More of Those (were the) Days

And we think contemporary public schools suffer. They had challenges even before Richard Nixon:

The super-science of pedagogy, that fairest flower of the New Thought, has achieved its greatest triumphs in the reclamation of the erring, or, as the old-time schoolmasters had it, the bad. Those old-time schoolmasters knew nothing about scientific pedagogy. They were not experts. When, for example, a boy hooked school they had no remedy for his error save the application of the birch to his pantaloons, and this barbarous remedy they kept on applying, in more and more heroic doses, until he abandoned the practice or graduated into long trousers and a political job. Such was pedagogy in its Gothic days, before it began to mellow and expand. Such were the dark ages before psychotherapy and raffia work.

Today, as everyone knows, the birch is under the ban of all recognized experts, and the inhuman teacher who resurrects it and applies it is promptly burned at the stake. In its place we have the “correctional” or “parental” school, in which original sin is combatted with moral suasion, and the erring are seduced to diligence by the subtle arts of the Chautauqua psychologist. New York city now has such a school “on the cottage plan,” and the hunkerous New York Sun presents an illuminating report thereon. Each of the six cottages, it appears, houses 32 pupils–and each cottage cost the taxpayers $81,500 to build! The cost of maintenance is $5.50 a pupil a week, the which, added to a reasonable interest on the investment, works out to between $8 and $9 net!

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How to Argue for Christian Day Schools

Timothy Cardinal Dolan gives instruction indirectly to those neo-Calvinists spooked by Betsy DeVos:

These stellar Catholic schools help the community dramatically. Let me just mention one incredible stat: 98% of our high school seniors graduate on time, and 96% of them go on to college! A large part of that high school success is that our Catholic elementary schools do a great job getting students ready to learn and thrive in high school. No wonder we’re so proud of them, and committed to keeping them open!

But these celebrated schools that so help society need help! Although four of these school changes were decided because the school is no longer connected to a local parish church and office, and only two were made due to declining enrollment, it is still a fact that we must always fight for our schools. We often find ourselves in a catch-22: if we raise tuition, fewer parents, already sacrificing so much to meet even our modest tuition, can’t do it, and tearfully withdraw their children; if we don’t increase fees, well, we don’t have enough funds.

That’s why we’re so grateful to our benefactors, of all faiths or none, who are especially generous to our Inner City Catholic School Scholarship Fund, and to our own Catholic people, who dig deep each year to help keep them strong.

Notice that Dolan thinks by going private you help the public. The neo-Calvinist critics of DeVos seem to think education is a zero sum game — either pro-public or pro-private. If that’s the dynamic, why are neo-Calvinists still advocating private schools? (Thus, another way that Protestants shoot themselves in the foot on public education.)

Which Bible, Whose Public School?

Are U.S. Christians really comfortable with bringing prayer and Bible reading back to public schools? If so, what do they do with this passage (which was part of yesterday’s Scripture readings)?

As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.” But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.

And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home. And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.” (Judges 19:22-30 ESV)

Or are those who want more Christianity in the public sector more comfortable with Mr. Jefferson’s Bible, the one that leaves parts like Gibeah’s crimes on the editing room floor?

Would You Let Your Wife Teach in Public Schools?

As one of our regulars here suggested off-line, Tim Challies should sound so nuanced about movies (or stop slandering actors and actresses):

However, if we were to begin again today, I am quite sure we would not enroll our children in public schools. What concerns me is that our decision would not be based on conviction but fear, fear generated by statements we have heard from others about public schools and, in particular, about public school teachers. Over the years we have encountered hundreds of statements about the dangers of such teachers. We have been assured that public schools are the breeding ground for every kind of social evil, that they are the lair of predatory teachers, that they are full of tenured and unionized employees who care nothing for children. We have heard that public school teachers care only for ideology, that they will allow no leeway for Christian beliefs, that they will do their utmost to undermine the hard training of parents who attempt to raise their children with biblical ideals. In many Christian circles, public school teachers are made out to be the enemies of the faith.

Our experience of public school teachers has been far different and far more positive. And I don’t think we are the exception, not from what I’ve heard when speaking to people in my church, in my city, in my family, and even as I’ve spoken to many of you at conferences or churches or events. Of course some have had bad experiences, but not all. Not nearly all.

So in some spheres, the antithesis doesn’t go all the way down. It does in movies that show skin, supposedly. But imagine if Challies could concede that some films and tv shows that reveal flesh are “far different” from merely being about lust and “far more positive” in their portrayals of characters and social contexts. What if my experience of movies has not been all bad? That despite all the skin-avoiders say about “dirty” movies, these films and shows are about far more than lust, sex, adultery?

In other words, if you can entertain shades of gray with public education — one of the great sins for a certain strand of Calvinism — why not with television and film production? Conflicted minds want to know.

Can't We All Get Along?

Generally speaking, American Christians have a tough time perceiving Muslims as anything but a threat if they are promoting Sharia. But why oh why are not Christians similarly concerned about how threatening they might seem to those non-Christians with whom they share North American civil society? Two examples suggest that Christians have as hard a time fitting into modern secular society as Muslims. First, a Canadian iteration about the limits of public education:

To defenders of the North American status quo, school choice is shorthand for a set of policies that will undermine the effectiveness of a single education system, ensuring that all children are educated along similar core values. For those who advocate against big government and favour free market competition, school choice protects the freedoms of individual families and raises standards and performance. But what if most of us don’t actually make choices this way at the local level? In reality, there are two basic questions that parents ask:

Should we have more than one meaningful option as to where we will send our child to school?

