Every Three Second

EDUCATIONISTS are entertaining. We can always find a good laugh in their prose, with its special, ludicrous combination of ignorance and pretentiousness. It’s always amusing to watch them reinventing the wheel every few years and announcing, for instance, as some of them recently have, that children who know the sounds of letters can actually read words they’ve never seen before, by golly. It’s fun to consider the systems of Lilliputian leaping and creeping by which they better their lots and advance from humble teaching to exalted posts as curriculum facilitators, and the superintendent’s speech at the athletic awards banquet usually has that rarest of literary qualities, absolute immunity to parody. Indeed, the first thing you see when you consider thoughtfully and in some detail the ways of American educationism is that it is funny. It’s usually the last thing you see, too, and since education is not one of the truly serious enterprises of American civilization, like petrochemicals or banking, it doesn’t seem to matter much. True, clowns and kooks seem common in the education business, especially at the higher managerial levels, but so what? The whole business is about nothing more than children, who don’t count yet, and who can’t be expected to do any important work. We are quite ready to tolerate in curriculum and governance the same clumsy amateurism that we find so engaging in the school play and the marching band. After all, weren’t we all taught in our own time in the schools that what really counts is the effort? And it is only when we go to the home games that we hope to see excellence.

We tolerate the educational establishment the same way that we tolerate the children themselves, and we therefore extend to the guidance counselors and curriculum facilitators the same immunities that we extend to the children, the harmless children. They are all together–over there–aside from the mainstream of real life. But anyone who will look long and carefully at what happens “over there” will sooner or later notice something that doesn’t seem funny. He may begin to suspect that perhaps there are some consequences to child’s play, and that maybe the children aren’t so harmless after all, to say nothing of the counselors and facilitators. It may begin to dawn on such an observer that the children in school actually are people and not merely yet-to-be-formed raw materials who will start to be people after the last blackboard has been washed. Where once he tolerated the silliness of the schools as a temporary and sectarian custom in a small fragment of real life, he now sees that the habits and attitudes so earnestly inculcated in children by silly people will almost certainly not evaporate on commencement day. And why should they? Habits and attitudes never evaporate. We may sometimes change them consciously, but only after skillful observation and controlled thoughtfulness, which are generally not among the habits and attitudes that children acquire in school. Those are the habits of literacy. The attentive and patient observer, therefore, must come to see at last that school is not “something else over there.” School is America. If you want to predict the future of our land, go to school and look around.

Schools do not fail. They succeed. Children always learn in school. Always and every day. When their rare and tiny compositions are “rated holistically” without regard for separate “aspects” like spelling, punctuation, capitalization, or even organization, they learn. They learn that mistakes bring no consequences. They learn that their teachers were only pretending in all those lessons on spelling and punctuation. They learn that there are no rewards for good work, and that they who run the race all win. They learn that what they win is a rubber-stamped smiling face, exactly as valuable as what they might lose, which is nothing, nothing at all. They learn that the demands of life are easily satisfied with little labor, if any, and that a show of effort is what really counts. They learn to pay attention to themselves, their wishes and fears, their likes and dislikes, their idle whims and temperamental tendencies, all of which, idolized as “values” and personological variables, are far more important than “mere achievement” in subject matter. The “whole child” comes first, and no one learns that lesson better than the children. Just as you can predict the future by going to school, you can decipher the past by looking-around. All those thoughtless, unskilled, unproductive, self-indulgent, and eminently dupable Americans–where have they been and what did they learn there?

What is done to children in schools is not inconsequential. It is not even the “fun and games” that might be deplored for its own sake. It is permanent and deadly serious. Sometimes, it is simply deadly:


The Royko Papers

When you talked us in your paper you called us barbarians. It is even more rude than when you call us delinquents. You cant compare us to 50 years ago because we dont wear knickers’ and deliver newspapers. All you Old Farts are the same. At Cominsky Park we were just expressing our feelings about disco, because disco sucks. If you write another column like that you will have to answer to me in person.

