Saturday, May 20, 2017
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.
*Particular favorite essay
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.
Monday, April 17, 2017
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)
Sunday, April 16, 2017
I learned of this book because it is written by a member of Hillsdale faculty, and I have read books written by him before. This short book, The Myth of the Robber Barons by Burton W. Folsom, Jr. is a quick easy read. Although he has done tremendous research, he uses that information in a story-telling manner that makes it easily digestible.
The book is seven chapters, the first six deal with individual personalities and the last is a conclusion. Each of the men described enjoy a reputation for fabulous wealth somewhat tainted by an unearned reputation for unscrupulous dealings.
Folsom begins by differentiating between "market entrepreneurs" and "political entrepreneurs." The former eschews government handouts and works under free market conditions. The latter needs government intervention in order to survive. He starts with Vanderbilt and his contributions to the steamship industry. While Robert Fulton was the first to build and begin a steamship company, he operated under a government-granted monopoly. Another operator hired young Cornelius Vanderbilt to try to break into that market. He ran illegal ferries until the Supreme Court finally struck down the monopoly as unconstitutional. In a free market, Vanderbilt undercut all his competition, drastically lowing rates. Eventually he took on the cross-Atlantic, subsidized mail carriers, where he had competition on both sides of the pond. He found creative ways to cut expenses, including sailing such well-built ships that he did not feel the need to buy insurance. Eventually, the government-subsidized companies could not compete. Their mismanagement was revealed and they went bankrupt. Folsom states, "In the steamship industry, political entrepreneurship often led to price-fixing, technological stagnation, and the bribing of competitors and politicians. The market entrepreneurs were the innovators and rate-cutters." (p. 15) Federal aid appeared to be a curse.
He then moves onto the railroad industry. All schoolchildren learn about the glorious Transcontinental Railroad built by the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific. What they do not learn is that it was a government-financed boondoggle. In fact, Folsom tells the story of James J. Hill who built another transcontinental railroad completely free of government money, that operated both efficiently and profitably. Instead of rushing and acting inefficiently in order to get the job done quickly and maximize government funding, Hill took his time, carefully studied the path of the tracks and used high-quality materials. Therefore his train ran a shorter distance with greater dependability for less money. Folsom calls the Union Pacific's eventual bankruptcy all but foreordained. "The aid bred inefficiency; the inefficiency created consumer wrath; the consumer wrath led to government regulation; and the regulation closed the UP's options and helped lead to bankruptcy." (p. 22) With his profits flowing in, Hill began buying up failed, subsidized railroads and making them profitable. Hill built slowly, developing the areas around his railroad in order to promote exports that he could ship. He even opened up trade to the Orient. Unfortunately he was caught in the morass of legislation and laws meant to protect the nation from unscrupulous, subsidized businesses. His very successful, self-built company was declared a monopoly and ordered disbanded.
Of course, the railroads could not function without a cheap supply of iron. This is where the Scrantons come in. Looking to produce iron, William Henry joined with his relatives, the Scrantons, and purchased land in northeast Pennsylvania. They faced fierce pushback from the local iron manufacturers and unforeseen poor land conditions. They quickly began to fail. Desperate, they tapped all their friends and family for funds to continue operations. They made the very risky decision to challenge the English and enter into the rail market. Undercutting the British, they got a contract almost impossible for them to fulfill, yet fulfill it they did. However, they knew that in order to continue to succeed, they would have to build up the local infrastructure to make it more amenable to transporting raw and finished materials. In the barren wilderness, they single-handedly developed the town of Scranton. The phenomenal growth of the town attracted other entrepreneurs like the five-and-dime Woolworth's stores. Interestingly, Folsom details the stories of the children of the original entrepreneurs. Some did well with the resources handed to them, but many did not. He makes the case that entrepreneurial spirit is not necessarily in the genes. Wealth does not always follow the families bequeathed it.
Although I know of him in the context of financial investing, apparently Charles Schwab made his fortune in the steel industry. To demonstrate his ingenuity, Folsom tells of a story of an under-performing steel mill. After asking what had been done to motivate the workers and hearing a recitation of various threats, coaxing, and pushing, Schwab asks how many "heats" had been produced that day. After hearing that six had, he simply took some chalk and wrote the number 6 on the floor. When he returned days later, he saw the 6 crossed out and replaced with a 7, and then a 10. He had, in his own unique way, motivated the men and instilled the spirit of competition.