Is every school appropriate for every child?

Parents make decisions regarding the education of their children in many ways. Accessibility to a desired school is among the most significant factors in real estate decisions. And while the range between the quality of schools in more affluent neighbourhoods and those in less affluent ones varies depending on the part of North America in which you live, the notion that common funding formulas automatically translate into equal educational quality is commonly understood to be mythical.

Parents desire different types of schools for all sorts of reasons. Whether they’re placing priority on the language, pedagogy, religious perspective, or any one of an additional dozen factors, decisions regarding schooling priorities can be as diverse as the population itself. The functional social question that emerges is two-fold: Which of these choices should be supported by the community? Should the same rules and the same funding apply to all of the choices?

I personally (all about moi) have great sympathy for this argument but at the same time we should remember that public schools were created to provide a common curriculum and basic level of education for citizenship in a republican or constitutional monarchy. If Christians opt out of public schools — and there are many good reasons — they are also opting out of a common project and claiming implicitly that their faith sets them apart from Canadian or American identity. This is more antithesis than common grace providence.

So where will Christian exclusivism end? Does it extend to vaccines? Maybe so:

Can parents have their children vaccinated with the MMR vaccine without compromising their pro-life principles—without cooperating with the Culture of Death? The National Catholic Register addressed that question this week, and although I cannot find any clear error of fact in the article, I think it creates a very inaccurate impression.

Relying heavily on analysis by the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), the Register explains that parents who choose to have their children vaccinated are engaged only in “remote material cooperation” with abortion. Given the potential risks of disease, the article reports, the Vatican has stated that parents can be justified in chosing vaccination.

That’s all perfectly true. But reading the Register article, one might conclude that the Vatican has said parents should vaccinate. That’s not accurate. The Pontifical Academy for Life, in a statement released in 2005, said that parents could be justified in choosing vaccination. The statement did not say that this choice was preferable, let alone mandatory.

What the Vatican did say, with undeniable clarity, was that parents have a moral obligation to insist on vaccines that are not prepared by immoral means: vaccines not derived from fetal remains. The Pontifical Academy for Life wrote that “there remains a moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically.”

Of course, the reasons against vaccination here are more complicated than parents simply questioning the w-w of the medical establishment. But it does again raise questions about the willingness of Christians to participate in a common life that runs according to shared standards of education, medicine, and science. I get it. No neutrality in every square inch. But how about commonality (at least in a Commonwealth)?

So could the author of the Letter to Diognetus say this about today’s Protestants and Roman Catholics in North America?

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

If he couldn’t, should that make Christians more sympathetic to Muslims who also want to maintain their religious ways?

Machen on Roman Catholic Indoctrination

anti-catholicismSince the Christian school advocates are invoking Machen, here is one more relevant quotation that may clarify his views on American liberty and how it affects folks from different faiths even if they happen to be in the Protestant majority. Since Machen refers in the following to debates over public education, the quotation may also shed light on why he admired the Dutch Calvinist day schools.

The attack upon tolerance in America is appearing most clearly in the sphere of education. The Oregon school law, it is true, with its provision that children should be taken by brute force from their parents and delivered over to the tender mercies of whatever superintendent of education happens to be in power in the district where they reside, will probably be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. And the Nebraska language law, which made literary education a crime, was thrown out by the same tribunal. But the same ends may well be accomplished by indirect means, and if the Sterling-Reed Bill is passed by Congress, we shall have sooner or later that uniformity of education under the control of the state which is the worst calamity into which any nation can fall.

Against such tyranny, I do cherish some hope that Jews and Christians, Roman Catholics and Protestants, if they are lovers of liberty, may present a united front. I am for my part an inveterate propagandist; but the same right of propaganda which I desire for myself I want to see also in the possession of others. What absurdities are uttered in the name of a pseudo-Americanism today! People object to the Roman Catholics, for example, because they engage in “propaganda.” But why should they not engage in propaganda? And how should we have any respect for them if, holding the view which they hold — that outside the Roman church there is no salvation — they did not engage in propaganda first, last, and all the time? Clearly they have a right to do so, and clearly we have a right to do the same. . . .

Does this mean, then, that we must eternally bite and devour one another, that acrimonious debate must never for a moment be allowed to cease? . . . . There is a common solution of the problem which we think ought to be taken to heart. It is the solution provided by family life. In countless families, there is a Christian parent who with untold agony of soul has seen the barrier of religious difference set up between himself or herself and a beloved child. Salvation, it is believed with all the heart, comes only through Christ, and the child, it is believed, unless it has really trusted in Christ, is lost. These, I tell you, are the real tragedies of life. And how trifling, in comparison, is the experience of bereavement of the like! But what do these sorrowing parents do? Do they make themselves uselessly a nuissance to their child? In countless cases they do not; in countless cases there is hardly a mention of the subject of religion; in countless cases there is nothing but prayer, and an agony of soul bravely covered by helpfulness and cheer. (From “The Relations between Christians and Jews,” in Selected Shorter Writings, pp. 419-20)