A Brief History of Civic Virtue

One of the elements of classical and Christian thought which is rather in need of restoration today is the concept of civic virtue. In “A Brief History of Civic Virtue,” Veritas humanities and classics teacher Rick Trumbo traces the idea of civic virtue from its origins in Greco- Roman republicanism through its Medieval and Renaissance development into what Alexis de Tocqueville called the American notion of “enlightened self-interest.” The workshop will provide documents and discussion topics for teachers of ancient, Medieval, and early American history and teachers of government as an aid to helping Classical Christian schools recover this often-neglected element of moral philosophy.

Rick Trumbo

Rick Trumbo graduated with a B. A. in Humanities from Hampden-Sydney College in 1976. He earned a Master of Humanities at the University of Richmond in 1983. He has taught history, government, and Latin over 35 years as a high school teacher. He is currently an instructor in Ancient and Medieval humanities, and Latin, at Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia, where he has taught for six years. He has held various administrative and departmental roles during his career and also serves as a ruling elder in the PCA.

On Definition of Rhetoric

Today we read of “empty rhetoric,” “mere rhetoric,” and even “violent rhetoric”. The term is present in our daily lives, yet only rarely it is used properly. Ask the average man on the street, or in this author’s case, the average college sophomore, to define rhetoric, and the responses provide some insight into the prevalence of the popular disposition toward the art. The sophomores write that rhetoric is “persuasion,” “empty argument,” “sophistic discourse,” or “the art of composition” if they know of it at all. While each of these so-called definitions of rhetoric holds something in common with the art, none of them engages the fullness of the art, nor its essential qualities. While the contemporary views of rhetoric expressed herein can be traced to numerous root causes including the attempt to separate invention and logic from rhetoric in the Middle Ages, the American Elocutionary Movement of the eighteenth century, the reinvention of scholastic rhetoric courses into grammar, composition, and literature courses, etc., none of these is the focus of this essay. Rather, the concern is with a reinvestment in rhetoric as an art form through a better understanding of its defining characteristics as approached through Aristotle and Quintilian’s definitions of rhetoric as a civic art as well as a more contemporary conceptualization of the term.

The seminal definition of rhetoric is that of Aristotle, written in his treatise Rhetoric. Aristotle writes that rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic (Rhetoric I.1, 1354a1). It grows out of dialectic and the conceptualization of character (ethos and the related concept of ethics; Rhetoric I.2, 1356a25f), and, in fact, rhetoric and dialectic are two branches of the same tree. Dialectic deals with the concepts in the absolute and rhetoric in the contingent realm. The relationship of rhetoric to the dialectic is important as it stresses that rhetoric has import beyond practice, that it has substance or form, a necessary element to the concept of an art or technê. Aristotle asserts that rhetoric is the art of discovering all of the available means of persuasion in any given situation (Rhetoric I.2, 1355b26f). In order to ascertain why the simplification of this de nition to “the art of persuasion” or “persuasion” is harmful, it is appropriate to examine each term of import as it arises in Aristotle’s formulation.

Rhetoric is the art. . .

The term art or technê implies a two-fold understanding of the subject—that of technê (form) and praxis (practice). Technê, translated from the Greek, means art or craftsmanship; it infers rational method. The concept is related to episteme, science or knowledge, but works in the realm of probability rather than in the realm of absolutes and of truth. Rhetoric must have form or technê both in and of itself. While Aristotle would agree that rhetoric is devoid of subject matter in its practice, he demonstrates that as art rhetoric has form and contains methodological subject matter. He provides further instruction in this area as he lays out his system of rhetoric within the greater schema of arts of knowledge and demonstration. In addition to form, the art must be applicable or active in practice. This element of praxis is empty if deprived of its related and underlying form. This is one of the primary problems with the public conception of rhetoric as empty or sophistic. It is further exacerbated by the recognition that rhetoric, as Aristotle conceives of it is ethically neutral–it is amoral, and may be used for evil or good, by the self-interested as well as the ethical, civic minded rhetorician.

. . . of discovering. . .

