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The word “education” itself has become a political symbol co-opted by a secular government to mean career and college training for the sake of a mechanized society. A theoretical and conceptual recovery of the word “education” would be a return to the notion that an education is the transmission of culture and the way in which children are led from the darkness of error into the light of truth…

education languageThe real nature of an authentic education has been obscured in this generation by the misuse and abuse of speech. We are now in a time that requires a recovery of the right use of speech in academia so that we might reform our schools to operate in accord with the right use of reason, a cultivation of the liberal arts which correspond with the true nature of the human person, and a proper view of the created cosmos aided by revealed truth and a proper philosophy. This profound shift will guide us towards an authentic and proper education for our children. Parents are a child’s first educators. As is said in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The “way he should go” is his education. However, to begin the real conversation about “the way he should go,” we must recognize a very important distinction that will help us to use speech properly in education as distinct from political language. We must acknowledge the difference between theoretical concepts and political symbols.

Language is a mysterious thing. God spoke the world into existence. Christ the Logos is the perfect Word of God. We humans are the only creatures on earth gifted with the image of God articulated through our free will participation with the Divine Intellect by the use of speech. God gave Adam the power to name things. By the preternatural gifts and God’s grace, there was no need for an education in the Garden. The Creator taught by infusion and man learned by obedience to Truth. Since the Fall and concomitant privation of grace, we are apt to confuse the distinction between the proper order of thought and the political order, which causes harm to both orders as a result. If we confuse political symbols for what ought to be properly ordered academic language, we render ourselves incapable of educating.

Eric Voegelin describes the difference between the two contexts of the political and knowledgeable. He describes the differences in the language necessary for each. He tells us that political struggles necessitate the use of language reformulated to reflect the new conditions desired by political action. “These acts of verbal creation are just as much political battles as are the more concrete manifestations of the struggle, including physical confrontations.”[1] These verbal creations are political symbols, which are derived from, but not congruent with, words used in the pursuit of knowledge. They are useful tools and necessary when trying to defeat political adversaries. Thus, there are two contexts, the intellectual pursuit of truth and the political arena. Both use the same words but in contexts that are unsuitable to be used interchangeably. Voegelin says “it is impossible to assign to political verbal expression a meaning that is “correct” in an epistemological context.”[2] Our schools ought not to be political arenas but academies in the pursuit of the transcendent ideals of truth, goodness, and beauty.

In the early twentieth century, schools were being used as resources to solve social problems, thus the transition from institutions of learning to political activity centers had begun in earnest. Today, most important words in modern education are now used as political symbols whose relation to theoretical concepts is diminished at best, wholly contrary at worst. The word “education” itself has become a political symbol co-opted by a secular government to mean career and college training for the sake of a mechanized society. A theoretical and conceptual recovery of the word “education” would be a return to the notion that an education is the transmission of culture and the way in which children are led from the darkness of error into the light of truth.

A brief examination of the notion of “critical thinking” ought to shed light on the depth of this problem. What the secular modern schools mean by “critical thinking” and what we ought to mean by “critical thinking” have become two radically different ideas. Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy is a political symbol at stark odds with the theoretical concept of intellection or the true science and art of “critical thinking.”

Bloom has contributed many politically symbolic notions to modern education, but none quite so enduring as his taxonomy of “higher order thinking skills.” The first clue that they are not appropriate for an authentic education is the word “taxonomy” which indicates “the branch of science concerned with classification, especially of organisms; systematics.” This is the politically symbolic statement in favor of scientism, and scientism stands in stark contrast to the true nature of human intellection in relation to education.

Still, this is the tip of the iceberg. It can be seen and demonstrated that all of Bloom’s taxonomic categories deal exclusively with the material order of being, that of the quantitative and the measurable. The three attributes that characterize the taxonomy are metacognitive, ideological, and subjective. The qualitative and immeasurable aspects of human cognition, and especially the spiritual nature of conceptual intellection, are completely ignored by the political symbols conveying the taxonomy. It is conceded that this is not readily apparent or understood and that further examination of Bloom’s dreadful educational work ought to be done and made publicly accessible, however, time and space do not permit here.

