C. S. Lewis on Democratic Education

A while back, Daniel Lattier published an article at Intellectual Takeout. In it, he calls to our mind a 1944 essay from C.S. Lewis called ‘Democratic Education’. It is very relevant to what we see these days in education.

“Democratic education, says Aristotle, ought to mean, not the education which democrats like, but the education which will preserve democracy. Until we have realized that the two things do not necessarily go together we cannot think clearly about education.

For example, an education which gave the able and diligent boys no advantage over the stupid and idle ones, would be in one sense democratic. It would be egalitarian and democrats like equality. The caucus race in Alice in Wonderland, where all the competitors won and all got prizes, was a ‘democratic’ race: like the Garter it tolerated no nonsense about merit. Such total egalitarianism in education has not yet been openly recommended, but a movement in that direction begins to appear. It can be seen in the growing demand that subjects which some boys do very much better than others should not be compulsory. Yesterday it was Latin — today, as I see from a letter in one of the papers, it is Mathematics. Both these subjects give an ‘unfair advantage’ to boys of a certain type. To abolish that advantage is therefore in one sense democratic.

But of course there is no reason for stopping with the abolition of these two compulsions. To be consistent we must go further. We must also abolish all compulsory subjects, and we must make the curriculum so wide that ‘every boy will get a chance at something’. Even the boy who can’t or won’t learn his alphabet can be praised and petted for something — handicrafts or gymnastics, moral leadership or deportment, citizenship or the care of guinea-pigs, ‘hobbies’ or musical appreciation — anything he likes. Then no boy, and no boy’s parents, need feel inferior.

An education on those lines will be pleasing to democratic feelings. It will have repaired the inequalities of nature. But it is quite another question whether it will breed a democratic nation which can survive, or even one whose survival is desirable.

The improbability that a nation thus educated could survive need not be labored. Obviously it can escape destruction only if its rivals and enemies are so obliging as to adopt the same system. A nation of dunces can be safe only in a world of dunces.

The demand for equality has two sources — one of them is among the noblest, the other is the basest of human emotions. The noble source is the desire for fair play. But the other source is the hatred of superiority. At the present moment it would be very unrealistic to overlook the importance of the latter. There is in all men a tendency (only corrigible by good training from without and persistent moral effort from within) to resent the existence of what is stronger, subtler or better than themselves. In uncorrected and brutal men this hardens into an implacable and disinterested hatred for every kind of excellence. The vocabulary of a period tells tales. There is reason to be alarmed at the immense vogue today of such words as ‘highbrow’, ‘upstage’, ‘old school tie’, ‘academic’, ‘smug’, and ‘complacent’. These words, as used today, are sores — one feels the poison throbbing in them.

The kind of ‘democratic’ education which is already looming ahead is bad because it endeavors to propitiate evil passions — to appease envy. There are two reasons for not attempting this. In the first place, you will not succeed. Envy is insatiable. The more you concede to it the more it will demand. No attitude of humility which you can possibly adopt will propitiate a man with an inferiority complex. In the second place, you are trying to introduce equality where equality is fatal.

Equality (outside mathematics) is a purely social conception. It applies to man as a political and economic animal. It has no place in the world of the mind. Beauty is not democratic — she reveals herself more to the few than to the many, more to the persistent and disciplined seekers than to the careless. Virtue is not democratic — she is achieved by those who pursue her more hotly than most men. Truth is not democratic — she demands special talents and special industry in those to whom she gives her favors. Political democracy is doomed if it tries to extend its demand for equality into these higher spheres. Ethical, intellectual, or aesthetic democracy is death.

A truly democratic education — one which will preserve democracy — must be, in its own field, ruthlessly aristocratic, shamelessly ‘highbrow’. In drawing up its curriculum it should always have chiefly in view the interests of the boy who wants to know and who can know (with very few exceptions they are the same boy). The stupid boy, nearly always, is the boy who does not want to know. It must, in a certain sense, subordinate the interests of the many to those of the few, and it must subordinate the school to the university. Only thus can it be a nursery of those first-class intellects without which neither a democracy nor any other State can thrive.”

Seems to me to be very, very apt to what we are seeing in education (and quite a few other areas) these days. I think we need to do some rethinking in this area.

The AG Testifies, Higher Education, and a Report Card

Welp, I was going to talk about the Attorney General’s testimony to the Senate intelligence committee, but I couldn’t manage to keep my mind on the nonsense being spewed about. Lucky for us that Toni Williams could.

