On the Soul – or Whatever

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Do you think a school should teach psychology? I believe it should not just as I believe that it should not base its teaching techniques on psychology.

That might sound as mad as everything else I write, so I’d better explain. It’s simple, though. Psychology, as approached today, is false, wrong, in error, harmful, etc.

The foundational idea of modern psychology is positivism, happily combined with materialism. Psychologists spend all of their time determining what can be known about humans “scientifically.”

In order for anything to be know scientifically about human beings, humans would have to be subject to the laws of science. To an extent and in some areas they are. For example, their bodies need energy to move, are subject to gravity, etc.

However, humans have a will and reason. Neither of these are subject to the laws of science and the attempt to study humans as though these are subject to the laws of science is to alter the object studied.

If humans are nothing but appetites, then they can be studied scientifically. Our actions can be controlled through behavioral mechanisms.

But if humans have a will and reason, then to study them scientifically is akin to studying the sun with a sponge and a thermometer, or to study Saturn by climbing on a step-ladder.

Just as the Russian cosmonaut is said to have said something along the lines of “We went out into space and looked around and your god wasn’t there,” so the modern psychologist goes into the human mind with the wrong tools and says, “See, there’s no will there.”

No, if you close your eyes, you won’t be able to see. There’s no getting around that.

So why are private schools, so-called Christian schools, so anxious to ensure they follow the latest discoveries in a field run by Oedipus?

This isn’t a complex issue. The Bible, experience, our conscience, philosophy, ethics, language, literature, music, and the fine arts all tell us about, all show us, a creature made by God that is amazingly different from every other created being and that is morally responsible for all its actions. To teach modern psychology and to implement its so-called discoveries is to cease, while you do so, to believe in your statement of faith.

Let me quote the New Internation Dictionary of New Testament Theology, V3 Page 691:

The Old Testament speaks of man: not clinically, with his human attributes all neatly classified, but concretely, i.e. the writers take a man as they find him and assess what he does, his behavior towards his fellow-men and the attitude he displays toward the law of God.

Or perhaps this from a magazine I stumbled across in a bookstore and failed to record the date. The magazine was The Public Interest:

We produce no assessable outcomes. The shaping of a soul is a simply immeasurable event; moreover, it is sometimes not evident until much time has passed.

Perversion and Ignorance of Classical Education

Every now and then I am tempted to think I know something. When that happens (and it happens less frequently as I age), I have the perfect cure.

Pick up David Hicks Norms and Nobility and start reading.

What typically happens is that some great new insight on which I’ve spent years questing, will be sitting there on the surface of the page, serenely welcoming me and not even laughing at me for taking so long.

I’m doing a close study of this book for the apprenticeship even now and, once again, I am being humbled by the experience.

For one thing, when I do a deep study of a book, I like to get at the structure so I can see the flow of thought. That’s pretty easy with a modern book because it usually sits on the surface of the text, blaring at you that you are where you are.

The whole outline of a book reads like the document map on the side of a Word document with large fonts italicized, bold fonts, bullet points, tables to summarize, etc. etc. At no point is the mind of the reader challenged to engage the text directly and actually think about the relationships among the parts.

I find that frustrating and rather insulting because I know that the effort to organize the text is what of the ways to understand it. However, conventional writers don’t write to be understood, they write to be applied. So they write things that don’t take any thinking, that assume the reader doesn’t want to think, and that can be easily applied without any thinking.

Here’s the challenge with Norms. To identify the structure, you have to compress what the text says. You have to take paragraphs and funnel them down to a single core idea (this, by the way, is a great reading exercise that actually involves thinking and is much more profitable than answering worksheet questions, which almost necessarily focus on trivia and are controlled by the teacher instead of teaching the student higher reading skills).

I find that with Norms and Nobility, the impulse is always to unpack and develop a thought rather than to condense and summarize it. The insights are so profound and come from such a different perspective that I don’t trust myself to summarize them.

Today I spent about 40 minutes on chapter 1, section one. Which is three pages long!

Each page contains a doctoral thesis of analysis. Listen:

The popular mind associates the idea of a classical education with the narrow and elitist schools of Victorian England. In fact, these schools perverted classical education by teaching in precept and in example a hereditary aristocratic ideal intended to serve the ambitions of Empire and to preserve the status quo.

I suppose anybody could make this claim after a cursory reading in Dickens or a biography of Carroll or something like that, but with Mr. Hicks, these two sentences express the condensed result of years of reflection of his own on education.

For those of us who yearn to understand classical education he has already, in this first sentence of the first chapter, warned us off a false scent. After all, if we are looking to understand classical education, it only makes sense that we would look to that era when it stood most proudly, just before it was replaced by the evil moderns.

