Language: The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat


For some reason, we have not convinced the rapidly multiplying proponents of the back-to-basics-with-the-Bible "education" movement that we are not on their side. What's wrong with us that we haven't figured out how to offend those usually truculent and combative enthusiasts? We have had no trouble in offending their mirror-image counterparts, the silly educationists, who hold exactly the same thematic belief—that knowledge and reason are not enough—and who "educate" by exactly the same method—the modification of behavior through persuasion addressed to the sentiments. The details don't matter where the principle is rotten.

One of those "Christian school" newsletters recently reprinted portions of a piece from the Underground Grammarian called "The Answering of Kautski," in which we considered similarities in educationism and bolshevism. We quoted Lenin's famous line about "teaching" the children and planting a seed that will never be uprooted. We also quoted (and the reprint did include) a much less familiar Leninism, saying that most people are not capable of thought, and all they need is "to learn the words."

The readers of the newsletter were presumably confirmed in righteousness by an essay linking what schools do to what Lenin said. It did not occur to them, apparently, that Luther, to whom Reason was just "the Devil's whore," also said as much and, in so saying, echoed whole choirs of orthodox theologians.

There is only one Education, and it has only one goal: the freedom of the mind. Anything that needs an adjective, be it civics education or socialist education or Christian education or whatever-you-like education, is not education, and it has some different goal. The very existence of modified "educations" is testimony to the fact that their proponents can not bring about what they want in a mind that is free. An "education" that can not do its work in a free mind, and so must "teach" by homily and precept in the service of these feelings and attitudes and beliefs rather than those, is pure and unmistakable tyranny. And it is exactly the kind of tyranny, "tyranny over the mind of man," to which Thomas Jefferson swore "eternal enmity" on—on what?—on "the altar of God."

Jefferson was not a bolshevik. He wrote to a nephew:

Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.

No bolshevik can say the equivalent in his system of belief: Question boldly even the existence of the dialectical process and the withering away of the state. Jefferson's admonition ought to raise provocative questions for those who like to claim that the Republic was founded on their "religious" principles, but it doesn't. Bolsheviks are not the only ones who never think of asking certain questions.

Reason is not the devil's whore. It is the whore's devil. To those who have sold their minds for some comfortable sentiments and comforting beliefs, reason is the adversary to be hated and feared, the bringer of doubt and difficult questions, the sly disturber of the peace. To children who are led into whoredom, it matters not at all which sentiments and beliefs they are given in return for the freedom of their minds. Whatever the fee, they can not judge its worth.

Sometimes it seems that every illusion that cripples the mind is taught in schools. The silly notion that if one ideological faction is wrong the other must be right is planted in our minds by the belief that true/false tests have something to do with education. We imagine some real difference between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, government educationists and church educationists. They are all alike. Their prosperity depends on our believing that beliefs and sentiments—theirs, of course—are somehow finer, nobler, more virtuous or humane than mere reason.

Half past twelve is coming on, and neither the church cat nor the dog in the manger has slept a wink. Should we do something, or should we hope that they'll eat each other up? Will burglars steal this pair away? Will the Christian newsletter reprint all this?

Richard Mitchell is the author of Less Than Words Can Say and the publisher of the Underground Grammarian, from which this column is adapted.