The concept of discovery (inventio or invention) is essential to its power as an art. The rhetor holds within himself the knowledge necessary to complete the artistic proofs of ethos (character, credibility, goodwill), logos (logic), and pathos (passions, emotions) in ways that are uniquely his own. In other words, the arguments and examples available to the rhetorician are not available equally to all rhetors but are uniquely discoverable by individual rhetors based upon knowledge, experience, etc. Only a few categories of argument are universally available. Known as the inartistic proofs, they include witnesses, evidence given under torture, written contracts, and laws. Aristotle notes that while the former are particular modes of persuasion belonging to rhetoric, the latter are not.

. . . all of the available means of persuasion. . .

In part, it makes reference back to the previous conception of the deductive and inductive arguments possible for advancement by a rhetor. Topical thinking allows the rhetor to discover premises linking his claims to audience positions. In other words, we create significance. Additionally, invention is linked to the ends of rhetoric; forensic appeals are concerned with justice and injustice, deliberative ends with expedience and inexpedience or persuasion and dissuasion, and epideictic or ceremonial ends with praise or blame. By knowing one’s subject matter one has access to particulars. Concerns of invention are threaded through each of the remaining canons as the rhetor examines disposition, style, delivery, memory.

. . . in any given situation.

Rhetoric is concerned with the realm of human affairs rather than questions of the nature of man. It is concerned with the probable rather than the absolute. A situation is a complex collection of events, people, and objects in relation to an issue, problem, crisis, or call for action. Rhetoric itself is action and results in further actions based upon a situational definition. The situated nature of rhetoric has led many to teach that rhetoric is immoral, that higher or universal principles have no place in its practice. This is simply not the case. Universal principles are operative in the contingent world of rhetoric as are universal topics. The rhetor has the capacity to make use of these principles or not.

The Roman orator Quintilian provides a second glimpse at the complexity of the rhetorical tradition. His definition is often put forth by classical and liberal arts institutions and educators due to its connection to virtue. Quintilian defines rhetoric as the science (or art) of the good man speaking well in his work on the subject, the Institutes of Oratory. Quintilian, like Aristotle, views rhetoric as containing both form and practice; he conceives of it as a civic art. He is clear that it is irreducible to a series of rules. Further, he contends that its scope extends beyond persuasion. He continues to make full use of Aristotle’s system of rhetoric and the five Canons of Rhetoric as they were codified by Cicero, but his greatest concern is with the rhetor. For Quintilian, the ideal orator (rhetor) was a man of high moral character, learned in all subjects, and schooled finally, completely in the art of rhetoric. This definition reflects the Roman consideration of ethos as tied to the citizen directly, over time, and across situations; it relates directly to any consideration of intent. Unfortunately, it is this focus on the rhetor rather than the art that is deficient, and that undermines the force and content of Quintilian’s definition. As Quintilian himself notes, the rhetor cannot be taught virtue and character directly through the art of rhetoric. It is outside of its purview. The art of rhetoric is inclusive of intellectual virtue, but not moral virtue. As a de nition, the art of the good man speaking well says little of the content of the art, but much about Quintilian’s concern for the interaction of the substance of an argument with the character of the orator.

Contemporary definitions of rhetoric have further exacerbated the general perception that rhetoric is immoral, empty of substance, and ripe for abuse. In good part this is due to academic trends towards deconstructionism and the study of technique in place of art. The emergence of a solid, singular definition of the art of rhetoric has failed to take shape. A study of twentieth century rhetorical theory and public address criticism does, however, offer the teacher of rhetoric a set of core terms that allow for a renewed and contemporary under- standing of the art of rhetoric in form and practice that can co-exist with more traditional definitions: Rhetoric is intentional, situated, symbolic action.