A letter to Mike Royko
from a high school student

I was struck by a manifest shallowness in the doer [Eichmann] that made it impossible to trace the incontestable evil of his deeds to any deeper level of roots or motives. The deeds were monstrous, but the doer . . . was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous. There was no sign in him of firm ideological convictions or of specific evil motives, and the only notable characteristic one could detect in his past behavior as well as in his behavior during the trial and throughout the pre-trial police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but thoughtlessness . . . . Is wickedness, however we may define it, this being “determined to prove a villain,” not a necessary condition for evil-doing? Might the problem of good and evil, our faculty for telling right from wrong, be connected with our faculty of thought?

Hannah Arendt, in
The Life of the Mind

Mike Royko is a columnist at the Sun-Times of Chicago. His essays appear in many newspapers throughout the country, thank goodness, for he has the habit of clear language and thought. Mike Royko wrote a column about those eleven people who were trampled to death at a rock concert in Cincinnati. He suggested, by no means injudiciously, that “those who would climb over broken bodies to reach a seat in an auditorium could be called ‘the new barbarians.'” That suggestion must have seemed less than humanistic and perhaps even somewhat un-self-esteem-enhancing to a certain Robert Maszak, a teacher of English at Bloom Township in Chicago Heights. Maszak, probably remembering his training in the teacher academy, seized for his students this marvelous opportunity for a relevant and experiential exercise in the integration of self-awareness aspects and the clarification of values. He had them all write letters telling Royko where to head in, and proving, since they could write, that some teenagers were not barbarians. In fact, they couldn’t, and they are.

Royko, to be sure, had said nothing about teenagers–or about the worth of rock music, which was stridently championed in many of the letters. Maszak, however, may well be a member of the National Council of Teachers of English, and thus both a proponent and a practitioner of “holistic” reading, in which the reader must scrupulously refuse to consider what the writer actually says, a mere “aspect” of writing.

Maszak may also be a holistic grader, for he was not reluctant to display the fruits of his teaching, which look like this:

Dear Tenage hater

I was disapointed by what you writen on the Who concert. From what you said I can see you have know so called barbarism. You used some strong words in there with very little fact, you say everyone was numbed in the brain. I will say from concert experience maybe half or three forties were high on something or nether but I allso know that theres not one forth to half that weren’t. You say everyone was pushing and throwing elbows, did you ever think that some of the thrown elbows were from people who didn’t like getting pushed. You said something about when you were a kid, well times have change . . . .

Yes. The times indeed have change. Well, let’s try to be holistic. Let’s ignore failures of technique and, as we were instructed in last month’s quotation from ETS, concentrate on “what the student has accomplished rather than on what the student has failed to do or has done badly.” Let’s remember as well the aggrieved whimpers of the educationists who beseech us to believe that skill in writing is obviously, while useful, much less important than humanistic things like the encouragement of self-expression, the enhancement of self-esteem, and the clarification of values.

Now we can understand why Maszak was untroubled by such a piece of work. It is, in fact, a testimony to the triumph of educationism over education. That poor student, not a villain but a victim, has indeed expressed nothing more than himself. His esteem for that forlorn and meager self is firm and truculent. And his values are perfectly clear.

Perfectly clear, too, are the values of the few students who actually mentioned Royko’s topic, the death of eleven people. One saw it as a perfectly expectable concomitant of everybody’s inalienable right to have what he wants when he wants it. Here’s his clarification of values:

If there were someone yer looked up to and yer went to see them in person and thier were thousands of peopl just like you and wanted to see him up close would you fight yer way in?

Another shows an even keener sense of values; he gives us the very numbers by which we can reconcile ourselves to death in Cincinnati: “People die every three second. What would you do if you paid $15 for a ticket?”

Eichmann must have said as much in the still watches of the night, if he ever did say anything to himself. Jews die anyway, don’t they? And Eichmann had even more than fifteen dollars at stake.

