Today’s quote: post-Catholic Schools Week edition

Joseph Moore:

I’m also strongly opposed to the very idea of a classroom – a schoolhouse is a better idea, and even then, it should not be viewed as a place where children are managed. The example of my children might be informative: our oldest 4 (#5 is 13) all attend or did attend college, all are outstanding students – A students, magna cum laude, that sort of thing – and none of them took any formal classes at school or at home until, of their own volition, they signed up for classes at the local community college when they were teenagers. Having NO K-12 experience as commonly understood didn’t slow them down AT ALL.

I did hard time in attended four different grade schools and three high schools, some Catholic, some public,1 so I may have a somewhat broader experience of education in the United States than most people. At the Catholic schools I sometimes attended Mass, and there were religion classes, but in general there was no significant difference between parochial and public. There was occasionally a little actual education here and there during those twelve endless years, but mostly what I learned was to sit still and feign attention. There was also a lot of busy work. I eventually concluded that the purpose of school was not to “educate” students, but to keep them off the streets until they were old enough to get jobs. The American education system is the greatest achievement in the history of day care.

It still makes me angry how many years I was required to spend the best part of each weekday doing nothing. I could have been reading, damn it. My brother didn’t have my patience with pointless nonsense. After fourth grade, he quit doing any schoolwork at all. He was eventually asked to leave his Catholic high school, where his GPA was third from dead last.2 He promptly took the GED, without any preparation, and scored in the 98th percentile overall, getting a perfect score on the verbal part.3

An aside: The second grade school I was sentenced to was 30 miles from home. My home was the second stop on the bus’ route in the morning and the second-last stop in the evening, so I spent two hours every day confined with a bunch of cranky kids in a noisy vehicle with bad shocks. An under-used argument against busing students to schools other than where they would ordinarily go is that busing itself is inherently abusive.

I may not have been cynical enough. Joseph Moore has written five-part series on the history of Catholic schooling, putting its development in the context of the Prussian model of education, Irish immigration and graded classrooms. It’s worth reading. The first installment is here.


  1. More precisely, three Catholic, three public and one Jesuit.
  2. The principal who asked my brother to leave was later at the center of a recruiting scandal. It seems she may have paid talented not-necessarily-Catholic athletes to attend and play on the then-champion football team.
  3. The test staff thought he had cheated, and when he returned to learn his scores, they demanded that he retake that section of the test with a different set of questions right then and there, with an observer watching him. He aced it again.

2 thoughts on “Today’s quote: post-Catholic Schools Week edition”

  1. And part of the problem is that a lot of really educationally-valuable stuff is labor-intensive, so it’s not done any more.

    I am grading the first round of papers from one of my classes. A couple were quite good – doubtless people who have been through one of my colleagues’ classes in previous semesters – but several, wow. Completely vague non-statements, disorganization, one person even said “I couldn’t find any sources to use so….” (They had this assignment – a three to five page paper – for three weeks. During which time I held 30 hours of office hours and announced five times in class, “If you are having difficulty finding sources please come and talk to me, I can help you search.”)

    I am told by colleagues who have junior-high and high-school-aged children that they’re not required to do research papers any more because the grading is “too hard.” The problem is, it’s an awful effort to teach someone to write well when they’re 20; it’s a little easier if you start (as my school system did when I was a kid) when they’re 8 or 10….

    I have had similar issues with math; I once had a student stop my class absolutely dead because he was arguing with me that he shouldn’t be expected to know what an average was because none of his previous classes ever covered it. This is someone who was a junior in college. (Later on, another student told me: “You were far more patient with him than I would have been”)

    I dunno; I’m not entirely of the “burn it all to the ground and start over” mentality, but I’m gettin’ there. The only problem is, as you said: a lot of underparented kids running around free is gonna lead to problems. The kids who get parented will be OK, but the ones who don’t will make it miserable for all the rest of us.

    the other problem with “burn it all to the ground” – the universities would surely close and then how’d I keep food on the table? I’m too old to wait tables at this point.

  2. Thanks for the link. I’m grimly pleased to have your unhappy experience across both public and private schools confirm my thesis – that, once you go down the graded classroom route, you’ll end up indistinguishable from the public schools.

    I may have to steal the line: “The American education system is the greatest achievement in the history of day care.” Good one.

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