Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain



Check another great book off my list! I love Mark Twain's irreverent sense of humor and his ability to poke fun at society and expose its hypocrisies. His characters are brilliantly drawn and the plots engage in twists and turns keeping you turning the pages. So I looked forward to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

He brings that same humor and irreverence to the sixth century in the form of an unnamed (?) man from Connecticut who finds himself mysteriously transported from the nineteenth to the sixth century. In this book, Twain's target is clearly the church. Perhaps that is the reason this book is not as popular as those that take aim at slavery or southern backwardness. Those topics clearly have more marketable appeal. Even so, he has written a funny and thoroughly enjoyable book. 

The story begins with the narrator, it seems to be Twain himself, in Warwick Castle looking at the relics. When he notices a suit of armor with a small, unexplained hole in it, a stranger approaches and answers the mystery. He put the hole there with a gun when he shot the knight wearing the armor. The stranger slips away, leaving the narrator to ponder this fantastic tidbit in his room while reading the latest best-seller, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Sir Thomas Mallory. Inexplicably, the stranger knocks on his door and begins to tell his tale. It starts with a blow to the head during a fight. Fortunately for the narrator, the Yankee has written up his tale for posterity. He leaves it in the hands of our narrator to peruse.

Our man wakes up in a field and is shortly confronted by a knight. He tries to explain the situation by thinking himself caught up in the middle of a reenactment. Taken prisoner by the warrior, the Yankee is dragged off to Camelot. It is beginning to dawn on him that he may, in fact, be in the sixth century. Using his expansive knowledge, he remembers an eclipse that should be taking place on June 6th. This will tell him definitively when he is. Meanwhile, he proceeds as if he is probably back in time when he hears the Merlin describe for apparently the infinite time, the story of King Arthur and sword. 

Eventually his case is brought forward by the knight, who lavishly embellishes it, and King Arthur sentences the Yankee to death for the crime of being odd. Zinger number one to the church. They fear and repress all that challenges the status quo and their orthodoxy. 

But being a man of science, he sees he can easily take advantageous of these superstitious people. He will use his knowledge of the coming eclipse to prove himself a sorcerer more powerful than Merlin. In a dramatic fashion, with the unwitting help of a page he has befriended, Clarence, the Yank turns the sun black moments before his scheduled execution and promises not to restore it unless he is pardoned. This works like a charm, and he is freed and made a powerful minister in the court. Of course he is now fully convinced he has traveled back in time.

Obviously, one miracle demands another. Again, using his scientific knowledge, he arranges to blow up the tower in which he has been holding Merlin. He spares the ancient sorcerer, but his triumph seals his position. As he settles in however, he sees how the monarchy, nobility, and church leaders are respect more than he. He has no title. Finally they settle on calling him The Boss. This suits him wonderfully. 

Taking his time to get lay of the land, The Boss decides what they need is a patent office and a newspaper. He enlists his trusty aid, Clarence in his endeavors. Together they will drag the sixth century into modernity. But an ill-timed word during a joust puts him in the ill graces of Sir Sacramore. Challenged to a duel, the Yankee begs for time to prepare. Fortunately Sir Sacramore is about to go off on a three-year trek to find the Holy Grail. The Boss and Clarence use this time to begin building a modern infrastructure, hidden from the public for now. 

Unfortunately, his plans are interrupted when he is forced to go on a quest with a damsel in distress to rescue forty-four of her fellow princesses trapped in a castle by evil ogres. His astonishment at their gullibility is matched only by their belief in her story. He cannot shake the primitive lack of reason and common sense. So off he goes, covered head to toe with suffocating armor and a chatty young woman as his guide. 

His first encounter on the road is with a group of ostensibly called "freemen." He cannot possibly see how they can call themselves free when almost all their earning are reserved for lords and the church. One man seems responsive to his thinking and the Yankee sends him off to rendezvous with Clarence and ask for entrance into the "man-factory." This is a school he has started to rid the country of superstition and implement logic and a scientific way of thinking. 

He next encounters a group of knights, who, like all good knights, immediately challenge him. Fortunately he has discovered the harrowing power of pipe smoke. If he fills his mouth with smoke and then breathes it out through his helmet, the benighted ancients will fall to their knees in submission. Sure enough, it works. His girl, whom he calls Sandy, works out a deal with the knights. They, too, will report to Clarence and pledge their life-long fealty to The Boss. 

They continue on the long and winding road to nowhere with Sandy's constant chatter of knight errantry. Each drawn-out tale begins, proceeds, and ends in exactly the same manner. The Yankee is losing his mind with the monotony. Unfortunately, poor Sandy cannot understand his modern words of contempt and feels stupid faced with his superior intellect. 

They next run into the castle of King Arthur's evil sister, Morgan la Faye. She is a diviner herself and at a slight insult has them sentenced to her dungeon. But Sandy saves the day when she reveals the man to be none other than The Boss, himself. His reputation leaves Morgan in a state of panic and she declares she was joking of course. She throws him a ball instead. After securing her confidence, he tours her dungeons. The poor prisoners languish insensitive of time or their surroundings. He makes an executive decision to free them all. She cannot say much to this. As a final bow to justice, he moves the official torturer to the position of musician knowing la Faye kills those musicians who displease her. And off he goes on the road again. 

Suddenly, Sandy declares they have reached the long-awaited, unknown destination when they arrive at a common pig sty. The "princesses" wallow in the mud and the "ogres" are nearby pig herders. When the Yankee questions his companion, he is told there is clearly an enchantment taking place. Surreptitiously paying the farmers for their animals, they lead the ladies off to a place of refuge. Sandy calls on the first homestead they encounter and waits on her sisters hand and foot. Unclear of how to proceed, The Boss asks what will happen. Sandy assures him that the "princesses" relations will come to retrieve them as soon as possible. Relieved of the responsibility, the Yankee leaves the charges to the owner of the home and the set off back for Camelot. Thinking he will be at last done with his interminable companion, Sandy assures him she would never leave him until he is defeated by another knight.Then she would be obliged to join the victor. This is not likely to happen.

On their journey homeward, they meet up with a band of pilgrims making a trip to the Valley of Holiness. The story has it that the oath of the monks never to bathe has engendered the blessing of God and their well miraculously flows. However, some inadvertent sin seems to have caused the well to run dry again. The Connecticut Yankee is intrigued and decides to journey to this valley to see if he can be of service. He is pretty sure he knows the problem and sends word to Clarence to provide him the necessary supplies. While stalling for time, he allows that Merlin must have the first shot. Professional courtesy. Meanwhile, he visits the settlement and sees the hermits and monks and their ridiculous ways of earning God's favor. In his contempt for their superstitions, he plans a miracle of all miracles to show that science and reason are the way to go. Finally the day arrives. He patches up the broken well under cover of darkness and works out an elaborate system involving pumps, hoses, and fireworks. When the crowd gathers, he repeats the magic incantation, lights of the fiery display and opens the valves. The waters flood the town and he is even further elevated in the eyes of the people. In addition, he has the added benefit of convincing the monks and hermits to bathe. This is another way he believes will undermine the authority of the church. 

While spending some additional time in the valley, he discovers that his telephone operators have already been there. He is able to get the news of King Arthur's trip to see the miracle waters. When a rival magician shows up at the monastery claiming to be able to see in real time the actions of rulers all over the world, The Boss challenges him to a magical duel. Each must predict what King Arthur is doing and whether or not he will show up at the monastery in a matter of days. Of course the Yankee's technological advantage wins the day and the rival is banished. 

