes of the Industrial Age, would have been far less mysterious to any of our Founders, than the internet, and digital Tech, and commercial space flight of our day would be to someone like Dewey
3) So given that these 'progressive' ideas are older and more outmoded to us, than the Founders were to them, how do you justify treating such 'old and outmoded' ideas as Dewey's, as having any credibility today?
It's an argument without an argument, and you should distance yourself from it
The 'Committee of Ten', as it came to be called, dutifully convened, and deliberated, and studied, sent many letters back and forth over the need for more centralizing of power (some of that captured here), as well as trivializing traditional literature into factually identifiable trivia which he promised would strengthen 'traditional scholarship', while also raising the profile of the new methods (elective classes, textbooks, testing, etc.), which, echoing the rhetoric of Pro-Regressives such as Teddy Roosevelt & Woodrow Wilson, was just the sort of thing that helped folks to feel very modern in comparison to our bewigged Founding Fathers of 'a century ago!'. The report they returned, was full of what once would've been considered an insult to any self-respecting school teacher, that "...The principal end of all education is training....". He added several other such efficient observations, as:
"...As studies in language and in the natural sciences are best adapted to cultivate the habits of observation; as mathematics are the traditional training of the reasoning faculties; so history and its allied branches are better adapted than any other studies to promote the invaluable mental power which we call judgment..."
, and so on. As comparatively good as that passage might sound to us today, a closer look reveals how far the shift away from True North had already gone - notice that the statement doesn't mention anything about truth or understanding; instead, it aligns more with the belief that 'knowledge is power', which was Thomas 'life is nasty, brutish and short' Hobbes' summary of the views of his master, Sir Francis Bacon. Interestingly, Elliott was the one who first promoted the pre-cursor of a 'Great Books Program', with his famous 'five foot shelf of books', but his purpose in both was not to promote or revive the traditional understanding that 'knowledge serves understanding and deepens virtue and wisdom', but that 'knowledge is power' in everything from being useful cocktail party banter, to technical knowhow, to acquiring rhetorically 'useful things to know', which came to be seen as the uses of 'The Classics', views which would later be easily made to serve postmodern & critical studies attacks upon them as 'meaningless knowledge' - not because Elliott would have agreed with the post-modernists, but because the absence of truth & virtue that he promoted, reinforced the vacuum that would become most useful to them.

As far as the NEA was concerned at that point though (Samuel Blumenfeld's book 'NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education' is an eye-opener (available online here)), what the Committee of Ten had proposed was old news which they'd already normalized, and what they wanted was not more of the same 'our new methods help promote traditional scholarship', but something much more 'New! Progressive!'. And so, as with our periodic 'rediscovery' that Phonics works better than 'look-and-say' which prompts new studies that divert public attention and are soon forgotten, the NEA first promoted the Elliot Commission's recommendations, then let them fade from memory with no action taken. In just a few years though, in that fateful year of 1913, they organized yet another new effort in the 'Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education', a.k.a. The Gang of Twenty-seven. The new commission no longer felt the need to bother too much with the stodgy 'traditional scholarship'  of scholars like Charles W. Eliot, who still pretended to value education in the old sense, and instead loaded itself up with mostly educational bureaucrats who were after 'progress!', at all costs. Emphasizing their break with the past, as The Gang of Twenty-seven looked upon 'The Committee of Ten', and, in Richard Mitchell's words in The Graves of Academe, they had:
"... found that proposal an elitist's dream. They concluded, in other words, that precious few schoolchildren were capable of the pursuit of knowledge and the exercise of the mind in the cause of judgment. That, of course, turned out to be the most momentous self-fulfilling prophecy of our century. It is also a splendid example of the muddled thought out of which established educational practice derives its theories. The proposals of the Eliot report are deemed elitist because they presume that most schoolchildren are generally capable of the mastery of subject matter and intellectual skill; the proposals of the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education, on the other hand, are ``democratic'' in presuming that most schoolchildren are not capable of such things and should stick to homemaking and the manual arts...." [BTW, if you noticed how that last line sounds a lot like Equity in action, good for you, 2 points to Hufflepuff]
, and so rather than fussing on about 'rigorous training of the mind in college', their final report, issued in 1918 as 'Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education', Mitchell observed:
"... It rejected the elitist and undemocratic education of the dark past and provided in its place ``preparation for effective living..."
, where 'effective living' meant keeping your mind free of 'elitist' notions of 'inalienable truths', 'individual rights', and those stuffy 'old & outmoded' works of literature that might put such notions in your head, so that 'we' could focus instead on more useful skills to 'get a good job!', and helped to usher in ever more 'useful classes' to further edge out those paths to an actual education which still remained (such as Latin and Logic which were still common classes at the opening of the 20th Century), while expanding the power of those who know best, to keep those who don't, comfortably ignorant. Doing so also ushered in important new "...objectives of education...", which began with... Health.

When they say the silent part out loud - listen
Funny how the 'progressives' always had an inkling that 'health' would help in building a royal road to power. Elwood P. Cubberley, again, was a leader in proposing schools to wield 'Health' with official authority in the community,
"...The work of health supervision in our schools is as yet, generally speaking, only in its beginnings, but that the service will be very materially extended in the future seems practically certain. The argument that it invades the rights of the home is on a par with the arguments against compulsory school attendance and prescribed courses of study. A generation ago compulsory school attendance was regarded as a meddlesome interference with the rights of parents to do with their children as they saw fit, and a million illiterate adults among us today stand as a witness to the value of such a theory..."
, which prepared the foundational assumptions that would prepare the way for SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) being written into federal law in the 1990s.
Today's 'norms', are old 'Progressive' reforms 
Fellows like Elwood P. Cubberley are among the forgotten founders of our modern educational system who should not be forgotten - not of course because their efforts were good, but because of how consequentially bad those changes they'd fostered were, and still are... and have become what today are taken as 'norms' (see 'Battle for the American Mind'). Cubberley did much to help fuse the 'German Method' with the new Pragmatic American Method, by establishing the model plan for school superintendents, the consolidating of school districts, and laying out the policies required for their following the industrial school design. As I've mentioned often, it was Cubberley who boasted out loud back in 1909(!), what was and has too often been left silent & deadly, that:
“Each year the child is coming to belong more to the State and less and less to the parent.”
That is the education reformer's primary goal, and we wouldn't be so surprised by it today if we'd pay closer attention to what reformers - from Rousseau, to Marx, to Dewey, to today's gender bending mutilators - have been reforming us towards along, as when Horace Mann said as much sixty some years earlier in 1848, in his 'Lectures on education', that:
"...We, then, who are engaged in the sacred cause of education, are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause;..."
Neither should we be surprised to learn that additional health based powers are beginning to be realized through our schools by way of 'Trauma-Informed SEL'. As described by leading SEL survey data-miner Panorama Ed, and as implemented in Washington State K-12 (I highly recommend listening to New Discourses Bullets: 'Systemic Trauma and Harm'), it began with promoting the idea that 'microaggressions' can be considered a form of violence, perhaps even warranting educators to facilitate government intervention, or, saying the quiet part out loud: Helping the child to come to belong more to the State and less and less to the parent. .

The reformers of education have always fervently believed that their 'good intentions' are just the ends they need to justify whatever means they deem as being necessary 'for the greater good' as they see it. And though they occasionally do say the silent part out loud, there's another aspect of their purposes that we've been deafened to, and that needs to be stated as loudly as possible today, that these reformers who delight in the child coming to belong more and more to the state, are people who increasingly have no fondness or desire for anyone reasoning well in a state of liberty, preferring instead to instill in their students a zeal for 'organized social action' under the auspices of the state - same goal, different path.