What does this mean? First, rhetoric is intentional; it is pragmatic. It seeks to influence choice. As such, it is reflective of Aristotle’s concern with the available means of persuasion. Second, rhetoric is situated; the number of situations and contexts may have grown, but the constraints upon the rhetor remain similar to those of the past. Contemporary rhetorical scholars claim access to an adapted three contexts/ends of rhetoric–informative, persuasive, and ceremonial, apply the same concepts of artistic and inartistic appeals in similar ways, and continue to examine ways to affect change in real audiences present in actual rhetorical situations. Third, rhetoric is symbolic. A rhetor must engage with others to generate a shared meaning that may result in a shared interpretation and/or a shared action, either real or symbolic. In order to engage with others, the rhetor must engage in the inventive nature of rhetoric, organize the message in keeping with contextual and audience expectations, and utilize appropriate style and delivery. Finally, rhetoric is action and results in action. It continues to be practiced in the realm of human affairs where social action is required.

The growth of rhetorical contexts beyond the classically conceived contexts of the courtroom, assembly, and public sphere has added complexity to the rhetorical realm. An understanding of Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric as dynamic, comprised of form and practice, inventive, seeking all of the means of persuasion open to the rhetor within a given situation, provides the contemporary rhetorician the tools necessary to practice the art in full. Quintilian reminds the student of rhetoric that the art is forever tied to considerations of virtue, and that it reaches its greatest potential when it is practiced by a virtuous rhetor who holds knowledge of his subject and acts, not for himself, but for the betterment of society. The unifying terms of contemporary rhetoric reify the art, grounding it for study in the classroom and the public sphere. A re-engagement with the art of rhetoric allows the student to challenge the prevalent notions that rhetoric is, and necessarily must be, empty, self-serving, or even violent, and to replace them, knowing that the best of rhetors are men of high character and knowledge engaged in rhetorical action for civic good.

What Kind of Citizens Will Classical Students Be?

The American Civic Literacy Program recently published the results of a test that asked basic questions covering American history, government, and economics. The average score from a sample of 2,500 Americans was a dismal 49%. Astonishingly, individuals who labeled themselves as elected offcials scored even lower – 44%. Obviously, the American education system is not doing a very good job of teaching its citizens about the functions of their own government. With another presidential campaign season come and gone and with this study’s reminder of how poorly Americans understand their government and history, it seems appropriate to dissect the relationship between the goals of classical education and those of the conventional American education system.

We often hear the arguments for the importance of a government-funded education system. One argument claims that education creates a literate citizenry, which in turn creates a population better informed of political issues. These literate and informed citizens can then make wiser decisions in the voting process, and the government is thus improved by the electorate. Additionally, we often hear government offcials and public education supporters tell us that government-run schools help promote patriotism. By learning about the processes and history of our government, students gain a love for their country. A final common argument made for the modern purpose of public education is its ability to create skilled workers to compete in the new global economy. More than any other argument, this one holds the most relevance today as the American economy appears to be slipping. A well- trained population ensures economic prosperity for our country. These three arguments combine to provide the crutch that upholds much of the modern education system in the United States.

Compared to other parts of the world, the United States does have a high literacy rate. Although American students can read, they rarely read at or above their grade level. In response to this, information about the government, passed down through the media, must be transmitted at a lower level. The Global Language Monitor has analyzed the speeches and debates of the 2008 election and found that Barack Obama’s speeches varied from an 8th
to 9th grade reading level. John McCain’s speeches measured between a 7th and 8th grade reading level. Abraham Lincoln’s speeches measure between an 11th and 12th grade level, and John F. Kennedy scores between a 10th and 11th grade level, on the same scale. Obviously, although American students can read, they cannot read very well, and the political conversation has become more simplistic and didactic.

Classical education aspires to provide students with the ability not only to read at a high level and comprehend complex ideas, but also to think critically about these ideas and develop their own opinions. Courses in logic and rhetoric give students the ability to comprehend complex ideas and to make informed decisions about them. This is skill needed to make truly informed and wise decisions in elections, thus benefiting the process and the nation as a whole.

The need for patriotism is another idea promoted by the conventional school system. We need informed voters who understand their nation’s government and have a respect and love for it. As Judge Walter Crosky recently wrote in a California case regarding the legality of homeschooling: “A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare.”