Upon his return to Camelot, The Boss discovers that while Arthur has put his plan into action to develop a standing army, he only allows nobles to fill the role of officers. Thinking he can prove those he has trained at his man factory much more suited to the job, he is humiliated when his well-taught recruits are still rejected. So he forms a parallel army with his hand-picked men in charge. Realizing he can't beat them, through as system of incentives, he combines his desire to get rid of the "royal grant," money bequeathed from the national treasury to those of royal blood, to staffing the military. The nobles will now work for their money. 

On the festive day of the "King's Evil" when the king lays hands on the sick and sends them off with a nickel (an advent of a new monetary system created by the Yank), a young newsie shouts the day's headlines. The Connecticut Yankee has started a newspaper. The illiterate masses are fascinated with this development, if somewhat confused. This is yet another stab at a church The Boss feels benefits from an illiterate congregation. He wants to give the people motivation to learn to read. At first it is only yellow journalism that strikes the fancy of the writers and editors, and he is ashamed the he once found this entertaining, but The Boss is confident they will improve their reporting. 

With all his plans coming to glorious fruition, the Yankee believes it is time to venture off into the countryside, disguised as a peasant, in order to truly understand the culture. Unfortunately, King Arthur, too, thinks this would be fun and insists on joining him. The royally-raised monarch has a difficult time maintaining the illusion and winds up getting them involved in a duel. The Boss is forced to use his one allotment of dynamite to escape the danger. 

They finally arrive at a tiny hut. Here small pox has taken its toll. They hear the heart-breaking story of the troubles of the family and the ways in which taxes and the church further impoverished them. But Arthur, raised to believe in the righteousness of the status quo, cannot be persuaded to rethink any of the policies. Later, when they discover the only three remaining members of that family have escaped prison and inadvertently set a house on fire, the king, rather than reacting in a merciful manner, demands law and order. 

Once they settle into the town, the Yankee becomes very disturbed with the pretended nobility of the middle class. He decides to throw a lavish party with eventually shames the upper crust townsfolk. In desperately trying to then reason with them about the benefits of another, more modern system, he inadvertently causes them to feel threatened. They react by seeking to imprison the both for their strangeness. The king appears mad to them and they believe The Boss to be a huckster. 

Eventually the pair are captured and sold as slaves. Despite their dire predicament, The Boss continues to hope the king will see the reality of their detrimental system. As they tramp through the countryside, they see story after story of injustice, but Arthur is impervious to it all. In a moment of desperation, the Yankee escapes his bonds with a plan to free all their fellow slaves. But he is quickly recaptured. In the meanwhile, his ranting have caused the other slaves to rise up and kill the slave master. All are now in dire straits with death hanging over them. In desperation, The Boss puts in a call to the palace. Eventually they are rescued, worse for wear and King Arthur is no further enlightened. 

The Yankee settles back into courtly life. Sir Sacramore has returned, empty-handed, and demands satisfaction. Fortunately the ill-equipped Yankee has a lasso at his disposal. His miraculous weapon astonishes the crowd, and challenger after challenger enters the arena. Finally, letting his arrogance get the best of him, he challenges every knight to take him on. When Merlin steals the lasso, the Yankee must resort to his final weapon, his pistol. This overwhelming advantage quickly destroys the knighthood and dueling as an institution. 

The Connecticut Yankee now sees his opportunity to fully modernize the ancient world. He reveals all his factories and various inventions. He marries Sandy, declaring her to be a wonderful wife and mother. He introduces baseball to contain the competitive spirit of the nobility and settles into a good life. 

Yet tragedy soon invades. His daughter, Hello-Central, falls ill. He and Sandy take the child to France for the restorative sea air. While away, the church finds its legs and reassert its authority. It imposes an interdiction on all things modern. Curious as to why their supply ship never returned, The Boss heads back to England on his own. 

Clarence alone has had to deal with the crushing blow. He has taken the precaution of booby-trapping all their factories and outposts. King Arthur, the last to realize Queen Guinevere's infidelity, is killed in a battle over her. Having no heir, the Yankee seizes the long-awaited opportunity to lead a revolution and declare a Republic. Unfortunately the church's power and the power of superstition is too great. The country will not join The Boss and his small group of factory-trained men. But through Clarence's foresight, the battle will be devastating and they will destroy the country and the nobility on their way out. 

In trying to graciously help the wounded, The Boss is grievously wounded and taken into custody. A postscript by Clarence describes the incantations read over him by Merlin, putting the Yankee to sleep for thirteen hundred years. 

And so he awoke, wrote his story down, and eventually went mad over his loss of wife and child. 

I think Twain's purpose is to show the overwhelming power of an authoritative and backwards church. His overarching theme is the destruction and injustice caused by its primitiveness and irrationality. He certainly succeeds in making the church out to be insatiable, stupid, and relentless in its quest for power. However, I believe it falls flat. He provides funny and notable caricatures, but not real, live human beings. True humans are unrecognizable as all are forced to conform to the will of the author. The people act so superstitiously and irrationally, one wonders how they managed to survive at all. If a life-giving well dries up and all you have is magic to fix it, how do you form any kind of lasting society? And yet this is the nascent bud of Western Civilization. Somehow, they managed to give us limited government, Magna Carta, trial by jury, free speech, due process, capitalism, and habeaus corpus. It's a little like ridiculing the engineers that got the United States to the moon. You might be able to do if we didn't know how the story ends. But we do. So by setting his modern criticisms in an ancient time, I think Twain fails to make his case.  

But it is funny!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave Written by Himself

The short book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave Written by Himself bears power far beyond its size. Frederick Douglass makes a compelling indictment of slavery, but more than that, he is relevant for us today because we can forget how hard others have had it. Clearly Americans cannot forget the legacy of slavery, but I find the real value in this book is inducing a heart of gratitude. None of us Americans finds himself in this position. We no longer need to make the case to end slavery in America. But we each need to be given a glimpse outside ourselves to be able to step back and appreciate the many blessings we live under today.

He begins by telling the reader that he doesn't know his exact age or who is father is. The assumption is that is father was his mother's master. As a very young infant, he is separated from his mother. While she makes valiant attempts to remain in his life, she dies shortly of an illness and he is an orphan. He is cared for by the other slaves and it didn't take long before he is exposed to the horrors of slavery. He sees his fellow slaves whipped bloody at a very early age.

While around 7 or 8, he is sent to the main house of his master, Colonel Edward Lloyd. He recounts the haunting songs sung by the slaves. Of this he comments, "I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among sales, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart..." (p. 32) Colonel Lloyd is a harsh master. His plantation provides myriad temptations to the slaves, fruit trees bursting with food while a starving slave must pass by, yet the slightest infraction is met with the whip. He terrorizes the keepers of his horses, blaming them for every complaint, real or imagined that he perceives. Once, he met one of his own slaves upon the road. Not recognizing his master, the slave proceeds to honestly answer the questions as to the harshness of his master. A severe beating soon convinced all the slave to never answer questions about their circumstances honestly.

And in case anyone was likely to think the slaves' lives were at least protected, Douglass puts that idea to rest. He details several examples of cold-blooded murder of the slaves for minor infractions. As a slave cannot be called to witness in court, these murders would never be called to account by a racist criminal justice system.

After a short time at Colonel Lloyd's home, Douglass is sent to Baltimore to the Colonel's son-in-law's brother, Mr. Hugh Auld. This is a brief time of reprieve for the battered boy. As Frederick cares for their son, Mrs. Auld only knows to treat him as a fellow human being. She even begins to teach him how to read. Mr. Auld soon disabuses her of that notion. "It would forever unfit him to be a slave." (p. 49) In discussing how dangerous it is to teach a slave to read, Douglass sees a shining gate to dignity. Knowing how much the whites fear a literate slave, Douglass knows he must learn to read. He must unfit himself for slavery. Her eventual descent into cruelty provides Douglass with an example of how slavery denigrates the masters as well.