But Mr. Hicks says, “No, your job won’t be that easy. You can’t just bounce back 100 years and imitate what those who share your language did back then. Your going to have to think more deeply than that. You’re going to have to go beyond the surface to the spirit. And that’s never easy.” (This is my supposition of a dialogue with Mr. Hicks, not a quotation from the book.)

So he’s warned us off one false track by telling us about those who perverted classical education. The end of the first page warns us off another false track by noting the opposite error:

By the turn of the century, a growing number of self-proclaimed progressives, desiring to democratize the school and mistaking what went on in Victorian schools with classical education, began to put forward their own theories of education…. Neither ideal types, aprioric truths, nor transcendent human needs figure in the writings of these spokesmen for the progressive movement [he refers specifically to Dewey and James].

Of course, the blank stare these phrases call forth from our own minds indicate that they haven’t figured much in our own thinking either. Ideal types? Aprioric truths?! Transcendent human needs!!?? What have these got to do with education?

Heck, aprioric truths doesn’t even pass the spellcheck!

Mr. Hicks has thrown down the gauntlet. He is going to use terms that we aren’t familiar with. He has to if he is going to talk about classical education. We have all been educated under the progressives, who don’t care about the things that classical educators care about. They don’t use this vocabulary because they don’t want us to think about these things.

So you and I cannot hide behind the excuse of not knowing the terms Hicks uses. If we are going to understand classical education, we are going to have to make the effort required to learn his vocabulary. Because, as he ends page one:

To the extent that the Victorian schoolmaster perverted classical learning and the progressive educator ignored it, our modern schools have suffered.

I would change that third word from the end from schools to students. It seems like every day I meet or hear about a new person, child or adult, who has been victimized by the modern school. It’s not that the teachers don’t care. It’s that they are castrated, crippled, and crazed by administration, systems, and inhumane and subhuman ideas.

Even today a student was admitted to eighth grade in a school I know to be tutored by someone I know because someone else cared enough to see that he was pulled out of a failing school. He struggles with reading and writing apparently, but the first thing his tutor learned is that he is perceptive, intelligent, and determined to succeed.

It is no longer possible to exaggerate the negative moral impact of our schools.

Therefore, we have to be willing to put in the work this renewal requires. Forget the culture; forget schools. People’s well-being (their souls) depends on it.

Please read and meditate on this book if you are an educator or know anybody who wants to be educated.

David Hicks on School Leadership

The administration of the modern school replaces the headmaster of the old and brings iwth it a whole trainload of technical baggage for finding out what can be done–graphs, charts, statistics, feasibility studies–but precious little imagination of the sort that knows what ought to be done.

David Hicks

Here Mr. Hicks identifies what may be the core problem of conventional school governance. Just as classical teachers tend to fall back on old habits in the classroom, so classical heads of school and boards tend to fall back on old habits in the office and board room.

This is not a minor matter for the classical renewal.

A Review? More of an Homage.

The new year begins for our Apprenticeship on Monday and because of a late cancellation we have one difficult to fill seat remaining. While I would invite you to pray that the seat fills, that is not the real purpose of this post, which is to comment on David Hicks book Norms and Nobility.

I would like to say I discovered this book, but the truth is that it was forced upon me. When, in 1994, I began to research in earnest the meaning of classical education, I entered the term into the computer of the Concordia University library.

The title Norms and Nobility came up, but the description seemed so unpromising and my interests were so directed to what was done in the ancient world as opposed to what we ought to do now that I ignored it.

I tried another phrase, perhaps classical learning. One book: Norms and Nobility.

Yet another. One book.

No matter how I tried to phrase my search, even “classical education in the ancient world,” or “classical learning among the Greeks,” or “classical education as understood by Plato in 385 BC and not including anything David Hicks has to say about it,” every time I hit that enter key, one book came up.

It was as if the computer was possessed.

Finally, I let out a sigh, sagged my shoulders a little, and wrote the code.

I walked over to the shelf where the computer insisted this book was waiting for me and there it sat, all by itself, in a coarse blue hardback cover.

Norms and Nobility.

I sluggishly pulled it forward, so sluggishly that it dropped to the floor, where I started kicking it out of the aisle toward a nearby table. Arriving at the table, I grudgingly, perhaps even bitterly, bent over to pick it up, grabbing a corner in complete disregarding indifference to the well-being of the spine.

At this point, my appetites were much more interested in food than in Nobility and Norms or whatever, so I yawned a bit, stretched a bit more, and left the library to seek the life found hidden in a Snickers bar.

Feeling a bit better, I strolled back up the three flights of stairs and returned to my table.

The book was gone.

