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    • Louis Smith

      Prof. Esolen;
      I have really enjoyed this series. It is well reasoned and well written.
      Louis Smith, MBA

    • hombre111

      Today’s unions represent only 7% of America’s workers. I remember an era when a single income could support a family, buy a house, buy a car, pay for a vacation, send kids to college, and put money aside in savings. That was when unions were strong. As unions declined, wages went flat. From his safe perch in academia, Mr. Esolen has no clue about the struggle of ordinary people today.

      • Mike

        It’s an excellent article. You have no clue about reality.

      • Common Woman

        The union demands in the “glory days” were overly generous and unsustainable. At what other point in history could the “common man” support that long list of things? It was a deviation from the norm. And of course things had to flatline because no company could afford to continue escalating the unsustainable.

        In addition, I am convinced that a single income can support a family, but “quality of life” must change with it (although the things that Americans associate with “quality of life” are actually deleterious to human relationships and the family). No more big screen TVs. Cancel the cable TV. No more expensive name brand clothing. Drive a car until it can’t be driven anymore. Vacation cheaply by camping in national parks. All of these things can be done—and were done by most Americans in previous generations. But it requires families who are (1) committed to each other, and therefore more financially stable, and (2) committed to being frugal and self-sacrificial in their desires.

      • crakpot

        I remember that time as well. I also remember gasoline was less than 30¢/gallon. Inflation was non-existant for decades. The reason women have been forced into work is because government, starting in earnest with LBJ’s great Society, figured out they could get the Fed to print all the money they wanted, and get away with it. The resulting inflation would make families work harder, but people would blame it on something else – like the decline of unions.

        • Margretto

          Excellent point!

      • Adam__Baum

        You sir, are a hypocrite. The clerical life is the only life even more removed from the vicissitudes of fortune than an academic one.

    • Tony

      Dear Hombre: But I do. I don’t come from a wealthy family, but from a very large working-class Italian clan. There are reasons why that single income cannot support a family, and they don’t have to do with unions. First: people are taxed too much. That means both the worker and the employer, or the would-be employer. Second: “education” is a racket, and costs too much, from kindergarten through to the Ph.D. The costs have been floated by government “loans,” which appear generous but actually serve to enslave people to debt. Third: “education” is a sham, so that there’s no way a kid can go from high school into real work, as people did eighty years ago; no way to become that 18 year old reporter for a newspaper, or an insurance salesman, or the like. Fourth: the trade schools have been shut down, often at the instance of the unions themselves. Fifth: double-income professional families with 1.2 children have ratcheted up the price of homes, leading to a segregation that for most of America was quite unknown until recently.
      The real killers are the schools, all of them. I’m talking about my own racket too, higher education. There’s an abyss between what college costs and what the instruction is worth, but you must have that degree, or you will not be hired even to do jobs that require no special instruction (thank you, government regulations, which compel employers to replace common sense judgments with artificial standards, lest they fall afoul of some charge of discrimination or other).

      • Michael

        Prof, Your reply sums up so many of the challenges we face today. Your analysis is spot on! I have a request: Can I post this essay about guilds/unions on the blog section of my website? I will gladly give you the website off-line for you to vet, but it would be great to share with the visitors of my site as well as to serve as a mission statement of sort. I’m reminded of an old Irish carpenter I used to work with that used to say to me ” I guess we have to use the tradesmans’ entrance” after we were refused entrance through the front door of a high rise with our tools. His saying influenced the name of my company.

        • Tony

          Michael, I’m sure that the Crisis editors wouldn’t mind — please give us credit and provide the link also.
          What you say reminds me of what is going on right now at my school. We are building a big new humanities center — or I should say that craftsmen and construction workers are building it, right through the dead of winter. The building is now “wrapped” in sheets of plastic insulation so that the workers can do their job without worrying about frozen fingers and the risks that come with severe cold. But the sheeting also conveniently hides their work from view. I have been thinking that much of what goes on, at great expense, in our college is worthless as compared with what those men are doing; and that the Lefties at our school, if they give those men a passing thought, are just irritated that the construction messes up our parking arrangements.

      • PS Champ

        It is disappointing to see such knee-jerk, ugly, personal attacks against those that have tried to defend public schools. Our kids have done much better in public than in parochial schools. The Catholic school we used was OK, but our dyslexic child soared after he transferred to public. His disability was identified, and he was given appropriate help. Our gifted one was put in all sorts of enrichment programs. No school (home/public/private) is perfect, but many public schools do very well and are a lifeline for children whose parents are very poor or abusive or neglectful. It’s disappointing to see such malice directed at anyone who disagrees, even at the children of someone who posted here. I will not be subscribing to Crisis Magazine.

        • Tony

          Another troll, intent upon diverting the discussion. The article above had very little to do with public schools, and my criticism of public schools applies almost entirely to private schools also, which have copied many of the errors of public schools. You must not have noticed that “Paul,” who defended the public schools, was the one calling names, and criticizing my students, even suggesting that they weren’t very bright. In the meantime, yours truly was called a bigot and a fool, for calling Steven Pinker a bigot (he is an anti-religious bigot) and a fool (he is a quantity-idolizing fool), but not for calling anybody here a fool.
          And again, the cry in the desert: What are we going to do to help young men who are NOT going to take to the academic life?

          • Tony

            I have re-read the comments. Not a single nasty thing was said about Paul, who defended public schools, or about his children. Plenty of nasty things were said about me, and about my students at Providence College. I do not believe that it is “nasty” to criticize the public schools. I believe we need public schools, but they are in dire need of thorough reform, from the bottom up; they need to be returned to the people most concerned, the parents. Now may we return to the subject of the article?