The theoretical conception of critical thinking recognizes first that human intellection, at its highest, is a spiritual activity. Although all learning begins in the senses, it does not end there. By the right use of the three acts of the mind, apprehension, judgment, and reasoning, man is capable of seeing the whole of things as integrated parts of the cosmos. Real higher order thinking skills are not measurable or quantitative or materially reducible. The three attributes of authentic higher order thinking skills are inclusive of and treat the three above named attributes, but in the inverted order, thus demonstrating the incompatibility of the political symbols and theoretical concepts in education. Much worse is the truth that the end of the taxonomy is to inculcate the political aims of the modern school to the exclusion of the theoretical aim of the acquisition of truth.

The metacognition promoted in conjunction with “critical thinking skills” is a psychological term which means to think about your own thinking. In authentic human intellection, we must give primacy to the reflective nature of the divine intellect which is ontological first, and psychological second. To be reflective in the in the liberal arts is to think about our thinking in relation to the objective reality of things. To reflect upon how our ideas correspond to reality by a communication of substances as they are not as we wish them to be, this is in accord with a proper education. Metacognition has therapeutic value in the field of psychology, but becomes a political symbol when it replaces the true reflective nature of the human intellect in an education.

True higher order thinking skills are normative as opposed to subjective drawing their reference from the normative standard of Christ, the natural law written on our hearts and the authority of tradition. Normative in the educational sense is the encounter and conformity with the world as it is and using the objective standard, not the subjective opinion, to recognize the hierarchical order of being. Aristotle may have put it another way but it ends with the same object, that of truth and the attainment of a communication of substances where the knower becomes the known.

And finally, where the taxonomy is ideologically driven, authentic human intellection is liberal in the freeing sense. The ideology promoted by the taxonomy is not freeing, but constricting by the fact that the limits of that thinking are defined by quantifiable ideas instead of the reality of knowable objects. A better way to understand the taxonomy is to see that its focus is illiberal in the sense that it aims to make students first self-referencing and second beholden by peer pressure to give sway to ideological propositions conveyed by consensus ultimately delivered by a teacher passing on the ideological positions of the state. If higher order thinking skills are not liberal, in the sense that they free a human mind from error, they are not properly higher. To refer to Bloom’s taxonomy as “higher level thinking skills” when they do not even correspond to the higher things is of political value, but not educational value.

It is the painful truth that nearly every important word in education today is in dire need of recovery from the political symbol to its theoretical conceptual true form. Literacy, grammar, logic, rhetoric, beauty, critical thinking, and even the word education itself has been reduced to a political symbol. This is so terribly obscured in the world today by the endless stream of propaganda we allow to digitally flow into our lives. We have been convinced to abandon the distinction between political symbols and theoretical concepts, and the effect on our schools has been devastating.

Political symbols may be necessary for the political arena, but they are wholly unsuitable for the authentic school. The authentic educator and the modern school teacher can use the exact same words and mean contrary things. If we are going to properly reform education, we must first ground ourselves in the right use of speech and make sure we are conveying theoretical conceptual truth instead of misleading political symbols to our children in the pursuit of an authentic education.

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Notes:

[1] Voegelin, Eric, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 4, The Elements of meaning Contained in Symbols “Total” and “Authoritarian.” 1936, Page 57.

[2] Ibid, page 58.

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Published: Mar 9, 2018
Author
Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg
Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative and holds a degree in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara. A school teacher, he is also a writer and speaker on matters of faith, culture, and education. Mr. Rummelsburg 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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1 reply to this post
  1. I witnessed such scientism and psychology infiltrate the private high school I attended. The policies of the new administration created a mirror contrast between my lower and upper division. The former was of wonder and straight, honest (often frustrating yet illuminating) talk in our scholastics. The latter was of great confidence and two-dimensional curricular. Instead of trying to learn from Nature and its God, our new mission was to know things about God and nature, minus the mystery and trials of learning. I was still fortunate, compared to the local public schools of then and more so today. All talk, no substance, the underlying goal achieved – many secondary students are proudly parroting politics rather than critically thinking about it.

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