I didn’t care much about the Noble Norms or whatever, but I was pretty irritated about the inconvenience its disappearance caused me. I had a paper to write, dang it, and this was the only book the stoopid modernized library computer could find for me.

So I went back a little peavishly to the shelf from which I had pulled it earlier.

It wasn’t there either.

My peave was no longer little. Now I was downright upset. What a waste of my precious sacred time this book was proving to be.

So I went to the libariarians desk, which I could scarcely approach without thinking of that terrifying scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Jimmy Stewart is looking for Donna Reed only to learn from Clarence that, God have mercy, “She’s in the LIBRARY!” and I cautiously approached this poor forlorn creature and demanded of her where my book had gone.

She said it was back on the shelf, “Were you still needing it?”

No, I put it on my table because I’m such a Noble Norm. I didn’t say it, and therefore it is not in quotes, but I wanted to.

What I did say was, “No, it’s not, I just looked there, it’s not there.”

“Yes, it is, I just put it there,” she said. 

I was already married, so I couldn’t continue to flirt with her.  “I just checked,” I said, one last time, in my most savagely polite voice.

She huffed a bit and lifted her delicate frame resolutely from her librarian’s chair behind her librarian’s desk and puffed her way past me like a wisp of smoke and walked over to the wrong aisle.

“That’s the wrong aisle,” I tossed before her tread.

“No it’s not,” she repudiated.

She stepped down the aisle and pulled out the very same book I had dropped on the floor earlier and let it drop on the floor and walked back to her desk without another word.

“Dang,” I thought. She was right. So I kicked the book back toward the table, picked it up by its scruffy ears, and tossed it back on the table.

This time I opened it and began reading. At the beginning, which is terribly unusual for me.

“Ten years ago I wrote the book you are about to read,” said the Preface to the 1990 edition, and I thought, “What is this, some kind of David Copperfield plup? And what makes him so sure I’m going to read this book anyway?”

I forced myself onward, but I can’t say I really became interested until I got to the fourth paragraph where he wrote:

This is not a book about ancient education. it is about an ancient ideal expressed as “classical education” against which the modern school is weighed and found wanting.”

Now, I had grown up in this modern school and we had had a very uneasy relationship. I liked most of my teachers, enjoyed going to school for the most part, and learned a bit here and there. But I knew from around 7th grade on that it was a fraud for two reasons.

One, because on occasion they would herd the hundreds of us into the cafeteria where we would be given standardized surveys that asked us about things that were none of their business and we couldn’t help but laugh at the patheticness of their open manipulation of our minds.

Two, because twice between grades 7 and 9 the teachers in the Milwaukee Public Schools went on strike. This put me in an interesting bind. I had been told repeatedly how important education was. I had always been told repeatedly how important I (you know, the future and all that) was. Occasionally, teachers and principles even tried to tell us they cared about us.

Well, I was a kid, I couldn’t work these things out. To me, the message was: either school doesn’t matteror we don’t care about you.

I concluded both, though I always had individual teachers with whom I enjoyed conversing.

But I got Hicks point. The modern school is wanting.

One thing I have always loved is learning. That is why I’ve never respected systems schooling. It’s too hard to learn in such a setting.

So when I read

The tacher, not the curriculum, needs to be the focus of reform. The greatest value of the curriculum proposed in this book, I now believe, is that it sustains and nurtures teachers as practioners of the art of learning while discouraging non-learners from entering the profession.

I thought maybe this Hicks guy might have something to say after all.

By 1994 I was just about old enough to figure out that the really important questions don’t have easy answers and that the answers they have have to be adapted to circumstances. So I was touched when Hicks spoke of The Rector of Justin as a novel that raises “the sort of questions that possess a wisdom apart from answers.”

I was beginning to sense that this Mr. Hicks was almost as insightful as I was.

Then he started talking knowingly about Polybius and Livy, Montaigne and St. Augustine. He was able to critique in a sentence the flaws in the thinking of men like Hegel, Comte, Marx, Darwin, and Freud (some of whom I had heard of!).

Every now and then he’d throw out a wise metaphor, like

Classical education refreshes itself at cisterns of learning dug long ago, drawing from springs too deep for taint the strength to turn our cultural retreat into advance.

and I’d have to admit Mr. Hicks was worth listening to.

I couldn’t put the book down, but everything he said demanded so much reflection.

Classical education is not, preeminently, of a specific time or place. It stands instead for a spirit of inquiry and a form of instruction concerned with the development of style through language adn of conscience through myth. The key word here is inquiry. Everything springs from the special nature of the inquiry. The inqiry dictates the form of instruction and establishes the moral framework for thought adn action.