You can be sure that the humanisticists in our schools will make a profit from that last letter. They will transform it into a “values clarification module”: You have paid for a ticket to hear a concert by the Walking Dead, whom yer look up to. How cheap does it have to be for you to decide that getting to your seat just isn’t worth the hassle of trampling a few people to death, people who may in any case die every three second? The ensuing rap session will be quite long enough to provide yet another day’s respite from the tedious and dehumanizing study of language and thought.

The children who wrote the Royko papers are juniors and seniors in high school. They are probably from sixteen to nineteen years old. They have spent eleven, twelve, or more, years in our “humanistic,” “values-oriented,” schools. What their teachers have praised as “creativity” looks remarkably like anarchic self-indulgence, which is what creativity must always be in the want of discipline and skill. Their much-encouraged “self-expression” cannot be distinguished from dissolute libertinism, a virulent form of self-expression where there is no self-knowledge. Their “enhanced self-esteem” has blossomed into an arrogant narcissism, a perversion of self-esteem where there is no idea of what is estimable.

Can we hope that Maszak’s few students are unique, or at least unusual? We cannot. We know that there are millions, millions of children who have in effect been dehumanized by the “humanistic” education that smugly dismisses the mastery of knowledge and skills and the discipline of the intellect as elitist adornments accessible, if they will have them, only to the few, and eagerly peddles to the many the mindless claptrap of environmental awareness and career orientation and ethnic sensitivity and doing your own thing and letting it all hang out.

Human beings only, of all living creatures, can know what Hannah Arendt has described as “the claim on our thinking attention that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence.” She said of Eichmann “that he clearly knew of no such claim,” although she does not say of him, as we might have to of Maszak’s students, that even had he known of such a claim he would have proved incapable of paying it thinking attention.

Thinking attention can be paid only in skillful language. And, for those who want to be humanistic, there is no more distinctly human attribute than the power of language and no more distinctly human accomplishment than thinking attention.

Go and learn those things, you humanism-mongers, before you presume to instruct our children in values. And do it fast. There isn’t much time. We have read the Royko papers, and we know what you have been doing. We have seen the future that you have fashioned for us, and, in words that even your victims will understand, it sucks, humanisticists, and all the young farts are the same.


It is possible, of course, to make too much of what seems a smoldering savagery in the students of Robert Maszak. But when we seek mitigation of that ominous threat to the future of an already disintegrating civilization, we discover yet other threats. For instance, it is probably true that Maszak’s teenagers are in part striking poses designed to disturb grown-ups, pour épater, no doubt, le bourgeois. That is not only a child’s inalienable right, but an important part of the training of the mind. Rational thoughtfulness, after all, is not and should not be the ordinary condition of daily human life; it is a stance that we assume, if we can, when appropriate. Even if we are able to do the work of logical thinking, we do not, unless we are John Stuart Mill, perhaps, do it except in response to a summons, exactly the summons that Hannah Arendt has in mind when she speaks of “the claim . . . that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence.” Attentive thoughtfulness is an aberration, an act not only rare in human experience but also an act requiring cultivation. Thinking is not unlike playing the violin; it isn’t simply natural. Even if we can do it, we don’t often do it.

Very well, then. We admit that those teenagers are, in part at least, striking stances. But why these and only these stances? What stance, we wonder, has their teacher himself chosen, so that they can so obviously expect his approval? Their chosen stance is (just like their teacher’s?) tiresomely ordinary and predictable; even its virulent truculence is exactly what “tough” teenagers suppose “stylish.” It pretends to express an independence, especially an independence of the outworn values of grown-ups who wore knickers and delivered newspapers, but it in fact expresses the opposite, for it is nothing but a recitation of attitudes and emotions as generally received and accepted in that milieu. “That milieu” includes the classroom, obviously, and the school. It includes principally, however, the world out there, the popular, the ideology of the streets and the movies and the music. In that sense, Maszak’s classroom is the world, only less so, for it repeats what is uttered first in the world. The agents of American educationism do not lead their students anywhere, they follow them, and always downstream, always in the way they would go even if there were no schools.