            • Kristi

              I read this too and was disgusted by Mr. Esolen’s contempt and arrogance. He makes elementary errors of “some/all” and “perhaps/probably/always”. Nobody is “allowed” to be wiser or more knowledgeable than he is. It’s insulting to suggest Paul’s children could not know more than he does about Hannibal, for example. A student who has researched Hannibal for a project or detailed essay or read Livy for AP Latin might very well know more than Mr. Esolen does. As a parent with children doing very well in public school, I also find the bizarre depiction of public schools as “moral sinkholes” disgusting. You’d be surprised by the moral caliber of many of the kids (including mine) and the teachers at public school. Yes, they do learn grammar — if some students don’t know elementary grammar, it’s probably because they’re not out of the top drawer academically. As for Steven Pinker, Esolen can’t even get the name of his book correct (it’s “Blank Slate” — not “On Human Nature”) and misrepresents the part about humans and animals being unrelated, which is tied to the ideas of the two not sharing a common evolutionary root and only one being ensouled. If you want to dish it out, Mr. Esolen, you can’t throw tantrums when it’s handed back to you, and you can’t insist on changing the subject whenever you take a beating after making inflammatory remarks.

      • Margretto

        Spot on!

    • LarryCicero

      The right of the consumer needs to be defended. Monopolies are not in the best interests of the common good; therefor competition is required, and so free markets protect the interests of the consumer. Families are the consumers of education. K-12 education is government subsidized and the private or religious schools face unfair competition. Cardinal Dolan laid out his plan recently as he called for better marketing of the catholic schools. Cardinal George, some years back, called for Boards of Specified Jurisdiction, which basically called for improved fundraising. Neither plan addressed the real issue which is unfair competition. How can a family afford private school for their children when they have to pay for the secular public schools through taxation?

      Samuel Taylor Coleridge said that ” like the circles of a lake–the love of our friends, parents, and neighbors leads us to the love of country to the love of all mankind. The intensity of private attachment encourages, not prevents, universal philanthropy.” This is consistent with the idea of subsidiarity, and freedom should guide the desire to promote a choice of local schools. Our bishops have said that religious liberty is not merely being able to worship, but the freedom to practice and live out our faith.

      Clarence Thomas pointed out in Mitchell v. Helms(2000) that “opposition to aid to sectarian schools acquired prominence in the 1870s” and that sectarian was code for catholic. He went on “nothing in the Establishment Clause requires the exclusion of pervasively sectarian schools from otherwise permissible aid programs.” Does this open the door for the argument that the confiscation of funds to promote solely secular schools is an infringement on religious liberty?

      Charles Carroll, upon the 50th anniversary of his signing the Declaration of Independence said he did so believing that “no one denomination would be so predominate as to become the religion of the state.” And wrote in 1827 “God grant that this religious liberty may be preserved in these states to the end of time, and that all believing in the religion of Christ may practice the leading principle of charity, the basis of every virtue.” Religious liberty should include the freedom to purchase education at religious schools and not be coerced to pay for the secular one; schools should compete. It is in the best interest of the family and the country.

      • Keith Parkinson

        Awesome Coleridge quote. That image won’t soon be forgotten.

    • Pingback: Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

    • Keith Parkinson

      I expected more hackwork blaming all of the nation’s social and economic problems on labor unions. Instead, what I found was an insightful article pointing out that our economy and mainstream culture (which latter almost always follows from the former, barring some sort of rebellion, like Christianity) are totally unChristiian, even in an aspect that is perfectly open to adoption from non-Christians, like an apprenticeship culture and guilds.

      All well and good. Would you go further, though, and object to unions as such? Your main objection to modern labor unions seems to be: “They’re not Christian. They just care about the individual’s paycheck.” But isn’t that the very structure of our economy, and culture? How could we possibly have the economy and culture we have without trade unions, plus taxes and certain welfare programs? Yes it sucks that so many poor women are raising their kids alone, but eliminating their welfare and banning their unions won’t bring their husbands back and Christ into their home.

      • Tony

        I object to the word “hackwork.” All I’ve been trying to do is to read Leo’s texts and comment upon what I find there, staring me in the face. He always returns to first principles, and so I try to direct people’s attention to those first principles. I don’t object to unions as such, because Leo doesn’t object to unions as such. But he does object to policies that supplant the family, and he does object to an economy that is not economic: that is, an economy that is not based upon the good and the proper management of the oikos, the household. No, eliminating welfare will not bring THOSE non-husbands back into the home; but phasing it out will help re-establish a culture of marriage, particularly if we give generously to working-class couples who are attempting to do the right thing. Right now, those people get very little help, next to nothing.
        A question I should like to ask college graduates: What makes you believe that the common good is served by our giving you sweetheart loans, which even in monetary terms is counterproductive, as the colleges simply absorb that money and allow their prices to float upward? Why do you think you are “deserving” of the loans, and not your youthful brother who is attempting to buy a truck for his new construction business?

        • Keith Parkinson

          I didn’t mean to imply that you wrote hackwork; of most of your writing, I can say that I am a grateful fan. (Your little commentaries on each canto of Dante were hugely formative when I was in school.) But the title of the article made me expect it to be another heaping of all the blame for our economic woes upon trade unions for “getting in the way” of the “free market” with such crimes as ensuring that public school teachers get paid a median wage in some districts. This is a very common conservative line in today’s discourse, and one that totally baffles me. As I tried to convey before, I liked the article.

          The point I bumbled around was that it seems from what you say that labor unions are to our culture as guilds were to medieval Christian culture; that there isn’t any difference between them that does not come from the culture in which they’re found. In other words, that unions as such are a good thing, and should be encouraged, not frowned upon as selfish and corrupt cadres undermining the valiant efforts of our businessmen to blast off our economy and shape our future common prosperity.

          All that seems to be wrong with today’s unions, from what you say, is that the US lacks a culture of apprenticeship and spiritual community, and that most jobs are either unskilled labor, or so postindustrial that it’s not clear what skills there would be to hand down. But labor unions themselves are a natural and good part of a system that happens to be very flawed.

          As for your question, I agree that higher ed. is a huge scam and believe that government loans enable and worsen it. I’d welcome a movement to reject federal loans and cripple the system from either the top-down or the ground-up. Most people who pay $45k a year for school could have gone to a state school for almost nothing; and most schools that are actually worth that $45k a year cover all financial need with grants. With schools like Harvard, the only reason the tuition is that high at all is to get all the money they can out of the rich kids. They don’t expect normal people to pay it and have no need or desire to cripple their graduates or force them into lucrative, but socially barren careers. (I read that Yale law school, for example, forgives loans for grads who go into nonprofit work.)