Before long I realized that I had hardly smelled, much less tasted the inner life and soul, the living truth and penetrating beauty, the soul-transforming goodness of what classical education could be.

Soon my spirit was soaring into worlds of virtue and truth, straining to see the tyrannizing image of the ideal man and how a child can be equpped to see or blinded to the vision of this ideal, meditating on the place of the sciences and what can be learned through the senses, rearranging my mind and the ideas that furnished it to attempt to grasp a way of thinking that had room for both truth and Socratic instruction, dwelling on the possibility that a Mozart is born in every neighborhood, and seeing that in fact, only the Christian tradition can fulfil the potential of education (which is to produce a human being).

It wasn’t long before this vision of Nobility in education had brought me to the point of metanoia, of repentence and turning around, and I realized that the computer had pushed me in the direction of a book that itself belonged in the great conversation.

This morning, I picked up Mr. Hicks book again, reading for the apprenticeship, where we use it as a text book. I felt like a child again. Or maybe a patient just having been through surgery, when the bandages are taken off the eyes. It is still too bright for me. I still can’t see it all.

But how beautiful it is; how true; how good.

I have made it my mission to ensure that every possible human being reads this book. At CiRCE we have sold hundreds of copies at a steep discount to the market price because it needs to be read. It needs to be digested. It needs to absorbed.

It needs to be done.

Norms and Nobility is the best and most important book written on education since CS Lewis wrote The Abolition of Man in 1943.

Smart, Humble, and Natural: And Our Last Best Hope

Andrew Pudewa invited me to address his Writer’s Symposium this week at Wake Forest University. The attendees were devoted users of the IEW materials, especially his Institute on Structure and Style.

People told me nice things about the sessions I delivered (which will be made available by IEW in their catalogue if I rightly understood the contract Julie Walker shoved under my face in a hurried moment on the first night. Just kidding on the second part.), but the real highlight for me was watching and interacting with the attendees.

I’ve been watching the private school and home school movements for about 20 years now, and I have to say, it’s an impressive lot of people. The home school moms I’ve interacted with are smart, humble, natural people.

It’s quite a contrast from the professional women with whom I’ve interacted over the same 20 years. This is a generalization, a statement about a sub-culture more than about any individuals – maybe a statement about a temptation the modern professional woman has to deal with. But here it is. The typical professional woman, in my limited experience, is also pretty smart, but she isn’t as humble, and she certainly isn’t natural.

I will probably be eaten alive for saying that, but I do have a point that a third group of women would do well to think about, so I’ll go ahead and risk my reputation for their sake.

I’m talking now about the private school teacher. A question for you: Do you want to be more like the professional woman or the home school mom? Which one more closely approximates the ideal toward which you are striving?

The reason I have a glimmer of hope for America is that when God told Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah had become so wicked that they were a threat to well-being of other nearby communities and had to be destroyed, Abraham was able to negotiate God down to saving Sodom if only ten just people lived there.

Maybe God will preserve this Gomorrah because of the just people among us. Maybe he’ll find a proportion equal to ten in Sodom. If so, it will be the achievement of the home school mom.

There are many pretty good private schools in America, but I would contend that the Industrial model of education is so unnatural and contrary to the human spirit that the very structure of our schools blinds us to the things we most need to see.

But the home is a natural, God-created structure. In the home the highest human faculties and potentials grow as though in their natural soil.

So now I have a question for the Christian school leaders. Where do you look for your models? Do you want to be more like the corporate institution or the home school? Which one more nearly approximates the ideal toward which you are striving?

The home grows naturally into the farm and then into the community. The corporate business is often, in our day at least, a parasite, living off the fruit of the community, redirecting its energies, and doing very little to sustain it. The bigger the business, the more true this is.

That very little is a sauve to its conscience and becomes increasingly less valuable. Which does the school seek to emulate?

Home schooling moms are the last best home for freedom within this last best hope for freedom which was once our nation. Our nation having formally abandoned concrete freedoms for abstract rights, it cannot be counted on any more to defend freedom.

And here’s the main reason I’m encouraged and somewhat hopeful, though I do believe the next couple decades will be the hell to pay. Home schooling moms, in general, are smart, humble, and natural.

Most of them are college educated, a much higher percentage than the general population. But spending four years getting your mind conditioned to think in a disorderly way is not what makes you smart.

The proof of their intelligence is their willingness to challenge the status quo they grew up in. They are not passively allowing the same folly they learned to be infused into their children. I don’t think the establishment either appreciates that or recognizes the intelligence required to do it.

Another proof of their intelligence is the vastly higher scores their children get on the tests designed by that establishment.

However, home schooling is not what it used to be. Publishing companies have discovered the market and flooded it with stultifying, cheesy, soul-denying crap, along with some very good materials.