An education, which requires the training of the mind in rational thoughtfulness, goes against the grain. It isn’t easy. It isn’t even “natural,” as we usually mean that word. To live, even to live an ordinary and comfortable life, requires the practice of rational thoughtfulness no more than it requires practice on the violin. You can come and go, get and spend, work and play, choose and reject, rise and fall, live and die, entirely in response to the suggestions without and the appetites within. You need never feel, never mind answer, that claim that facts and events make on the thinking attention. For any value you share, any “worthy” emotional response to which you are led, any received opinion that you think to call “yours,” there is always the justification of some fifteen-dollar ticket.

Furthermore, a whole culture composed of people just like you would be a very stable and peaceful one. While the social-adjustment educationists may seem silly and ignorant, at the heart of all they do there is an important and correctly understood truth: thoughtfulness is disruptive, and the work of an individual mind is seldom likely to contribute to the consistent harmony of a collective social system. Therefore, while you, as an individual mind, may judge that the children who wrote to Royko suggest some failure in schooling, and while such might even be the judgment of individual minds who actually do the schooling, those same children represent a mighty success in principle. Whatever else they might be, they are not individual minds that will fall into the anticollective habit of thoughtful attention. They may indeed make a ruckus at a rock concert, which is ironically only a part of the “consistent harmony of a collective social system,” but they will not examine and reexamine the ideas and values that have been delivered unto them.

Those students represent another kind of success. Their schools have undertaken, at the expense of skills and knowledge, to instill in them values. And they have values. They know what a fifteen-dollar ticket is worth and that disco sucks. Those are values. They are not determinations from evidence, not descriptions of phenomena, not conclusions from argument. They are assertions of worth. Values. They are neither unusual nor eccentric, however repellent some may find them. But even the most intemperate critic of American educationism cannot accuse the schools of intending to teach such values, and the people in the schools will themselves protest that such reprehensible values are picked up not in the schools, which struggle bravely and perhaps hopelessly against them, but from “the society.” They are right, and they are wrong. Certainly the resort to violence, hedonistic self-indulgence, and the supposed worth of whatever is popular are celebrated in “the society.” But why is that so? It must be because we are in the habit of accepting values out of suggestion and example rather than of formulating them out of knowledge and thoughtfulness. And that must be so because we have been schooled into that habit, for whose sake we have been unschooled in the habit of thoughtful judgment, which would preclude the habit of accepting values out of suggestion and example and make impossible the social adjustment that is the principal aim of the schools. Thoughtful judgment is a specific antibody against uncritical susceptibility to suggestion, so it must be repressed if schooling is to succeed. And when it is repressed successfully, through willful neglect of intellectual discipline and mere information, schoolchildren will form their “values” not from the transparent preachments of teachers who are obviously trying to con them into putting on knickers and delivering newspapers, but from the dramatic and stylish examples of the world of the demotic.

Many pernicious consequences flow from the fact that the schools have appointed themselves inculcators of values and that the American public, itself “adjusted” by the schools, has come to believe that the inculcation of values is a legitimate aim of education. One of the worst of those consequences is now made manifest in the current wave of sectarian demands that the schools, since they are in the values business anyway, ought to teach not just the nonsense they have been teaching but whatever other nonsense any sufficiently noisy group of citizens may prefer. After all, if the schools can “teach” doing your own thing or going with the flow (both of which, curiously enough, can justify any particular belief or deed), why can’t they “teach” that the universe is just as well described in Genesis as in geology, astronomy, paleontology, physics, biology, and chemistry? While they preach, from one side of the mouth, a humanistic contempt for that “excellence narrowly defined” that brought us all those ugly antennas, why can’t they prate, from the other, about the glories of the profit system? There is no good answer to such questions. If a tax-supported government school system devotes itself to any values at all, it can always be made to do exactly that for any other values at all.