Today, Trump Administration Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss colluding with Russians or Russian interference in the 2016 Election or whatever whale excrement the Democrats are trying to peddle this news cycle. The Senators, especially Ron Wyden (Moron-OR) and Kamala Harris (Fool-CA), showed themselves to be disrespectful, small and bitter. It was so sad.

Although the Senate sees itself as “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body”, it has long been the home of gassy, windbags, pompous dolts, and unctuous twits. Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun and Daniel Patrick Moynihan may have been great Senators, but you wouldn’t want to live with them. Joe Biden and, not to speak ill of the dead, but they know it’s true, Arlen Specter and Ted Kennedy, pompous dolts.

Today, we have John McCain, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris and Ron Wyden as Senators on the Intelligence Committee. Dear God, I pray for our Republic. …

Yeah, me too. If you’d like a serious summary, not that Toni is wrong, mind, how about from John Hinderaker. Here is his final paragraph.

The Democrats are making fools of themselves. But that is what their base–black-masked “antifa” hoodlums, the New York Times, the Washington Post–wants, so no doubt it will continue for a while. Eventually, though, they will have to admit that their Russia investigation, an attempt to smear the Trump administration with whatever the Russian government may or may not have done, has come to nothing.

An excellent summary of how our tax money is being wasted on this nonsense. Best quote of the day, from AG Sessions.

This I’m afraid will result has already resulted in investigations and I fear that some people may find that they’ll wish they hadn’t leaked.

I certainly hope so.


A couple of things from the world of higher (?) education. From Chris Queen.

Oxford University – long held as one of the premier educational institutions in the world – is changing one of its core history exams in order to ensure that more women get the highest possible grade on the test.

One of Oxford’s five final-year history exams will be replaced by a paper that can be done at home to try to improve results for female students.

The move, which begins in the next academic year, comes as statistics showed 32% of women achieved a first in history at Oxford, compared with 37% of men.

Under the new exam structure, students most likely will be given similar questions to the existing exam, but rather than completing the test within a specifically designated time frame, students will have several days at home to finish.

University officials say that the “gender gap” was a major factor in considering the new exam, along with the fact that the new format would “reward research skills rather than memorisation, or performance under pressure.”

The decision isn’t without its controversy, however. Even the university admits that the risk of plagiarism grows with a take-home test. There’s no guarantee that students won’t collaborate, cheat, or seek outside help with the exam.

I’m very sure that my friends, including my co-blogger whose history degree is from Oxford, are thrilled with the University cheapening their accomplishment. But as all good leftists know, girls aren’t the equal of boys they need special help, only nasty conservatives think they can do the work without special consideration.

Then there is this, from Steven Hayward.

Colleges are all about teaching “critical thinking,” though in most places that is a mere euphemism for teaching “critical theory,” which is not the same thing. Quite the opposite: “critical theory” is the highly ideologized core of the academic left. And it shows.

News item:

Exclusive Test Data: Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical-Thinking Skills

By Douglas Belkin

Freshmen and seniors at about 200 colleges across the U.S. take a little-known test every year to measure how much better they get at learning to think. The results are discouraging.

At more than half of schools, at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table, The Wall Street Journal found after reviewing the latest results from dozens of public colleges and universities that gave the exam between 2013 and 2016. (See full results.)

At some of the most prestigious flagship universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years. . .

For prospective students and their parents looking to pick a college, it is almost impossible to figure out which schools help students learn critical thinking, because full results of the standardized test, called the College Learning Assessment Plus, or CLA+, are seldom disclosed to the public. This is true, too, of similar tests.

Wonder why I am not surprised.


Just to finish off, a little short one from Ace’s on how a town in Ohio thinks Trump is doing. Follow the link and read the comments,  they’re the best part of AoSHQ.

Interestingly, the conservatives I speak with do not really consider Trump one of them. Rank-and-file Republicans tend to view Trump more as an independent who ran under the Republican banner.

But for the most part, they’re still with him. They appreciate Trump’s “America first” agenda, not because they believe in isolationism, but because they believe the U.S. and its citizens should be the government’s top priority.

The president’s tweets can be as annoying to his supporters as to his opponents, and if there is a common criticism it is that he should tweet less. But his inability so far to overhaul health care, enact tax reform, destroy the Islamic State or “drain the swamp” is largely blamed on overreaching courts and the open “resistance” that appears dedicated to opposing anything Trump wants.

For the record, I agree with the townspeople, and I’m getting very tired of the nonstop nonsense, both from the Democrats and the never-Trumpers, both of whom are beneath contempt.