Mere “loyalty to the state” is not the type of patriotism that classical education promotes. We understand that in order to be truly patriotic, students must learn to love the things that make a country great. America is great because of her commitment to individual liberty, the democratic process, the rule of law, and economic freedom. These four factors have been the bedrock of the success and prosperity of the American republic. These four factors contribute to making the United States a country worth loving. Classical education teaches students the time- honored value of these Western traditions, but does not force them to love their country just because they should be loyal to their government for the benefit of the public. This is why teaching history is so important in the classical education model. Students learn the absolute value of these American ideals and then choose for themselves whether they will commit themselves to them or reject them.

The newest form of argument for public education is the need for highly skilled American workers who will compete in the global economy. This goal has become perhaps the primary purpose of our modern system. Increases in funding for two-year colleges and training schools and the specialization of curriculum demonstrate that American educators and policy makers believe it is the job of public education to train potential workers. There is nothing wrong with this in theory, but the problem arises when these students, who are not really students as much as they are trainees, do not receive the well- rounded instruction that classical education offers. Instead of challenging students to improve their reading level and critical-thinking skills, American schools send kids off to learn a practical skill so that they will contribute to the growth of our economy.

Increasing the skill-level of workers may increase productivity to a certain degree, but classically educated students have more than job-specific skills. In today’s global economy, being specialized in a field might help you land a job initially. However, American workers are changing careers at a higher rate than ever before. As technology advances, demand for certain skill-sets rises and falls quickly, and workers often find themselves looking for a new career. Classical education allows its graduates, because of their intellectual well-roundedness, to learn a new field quickly and to change careers if needed. Since technology moves quickly and the demand for skills fluctuates, people with a wide capacity and the ability to teach themselves new skills are the type of people that the United States needs to compete in the global economy.

Finally, classical education provides students with the ability to distinguish between the many different facets of their lives and to prioritize them correctly. Being a productive and responsible citizen is but one important part of an individual’s life. Well-educated students must understand this, and they must know that there are other things in their lives that take precedence over their national citizenship. Their identities as family members and members of the Body of Christ take precedence over their identities as a citizen of a state. Classically educated students have the equipment to discern between the importance of these priorities in their lives and to dedicate themselves to them accordingly.

Can Good Government Save Us?

I think the poet Catullus is noted first to have said, “The government that governs least, governs best.” Paine, Jefferson and Thoreau each followed with their own versions of the sentiment, though each also with their own intent. As a principle, I tend to agree, but in the current climate, I’m not sure anyone else does.

We do rely on our governments, though. In times of war or economic disaster, where else would we turn for protection or assurance? In the modern era, governments both reflect and shape the values of the governed. Even in an age of disenfranchised democracy, we hold up our own government as a symbol of who we are, what we really believe.

In this issue, several contributors discuss the importance of civic life and responsibility to our schools, our students, and the education we provide. By historical standards, citizens of modern liberal democracies possess a great deal of power to influence the people and mechanisms by which we are governed. The more knowledgeable, the more spiritually grounded, the be er equipped with relevant skills, the greater the influence our students might have in their lifetimes. And if they understand themselves to be both citizens of heaven and this world, their civic contributions will be means by which God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

In many ways, schools are no different than nations. When I look carefully at the schools which many admire for their commitment to educational mission, their confident Christian identity, their institutional prosperity, and their consistent impact on graduates, I find one consistent characteristic: good governance. A school improperly staffed or inadequately designed may not be rescued from failure and insolvency by an active board, but trustees who govern within a culture of goal-oriented planning provide good schools with the energy and resources to achieve their potential. A good board can’t save a bad school, but a good board can lead a good school to greatness.

Conversely, in his article for this edition of The Journal, Bill McGee describes the detrimental impact that a poorly functioning board can have on even the best schools. He also proposes steps that can be taken to help the boards of promising schools to improve their performance and the prospects of the schools they govern. This is timely, because the trend in Christian schools seems to be that their governance is getting worse, not better.

One indication is that the average tenure of heads of school has dramatically decreased over the past twenty years. According to one source, the average tenure of a head of school twenty years ago was eight years. Today, average tenures are less than half that. That’s half the time to envision, to nurture, to build. Half the time to bring families and students along in partnership with the school’s mission. Half the time to establish a faculty culture of loving expectation. Half the time to fulfill the expectations of families who have entrusted their most valuable possessions to our care.