One of the inevitable consequences of sixty years of anti-intellectualism in the government schools is the automatic assumption of most Americans that things like spelling and punctuation are political and ideological badges. Those who are fussy about spelling and punctuation, and other such devices, are assumed to be old-fashioned, conservative, and elitist, while those who care little for such traditional trivia must be with it, liberal, and democratic. (This accords ill with another article of American folklore, according to which it is the “educated” who become liberals and abandon the old-time religion of this or that, but the American public has been trained not to see such contradictions.) Because The Underground Grammarian often ridicules academicians who cannot spell or punctuate or even make sense, readers occasionally assume that it must also be against gun control and in favor of prayer in schools and a return to McGuffey’s Readers. I often had letters from strange people asking aid and comfort in such causes, all of them unwitting testimony to the distress and confusion of mind that automatically equates schooling with education and indoctrination with learning. Eventually it seemed good to write a general answer to all such solicitations:


Guarding the Guardians of the Guards

We have been hearing both from and about groups of citizens who have organized themselves as guardians of education and monitors of texts and techniques. Those who have written to us have praised our efforts, claiming a common cause and expecting that we will praise, and promote, their efforts. We will not. They are decent and well-meaning people disturbed about the obvious disorders of education, no doubt, but their understanding of “education” is as thoughtless and self-serving as that of the self-styled professionals of education who brought those disorders upon us.

These guardians of education, while they differ in some ways, all seem proponents of the back-to-basics frenzy, in which we find no merit. We champion mastery, and we mean mastery, not minimum competence, in language and number not because it is the goal of education but because it is absurd to imagine an educated person who lacks it. Having that mastery, we can make of knowledge the raw material of thoughtfulness and judgment. Lacking it, we can make of knowledge nothing more than the substance of training and the content of indoctrination.

The back-to-basics enthusiasts, who never fail to note the paramount importance of being able to read want-ads and to write letters of application, treat the skills of number and language as subdivisions of vocational training to be imparted and done with, as though reading a micrometer and reading a paragraph were acts of the same nature. In one sense, literacy is a trivial skill, easily acquired and neither more nor less valuable than those darlings of the schools, the “life skills,” things like shoe-tying and crossing at the corner. In another sense, it is an endless and demanding enterprise that is also the ground of our knowledge and understanding, but an enterprise little likely to entice the minds of those taught literacy as a life skill.

All unwittingly, therefore, the guardians preach the same degradation of literacy that the educationists have so long practiced, and, strange as it might seem at first, for the same reason. The greatest mischief done in the schools is the attempt to inculcate certain presumed “values,” but the guardians understand that less than perfectly. They fancy that the mischief lies not in the inculcation of values but in the inculcation of the educationists’ values rather than the guardians’ values. All would be well, they imagine, if only the school would foster the “right” values. And that is why they must make of literacy a “basic” life skill rather than a way of life. If you want to foster in children certain values and preclude others, you must take care that they do not develop an appetite for knowledge and the skill to make of it the raw material of thoughtfulness and judgment. Jefferson’s words are an assertion of faith, not fact; fact may be “self-evident,” but “truth” is not. If it were, earth would be fair, and all men glad and wise.

There is a momentous difference between coming to believe what we have often been told and deciding, as Jefferson did, out of knowledge and thoughtful judgment, to “hold” something true. The former is a kind of slavery and easy to achieve; the latter is difficult, for it requires knowledge and governed intellect, in other words, an education, but it is freedom.

Freedom is, to be sure, frightening. There is no telling what values free people will choose to hold. Decent and well-meaning guardians of values were horrified by the monstrous principles of the Declaration of Independence. It is, of course, out of fear that the guardians preach the inculcation of values, fear of knowledge and thought.

Most of the guardians urge things like the study of history and economics “emphasizing the benefits of the free enterprise system.” We wholeheartedly share the guardians’ devotion to the free enterprise system, but they obviously don’t share our equal devotion to the study of history and economics, which will inevitably bring the knowledge of some facts, events, and ideas that are not at all conducive to our wholehearted devotion to the free enterprise system. When we study history from a certain point of view, we do not study history. If our students someday discover, as in fact they will, that we were sometimes mistaken in our knowledge of history, they will probably forgive us. But if they discover, as in fact they do, that we have misrepresented or omitted knowledge in the service of some values, they will learn to distrust both us and those values, as indeed they should-and apparently do.