Schwab worked for Andrew Carnegie. He worked tirelessly to make the factories more efficient and earned bonuses and promotions as a result. Unfortunately he did not imitate Carnegie's pension for clean living. Scandal eventually forced him to resign from U.S. Steel. While president of U.S. Steel, he had purchased Bethlehem Steel for his own portfolio. It was to this venture that he turned at his lowest point. This tiny company may have seemed like a radical demotion, but Schwab was determined to turn it around and make it competitive. Schwab even took on his old company and challenged the giant U.S. Steel. His attitude was, "If we are going to go bust, we will go bust big." (p. 73) He was eventually able to make a very profitable company out of Bethlehem Steel. But later in life, he ran out of steam. Once again ignoring the example of Carnegie, he went back to his profligate ways. The man who could single-handedly, through dint of his own hard work and motivational skills, make two companies very successful, died deeply in debt.
John D. Rockefeller rose to the ranks of the fabulously wealthy in the field of oil production. He came from very humble beginnings but showed entrepreneurial promise early on. He was fascinated with the burgeoning oil industry and the ability to produce kerosene from crude oil, but right away, he noticed the appalling waste and fluctuating prices due to overproduction. He and a partner opened an oil refinery and determined to produce the best kerosene at the lowest price, while finding profitable uses for the myriad byproducts, which others threw into the river. Eventually, he decided to take on the Russians, who had all the natural advantages. He beat them at their own game by being more efficient. Although he was shrewd in business, he was quiet man, who "displayed none of the tantrums of a Vanderbilt or a Hill, and none of the flamboyance of a Schwab." (p. 93) His humility impressed all who knew him. Rockefeller was a devoted Christian and family man, who always put God and family before career. He donated tremendous sums of money and still managed to wind up with $900 million.
The final biography Folsom turns to is that of Andrew Mellon. He was a Secretary of the Treasury of whom it was said that 4 Presidents served under. He had the revolutionary idea that too-high taxes would actually reduce revenue. He had made his money in the aluminum industry. His business skills brought him to the attention of President Harding. When asked to serve as Secretary of the Treasury, Mellon took a tremendous pay cut and accepted the challenge of turning around a post-war stagnant economy. Mellon believed that both the rich and the poor were being overtaxed. He saw first-hand that the wealthy were likely to shield their wealth in tax-exempt accounts rather than use it for investment in the economy. He despaired of this misallocation of resources. He advocated for the slashing of taxes, and true to his theories, revenues increased as more available money grew the economy.
Mellon's program had four components: 1. Cut taxes to 25%, the maximum he felt the wealthy would pay before they shielded their money. 2. Cut taxes on low incomes, especially the regressive excise taxes on products. 3. Reduce the federal estate tax in order to discourage the sheltering of wealth in tax-exempt foundations. 4. Introduce efficiency into the government, cutting staff and expenses. He faced stiff opposition from the Progressives who wanted more, not less, government spending and higher taxes on the rich. Mellon's plan worked exactly as he predicted. More tax revenue came from the rich, with lower tax rates, and the lower income people had relief as well. Unfortunately, Mellon's legacy has been repeatedly described as tax cuts for the rich at the expense of the poor. This is the moniker the Progressives had hung on him during his lifetime and it stuck. It's unfortunate because Mellon is someone we could all learn from.
Folsom concludes by stating that the lessons of history will not be learned if we fail to understand what actually happened. Time and again, we see government subsidies retarding a company, leading to waste, fraud, and abuse, and the entrepreneurs that eschewed government handouts succeeding through bare-knuckled efficiency, which always benefited the consumer. History likes to portray these market entrepreneurs as "Robber Barons." Of this history, Folsom points out, "We did have the industrialists, such as Jay Gould and Henry Villard, who mulcted government money, erected shoddy enterprises, and ran them into the ground. What is missing are the builders who took the risks, overcame strong foreign competition, and pushed American industries to places of world leadership." (p. 127) Folsom celebrates these men in a way the history books do not. The "market entrepreneurs made decisive and unique contributions to American economic development. The political entrepreneurs stifled productivity (through monopolies and pools), corrupted business and politics, and dulled America's competitive edge." (p. 132) It is unfortunate that they are all lumped together.
Monday, April 10, 2017
Ever since reading Amity Shlaes The Forgotten Man, which gave a few insights into Calvin Coolidge, I have been interested in this forgotten president. So when a book comes out about him, I'm interested. Judging by the title, Why Coolidge Matters by Charles C. Johnson, this book would seem to fit what I was looking for.