The Feast of Bede the Venerable

The first great English historian, patron of writers and historians, writer of what is still the standard history of Anglo-Saxon England in his Historia Ecclesiastica, the only English-born Doctor of the Church, and the first to translate the Bible into English. He was born about 672 and died on 26 May 735, which, as it is this year, was the feast of the Ascension.

From A Clerk of Oxford:

[…]This is a lovely coincidence (or occasional mercy, rather) because the feast of the Ascension and the words of its liturgy were in Bede’s mind, and on his lips, as he lay dying. We know this because a moving account of Bede’s death was recorded by a monk named Cuthbert, a former pupil of Bede’s and later abbot of Wearmouth-Jarrow. Cuthbert was present at Bede’s deathbed, and this is how he describes his death.

For nearly a fortnight before the Feast of our Lord’s Resurrection he was troubled by weakness and breathed with great difficulty, although he suffered little pain. Thenceforward until Ascension Day he remained cheerful and happy, giving thanks to God each hour day and night. He gave daily lessons to us his students, and spent the rest of the day in singing the psalms so far as his strength allowed. He passed the whole night in joyful prayer and thanksgiving to God, except when slumber overcame him; but directly he awoke, he continued to meditate on spiritual themes, and never failed to thank God with hands outstretched. I can truthfully affirm that I have never seen or heard of anyone who gave thanks so unceasingly to the living God as he.

O truly blessed man! He used to repeat the saying of the holy Apostle Paul, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’, and many other sayings from holy scripture, and in this manner he used to arouse our souls by the consideration of our last hour. Being well-versed in our native songs, he described to us the dread departure of the soul from the body by a verse in our own tongue, which translated means: ‘Before setting forth on that inevitable journey, none is wiser than the man who considers – before his soul departs hence – what good or evil he has done, and what judgement his soul will receive after its passing’.

The English translation of John’s Gospel which Bede was working on at his death has not survived, and nor have any of Bede’s other English writings (it’s not clear whether his ‘Death Song’ was of his own composition, or if he is quoting a poem he knew). But a century or so after Bede’s death, an Anglo-Saxon poet composed a poem on the Ascension which must be one of the greatest poems ever written on that subject. I quoted it at length here, but this is my favourite part:

Swa se fæla fugel flyges cunnode;
hwilum engla eard up gesohte,
modig meahtum strang, þone maran ham,
hwilum he to eorþan eft gestylde,
þurh gæstes giefe grundsceat sohte,
wende to worulde. Bi þon se witga song:
‘He wæs upp hafen engla fæðmum
in his þa miclan meahta spede,
heah ond halig, ofer heofona þrym.’
…Wæs se siexta hlyp,
haliges hyhtplega, þa he to heofonum astag
on his ealdcyððe. þa wæs engla þreat
on þa halgan tid hleahtre bliþe
wynnum geworden. Gesawan wuldres þrym,
æþelinga ord, eðles neosan,
beorhtra bolda. þa wearð burgwarum
eadgum ece gefea æþelinges plega.

So the beautiful bird ventured into flight.
Now he sought the home of the angels,
that glorious country, bold and strong in might;
now he swung back to earth again,
sought the ground by grace of the Spirit,
returned to the world. Of this the prophet sang:
‘He was lifted up in the arms of angels
in the great abundance of his powers,
high and holy, above the glory of the heavens.’
…The sixth leap,
the Holy One’s hope-play, was when he ascended to heaven
into his former home. Then the throng of angels
in that holy tide was made merry with laughter,
rapt with joy. They saw the glory of majesty,
first of princes, seek out his homeland,
the bright mansions. After that the blessed city-dwellers
endlessly delighted in the Prince’s play.

Here is where English, British, and American written history begins, where it ends depends, in large part in our diligence in studying what has come before.

Also: Bede’s death — NEWMAN LECTURES.

A Conversion Story

Sadly, not Bookworm, as far as I know.

Bookworm takes a look in the mirror:

Cultural appropriation be damned.  I am finally coming out of the closet as a trans-cultural Redneck and proud of it.  Allow me to explain.

I was raised in the belly of the beast, San Francisco, by European immigrant parents who fully embraced upper class, European culture in all of its arrogant glory.  We didn’t have the money, but I was taught to have all the right attitudes.  They were drilled into me from the cradle: imported cheese, classical music, foreign movies, and a sneering disdain for the ordinary Americans who liked working with their hands, watching fights and drinking beer.

