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The 1st lesson from the dark wood of School Reform: Good intentions make a map to Hell unnecessary

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“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.

But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
Vested already with that planet’s rays
Which leadeth others right by every road….

Dante – Inferno , Canto I The Dark Wood

It is true that politics is downstream of culture, but there’s something that’s upstream of both – Education – and when educators acquire the power to not just transmit, but to alter and ‘reform’ the nature and content of that culture as they see fit, it becomes an unhealthy process, metastasizing into something cancerous to both culture and politics, and to the people themselves. When those I’ve termed our Founding Reformers, Noah Webster, Dr. Rush, Ben Franklin, and likeminded others, first began reforming the nature and purpose of getting an education (disastrously, IMHO), they unquestionably did so with the very best of intentions for America and its people. The same cannot be said of all of those who’ve followed in their footsteps, but nevertheless, both sets of intentions ultimately stray into the midst of the same dark wood, the straightforward pathway having been lost.

Just how lost our educational system has become – not simply inept, but willfully misleading us – began to become apparent to many during the covid pandemic’s remote learning, when parents, grandparents, and the public at large were shocked to hear for themselves how their student’s daily lessons were implementing the bizarre sounding theories of CRT & SEL. But it wasn’t until after having seen that those were formulated by Marxist ideologues, and then seeing how adamantly that their own school districts, school boards, media, politicians, and even the FBI, were opposing their efforts to remove those lessons and materials from their schools, that people might finally have begun realizing just how far we’ve all wandered off into the deep dark of the ideological woods.

Blumenfeld’s Hillsdale College address

But simply realizing that we’re lost, as we’ve periodically done since as early as 1920, is not enough to put us back on the right path. Neither will our pointing out how radical this person or that policy is, get us any less lost. The truth is that such people and policies didn’t simply ‘get in’ to our educational system, they are themselves the effects of it – political ideologies, artistic sensibilities, economic beliefs, Marxist or otherwise, are not themselves causes, they are the downstream effects of what is taught in our educational systems, and that has been under the guidance of philosophies that are hostile to the Greco-Roman/Judeo-Christian culture of Western Civilization, and just as effects don’t precede causes, focusing on effects won’t make their causes go away.

Keep in mind that for every one person who comes out and identifies as being a Socialist, Marxist, Woke, etc., there are far more ‘moderates’ who’ll pragmatically nod along with their positions as ‘having a good point‘, and it’s that pragmatic slumber which has become the unconscious norm in our society, and that, even more so than the more radical ideologies, is what has enabled us to stray so far from the straightforward path. IOW, there’s something else that precedes, enables, and encourages the views of the Socialist, Marxist, and the Woke, and to be blunt, what’s caused us to become so lost, is us. We The People. Our carelessness towards the nature and consequences of our own thoughts, and those philosophies that we’ve permitted to guide the development of our educational systems, is the root cause to blame – the radicals couldn’t have gotten into our schools without our assent and neglect – and until we get back on the right path, how can we not remain lost?

Effects don’t precede causes – if we want to make anything great again, we need to learn to recognize the wrong paths of thinking that have led us astray, stop using their shortcuts, stop excusing those who’d deliberately lead us down them, and start making the effort to retrace our steps so that we can find our way back to the straightforward pathway. Retracing our steps is what we’ve been doing in this series of posts, which so far has been showing where we unwittingly began straying from the right path, and what we’re going to begin looking at more closely in this and following posts, is where and how we began deliberately abandoning the true path of education, for a very different path, with very different purposes for those educated through it.

Retracing our steps
The first significant figure in education reform to come along after the Founders, as noted previously, was Horace Mann, who in the name of helping people become better Americans, had begun working to put them under a political system of state boards of education that was based upon the Prussian model (conceived of by Fichte & others with the intention of destroying Free Will and instilling obedience to the state), which was and is alien to America’s founding ideals.