While her lessons ended and he is strictly forbidden any reading material, Frederick Douglass works to teach himself. He would take any opportunity he could to practice his skills. He often tricked the younger boys to teach him by challenging them to a reading or spelling duel. However, he found, true to Mr. Auld's word, it made him deeply unhappy and unfit for servitude. He began to think and thinking is a dangerous pastime for a slave. He began to reason and philosophize about his condition and the immorality of it became even clearer.

Upon Colonel Lloyd's death, the slaves are divided up among the inheritors. Douglass fears for his future; he is doing well in Baltimore. Fortunately, he is allowed to stay. But not for long. Because of a falling out between Thomas Auld, Douglass' owner and his brother Hugh Auld, Douglass current residence, Frederick is taken back and forced to join Captain Thomas Auld's family. Auld is a cruel master and Frederick has learned to think for himself. This dangerous combination gets Douglass sent to Mr. Covey, a man known for his skill in breaking slaves.

Sure enough Mr. Covey's harsh discipline breaks Douglass, but not completely. He is almost killed by Covey. One day, he has had enough and he turns on him master, almost killing him. The resulting stand-off leads to a much less harsh environment for Douglass. The renown slave broker cannot turn Douglass into the law for fear of damaging his reputation, but neither can he risk another deadly confrontation.

After the proscribed year, Frederick is sent to live with Mr. Freeman, who hired him to work his farm. Mr. Freeman was a fair and descent master, but being relieved of the daily struggle to survive allowed Douglass to plot an escape. Unfortunately he and his compatriots were caught. This caused him to be sent back to Baltimore and Mr. Hugh Auld. Shortly thereafter, Douglass was hired out to a ship builder, Mr. William Gardner. There he learned a trade, but his money went to his master. He was severely beaten by the white workers. When telling his tale to Mr. Auld and the authorities, it is made clear that there will be no justice.

After recovering from his wounds by the ministering hand of Mrs. Auld, he is again hired out as a ship builder. This is a much better situation, but ironically, like his time at Mr. Freeman's, his better conditions do not lead to contentment, but a desire to escape. Douglass reflects on this truth. "When in Mr. Gardner's employment, I was kept in such a perpetual whirl of excitement, I could think of nothing, scarcely, but my life; and in thinking of my life, I almost forgot my liberty. I have observed this in my experience of slavery, —that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason." (p. 104)

Douglass finally makes up his mind to escape for good. He cannot detail the method because of the need to protect his abettors. But he ends up in New York utterly alone, penniless, homeless, jobless, and scared to death of being discovered. The loneliness and anxiety only lasted three days before a fellow abolitionist discovers him and sets him up in safety in New Haven. Douglass is astonished at the wealth to be had by those who didn't own slaves. He had always assumed that only slave owners were wealthy. He also sees that these people are far more educated and cultured than even the most ostentatious slave owner. He marries and delights in hard work and earned happiness. After three years of freedom, he is asked to speak at an abolitionist meeting. Then he is asked to write this book.

As a postscript, Douglass fears his words damning the Christianity as practiced in the South will be take as a general denunciation of Christianity. He is a fervent Christian himself, but he makes a powerful argument that the Christianity as practiced by the majority of Americans, is a counterfeit Christianity. He likens them to the Pharisees of Jesus' day. His harsh words are a salve to me as Christianity has been condemned for aiding and abetting American slavery. Douglass makes the powerful case that those who did were NOT Christians.

I simply cannot imagine living the life Frederick Douglass describes. I do not even want to pretend I can try. His life is so far removed from mine and just about everyone else in America. I wish more students would read this book and see what it is like to be truly marginalized and victimized.

Friday, June 2, 2017

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis explores some fascinating ideas in what is rapidly becoming my favorite book, The Abolition of Man. He takes those ideas and puts them into fictional form in his Space Trilogy, specifically the third book, That Hideous Strength. He calls this "a modern-day fairy tale for grown-ups." It certainly offered a cautionary tale of life gone awry when subjectivism is taken to its logical extreme. He puts words of wisdom and foolery in the mouths of his characters in order to flesh out the ideas he promulgated in The Abolition of Man.

The book begins with Jane Studdock, musing upon the purpose of marriage and reflecting on the rare time she had stepped into a church as an adult, her wedding day. Her marriage is clearly growing apart and she recognizes that she and her scholar husband, Mark, are living separate lives. Meanwhile Mark is relishing his new-found position in the middle of a powerful Inner Ring of Progressives. He is a research fellow at Bracton College, in the University of Edgestow. He is ambitious and knows he is pursuing a life apart from his wife, but he is unconcerned. Mark's mentor and patron, Feverstone, talks to him of a possible position opening up with N.I.C.E., a sort of NGO/think tank that takes as its mission the remaking of mankind. In describing the allure, Feverstone postulates, "Man has got to take charge of Man. That means, remember, that some men have got to take charge of the rest--which is another reason for cashing in on it as soon as one can. You and I want to be the people who do the taking charge, not the ones who are taken charge of. Quite." (p. 40) The university board votes to allow N.I.C.E. to purchase a piece of hallowed ground on the property, Bragdon Wood, in order to build a new research facility over the hostile opposition of the town. 

Meanwhile, Jane has been experiencing horrific nightmares which lead her to feel deeply unsettled and a little crazy. They are so real and seem to be either prophetic or a glimpse into events unfolding in real time. But her materialistic and rational brain rejects both premises. She runs into some trusted and kind friends who are very interested in her troubles. They refer her to their friend, Miss Ironwood, in the village of St. Anne's, saying only she can help. While her train speeds towards the mysterious encounter, her husband and Feverstone head to N.I.C.E. in Belbury to see what they have to offer. 

At N.I.C.E. Mark is met by the nominal head, Withers, who has a very difficult time making any kind of definitive statements. Although Mark is told that the real head is "the fairy", he is confused as to the managerial structure. He also cannot seem to get a clear version of what it is exactly he is being asked to do at N.I.C.E. At one point, he is met with an Edgestow colleague, Highet, who is disenchanted with his work at the institute claiming they misrepresented what he would be doing. It is not the actual science he was promised, but social engineering. He is determined to leave that evening. Meanwhile, Jane discusses her issues with the odd Miss Ironwood, who seems to have known she was coming. Miss Ironwood speaks in apocalyptic terms and refers to "Us vs. Them" which leaves Jane very uncomfortable. Miss Ironwood tells her that the dreams are real events which Jane is witnessing in real time. All of this leaves Jane worse off and more confused than when she first arrived and she hurries to get home. 

While Mark is staying in Belbury trying to determine whether or not he actually is being offered a job, Jane has another dream, of a brutal roadside murder. Eventually it becomes clear that she witnessed the destruction of Highet when he attempted to leave N.I.C.E. After endless double-talk and misdirection, Mark is invited to write a report on the benefits of the destruction of the town of Cure Hardy. As Mark tours the town and is reminded of his own Aunt Gilly, he recognizes the backwardness and anachronisms the N.I.C.E. is determined to destroy. But even as he is experiencing some ambivalence, his training as a sociologist has him trapped. "For his education had the curious effect of making things that he read and wrote more real to him than things he saw. Statistics about agricultural laborers were the substance; any real ditcher, ploughman, or farmer's boy, was the shadow. Though he  had never noticed it himself, he had a great reluctance, in his work, ever to use such words as "man" or "woman." He preferred to write about "vocational groups," "elements," "classes" and "populations"; for in his own way, he believed as firmly as any mystic in the superior reality of the things that are not seen." (p. 85) When they finally are home together, Mark and Jane pretend all is fine and nothing out of the ordinary is concerning either one of them. Meanwhile, N.I.C.E. has begun its extremely noisy and disruptive construction on the college grounds.