          • Tony

            Thanks, Keith! On the unions: it’s up to them to train young men in trades and crafts, and to ensure good work; then we might talk about things beyond the economy. On schools: yes, it is a scam. And I don’t believe that students get a good education at Harvard or Princeton. I have a lot of personal experience in this regard. We get the worst of all possible worlds. Bright young people are “drained” from the hinterlands by the Ivy League prospects, and then sent to those black holes where faith and reason go to die. There’s no curriculum at all at Brown, and only loose area requirements at Princeton. How easy is it to graduate from Princeton with nothing more than the vaguest knowledge of the philosophy, theology, art, literature, and history of the west? Very easy; most students manage that quite well.
            I was at Harvard last year to speak to a group of undergraduates at the local Opus Dei house, and I asked them — the devil got into me — what the odds would be, if I chose an upperclassman at random, that said student would have read anything of Dante. They put it at about six percent. When I asked about Dostoyevsky, they laughed and said the odds would be lower than that. So much for Harvard. In 1940, four years of tuition at Harvard cost somewhat more than one year’s median household income. In real dollars, then, a college education is, I’m guessing, about three times as expensive as in 1940 — three times, and for what?
            The trouble extends all the way down. There is no reason on earth why twelve years of schooling should be insufficient for imparting a thorough knowledge of English grammar and literature, of geography, and of American history; along with more than an outline of world history, and proficiency in what used to be called “higher arithmetic” and algebra — the math that is quite crucial for citizens to understand. Homeschoolers prove how poor the schools are by outperforming them by more than a standard deviation, and obliterating the miserable gap in performance between girls and their lagging brothers. My college freshmen cannot reliably find the subject in a sentence. I daresay I’d find similar results if I asked them to calculate the interest on a loan compounded monthly, or to find the missing term in a ratio; or to identify the Norman Conquest and date it within a century. For this, we soak the taxpayers, and make it harder and harder for an ordinary man to support his family on his income.

            • Paul

              Maybe the answers you received at Harvard reflect on students who choose to join Opus Dei rather than on students in general? My kids attended a reading enrichment after-school class through 8th grade (through their public schools). Mostly it was Junior Great Books, but they also read a little Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, and Pasternak there through a Waldorf-based focus on Russian literature. I have a friend who went to Princeton. He had little interest in “philosophy, theology, art, literature, and history of the west.” He dismissed such classes as “fluff” and avoided them as much as possible. He went there to study physical chemistry. I assume he did well as he went on to get a doctorate in the subject. I doubt one would have learned much literature or history through a blacksmith’s guild. One would very likely not even have learned to read! If guilds in narrow areas are such a good thing, why should not university students be able to focus primarily on developing their own future careers? You must have extraordinarily backward college freshmen if they can’t find the subject in a sentence. My kids and most of their classmates were quite capable of doing so by third grade. Their curriculum from fifth grade on was heavy on identifying predicate nominatives, predicate adjectives, subordinating conjunctions, etc. I know because I volunteered in their classrooms. You are misrepresenting both public schools and private universities!

              • Tony

                Find the subject in this sentence:
                Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste brought death into the world, and all our woe, with loss of Eden, till one greater Man restore us and regain the blissful seat, sing, heavenly Muse, that on the secret top of Horeb, or of Sinai, didst inspire that Shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed in the beginning how the heavens and earth rose out of chaos …
                Just part of the first sentence of Paradise Lost.
                If you think your kids could find the subject in a complex sentence in third grade, I’m betting that you don’t have any idea just what it means to learn English grammar. My freshmen are not backward. I have students who aced the SAT with 800 scores. The only ones who know any grammar are those who studied it in Latin class.

            • Keith Parkinson

              When I say Harvard and a few other top research universities are worth the money, it’s not because of the curriculum; it’s because you’re paying for their unparalleled resources and outreach. A Harvard education may not introduce you to Dante and FD, but it will enable you to go absolutely anywhere you have the desire and ability to go – the media, diplomacy, philanthropy, politics, global outreach, anything cutting-edge in any kind of science – and give you instant credibility once you get there. I read plenty of great books at my small liberal arts college, but they had nothing to offer me as far as avenues to embark on to go out and remake the world. Imagine if someone whose parents made them slog through the Classics then gets a chance to tap into Harvard’s resources.

              I know what my liberal arts education did for me, and find it sad that most people don’t get what I got. If I had my way, the first two years at Harvard would be a rigorous, college-wide classical liberal arts curriculum, that was supplemented, not replaced, by such curiosities as Eastern philosophy or Africana Studies. (If the “Big H” did it, everyone else would follow, and it would be a way different world.) But since I have no say there, my plan is to not leave my kids’ education to other people to screw up. If they hit eighteen having already had a liberal arts education, they can either skip the scam that is college, or jump right into the overgrown, untended Ivy league and get catapulted into a worldly position in which they can do some good.

              • Tony

                Keith — if I had my way, Ivy League graduates would be prohibited from working for government at any level. They have native intelligence, and they are smart enough to know it; but they are not well educated, and the deadly sins of pride and avarice (ambition; avarice isn’t always directed at money) make for a poisonous stew. As I said above, I’m summa cum laude from Princeton. “An evil place,” as a good priest told me, who had spent many years there.

            • Margretto

              A few weeks ago I spoke with a graduate student on why I thought College is a scam. I was lectured by this young lady (so much for learning respect for your elders, college doesn’t teach that one) on why without a degree you can’t get a job. I explained to her that if everyone is getting a degree doesn’t it water down the value of that degree? Look at all of the people with worthless degress who work in factories with a masters degree or wait on tables because they can’t find jobs in their field. But, they still have those loans to pay off but ofcourse this isn’t a scam!
              I agree about the homeschooled not only are they smarter but they are kinder and more Christ centered.