“[The] erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.” — H.L. MENCKEN, The American Mercury, 1924
The wise person who desires the liberty of living a good life in society with others, is who traditional education's methods of learning grammar and studying literature through identifying plot, theme, etc., were designed to benefit. But, as seen in the previous post, valuing liberty and the individual choices that lead to a life worth living, are what Dewey & Co. saw, and his successors today still see, as being 'anti-social', and so they used our educational systems to progressively eliminate the thinking and behavior that concerned itself with liberty and individual rights, by developing an Americanized form of Fichte's scientific method for preventing 'too much thinking'.

The purpose of the educational system reforms which began to be developed here in the early 1800s, was (and is) to prevent, or at least reduce, occasions of 'wrong think' (AKA: consideration of timeless truths) in students' lives in and after graduating from school. Doing so required 'installing' the 'answer that killed the question' into student's thinking through uninteresting materials and tests which students would find answers to that were satisfying enough that they wouldn't feel the need to give such matters further consideration for themselves. To do that required reversing what had been our school's primary task of introducing students to that literature which led them past easy answers and into questioning their way out of those caves of ignorance that are otherwise too easily imposed upon us, and instead it became priority #1 of the schools to gradually, progressively, sideline all vestiges of Homer, The Bible, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Virgil, Cicero, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, etc., as being 'elitist', boring, and useless to 'the greater good', while quietly removing them from the curriculum and the school library (what remains in yours?), while simultaneously promoting counter-literate schemes such as the 'Look-And-Say' method of reading, which lamed their students' ability to read such literature in a thoughtful manner on their own (detailed in the previous post).

Accordingly, the curriculums that schools replaced the jewels of Western Civilization with, were an uninteresting assemblage of issues, key facts, names and dates, presented in the mediocre and stultifying language of textbooks written by committees of experts, whose pre-chewed answers and 'right responses' are what are installed by training students to memorize them for answers to tests, rather than bothering to come to their own conclusions about them. Answers and attitudes that are reinforced through successive quizzes, tests, and standardized testing ranging from the local varieties, to the state, and national level, with ACTs & SATs of today. Elwood P. Cubberley, again, was one of the founders and earliest promotors of national Standardized Testing, and I assure you, he did so with the conviction that it would serve his and the State's purposes for your child coming to belong more to the state, than to their parents.

The reformers were and are very much aware that the 'Straight A!' students which their educational system seeks to produce are not what our 'anti-social' Founders would've regarded as being educated, neither would Albert Jay Knock's visiting Italian nobleman (who'd asked why he'd met no educated Americans, who were educated after 1895). Of those most successful in our schools today, it is becoming expected that the
"... “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries . . . they typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”..."
, as the grades and test scores of 'Straight A!' students, SAT/ACT stars, and Valedictorians, incline them towards 'organized social-action' by being the most malleable and conformist to those 'key facts' required for benefitting 'the greater good'. Our 'best and brightest' are smoothly enter into the approved ranks of power and influence, unlikely to rise too high within them, while efficiently continuing to promote the organized social actions of those who know best.

In just three generational steps away from our Founding Reformers in Webster & Dr. Rush, their good intentions of 'Go to school, get good grades to get a good job!', had enabled first Horace Mann, then Dr. Elliot, then John Dewey & Cubberley, to implement enough 'practical' changes that our schools key lessons teach us to forego wisdom and truth for apparent utility, which led to the mistaking of information for understanding, data for principles, quantity for quality, and to mistake the recalling of other people's answers, as being the same as understanding the questions which they were answers to, so as to persist whatever seemed most useful upon society for 'the greater good'.

Those three generations of reformers took us from being the people that Jefferson presumed to be so familiar with Aristotle, Cicero, and other classics that the Declaration of Independence needed only to evoke the '...harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right...' for them to recognize what the gathering threat that tyranny poses to the liberty they valued, into being a people for whom it had become common to speak of 'Educators' as being the active hand of 'democratic government' in every home and association in your community (see Dewey's 'Democracy and Education' which was adored in the early USSR), and in that context, the knowledge, content, and individuality which the original Founding Reformers had intended their reforms to strengthen, were summarily dismissed by the new reformers, using the very means - education - that our Founders had trusted their preservation to. Dewey expressed that sentiment with:
"...Each generation is inclined to educate its young so as to get along in the present world instead of with a view to the proper end of education: the promotion of the best possible realization of humanity as humanity. Parents educate their children so that they may get on; princes educate their subjects as instruments of their own purposes..."
The new reformers - and whether they're Progressive, Socialist, Marxist, Crony-Capitalists of the Left and Right, are distinctions without a meaningful difference here, which is why I use Pro-Regressive for short - saw 'We The People' as creatures in need of their expertise, and used lowly parents & powerful princes desire for their kids to 'succeed' and be useful, as a means for experts such as themselves to shape 'We The People's lives to fit within their vision for them. Reason and history both show that only inhumanity can follow from that, but that's something which pragmatic materialists who deride principles and truth, are unlikely and unwilling to grasp.

Similar ideals and interests drove what Woodrow Wilson was promoting when still president of Princeton University in 1909, when he told the Federation of High School Teachers, that critical to the purpose of teaching:
"...We want one class of persons to have a liberal education and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks..."
My Troll and I both agree that that speech should be read carefully, but where we disagree, is in taking his words at face value. He'd like you to go no further than the seemingly sensible, even conservative sounding lines, whereas I think you should refuse to sever those phrases from their roots in his wider views and writings, and if you pay attention to how the oft repeated theme of 'we want' pervades this speech and his wider writings, you'll begin to notice what it is that those who view themselves as being 'those who know best', desired (for you, who don't know enough). They have always intended to decide who to staff the nation with, because, as Wilson repeatedly points out in his speeches and books, the 'people' cannot be trusted to decide what to do with their own lives (and people thinking of their 'own lives', is something that he, and Dewey, and the rest, viewed as being 'anti-social' by nature), but lucky for us he knew that they were just the right people to 'help' determine who of us should go where, do what, and how and when they might permit our doing it, 'for the greater good' they had in mind for us.

In classic reformer manner, the 'innovative' classes of 'Home Economics', 'Shop Class', 'Automotive', which they'd added into the course schedules in the early 1900s, in order to force out still more of the 'useless' classes in literature, history, and Latin, from the schools' schedules, until decades later those same classes, which were at least of some practical reality based utility in themselves, have themselves been forced from the course schedules in favor of more activist oriented classes on 'life skills', or STEM offerings to raise test scores, which has not only contributed to the current crop of illiterate social justice warriors that we're contending with today, but to a backlash of calls for 'back to basics!' with Home Ec. and Shop Classes, which is but the rinse & repeat of the school reform cycle.

Neither should it be surprising that our Founding Reformer's paths of good intentions have led to such a very different destination than they'd intended, for knowingly or not they attempted to reverse cause & effect, and so introduced the pursuit of power where the love of wisdom should have been. The logical progression of effects to those causes led directly to the point where someone like James E. Russell (another weasel extraordinaire), when as head of Columbia University Teachers College, used his 1905 address, "The Trend in American Education", to tout the European, and particularly the Prussian and German methods of public education, as he fretted about what might result in our 'Social Democracy' from 'the wrong' sort of students being 'led out' (educare, educate, 'to lead out') of the cave (where he thought they belonged), and into the ability to know their own minds and make their own choices (*gasp* - what if they 'choose wrong!?') and interfere with the ordered society which he, they, were using education to create amongst us. Pay attention:
"...How can a nation endure that deliberately seeks to rouse ambitions and aspirations in the oncoming generations which in the nature of events cannot possibly be fulfilled? If the chief object of government be to promote civil order and social stability, how can we justify our practice in schooling the masses in precisely the same manner as we do those who are to be our leaders?..."
Again, as with Wilson's speech, if you read past the sensible sounding distractions and pay attention to what the sum of it must mean in practice, you'll find that they - Wilson, Russell, Dewey, along with the many more once famous names & plans of Lester Ward, Cubberley, and on back to Fichte before them - although they're mostly forgotten now, it is still their ideas that are aiding their successors today in determining who should be permitted to have hopes & dreams, and what they should and should not be. The sum of those 'fogotten ideas' are actively orienting us towards a very different star than the 'True North' of what is right and true which America was founded upon and through, orienting us away from liberty, and towards that sulphureous destination of good intentions which is incompatible with the ideals that American society, our Constitution, and the Rule of Law, depend upon, and cannot continue for long without.

