The Jesuit Paideia

The Jesuit Paideia

The early 20th century Catholic apologist, G. K. Chesterton, lamented about the sorry state of education. In his view, the main fact about education is that it does not exist. As he perceived it in England, there was little direct integration or connection with its various subjects. As he noted in his Philosophy of Education, if it does not combine to convey some general view of life, it is not education at all.

While Chesterton was correct in his perceptions, what he seemed to have missed is the beginnings of the deliberate replacement of the Western Canon’s Paideia. This Greek word can best be defined as the central ideals that education in the humanities would provide. Paideia was meant to instill aristocratic virtues in the young citizen men who were trained according to its tenets. An ideal man, within the Greek polis, should be well-rounded, refined in intellect, morals, and physicality. The training of both the body and mind and their integration was vitally important in sustaining Greek culture.

Over fifty-five years ago, these same principle were still being applied during my four years of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. At that time the Holy Cross student body was comprised solely of men. What I will call the Jesuit Paideia, the late English Professor, Edward Callahan, described as the Jesuit ideal of the thoroughly balanced man at our freshman orientation. Dr. Callahan noted how students had four basic components, namely the intellect, the soul, the body and sociability. A mature man needed to reason, pray, exercise and socialize. 

If he neglected any part of this quadrium, he would fail in attaining the ideal. While at the Cross, I studied very hard, went to Mass—in my freshman year daily Mass (except Saturdays)— was mandatory. I played basketball in the gym at least once a week, went to mixers and joined the Sodality. More than a half century later, I still feel the same need to plan my week around continuing similar disciplines. The nation’s schools and probably even Holy Cross, have lost sight of these very vital building blocks of Western education and culture. 

Instead of feeding the intellect, today’s colleges indoctrinate students with their own ideological view of the universe. Chesterton had it right when he said: Dogma is education. But dogma should revolve around truth, not a perverse ideology. While sports reign, there are many opponents of competitive games and athletics.  Socialization concerns itself more about binge drinking, hooking-up and self-esteem. The latter exists under the rubric of values clarification and humanistic platitudes about feeling good about oneself. Sex education is not morally based but emanates more from an animal farm. Solid principles of transcendent truth, virtue and common sense have been discarded in favor of fads, trends and fear of the climate apocalypse on the horizon. 

True education revolves around an understanding of just what human nature is. It was  poet, John Milton, who declared that education repairs the ruins of our first parents. The common premise in public education now is that human beings are animals, born to be of use to their government and collect pleasurable experiences, especially sexual ones, along the way. Secular education ignores man’s spiritual realm, while it trains students to be productive citizens. Religious dogma has been replaced by a new dogma of tolerance, openness and radical feminism. 

How did this all come about? One need only look to the public schools. How many educated Americans know that one of Karl Marx’s basic principles of eliminating Western Civilization and establishing his Workers’ Communist Paradise, was the public school system? Cynics need only consult his Communist Manifesto, written in 1848. They will also find the Central Bank, the Estate and Progressive income taxes.The reigning conventional wisdom is that public schools have been vital to America’s education and prosperity. Free education has meant that every child would get a good education. But has it?  

Horace Mann was considered the Father of the Public School System. The first Massachusetts Board of Education Secretary in 1837 and later a congressman was not a Marxist because he predated Marx’s most influential writings. But he was enlightened with the twisted ideals of the French Revolution. He envisioned that his role in education was to steer schools away from advancing sectarian goals and working more on developing students, who were motivated by civil virtues. 

 As a result, he subtly pushed the basic principles of Christian education to the educational sidelines. He then replaced them with a social consciousness that resembled the Social Gospel, which first appeared in the late 19th century. Mann effectively directed students to look straight ahead at social problems, such temperance, women suffrage, labor laws unions and other social problems and in the process ignore or deemphasize devotional services and individual prayer. 

I believe Mann’s pedagogy eventually contributed to the United States Supreme Court’s 1962 decision, Engel v. Vitale, which banned religious prayer in the public schools. In effect, this denied American students and their teachers, not only their right to practice one of the basic components in America’s Classical Education, but also violated the First Amendment. 

Before Mann, America’s schools didn’t just make kids memorize facts or learn skills but McGuffey Reader and Aesop’s Fables were among text books used. Their broad range of thought helped develop their student’s moral imagination, inspire the love of God and country and raise future citizens that changed the world forever. Without Mann’s foundation for secular humanism and his penchant for diverting educational interest from prayer several decades before Engel, it is highly likely religious teachings would still have been allowed in the country’s public schools.

John Dewey picked up Mann’s mantle in the early 20th century. He further developed and advanced the basic tenets of Progressive education. He believed in the plasticity of his students. His progressive teachers would mold them into good little worker bees for the state, steering them away from thinking and toward a learning by doing, which stressed vocational education. True education was reserved for the elite, not the future proletariat of America. Any concern for the individual student’s intellect or soul was summarily tossed in the ever-present green receptacle. Dewey’s ideas quickly became the educational wing of Progressivism which has plagued American society with its zany ideas, mostly derived from Karl Marx.

