Foiling False Narratives Amidst Unsupported Cries of Balderdash!

The last post was not designed to ruffle feathers so much as continue to warn that words like Classical or Christian when applied to education, much like what we have already seen with Critical Thinking and Rigor, may not have the actual meaning assumed. I am genuinely worried about the extent to which Classical Education is modeling a psychological template that came out of the Soviet Union to bind the mind and personality. A reader in the comments put up this slideshow that reveals a troubling and intentional use of cybernetic techniques via education to mentally and emotionally bind a person for religious purposes. Please scrutinize what on-line vendors or actual charters or privates have in mind when they use these terms.

Today we will continue to explore the broader template of what is being pushed under the Classical label and its very troubling bedfellows that were turbocharged in December with the language in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). A reader contacted a well-known education writer known for being anti-Common Core and pro-Classical Education asking for a rebuttal of what I wrote in the last post. We are going to go through the various responses because they illustrate so well what a muddle these Great Ideas centric educations can actually create. Response 1 was that the post was “Balderdash.” Since that descriptive word would mean writing that is contrary to facts and nonsensical, the natural question became “what is not true?” That provoked a link  that the frustrated reader forwarded to me.

I pointed out I never theorize in writing about conspiracies, but that I do get to quote people who declare they are involved in a coordinated effort to use education to achieve some declared transformation of society. Secondly, that article basically insults certain political supporters as acting like people who use a Gnostic simplistic analysis to view the world around them. Well, that was a new criticism and not particularly consistent with the facts. Maybe I was supposed to be horrified, but I did wonder whether someone needed my Inapt Metaphor lesson on lousy analogizing. A few days later I got the final response from the reader who really wanted there not to be some kind of misuse of the phrase ‘Classical Christian education’ for purposes unappreciated by parents. Here is the final criticism of that post and apparently the reason for trying to protect people from either my book Credentialed to Destroy or this blog. I have a few responses in brackets.

“My point is addressing it does nothing because verifying people’s intentions is impossible. [What’s to verify if I am quoting what they write as to intentions?] And there is no high volume of readers. [Of course that has nothing to do with any coordination to hijack what can be said or written about the Common Core by certain well-funded think tanks] Because global warming crazies say the earth is round I need to wonder if the earth is flat. Absurd. And Robin’s assertion that we need to prioritize facts but not their connections is a non-starter to thinking people. [Someone skipped the class day devoted to the Strawman Fallacy] She does that herself. There are not demons under every doily that she has not herself made.”

That last part about “demons under every doily” was too alliterative to have been original. You too may want to put it in quotes and see the results of the search. The real question though is what makes me write about something on this blog at any given time? Usually I  am responding to something that appears to be hidden by a wall of deceit. That type of factual investigation may be annoying and inconvenient, but it’s not nonsensical.  Let’s get back to why I am so concerned and right to be so. Another book, Classical Education: Towards the Revival of American Schooling by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. and Andrew Kern, came and only heightened my concern. They do a chapter on Douglas Wilson’s model, then Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Proposal as an example of Democratic Classicism, and then David Hicks’ Moral Classism and its emphasis on the “importance of character development and the full flowering of the human personality.”

No, I don’t want the human personality to be allowed to wilt and I also want to develop character. There is an alignment here though of what everyone from Charles Fadel and his well-connected Center for Curriculum Redesign is now pushing as Four-Dimensional Education, what the Dewey acolytes want, and what is being pushed as Classical Education. Every single one is targeting the same areas of what the student is to have internalized and how they are to work together to guide the vision of the future and motivate likely behavior. Common Core talks about its purpose as being College and Career Ready and the Classicist aim is said to be “to form the adult-to-be”? Does that sound like a similar destination to anyone else?

I have written before about Carol Dweck, what is called the Growth Mindset, and even that the White House Behavioral and Social Sciences Team has now commenced a national Growth Mindset study. Tell me if that aim fits with the following passage from the Moral Classicism template (my bolding). Notice this is not about the transmission of factual knowledge.