Knowledge, Power, and Corruption
You've probably heard the famous phrase:
"...Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely..."
Where that phrase comes from, is a letter that the historian Lord Acton wrote to his friend Bishop Mandell Creighton, who was the editor of the English Historical Review, and its warning against the corrupting nature of power wasn't confined to only those who'd amassed political power. The reason for the letter that Acton wrote, was to criticize how Creighton had treated the abuses & crimes of popes & kings less harshly than those of other men, and Acton was adamantly opposed to his doing so. The passage the phrase comes from, is:
"...Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it..."
While Acton explicitly referred to the corruption of popes and kings through using the power & influence of their office for improper ends, he was also implicitly warning the Bishop against using the power & influence of his own office as editor, to affect the judgement of the readers of the English Historical Review - not so much because its readers might be getting historic facts wrong, but because what Creighton found pleasing to impart to his readers was historically irresponsible (as Knowledge, with some of its truth deliberately removed, always is) and could negatively influence their present and future thoughts and actions by presenting that misrepresentation as a valid lesson of history, and that lesson of history is one that is still very applicable to our day.

There are plenty of political figures today who deserve to be condemned for abusing their power and influence, but we should be at least as much if not more concerned with how our mostly anonymous academic men with pens are abusing their power and influence by deliberately omitting or altering the content and context of our school's textbooks & lessons, as they've done in everything from the 1619 Project, to the malicious stocking of school libraries bookshelves, to the mind altering lessons of social & emotional 'competencies' and math that doesn't add up, in order to ideologically influence how students will think and behave when living their lives out in the real world.

These 'education professionals' who wield a power of influence that's no longer limited by either a regard for what is true, or the preferences of the community they supposedly represent, have cast off western civilization's history & literature so as to fill our schools' textbooks & lessons with only those 'key facts' that they've deemed to be worthy of being known, while making degrees and diplomas subject to testing that shows how well their narrative has been ingested, in a process that corrupts not only themselves (absolutely), but also their hapless students, and our society at large. Doubtless it's the most clever and attentive of our students that are most at risk of becoming corrupted in how they go about their thinking - how many of those who listened to their parent's advice to 'study hard in school to get a good job!', are the ones today who condemn those speaking out about our schools' hostility to freedom of speech and hyper-focus on race & sex, as being the actions of violent and terroristic extremists, while excusing and even promoting the physical violence of their likeminded fellows when rioting in the streets, as being a protected form of 'speech' which everyone else must be forced to accept and endure?

We need to look past the headline making distractions of lies and crudities that are present in our schools and their libraries, and give greater consideration to why those lies and crudities are there - and what isn't there because they are. Ignorance of Western Civilizations' means of thinking upon and being guided by timeless truths, is the logical and intended outcome of an 'education' that does not educate - the issue is less about what they are being exposed to, than what they are not, and why.

What purpose does education serve? Unless we correct our answer to that 'Why', nothing will meaningfully change, because it cannot. Unfortunately, the relationship between the 'what', the 'how', and the 'why', is usually lost on us today, Left & Right, as can be seen in most peoples' enthusiastic 'thumbs up👍!' to a phrase often attributed to John Dewey (his actually went further & was much worse), or Margaret Mead, but regardless of who first said it, it's made it into common wizdumb:
'Schools should teach children not what to think but how to think!'
, not noticing that what a student is taught, is a means to teaching the student how to think - and both 'what' and 'how' are chosen to serve a purpose, and unless the correct 'why' is also supplied, we'll only fool ourselves into thinking that the problems of our educational system have actually been 'fixed', and as we congratulate ourselves and return our attention to other matters, that guiding purpose will quickly reassert itself and new 'what's and 'how's will begin being taught in service to it, as it has, over and over and over again, over the course of over two hundred years of 'education reform!'. You might think the folly of that would have been demonstrated to us by now, but that is the power of ignorance - not simply error, but the absence of understanding - and that power too, corrupts absolutely.

No matter how pragmatically sensible that "...teach not what to think but how to think..." might appear ("...Memorization of facts is pointless in a world where everyone carries around the entire knowledge base of the human species on their person..."), the activist pro-regressive agenda is installed into students' minds by making a muddle of how they think; crude and pornographic materials are made available to underage kids in order to affect how they think; and the fewer accurate facts and clear principles that they are given to think with, the more easily manipulated by unsound and emotionally targeted propaganda, they will become - our schools are focusing on how to think, and that's a big part of the problem!

The 'why' that's structured behind that 'how', is what we'll begin taking a closer look at in the next post.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Experimentally reading ourselves into illiteracy

“...They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect
that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be...

T.S. Eliot, The Rock
While walking through the problematic nature of Pragmatism's focus on 'what works' rather than on what is true (and right to do) in the previous post, I mentioned Samuel Blumenfeld's 1985 Hillsdale College address 'Who Killed Excellence', which goes into the educational disaster that followed when a co-founder and leading exponent of Pragmatism, John Dewey, became the leading voice in education reform. Dewey didn't kill it alone of course, and even though much of this took place a century ago, we need to pay attention to who else was involved and what they did, because their 'work' is so deeply embedded into the foundations of not only our schools, but through them into all of our society today, that attempting to fix the outrageous policies we see on the surface, inevitably results in new and more vicious weeds sprouting back up in its place, as CRT & SEL soon followed our attempts to remove Common Core, and as Common Core soon followed earlier attempts to remove Outcome Based Education before that, and so on, and so on, on back to their day, a century and more ago.

That issue of 'fixing it just makes matters worse' is a feature that's built into the nature of the 'school reform' cycle; to escape that cycle we need to pull the whole process out by its roots, but we can't do that, if we aren't able to identify those roots for what they are, and wherever they are. You'll soon see what I mean by that, as we take a closer look at a few of the other key names that Blumenfeld raised in his address, as having played a significant role in 'killing excellence' in education, those being Edward Thorndike, James McKeen Cattell, and Wilhelm Wundt, the last of whom was the father of experimental psychology in Leipzig Germany. Wundt was a radical materialist, a proponent of the 'scientific'/deterministic view which sees human beings as being little more than animated meat-sacks, and he held that the scientific expert's duty was to conduct experiments that prodded those meat-sacks through the trial and error of stimulus-response, so as to discover more efficient and useful behaviors which they could be made to perform, for the benefit of society.

For at least the first half of the 1800s, it'd been popular amongst American intellectuals to 'take the European tour' which centered on the new German universities (see this post), James McKeen Cattell did that, then studied for a couple years in Germany, and returned again to become not only one of Wundt's star pupils, but his first assistant.

Experimenting with Literacy
During that time he'd taken an interest in some recent fads in learning words by memorizing their appearance rather than by reading their letters, and so he began conducting experiments in the field of reading - not with what to read, mind you, or why to read it, but with how it was that accomplished readers read - typically by recognizing the whole word, rather than sounding it out - to see if new readers could be trained to read in the same way. The fact that even experienced readers do sound out unfamiliar words, did not concern him, nor that they are able to gain an understanding of a new word's meaning through its prefixes, suffixes, etc., as well as the grammatical structures which authors use to convey their meaning through the words they use. Cattell wasn't seeking a new way of learning to read because there was any evidence that reading phonetically limited a person's ability to read and understand what they read, far from it. But if new readers could be trained to 'read' words by sight and shape without having to 'waste time' on learning to understand the phonetic basis of the letters which words are formed from, and the nature and rules and logic of reading - such a 'thoughtless' approach to reading would greatly advance Cattell's materialist ideals (which included Eugenics), and not surprisingly he found that his experiments 'proved' his expectation that students could be trained to guess a word from its shape and contextual clues alone, faster, more efficiently, and was therefore 'better' than 'old fashioned' phonics & grammar.