Although he thought he was "in" at N.I.C.E., Mark is back to being confused. Withers is the master of obfuscation. In regards to Mark's inability to figure out what he is supposed to do and why Brocton College is convinced he has quit his position there, Withers tells him, "We are, as I have said before,  are more like a family, or even, perhaps, like a single personality. There must be no question of 'taking your orders,' as you (rather unfortunately) suggest, from some specified official and consider yourself free to adopt an intransigent attitude to your other colleagues. That is not the spirit in which I would wish you to approach your duties. Your must make yourself useful, Mr. Studdock -- generally useful." (p. 117) Everyone in any position of authority seems contradictory and increasingly, threatening. Mark has met "the fairy," the totalitarian female head of security. At one point even Feverstone implicitly threatens him if he doesn't shape up and stop asking questions. Jane meets with her friends, the Denniston's, again to tell them of her experience with Miss Ironwood. They are excited and reveal that she is the "seer" they have been looking for. They invite her to join their group and pledge her allegiance to the mysterious Mr. Fisher-King. This is so unlike the wavering and incoherent Withers. Back in Belbury, Mark is asked to swallow any conscience he has left and begin to write newspaper articles, dictated by N.I.C.E. He writes these in order to spin events N.I.C.E. is going to orchestrate, starting with a riot in Edgestow over the construction. "This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner." (p. 127) "And anyway, if he didn't do it, someone else would." (p. 132) He is able to justify his descent into darkness.

Jane is also disoriented and while out shopping one day, she sees a man who has been tormenting her in her dreams, Frost. Panicked, she hurries to St. Anne's where she finally meets the mysterious Mr. Fisher-King, the Director. The ageless man captivates her, but will not allow her to commit to him without the approval of her husband. Her modern feminist sensibilities, which have been troubling her since the beginning, are revolted at such a thought. She tries to explain that her marriage is dying anyways. But the Director will not hear of it. He frankly doesn't care about her ideas of marriage, stating the his master's ideas are the only ones that matter. He cautions her that she has lost love because she never attempted obedience. That word, "obedience" grates on her, but pulls at a heart that knows the truth of the statement. Upon returning to Edgestow, intent on having an honest discussion with her husband, she is accosted by the rioters, arrested by "the fairy," Miss Hardcastle, tortured and ultimately escapes. She returns immediately to St. Anne's. 

Like the Director, Mark's overlords desire his wife to be part of this new life. He immediately demurs saying this is not the world she would be comfortable in. "He would have found it impossible to conduct in her hearing any one of the hundred conversations which his life at Belbury involved. Her mere presence would have made all the laughter of the Inner Ring sound metallic, unreal; and what he now regarded as common prudence would seem to her, and through her to himself, mere flattery, back-biting and toad-eating. Jane in the middle of Belbury would turn the whole of Belbury into a vast vulgarity, flashy and yet furtive." (p. 168) Seeing N.I.C.E. through the eyes of his wife is uncomfortably illuminating. His faux pas is quickly seen for the disaster it is when Withers turns very cold and angry towards him. In order to fully ingratiate Mark and therefore the possibility of his wife, his colleague, Filostrato, who dreams of a perfectly sanitized world, takes Mark to meet "the head." Literally it is the disembodied, human head of a convicted felon, Alcasan. He is hooked up to life-mimicking devices and consulted for his wisdom from beyond. Mark is duly horrified, and realizes his error in not immediately offering to bring Jane. He now understands the danger he is in. While he is feeling less and less connected to his surroundings, Jane is settling in comfortably with the group at St. Anne's, meeting each inhabitant, including Mr. Bultitude, a bear.

The narrator takes this opportunity to comment on Mark, "It must be remembered that in Mark's mind hardly one rag of noble thought, either Christian or Pagan, had a secure lodging. His education had been neither scientific nor classical -- merely 'Modern.' The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him. He was a man of straw, a glib examinee in subjects that require no exact knowledge and the first hint of a real threat to his bodily life knocked him sprawling." (p. 182) 

Mark desires to see Jane, but is not allowed to leave the premises. The danger he is in is more than apparent and he realizes he must escape. Jane has also been taken into the confidence of the Director. He describes a world of the supernatural involving angelic beings called eldils who exist in both good and bad forms. He talks of life on other planets and a Master he answers to. He also fills her in on the plan both he and N.I.C.E. have of digging up and restoring to life the ancient magician Merlin at the construction site of Edgestow. They are in a race to see who discovers him first and is able to convert him to the cause. 

Mark finally manages to escape and returns to Edgestow. As he comes to terms with the horrors that he helped create, he runs into a fellow scholar, one he knows opposes N.I.C.E. Talking to him reveals just how low he has sunk. He is able to see himself through the disappointed eyes of the man and rushes out, turning to alcohol, his most trusted companion. Eventually, he is caught and arrested for the murder of Highet. N.I.C.E. has manufactured evidence and he is sure to hang for the murder. Meanwhile, both sides are out at the Wood searching for Merlin. Jane's team thinks they see him, but discover it is only a vagrant.

While Mark languishes in jail, he is visited by Frost, the man haunting the dreams of his wife. Unlike Withers, Frost is crystal clear in his pronouncements. And they do not bode well for Mark. He tells of the Macrobes, heavenly beings directing humanity and history itself. He paints a picture of a world in which the Macrobes and the particularly enlightened humans will rule together. Of course Mark can choose to be part of this next phase of history or he can be destroyed. After Frost leaves, Mark has an experience in which he comes face to face with Truth. Realizing his own utter helplessness, despite his well-condition response that he was master of his own fate, he resigns himself to doing all he can to join Jane and do what he intrinsically knows to be right. However, Belbury is suddenly interrupted with the news that Merlin has been found. 

Back in St. Anne's an intimidating stranger shows up and makes his presence known in the house. The Director is finally able to convince the stranger, that he, the Director, also known as Ransom, is the Pendragon. At this news, the real Merlin falls to his knees. They join forces knowing the enemy has made a fatal mistake. He has bridged the heavenly gap that separates the truly evil eldils from man and has brought deep heaven down on his head. 

Mark is given the job of watching over the imposter "Merlin" and discovers him to be just a vagrant. But he keeps the secret and this bit of rebellion allows him to resist the brain-washing conditioning Frost is subjecting him to. Jane is beginning to understand the religious aspect to all she is experiencing and is able to let down her materialistic defenses and give herself up to it. 

The 'gods" (angels) come to visit the house at St. Anne's, giving Merlin great power. Merlin responds to an ad asking for an interpreter to work for N.I.C.E. Apparently they believe "Merlin" speaks an unknown ancient tongue. While there, Merlin is given a tour with Withers as his guide. The supreme figurehead, Jules, arrives and a feast is thrown to honor his presence. But soon, the dining hall is thrown into deadly chaos. Merlin's presence has unleashed destruction and the evil handlers are all too willing to destroy their own creation. When Wither realizes that the gap has been breached, his subjectivistic mentality leaves him unable to respond. "It is incredible how little this knowledge moved him. It could not, because he had long ceased to believe in knowledge itself. What had been in his far-off youth a merely aesthetic repugnance to realities that were crude or vulgar, had deepened and darkened, year after year, into a fixed refusal of everything that was in any degree other than himself. He had passed from Hegel into Hume, thence through pragmatism, and thence through Logical Positivism, and out at last into the complete void. The indicative mood now corresponded to no thought that his mind could entertain. He had willed with  his whole heart that there should be no reality and no truth, and now even the imminence of his own ruin could not wake him." (p. 350) The "head," now revealed to be nothing more than a conduit to the evil supernatural world, leads those who turn to him for respite to gruesome murder as Withers is compelled to kill and in turn be killed himself. Even Frost is so removed from objectivity reality that he willingly kills himself, unable to see why he should not. Feverstone flees to Edgestow, only to be swallowed up by the convulsing earth set about to destroy the entire place.