“…classical learning is neither doctrinaire religious instruction nor analytical scientific positivism. Even though the classical student begins by accepting dogma (i.e, ‘that which seems good’,) he personalizes it by questioning it –that is, by employing dialectic. As the student refines his understanding, his insight grows, ‘ascending a dialectical staircase to an upper room of fragile truths and intangible beliefs.’ Challenges and contradictions arise to dogma and within it by the process of dialectic, and this leads to dogma’s reformulation. Using his conscience and the process of dialectic, and guided by the universal vision of the ideal type, the student grows toward the Ideal. Commitment to dialectic is thus the first principle in Hicks’ version of classical education: the conscious development of the internal dialogue guides us to the fulfillment of our natures.”

Well, someone is specifying those Ideals and creating an education intended to internalize them. I am not sure the student gets much say. Neither will the parents unless they scrutinize what comes in now under the banner of ‘classical’ education. Now I honestly do not know how much those pushing this template as ‘classical education’ appreciate why Evald Ilyenkov created the New Dialectics in the USSR to advance the Human Development Society vision of Marxism that commenced in earnest globally around 1962. I do, however, know an institution that has had a very good handle on this integration of East and West using education. If Harvard’s Project Zero classifies Hicks’ Interdisciplinary  Humanities Program as a Pre-Collegiate Program conducive to bringing about “an all-encompassing framework of meaning,” we need to take them at their word on the links to the IB Theory of Knowledge coursework and the notorious constructivist Math and Science programs. If all of these are cited as means to teach contextualizing or context-building, conceptualization, and problem-solving so that inquiry-oriented coursework becomes a means of teaching social responsibility, the need for social change, and the “primary goal of finding causes and cures for human calamities,” we can assume that the Change Agent Licensors understand where Classical Education is actually going, even if its proponents do not. At this point, I was thoroughly concerned that we once again have Inadvertent Change Agents pushing a remedy to the Common Core they have repeatedly deplored that amounts to jumping from the frying pan into the fire, I went back to who Douglas Wilson cited as his source for his Trivium.

He put Dorothy Sayers’ 1947 essay The Lost Tools of Learning as an Appendix to the book covered in the last post. I found her emphasis on the “medieval scheme of education” to be a little odd as that was a preliterate society. To quote historian William Manchester in his fine A World Lit Only By Fire, the Middle Ages was a time when “literacy was scorned” and Holy Roman Emperors themselves would respond to a correction of their Latin as being ‘above grammar.’ It was a time when the “devout scorned reason…Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the most influential Christian of his time, bore a deep distrust of the intellect and declared that the pursuit of knowledge, unless sanctified by a holy mission, was a pagan act and therefore vile.”

Anyone else beginning to question whether the whole Trivium and Quadrivium hype is just a narrative manufactured by someone wanting to hide the clear connections to cybernetic psychological theory and systems thinking? Then the narrative gets repeated until it seems true. Back to Manchester, who pointed out that “there was no room in the medieval mind for doubt, the possibility of skepticism simply did not exist.” He also pointed out “medieval man’s total lack of ego. Even those with creative powers had no sense of self” and “an almost total indifference to privacy. In summertime peasants went about naked.” Aren’t we glad this post is written and not a multimedia presentation? See why I am so suspicious we have yet another false narrative.

The “rediscovery of Aristotelian learning–in dialectic, logic, natural science, and metaphysics” did happen during the 1198-1216 pontificate of Innocent III. It was “synthesized with traditional Church doctrine,” beginning a shattering process known in Italy as the Rinascimento. I bet we are all more familiar with the French term. There is no question that Dorothy Sayers hyped the medieval mind and going back to her essay I think she was making ahistorical assertions looking for a remedy via education against the just lived through horrors of World War II. Under the heading “Unarmed and Unequipped,” she wrote this:

“For we let our young men and women go out unarmed in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight mass propaganda with a smattering of ‘subjects’; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spellbinder, we have the impudence to be astonished.

We dole out lip-service to the importance of education–lip-service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school leaving-age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours, till responsibility becomes a burden and a nightmare; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal effort of it.”

Can’t you still hear the anguish decades later? Sayers thought she had a very good reason for using education to mandate a worldview.

Maybe she did. Our problem is that so many now have the same intentions, but obscure the real new purpose and focus of education behind terms we believe still have their dictionary meanings.

Dragging this documented reality into the sunlight should not result in cries of Balderdash.