On the basis of those intentions and experiments, the initial 'scientific' reading method of 'Look-And-Say' (or 'Whole Word') was developed, which would quickly be proclaimed as being a more modern and efficient method for learning to read from, than that 'old fashioned' phonics (a 'flat-earth view', as a later 'expert' would put it).

As it turns out, this 'new!' scientific method for teaching students to read, wasn't actually effective in teaching students to read - which was something they knew fully well, as Blumenfeld notes:
"...What is astounding is that by 1908 Cattell and his colleagues were very well aware that the look-say method produced inaccurate readers. In fact, Huey argued in favor of inaccuracy as a virtue!..."
, but that didn't dissuade Cattell or his fellows from continuing to promote the 'Look-And-Say' method, and as Blumenfeld mentions, his colleague Huey, and many others, even viewed those readers difficulties as a plus! At the very least, this should give you a huge clue that the education, and system for delivering one which they were fashioning, was not pursuing - in either results or purpose - what most people still assume it is (Blumenfeld's book (available online) 'Trojan Horse in American Education' has a great deal more information on that).

Not to read but to follow
These 'educators' weren't concerned that a student might not understand and learn how to read with 'Look-And-Say', because having a student understand what they were reading was not their goal, training them to follow instructions, was - remember Fichte - what excited them was that if 'most people' could be trained into attaining a functional (il)literacy of understanding those words that were most useful for following instructions with, then that would serve their educational and societal purposes just fine (the most useful 220 words for that would become known as 'The Dolch List', which, by the way, nearly all schools still use today).

It was with those same purposes in mind that Cattell, who became head of Columbia's Dept of Psychology in 1890, and was involved in its Teachers College, had helped to recruit one of the co-founders of Pragmatism, John Dewey, away from the University of Chicago's Teachers College in 1905, to help spread their new views of education through the flagship Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City, and while how to teach students to become literate was a focus of theirs, having students actually become literate was not, as Dewey wrote in 1898:
"The plea for the predominance of learning to read in early school-life because of the great importance attaching to literature seems to me a perversion."
, which was a perspective that went well with his view of Knowledge, which was that unless it served 'social utility', it was a problematic waste of time. As he explained it:
"...The mere absorption of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat...."
, meaning that they saw no social gain in having knowledgeable individuals, and our schools systems have been fashioned accordingly.

Follow the Social Science
The new, 'modern!' view of education that they were spreading did not see the schools' primary purpose as being to develop the student so as to be a benefit to their own lives; the modern, pragmatic, 'progressive' pro-regressive purpose of school, as designed, is to pragmatically develop students to take socially useful actions in society - they are in short: 'following the social science', or as Dewey put it in his "My Pedagogic Creed":
"I believe that education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction."[BTW, if you don't see the foundations of 'SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) in that, you need some new philosophical lenses)]
Helping them to implement that process, was a student of Cattell's at Columbia, Edward Thorndike, who was also a former student of Wilhelm Wundt's, as well as a former star pupil of another of the co-founders of Pragmatism, William James. Reflecting those same shared views, Thorndike further developed them into 'teaching strategies' which aimed at the same new purposes of education (conforming to the group, over individual learning), an approach that's clear in what Blumenfeld quotes of him here:
"Thorndike wrote: “The best way with children may often be, in the pompous words of an animal trainer, ‘to arrange everything in connection with the trick so that the animal will be compelled by the laws of its own nature to perform it.'”
, and in his 'Elementary Principles of Education (1906)' Thorndike applied that approach to dismissing those subjects traditionally taught as the 3R's,
"...Despite rapid progress in the right direction, the program of the average elementary school is too narrow and academic in character. Traditionally the elementary school has been primarily devoted to teaching the fundamental subjects, the three R's, and closely related disciplines. In representative schools to-day, more than half of the time is spent on reading, writing, spelling, and other language arts and arithmetic. These subjects are taught, moreover, in a too restricted and formal fashion. Artificial exercises, like drills on phonetics, multiplication tables, and formal writing movements, are used to a wasteful degree. Subjects such as arithmetic, language, and history include content that is intrinsically of little value. Nearly every subject is enlarged unwisely to satisfy the academic ideal of thoroughness. ..."
, and together through their flagship Teachers College, they exerted their influence over the lesser Teachers Colleges across the nation (greatly aided by most states having passed progressive legislation requiring teachers to graduate from them, in order to be certified to teach), injecting their new 'progressive!' methods of reading and thinking into each new generation of teachers and through them, the new 'key facts' focus of the modern and scientific-ish method of 'progressive education' spread out across the nation (with additional help from a few millionaires like Rockefeller's "...General Education Board (GEB), in encouraging vocationalism in education..."). As Blumenfeld notes in his address, concerning Dewey, Thorndike, and Cattell:
"...By 1908 the trio had produced three books of paramount importance to the progressive movement. Thorndike published Animal Intelligence in 1898; Dewey published School and Society in 1899; and in 1908 Cattell produced, through a surrogate by the name of Edmund Burke Huey, The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading.

Dewey provided the social philosophy of the movement, Thorndike the teaching theories and techniques, and Cattell the organizing energy. There was among all of them, disciples and colleagues, a missionary zeal to rebuild American education on a foundation of science, evolution, humanism, and behaviorism. But it was Dewey who identified high literacy as the culprit in traditional education, the sustaining force behind individualism. He wrote in 1898:
My proposition is, that conditions—social, industrial, and intellectual—have undergone such a radical change, that the time has come for a thoroughgoing examination of the emphasis put upon linguistic work in elementary instruction….
The plea for the predominance of learning to read in early school-life because of the great importance attaching to literature seems to me a perversion."
[emphasis mine]
Surprising? Really?...!
If you're at all shocked to learn that your educational leaders would promote a 'scientific!' method for learning to read, that not only wasn't effective at training students to read, but was actually harmful to their doing so, it's because you still think of education's purpose as being for the benefit of the child, and you're assuming that those running our schools think so too, but they were and still are using education as a means of accomplishing what they believe is for 'the greater good', that being putting society under the power of experts. There is no reason to be surprised that the 'thinkers' of education reform would promote methods that would ruin their students ability to read, that's long been their stated goal! The fact is that we have been continually, repeatedly, 'discovering' that the 'scientific' reading method of 'Look-And-Say' (and all of its related versions) doesn't actually work, and yet over a century later it's still being used today. How do we dare claim to be surprised by this?

C'mon man! Rudolf Flesch's 'Why Johnny Can’t Read' came out in the 1950s, and 'Why Johnny Still Can’t Read' came out in the 1980s! In Chp. 3 of that, Flesch notes:
"...When I wrote my book Why Johnny Can't Read in 1955, I [29] listed eleven studies that had been done up to that time. All of them gave results in favor of phonics-first; not a single one favored look-and-say. The scientific proof was complete and overwhelming..."[emphasis mine]
Even recently, just a few years ago, NPR (again) noticed that the 'scientific' method of reading had been scientifically shown to be making our student lab rats functionally illiterate:
"...And yet, "this ill-conceived contextual guessing approach to word recognition is enshrined in materials and handbooks used by teachers," wrote Louisa Moats, a prominent reading expert, in a 2017 article...."
Cattell's role in devising 'Look-And-Say' should earn him the right to justly be called the father of Illiteracy and dyslexia (a title he should share with his colleague Huey, who, as Blumenfeld notes, seems to have done most of 'the work'), but it hasn't, and it says a lot about our schools and the educational reforms that they fostered, that it hasn't. What should make that even more, is that if you do a quick search today (one of the 1st links to pop up for me on typing 'kindergarten' into my browser), you'll find far more hits for current programs that are teaching your kids to learn to read with the 'whole word' 'Look-And-Say' method that was designed with illiteracy in mind (and although most pepper their programs with the word 'phonics', few do so with any seriousness).