If our values are grounded, as we usually imagine they are, in evidence and reason, then those who can see the evidence and who know the ways of reason are likely to adopt them. However, if we find ourselves tampering with the evidence and tempering the power of language, the medium of reason, then perhaps we ought to reevaluate our values. Should that prove unacceptable, we should at least be able to see that our interest would be best served not by asking the state to promulgate our values but by forbidding the state to promulgate any values at all. If the state can espouse some value that we love, it can, with equal justice, espouse others that we do not love.

The guardians do differ in one important way from the educationists. The guardians have lost their nerve, while the educationists still have plenty. The guardians, although they often wave the flag, do not truly hold the most basic value of a free society: the belief that, given the choice, knowing and thoughtful people will choose to continue in a free society. Those who do hold that value must guard against the guardians. But not in the classroom.


We misunderstand the dangers of schooling. We fancy that what is at stake is some obviously needed widespread level of competence and ability, a large population of people able to cope with the demands of a complicated and technical system. And there is, to be sure, some danger that we will have fewer effective people than we need. But we have at stake in the schools something far more important than that, for what is effectively precluded by the essential and pervasive ideology of the government school system is nothing less than individual freedom.

We could probably say many things about the unhappy schoolboy who knows the value of a ticket and even that “people die every three second,” but of them all the most important is that he is not free. His beliefs and values are not his; he is theirs. He is possessed, as anyone must be possessed who knows nothing of the claim that all things make on our thinking attention and who lacks in any case the perfectly learnable powers and skills of thinking attention. Which is to say that that schoolboy, in company with countless millions of other Americans, is held captive by illiteracy, and that we have in effect voted in favor of Proposition 3, which requires that the ignorant must be unfree if civilization is to endure. But Jefferson warned us that that might happen. What he did not foresee, unfortunately, was that we would find a way to make it happen.

Literacy is not a skill or a collection of skills, although it surely does provide many ever-growing skills; it is rather a way of the mind, the individual mind, for there is no other, the habit of thinking attention paid in language in the search for understanding. It is the only guarantee of freedom and the essential attribute of knowing and thoughtful people who can choose. For free people, basic minimum competency won’t do, and that our schools now propose that shabby substitute for literacy is clear evidence that their collectivist ideology has nothing to do with the goal of the freedom of the individual.

A government institution serves the aims of government. The aims of even the best government, as Jefferson warned us, are not the same as the aims of free individuals nor can they be. Free individuals, capable of thoughtful discretion, are the necessary check to the natural propensities of what Jefferson so aptly named the “functionaries” of government. It must follow, therefore, that if education provides us with free individuals, it is not in the interest of government functionaries to provide education. They must provide something else, but they must call it “education.” In this respect, no government is different from any other, and in the following article The Underground Grammarian explored a frightening parallel:


The Answering of Kautski

Why should we bother to reply to Kautski? He would reply to us, and we would have to reply to his reply. There’s no end to that. It will be quite enough for us to announce that Kautski is a traitor to the working class, and everyone will understand everything.   V. I. Lenin

Tyranny is always and everywhere the same, while freedom is always various. The well and truly enslaved are dependable; we know what they will say and think and do. The free are quirky. Tyrannies may be overt and violent or covert and insidious, but they all require the same thing, a subject population in which the power of thought is occluded and the power of deed brought low. That’s why Lenin’s bolshevism and American educationism have so much in common.

“Give me four years to teach the children,” said Lenin, “and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” He wasn’t talking about reading, writing, and arithmetic. He wanted only enough of such skills so that the workers could puzzle out their quotas and so that a housebroken bureaucracy could get on with the business of rural electrification. Our educationists call it Basic Minimum Competency, and they hope that we’ll settle for it as soon as they can cook up some way of convincing us that they can provide it. For Lenin, as for our educationists, to “teach the children” is to “adjust” them into some ideology.

