When is school most pernicious?

When people talk about indoctrination in schools, they often mean college, but it’s clear to me that the key indoctrination has happened well before then.  Students arrive on campus as fully-formed Red Guard militants, and they police speech more zealously than the faculty, the latter living in fear of those they supposedly instruct.

When people talk about homeschooling, it is often in the context of grade school.  On the one hand, these are clearly the years when most adults know the material sufficiently well.  On the other hand, mastery of the material is not the main challenge to teaching.  Grade school students know less, are less self-motivated, have shorter attention spans; they are the most difficult to teach.  Grade school is also the optimal time to diagnose learning disabilities.  This is not an argument for public school, private school, or homeschooling, just an observation that the best choice for a given family in a given place will depend on which of the three can best handle these issues.

When does Leftist indoctrination primarily happen:  grade school, middle school (what was called “junior high” in my day), or high school?  On the one hand, you want to get them when they’re young, impressionable, and easy to control.  On the other hand, you have to teach at their level, so in grade school you can only give them your ideology at grade-level sophistication.  I’ve long thought the Church is at a huge disadvantage in that we only get to do religious education up till confirmation, meaning middle school.  Leftist indoctrination continues through graduate school, so it’s no wonder people come away with the idea that Christianity is intellectually a middle school-level belief system.  Also, which medium does most of the work:  school, entertainment, or family?  Someone really should research these issues.  My guess is that the sweet spot for ideological indoctrination is middle school to high school.  Identity formation, which is arguably more important, can happen much younger.  In this post, I focus on academics, which is presumably better at indoctrination than identity formation.

I hear high school students are protesting for gun control.  I have no opinion on gun control one way or the other, but I’m creeped out by the way Leftists mobilize adolescents.  At that age they should be students, not advocates; the two mindsets are inimical.  I believe high school is when this starts.  (Am I wrong?)  By college, they are certainly well trained.

Middle school and high school are also the least useful.  By this age, the decent to good students are self-motivated and would learn much faster on their own.  They would probably be better off being allowed to do so, engaging with the school only for final exams, band, and sports.  Mediocre students might perhaps benefit from occasionally visiting a tutor.  That leaves the bad students, who don’t want to learn and shouldn’t be forced to.

Not that I have a practical way to make it happen, but these would then be the ideal years to partially disengage from the school system.

My mental image of a Jewish writer, vindicated

During his early writing years in Chicago, Roth began each morning by shouting at the young face peering out from the mirror at him: “Attack! Attack!”

Isaac Newton: Arian heretic, millenarian kook, scandal to the modern mind

In another world, it might have been a scandal that the greatest genius in human history was a Christian heretic, but in our world the scandal is that he was a Christian heretic.  That Newton rejected the doctrine of the Trinity–not because he was Enlightened like 18th century Deists but because of his own interpretation of scripture and the Ante-Nicene Fathers–has been well-known for some time, but a new book brings out some interesting details of which I was unaware.

By the middle of the following decade, when he gave much of his energies over to alchemy and the decoding of apocalyptic prophecy, he had an even more remarkable idea. When mankind was still young, “before the first memory of things”, Newton surmised, Noah and his sons had come up with a pure and pristine form of worship that subsequent prophets – Christ among them – had contrived only to debase.

The original religion had found its expression in holy flames surrounded by vestal temples such as Stonehenge and St Bridget’s fire, a Christianized pagan observance that persists today in the grounds of Kildare Cathedral in Ireland. These shrines, Newton wrote, stood allegorically for the place of the Sun at the centre of God’s cosmos. Over time, the metaphors had gradually come to obscure the truths they depicted, and as the sacred learning was passed down by Moses and the ancient Egyptians, the prisca sapientia had degenerated into idolatry.

This conviction led Newton down some strange byways. At one point he defended the account of Egyptian theology in Aristophanes’ The Birds, where Night is said to have spread her black wings over the chaotic void and laid an egg containing Love, which eventually hatched and created all the gods and living things. Night, Newton explained, was the unseen deity, and Love the spirit that had moved over the face of the waters in Genesis 2. He also thought that Plato had ultimately inherited an understanding of universal gravitation from the same source, and that before him Pythagoras had hit on the inverse-square law by hanging hammers of different weights from taut sheep intestines.

If there was one man who in Newton’s eyes had done more than any other to lead humanity astray, it was Athanasius…

The article’s author tries desperately to try to find some anticipation of the Enlightenment in all of this, but he must concede that Newton “seems to have spent more time mentally in the fourth century than in the seventeenth” (which I think underestimates how much the fourth century was still alive in the seventeenth).  What we do see is continuations of distinctly Renaissance and Reformation modes of thought.  From the Renaissance there is the idea of a common wisdom of the ancients and the sages of all lands.  Remember, Newton is mentally much closer to Plato and Dante than he is to us.  He doesn’t believe in evolution, and he reads scripture much more literally than today’s conservative Christians.  He doesn’t imagine that man ascended from savagery; he imagines that man descended from Eden and then from the Noah.  Naturally, these early men with more direct intercourse with God would have known more than we.  From the Reformation, there is the idea that the original wisdom has been lost and must be recovered, that we access it not through tradition but by leaping past it.  Luther and the other early Reformers would have been appalled by Newton’s conclusions, but they also sought to consult scripture and the apostolic Church directly, apart from the medium of tradition.  (The goal:  every Christian a priest.  The danger:  the scholarly guild a new papacy.)

