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  An American Manifesto
Monday October 20, 2014 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

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ROAD TO THE

MIDDLE CLASS

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Bibliography

Chapter 7:
The Best Schools

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I’ll make sure they go to the best schools, first grade to college—Mary Johnston

EVERYONE IS IN FAVOR of education.  But what do they mean?  When Mary Johnston talks about education she thinks in terms of “the best schools, first grade to college” for the education of her children.  Yet any student of the history of education quickly learns that the big issue in education is not the education of one’s own children, but the education of other peoples’ children.  Folks are mightily concerned about other peoples’ children: that they might be neglected, or they might turn out all wrong.  They might, for example, turn to crime or fuel a revolution.  To reduce these threats they propose to award the government a substantial responsibility in the rearing and education of other peoples’ children.  All in all, what people want out of education is resources for the education of their own children and rules for the education of other peoples’ children.  It was in the nineteenth century that these notions were most recently fought out in politics.  We are still living with the results of those battles.

Modern American opinion about education assumes a Year Zero some time in the mid-nineteenth century, the glorious day when the activists for modern universal education began their agitation for tax-paid free-at-the-point-of-service government-run schools.  The time before Year Zero is treated as prehistoric, in England a time of Ragged Schools, one-room schoolhouses, Dotheboys Hall and Wackford Squeers, and opportunity denied to the poor; in the United States this time is reported as a time of disorganization, of “old field” schools in the rural areas and of segregation between fee-paying academies for the middle class and charity schools for the poor.  Naturally, the activists for centralized elite-controlled education were anxious to point to the inadequacy spontaneous bottom-up education.  Conditions in the prehistoric time before Year Zero were deplorable and something had to be done.  But what was education really like before the modern era of centralized government-run education?   What kind of education did ordinary people seek out for themselves before the elite took over?  And why has the modern elite taken such an interest in the education of children?

Perhaps it is best to start by listening to an uneducated voice.  The National Geographic recently did this in an article on life in China’s Gobi desert at the end of the twentieth century.  After traveling for three days with 15 camels and five horses, and treating the reader to disquisitions about desertification and the age of sand dunes, the author arrived at the home of an old woman living in the sand sea of the Gobi.  She didn’t understand the outside world, she said:

I only know eating, drinking, and tending animals.  This is what my parents did.  Their parents.  The young people today, once they leave the [Gobi], they never return.  I don’t blame them.  The life of herding is coming to an end.  Work in cities is the future. (Webster 2002)

The reason the young people of the Gobi don’t return is that they all go to boarding school from first to ninth grade, only returning home in the summer.  The best students go on to high school, or even college.  To live the life of a Mongol sheepherder in the manner of their parents and their parents’ parents does not need nine years of boarding school.  It requires them instead to grow up in the yurt, learning and doing with their parents.  But nine years of boarding school and a certificate of literacy and numeracy disqualifies them for herding and certifies them instead for basic competence in the city.  So they leave the homes of their fathers and join the global migration to the city.  Once a child has received a primary education, she is no longer a peasant or sheepherder, she belongs to the city.

For the herders of the future there is no sense in going to school.  For the cotton-pickers of the future there is no sense in going to school.  There probably is no sense in going to school for anyone planning to follow in their parents’ trade.  Schools exist to teach people things that their parents can’t teach them.  For the peasant, school gives his children a chance to make it in the city.  For the illiterate costermonger in Victorian London, it gave his sons the chance to move off the street and sell something that needed a bit of book-learning and bookkeeping.  For Mary Johnston of Rock Hill, it gives her children the chance to join the confident classes in Charlotte for whom life is not a grim struggle but a creative adventure, not meat-and-potatoes but nouvelle cuisine.  Education, then, is all about embourgeoisment, the making of a citizen, one who lives and works in the city.  If you seek education, you should look in the city.

It the cities of the ancient world, the educational offerings varied.  It is not surprising to find education in the city states of ancient Greece.  In ancient Athens, parents taught their children at home until they were old enough to go off to school, generally at six or seven.  Years of schooling varied, according to the income and interests of the parents, but anyone could open a school, and parents were able to select a school for their children that met their needs and their pocketbook.  Fees were paid by the month, and poor people generally kept their children home during the month in which national holidays kept the schools closed for two weeks.  The schools taught gymnastics, music, and literacy.  Of course, poor and middle class parents could not afford as much schooling as the rich, and by the time their children reached their early teens they apprenticed them to a tradesman.  But education might continue, with the tradesman paid to teach his prentices subjects stipulated in the apprenticeship agreement. (Coulson 1999 p40) Overall literacy in Athens was estimated at about fifty percent.  The state played little role in schooling, except in mandatory military training. 

Sparta, of course, developed a state-run education system.  At seven, all male children were separated from their families and sent to boarding school where education consisted of sports, endurance training, and fighting.  Exposure to letters was minimal, and the teaching of rhetoric, the pride of Athens, was a punishable offense.  Boys were deliberately fed inadequate meals, and encouraged to steal in order to obtain enough to eat.(Coulson 1999 p46)  Literacy in Sparta was considered by contemporaries to be the lowest in the Greek world.

Education in ancient Rome was curiously warped.  In the days of the Republic, classes were mainly taught in private schools by Greek slaves where discipline was harsh, and teaching styles unimaginative. The syllabus included reading, writing, and simple counting, and for those who could afford secondary education, there was rhetoric and the Greek classics.  Under the empire, schooling began to come under political influence.  Augustus suppressed teachers critical of the regime and by the fourth century, Julian Augustus required that teachers be certified.  Teachers earned special benefits in return for faithful service to the emperor, and gradually earned more and more privileges in exchange for appropriate praise of the emperor. (Coulson 1999 p55)


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 TAGS


Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures


German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Knowledge

Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


 

©2007 Christopher Chantrill