If you want to ask yourself why that is, first ask yourself, what happens when parents and community leaders become aware of their child's lack of reading skills. They demand that schools 'do something!' about falling grades, right? There are at least two things to notice in their response to that problem:
  1. They aren't asking why their students are unable to read and benefit from what is right and true - what they want is for their schools "to 'make it work' so that their students will get good grades and get a good job!" Well... surprise - that response is 100% Pragmatic Progressivism - so why the surprise when we get more of what we asked for?
  2. As those parents and community leaders demand more effort be made to teach students how to read, the administrators reply that 'Well, if you can get us the budget (maybe pass a funding measure, larger libraries, etc.,) then we can ramp up reading programs...' and... you guessed it... the reading programs they provide to boost literacy, are the very same programs and 'strategies', that destroyed literacy in America.
Are you starting to see the problem here? If you aren't aware of the forgotten names and aims of those who reformed our educational system, then you cannot escape from being caught up in their webs, and even help in spreading them, because being ignorant of them blinds you to their dangers and ensures that you're own efforts to do what you think is right, will actually bring about more of what was designed to undermine and eliminate everything that you think of as being right. See your local 'Reading is Fundamental!' school library for reference.

What they mean by educating your children, is harming your children
Remember that in Pragmatism, 'truth' is nothing more than what works, and it can only be determined at the end of the process being worked out. What that means in practice, is that failure and 'falsehood' are not indications that the process is headed in the wrong direction, but only that it has not yet reached the expected completion. Take another look at the previous post for what mainstreaming that notion into popular thinking, has done to the world, let alone to education. Remember the 20th Century's pragmatic philosopher Richard Rorty's comment mentioned in that post, that "...To know your desires is to know the criterion of truth..." and that “...the truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with...”, coupled with Dewey's own view that 'there is no clear social gain' in turning your students into knowledgeable individuals, what more could be expected, than what we have today?

For the pragmatic progressives, turning the process of reading into a burdensome effort for students that leaves them mostly illiterate, was always a feature, never a bug, in the process of developing their goal for social unity. Illiteracy is a pragmatic value in pursuing what they see as being the purpose of school, and what works is 'true', right? As long as we let them get away with making our children into less than knowledgeable individuals, they will continue using our schools to do exactly that, for our own good, of course.

The Progressives (rightly) believed that the ability to read, coupled with a thirst for quality literature, produces intelligent individuals who value living in society with their fellows in liberty, which is what Cattell, Dewey, and Thorndike, recognized as being threats to the progressive revolution they were instigating to replace our society with, often complaining that:
"The last stand of oligarchical and anti-social seclusion is perpetuation of this purely individualistic notion of intelligence."
They fully understood what they were doing, and what their purpose for doing it was, and they very deliberately designed the nature of our modern educational system so that it would be mistaken for an institution that was doing what parents would assume it would - to better their children's lives, while all the while it was deliberately eradicating every aspect of the knowledge and understanding - philosophically, socially, and morally - that is required for that.

Modern education is intended to be political, not educational (C3 Social Studies bible has grade level expectations for social activism beginning in kindergarden, noted here), and their political aims are not compatible with the principles that America was developed from, they very seriously believed that liberty is anti-social, a point Dewey makes clear in his derisive rehearsing of Lockean ideas of individual rights in 'Liberalism and Social Action':
"...The whole temper of this philosophy is individualistic in the sense in which individualism is opposed to organized social action. It held to the primacy of the individual over the state not only in time but in moral authority. It defined the individual in terms of liberties of thought and action already possessed by him in some mysterious ready-made fashion, and which it was the sole business of the state to safeguard. Reason was also made an inherent endowment of the individual, expressed in men’s moral relations to one another, but not sustained and developed because of these relations. It followed that the great enemy of individual liberty was thought to be government because of its tendency to encroach upon the innate liberties of individuals. Later liberalism inherited this conception of a natural antagonism between the individual and organized society. There still lingers in the minds of some the notion that there are two different “spheres” of action and of rightful claims; that of political society and that of the individual, and that in the interest of the latter the former must be as contracted as possible...."
Of course those inalienable truths which he is mocking and deriding in that passage, individualism and liberty, are the ideas they wanted (and want) to leave behind and have be forgotten, so as to eliminate them from society. They desire that, because he, they, pragmatically, have an entirely different view of what 'individualism' is and should be, rejecting the 'idea' that an individual person can be thought of as an individual person - in their view an 'individual' is only a part of the societal matrix. From Dewey's 'Individualism old and new':
"...When the patterns that form individuality of thought and desire are in line with actuating social forces, that individuality will be released for creative effort..."
, meaning that it's only when the 'individual' is reflecting what the group believes (got any 'project learning' activities going on in your schools?), that they can become 'one' with, or an individual aspect of, the collective, and only then do they have a useful value in taking those actions which the experts have deemed necessary and worthy. In the pragmatic view the individual can only experience 'liberty' once they've merged into the expectations and realities of their collective society, as he ends his book with,
"...To gain an integrated individuality, each of us needs to cultivate his own garden. But there is no fence about this garden: it is no sharply marked- off enclosure. Our garden is the world, in the angle at which it touches our own manner of being. By accepting the corporate and industrial world in which we live, and by thus fulfilling the precondition for interaction with it, we, who are also parts of the moving present, create ourselves as we create an unknown future."
, or IOW you are only 'you' as a result of them, or 'Students of the world unite!'. That is what the reformers mean by reform. And whereas the True North that guided the founding of America was that liberty led to deeper and more meaningful societies filled with a wealth of social interactions, what Dewey meant by 'organized social action' was actions that followed & abided by the collective plans of experts such as himself. America's orientation towards True North is what Dewey was expressly opposed to, and the old promise for an education and the benefits - knowledge, virtue, wisdom - to be expected from one, ran and still runs contrary to their every pro-regressive ideal, which is why they were so deliberately replacing every aspect of the old True North understanding of Education, because those maps wouldn't lead to where they intend us all to travel to.

Lessons not yet learned, which we very much need to learn
The truth is that illiteracy is a feature in progressive education, not a bug, as people who no longer can read, or who dislike reading, or read only to retrieve what experts have deemed to be 'key facts' or useful 'informational text', are unlikely to have any regard for, or use for, those self-evident truths and inalienable rights that America was founded upon, and which our Greco-Roman/Judeo-Christian civilization values and depends upon. And that is the educational direction that the maps of Dewey & Co. have been leading us by.

However good their intentions initially were, what we are dealing with today, is the logical progression of events that were sure to follow from the initial reforms begun by our Founding Reformers. While it may not have been obvious that the changes they initiated would lead to where we are, they started the process rolling downhill when they unwittingly reformed the purpose of education, from that of benefiting the student, to benefiting society, and from gaining wisdom, to being useful. And catastrophically, they did this at the same time that Philosophy was being transformed by Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Marx, Peirce, James, and Dewey, from the love of wisdom, to being how smart people can change the world for 'the greater good'. From those two very different pursuits,
  • Wisdom respects, values, and acts upon what is timelessly true.
  • Pragmatism values what has the power to further the experts immediate interests - that defines something as 'being true.
, two very different views of people, and of society, must follow. Our schools today are deliberately less educational, than informational, and the innovations that were introduced into it over the 19th century, were less concerned with any one student's education, than with the political process that their educations could be used towards. That outlook was carefully tended to over the course of the 1800s, until it exploded into the 20th Century with the creation and expansion of school districts, and the consolidating of them into ever larger systems, adding new superintendents and ever more staff to more efficiently manage them as a means of producing a 'new man' within the 'old fashioned' constitutional system which America was founded upon.