At the house in St. Anne's the women prepare for a banquet of their own. Mark has escaped and is staying at a nearby inn, thinking about who he is, what he has become, and what an amazing woman he married. After dinner, Ransom tells those gathered that it is time for him to go. He has done what he came to do. Jane learns the story of the Pendragons going back to King Arthur. Britain has always had competing forces of good and evil and in each generation a Pendragon has been given the job of preserving the good. When they lament the wholesale destruction of Edgestow, one of their own puts it into perspective, "Was there a single doctrine practiced at Belbury which hadn't been preached by some lecturer at Edgestow? Of, of course, they never thought any one would act on their theories! No one was more astonished than they when what they'd been talking of for years suddenly took on reality. But it was their own child coming back to them: grown up and unrecognizable, but their own." (p. 269) 

Into these musings, Mark approaches determined to free Jane of a man such as himself. But the Director has other plans. He arranges for them to meet in a romantic hideaway on the property at St. Anne's. While Mark reflects upon his unworthiness, Jane walks towards the cabin with fresh thoughts of sacrifice, children, pain and death. She recognizes the suffering Mark has endured. She feels hope for a new beginning... and walks in.

I really liked this book. It might have been a bit helpful to have read the first two in this trilogy, but it was not really necessary. I should probably read it again and reflect on all that Lewis is trying to convey. I can see his connection to The Abolition of Man in the thinking of those of N.I.C.E. They have taken the subjectivism he warns of to its logical extreme. They eschew all ability to actually know anything and live in a world of upside-down confusion. All they are sure of is that it is they who must rule. For what purpose and to what end is unknown. All has devolved into a raw grab for power. This is what Lewis predicted when he said our desire to make our own truth simply becomes an attempt to exercise power over others. While the story is far-fetched and involves extra-terrestrial beings, the possibility of intellectuals taking their theories to heart remains viable. 


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Forgotten Heroes of American Education edited by J. Wesley Null and Diane Ravitch

After reading left Back by Diane Ravitch, I was interested in Forgotten Heroes of American Education edited by J. Wesley Null and Diane Ravitch Because it had her name on it. However this is a completely different animal. It is not written by her, nor even primarily edited by her. Rather it's a collection of essays put together by J. Wesley Null of educational reform critics. She helped out a bit in the editing when she found out he was including one of her favorite critics, William Bagley. He was referenced to a small extent in her book Left Back, but this anthology gives him prime consideration. 

Since it is a collection of short essays, it is difficult to summarize. But I will try to boil them down to their central points. 

An opening essay by Ravitch proposes that nothing less than the foundation of education is at stake and this book is a necessary tool if we are to restore education to its primary function. She states, "The dominant philosophy that feeds the profession of teaching today is not the only option. There is an alternative. The time has arrived for a new vision. I want everyone who picks up this book to know that this volume — in no uncertain terms — supplies the best and most reliable foundation for this new vision." (xix ) After reading most of the book, (more on that later) I'm not sure it will accomplish what it attempts to accomplish. It's a bit esoteric and although its insights still prove true, it is devoid of much of the context necessary to truly absorb the principles. 

That being said, the authors referenced definitely have much to teach us. Ravitch worries that readers will recoil at the title "Hero" being given to these authors. Yet she makes a startlingly insightful point. "We love in a time that rejects the idea of heroes. Without heroes, however, we never get heroism. Without heroes, we never get ideals and virtues. And without heroism and ideals, our nation will not prosper socially, culturally, politically, morally, or economically...Without heroes, we cannot get better at what we do." (xxvi -xxvii ) Our culture is in the business of destroying heroes. We hold them to the impossible standard of "Perfect" and lament as icon after icon is found to have feet of clay. We are telling our children that no one upholds our values perfectly and therefore it is not even worth the try. What kind of a message is that! For this insight alone, the book was worth it!

Half of the book focuses on the writings of William C. Bagley. Null describes him as a hero who, "time and again, in the course of a long career as a teacher of teachers, ... Stood up and debated those whose ideas were harmful to American education. He was a staunch defender of high academic standards, discipline in the classroom, clear thinking, and common-sense approaches to education children." (1)

Craftsmanship in Teaching (1908) details Bagely's vision of the teacher as a craftsman who is always working to improve his craft. He takes the vow of devotion to his artistry, fidelity to his calling, acceptance of poverty and a life of service, as well as a commitment to idealism. Despite the difficulties, Bagley has no room for the cynic in the teaching profession. Teachers must treat their craft as if it is the most important thing in the world and convey this attitude to their students. One important insight Bagley gives concerns the desire of teachers to have their students like them. To this, Bagley replies, "Let me say that this is beside the question. It is not, from his standpoint, a matter of the pupils liking their teacher, but of the teacher liking his pupils. That, I take it, must be constantly the point of view. If you ask the other question first, you will be tempted to gain your end by means that are almost certain to prove fatal, — to bribe and pet and cajole and flatter, to resort to the dangerous expedient of playing to the gallery; but the liking that you get in this way is not worth the price that you pay for it." (15) Wow. Here is where I want more! What does that look like?

Ideals versus Generalized Habits (1904) describes the still current idea that we should shoot for the results and eschew the hard work necessary to get there. Null states that over the generations, educators had believed that learning hard subjects like Latin taught the habits and skills of self-discipline, logical thinking, and good study habits. But modern research had "proved" that there is no transfer. That is learning Latin teaches a student Latin and that's it. However, Bagley makes the case that a hard-won habit, leads more easily to another habit, and eventually to the ideal for which we strive. So learning to work hard in one area, if not teaching the specific skills necessary for another, at least teaches the value and ideal of hard work. 

The School's Responsibility for Developing the Controls of Conduct (1907) Furthers this idea of developing habits. In order to create habits that transfer, schools must create a prejudice for those habits. "Far more fundamental than the technical facts are the prejudices in favor of dogged persistence, unflinching application, relentless industry, and a determination to conquer, whatever the cost." (32) Otherwise, we think we can rely on reason alone to get us to the habit of being good. But Bagley counters, "We are either good by habit or we go to the bad very quickly." (29) Habits take hard work to inculcate, however. 

Optimism in Teaching (1908) discusses the propensity to become discouraged in the profession of teaching, as the task of civilizing each new generation seems a daunting challenge. Yet there is a case to be made for optimism. It is given to today's teacher the opportunity to bring the principles of Western Civilization to the widest audience yet with the advent of universal education. We have the privilege and honor of passing on what has been bequeathed to us from Aristotle forward. 

The Ideal Teacher (1908) was a commencement speech that Bagley gave to newly graduated teachers. He defined the ideal teacher as someone who "would combine, in the right proportion, all of the good qualities of all of the good teachers that we have ever known or hear of. The ideal teacher is and always must be a creature, not of flesh and blood, but of imagination..." (50) he describes a teacher he ran across who was once a man of adventure, seeking his fortune across the West. Although he had little education, Bagley states, ""It were far better if we who were supposed to be competent to the task of education should sit reverently at the feet of this man, than that we should presume to instruct him For knowledge may come from books, and even youth may possess it, but wisdom comes only from experience, and this man had that wisdom in far greater measure than we of books and laboratories and classrooms could ever hope to have it. He had lived years while we were living days." (54) What a testament to the true mark of an ideal teacher, wisdom.

