Saturday, November 03, 2012

Dawson on education

One of the testaments of a good book is the ability to endure, to be read with relish, not merely by the author's contemporaries, but by those not yet born.  Christopher Dawson's The Crisis of Western Education is such a book.  Since there is only one substantial Amazon review, I may put together my own later, but for now I'd just like to offer a few very illuminating quotes from the book.

The great problem of the present age is whether the new structure of American society can continue to develop in this way, like a sociological skyscraper... For it is an abnormally expensive economy which uses up both human and natural resources more rapidly than anything hitherto known.  Yet even in the past we see how the relatively simple urban development of the Mediterranean world proved too expensive for the peasant economy of those lands to maintain it indefinitely.  p. 73

Dawson's perfectly sound observation would be political heresy today.  Jimmy Carter's infamous malaise speech expressed the same concerns, but the Americans drubbed him out of office for the immodest Reagan, who promised more growth, neglecting to mention that it would come courtesy of the national credit card. 

The Democrats have learned from Carter's mistake: they, too, now promise indefinite prosperity.  American still refuse to consider that there may be limits to economic growth--ironically enough, during a time in which the economy has not grown for roughly a decade, if not longer.  Yet Dawson's point remains a sound one.

[Universal education] is moreover a continually expanding force, for when once the State has accepted full responsibility for the education of the whole youth of the nation, it is obliged to extend its control further and further into new fields: to the physical welfare of its pupils--to their feeding and medical care--to their amusements and the use of their spare time--and finally to their moral welfare and their pschyological guidance. pp. 85-6

The seed of the welfare state, indeed, the totalitarian state, was planted with a step so seemingly benign.  Yet once the State had taken on the role of educating the citizenry, a role formerly handled, however unevenly, by the religious element of society, it was only a matter of time before it had arrogated to itself other functions of that society.  Hence the churches today, and above all the Church, are seen as, at best, inconsequential wastes of resources, and, at worst, almost, but not quite, treasonous. 

More to follow...

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