Lenin understood the power of that ready refuge from logical thought that is called in our schools the “affective domain,” the amiable Never-never Land of the half-baked, to whom anything they name “humanistic” is permitted, and of whom skillful scholarship and large knowledge are not required. Lenin approved the “teaching” of values and the display, with appropriate captions, of socially acceptable “role models.” He knew all too well the worth of behavior modification. He knew that indoctrination in “citizenship” is safer than the study of history, and that a familiarity with literature is not conducive to the whole-hearted pursuit of career objectives in the real-life situation, or arena.

On the other hand, Lenin knew that there was little risk that coherent thought would erupt in minds besieged by endless prattle about the clarification of values. He knew that reiterated slogans can dull even a good mind into a stupor out of which it will never arise to overthrow the slogan-makers. In this, our educationists have followed him assiduously, justifying every new crime against freedom of language and thought by mouthing empty slogans about “quality education.”

“Most of the people,” Lenin wrote, not in public, of course, but in a letter, “just aren’t capable of thinking. The best they can do is learn the words.” If that reminds you of those bleating sheep in Animal Farm, try to forget them, and think instead of the lowing herds of pitiable teacher-trainees, many of whom began with good intentions and even with brains, singing for their certificates dull dirges of interpersonal interaction outcomes enhancement and of change agent skills developed in time-action line. Lenin’s contempt was reserved for the masses. These educationists, pretenders to egalitarianism, hold even their own students in contempt, offering them nothing but words.

If you think it too rash to charge our educationists even as unwitting agents of tyranny and thought control, consider these lines from a recent proclamation of the Association of California School Administrators:

“Parent choice” proceeds from the belief that the purpose of education is to provide individual students with an education. In fact, educating the individual is but a means to the true end of education, which is to create a viable social order to which individuals contribute and by which they are sustained. “Family choice” is, therefore, basically selfish and anti-social in that it focuses on the “wants” of a single family rather than the “needs” of society.

So what do you think? Would it suit Lenin?

And if you’d like to object, you’ll see that these people also know how to answer Kautski. They’ll just pronounce you an elitist, and everybody will understand everything.


Thoughtful people will discover some reservations about the voucher system, against which the California administrators direct their strange homily. It does assume, contrary to evidence, that the ordinary American parent knows what an education is and prizes it, and it will provide lucrative opportunities for even more fools and charlatans than the schools now harbor. In fact, the best thing that can be said for the voucher system is that it clearly terrifies the educationists and drives them to admit, out of a mindless frenzy, apparently, for the admission is most damning, that “educating the individual is but a means to the true end of education, which is to create a viable social order to which individuals contribute and by which they are sustained.” They almost certainly say exactly the same thing in the schools of Albania.

It was the American promise that free individuals would be more important than any “social order,” and that it was for them to choose how best it might be formed and sustained. Nor is it suggested in the Declaration of Independence that the individual’s pursuit of his “wants” is “basically selfish and anti-social” and antithetical to the “needs” of the society. But then the chances are very good that no member of the Association of California School Administrators has pondered the meanings of the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, as inheritors of the ideology of Cardinal Principles, the California principals have probably never so much as read it, since “civics should concern itself less with constitutional questions and remote governmental functions, and should direct attention to social agencies close at hand and to the informal activities of daily life that regard and seek the common good.”

The common good. How splendid that sounds. But when William Blake once gave his thinking attention to the perennial cry of those who justified their deeds in the name of the common good, he had to conclude:

He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, flatterer; for Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars.

The deepest, most pervasive theme of American educationism is the rejection of minutely organized particulars for the sake of vaguely appreciated generalities. If the former are the substance of Art and Science, of what are the latter the substance?