    • Jeff

      “The guilds did what Leo advises Catholic unions to do …”

      To clarify, Catholic teaching does not denigrate the modern union or suggest that it limit its reach only to that of the guilds described by the author. Yes, one goal of unions is to provide further personal development. As Pope John Paul II states in Laborem Exercens, “The activity of union organizations opens up many possibilities in this respect, including their efforts to instruct and educate the workers and to foster their selfeducation. Praise is due to the work of the schools, what are known as workers’ or people’s universities and the training programmes and courses which have developed and are still developing this field of activity. It is always to be hoped that, thanks to the work of their unions, workers will not only have more, but above all be more: in other words, that they will realize their humanity more fully in every respect.” He goes on, however, to say, “One method used by unions in pursuing the just rights of their members is the strike or work stoppage, as a kind of ultimatum to the competent bodies, especially the employers. This method is recognized by Catholic social teaching as legitimate in the proper conditions and within just limits. In this connection workers should be assured the right to strike, without being subjected to personal penal sanctions for taking part in a strike,” which definitely does NOT sound like “a far cry from today’s unions.” Bear in mind that JP II was writing in support of “today’s unions.” Once again, the chosen heading misrepresents Catholic teaching.

      • Paul

        Jeff, I agree that the headings here are usually a disaster. I think the piece was a general tirade about our secular and pluralistic modern culture rather than being purely anti-union. You are right in that modern unions are supported by the modern Catholic Church, though.

      • The Truth

        How can a Catholic belong to a union that supports a political party that supports everything the church stands for?

        • Paul

          Why indeed?:-)

    • Paul

      Anthony Esolen writes, “Second: “education” is a racket, and costs too much, from kindergarten through to the Ph.D. The costs have been floated by government “loans,” which appear generous but actually serve to enslave people to debt.”

      As an educator, I must take exception to this. How would our society survive without educated people? Everything that has been invested in my children’s education will be returned with interest to society, either through the taxes on their high salaries or through all they can give back to the people around them.

      I have one child in medical school, another studying engineering, and a few more headed in the same direction. I have been delighted with their public school education. Academically, it was pretty good. They were all able to take Spanish from elementary school, French from middle school (the older ones are now fluent in both Spanish and French), honors and APs through high school. Socially and athletically, it was a rich experience too, with many good people along the way and involvement in varsity and junior varsity sports. Was it perfect? Of course not, but we made the most of it and derived enormous good out of it. My kids lean toward the sciences, so perhaps they didn’t need all those classes in foreign languages, world history, mythology, etc., but I think these classes have enriched them immeasurably in the non-economic sense.

      If the world is truly as bad as depicted by Mr. Esolen in the last paragraph of his essay (and perhaps I’m missing something, but I see our society becoming steadily more compassionate and good), perhaps it is our churches that are at fault, rather than our government and our schools and universities? The latter, at least, seem to be succeeding.

      • Tony

        What I mean is this: Most of our schools are dreadful, and the few that aren’t dreadful still do a lot of things that are deeply destructive, and neglect to do things that anybody some years ago would have taken for granted as necessary. Education is a great good; schooling is good only to the extent that education is actually going on, and at a price that does not put excessive demands upon the local taxpayer. I get a pretty good view of what the schools are doing (and failing to do), because I teach in college those who graduate from the supposedly “good” programs. I know, for instance, that these kids know next to nothing about world history, nothing about English grammar (and what little they think they know is often wrong), very little about the history of English literature, very little about American history (though they do know about a handful of politically favored figures); they don’t know how to write, and texts that were meant for wide popular readership, such as the poems of Robert Frost, or, say, the Federalist Papers, are quite difficult for them.
        And morally, our schools are a sinkhole. No, I do not believe that our society is growing more compassionate. How could it be, when we snuff out the lives of more than a million of our children every year? When we expose children to the most degrading squalor on television and in print, without a pang in the heart? When we are perfectly content to bear children out of wedlock, to divorce at will, and thus to sentence millions of them to a life without one or another of their parents?
        Don’t get me started, either, on universities, about which my experience is direct and of very long standing. Yes, they are tremendously overrated and overpriced, and the day of reckoning must come.

        • Paul

          I looked up Providence College and concluded that you’re probably getting, as you yourself suggest, kids that wouldn’t make it at the better national universities or liberal arts colleges. Not all public schools, like our local one, have a sizable cohort of kids taking APs from 9th grade. Our national public school system is not as good as that of, say, Finland, or New Zealand, but it does well with a diverse group of youngsters. Compassion decreasing? Read “The Better Angels of our Nature” by Steven Pinker. You might be surprised to know how many charities our local school children support. Our choirs and orchestra volunteer to visit old age homes, to coach younger children, and to clean up littered areas. Universities? My children are learning some incredible skills in medicine and engineering. My engineering student is also becoming amazingly creative and innovative through his undergraduate research opportunities.

          Spit all you like on all the good that our schools and universities do and the many talented and upstanding young people that populate those institutions, but please don’t try to attribute that negativistic view to Pope Leo XIII!

          It is now up to our churches, synagogues, and mosques, as well as parents, to provide religious education for young people. If you don’t like the job they’re doing, why don’t you attack them, rather than schools and universities that generally care about young people and try to instill them with values such as respect for others, courtesy, and kindness?