Newton spent (some might say wasted) a lot of time consulting apocalyptic literature to predict the fall of that Antichrist, the Papacy.  Interestingly, he tags the same year that I did:  2016.  Granted, the set of people who believe the Papacy is the Antichrist and that Amoris laetitia is a disaster because it undermines Catholic doctrine is the empty set.  Still, the coincidence is kind of creepy.

Did you really think the Enlightenment would spare you, science?

Steven Pinker is vexed at the hostility postmodernism-imbibing humanities scholars hold for science.  He makes a number of good points.  Thomas Kuhn has been an extremely pernicious influence on popular scientific epistemology.  It is true that postmodernists unfairly blame science and modernity for evils (and pseudo-evils of their creation) that are as old as humanity.  Pinker thinks these humanities professors are betraying the Enlightenment, but I think this is backwards.  The postmodernist attack on science is just the next, purer, more radical phase of the Enlightenment.  Of course, this new batch of Enlightened condemn their predecessors, but parricide is standard operating procedure for the Enlightened, so we shouldn’t read much into that.

Everything becomes clearer when one drops the misconception that science is somehow connected to Enlightenment.  The scientific revolution was a century old and its astronomical achievements accomplished (by Christians) before the Enlightenment attack on Christianity began.  In other words, science was part of the pre-Enlightenment world.  And that is why the Enlightened condemn science for sins that are universal to humanity, not because scientific civilization is different from what came before, but because it is not different.  Science is offensive to the Enlightenment for the same reason that religion is, because both are based on the conviction that mankind must conform itself to an external truth, which contradicts Enlightenment’s promise of total liberation.  Even when science promises mastery of nature, she first demands the mind submit itself with full abasement to reality.

The Enlightenment would sometimes use science as a stick to beat Christianity with, but its main grievances were political.  Christianity was said to be intolerant, demanding to be recognized as the one truth, and a friend of oppression, both because of its otherworldly focus and its presumption that there is a reason for existing arrangements (since God permits them) and hence a presumptive legitimacy of the status quo.  We must not pretend that the Enlightened objected only to a cartoon version of bloodthirsty medieval Christian fanatics.  The great Enlightenment attack was a century after the Treaty of Westphalia, and today’s Enlightened hate thoroughly neutered American Evangelicals with the same passion that their predecessors hated European Catholics.  But science is as guilty as Christianity of these broader political charges.  She too claims unique access to truth and demands the state accept her judgements on which drugs are safe, what children should be taught about the natural world, etc.  She too offends against the zeal for social justice simply by being interested in something else.  As much as religion, she assumes the rationality of the world and leads one to guess that existing arrangements have been optimized by natural selection and possess some rationality.

It’s easy to misunderstand the above, to imagine I have said more than I have.  I do not claim that there are no differences between science and religion, or that any particular religion is fully compatible with modern science, or that science is or was dependent on religion.  Only that the two are members of common family, while the Enlightenment is something sui generis and hostile to both.  One may grant that Sunni and Shia Islam are incompatible and even that their differences are quite important.  Nevertheless, a Bolshevik is not likely to be impressed with these differences, and the Sunni and Shiite can expect similar treatment from him.  It is notable, is it not, how different are the clashes between science and religion vs. those between science and humanities?  Religious believers may object to particular scientific theories, but post-modernists are usually the only ones to condemn the scientific enterprise itself as somehow corrupt in its essence.

Yellow Peril?

Malcolm Pollack has found a fascinating essay by a weak student in China who went to England and outperformed all the locals.

As bright as he was, he found himself badly outperformed at this new school. When the first year’s final exam came along, he finished second from the bottom. He simply couldn’t keep up with the brilliant students all around him, and so he asked his parents to send him abroad. They did.

The young Mr. Yao ended up in England, where he flourished. There, he scored first nationwide in the high-school math exam, and was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge.

We read:

Three years later, I graduated with first class honors and got a job offer from Goldman’s Fixed Income, Currency and Commodity division, the division founded by my hero Rubin. It seemed like whatever I wished would simply come true. But inside, I feared that one day these glories would pass. After all, not long ago, I was at the bottom of my class in China. And if I could not even catch up with my classmates in a city few people have even heard of, how am I now qualified to go to Cambridge University or Goldman? Have I gotten smarter? Or is it just that British people are stupider than the Chinese?

There are 1.4 billion people in China: almost half again as many as in the United States and Europe combined, with a slightly higher average IQ. Given such a large number of people, and the way distributions at the tails of bell-curves work, it does not take much of an edge in IQ for the number of Chinese at the far-right end of the curve to be far in excess of the numbers in the West.