Education and Utility (1909) addresses the idea of a useful education. Bagley believes an education is useful to the extent it teacher the rewards of effort, problem-solving, and perspective. We fail students when we neglect to teach them the rewards of hard work. Of a particularly onerous task he had to accomplish when a boy, Bagley says, "That experience not only taught me the necessity for doing disagreeable tasks, -- for attacking them hopefully and cheerfully, -- but it also taught me that disagreeable tasks, it attached in the right way, and persisted in with patience, often become attractive in themselves." (62) Since life is a series of disagreeable tasks, it is of unlimited benefit to learn to persist.While we don't intentionally give students difficult tasks, we let them know that no progress is possible without it. Because of currents in the water of educational theory, he cautions, "Of so much I am certain, however, at the outset; if the pupil takes the attitude that we are there to interest and entertain him, we shall make a sorry fiasco of the whole matter..." (65) We need to systematically teach how to get hold of knowledge when needed, how to master it, how to apply it, and how to go further to discover previously unknown facts. 

The Scientific Spirit in Education (1910) is an essay in which Bagley still believes that modern science can be helpful to educational theory. Increasingly he began to see this as an error and relied on the social and moral aspects of educational theory instead. But at this time, he believed different educational theories should be subjected to the scientific method. Test them fairly and see which ones most accomplish the goals of education. He felt too many theories were just that and had no actual counterpart in the real world. In abandoning tradition wholesale, the new educational theorists were courting disaster. He thought a more scientific approach would eliminate prejudice either for the old or the new.

The Future Training of Teachers (1913) shows that even at this early date, teachers were not being trained in how to teach, a lament I make frequently. He regrets that rather than transmitting what we know about effective teaching from generation to generation, we continue to "relearn the lessons of the past through the same blind, stumbling process." (87) Plus he lamented that teacher are forced to pay for their own training and then offered low pay when they actually get a job. 

Some Handicaps to Education in a Democracy (1916) points out some of the obstacles the field of education faces in a democracy like America. Education is so decentralized and schizophrenic in its implementation in the name of local control, that it is very hard to see what actually works and then to scale that. He also laments the low opinion of teaching and teachers in the society and wishes the culture would begin to appreciate the hard work required to pass on civilization to the next generation and treat the profession accordingly. At the same time, he recognizes a dangerous progressive strain in educational theory. Perhaps this is part of the cause of the situation he laments. People want quick cure-alls and educational charlatans are ready and willing to provide them. Bagley preaches the unpopular message of hard work, "Real freedom, the only kind of freedom that does not sink one in hopeless individualism, is not the kind that comes as a gift, but the kind that comes as a conquest --  the freedom that has been bought at the price of sacrifice and effort. And real freedom must be won anew by each generation and by each individual. There is nothing more heavily fraught with peril than the notion that this payment can be escaped or that the spiritual capital that the past has accumulated can support the spiritual life of the present and the future. We must in truth stand upon the shoulders of those who have gone before; but we must stand, not recline; and standing, we too must pay the price.." (99)

The Distinction Between Academic and Professional Subjects (1918) looks at the ways that the professionalization of teachers led to an unhealthy focus on research and intellectualism rather than the mundane tasks of teaching teachers and moral philosophy. He calls for a program or specific subject matter classes taught in the way the teacher would be expected to teach. In addition, the teacher candidate should have knowledge of students gained from actual interaction with real pupils in training schools. These laboratory schools would provide role model teachers for the teaching candidates to emulate. Imagine! Teaching teachers in a systematic way. 

Education and Our Democracy (1918) continues themes addressed earlier including the lack of a national idea of what education is trying to accomplish, how to accomplish that, and how to teach teachers to teach. 

The Status of the Classroom Teacher (1918) in Bagley's opinion is that teaching as a profession is not held to be a "real job." Therefore people don't need to spend years preparing for it or be able to make a living doing it. Bagley muses that maybe the federal government should get involved. 

The Nation's Debt to Normal Schools (1921) give credit to the schools in the trenches of teaching teachers to teach. He states, "If the schooling of your children has been more humanely governed, more intelligently directed, more mindful of children's needs and children's capacities than was your own schooling, you have the American normal school to thank in large part for the fact." (128) He is happy to see the normal schools extending their mission to teaching high school teachers and providing a bridge between the older normal schools that catered to grammar school and the university.

*Projects and Purposes in Teaching and in Learning (1921) addresses the latest in educational theory, Project-Based Learning. Although this seems the latest and greatest today, Bagley claims this has been going on for at least a generation. He sees it as a dangerous phenomena because of some of the assumptions it makes. First, it makes too much of a blurring between the lines between disciplines. This is one of those things that needs moderation. All learning is connected, but at the same time, there are distinctive disciplines that need to be taught systematically and coherently. It also assumes that PBL leads to better retention and transfer of skills to other areas. Bagley worries that PBL destroys the idea of knowledge for knowledge sake. Everything must be made practical. Ironically, he finds PBL to be impractical and leads to the abdication of adult authority in the learning process. The point of an education is not to solve problems, exclusively, but rather, "it furnishes foundation, backgrounds, perspectives, points of view, attitudes, tastes, and a host of other things that determine conduct in a very real fashion... Only a small fraction of it is made up of items of skill and items of information which one deliberately uses in solving what most people call problems." (137)

Preparing Teachers for the Urban Service (1922) offers two basic beliefs Bagley has for training teachers. "I believe that the prime function of education is to conserve and extend upon as nearly a universal scale as possible what is best thought of as the spiritual heritage of mankind -- the skills, the traditions, the ideas, the ideals, and the standards of conduct that have been wrought out of the experience of the race." The teacher must love the heritage he has been bequeathed, and also understand the difficulty in passing that on to a pupil. (142) In addition, he believes that teaching should be compared to the production of fine art rather than a mechanistic skill. 

The Army Tests and the Pro-Nordic Propaganda (1924) refutes a book that had just come out by Carl C. Brigham. In it, Brigham proposes that the new IQ tests done by the army were legitimate tests of intelligence, that different scores meant there were different native intelligence levels, and that the Nordic race had the highest intelligence. Bagley counters this with his own beliefs. He holds that the IQ tests are actually measures of the quality of an education the student received. Between the races, he sees a lot of overlap in intelligence scores and shows a closer correlation to the quality of schools rather than race. Additionally, he believes it is impossible to determine the intelligence level of a race and once again points to the quality of the school systems in different areas of the country. 

What is Professionalized Subject-Matter? (1928) continues to address one of Bagley's chief concerns, how to teach teachers. I love this particular essay because he lays out a practical solution. Teacher should be taught how to teach in subject matter classes. In other words, their history classes should be teaching them history in the way they should teach history to their students. I love this. It models the behavior. But what is going on instead in subject matter classes is that the professors think that the budding teachers will be taught how to teach in some other class. Bagley calls this thinking, "George, in the ed school, will do it." These "George" classes, however, never happen. And teachers are not getting the training they need. He disdains the idea of a "general method" to teaching and firmly believes that the best methodologies are subject specific. "Techniques which are merely 'fastened on' to subject-matter instead of growing out of the very nature and function of subject-matter have not helped us much in the past nor will they help us much in the future."(165)

The Teacher's Contribution to Modern Progress (1929) points out the necessity to educate the masses. In fact, Bagley warns that uneducated masses are fertile ground for totalitarians. For most of human history, education was available only to the elites. Bagley praises universal education and the teachers who work day in and day out in the trenches educating the whole population. "What is seems to guarantee is a reasonable measure of social order, a reasonable measure of patience in discussion and deliberation, a reasonable measure of adaptability to changes that are either desired or inevitable... the education of the masses can ensure the continuance of order and of orderly institutions even if leadership is not forthcoming. And this seems to be a fairly significant service. What the future needs is a self-perpetuating, self-governing, self-controlled democracy, and it is a folly to dream that this can be achieved without paying the price." (186) 

Teaching as a Fine Art (1930) states that since teaching deals with the subtleties and nuances of the human mind, it is the hardest of all the sciences. In fact, Bagley recognizes that we may never fully comprehend how and why students learn. Therefore, we should treat teaching as an art form, constantly to be worked at and perfected. 