I can’t think of any pat answer to that question, but I cannot help believing that those whose minds wander in the work of vaguely appreciated generalities and who cannot give themselves to the organization of minute particulars cannot in any sense be free, and may not, in some special sense, be fully human. If the direction of thinking attention to the claim of events and facts is the essentially human act, performed in the essentially human medium of language, what can we say of those who are unable to perform that act, but that they are unfree in a state of civilization?

Rousseau had it backward. We are not born free. We are born in the chains of the random and reflexive, and are ignorant and unreasonable by simple nature. We must learn to be free, to organize the random and detect the reflexive, to acquire the knowledge of particulars and the powers of reason. The examined life is impossible if we cannot examine, order, classify, define, distinguish, always in minute particulars. It was a premise of the founders of American educationism that what they called “ethical character” could be instilled, indeed, might better be instilled, without attention to intellectual discipline. Out of that premise they devised their “affective domain” and set it over against the merely “cognitive domain” as a somewhat more than equal and independent principality, where they might wander comfortably among the unmeasurables, the feelings and sentiments and values and “worthy emotional responses.” Of that affective domain I must now say four things, which, although I have to put them in some order, are equally important:

1. It is out of resort to the affective domain that educationists can palm off as “education” everything from folk dancing to bulletin board decoration and visits to nursing homes, and, at the same time, so neglect the merely cognitive disciplines that they can spend twelve whole years in the teaching of something as simple as conventional punctuation and still fail to teach it.

2. The affective domain is a logical absurdity. Feelings, sentiments, values, and responses have causes, attributes, and consequences. We can know nothing of them, we can neither understand nor judge them, without the work of the intellect in the organization of minute particulars. You may call “affective” whatever you please, but you cannot deal with it unless you are cognitive.

3. The feelings, sentiments, values, and responses of our children, or of any citizens, are none of the government’s damned business. That we must support a government agency that gives itself to the emotional and ideological manipulation of citizens is infamous. That it should, out of that intrusive manipulation, provide us with who can say how many young citizens who cannot think coherently but who do “appreciate” the value of a fifteen-dollar ticket to a rock concert is an unspeakable outrage.

4. It is the supposed existence and paramountcy of the affective domain that have made the teachers’ colleges what they are, nurseries of self-indulgence, unskilled “creativity,” and half-baked pseudo-metaphysical incantation. Silly as it may seem, training in the efficient storage of chalk and erasers would actually be of more value to the incipient schoolteacher than a whole experiential continuum of intercultural awareness-enhancement, but if teacher-training were devoted only to the cognitive it could be very quickly accomplished by very few people. The professionals of education can justify their continued employment in great numbers only if they can convince us that they alone can initiate supplicants into the mysteries. It is only in the cognitive domain, which they scorn, that charlatanism is readily unmasked.

Nevertheless, and although the colonists could hardly have been more oppressed by the king than we are by the schools, there seems to be no hope of a Declaration of Independence, to say nothing of a revolution. This time, the people, already massively indoctrinated by the values teaching of the schools, are willing parties to their own oppression. We want the schools to teach values, and we believe what they have told us, that concrete knowledge and strict intellectual discipline are not only separate from “ethical character” but perhaps actually impediments to that lofty goal.

The makers of Cardinal Principles were true prophets when they said that, where the formation of “ethical character” was intended, the school was “the one agency that [could] be controlled definitely and consciously.” And they did it. The national “ethical character,” whatever it may be, didn’t just happen; it is the result of definite and conscious control. Nor can we free ourselves from that control, not only accepted but even approved by most Americans, without an enormous change in many millions of individual minds. Such a change could be wrought only through universal public education, which is exactly what we do not have. We have universal public schooling, which is not even close to education. The confusion between schooling and education, which suffuses every one of the Seven Deadly Principles, and out of which the principle-makers did their work, is what the schools have by now taught us all. It is their only triumph, the only lesson they have taught universally and with complete effectiveness; but it is enough. It took them a bit more than four years, to be sure, but they do seem to have planted a seed that can never be uprooted. Lenin would be envious.

Afterword: Plus Ça Change