Johnson begins right away stating why he feels a book like this is important. "For too long, we have neglected our history. But delving into the details of the past can help us better connect the dots between the politics of today and the essential ideals of yesteryear. Seeing more clearly what we have lost may help us return to America's founding principles. A few among us remember the Coolidge presidency and -- notwithstanding the long assault on its record -- look to it for inspiration." (p. XXII) Yep. Johnson adds, "It is my contention that Coolidge is ignored (in some cases even hated) not because he was ineffective as an executive, but because he was spectacularly effective at helping the common man while defeating attempts to socialize America." (p. 4)
Calvin recognized that the best way to "spread the wealth" was a vibrant economy, spearheaded by successful businesses. Only by allowing people to the "right of a reward to thrift and industry" could inequality be addressed. (p. 8) Coolidge believed that rewards should go to those who contributed to an enterprise. In addition, Coolidge saw the threat to the American way of life poised by Socialism. With the Russian Revolution in the very near past, that America might embrace its tenets was a very real possibility. In an era of great upheaval, Coolidge eschewed a grand legislative program. "His skepticism about new laws was rooted in his conviction that the purpose of politics was not to achieve certain ends, but to defend rights and protect the public safety." (p. 16) He feared a too large government and the unintended consequences he felt were sure to happen when the government sought to control too much. The one area, however, that he wanted to government to work to do a better job was education. He knew that a well-educated citizenry was vital to the health of the Republic.
Coolidge gained national prominence when he put down a police strike in Massachusetts. He felt the police were neglecting their duty to the people. Their mob-like actions usurped the authority of a duly elected government. This he believed was the definition of tyranny.
Coolidge received a classical education. Therefore he learned the value of the whole soul. Work was necessary and uplifting, providing much needed dignity, but it could not be a person's total focus. People had rights and responsibilities to and within society. He believed that faith was necessary to a free people. He pointed to the Declaration of Independence as the perfect example of the faith needed by the American people. Without a belief in a Creator, the rights we enjoy are ephemeral at best. "Religion, classical education, and a love of country all strengthened Coolidge's resolve against the excesses of Progressivism, which, Coolidge feared, would become predatory if it were not checked. The Progressives' intention to minister to souls all to often resulted, he saw, in a byzantine, indifferent bureaucracy that mastered the people it aimed to serve." (p. 51)
Coolidge saw a real danger in the progress of science and the lack of a classical education to keep that progress from resulting in unmitigated horror. "When classical ideals have first priority, war might more easily be avoided. When they are ignored, men can become machine-like in their capacity for killing. In so arguing, Coolidge broke with the Progressives, who held that progress in modern science inevitably meant progress in political science and thus in overall quality of life. This argument of the Progressives undergirded their belief that man was perfectible, a notion that Coolidge rejected out of hand...'We have no right to expect as our portion something substantially different from human experience in the past. The constitution of the universe doesn't change. Human nature remains constant.' It follows from this assertion that the study of the classics, which speak to that human nature and have existed down throughout the ages, teach important lessons to mankind. For Coolidge, men come to the study of the classics because they 'realize that the only road to freedom lies through a knowledge of the truth.' "(p. 58)
One professor at Amherst, Charles Garman, made a tremendous impact on young Calvin. In a beautiful recollection of his time with him, Coolidge states, "His course was a demonstration of the existence of a personal God, of our power to know Him, of the Divine immanence, and of the complete dependence of all the universe on Him as the Creator and Father 'in whom we live and move and have our being.' Every reaction in the universe is a manifestation of His presence. Man was revealed as His son, and nature as the hem of his garment, while through a common Fatherhood we are all embraced in a common brotherhood... The conclusions which followed from this position were logical and inescapable. It sets man off in a separate kingdom from all the other creatures in the universe, and makes him a true son of God and a partaker of the Divine nature. This is the warrant for his freedom and the demonstration of his equality. It does not assume all are equal in degree but [that] all are equal in kind. On that precept rests a foundation for democracy that cannot be shaken." (p. 67)
This faith led him to revere the Founding Fathers, attributing a measure of their greatness to the Great Awakening. Coolidge had a great respect for the Founding documents and saw his job as one who would keep the flame. In order to do this, America had to keep its commitment to Christianity, since he saw religion and God as the source of our liberties. His training under Garman had convinced him of this vital link.