I am counting on the home school mom to apply her intelligence and independence over the next few years.

But sometimes her humility becomes lack of confidence and fear. And that is her biggest enemy. The world we live in has rejected Christ, rejected the Image of God, rejected the gospel, and spent 150 years trying to build a system based on those rejections.

It has not worked – and nowhere less than in education.

It has not worked.

Please, Mrs. Home School Mom, do not lose your nerve.

Yes, continue to be humble and teachable and eager for wisdom. But don’t seek the easy way out and don’t sell your children short.

Follow, instead, the counsel of Solomon. Let it be your guiding principle. Let it be the fuel that drives your instruction.

Get Wisdom.

After all, there is nothing your child needs more and there is no better source for him to get it.

It’s natural, just like your incomparable love for your child. And that natural, God-given love that you bear for your children is the last hope for freedom in this country in which God is looking for ten just people.

Testing

How did testing and accountability become the main levers of school reform? How did our elected officials become convinced that measurement and data would fix the schools? Somehow our nation got off track in its efforts to improve education.  What once was the standards movement was replaced by the accountability movement. What once was an effort to improve the quality of education turned into an accounting strategy:  Measure, then punish or reward. No education experience was needed to administer such a program. Anyone who loved data could do it. The strategy produced fear and obedience among educators; it often generated higher test scores. But it had nothing to do with education.  -Diane Ravitch, The Life and Death of the Great American School System

Ravitch continues with a subtle, yet crucial point.

Tests should follow the curriculum. They should be based on the curriculum. They should not replace it or precede it. (emphasis mine)

Oh how I wish our schools would listen to such wisdom.

Once a school begins down the path of being “test-driven,” or governed by the data and numbers, anxiety takes root among parents who then transfer that anxiety to their children.  Unfortunately, the things of greatest importance in education are sacrificed, forgotten, or neglected.  I believe this is evident when observing the order of Ravitch’s last statement.

When tests do not follow the curriculum, but precede it, a new standard dictates the nature of the classroom, by which I mean what is taught and how it is taught.  Who wrote the tests?  What standards are they following, determining, and prescribing? Does their concept of education align with our school?  Probably not.  How could it?  “They” do not even know who “our school” is, let alone the students in my class.

An important order exists within a school that should not be violated. The “test[s] should follow the curriculum” because the curriculum embodies the ideas on which we (any particular school or home) seek to nourish our children.

The curriculum is determined by the ideas we desire to instill, not tests prescribed by strangers.

In addition, the ideas are determined by our mission and vision of education.  If we believe that we must cultivate wisdom and virtue, what ideas will fulfill this task? Those ideas will define the curriculum we use because the curriculum must embody those ideas, and the curriculum in turn will determine the tests we (ought to) administer to our children.

The prescriptive direction flows one way.  We must exercise great caution concerning the tests we administer.  We must exercise great caution in how we interpret these tests, what we communicate to parents, and the reactive measures we institute as a result.

“The strategy produced fear and obedience among educators; it often generated higher test scores. But it had nothing to do with education.”

Freedom and Planning

I was in our headmaster coaching meeting this morning when the topic of the span of central planning came up. Yeah, that’s a conversation starter!

In his book The Logic of Liberty, Michael Polanyi includes an essay called The Span of Central Direction. He was a chemist before he became a philosopher, so you’ll want to pay close attention to the following quotation, but I’ll comment on it afterward if it causes you excessive stress. Here’s what he says:

This essay may be labouring the obvious…

I affirm that the central planning of production–in the rigorous and historically not unwarranted sense of the term–is strictly impossible; the reason being that the number of relations requiring adjustment per unit of time for the functioning of an economic system of n productive units is n-times greater than can be adjusted by subordinating the units to a central authority. Thus, if we insisted in placing the 100,000 business units of a major industrial country under a single technocratic control, replacing all market operations by central allocations of materials to each plant, the rate of economic adjustments would b reduced to about 1:100,000 of its usual value and the rate of production would be reduced to the same extent….

My point is that it can be demonstrated that an overwhelming reduction, amounting to a standstill in the possible rate of production, must arise from the administrative limitations of a system of central direction.

If the technical stuff was confusing, go back to that last sentence. Maybe pin it on the wall near your television or computer screen or wherever you get your news.

When I made this point, the headmaster I was meeting with responded immediately by saying, “Let me give you a case in point.”

This particular headmaster works for a public charter school, so he has to contend with the consequences of people ignoring Polanyi’s insight every day. His case in point was very simple. He told me that on Friday, President Obama, the de facto central director of America’s schools, issued an executive order that all flags must be flown at half-mast on Monday (yesterday) in honor of all who have died as victims of terrorist attacks.