Dewey's admirer and educational Field Marshal, Elwood P. Cubberley, described their vision for public schools, in his 'Public School Administration' (1916) as being:
“...Our schools are, in a sense, factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life. The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of twentieth-century civilization, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down...”
, and the leading products which rolled off of that production line, were designed to be ever more illiterate students, to help in slowly, progressively, transforming our society into something it is deliberately not; a process which was solidified by Horace Mann, and radically perfected by John Dewey, and which made it possible for, and still sustains, the radical Marxist programs (SEL, CRT, DEI) of today. That is our system of education in America. What 'school reform' do you suppose can 'fix' that problem when most of your neighbors are sending their kids to school to study hard and get a good job? If you think that School Choice will, you need to re-read the two-step scenario I sketched out above. Choosing your own poison, doesn't make it any less poisonous.

What you can do about this today, is to get involved in your schools and school boards to slow down the harm that they are doing through your political representation and tax dollars, but first and foremost, get your kids out of the establishment minded schools, and just as importantly, make sure that the alternative form of education you choose for them is truly educational.

Our educational system has been reformed to inject a stimulus of illiteracy into our society (not jsut the inability to read, but the lack of interest in doing so), and the only logical response (outcome) to be expected from that, is ignorance. It seems to me that you have to fight pretty hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that the reason for doing so, is that an ignorant populace is especially useful to those who attain power over them, which is what we'll begin looking at next.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Pragmatically shifting us off of our Foundations

When you're not sure whether or not you're lost, you check your position and visible landmarks against a map. If your educational map doesn't show an expected landmark of low graduation numbers with graduates who can't or won't read, or read only for information & amusement and rarely if ever for knowledge, wisdom, and fulfillment, then you know you're lost. We're lost. The key to our getting back on track, is retracing our steps to see where we took a wrong turn, and not stopping at the most recent wrong turn (CRT & SEL), or the one before that (Common Core), or the one before that (Outcome/Competency Based Education), but going all the way back to where we left the correct path, carefully noting how to recognize those wrong turns so that we don't make the mistake of following them again. That retracing of our steps is what we're doing in this series of posts.

We've seen that our wrong turns began innocently enough with misguided calls for education reform amongst our Founders era, and became progressively worse with each new generation of reformers, but it wasn't until that point in time where we began taking directions from the exponent of pragmatism, and 'progressive education', John Dewey, that we entered into the dark wood we find ourselves in today, having lost sight of all recognizable landmarks. If we're to find our way back, it's important to recognize that how we got here has to do with a great deal more than simply having had particular teaching methods, textbooks, and class offerings introduced into our schools - we need to learn to recognize the real foundational shifts that were made in the direction of what we believe and how we think, which were introduced into our entire society, and are actively being followed to this day, and that simply attempting to go back to before this or that change in the direction of our educational policies, will be too little to put even our schools back on track, let alone our society. We've got to zoom out and see the entire landscape, if we're to have a chance of undoing all of the missteps needed before getting back on track once again.

Mistaken Landmarks
The Pragmatic big three: James, Dewey, Peirce
Beginning with the first calls for school reform in the late 1700s, the traditional religious and moralist players in education (Religious being pastors and the like, and Moralist being the likes of Noah Webster, Ben Franklin, etc.,) did not seem to realize the radical change involved in having allowed the debate to be shifted from being one over how best to educate a child for the primary benefit of that child (which only incidentally was also good for the community), to a political contest over guiding the content of that student's education for the primary purpose of serving the community, which is what the school's new purpose became. That newly politicized nature of 'education' naturally led to their lessons and textbooks shifting towards one of ideologically reforming students to benefit the community in its [now more important] purpose of aiding the [insert political hot topic of the day here: economy, culture, politics, science, agriculture, beat the foreign enemy, etc., etc., etc.], and their misreading of the landscape enabled them to become irrelevant to the political process, though it would continue operating in their name for some time to come.

As noted in a previous post, a study by William Kailor Dunn showed that from a high point before entering into the fray in 1775, 93% of a textbook's content was conveyed in a religious/moralist manner, split between them at 85%-8% of the total, but by 1825 their share had shifted to 22%-28% of their content, until by 1915 they'd both plunged precipitously to 1.5%-7% of content being taught. The relative percentages are less important than what their combined percentages no longer totaled up to, as prior to the school reform movement, roughly 93% of textbook content was in some way presented through a religious and moralist perspective, but by the 20th century there'd been a near complete reversal in which their combined total amounted to only 8.5% of textbook content. The remaining 91.5% of content was now molding the 'clay' of the public mind and character through some manner of pro-regressive Utilitarian, Positivist, and an increasingly Pragmatic, selection of key facts and analysis, which was directed not for the benefit of the student, but for the benefit of the community's interests in the [insert political hot topic of the day here: economy, culture, politics, science, agriculture, beat the foreigners, etc., etc., etc.] which was filling the vacuum of an educational purpose, because our Founding Reformers, and those with strong religious and moralist convictions, had willingly abandoned the traditional purpose of education, in exchange for engaging in political battles over whatever other 'important' purposes the schools should be used to serve.

For those naive enough to think that it's a positive development that textbooks were no longer filled with traditional religious and moralist views within a shared philosophy of Greco/Roman-Judeo/Christian culture, you're likely laboring under a misconception that NO religious, moralist, philosophic, or cultural views were then being used to mold the content of students minds and character, and it would be difficult to be more consequentially wrong than that. No human being, no matter how savage or tenured, can live without religious, moral, and philosophic views to guide their lives - their only choice is whether those views are to be consciously held or not, and whether they will be clearly upheld and understood and reinforced in alignment with their culture, or to follow the conflicting urges and feelings of the moment down into a confused muddle of virtue-less virtue signaling. While their textbook's content was no longer being guided by views which reflected the more widely held beliefs of the public, they were swiftly being replaced by the philosophies of those who either disagreed with, dismissed, or opposed the religious and moral views commonly held by the public they 'served' ('medium-rare or well-done?'), so that the new lesson plans, textbooks, and classes, were increasingly conveying the anti-religious and amoral beliefs which were then being popularized in what we now know of as 'Progressive' politics, and together they marched arm in arm through the wider societal turmoil of the time, predominantly fed by the 'new!' philosophy of Pragmatism.

Pragmatism is a philosophy that was devised in America primarily by C. S. Peirce, William James, and then John Dewey, in the late 1800s, but although it solidified views that had been circulating in America for decades, it would, IMHO, be a mistake to call it an American Philosophy, as its core premises undermine or oppose the very ideas and culture that America was formed from and founded upon. The first to formulate it in print, and the most technically minded of the three, was Peirce (who, BTW, was a dissatisfied student of Professor Charles W. Elliott, mentioned here previously, and who'd later bring the (disastrous) idea of 'Elective Classes' to American colleges through his work as president of Harvard), followed by Peirce's classmate at Harvard, William James, who would become America's first Psychologist, and whose lectures lured in the thinking of progressive educational reformer, John Dewey, and drew him away from Hegel, and into their new philosophy of Pragmatism. Through their private and public conversations, commentary, lectures given and published, and the involvement of a number of others,
Sidebar: modern 'Economics' should not be confused with the Political Economy of Adam Smith, Jean Baptiste Say, and Fredrick Bastiat - Political Economy investigates how an economy grows in relation to liberty and a Free Market, modern Economics is interested in how best to expertly manage a society for the benefit of the state by legislative and economic means... permitting whatever liberties might be useful in doing so, if necessary (see 'Illiberal Reformers').
such as the future 'Progressive' Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and historian George "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" Santayana, their speculations put Pragmatism prominently into the current of the academic and popular press of the day, where it fit in well with that new positivist 'science' for managing society under the advisement of experts, Economics.

