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Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Hope that is America by John Taylor Gatto


181. Foundations Of The Western Outlook: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org


Foundations Of The Western Outlook  

     We will never fully understand American schools until we think long and hard about  religion. Whether you are Buddhist, Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Baptist, Confucian, Catholic,  Protestant, agnostic, or atheist, this is a hunt for important threads in the tapestry  overlooked by secular academic exegesis. More specifically, our quest is for insights of  Protestant Christian dissent which have been buried for at least a century, insights which  I hope will cause you to look at schools in a different way.   
     To find out what School seeks to replace, we have to uncover the four pillars which hold  up Western society. Two come from the Nordic rim of Europe: the first, a unique belief  in the sovereign rights of the individual; the second, what we have come to call scientific  vision. Everywhere else but in the West, individual and family were submerged in one or  another collective system. Only here were the chips bet on liberty of individual  conscience.  
     The ambition to know everything appears in history in the stories of the Old Norse god  Odin, god of Mind and god of Family Destruction, too. No other mythology than the  Norse puts pride of intellect together with a license to pry so at the center of things.  Science presumes absolute license. Nothing can be forbidden. Science and individualism  are the two secular foundations of Western outlook.   Our other two supports for social meaning are religious and moral. Both originate in the  south of Europe. From this graft of North and South comes the most important  intellectual synthesis so far seen on this planet, Western civilization. One of these  Mediterranean legs is a specific moral code coming out of the Decalogue, of Judaism  working through the Gospels of Christianity. The rules are these: 

 1 . Love, care for, and help others.  
2. Bear witness to the good.  
3. Respect your parents and ancestors.  
4. Respect the mysteries; know your place in them.  
5. Don't envy.    
6. Don't lie or bear false witness.  
7. Don't steal.  
8. Don't kill.  
9. Don't betray your mate.  

     The fourth and most difficult leg comes from a Christian interpretation of Genesis. It is  constituted out of a willing acceptance of certain penalties incurred by eating from the  Tree of Knowledge against God's command. The Original Sin. For disobedience, Adam,  Eve, and their descendants were sentenced to four punishments.  
     The first was labor. There was no need to work in Eden, but after the Expulsion, we had  to care for ourselves. The second penalty was pain. There was no pain in Eden, but now  our weak nature was subject to being led astray, to feeling pain, even from natural acts  like childbirth, whether we were good people or bad people. Third was the two-edged  free will penalty, including the right to choose Evil which would now lurk everywhere.  Recall that in Eden there was exactly one wrong thing to do, eating the fruit of the tree of  knowledge. Now we would have to endure the stress of constant moral armament against  a thousand temptations or of surrendering to sin. Last and most important, the term of  human life would be strictly limited. Nobody would escape death. The more you have in  wealth, family, community, and friends, the more you are tempted to curse God as you  witness yourself day by day losing physical strength, beauty, energy — eventually losing  everything.  
     Before the sixteenth century, the orthodox Christian view was that human nature was  equal to carrying this burden. It was weak, but capable of finding strength through faith.  This doctrine of inescapable sin, and redemption through personal choice, carries a map  of meaning through which to organize one's entire life. Face the inevitable in a spirit of  humility and you are saved. This lesser-known side of the Christian curriculum, the one  generated out of Original Sin, lacked a Cecil B. DeMille to illustrate its value, but once  aware, lives could draw strength and purpose from it.  
     What I'm calling the Christian curriculum assigns specific duties to men and women. No  other system of meaning anywhere, at any time in history, has shown a record of power  and endurance like this one, continuously enlarging its influence over all mankind (not  just Christians), because it speaks directly to ordinary people without the mediation of  elites or priesthoods.  
     Superficially, you might argue that the success of the West is the result of its guns being  better. But really, Western civilization flourished because our story of hope is superior to  any other. 

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