          • Tony

            Steven Pinker is a bigot and a fool. How could you possibly recommend his work to me — he who blithely slides over the bloodiest century in human history? Who ignores abortion and family breakdown? Who can only count, and not well, and who ignores anything that can’t be measured, like quality? And please do not scorn the students at my school. They are bright kids, and superior to students at a majority of the colleges in the country.
            Here are the main points I am making, with regard to the schools:
            1. They almost universally fail to do the humble but necessary jobs we want them to do. AP classes? Often a bad joke, just a mill for students to go through, so as to wave “AP credits” before college admissions departments. Our Honors students, with all your wonderful AP credits and with 800 scores on the SAT, still do not know English grammar, because it isn’t taught. Geography isn’t taught. World history isn’t taught. English literature before 1900 isn’t taught. Do you really think that if I went to the typical “good” school in the US, I wouldn’t be even more nauseated than I already am? They teach Shakespeare — often he’s the only old writer they do teach; and when I find out about all the nonsensical things they teach about him, I wish they’d left him in his grave.
            2. They are tremendously expensive, and needlessly so. That puts an enormous burden on the taxpayer (a burden that then compels some people to go the route of the double income, with concomitant harm in its train). Homeschoolers are proof positive that you don’t need the “technology” and the “experts” to teach children well — a standard deviation (and more) is a heck of a lot to explain.
            3. They are moral sinkholes. I don’t care if the orchestra at your school goes and performs at the old folks’ home. Do you think that’s a new thing in the world? Children in previous generations were far more involved in their communities than they are now, for the simple reason that there were real communities to be involved in, with the schools nearby and answerable directly to the people they served, not padded and protected by layers of administration and bureaucracy. You’re evading the issue, here, too. How “compassionate” are fornication (encouraged by the schools), cohabitation (winked at by the schools), sodomy (celebrated by the schools), unwed motherhood (celebrated by the schools), and abortion (defended by the schools)? We homeschoolers tell people that the first thing they’ll notice when they pull their children OUT of the sinkhole is that, academics aside, they will find they have their children back.
            4. It should be possible, after twelve years of schooling, for a person of ordinary intelligence, grauduating from anywhere, to embark upon a remunerable trade — period. A high school graduate should be able, right away, to become a secretary, an insurance salesman, a clerk, a newspaper reporter, an electrician, a carpenter, a policeman, and so forth. Twelve years is a LONG time.
            True story: I am in a used furniture store in a college town in Canada. The college in question has a very high reputation. It’s September, and three young men enter the store to buy furniture for their dormitory room. I get into a conversation with them — and am curious about what they did and didn’t learn in high school. Two of them are Canadians; one of them, a future biogeneticist, went to HS in Washington, DC. I ask them if they recognize the following NAMES — no need to tell me who they were or what they did:
            Tennyson — nothing.
            Wordsworth — nothing.
            Milton — nothing.
            Virgil — nothing.
            Dante — two of them, nothing; the biogeneticist said, “Dante’s Inferno?” Which is now a video game; otherwise, nothing.
            Then the biogeneticist said he was more interested in history than in literature. So I gave him the name of an important figure in history:
            Hannibal — nothing.
            Don’t talk to me either about kindness; lust is cruel by nature. The most joyful and well-adjusted among the freshmen that I see — and the difference is breathtaking — have either been homeschooled, or have attended a single-sex Catholic school. By contrast, most of the publicly schooled students look scorched, beaten, discouraged, and sullen.

            • http://twitter.com/pdmcguirelaw Paul McGuire

              You are certainly correct that none of those names you listed of classic authors are taught in modern schooling. Since I haven’t read them I can’t comment on whether or not that is a shame. I nearly wanted to challenge your contention that schools don’t teach proper grammar and then I remembered that most of what I learned was not from my schooling but through my own extracurricular writings that were edited by my parents.

              Through years of writing movie and video game reviews on my own and having them edited by my parents (my Dad being well trained in Greek, Latin, and the Classics) I slowly learned the little rules of writing that I otherwise would not have gotten in all those silly Sociology classes where you just regurgitate the various theories that you are taught.

              To take your point one step further, I don’t think you could possibly take a modern composition class that truly teaches you to parse a sentence at a local community college if you wanted to. I still only know what I know about writing because of the many hours I spent reading in my spare time, and still do.

              • Tony

                It’s really a shame, Paul. When you study grammar in a systematic way, the way they used to teach it, you get to know the structure of your language in particular, and, to a great extent, of language in general; you begin to see that language has an identifiable logic to it. I recall that Thomas Jefferson said that one mustn’t be too pushy in teaching young children grammar — by which he meant the grammar of ancient Greek. Latin grammar was appropriate for them; hence the name “grammar school.” I doubt that more than one high school English teacher in twenty could parse the first sentence of Paradise Lost, or of almost any sentence taken at random from the prose of Milton, Swift, Coleridge, Newton, Dickens …
                On the poets: Yes, that also is a terrible shame. What it means is that the great heritage of literature in their own language has been allowed to moulder in the attic. When Laura Ingalls Wilder was a teenage girl, her mother bought for her a special birthday present and hid it in a drawer — a collection of the poetry of Tennyson. It’s horrible, what we have abandoned.

            • Paul

              I don’t think it’s Steven Pinker who is the bigot or the fool. The bloodiest century? As a percentage, far more life was lost in the battles of medieval times with its crazy kings and queens starting arbitrary wars! Pinker’s work is well documented. Go look at his tables. Perhaps it is not modern public schools students who struggle with world history? My own kids, by the way, have taken APs in world and European history and could tell you more about Hannibal than you know yourself. They also studied Hannibal in middle school social studies. No literature before 1900? What nonsense! My kids have studied Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, the Brontes, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Tennyson, and Wordsworth, to include just a few. They learned about Virgil in middle school social studies. They also took a high school course in 20th century world literature, much of it by Nobel laureates. My kids and their friends have excellent grammar and have no trouble identifying different types of clauses and phrases. And my kids and their friends tend to be the science geeks who are much more focused on math and science classes than literature and history! I suspect that your students are those from relatively wealthy homes who couldn’t get into Brown or other national universities or colleges. I spent the entire day yesterday as a volunteer judge at a speech and debate tournament at a local high school. “Scorched, beaten down, discouraged, and sullen” students??? No! I met kids who were intelligent, well spoken, socially responsible, courteous, friendly, and generally delightful. From their oratories, it was clear that they had social consciences. I liked the parents that I met too. I know several home schooled kids. In fact, some of mine were home schooled for short periods, and we were very active in home schooled circles during those times. I did not see the kind of differences you claim to see. Many of the home schooled kids in fact had horrible social skills. This was in part because some of them were special needs children with ADHD, Asperger’s, and the like. Some of them were also sadly delayed in many areas, particularly math, hand writing, spelling, and grammar. I volunteered to provide science classes for kids in our community at a local library. The librarians expressed concern about the home schooled kids because some of them were so destructive and rude. Perhaps we just got a really bad bunch of home schoolers, but the local public school kids were better prepared academically and were generally more confident and open in my classes. They looked me in the eye, were respectful without being shy, and asked more questions. Some of the home schoolers were rather self-centered and had problems with taking turns. I’m not opposed to any particular type of education. Home schooling, for the right child and under the right circumstances, can be exceptional. So can public schooling. Parents are better indicators of a child’s achievement and behavior than type of education. For those children with bad parents, public school can be a Godsend. For children with concerned and involved parents, public school can be a jumping board to great things. Look at all the kids at Stanford, MIT, etc., who went to public schools! Look at the Nobel prize winners who went to public schools. You may have doctor or dentist or accountant or lawyer who went to public school. Look at the many good people who are products of those schools! You can’t just dismiss more than 70% of humanity with sneering disdain. Think about it. Many of these people are probably smarter, better educated, and better people than you are!