The financial poverty that the current recession is exposing in many Christian schools is another indicator. One prominent Christian school leader recently told me that he expects as many as 20% of Christian schools in his association to fail— shut their doors, lay off their staff, sell off their desks and football pads—in the next two years. Not only is this tragic for the students and families left without a Christian schooling option, but it is a tragedy for our culture. As John Seel asserts in his article for this edition, Christian schools have never been needed more than today.

Can all of this be blamed on poor governance? Certainly not. There is plenty of blame to go around, from consumer demands to hide bound administration to teachers who just punch the clock. Still, it is also true that no group of stakeholders is more prominently positioned to either move a school forward or to hamper progress than its governors, the trustees of the school’s mission. It is a sacred trust, deserving the best effort, the best information, and the undivided a ention of every board and every board member.

How Public Education Cripples Our Kids and Why

Mass schooling of a compulsory nature really got its teeth into the United States between 1905 and 1915, though it was conceived of much earlier and pushed for throughout most of the nineteenth century. The reason given for this enormous upheaval of family life and cultural traditions was, roughly speaking, threefold:

1. To make good people.
2. To make good citizens.
3. To make each person his or her personal best.

These goals are still trotted out today on a regular basis, and most of us accept them in one form or another as a decent definition of public education’s mission, however short schools actually fall in achieving them.

But we are dead wrong. Compounding our error is the fact that the national literature holds numerous and surprisingly consistent statements of compulsory schooling’s true purpose. We have, for example, the great H. L. Mencken, who wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, and that is its aim everywhere else. Because of Mencken’s reputation as a satirist, we might be tempted to dismiss this passage as a bit of hyperbolic sarcasm. His article, however, goes on to trace the template for our own educational system back to the now vanished, though never to be forgotten, military state of Prussia. And although he was certainly aware of the irony that we had recently been at war with Germany, the heir to Prussian thought and culture, Mencken was being perfectly serious here. Our educational system really is Prussian in origin, and that really is cause for concern.

The odd fact of a Prussian provenance for our schools pops up again and again once you know to look for it. William James alluded to it many times at the turn of the century. Orestes Brownson, the hero of Christopher Lasch’s 1991 book, The True and Only Heaven, was publicly denouncing the Prussianization of American schools back in the 1840s. Horace Mann’s “Seventh Annual Report” to the Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1843 is essentially a paean to the land of Frederick the Great and a call for its schooling to be brought here.

That Prussian culture loomed large in America is hardly surprising, given our early association with that utopian state. A Prussian served as Washington’s aide during the Revolutionary War, and so many German-speaking people had settled here by 1795 that Congress considered publishing a German-language edition of the federal laws. But what shocks is that we should so eagerly have adopted one of the very worst aspects of Prussian culture: an educational system deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens in order to render the populace “manageable.”

It was from James Bryant Conant—President of Harvard for twenty years, WWI poison-gas specialist, WWII executive on the atomic-bomb project, high commissioner of the American zone in Germany after WWII, and truly one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century—that I first got wind of the real purposes of American schooling. Without Conant, we would probably not have the same style and degree of standardized testing that we enjoy today, nor would we be blessed with gargantuan high schools that warehouse 2,000 to 4,000 students at a time, like the famous Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado. Shortly after I retired from teaching I picked up Conant’s 1959 book-length essay, The Child the Parent and the State, and was more than a little intrigued to see him mention in passing that the modem schools we attend were the result of a “revolution” engineered between 1905 and 1930. A revolution? He declines to elaborate, but he does direct the curious and the uninformed to Alexander Inglis’s 1918 book, Principles of Secondary Education, in which “one saw this revolution through the eyes of a revolutionary.”

Inglis, for whom a lecture in education at Harvard is named, makes it perfectly clear that compulsory schooling on this continent was intended to be just what it had been for Prussia in the 1820s: a fifth column into the burgeoning democratic movement that threatened to give peasants and proletarians a voice at the bargaining table. Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a sort of surgical incision into the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by age grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever re-integrate into a dangerous whole.