The Upward Expansion of Mass Education (1930) explains Bagley's concern that although he praises universal education, it has unfortunately led to a dumbing down of curriculum. And as Progressives have become ever more involved, education has gotten worse. Rather than simply making a great education available to all who would avail themselves of it, the educational establishment worked to make it "attractive, pleasant, and profitable to all." (194) Because high school and college are not mandatory, it became a numbers game. He points to five dispiriting developments:
1. elimination of comprehensive exams
2. elimination of promotional requirements
3. abandonment of coherent curriculum
4. lowering of standards to reflect averages
5. dependence on a charismatic teacher to insure order and industry, rather than achievement for its own sake, pride in good workmanship, and respect for law and order.

What Does the Dominant American Theory of Education Imply for the Redirection of the Professional Education of Teachers? (1933) delineates Bagley's worries that at Progressives are taking over education and Project-Based Learning is becoming more prevalent, the question becomes, how do we teach teachers? At this time, we are abandoning subject matter, so why should teachers learn subject matter? Teaching has become a muddle to Bagley and he worries that Ed schools will not know what to do.

The Ideal Preparation of a Teacher of Secondary Mathematics from the Point of View of an Educationist (1933) describes the ways in which a teacher should become very proficient in his own subject as well as another, related field. But should, at the same time, work to have a well-rounded education so he can see how all knowledge fits together. "In short, instead of multiplying what we are calling integrated courses crossing many subject-matter lines, I should prefer to safeguard the essential unity within the field but to have teh teacher so well equipped that he can point out to the learner teh relationships between his field and the fields of his colleagues. This will effect the end that the integrationists have in mind, I believe, and at the same time prevent the catastrophe that befalls the learner when the fusion courses become confusion courses." (213)

*Modern Educational Theories and Practical Considerations (1933) continues Bagley's attacks on Progressive education. Although he advocates for some limited amount of freedom for the students to pursue their interests, he fears that Progressives have taken this idea too far and all learning is devolving to what they call "activity programs," or in today's parlance Project-Based Learning. He calls this "an educational theory which encourages the belief that there is no difference between the work attitude and the play attitude [which] not only flies in the face of the plainest facts of experience, it is also charged with social dynamite." (219) Interestingly, in tracking what made teachers most successful, the single most important characteristic was the study of Latin in high school. Although he was not a Classist, this finding caused him to look into what made classical education so successful. He discovered, "In all history, perhaps, no body of educational practices has so well integrated the rights of the individual with the welfare and progress of society. It was a balanced, high-minded education, consciously designed to produce men who would be worthy of the name, "free," and competent to the serious duties of responsible citizenship in a social order in which collective action was determined by the collective will of the free citizens." (221) From this system, we got a Golden Age unparalleled in human history. 
However, Bagley fears that the Progressives are working against all that. "The tenets of the [Progressive] theory imply that freedom is a gift. In the history of the race, true freedom — whether freedom from personal thralldom or freedom from fear, fraud, want, superstition and error — true freedom has never been a gift but always a conquest. In one way or another each generation must make this conquest for itself if it would truly free." (223) He points to the work of another critic, Dr. Kandel, who has pointed out that the biggest advocates of an individualized education, where the students decide their own curriculum based simply on utility, now lament the destruction of society at the height of the Great Depression, which they blame on too much focus the individuals place on themselves. "Today the Progressives are shocked to look out on American society well-nigh wrecked on the rocks of individualism. But do they look back on their own teaching over the past two decades!" (223) It's absolutely amazing to see that Bagley called what today we call the latest in educational theory over 80 years ago!

Are Essentialists the True Progressives (1938) addresses the centuries-old battle between Progressive education and Essentialism. Null defines the Essentialists as those who "argued in favor of teachers teaching an organized curriculum to all students, the necessity for a reasonable degree of system in the organization of curriculum, sound teacher education, and teh desirability for teachers to teach a body of core democratic principles to each generation of young Americans." (235) Bagley believes that since it is Essentialist who are able to produce results which satisfy the criterion that would allow students to "live consistently as far as is humanly possible with the ideals of clear thinking, including an unwillingness to be swayed by prejudices or by the temptations to ignore facts that do not happen to fit one's preconceived theories" (243) they are then the true Progressives. 

Latin from an Educationist's Point of View (1941) decries the movement to rid the schools of Latin based on bad science and bad ideology. Therefore, he begs the Classicists to make their case. Bagley was not a Classicist, but over the course of his lifetime, he came to regret this deficiency. He states, "It has been a severe handicap to me throughout my professional life. Indeed, a keen awareness of this deficiency long since convinced me that the attitude toward the classics of many of my fellow-workers in the professional study of education was shortsighted and, in some of its consequences, little less than tragic." (259) While opposition to teaching Latin has its roots in the Seventeenth Century, the advent of universal education meant that standards had to be relaxed. Latin was an easy target. While acknowledging that not everyone has the mental acuity to master Latin, he believes the studies that show "that those who study Latin to the point of reasonable mastery acquire a mental equipment that gives them a distinct advantage over those who miss this discipline." (262) Bagley laments that his fellow educators disregard this fact because it does not jive with their preconceived notions.

Null then moves onto other Progressive Education critics. At this point the essays became a little too dense for me, and without the context hard to process. However, some stood out. I summarize a few of those here.

Isaac Kandal is the first critic Null turns to after Bagley.

Is the New Education Progressive? (1936) discusses an idea that is all the rage today, child-centered education, but was already well in place in 1936. Kandal faults the Progressives and their educational agenda for failing to actually train up the students. It is chaotic with no end goal in sight. Kandal believes that only a traditional teacher with a teacher-led classroom can instill the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for true progress.

Prejudice The Garden Toward Roses? (1936) continues the attack on progressive education. It sounds great, but like so many ideas that sound great, they often fail in practice. Even Dewey was starting to sound the alarm, but his theories had gotten away from him and he was too late. Kandal believes the attacks on traditionalism as boring and ineffective were straw men arguments and didn't reflect the reality of what had been going on in the classroom. But Kandal wasn't a purist. He believed in Essentialist philosophy with some progressive methodology that actually worked.

*Address at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University (1940) is an excellent essay decrying the loss of faith and therefore the loss of a connection to each other and the Golden Rule. This prescient speech points to the connection between this loss and Nazism as well as other notorious -ism's. 

The Fantasia of Current Education (1941) takes on progressive education for always the the new even when it makes no sense. They are enthralled by novelty.

The Cult of Uncertainty (1943) attacks progressive education for its obvious failures and has led to the lack of Americans to self-govern.

Character Formation: A Historical Perspective (1959) shows that while the focus and methods have varied over time, education was always assumed to inculcate the moral values necessary for the continuation of civilization. 

Null has also included writings from Chalres DeGarmo, David Felmley, William Torrey Harris, Charles Alexander McMurry, William Ruediger, Edward Austin Sheldon, as well as a few essays from the progressive giant John Dewey, himself. Because the focus is criticism of progressive education, these can become a bit repetitive. That's why I didn't summarize them all. I found Kandal even more enlightening and easy to follow than Bagley. But overall, I really enjoyed reading some excellent intellectuals and their prescient commentary that is so relevant today. 