Educational quickly became weaponized into political power. Behind a smokescreen of preparing students for the new industrial economy, early progressives had political control in mind. Their educational movement was a tangent for their political power grab. Their goals were to capture the reins of government by expanding it to provide the salient features of the Social Gospel.  

In 1907 Herbert Croly, published the first issue of the avant-garde New Republic. This political journal captured the hearts of the progressives when Croly synthesized a pair of diametrically opposed ideas from the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. In a purely brilliant amalgamation, Croly urged that Big Government, a traditional Hamiltonian means, be used to advance Jeffersonian social ends, such as favoring the poor and victims of oppression. Big Government would now stop favoring the Fat Cats on Wall Street and  now use their power to take care of the Little People in America. Thanks to educators Mann and Dewey, the Progressive Gospel transformed into today’s Social Justice Movement, which has corrupted education, religion and politics.  

To counteract the Progressives’ capture of the main instruments for handing down the Classical Paideia, Fox host, Peter Hegseth and David Goodwin have written what I think is the definitive explanation of America’s Century of Miseducation. In their new book, The Battle for the American Mind, they describe how the Western Civilization Paideia underscored the importance of Logos or reason, the teaching of virtue and a sense of wonder and beauty.  

These ideas, as well as the teaching of authentic history and anything written by Dead White Males, have been virtually eliminated from most of our schools’ curricula and replaced with the humanistic thinking of the Socialist triumvirate, Mann, Dewey and Croly. One must not forget the Marxist import from Germany, the notorious Frankfurt School of Social Research. Over the last  century, their cultural ideas have been implanted in the minds and hearts of several generations of teacher education colleges and the major universities. Their graduates have permeated every level of American education their pernicious gospel. 

Under their guidance, programming replaced reason and independent thinking. The classification of personal values replaced virtue. Christian writer, C. S. Leweis bemoaned this fact when he wrote in his book, The  Abolition of Man, that now the schools make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and we are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

School curricula have become so sodden with contrary teachings and that students quickly become bored and restless. This seriously limits their abilities to learn anything. They never develop a moral imagination, from which true creativity and a sense of wonder and true beauty. Instead, they become mere canon fodder and robots for the good of the state. 

In the 21st century, public education and much private education have crossed the line that separates reason and sanity from delusion and insanity. Critical Thinking, the capstone of the Frankfurt School, has been largely responsible. History education now, is nothing more than a vicious assault on America with such dubious scholarship, as The 1619 Project. This pure excuse for serious history declares that all of American history was and still is systemically racist. Thanks to Critical Race Theory, parents have finally gotten a glimpse of what their children are being taught. The Classical or Jesuit Paideia has been transformed into a Marxist Paideia, comparable with those in China, Russia and Cuba.

According to the Hegseth and Goodwin, after 16,000 hours of K-12 indoctrination, our kids come out of government schools hating America. They roll their eyes at religion and disdain our history. Just check the reading and math levels in the major metropolitan public schools today. American spend more money on education than ever before but millions of students are illiterate and innumerate students. They have never been taught to reason with any logical discernment or calculate any numerical systems. It is no odd coincidence that virtually all of these urban schools have been controlled by the Democratic Party and the powerful teachers’ unions. Both are progressive to their rotten core. Students tune out and struggle to find any practical purpose in an educational culture that says racial and gender identity is everything.

The Battle for the American Mind is then, the complete story of the Progressive conscious plan to neutralize the basis ideas of our Republic by removing the major ingredient that had sustained Western Civilization for thousands of years. The public schools have also erased the lines of decency and modesty with its child abusive teachings that masquerade under the banner of sex education. Teaching first graders how to masturbate dates back to the first Clinton administration. 

The introduction of Common Core in 2010 quickly became the engine for capturing the flag of Classical Christian Education. Environmental studies has trumped traditional science and even a former president has unilaterally declared that Evolution and Man-Made Climate Change are both fact and not in need of any further scientific investigation. This is political science weaponizing science education. America’s very history has been distorted, its monuments and honored past leaders have been sullied and often erased from the pages and artifacts of history. The Left has created its own Brave New World, destined for cultural chaos, while our autocratic enemies cheer from the sidelines.

Hegseth and Goodwin explain why, no matter what political skirmishes conservatives win, progressives are winning the war because they control the supply lines of future citizens. Hegseth, who studied and taught counter-insurgency in Afghanistan in 2002, writes that for parents to win the battle for their children’s lives and souls, parents must radically reorient their children’s education. 

This is not an easy task because even the authors concede that most Christian and homeschooling are infused with progressive assumptions. American parents have surrendered their children’s minds to the Left for far too long. The mountain is high but nonetheless the authors stress the need to restore our lost philosophy of education, that is our classical educational philosophy, grounded in virtue and excellence, or what I have called the Jesuit Paideia. This is the only way one can arm future generations to fight for their freedom. In essence, The Battle of the American Mind is a field guide for remaking schools in the United States. Their incisive book provides patriotic parents with the ammunition to join an insurgency that gives America a fighting chance.

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Written by
William Borst