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Friday, February 10, 2017

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. 

Codes Of Meaning 

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