*Particular favorite essay

Monday, April 17, 2017

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation by Alen C. Guelzo

I received the book Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation by Allen C. Guelzo at a Hillsdale function for educators. The purpose was to teach how to teach the Civil War. The book has sat on my shelf for about a year while I worked through other books. It's too bad it took me so long. It is a wonderful and engrossing read. It's a history book the way history books should be. It carries you along in a narrative that feels like it's unfolding in real time. You feel the tension and the backdrop under which Lincoln struggled to free the slaves. 

Of his research, Guelzo states, "The most salient feature to emerge from the sixteen months between [Lincoln's] inauguration and the first presentation of the Proclamation to his cabinet on July 22, 1862, is the consistency with which Lincoln's face was set toward the goal of emancipation from the day he first took the presidential oath." (p. 4) He further states, "I believe that Abraham Lincoln understood from the first that his administration was the beginning of the end of slavery and that he would not leave office without some form of legislative emancipation policy in place." (p. 6) Today, Lincoln is often derided for not doing enough, but Guelzo shows that not only did Lincoln do all he could, he was able to navigate a minefield better than anyone else of his day to push the country towards true equality. Most of all, Lincoln understood the danger posed by anything other than a legislative solution. He had seen the damage the judiciary could do in Dred Scott. This acknowledgement of the danger any proclamation would face on myriad fronts explains the legal language, so widely criticized. It may not have been flowery or lyrical, but it accomplished a significant change in America.

Guelzo has organized his book into five broad chapters. The first is called "Four Ways to Freedom," and details the efforts after the Civil War began but preceding the Proclamation to free slaves. The election of Abraham Lincoln started the whispers of freedom among the slaves. Lincoln believed this as well, but unlike the Abolitionists, he preferred a gradual, orderly emancipation that would pass Constitutional muster. However, a war would come first. Once Union troops began to show up in the South, slaves made their way to the encampments, believing that if they could just get there, they would be free. This presented a logistical problem of what to do with them. In addition, General Fremont was in Missouri declaring all the slave free under Martial Law. This was a mess Constitutionally and a PR disaster with the border states. Legally the Fugitive Slave Act was still in force. A case could be made that the slaves were war materiel, but only if it could be proved that their ownership furthered the Confederacy's efforts. This was hard to determine and hard to enforce. Generals, making decisions in the field, often led to contradictory and unconstitutional outcomes. While the Confiscation Act was passed by Congress to try to clear up the ad hoc methodology, nothing was permanent and the future of the freed slaves was wholly unknown. Whether they were considered contraband, confiscated from Confederate forces, or declared free through Martial Law, this was not the way to free the slaves.

Lincoln, while appearing maddeningly indifferent to the efforts of those in the field to free slaves, had a plan he felt could pass constitutionally and would forever guarantee the slaves' freedom. He wanted the federal government to buy the slaves, emancipate them, and then work with states to legally outlaw slavery in their respective state. He had a plan for gradual emancipation that would allow for time to transition the slaves into the role of freemen. In addition, he favored colonization for the freed slaves in either Africa, the West Indies, or South America. He believed there was far too much water under the bridge for blacks and whites to ever live together peacefully. Although his plan would be very expensive, he thought he could appeal to the border states, and eventually the South with compensation. It would, after all, cost less than a war, and be far less damaging to the country.

Lincoln thought Delaware would be the place to start with his plan. He surreptitiously introduced his idea to some Delaware legislators. He was disheartened to find little support. Even from blacks themselves. It seemed that abolition had come to mean that whites would be free of the problem of slavery, and they did not much care what would happen to the freed slaves. The slaves were not interested in colonization or in any plan orchestrated by whites, ostensibly for their own good. They wanted to be involved in determining their destiny. Whites worried that once the slaves were free, they would come to live and work among them, and racist attitudes could not stomach that. Ironically, they preferred to send their sons and husbands to war, fighting for abstract ideals, to actually emancipating slaves and having to deal with a post-emancipation society. As is so common to humans, we fight for something because it makes us feel good, but the actual consequences of success are neglected and ignored. Abraham Lincoln's plan forced Northern whites to face the consequences of their feel-good ideas, and they didn't like them. Meanwhile, McClellan's intransigence in fighting the war and his veiled threats of a military coup, led a discouraged Lincoln to conclude that gradual, compensated emancipation and colonization was not going to happen. 

Finally, Lincoln came to the conclusion, that in order to save the Union, he would have to put forth an Emancipation Proclamation that would forever free the slaves in the rebellious states. This, he believed, would shift the focus of the war and clarify the position of slavery henceforth. When he presented it to his cabinet, he brooked no argument except as to his wording. He knew a hostile Supreme Court would do all in its power to nullify it. But he believed he had the power under the not-as-yet-defined war powers, and he intended to use it. Additionally, he did not believe it could be called unconstitutional because, definitionally the southern states had excluded themselves from the protections of the Constitution when they seceded. After taking a few suggestions from a stunned cabinet, he was presented with the option to wait for a military victory before issuing it. The thought was that if he put forth the Proclamation when the war was going badly, it would look like a desperate move and lead to discouragement. By waiting for a victory, he could ride that momentum. But a victory with McClellan would take a miracle. Not a particularly religious man for most of his life, Abraham Lincoln was beginning to see the need for God in his life. Yet he would serve Him in his own way. In fact, when a group of ministers met with him, saying that God wanted him to declare emancipation, Lincoln rashly replied that God should speak directly to him if that was the case. It didn't take long before that happened. In a field, some Union soldiers came across Lee's war plans wrapped around cigars. Even McClellan could not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with such divine backing. After the win, and of course McClellan did not pursue Lee to finish it off, Lincoln had his divine sign that the time was right. In September, after telling his cabinet that he discerned the hand of God in the timing, he issued the Proclamation, designed to go into effect on January 1. He gave the rebellious states four months to stand down. 

Abraham kept the country guessing right up until the moment the Emancipation Proclamation was officially issued whether or not he would actually do it. When he put it into action on January 1 as he promised, the country reacted in celebrations and denunciations. His friends and allies split. Some called it unconstitutional, while others rushed to his defense. Even these however, rested their case on shaky ground. While he justified the act under his war powers, granted by the Constitution, he felt compelled to add an handwritten note at the end to further explicate his rationality. He had worded the declaration very carefully, trying to escape a legal challenge. However, he added, "Upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgement of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God." (p. 203) Lincoln knew he had to shore up the proclamation with his plan for gradual, compensated emancipation. Even his supporters were aware of the extent to which he had stretched the war powers. He also took this opportunity to fire General McClellan. All of this before the upcoming 1864 elections. He played his whole hand and relied on the country to support him and return him to office. 

The expected race wars that were assumed did not happen. Rather, the North won the war, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were passed, and Reconstruction began. Unfortunately, the South devolved into Jim Crow. For the 50th anniversary, the Emancipation Proclamation was celebrated, but by the 100th anniversary, the document began to be derided. It was clear by this time that the promise had not fully materialized. That would take a bit more time. 

Abraham Lincoln deserves his vaunted place in history for being a true statesman capable of navigating unimaginably difficult waters. He balanced so many competing positions and I believe he perfectly threaded the needle. Although what followed was not something to necessarily take pride in, I think that had he lived, we would have seen a far different outcome. While he was disappointed with Abraham Lincoln's commitment to abolition in many ways, Frederick Douglass summed it up well. "Measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined... [Lincoln] is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever." (p. 283)