              I find your views on public education bizarre. That’s OK — they’re your views — but please don’t try to fob them off on Pope Leo.

              • John200

                Your kids are to be congratulated, if your claims are true. Malheureusement, you misread Peeven Stinker (do you see? I can do it, too). This negates your claim to full literacy. If the claim were true, you could not miss what is wrong with him. Nor could you so solidly misread Pope Leo XIII, unless you were trying to miss his meaning. For the nonce, I’ll just imagine you are trolling, trolling, trolling on the river.

                @ Tony Esolen,

                This is an excellent series of articles, all 11 to date. I have learned a great deal. I feel certain that the series is worth your time and effort. Please keep them coming (if you can; I know this is extra work that takes a lot out of you).

                Second point: You have attracted the attention of an anonymous troll who thinks he is morally and intellectually superior because… ah, sheesh, that’s where the well runs dry. There is no reason other than the anecdotes that customarily flow from the anonymous troll’s keyboard. Paul has the advantage of anonymity. He suffers from the disadvantage of attacking objective truth. I have the feeling he is one of his kids (yes, that means you, Paul. I know you are there, lurking).

                • Paul

                  John2000, my kids are bright but nothing extraordinarily so. Their SAT scores thus far have been closer to 700 than 800. There are many others like them and brighter and more conscientious than they are, at every large public school. We tried to encourage them and set high expectations. Show me precisely where Steven Pinker’s statistics are wrong, and you might have an argument instead of an insult. This article is NUTS! It’s less about Leo XIII than it is about the author’s prejudices and paranoia about any government-related institution. It’s also sexist. Note that he talks about Catholic boys and their need to be taught by Catholic men. In case anyone missed it, public schools are filled with a number of non-Catholic kids and even … girls! My daughter, now in medical school, has derived great benefit from her public school experiences and will give back more to society than was invested in her. She’s doing a lot better than many women who were home schooled! I suppose Esolen thinks girls don’t need opportunities like my daughter has had. That is NOT a Catholic view! Note the following quote from JPII’s 1995 Letter to Women: “Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of “mystery”, to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.”

                • Tony

                  I know, John. His kids know more about Hannibal than I do — and I’ve read Livy’s accounts of Hannibal in the original Latin. He thinks that Pinker, who is not an historian at all, knows more about medieval history than I do, and I’ve been studying medieval society for thirty years.

              • Tony

                Baloney — his research is awful. He doesn’t know a damned thing about medieval history. He desperately tries to clutch to his little god, Progress, in the face of tremendous evidence to the contrary. As, for instance, 50 million babies in the US, dead since 1973; 60 million Chinese murdered in a few years under Mao; 20 million Russians dead under Stalin; that’s leaving Lenin aside; the Turkish genocide against Armenians, the brutality of both World Wars, and on, and on. Pinker’s a bigot, flat out. On the very first page of his book On Human Nature, he peddles a couple of howlers — as, for instance, that the passage in Genesis on the creation of man caused people to think that we had nothing whatsoever to do with the animals. No theologian ever said so stupid a thing; and no common sense reading of the text could ever lead anybody to say so stupid a thing.
                If you think for a moment that Pope Leo XIII could walk into a public school today and not think he had walked into Sodom, you have never read Pope Leo, and you are taking for granted the moral sinkhole.
                I am glad that your kids got the education they did. Wonderful — that should be provided everywhere. I don’t think that a knowledge of English grammar should be the sole possession of the lucky ones who lived in the rich towns. Everyone should have it, period.
                By the way — please stop trying to evaluate my education. I’m a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton. Big deal — just one of those Ivy League schools where faith and reason both go to die.
                The intelligent people you name have succeeded in spite of the schools, not because of them. My brightest students have found their public schools to be places of unutterable boredom. But I didn’t zero in on public schools in my article, did I?
                By the way, are you Catholic?
                My experience with homeschooled kids is now 20 years old — I have known literally hundreds of them; that’s what happens when you serve for 7 years as the president of the state’s biggest homeschooling organization. But I can pick them out of a crowd. In fact, I just did that, some weeks ago. At a public lecture, the son of the guest speaker, when I said to his father, “This rangy fellow has got to be your son,” came right up to me, smiled, stuck out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Johnny!” A little while later I asked him and his wife, “Your son — I’m going out on a limb here, but, he’s homeschooled, right?” They said, “How did you know?”
                One more thing: this last weekend I spent a few days at Biola University, among the honors students there. Biola is an evangelical school; it is “confessional,” in that students and faculty are expected to sign a statement of faith. This Roman Catholic has been treated like a prince, there, twice; and at other such schools. I’ve given lectures at about 40 different colleges all across the country, and the students at schools that take the faith seriously are noticeably different — much happier, much heartier in their laughter, much more likely to be seen engaging in the innocent flirtations of youth. I’m not stunned by it anymore, since I’ve experienced it many times, but the first time I saw it, my wife and I both were so astonished, we sat up half the night trying to make sense of what we had witnessed.
                Oh, and of course the Opus Dei students at Harvard wanted me to speak to them BECAUSE they had read the Divine Comedy.
                If you are not a Christian, we should all pray for you; please excuse me, too, if I have been angry. I know that near-universal statements are not absolutely universal statements; but you remind me of a woman poking around this website who has recommended the work of Michelangelo Signorile. If any Catholic wants to confront the monstrosity of the moral challenge that meets us, that’s the place to start — because the man frankly wants to see the institution of marriage destroyed.