"America's moral mission in the world, Coolidge thought, would never be divorced from the font of her spiritual power, the Declaration. When this religious origin is seriously considered, it is only 'natural that the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence should open with a reference to Nature's God and should close in the final paragraphs with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world and an assertion of a firm reliance on Divine Providence.' It is only natural because man is, at base, a spiritual creature who wants to live in harmony with God's laws." (p. 103)
Coolidge feared that America was losing her moral bearings. "It was increasingly clear to Coolidge that America's colleges, founded on religious truths, had started to go awry. Progressivism, with its ceaseless indictments and diminution of fundamental principles, had been a phenomenon of the universities and was starting to have a corrosive effect on the nation's civic life." (p. 112) Coolidge did his best to check this pernicious tendency.
"President Coolidge's capacious understanding of the powers of teh presidency saved him from being a mere time-server when, on August 3, 1923, he ascended to the office upon the death of President Harding. Portrait painter Charles Hopkinson had asked Coolidge what his first thought was when he learned that Harding had died. 'I thought I could swing it,' he replied." (p. 113) Coolidge had a tremendous respect for the role of the President as the Founders had envisioned it. Some compared him to George Washington in his devotion to integrity and duty. A lifetime of sticking to his principles had prepared him to step into a role few ever attain.
He believed one of his first duties was to teach the American people what America was really about. He was a scholar of the Founders and after the Wilson presidency, Americans needed to be reminded of the role that government and the President were to play. Coolidge did not enter the presidency with a specific agenda. He believed the President's role was to execute laws crafted by the representatives of the people. He would not, however, shun the use of the veto pen to guide policy. He believed in the concept of a "unitary executive." He knew the bureaucracy threatened to encroach upon the presidential powers and he used every means at his disposal to ensure the bureaucrats acted according to his priorities.Coolidge constantly referred the people back to the Founders and the documents they read and produced. He believed that they had founded a system of balanced powers and that each branch should work effectively within their own sphere. He was determined that the Presidency, under his control, would protect its power, but not overstep its boundaries.
As a nation founded on the concept of natural rights, Coolidge believed that America had no place for prejudice, and rather, had a calling to preach her republican ideals to the world. Coolidge saw that a shared sacrifice and common identity would unite the diverse groups within America. At a time of virulent racism - the Klan was on the rise - Coolidge eschewed the racist philosophies of many presidents before him. In fact, he believed racist beliefs were hostile towards the Union.
"As racial enmity increased with the rise of the Klan, Coolidge highlighted 'the negro' -- his plight and his progress -- in every one of his Sate of the Union addresses. In 1923, he reminded Congress that blacks' right are 'just as sacred as those of any other citizen' and encouraged Congress to 'exercise all its powers of prevention and punishment against the hideous crime of lynching' and to 'formulate a better policy [of racial reconciliation] for mutual understanding and confidence.' " (p. 171)
When it came to other minority groups and those that did not enjoy the full rights of citizens, Coolidge worked hard to bring them into the American fold. He wanted Indians to be educated in the ways of Americans, he defended the Japanese against vicious attacks, he bragged about how many Catholics and Irish voted for him, and he declared his desire for women to have the right to vote. His overriding philosophy concerning immigrants and other minorities was their ability to understand and live up to American ideals. He worked as hard as he could within the political realities available to him to create more Americans. He worried that a too loose immigration policy would dilute those essential characteristics and sometimes he is faulted for his caution. However, for Coolidge, it was not race or gender that cared about, it was the American way of life. Any race, any gender that could promote those values was welcome as far as he was concerned.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Coolidge came to power at the height of Progressivism. As such, he was fighting a constant battle with them to preserve America's heritage. He and Harding had ascended right on the heels of Wilson's presidency, which sought to relegate America's founding documents to the dustbin as ancient relics. Coolidge had his work cut out for him. After the passage of the 17th Amendment and the direct election of Senators, he had to fight a Senate increasingly abusing its responsibility to sign off on treaties as an excuse to meddle in foreign affairs. While they approved the Kellogg-Briand Pact, outlawing war, Coolidge used his authority to build up the navy as a deterrent, knowing the pact was useless.