On the positive side, from the rest of the article, it seems these Chinese geniuses are less susceptible to some of the Western psycho-moralistic gibberish.

I’ve been on the admissions committee of my department’s graduate program for about half a decade.  Each year, we get over a hundred applicants, including many from China:  their transcripts, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and personal essays.  I’ve got a pretty good base of knowledge to compare Western, Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern physics students.  Here is my take on the Chinese.

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Surrendering to the communists and teaching white children to hate themselves: more stuff we mustn’t be discouraged by

Two news items, unrelated except in being “signs of the times”.  Yes, the Vatican is not only surrendering to the Chinese Communists but actually praising godless communist tyranny as the embodiment of Catholics social teaching.  And a public school in Minnesota has replaced academics as its priority with communist indoctrination and the demonization of whites.  It’s easy to get upset and angry over these things.  Yes, the Chinese martyrs have been betrayed, shown up as fools for their loyalty.  Yes, I know sometimes the Church must acquiesce to unsatisfactory arrangements, but heaping praise on these enemies of Christ is just gratuitous.  As for the “All for All” school social justice plan to break the spirits of white children, to teach them to hate themselves and their parents, to emotionally cripple them if possible for life, while it isn’t the greatest atrocity in history, there is a purity of evil intent in it that is hard to match.  (Compare:  when Herod murdered the Holy Innocents, it was a means to the end of preserving his power, not sheer hatred for innocent children.)

It would be understandable to be bothered by these things, but we should resist it.  All the powerful institutions are in the hands of the Enemy.  This is what they do.  It’s what we should expect, and hoping for better grants them too much moral legitimacy.  Just as in those more scientific times of my youth no one got angry about hurricanes, we also must learn to conserve our emotional energies for areas where there is still a contest.  After all, the Vatican’s surrender to the communists was a done deal when John Paul II apologized to them for us being a bunch of capitalist imperialist oppressors, which basically conceded the entire issue.  Even before then, the upshot of the Second Vatican Council was that the Church’s persecutors were right after all, and the martyrs had it coming for being insufficiently ecumenical or socially conscious.  Similarly, negro moral superiority and white moral illegitimacy have been the reigning social consensus for a long time.  No one was allowed to question it; we were just allowed to be somewhat lax about taking it to heart.  Perhaps it’s best that the consequences of this doctrine be brought home to everyone.  For that matter, sin and death are real calamities, but they don’t bother us because we know we’re stuck with them.

Last time I explained why this sort of thing doesn’t bother me anymore, I sensed some suspicion from some readers that I was engaging in self-deluding rationalization.  Indeed, to the extent that we tell ourselves that these things are actually, ultimately for the best, we are lying to ourselves for the purpose of psychological comfort.  No, the fact that communism and freemasonry have basically won is a bad thing.  Vatican II was a bad thing.  The American Revolution was a bad thing.  Adam and Eve’s sin was a very, very bad thing.  To the extent that I’ve failed to acknowledge that, I’ve failed to be honest.  However, it’s perfectly honest and reasonable to save one’s emotional investment for the battles whose outcomes are still in doubt.  That’s the reason for bringing up these past misfortunes.  It’s unfortunate that England was lost to Catholicism and unfortunate that America embraced an anti-Western official ideology, but there’s no sense in getting worked up about either of these facts, because they both happened before I was born.  This is what Larry Auster meant, I think, in his last year when he kept saying about America “It’s their country now.”  That America had become “theirs” was never considered a good thing, but at a certain point, one must acknowledge unchangeable realities and shift one’s focus to those realities that can be changed.  There’s a certain relief in acknowledging defeat and moving on to the next battle.

The tribal Catholic on the value of loyal intellectuals

Professor Grisez, architect of the New Natural Law Theory, died on February 1st.  From a tribal Catholic point of view, the relative merits of this version of natural law theory are of less concern than Grisez’ clear and unwavering loyalty to the Church.  This particularly stands out in the affair over contraception, during which most of the Church’s intellectuals betrayed her and made common cause with the Enemy.  Because tribalism is a matter of will rather than intellect, it allows a great deal of intellectual diversity, and it is notable that some of the most distinguished defenders of the Church during these dark times have made creative departures from orthodox Thomism.  Dietrich von Hildebrand rejected the Thomist framework for ethics altogether but still became a hero to traditionalists.  Grisez was not nearly so radical, but he and the other New Natural Law theorists are addressing a real problem, that there is serious work to be done in getting moral duties from natural teleology–our version of the jump from “is” to “ought”.  A Catholic tribalist might not be convinced that splitting off human goods from an integrated teleology actually helps solve this problem, but he will always distinguish friends who are trying (with perhaps mixed success) to address a real intellectual challenge to the Faith from enemies whose goal is to dilute our religion and to subjugate us to some hostile ideology.  Just as a nation based on blood can allow more ideological diversity than one based on a sacred proposition, tribal Catholics can venture more safely into foreign philosophical waters.

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