So far as I can tell, there is no reason to be opposed to President Obama’s gesture, which is a very important point. Polanyi’s argument has nothing whatsoever to say about the quality of the character of the people who are directing things from the center. The argument revolves entirely around the question of viability, and therefore of consequences.

What President Obama seemed not to have adequately taken into consideration is “The number of relations requiring adjustment per unit of time.” Notice a few details here:

1. Relations require adjustment when a director passes down a directive. Always. You can’t ignore this fact because it isn’t mathematical.
2. Adjustments to relationships require time. Perhaps you have noticed that in your personal or professional life.
3. There is a finite, though vast, number of relationships that require adjustment when a central director hands down a directive. For the directive to achieve its desired end, ALL OF THEM must be adjusted to the extent necessary.

Thus, if a man is talking with another man at the water cooler (that seems to be the only place where business professionals can talk), or if a middle manager is meeting with a team of subordinates to plan the execution of next week’s testing directive, or if two teachers are meeting to resolve a tension over the way they handled a student cheating on a test, all of those relationships must be adjusted (meetings ended, conversations redirected, emotions set aside,  etc.) in order to act on the directive handed down by the central director. ALL OF THEM.

Of course, some of them are more easily adjusted than others. The men at the water cooler should not be allowed to slack off and develop a human relationship anyway, and the two teachers should never allow anything like tension between them block the execution of a central directive. But what about important things, like test-planning? Surely even the most hard-hearted defender of central planning can see that central planning can only be sustained by arbitrary and quasi-objective testing? Surely we don’t want to stop a test-planning meeting to lower the flag to half-mast!

Ah, you object, it isn’t that hard to lower a flag. No, it isn’t. But it is hard to get 100,000 people to adjust their relationships to do so. In fact, the inevitable problem in this particular event seems to have occured closer to the source (of which there is only one variable – the central director or President himself) than to the flag pole (of which there are thousands of variables and therefore more opportunities to botch the directive) because my headmaster friend only received this executive order at 2:00 PM on Monday!

Somebody close to the White House, or at least closer to the White House than to the School House, or some group of people, did not adjust their relationships soon enough to help others adjust their relationships soon enough to help others adjust their relationships soon enough to act on time. And so, the school was not in compliance with the will of the central director.

My guess is, that caused some anxiety for the school. Nobody likes to be out of favor with central directors.

Let me summarize by making my point as clear as I possibly can. Planning production or any other human activity can only be effectively done to a certain scale.

Let me try again: When we plan things, we will only succeed if we pay attention to the scale of what we are planning. There are limits to how far we can reach before we are guaranteed to fail by the nature of the task we are planning.

Perhaps it will help if I make the point more concrete: The Public Education system in America cannot possibly succeed because it is too big and too centralized. This is not an ideological statement, or an argument from theory, or a racist position, or anything else.

It is a mathematical certainty.

Let me extend my point just a little bit. American political and economic society has adopted an architecture that cannot hold it up.

I have always admired President Obama and his evident commitment to his wife and to the suffering. I would never ask him to pull back on either of them. But he and his country have made a fundamental mistake. They seem to believe that it is possible to have enough power to bring about changes that will improve conditions for the poor and suffering.

It is not possible. The attempt can only betray the attemptor.

The only hope for the poor and suffering is love of neighbor.

Of course, it is possible for the President and Congress to help some of the poor and suffering. Whoever they favor will no doubt benefit from their power. But on a larger scale, they can only spread misery.

Why? Not because they are evil or anti-Christ or any such nonsense. Because it is mathematically impossible to solve the problems they attempt to solve on the scale they attempt to solve them.

That is why no school reform can ever fix American education. That is why the inner cities will never be reached by federal aid. That is why the Great Society led to widespread cynicism among Americans in regard to their government. That is why the more we rely on our federal government to “change” our society by achieving an abstract equality and justice, the more we become dependent on unelected organizations established by our elected officials but always spinning out from under their control.

It’s also why large corporations waste more time and energy than can be comprehended in a mortal lifetime.

This is not an anti-government diatribe. I am completely in favor of government and believe it to be a noble and beautiful thing – by no means a necessary evil.

Nor is it an anti-business tirade. I love business. My dad owned one and almost half of the employed work force in America works for one.  I don’t even think business people are necessarily vulgar or unklempfed (whatever that means).

It’s a pro-scale appeal. It’s a cry for respect for human beings. It’s a little hopeless, too, because I know how we are overly invested in everything gigantic.

But maybe, as in the Soviet Bloc, Gargantua and Leviathon have been seen to fail and it isn’t too late. Maybe enough Americans are willing to be responsible within their just sphere that we can at least live free, if not dreamily happy.

