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weird sciencePublic education in the last sixty years has become increasingly meaningless because standards revolve around empty skill sets worked out through bankrupt curricular materials and are driven by a fatally flawed pedagogy. Not only have the public schools lost sight of what an “education” is, they have misused empirical science to criminally reduce the definition of a human persona—a vital subject of any properly ordered education.

The architects of modern education have purposefully eliminated the Creator and our creaturely status as Imago Dei, and they have cut humanity off from moral agency as measured by the objective standards of natural and divine law. Modern curricula are geared towards a false definition of the human person, and therefore they are flawed beyond redemption. The totality of modern public education is inappropriately encompassed inside the confines of empirical science, a type of science wholly unsuited to educational pursuits.

There is a joke about a boy crying under a street lamp on a dark night. A man comes up and asks, “Why are you crying boy?” The boy tells him “I lost my money and I am looking for it.” The man then asks, “Where did you lose it?” He answers: “Over there.” The boy points to a dark alley. Then the man asks, “Well, if you lost it over there, why are you looking for it over here?” The boy answers: “Because there is light over here.” The joke is sobering because it portrays what is so terribly wrong with modern educational pedagogy. The schools are looking for the treasure of human education under the artificial lights of empirical science, when true human learning has been lost in the obscured alleys of the human mind and heart, darkened by the twilight of this ever-darkening age.

1381246-the_alchemist_marcel_lorangeScience has become a fetish for modern man. In its modern incarnation it is fool’s gold collected in useless abundance by the modern spiritual alchemists who deny the transcendental nature of spirit. For a partial explanation of the root cause of the weird scientific/educational disaster, we can look to the Scientific Revolution instituted by Sir Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum. Aristotle’s deductive method was turned upside down. The new inductive method led to miraculous results in the physical sciences, medicine, and technology. The ensuing material prosperity overwhelmed mankind, and science became a golden calf. The scientific method was so wildly successful that man felt emboldened to apply this materially lucrative method to all manner of subjects. The results have been catastrophic.

The root of the word “science” is “to know,” and the sciences were intended from the start to be the systematic searches for truth. The “sciences” were at one time the study to discover things as they are; things were held up and measured against the objective standard, the book of nature and divine revelation. The Queen of the Sciences—theology and the great intellectual science of philosophy—were understood to be the very highest forms of science, but under the new inverted order they are no longer understood to be sciences at all; in fact, now consensus determines that it is empirical science that is the queen of the sciences, usurper though she is.

Modernity and the scientific revolution did for “science” what the French Revolution did for “liberty.” Both words have been rendered ineffectual by ideological misuse. Just as “liberty” transmogrified into license, “science” devolved into blind faith in consensus confirmed by the senses. Observable evidence amassed now runs through the redundant apparatus of self-reference for interpretation as an artifact of the radical individualism that has infected the West. The consensus of fools becomes the authority that replaces the book of nature and divine revelation, and thus the committee of social utopians designing the public schools have managed to get every single aspect of education wrong. There is no longer a baby to throw out with the bath water.

saruman funny lord of the ringsEducation is intended to be a human, moral, and intellectual endeavor. The skills-based learning paradigm is inherently anti-human: It claims to be “scientific” but is actually pseudo-scientific. It reduces the human to a material object on which to experiment under the structures of empirical science, which is akin to mapping a continent with a microscope. The farce calls to mind what Gandalf said to the formerly white wizard, Saruman: “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.” Instead of teaching to the whole person, which is undeniably requisite in an endeavor like teaching, through pseudo-scientific quantification the modern educational expert tries to break a student open to see how he works. Just like the frog laid out in science lab for dissection, the effort to dissect scientifically human learning means the death of the students’ educational life.

Einstein famously quipped that “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” The public schools are measuring things that do not matter and ignoring what does matter because there is a contrived artificial light that is sufficiently brilliant to be confused with the real light of truth. In a frenzy of self-congratulation, the experts end in applying methods of empirical science to human problems, and thus human children are treated as calculi; they try to weigh and measure these little bags of molecules, and students are no longer humans to be taught, but algorithms to be worked out by computations, additions, and subtractions. The final measure of success is an arbitrary score on an ultimately meaningless test. The entire enterprise is a colossal moral crime.

Education—from its Latin root, educare—means to lead forth out of the darkness of the caves where we find ourselves in chains, comprised of the links forged from the vices to which our fallen natures gravitate. Every aspect of true education is an exercise in liberty designed to free us from the chains of vice and prepare us for the union with truth. It is an endeavor of an agricultural nature in which the product is intransitive and exponential, not transitive and summary. In this modern age, all areas of public education have been spoiled by the misemployment of the scientific method. Education is an endeavor that lies far afield from the competence of empirical science. There is nothing left of value in our public schools because everything about them can be measured and quantified, except for the true and eternal damage done to real human souls. Weird science indeed!

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Published: Jul 15, 2014
Author
Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg
Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. A convert to Catholicism, he is a catechist, a school teacher, and a writer and speaker on matters of faith, culture, and education. He holds a degree in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Steven is a member of the Teacher Advisory Board and writer of curriculum at the Sophia Institute for Teachers, a contributor to the Integrated Catholic Life, Crisis Magazine, The Civilized Reader, The Standard Bearers, Catholic Exchange, and a founding member of the Brinklings Literary Club.
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2 replies to this post
  1. Hayek’s 1974 Nobel speech (on economics but apt for any social science) “It seems to me that this failure of the economists to guide policy more successfully is closely connected with their propensity to imitate as closely as possible the procedures of the brilliantly successful physical sciences — an attempt which in our field may lead to outright error. It is an approach which has come to be described as the ‘scientistic’ attitude — an attitude which, as I defined it some thirty years ago, ‘is decidedly unscientific in the true sense of the word, since it involves a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed.'”

  2. Wow! This goes up on my f/b wall, for my teaching friends!”The final measure of success is an arbitrary score on an ultimately meaningless test.” Again, “Wow!”

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