            • Keith Parkinson

              I’m doing some work on ISI’s college guide, and for every school we take a look at their English department, and see how well-rooted in older books or how trendy and politicized it is. One of the benchmarks is whether you can major and totally sidestep Shakespeare. At the school I’m doing now – a big state university in a fairly rural area – English course offerings for this past academic year list (black female) Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” on the reading list for EIGHT courses. King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth combined? Six. (Lear four, Hamlet one, Othello one.)

              • Tony

                That’s pretty bad, Keith. It’s probably even worse than you suppose, because Shakespeare is usually transmogrified into Shakes-queer (I am not making this up), or into whatever political hack the professor likes. One of the things that prevents professors from turning lit classes into contemporary politics would be the need to teach the older literature, which requires all kinds of linguistic and historical knowledge. You actually have to know quite a lot to begin to make sense of Chaucer. You have to read Middle English fluently; you have to know the scriptures; you have to know a lot about medieval culture, and especially the art; you have to be conversant in medieval theology and philosophy; you have to read Latin at least, and you should also be reading either Italian or Middle French or both; it’s just harder to be a political hack when you have to do all that first.

        • Margretto

          Unfortunately most schools do not encourage free thinking and discernment but encourage what to think. AKA brainwashing. The communist infiltration of our government shows up in our public and Catholic schools.

    • Michael

      I have experience with labor unions, mainly in NYC, and have found that aside from the corrupt nature of their leadership, the members of the unions take pride in their trade. However, I found it difficult to belong to the union because of their constant backing of democrat candidates. They raise alot of money for these candidates and help get them elected. Therefore, the union funds have a direct influence on supporting anti catholic laws, such as abortion, gay marriage, and now Obamacare mandates. The stronger the unions, the stronger the democratic platform. I wish it wasn’t this way because the members are a great group of individuals who care about their trade and their fellow workers. Union members should have a say as to how their union dues (and other union fees) are spent, especially when it comes to backing political causes.

    • djpala

      Years ago Pittsburgh had thousands of union steel workers & large mill complexes. These were necessary early on to protect family wage earners & to barter for fair wages. After WWII the unions prospered. Strike after strike gradually raised the hourly wage & better benefits were accrued. A bad strike in 1959 lasted 6 months. The union bragged that they won but the meager increase in pay was hardly worth the agony. The wages lost during the strike could never be recovered. Then came the 13 weeks vacation benefit a few years later. Few if any could afford to go on vacation that long & most just cashed it in. The greed factor kicked in in the late 60′s. The older workers gobbled up all the overtime through seniority clauses & the younger men were being laid off. This eventually busted the union. Today the ‘communist’ have taken control of every major union & also the Democratic Party that they support. The steel mills are gone since the late 70′s. If not for the Hospitals & Colleges & small businesses, Pittsburgh would look exactly like Detroit, some neighborhoods already do. Pittsburgh schools are a joke. They push kids through that can’t even make change or do math or formulate sentences. Murders & drive-by’s every day as with every Democrat controlled City. One welfare queen bragged she voted 3 times last Nov. The Church does not support Communism, neither should loyal Americans !

    • WRBaker

      It is also interesting that every pope since Leo XIII has said that every person has a right to organize. Why is it that virtually every bishop has forbidden union creation by diocesan workers and teachers?

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      On the second anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, the National Assembly declared, “In that the abolition of any kind of citizen’s guild in the same trade or of the same profession is one of the fundamental bases of the French Constitution, it is forbidden to re-establish them under any pretext or in any form whatsoever.”

      They saw that the reconstitution of corporations in any form was a fundamental threat to the nation and its free constitution. The law made it clear that no intermediary body could stand between the individual – now armed with his natural rights – and the nation – now the guarantor of those natural rights. There were no longer group rights, as under the old régime, but only the particular interests of each individual and the general interest.

      Both liberty and equality demanded the abolition of the guilds.

      • crakpot

        Yes, the streets ran red with that “liberty and equality,” much of it the blood of priests, monks, and nuns who had nothing to do with the royalty.

    • poetcomic1

      As a Jewish convert to Catholicism I find it interesting that I grew up ‘closer’ to the idea of a guild than many Catholics. The shoemakers such as my great grandfather in Eastern Europe had a ‘Shoemaker’s Synagogue’ with a widows and orphan funds, a burial society and so forth. Fathers trained their sons or apprenticed promising youths.

      • Mike

        Now, that is awesome. I wish we could get some of that over here. It would solve many problems, specially crappy shoes. If there was a real and practical initiative to support these ideas, not ‘buy local’, I would be in full support.

    • givelifeachance2

      The assumptions of the 19th century have been turned on their head now that we have dual breadwinners. This has knocked down the whole concept of “the living wage”. Why should an employer worry at all that what he pays his worker is possible to live on, if that household also receives an infusion from a second worker?

    • Alecto

      This is rather confusing: how does the welfare system “punish” a single mother for wedding? Is it punishment to expect adults to support themselves and their families? I’m surprised Prof. Esolen does not elaborate on the nexus between social programs and high taxes? The culprit is always a central authority with enough power to enact these mythical social “benefits” while simultaneously thieving from productive people.

      I find it unhelpful for theologians, philosophers and others in such intellectual disciplines to attempt coherent economic theories. They eventually arrive at some form of tyranny, which for lack of a better description I call “beneficial servitude”. I do not believe it is accurate to frame the issue as the belief that we are either too wise or too foolish to listen to an old man in Rome. The issue is whether that single old man is capable of appropriate determinations about marginal utility, specialization of labor, opportunity costs, scarcity, elasticity of supply/demand, fiscal policy and what constitutes “fair value”. It is no criticism to state that economic questions are the province of economics. Moral and spiritual matters are the province of religion and theology, which rightly address questions about what comes after this life.