Now, especially if you've become accustomed to thinking pragmatically, you might be thinking to yourself: 'Does any of this really matter?', and the answer, as you'll see shortly, is 'Oh Hell yes this matters!', but we'll need a brief review of the basics first, for that to be able to become as obvious as it should be.

Pragmatic Blindness
Pragmatism came about, because its three primary founders had become uncomfortable with the philosophies of the German Idealists of the day, Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, which they had initially been big fans of (Dewey published his first philosophical paper with the St. Louis Hegelian Society). The reasons for that was only partly related to Nietzsche's criticism of the idealists, that 'they muddy the waters to make them appear deep', in that for the pragmatists, muddying still (evidently) had some appeal, but it was what 'deep' referred to, that they disliked; impenetrable reasoning wrapped up in convoluted language that couldn't easily be explained or passed over, and so wasn't suited to justifying the quick, pragmatic actions which they desired to use in reforming society with. And so, while:
  • ...they were fine with Kant declaring that what is real and true - 'Ding an sich' (“Thing-in-itself”) - is beyond our ability to ever really know (sorry, how do you know that (or anything else) is right, if you can't know what is? I know, shhh...), but the elaborately convoluted reasoning he justified it with, they were less fine with.
  • ...they were fine with Fichte's idea of reducing 'reality' to little more than a sandbox to be shaped by a philosophers ideals and used in service to the state, but they were less fine with the extensive depths of impenetrable language that he used to justify those ideals with.
  • ...they were fine with Hegel's view that traditional Philosophy's 'love of wisdom' had become unnecessary, and that his History had enabled philosophers to attain 'Absolute Knowledge' for them to reorder and perfect society with (summed up by Glenn Magee as: "...Hegel is not a philosopher. He is no lover or seeker of wisdom — he believes he has found it..."), but they were less fine with the long and winding road of quasi-mystical formulations that his Phenomenology justified them with.
  • ...they were fine with Marx's belief that where heretofore "...The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it...", but they were less fine with Marx's absolute materialism - if only because it left no room for them to use their own ideas to redefine society's relationship to material reality with.
In addition to these problems with the German Idealists, Peirce also saw the folly in Descartes's criteria for determining what is true as being what you '...very clearly and distinctly conceive...' to be true, so long as you yourself felt no doubts about what you yourself had cooked up in your own mind, and as the entire Cartesian "Method of Doubt" depended upon the same likelihood of self-deception, he dismissed that as well (which is one conclusion of his that I agree with). But rather than then taking a closer look at those earlier views which both Descartes and the German Idealists had led Modernity away from, Peirce used Descartes' attempt to find 'reality' through individual introspection, as cause enough to dismiss individualism, and to justify turning a blind eye to all of what had come before him by broad brushing it all away with the cartoonish charge that since the 'schoolmen'/scholastics accepted the authority of the Church to say what the Truth was, then all of what earlier metaphysics had shown to be timelessly true (such as Aristotle's 1st law of thought concerning contradictions, that nothing can both be true, and not be true, in the same context) could be dismissed as well, narrowing the boundaries of our thoughts to the immediate experiences of the moment - in what was essentially denying 'the forest for the trees'.

The alternative approach that Peirce devised was partly inspired by the Darwinian theory of evolution that had been taking the academic world by storm, with which he evolved a 'new conception of truth' that necessitated taking what we chance to experience in the moment, as a more material basis for "positive observation", and taking a cue from from Kant, he established that starting point as being:
"The central insight of pragmatism is that in philosophy we must start from where we find ourselves"
, and on that basis, the pragmatists were able to keep what they liked about what the German Idealists' had developed in their Dialectical Process - that of formally structured equivocation which used doubt to tear down existing arguments, and to fabricate new positions on the basis of their doubts (perhaps not how they'd put it, but accurate) - but where the idealists' approach had been to ignore (or deny) what was in reality true by muddying the waters to make them seem unfathomably deep, the pragmatists flipped the script by muddying the waters to make them appear to be so shallow as to be safe enough to experimentally splash about through, without concern for the metaphysical issues of reality, truth, the danger of contradictions, or for any other aspect of that 'old fashioned' Aristotelian logic which refused to permit substituting muddied waters - shallow or deep - for having a reasonable understanding of what actually lay beneath the water's surface.

In short, by accepting the conceptually blinkered observations experienced in the moment as a standpoint that's 'true enough' to start philosophizing from, they were able to sidestep both strict Idealism, and pure Materialism, while also turning a blind eye to the Platonic & Aristotelian traditions of metaphysically rooting our knowledge in what was known to be in reality timelessly true, for being 'old fashioned' concepts that were irrelevant to the needs of modernity, which was scientifically justified on Darwinian grounds. And so having pragmatically freed themselves from worrying about what actually is true, good, and wise, they were now able to focus on bringing about those changes they desired to see (in you), and upon that standpoint, William James' summarized the new Pragmatic conception of 'Truth' as being but one of many tools which needn't be fussed with overmuch, while at the same time keeping it handy for resorting to whenever it might seem useful:
"Whenever such an extra truth becomes practically relevant to one of our emergencies, it passes from cold-storage to do work in the world, and our belief in it grows active. You can say of it then either that ‘it is useful because it is true’ or that ‘it is true because it is useful.’"
With what is metaphysically real and true out of their way, the pragmatists proceeded to refashion Philosophy in Science's image, ignoring the fact that they were reversing cause & effect yet again - Science follows from Philosophy, not the other way around (philosophy tells you that something exists which may be measurable, science tells you the details about what it has or hasn't been able to measure), but that's only apparent when concerning yourself with what is real and true across time, which is a perspective that pragmatism's focus upon the experience of the instant, closes its eyes to.

The danger of pragmatism for the unsuspecting then, is that under the cover of the 'common sense' it purports to value, once you accept pragmatism's premises (such as believing that what actually is real and true, is irrelevant, so long as the immediate appearances 'work' for your current purposes), how are you then going to argue against its conclusions, from within that 'understanding'? Are you going to say 'But... that's not really True!'? You see the problem there? Once you accept its premises, your every thought is formed through its lens, and is moving you further away from what is real and true, and wise.
Sidebar: There's a fascinatingly un-self-aware dialog that pragmatist intellectual Susan Haack imagines taking place between herself, C.S. Peirce, and 20th Century pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty, which illustrates exactly that, in how Peirce was blind to the fact that his own ideas, would inevitably lead to the insane radicalism of Rorty's - see below

It's exceedingly easy to slip into the pragmatic perspective, as it flatters the ears into nodding along with what you want to hear, assuring you that such agreement was and is helping everyone's thinking to become more scientific, modern, and efficient, a siren song that also lends itself to the oh-so clever sounding ad hominem attacks upon the ideas of the 'old & outmoded' culture of America's Founders, who were, after all, but a 'quaint' agrarian and pre-industrial people who wore such funny clothes and wigs. Dewey published numerous papers and books 'clarifying' his experimental thoughts, and although IMHO his explanations and clarifications amount to little more than slick & clever academic rewordings of: 'Don't worry about what's true, but about what'll work - and because your ends [not theirs] are in society's best interests they do justify the means!', the world tours he went on, including two years of spreading his philosophic seeds in China during the early 1920s, were popular and successful, and helped to make Pragmatism and Progressivism so widely recognized (though poorly understood).

Such views soon began to be felt in education, in business, and in entertainment, enabling the views of 'Progressive Education' reformers to 'go viral'. As the radical (but no-longer radical enough) leftist Princeton Professor of philosophy, Cornel West, puts it in his 'The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism' (1989), pg. 69:
“To put it crudely, if Emerson is the American Vico, and James and Peirce our John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant, then Dewey is the American Hegel and Marx.” (currently available online here, it's awful, but worth being aware of)
Dewey rode that popularity to become one of the most influential of 'Progressive' reformers - both in and out of school, and the consequences of that have been dire, for America, and indeed for the entire Western world, and it's from this point that I think you'll begin seeing the 'Oh Hell yes this matters!', mentioned above. Let's start taking a look.

