Reading About Our Wastelands with Russell Kirk

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Not so much a “book report” here as it is quotations that struck me as I worked through Kirk’s chapter, “Cultivating Educational Wastelands” from his work, The Politics of Prudence

All the normal obvious things have to be said:  Kirk was writing as I was coming into education.  Things have not gotten better.  But Kirk was speaking of those things prudent, not just holding up unreal ideals.  To have something like his vision in front of us as we try to pursue what is best in education is helpful.  I offer these quotes in hopes that you will read his entire essay; it is quite worth it.

“The United States is now the great power in the world.  Nevertheless, who can praise an educational system that turns out young people marvelously ignorant — except for a very small minority — of history, geography, and foreign languages, and so unfitted to have anything to do with concerns larger that those of their own neighborhood.  Worse still, what future have a people whose schooling has enabled them, at best, to ascertain the price of everything — but the value of nothing?” p. 240

“The primary end of the higher learning, in all lands and all times, has been what John Henry Newman called the training of the intellect to form a philosophical habit of mind.” (p. 241)

“The genuine higher education is not meant, really, to ‘create jobs’ or to train technicians.  Incidentally, the higher education does tend to have such results, too; but only as by-products.  We stand in danger of forgetting, during our pursuit of the incidentals, the fundamental aims of learning.

“Why were colleges and universities established, and what remains their most valuable function?  To discipline the mind; to give men and women long views and to instill in them the virtue of prudence; to present a coherent body of ordered knowledge, in several great fields; to pursue that knowledge for its own sake; to help the rising generation to make its way toward wisdom and virtue.” (p. 243)

“The education of yesteryear was founded upon certain postulates.  One of these was that much truth is ascertainable; another, that religious truth is the source of all good; a third, that we may profit by the wisdom of our ancestors; a fourth, that the individual is foolish, but the species is wise; a fifth, that wisdom is sought for its own sake; a sixth, that for the sake of the commonwealth, schooling should quicken the moral imagination.

“These postulates have not ceased to be true; it is only that they have been forgotten in our century’s obsession with power and money, and our century’s illusion that ideology is a ready and satisfactory substitute for thought.” (p. 251)

“Renewal failing, by the conclusion of the twentieth century America may have achieved complete equality in education: everybody compulsorily schooled, and everybody equally ignorant.” (p. 252)

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In continuing to write on this blog, it is my hope and prayer that we together are pursuing something more than ‘power and money,’ but rather wisdom and virtue, the Great Good.

Corrosion from Within: Higher Ed’s Toxic Lead Problem

If you wish to meditate on the relationship between education and the State (once you’ve read The Republic) go no further than looking at the issues killing the modern university.  I have been thinking a lot about what the future of college and university looks like and most of my thoughts have been disturbing and depressing.  But in reading up on the recent event with lead poisoning in Flint, MI (during which I did not expect to think about college at all), I ran across the following interview with the research scientist at the forefront of that controversy and what he had to say about academia.  Perhaps it is easier to hear doom and gloom from those within (like him) than those from without (like me).  Read and judge for yourself.

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Water-Next-Time-Professor/235136

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Getting Real Local

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I got to thinking about the reforming of education when I realized as a full time teacher that real education in America was broken.  This realization was slow in coming.  I saw many signs before I read their meaning.  And this was 20 years ago.  A quick overview of what I saw back then included:

  1. A lack of trust between parents, students, and school.  I could build this one out for several book’s worth of words, but the short version is sufficient – none of the three groups trusted the other.
  2. Efficiency replaced quality – finding a way to do the same instruction quicker and easier could get you a stage at a teacher’s conference in no time, but talking about how to go deeper, become better, take our time and really make this thing called education become humane got you a ticket out the door.
  3. Questions will kill you – I got drummed out of my teaching post for the stated reason that I sent students home to dinner asking questions they “just don’t need to be thinking about” (things like, “Why was Jesus poor His whole life?” or “Did God choose me or did I choose Him?” or “How does our family obey the Great Commission?”).  Asking questions, and getting students to ask questions, seems to be against the grain.  I just never knew.
  4. College is King – this one is really bad now, but it was bad back then too.  If my kid gets anything other than A’s in Middle School, he won’t qualify for Honors and AP in High School and then we are screwed in college.  So when my Bible class started giving folks anything other than an “A” and especially when some managed to fail, things just could not continue as they were.

That brings me to my title: educational reform must be done at the local level.

Any reform that is at a national, or organizational, or abstract level will fail.  That is just the way it works.  Organizations sustain themselves and unify their constituents by agreeing on things, and there is no way they can agree on enough to actually affect real change in specific ways: their agreements are just too general.  So a bill is passed, or an idea is put on bumper stickers, or some such grandiose thing is done, and people feel good because something “got done” and yet in the end nothing changes, or by diverting local action to the national level, things actually get worse in the meantime.  We must change our own appetites, and then our children’s appetites will change, and in a few generations, with enough change in appetites (away from the points made above), we may have better education in our nation.  And none of that happens without internal spiritual change, and none of it happens unless it is local, and I mean so local that it has the same address as your water bill has on it when it comes to your mail box.