Inglis breaks down the purpose—the actual purpose—of modem schooling into six basic func- tions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three tradi- tional goals listed earlier:

1. The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can’t test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.

2. The integrating function. This might well be called “the conformity function,” because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.

3. The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student’s proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in “your permanent record.” Yes, you do have one.

4. The differentiating function. Once their social role has been “diagnosed,” children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits—and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.

5. The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin’s theory of natural selection as applied to what he called “the favored races.” In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit—with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments—clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That’s what all those little humiliations from rst grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.

6. The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.

That, unfortunately, is the purpose of mandatory public education in this country. And lest you take Inglis for an isolated crank with a rather too cynical take on the educational enterprise, you should know that he was hardly alone in championing these ideas. Conant himself, building on the ideas of Horace Mann and others, campaigned tirelessly for an American school system designed along the same lines. Men like George Peabody, who funded the cause of mandatory schooling throughout the South, surely understood that the Prussian system was useful in creating not only a harmless electorate and a servile labor force but also a virtual herd of mindless consumers. In time a great number of industrial titans came to recognize the enormous profits to be had by cultivating and tending just such a herd via public education, among them Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.

There you have it. Now you know. We don’t need Karl Marx’s conception of a grand warfare between the classes to see that it is in the interest of complex management, economic or political, to dumb people down, to demoralize them, to divide them from one another, and to discard them if they don’t conform. Class may frame the proposition, as when Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said the following to the New York City School Teachers Association in 1909: “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” But the motives behind the disgusting decisions that bring about these ends need not be class-based at all. They can stem purely from fear, or from the by now familiar belief that “efficiency” is the paramount virtue, rather than love, liberty, laughter, or hope. Above all, they can stem from simple greed.

There were vast fortunes to be made, after all, in an economy based on mass production and organized to favor the large corporation rather than the small business or the family farm. But mass production required mass consumption, and at the turn of the twentieth century most Americans considered it both unnatural and unwise to buy things they didn’t actually need. Mandatory schooling was a godsend on that count. School didn’t have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume nonstop, because it did something even better: it encouraged them not to think at all. And that left them sitting ducks for another great invention of the modem era: marketing.

Now, you needn’t have studied marketing to know that there are two groups of people who can always be convinced to consume more than they need to: addicts and children. School has done a pretty good job of turning our children into addicts, but it has done a spectacular job of turning our children into children. Again, this is no accident. Theorists from Plato to Rousseau to our own Dr. Inglis knew that if children could be cloistered with other children, stripped of responsibility and independence, encouraged to develop only the trivializing emotions of greed, envy, jealousy, and fear, they would grow older but never truly grow up. In the 1934 edition of his once well-known book Public

Education in the United States, Ellwood P. Cubberley detailed and praised the way the strategy of successive school enlargements had extended childhood by two to six years, and forced schooling was at that point still quite new. This same Cubberley— dean of Stanford’s School of Education, a textbook editor at Houghton Mifflin, and Conant’s friend and correspondent at Harvard—had written the following in the 1922 edition of his book Public School Administration: “Our schools are…factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned…. And it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down.”

It’s perfectly obvious from our society today what those specifications were. Maturity has by now been banished from nearly every aspect of our lives. Easy divorce laws have removed the need to work at relationships; easy credit has removed the need for fiscal self-control; easy entertainment has removed the need to learn to entertain oneself; easy answers have removed the need to ask questions. We have become a nation of children, happy to surrender our judgments and our wills to political exhortations and commercial blandishments that would insult actual adults. We buy televisions, and then we buy the things we see on the television. We buy computers, and then we buy the things we see on the computer. We buy $150 sneakers whether we need them or not, and when they fall apart too soon we buy another pair. We drive SUVs and believe the lie that they constitute a kind of life insurance, even when we’re financially upside-down in them. And, worst of all, we don’t bat an eye when an Ari Fleischer tells us to “be careful what you say,” even if we remember having been told somewhere back in school that America is the land of the free. We simply buy that one too. Our schooling, as intended, has seen to it.

Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well- schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in his- tory, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology—all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well- schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.