Why would he choose and commit to reforming our form of education, in that direction? I think a clue lies in a comment that Horace Mann wrote to a friend, where Mann noted that

“…Having found the present generation composed of materials almost unmalleable, I am about transferring my efforts to the next. Men are cast-iron; but children are wax. Strength expended upon the latter may be effectual, which would make no impression upon the former…”

, the ugliness of which is made clearer when echoed in a comment attributed to Vladimir Lenin a century later:

“Give me four years to teach the children, and the seed I have sown shall never be uprooted”

I’m less interested in comparing Mann to Lenin, than in noting the similarity in how their personal ends justified their public means, and however much their personal aspirations & character may have differed, their intentions were more alike than different, as both were seeking the power to reform the world into their own image for it, and to use other peoples’ children to accomplish that. Both of them realized that while adults were more difficult to impose their will upon, those same adults could be manipulated by their own best intentions for their children, into allowing those same reformers to literally reform their own children – for the greater good… and good things do not follow from such actions, no matter how good their intentions. It should come as no surprise that figures as varied as Robespierre, Noah Webster, and Rousseau, had made essentially similar statements in varying states of civil undress, as have countless other reformers from before their time, on up to ours, and no matter how their ‘best intentions‘ might vary, the usual means by which those intentions naturally progress, paves a rather wide highway to the same hellish destination that all such good intentions naturally lead to.

The next and most significant school reform figure to follow after Horace Mann, was John Dewey, who, convinced that his own newly concocted and adopted ideals were superior to the traditional American & Western understandings that were developed over a few millennia of history, began to actively and deliberately exit the true path – no doubt with the best of intentions – which included purposefully turning popular opinion against the traditional ideals of education and wisdom, against principled thinking (the quip that Dewey’s philosophy of Pragmatism ‘is opposed to Principle, on principle‘, is spot on), against America’s founding ideals, and against the very nature of Greco/Roman-Judeo/Christian Civilization itself. Although Dewey’s name may be the most recognizable to us today, he was far from being alone in his goals and efforts, and we’ll work through some of the reasons for making that charge in the posts to follow this, but as you can see from Samuel Blumenfeld’s address to Hillsdale College back in 1985, I’m far from the first or only one to make it:

“…Dewey’s joining Cattell and Thorndike at Columbia brought together the lethal trio who were literally to wipe out traditional education and kill academic excellence in America. It would not be accomplished overnight, for an army of new teachers and superintendents had to be trained and an army of old teachers and superintendents had to retire or die off…”

Wiping out traditional education and killing academic excellence is no idle charge; the efforts of those two fellow reformers of Dewey’s, James McKeen Cattell and Edward Thorndike, were central to disabling American’s ability to read (more on that to come as well), and those new Superintendents he notes, one of whom I’ve mentioned here before, Elwood P. Cubberley, were instrumental in spreading that disability far and wide. Cubberley was a leading figure in redefining what those new school superintendents were expected to do, and what their school systems were expected to become, and how those schools were to be redesigned (reformed) to operate under innovations such as classes segregated by age groups, rung in and out by periodic alarms, as well as the nature of the textbooks and tests to be used within such schools.

The contemporary admirer of Dewey which this history teacher is quoting in his article on how Dewey’s ideas damaged American education, is Cubberley:

“…To respond to those changes a political movement grew. The historian’s shorthand term for this movement is progressivism. If Horace Mann set out education’s goals, then John Dewey provided the progressive methodology. The following comes from an admirer and contemporary of Dewey’s:
The foremost interpreter, in educational terms, of the great social and industrial changes through which we have passed, and the one who has done more since 1895 to think out and state for us an educational philosophy suited to the changing conditions in our national life, is John Dewey…. Believing that the public school is the chief remedy for the ills of society, he has tried to change the work of the school so as to make it a miniature of society itself.[1]

Those changes which they brought to education, swept across the nation, both in and out of school, not only because of how they’d altered the lessons taught in our classrooms, but what with our Founding Reformers having altered the nature and purpose of education itself, the efforts of those who’d previously led in educational matters, the community’s religious and/or moralist leaders, were unwittingly led into factional battles against each other, unaware that they were both aiding and abetting a new amoral player in the contest, ‘Progress’, who’d soon see each of them escorted off the field altogether.

Understanding how our schools have gotten into the dark wood we find them in today – and I don’t think you can succeed in putting matters right if you don’t – requires some familiarity with how we became so lost in the first place, not just so that we can recognize the names and faces of which particular false guides have been misdirecting us, but in order to prevent ourselves from being led down such paths again. That’ll be the focus of the next several posts, in hopes that we’ll finally ‘learn from the lessons of history‘ and find our way out of the dark wood that we have, with the very best of intentions, wandered ourselves into… and learn how to stay out of them.

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    • Jude

      So YOU, original poster, achieve a teaching degree, get hired at a school, and do it right. It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

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