Johnson has great respect for Calvin Coolidge as President. He concludes with, "Coolidge was great because he was modest, moderate, and thoroughly republican in an immodest time... Disliking ambitious solutions to problems and opposed to complicated, unconstitutional machinery, he always reduced a problem to common sense. In doing so, he discharged his constitutional duties faithfully. If he was a dull figure in comparison with some presidents, it is because the events of his day did not demand the more obvious kind of greatness -- of which he was fully capable." (p. 233)
It is more than a bit ironic that Coolidge did not get to prove his greatness in a large way because he was able to keep America on an even keel and economically prosperous. The problems that confounded the nation after him, the stock market crash of 1929 and the following depression, would have undoubtedly given him the opportunity. However, I believe he would have navigated those crises so successfully that even then, he would have been denied his due. It's also ironic that the president who presided over and arguably lengthened Great Depression gets more credit than the man whose calm rationality and adherence to constitutionality earned him the moniker "Silent Cal." He was actually quite vociferous and has much to teach us today.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
On a recent visit to Oakdale Academy in Pontiac, Michigan, I had the pleasure of observing an Apologetics Class. The teacher very generously gave me a copy of the book they were reading and discussing in class - Tactics by Gregory Koukl. The part we read during class was fascinating, so it was easy for me to decide to finish the book.
This short, easy read was well worth the time. Apparently Gregory Koukl is the go-to apologist, having debated with the best. He has developed tactics to graciously and effectively introduce and defend Christian convictions. Conveniently for me, he has a detailed summary at the end of each chapter. Koukl's aim is to make us twenty-first century ambassadors for Christ. For this we need three skills, knowledge, wisdom, and character. The wisdom part is the main focus of the book.
Chapter 1 emphasizes diplomacy over all-out warfare. That is the central purpose of the book. He wants to give us tactics that we can use in order to be diplomatic rather than confrontational. While strategy is the big picture, tactics are the methods of accomplishing that strategy. However, we must not think of tactics as tricks or ploys to humiliate. Tactics are rather a way to "gain a footing, to maneuver, and to expose another person's bad thinking so you an guide him to truth." (p. 29)
Some might have reservations about this kind of thing, but Koukl addresses those. First, recognize that arguments are not fights. We should make arguments which advance clear thinking, but we do not need to fight which is not productive. While he recognizes that only God can change a heart, He can use our arguments to change thinking. Jesus and Paul did this all the time. This recognition lifts the burden from us to "convert" people. God does that. Our job is to look for those He is already working in. If we can just "put a stone in someone's shoe," we might cause them to question the beliefs that separate them from God.
The first tactic he introduces is called "The Columbo Tactic" after the famed T.V. Detective. "There are three basic ways to use Columbo. Each is launched by a different model question. These three applications comprise the game plan I use to tame the most belligerent critic. Sometimes I simply want to gather information. Other times, I ask a question to reverse the burden of proof, that is, to encourage the other person to give the reasons for her own views. Finally, I use the questions to lead the conversation in a specific direction." (p. 49) The beauty of this questioning plan is that you can use it immediately, even before you have time to think through the ramifications of the statement being made. It's easy to start with, "What do you mean by that, exactly?" The benefits of using questions include their use as conversation starters, their interactiveness, the neutrality they offer, the valuable time to think and listen, and the ability for you to control the direction of the conversation. Asking a person to clarify a statement often leads to a recognition that they haven't actually thought through what they do, in fact, mean.
The next question in the Columbo tactic is "Now how did you come to that conclusion?" (p. 61) This puts the burden of proof on the other person. Often we can get tripped up trying to disprove the other person, but often they can disprove themselves when they are unable to provide solid reasons. Remember to let them prove themselves right. It is not my job to prove them wrong. When they offer their explanations, ask yourself, "Is it possible? Is it plausible? Is it probable?" (p. 63) Often these questions will show you an obvious flaw in their thinking. Make sure they offer reasons, not just opinion or stories. This tactic relieves us of having to have all the information required to refute bad thinking. Instead, we are fact-finders. We are not proffering an argument, they are. Make them prove it.
After using questions to clarify and gather facts, we can use questions to further the conversation in a direction we'd like it to go. For example, when people question our beliefs about salvation or sin, a factual answer can come across as harsh and is certainly incomplete. We use questions to lead to the additional information we need to present. For example, we can ask, "Have you ever committed a moral wrong?" After acknowledging that we all have, we can turn the conversation to a discussion of why we all need Jesus. Another tactic involves using, "Have you considered...?" This one does require some knowledge of where we want to go and how we are going to get there.