We’ve made a mistake. A measurable, observable, obvious mistake. Can we learn from it?

Time will tell.

Grammar: An Ode (sort of)

The only feeling I get from this article is concern. 

And of course, my concern is for the children. But not as children, please understand. Children as children have people to care for them. But when those children grow up and haven’t learned how to function, the fear and the loneliness and the despair that they will feel will make the worst insult a child has ever heard feel like a feather under the chin.

Like everything else in life, the matter is complicated. But like everything else in education, the irreducible bloating of the structures have made solutions impossible. I get the impression from this article that Otis Mathis is truly a good man, honorable, and even worth following. I praise Otis Mathis for his diligence and persistance in attaining such a high position.

That moral excellence, however, doesn’t qualify him to be the head of the Detroit Public Schools. If, when he was a child, he had not been educated on the false assumptions of Progressive theory, he could probably have become a great school leader, a model of academic excellence.

I have to be careful. I don’t want to say more than the evidence warrants. I don’t want to be a bull seeing red. Here is my simple contention (and no more than this):

The failure to teach the current DPS president correct English grammar when he was a child has undercut his ability to lead the Detroit Public Schools as an adult.

Contained in that contention are subordinate beliefs, such as the importance of grammar, the ability of almost every child to learn it when properly taught, the need to teach young children formal grammar (though not necessarily to teach it formally – the difference is significant), and the value of every language skill in the minds of those who lead.

When he was in third and fourth grade, I have no doubt that teachers were asking, “How is grammar relevent to his life?”

Now, perhaps, they know.

But I am not going to draw any conclusions. I wish Mr (Dr?) Mathes well and I hope he is able to reform the Detroit schools in such a way that teachers are 1. set free to teach, 2. equipped to teach, 3. required to teach, and that students are 1. required to learn, 2. equipped to learn, and 3. set free to learn.

God bless you Otis Mathes. You have overcome much. Please see that Detroit’s students have less to overcome, at least when it comes to writing.

Inside, Outside, Upside Down

You can live from the inside, or you can live from the outside.

You can think from the inside, or you can think from the outside.

You can read from the inside, or you can read from the outside.

You can teach from the inside – but only if you live, think, and read from the inside.

To live, think, and read from the inside you must enter into the thing you live with, the thought you are thinking about, the text you are reading.

To live, think, and read from the outside, you only need to look at it.

Most living, thinking, reading, and teaching are done from the outside.

The greatness of the great teacher is the ability to get inside and lead his students there.

Things can only be loved on the inside, where they cannot be measured.

Things can only be measured on the outside, where they cannot be known.

By living on the outside, we have turned education and our civilization upside down.

Authority and the Voice of God

The book of Genesis is filled with stories of the first order of importance. Every one of them is meant to be contemplated for at least a full lifetime. Everything in existence is expressed if not explained in these 50 chapters – and not in easily understandable ways.

Two stories have dominated my attention for some time now: the story of the temptation of Eve and the story of Abraham offering up his son Isaac.

In the Abraham story, the father of many peoples is instructed by God as follows:

Take now your son, your only Isaac, whom you love,
And go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering
Upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.

If anybody wants to reject the God of the Old Covenant, this is the story to gloam on to. Here it is. Take it. Throw away this God and never have to deal with Him again. He gives you that option right here. You can even claim the ethical high ground.

All my life I have wondered about this story, though I am sure there are commentaries that explain away all the difficulties it contains.

I don’t read that sort of commentary any more.

How did Abraham know it was the voice of God? He couldn’t draw on ethics. This command is contrary to everything Abraham had learned about good and evil up to this point.

He couldn’t draw on experience – not even the mystical sort. God had promised Abraham that this child Isaac would be the seed through whom Abraham would realize the fulness of the covenant.

He couldn’t draw on any sort of Cartesian rationalism. I’m not sure it would have had anything at all to say about the matter, unless it would be to draw back to ethics and say, “This is wrong.”

He certainly couldn’t draw on the advice of others. Are we to believe that Sarah would have been confident that Abraham was sound of mind? What would Hagar and Ishmael have said? Who could have advised him?

Nor were the pop philosophers any use to him, those who insist that all you need is love. He was about to do something that could not be done, to sing something that could not be sung, to do something without learning how to play the game.

Abraham was alone before God and he possessed no faculty by which he could understand or justify what God required of him.

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

And then there’s Eve.

Here’s another easy out from believing in the God of the Bible. She who was called Woman, not yet Eve, because she was taken out of man, was naked and unashamed. How utterly unlike us.

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.

Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;

How very like us.

What, I wonder, did Satan have to say to Abraham as he was travailing to the region of Moriah?