      Having grown up in Detroit, I am sensitive to that example. However, having been educated at an alternative Catholic cooperative school, where I learned both trade and academics, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s time to rethink the notion of public education in its entirety. Government ought never be involved in education. It is improper and in every case leads to indoctrination to perpetuate the interests of the State. I do not support most or all government interference in people’s lives be it the social “safety net” (which ultimately strangles the individual) or any other kind. Moral suasion is more powerful than any tax, politician’s speechifying or media headline in convincing people to do what is true, right and good.

      • LarryCicero

        Economics and moral matters are not mutually exclusive. Rev. Robert Sirico made
        the moral case for free markets in his book published last year. Frankie Shafer put together a collection of essays that asked Is capitalism Christian about 30 years ago. Both books make a moral defense of capitalism. The rights of employer vs employee leaves the customer out of the equation. If there were enough tradesmen to fix Detroit’s neighborhoods, would there be enough buyers? The price the laborer is willing to sell his labor and the price the employer is willing to purchase that labor, has everything to do with the return on investment, which is determined by the price the customer is willing to pay–this does not make an abstraction.
        Education if allowed to function in a free market would thrive. As it is, the Catholic school cannot compete with the wages of the government schools and so are less likely to attract as skilled a labor force. The customer after having his pocket picked by the government school must then come up with the funds for the private one. The price of the catholic school is a refection of cost, whereas the free government school is funded by the collective and so your neighbor or local business is subsidizing the cost of tuition. Likewise, the availability of government subsidies has contributed to an increase in the costs of higher education.
        It seems to me that the old men in Rome(and New York and Chicago) have neglected the economics of the direct relationship between buyer and seller. When the customer does not pay directly, as in the case of education, the cost of the product is no longer kept in check. Free schools that were intended to help the poor do not do so, because they suck away the capital that could be better used by the rightful owner of that capital, which includes the use as charity. Charity that could provide schools that truly help the poor. The government schools are a sham and you are right that it is time to rethink the notion in its entirety. Religion has a place in the public square of education.

        • givelifeachance2

          The third party effect is just as true in health care, which is why Obamacare fails as well. Get government out of schools and doctors’ offices by privatizing and letting Tocqueville’s private charities work their magic.

      • Tony

        Alecto — I agree with you on that nexus, and I’d storm the Bastille to get the federal government entirely out of education at all levels, and to scale back to the bare bones all state involvement, too. My use of the word “punish” was bitterly ironic — the welfare system perversely incentivizes illegitimacy and cohabitation; if there’s to be a welfare system at all, it should give incentives to marriage and birth within marriage.

    • Tony

      I apologize, everybody — I have allowed myself to be drawn into a fruitless discussion, and we have veered far from the main point of this piece, which was to reconsider the guilds, as schools and as benevolent associations and as labor unions.

    • John200

      Dear Admins,

      Something has happened here. There seem to be two Pauls, responding to each other, and I think one of them is the (self-declared) father of the greatest kids who ever lived, while the other is our author, Professor Tony Esolen. It took some work to track them down and get clear on which is which.

      Can you sort this out? No need to print my comment, just sort these guys out if you can.


    • crakpot

      The trades were really wiped out by the industrial revolution. They could not compete on price, and the market was sufficiently insulated from the poor working conditions in far away factories not to care. The unions that resulted were quickly taken over by gangs and Marxists. They made their appeal to the political class, rather than to the free market. The guilds also went away – it doesn’t take much training to put a nut on a bolt.

      I believe the free market is the mechanism by which resources are given “to each according to his abilities” (The Parable of the Talents). I also believe a conscientious market is how those who are lazy or do not create wealth in the service of God are stripped of their resources. With the guilds and trades, you knew who you were buying from. That became almost impossible with factories, but we have less of an excuse in the Information Age. We should not be buying gadgets from Chinese factories where workers are jumping off the roof of due to overwork.

      The Information Age affords us the opportunity to return to small, local, owner-operator manufacturing, just as it makes homeschooling a reality. Being an employee should be a temporary condition on the way to owing your own business. Cooperatives would be a good mechanism for both training and delivering product to market, as well as medical insurance. Contrary to the norm with big companies today, always driving the common denominator lower because they are deathly afraid to alienate any group, such coops should publicly make a stand on the moral issues of the day, let customers see what kind of people are building these products, to foster a more conscientious market.

    • Tony

      Now that we’ve rid ourselves of the diversionary argument, I’d like to resume a discussion on the merits of the old guild system. Consider:
      We do actually have a lot of roads, houses, parks, and buildings falling apart.
      Plenty of people do not get repairs done, not because they can’t afford it, but because reliable workmen are hard to find. You have to book a good carpenter a year in advance.
      There are a lot of young men who do not have the knack or the relish for academic work. But they can work with their backs and shoulders and hands and brains, and do more for the common good that way than can a whole corral of academics.
      It is extremely difficult for those young men to find their way into a remunerable trade.
      We will NEVER experience a revival of practical daily freedom, of family life, and of the church unless we provide for those young men and their families.
      They are NOT going to be inspired by having to drudge the hours away in high school reading Amy Tan or Tony Kushner and then being browbeaten into pretending to have been enlightened by it. They need a different kind of instruction entirely. I am presuming that ten years of schooling should be more than enough for imparting the literacy and the knowledge of math, science, and history that ordinary citizens need. If it’s not, then there’s something badly wrong with the schools, or with the families.
      This has got to be done, one way or another. I am willing to entertain suggestions about alternative ways. I am not willing to pretend that it does not have to be done.

    • Luciano Corbo

      Professor Esolen:

      I wote a paper that deals in part
      with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (which your comments are based on). My paper
      also addresses Pope John Paul’s II Laborem Excercens. In his encyclical, Pope
      John Paul II builds and expands on some of the major points in Rerum Novarum
      (Including your arguments bases on Pope Leo’s encyclical). Here is a link to
      the paper.


      @lcorbo13 (Twitter)