Koukl offers three specific ways we can improve our Columbo tactic. First of all, debrief with yourself or someone who was with you as to what happened. Discuss what worked and what didn't. Second, don't let the tactic be used on you. If someone starts with the questions, simply turn it back on them and ask them to make their point as a statement, rather than lead you. Third, when someone asks a question for which they clearly do not want a real response, ask them to simply make their case as a statement or start with the Columbo question, "What do you mean by that?"
In the second section titled, "Finding the Flaws," Koulk discusses beliefs that self-destruct under a little scrutiny. Some of these he calls Suicide Views - they sow the seeds of their own destruction through self-contradiction. Usually, with a bit of work we can see that a statement says both "A is" and "A is not" within the same statement. For example, "God doesn't take sides." We can ask, "Is God on your side on that one?" Or "Truth cannot be known." Is that true? Both make a clear declaration with an implicit contradiction. The easy way to spot these is to ask if the claim applies to itself. Some of the Suicide views do not self-contradict, but are impossible to act on or promote. They defeat themselves by being impractical. For example one might say, "It is wrong to say people are wrong." But you cannot actually say this without contradicting your own statement. Or "It's wrong to impose your views on another." Isn't that imposing your view?
The next set of self-defeating views he refers to as Sibling Rivalry and Infanticide. Sibling Rivalry are two sets of beliefs, held simultaneously, that contradict. For example often people will believe that a good God would not send people to hell, while at the same time decrying His seeming lack of justice in allowing all the evil to exist in the world. You cannot simultaneously reject a punishing God and also reject Him because He doesn't punish. Infanticide is a belief that contradicts the parent belief that must exist for it to be true. The best example of this is people who do not believe in God because of the existence of evil. However, without a transcendent God to declare what is good and evil, evil cannot exist. Therefore this idea actually makes the case for God.
Next, he encourages us to "Take the Roof Off." This is basically a take on reductio ad absurdum that takes an argument to its logical conclusion. Often a "roof" has been constructed to shield the person from the results of their belief. The first step is to boil a statement down to its basic argument. Then, take a "mental test drive" to see where the principle leads if followed consistently. It may lead to absurd conclusions or obvious contradictions. Finally point this out to the person, asking, "Have you considered where this belief might lead?" He gives the example of Mother Theresa who opposed capital punishment on the grounds that Jesus would forgive. While it is true that Jesus forgives us as we approach Him in repentance, if Jesus forgave criminal liability, then we have no ability to punish anyone for anything. Would Mother Theresa subscribe to that?
Even with the best-laid plans and the most logical arguments, we will encounter those who will not hear what we are saying. Many have emotional reasons that keep them from recognizing the truth of our arguments. Also, we can encounter a "steamroller" which is a person who uses the force of his personality to overwhelm you. The solution for this is to politely ask him to make one point at a time and allow you time to respond. If shaming him into courtesy doesn't work, it's time to leave.
One tactic the other side uses is to trot out so-called experts to refute the claims of Christianity. Often these people may not have actual expertise in the area their opinion covers. Sometimes they are just wrong or they have let biases color their views. Like anyone else, we must not just take an opinion on face value as accurate, we must ask for reasons. "What an expert believes is not as important as why he believes it. Fancy credentials are not enough. What matters most are not the opinions, but the reasons." (p. 125). Sometimes assertions are made by regular people that sound like they are based on expert testimony. Yet often, the person making the claim cannot back it up with facts. This is what Koukl calls "Just the Facts," as we ask them for the facts that support the statement. While we can always use the Internet to see if the facts check out, often, we can apply the smell test. Does that idea even sound right? However, the best way to counter factual claims are to have our own specific, precise facts handy. This requires advance preparation.
That kind of advance preparation is advocated by Koukl in a chapter called "More Sweat, Less Blood." He recommends these eight quick tips:
1. Be ready. Look for opportunities.
2. Keep it simple. Have one point of focus and don't rabbit trail.
3. Avoid religious language. This can put people off and cause us to be misunderstood.
4. Focus on the truth of Christianity. Too often we go to the benefits
5. Give reasons. Provide support for your arguments.
6. Stay calm. If a discussion ends with shouting and anger, you lose.
7. If they want to go, let them leave. It's not longer productive at this point.
8. Don't let them leave empty-handed. Have a business card, website, book, or pamphlet ready to give to the person.
He encourages us to jump in and engage. Each conversation is a learning opportunity as well as a chance to put a stone in someone shoe. Give people something to think about. They may just do that!