Metaphysical Truth or Consequences
Many other theorists of the time argued for different conclusions and aspirations of course, but the premises of the Positivists, Marxists, and even the German Idealists, fell largely within the same standpoint shared by Pragmatism(that thought precedes reality, and so shapes it), but the pragmatic vision and 'practical' experimentalist approach to improving society through modernity's 'scientific method' was catchier and seemingly safer and less radical (though it establishes a launching pad for the most extreme radicalism), fueled the pragmatists rise into academic respectability. Leading universities began setting up experimental teaching labs under Dewey's guidance, first at the University of Chicago, and then to Columbia College in New York City in 1905, which were emulated in the Teachers Colleges that sprang up across the nation, to satisfy the newly legislated requirements for 'accreditation' of teachers, all of which naturally led to the traditional approaches to education being first sidelined, then discarded, under the dreaded label of 'old fashioned'.

At the time of our Founding Reformers such approaches would almost certainly have been opposed, perhaps even violently (as some efforts to establish industrial & agricultural schools were opposed in 1850s), but in less than a century later, and with decades of the good intentions which our Founding Reformers had helped to legitimize, American schools had become fertile ground for the new reformers reassurances to the public that they would be efficiently and scientifically teaching their students those 'key facts' & 'useful skills' which experts had determined would boost the economy and their kid's place in it, while also giving the immigrants among them a new understanding of what being an American meant, and so forth, and so on, rinse and repeat.

Battle for the American Mind - Gary Plan discussed at 17:50
True to the new reform process, the experimental approach to education had led to a great deal of regions and cities announcing their own new experimental plan, such as 'The Dalton Plan', 'The Winnetka Plan', and perhaps most impactful, 'The Gary Plan' in Gary Indiana, and if one approach didn't 'work' with the formative years of one class of students (both young students and budding teachers), well, it was all in the name of 'science!', and without even so much as a 'sorry... best of luck to you...', they moved on to a new experiment with the next class. Unnoticed by most people in that process, was the reality that each experiment left behind ever more of what once had been so highly valued in the educational process, and the new processes spurred on ever more remedies and reforms, normalizing new errors into a new normal that still defines our modern system of 'public education reform' to this day (If you'd like to see how much I'm skipping over, watch or read "Battle for the American Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation Hardcover" by Pete Hegseth & David Goodwin, which leaves me free to cover what most leave out).  What has been given far too little attention, are the questions that should've been asked - and answered - before any of the experiments ever began:
  • What happens if the experiment fails?
  • What if millions lose their way in life because of that failure?
  • What if millions die because of that failure?
Those aren't idle questions, as one side effect of following such a philosophy as pragmatism, is that having no principles or truths that a person needs to understand, respect, or follow, the thinking of the 'new man' is transformed into being their own authority and rightful center of the universe (to everyone else), and there are very few theories and desires that people will find themselves unable to be justify with 'I'll bet this'll work!', so long as in their mind it's for 'the greater good'. One of Pragmatism's leading thinkers of the latter 20th Century, mentioned briefly above, was Richard Rorty, who summed that understanding up as:
"...To know your desires is to know the criterion of truth..."
And while that may have felt freeing for the pragmatically minded, for the rest of us, experimentally 'freeing' yourself from reality, tends to enslave you to the shallowest of appearances that are not actually true - and that doesn't end well, because, well, it 'Kant' end well. They have no Good ends in mind, only many 'ends', ends which are always shifting and changing in order to make things 'work' (this time), for the moment, and with no other concern for the next moment, except in dealing with that in the same way when it comes. As Rorty summed it up in his "Philosophy and The Mirror of Nature (1979), p. 176:
“...the truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with...”
The deadly reality of what blooms from such pragmatic seeds such as what Dewey sewed here, and in the USSR, and in China, was expressed much earlier in the 20th Century than Rorty, by Chairman Mao:
"Only social practice can be the criterion of truth. The standpoint of practice is the primary and basic standpoint in the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge."
, which is a 'truth' Mao utilized in bringing about the deaths of 60 million people in his experimental Cultural Revolution. His understanding was reasserted later in the deaths of thousands in the Tiananmen Square massacre, in what one of his successors, Deng Xiaoping, expressed with:
"Deng Xiaoping said that "practice is the sole criterion of truth," and believed that only by experimenting with alternative forms of production and entrepreneurial activity would China find the best path for economic development."
All of these sentiments have very real roots in the 'American' philosophy of Pragmatism of the 20th Century. As such, it shouldn't be surprising to discover that Pragmatism, and John Dewey, and William James in particular, were highly influential upon the thinking of those whose ideas were behind the founding of Fascism in Italy, such as Georges Sorel, Giovanni Gentile, and Benito Mussolini, as noted by the Encyclopedia Britanica:
"...Another French thinker, Georges Sorel, reformulated Jamesian pragmatism and its emphasis on action into a “useful” doctrine of social criticism. The Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini later cited Sorel and James as two of his philosophical mentors. ..."
, for 'political philosophers' such as those, who were looking for a means of justifying a political strongman's designs with: 'What the Leader wills is the criterion of truth!', how could Pragmatism not be their favorite 'philosophy'?!

In the 1920s Dewey had spoken quite favorably of the USSR, and the USSR had endorsed and employed his ideas in their educational system (Dewey's 'Democracy and Education' was very popular in the early USSR), and he spoke well of them in his 'Impressions of Soviet Russia and the Revolutionary World', and of their use of their schools:
"...The schools are, in current phrase, the “ideological arm of the Revolution.” In consequence, the activities of the schools dovetail in the most extraordinary way, both in administrative organization and in aim and spirit, into all other social agencies and interests..."
, while excusing their 'excesses' as being understandable in light of the 'realities' they faced.

As the blood bath that was the USSR became more difficult to deny, and in response to its subjecting Leon Trotsky to a show-trial, Dewey convened the 'Dewey Commission' to investigate the USSR's show trial (ironically, his own commission was stuffed with Trotsky supporters), and concluded that it had been rigged and couldn't be trusted to reach the 'truth' - one can imagine Stalin replying back "Hey, it worked!". Undaunted, Dewey continued to support "little 'c' communism", no doubt convinced that it'd work better next time the experiment is tried.

You might think that when such 'experiments' as those have failed as catastrophically as those have, 'Oops! Keep experimenting and make it work next time!", would seem unwise, but I suspect Dewey would have much the same reply even if he lived to learn about the tens of millions of people murdered by Stalin, Mao, and all the others who've engaged in such experiments, after all, what is there in Pragmatism, that would lead to anything but continuing to tweak the experiment?

Yes, 'this stuff' really does matter, and it does because ideas do have consequences, and we've only begun to see those consequences here. What's more, the consequences become worse, when we turn a blind eye to their causes.

Even without the carnage, it should of course go without saying that taking what you want to see, as being the criterion of truth, is not only unwise, but a thoroughly anti-scientific form of thinking. But to have such concerns, first requires your being concerned with what is true, but that is the standpoint that pragmatism was designed to free the pragmatic thinker from, and so, what had once been a commonplace lesson in grammar school, goes without ever being either said or considered in academia, or by its graduates outside of it. Wisdom involves respecting what is real and true and seeking to understand how best to act in accordance with that, but Pragmatism is not concerned with wisdom, and for the pragmatically minded, having no independent reality to worry about acting unwisely in, why bother learning what the meaning of 'is', is, or how we can know that something is right and true, when wisdom isn't the goal?

Somehow this seems appropriate here:
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
In the next post we'll return to the names mentioned in the previous post of Cattell and Thorndike, from Samuel Blumenfeld's address to Hillsdale College, and their tie, together with Dewey, to America's disastrously pragmatic experiment with the usefulness of teaching illiteracy and ignorance.