This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Universal education and the denial of human nature

 “Whatever one does, it is impossible to raise the intelligence of a nation above a certain level. It will be quite useless to ease the access to human knowledge, improve teaching methods, or reduce the cost of education, for men will never become educated nor develop their intelligence without devoting time to the matter…Thus it is as difficult to imagine a society where all men are enlightened as a state where all the citizens are wealthy.”

~ Alexis de Tocqueville[1]

Tocqueville’s observation would have been indisputable to anyone not imbued with Liberal humanism. In these few words, he refutes the entire premise of the modern school system, and in fact of democracy itself as conceived by the products of that school system. The driving belief of the moderns is that universal compulsory education, if properly funded and engineered, can alter human nature in such a way as to bring about the utopia of the egalitarian enlightenment. A pleasant dream, to be sure, but a denial of the diversity inherent in the human species. And every system based upon a denial of human nature does violence to those being, in this case children, who must pass through its machinations.

As the expected results are not forthcoming, the systematization is escalated, and more force is applied, and the subject is further degraded. This is what caused reactionaries like D.H. Lawrence to lash out so often and so violently against such a system:

The fact is, our process of universal education is to-day so uncouth, so psychologically barbaric, that it is the most terrible menace to the existence of our race. We seize hold of our children, and by parrot-compulsion we force into them a set of mental tricks. By unnatural and unhealthy compulsion we force them into a certain amount of cerebral activity. And then, after a few years, with a certain number of windmills in their heads, we turn them loose, like so many inferior Don Quixotes, to make a mess of life.[2]

And elsewhere in the same work, he elaborates:

The top and bottom of it is, that it is a crime to teach a child anything at all, school-wise. It is just evil to collect children together and teach them through the head. It causes absolute starvation in the dynamic centers, and sterile substitute of brain knowledge is all the gain. The children of the middle classes are so vitally impoverished, that the miracle is they continue to exist at all. The children of the lower classes do better, because they escape into the streets. But even the children of the proletariat are now infected…We don’t want to educate children so that they may understand. Understanding is a fallacy and a vice in most people. I don’t even want my child to know, much less to understand. I don’t want my child to know that five fives are twenty-five, any more than I want my child to wear my hat or my boots. I don’t want my child to know. If he wants five fives let him count them on his fingers. As for his little mind, give it a rest, and let his dynamic self be alert. He will ask “why” often enough. But he more often asks why the sun shines, or why men have mustaches, or why grass is green, than anything sensible. Most of a child’s questions are, and should be, unanswerable. They are not questions at all. They are exclamations of wonder, they are remarks half-sceptically addressed. When a child says, “Why is grass green?” he half implies. “Is it really green, or is it just taking me in?” And we solemnly begin to prate about chlorophyll. Oh, imbeciles, idiots, inexcusable owls![3]

We quote Lawrence at length here because his words run so contrary to the contemporary mindset. We hope that this language, by the power of its strangeness, might pierce through our prejudices that have left us calloused to this situation of today’s children. But now, having used the colorful language of a literary figure—for Lawrence was a novelist before anything else—let us turn to those who would have been even more familiar with the concrete situation of modern educational systems.

Dr. Caspar Kraemer, Professor of New York University, was quoted in the New York Times, Mar. 12, 1939 saying:

We spend more money than any other nation in the world to get an inferior product. The democracy of our education consists of the regimentation of all students, no matter what their degree of proficiency, upon a single level, which must of necessity be low if it concerns itself only with those needs of the best students which are common to the worst.

Professor Virginius Dabney (University of Virginia) wrote that:

The malady is doubtless due to numerous causes. But perhaps a certain conception of ‘democracy’ underlies more than one of them. The notion that one man is just as good as another and perhaps a little better has something to do with it…One curse of American life is the subordination of quality to quantity. Our educational system would be much better if there were fewer but better schools and colleges, fewer but better paid teachers in the schools, fewer but better paid professors in the universities with only half the number of students.

President Robert Maynard Hutchins of the University of Chicago also writes:

Since our students have lived up to our expectations, we have succeeded in postponing maturity to a date undreamed of in the Middle Ages, or ever in Europe today. The American college senior is two or three years less grown up than his French or British contemporary. In ability to use his mother tongue and the other instruments of intellectual operation he does not at all compare with them.[4]

To avoid vagaries, we might do well to pause on one particular goal of the educational system, which is the wish for universal literacy. To examine the merits of this goal in itself will help us further understand the merits of the system into which it fits.

[1] Democracy in America, I.2.5. 229-230.

[2] D.H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious, “First Steps in Education”.

[3] Ibid.

[4] From an essay titled “Spurious Democracy”.

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