“Did God say…?”

“He wouldn’t say something like that…”

What attracts my attention as I read is the rather simplistic thought that God and Satan communicate differently. Even when He asks questions, as in the words of our Lord to the Pharisees or the dialogues with the prophet Elijah, God always speaks with Authority.

It is natural and fitting that He would do so, for all Authority is His and nobody else has Authority that is not delegated from Him.

On the other hand, Satan has no Authority at all, for God has given him none. He cannot, therefore, speak with Authority. So far as I can tell, that leaves him with two options: he can seduce or he can threaten. On the one hand, he can draw on intimidation and tyranny. On the other, he can draw on seduction and sympathy.

For this reason, he labors continually to form minds that are either sentimental or cynical.

The sentimental mind is easily seduced and is therefore a play-thing for a demon.

The cynical mind trusts nobody and is willing to acknowledge no authority as legitimate. It is a great Satanic achievement.

When people stop believing that Authority comes from God, they go through a period of liberation because they are freed from those who, like them, are cynics – who use the doctrine of Divine Authority for their own power-plays.

The temptation to do so is irresistable, so history is the story of cynics rising and falling to replace each other.

But the man who believes that Authority is a Divine Property delegated to man is properly bound to submit to the Divine Authority. Such a person serves as the only foundation for a just and free society and such a society can endure only so long as the wisdom of such a person nourishes it.

When God spoke to Abraham, He spoke with Authority – an Authority inherent in the Person speaking. When Abraham heard his voice, He did not need to speculate about it. He knew. 

When God spoke the sermon on the mount, we read that

When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had Authority.

This isn’t as hard to understand as it might seem. A father who speaks to his child has Authority delegated directly from the God of heaven, an Authority that carries a natural honor and dignity that every child in the history of the human race has sensed.

Lose sight of this as a father and you become disoriented and uncertain in your duties to and relationship with your children.

When a father compromises Authority by sloth or aggression, he breaks the very hierarchy of reality and brings disorder into his soul, through his soul into his home, and through his home into the soul of his child.

The well-being of the soul of the child and the order of civilized society is rooted in the relationship of honor between father and son, which in turn is manifested in the relationship of Father and Son.

Our souls know Authority when they encounter it and they rejoice in it.

But when the father or the mother or teacher or pastor or ruler either shirks the delegated Authority or seeks more than is fitting, our souls fall into anxiety.

We fail in our Authority when we use threats and seductions instead of simply speaking with authority.

We also fail in our Authority when we assume an authority that is not legitimate.

In our godless age, we are convinced behaviorists. We don’t believe in the great mystery of the will, only in appetites. So we stimulate behavior in our students through rewards and punishments and figure that’s all we have to offer.

This is, of all psychological doctrines, perhaps the most Satanic, for it forces us to imitate the Great Manipulator in the way we govern the souls of our children.

If you are a father, simply act on your Authority. Speak from within your Authority.

If your child rebels, then of course you should punish your child. If he obeys, then perhaps you should reward him.

But the great reward that every child seeks is a well ordered world that orders his soul to match it.

In other words, what your child wants of you is that you be a Father.

Then you can be like the God who spoke to Adam and Eve and Abraham with Authority and His voice was known, and not like the serpent who seduces through flattery and anxiety.

If you are a mother, beware of sentimentalism. Your duty is to raise a man or a lady with a soul of steel and a heart of flesh.

If you are a teacher, do not fear your students. They are created to honor you. They want to. Speak with Authority and they will hear your voice as deep calls to deep. If they do not, and some won’t and many will close their ears when they do, then enforce your delegated Authority. But do not reduce your students to mere appetites and fears.

They have a will, though it is underfed and neglected. It cannot be controlled, for it is free. But it can be awakened and beckoned.

Will you beckon with the Authority of God or the vanity of the Enemy?

Let me try to simplify:

  • Humans have appetites and wills.
  • The appetites respond to stimuli.
  • The will responds to Authority.
  • Our age believes in neither the Will nor Authority.
  • Christians believe in the Will and Authority.
  • Teachers and parents and others who have delegated Authority tend to distrust Authority and to fall back on management of the appetites through stimuli, such as threats and seductions.
  • When we do so, we are abandoning our faith in that act.
  • We don’t have the right to so treat children, for it is manipulative and driven by personal convenience and the lust for power (be it never so petty).
  • If Authority is not delegated to us, we must not atempt to enforce it.
  • If it is delegated to us, then our fundamental duty is to act on and fulfill it.
  • When we act on delegated Authority, we must trust it and the God who gave it.
  • The first clue that we do not trust it and Him is when we fall into behavioral manipulation of our children, charges, or students.