Still, despite this pressure to be an American elite, I kept slipping up. While the family was cooing over a nice runny Brie, I was in my room, squirting quick hits of canned Velveeta in my mouth, hoping no one would catch the tell-tale orange stain around my lips. Instead of being grateful for my Mom’s carefully packed school lunches, complete with brown bread and vegetables, I was desperate to get my hands on my schoolmates’ Wonderbread™ sandwiches and Hostess Twinkie™ snack cakes.

Music was an issue too. I kept my face politely bright when I was dragged to the symphony or the opera, feigning interest in Mozart’s Requiem or Verdi’s Madama Butterfly, but my heart wasn’t in it. Even as the musicians played and the singers sang, I had a separate track in my head playing Slim Whitman, Hoyt Axton, Marty Robbins, and Johnny Cash. I wasn’t a purist, by any means, of course. There was plenty of room throughout my school years for Top 40s music, but opera made me wish I could break out in hives as an excuse to leave the room.

Things got worse when I hit my hard-Left, highly-ranked college. With every passing year, it became harder to feign respect for the professors who droned on at the front of the room, reading off of stale old notes. As they preached Marxism in the classroom, either directly or indirectly, I couldn’t get past the fact that they lived in expensive homes, complete with Hispanic maids and Japanese gardeners, dined out at fine restaurants (organic before it was in), and regularly traveled to (of course) Europe. My classmates revered them; I thought they were pompous, hypocritical windbags, and the fact that I got good grades from parroting their cant back to them only increased my disdain.

It was at college that, for the first time, I grappled with the fact that, despite my upbringing and credentials, I was living a lie. I hated to be something I wasn’t, but I didn’t yet know enough to express what I was. As far as I and everyone else knew, I was just your usual slightly weird Euro-immigrant, Jewish-Liberal Bay Area Democrat.

My years at law school in Texas were the first time in my life that I felt I fit in. Sure, I had still had whole grain brown bread cravings, but saying “y’all” just felt right. It rolled off my tongue, if you know what I mean. And being friendly to people — saying “howdy” to everyone — that felt right too. It was a world away from college’s snide cliques and studied rudeness. I loved hanging out in dives and dancing all night long to the live blues and country bands.

Still, the pull of my upbringing was strong. Instead of giving in to what felt was right for me, I forced myself to return to the rarefied world in which I grew up. It was still too painful to admit to what I really was and I knew that I wasn’t strong enough to face the backlash from family and old friends.

And so for the next two decades, I hid my true self. I listened to NPR, voted Democrat, called myself a feminist, ate at restaurants that served food with names I couldn’t pronounce, periodically went to the symphony, had my collection of gay friends (who always made nasty remarks about women), and pretended I had black friends (in fact, as a young professional in San Francisco, I only knew one black person and, while I liked her, she wasn’t really a friend….). At the same time, I became a cynical, embittered, contrarian person, always pushing back at chimeras. I knew my life was wrong, but I didn’t know what was right.

What changed all this was 9/11. In the subsequent years, I realized I wasn’t a Democrat at all. I was a conservative! Oh. My. God! That was incredibly liberating. Even more liberating was writing a blog that (a) allowed me to express my thoughts without being socially ostracized and (b) put me in contact with people who didn’t sneer at Velveeta in cans, disliked opera, wanted to shoot guns, listened to country and pop music, watched MMA fighting, and thought traveling within America on vacation was cool, not pathetic.

Keep reading, it’s good all the way through A fair amount of it parallels things in mine, although I was never politically liberal, even as a kid it didn’t make sense to me. Yep, one of the few thing dad and I argued about occasionally, he was conservative, but a New Dealer, well I understand why, but don’t condone such contradictions. Maybe that’s why I have a soft spot for Tories, and in fact, anyone who reads too much Burke, and not enough Locke.

I certainly do approve of Daisy Dukes, though! 🙂

Fixing Education

We return today to one of the subjects that have continued here since we began: education. What’s wrong with it, and sometimes: how to fix it. Peter W. Wood had a very good (and quite long) article yesterday in The Federalist on this subject. I found it very good, both in identifying problems and proposing cures. See what you think.

How much would it cost to fix American higher education? Think big. In 2015, colleges and universities spent about $532 billion to teach 20.5 million students enrolled in two-year and four-year colleges.

That $532 billion figure is the lowest estimate in circulation. The National Center for Education Statistics gives the figure as $605 billion for 2013-14. But let’s stick with the humble $532 billion.

So how much would it cost to fix our $532 billion worth of colleges and universities? The answer depends, of course, on what you think is wrong with them and which of the possible repairs you favor. But let’s not get overly complicated.

Here’s What’s Wrong with Higher Education

American higher education is subject to five broad categories of complaint.

The progressive left criticizes it for reinforcing oppression based on race, class, and sex. American higher education favors the rich and abets unjust capitalism.

Pro-market and libertarian observers criticize its dependence on public funding; guild-like stifling of innovation; and hostility to capitalism. American higher education privileges itself.

Liberals, moderates, and conservatives criticize it for putting identity politics at the center of curriculum and student life. It fosters inter-group hostility, a grievance culture, psychological fragility, incivility, and contempt for free expression. American higher education is illiberal.

Those who support the classical liberal arts criticize it for trivializing higher education, turning the curriculum into a shopping cart, neglecting the formation of mind and character in favor of political advocacy, and estranging students from their civilization by elevating the false ideal of multiculturalism. American higher education is culturally corrosive.

A wide variety of people criticize its high price, frivolous expenditures, and increasingly uncertain rewards for graduates. The gigantic growth in the number of campus administrative positions relative to the faculty comes under this heading too. American higher education is too expensive.

It would be easy to add more items or expand any of these into a whole book. Many have done just that. But my goal here is to cut a path through the forest, not to linger over the variety of trees.

When I speak of fixing higher education, I discard the first category, the criticisms of the university as a font of capitalist oppression. It simply has no basis in reality. Each of the other four categories is cogent, and any real repair would have to address all of them. Moreover, they are deeply connected.

I won’t linger over their interconnections either, but it is important to keep in mind that the guild-like or oligarchic aspects of higher education undergird its illiberalism, incoherence, and excessive expense; and its culturally corrosive quality licenses its voracious appetite for public funding, suppression of intellectual freedom, and frivolity.

Four Proposed Repairs to Higher Education

Corresponding to the four legitimate categories of complaint are four broad categories of possible repair:

Fix the financial model. Reduce and restructure federal and state support for colleges and universities. Eliminate the regulations that favor the guild and prop up oligarchy. Unleash the marketplace, including for-profit, online, and other entrepreneurial alternatives to the dominant model of two and four-year colleges. Steer Americans away from the idea that a college degree is necessary for a prosperous career. Find new and better ways to credential people as competent in specific endeavors. The general-purpose undergraduate degree should face competition from alternative credentialing.

Dismantle the infrastructure of campus illiberalism. Eliminate grievance deans and programs; rescind all government programs that subsidize identity politics; insist that colleges and universities punish those who disrupt events or otherwise undermine free expression. Some call for eliminating tenure because it has become a bulwark for the faculty members most intent on redirecting higher education into political activism.

Restore a meaningful core curriculum. This repair has three varieties: create an optional core curriculum at existing colleges, leaving everything else alone; create a mandatory core curriculum for all the students at a college; create new colleges that start out with their own core curricula. Reversing the cultural corrosion of American higher education will take more than reviving core curricula, but by common consent, that is the first step.

Restructure federal student loans. This is, of course, part of fixing the financial model, but it is crucial if the goal is to reduce the ballooning costs of higher education. Colleges and universities are expensive for several reasons, including their very high labor costs and tendency to compete with one another by increasing their amenities (e.g., rock-climbing walls), but the underlying cost-driver is their ability to rely on federal student loans to subsidize their ever-expanding budgets. […]

Continue reading How To Start Fixing America’s Higher Education Crisis

I found it all very good, and some of it outstanding. Part of what I like is that he recognizes that not everybody needs a to go to a four-year college. In truth, most don’t. College (except perhaps engineering) is not supposed to be a trade school. And when you make it one you end up with BA degree holders flipping burgers, a very silly outcome, particularly since in our setup they owe impossible amounts of money.

Part of the problem that I see is that our secondary (and primary) schools are no longer fit for purpose, graduates are far too often both illiterate and innumerate, and so the private sector, pragmatic as always, simply requires a degree, thinking they will at least get a candidate that can read at some level and maybe do arithmetic. It’s not a solution really, but in reality, their problem is to do whatever they do with whatever widget they do it with and make a profit, not to fix the education system.

At some point, it may become bad enough for them to find it cheaper to fix the problem than to use avoidance strategies like degrees, but we aren’t there yet. If we get to that point – well we’ll pretty much have failed as a country so it won’t really matter all that much.

Don’t do this at home (or at work)!

Time to lighten up a bit, thanks to Oyia Brown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This safety meeting is adjourned.

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