Beware of Sophistical Education “Reformers”

The Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper wrote a short book called Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power and in it he examines the misuse of language and the corruption of the word for the purpose of manipulation and personal gain.  He focuses on “Plato’s lifelong battle with the sophists, those highly paid and popularly applauded experts in the art of twisting words, who were able to sweet-talk something bad into something good and turn black into white.” Plato illustrates that the errors of the sophists are a timeless temptation, “a danger and a threat besetting the pursuits of the human mind and the life of society in any era.” Sophistry is ubiquitous in contemporary American society and especially pervasive in the public schools.

The German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) referred to the sophists as “extremely refined and learned people,” just as our sophists are today. The distinguished German classicist Warner Jaeger (1888-1961) saw the sophists as “the earliest humanists.”  Pieper notes that the sophists are praised as great educators and teachers and the danger they pose increases “as the human mind progresses in terms of ever greater sophistication.”

The book explains that language has a twofold purpose: first, to convey reality, for there is nothing else about which we can properly communicate; and second, to name and identify something for someone, an interpersonal service to the other. These two purposes are distinct, but inseparable. They also represent the twofold nature of the possible corruption. Pieper reminds us that words and language are a medium that sustains our common human existence and the word reflecting reality makes existential interaction possible. If words are corrupted, then human existence will be corrupted too.

Pieper asserts that willful corruption of language for the purposes of deceiving is not communication because “it means specifically to withhold the other’s share in reality.”  Communication ceases in the case of a lie and language is subverted from mutually beneficial dialogue into a monologue used as an instrument of power.

Because of these two corruptions, that of the word and of communication, we see Socrates constantly reproach the rhetoric of the sophists.  Pieper here emphasizes that Plato’s laments and accusations have an astonishingly modern relevance as he characterizes the sophist: “reality, you think should be of interest to you only insofar as you can impressively talk about it! And because you are not interested in reality, are unable to converse. You can give fine speeches, but you simply cannot join a conversation; you are incapable of dialogue.” The sophistic phenomenon is especially evident in public education and in several reform movements.

In twenty-two years, I have been to countless staff meetings, teacher trainings and exposed to countless professional texts. The sophistry is glaringly apparent for anyone who dares to initiate dialogue in an effluence of shamefully artless monologues. For emphasis, let us turn our gaze to a larger stage. Though what follows is hardly news, it represents the persisting characteristic paradigm of sophistry driving public education and illustrates how easily many in public education abuse language and power.

Waiting for “Superman”: Sophistry on Celluloid
In 2010, the movie Waiting for “Superman” hit the silver screen and regaled a softened American Public with a sophistical masterpiece soaked in the utopian mythology that the state is supposed to raise our children and that the public schools replace parents as their first teachers. One of the first lines in the movie is “but our schools are failing” our students. And though schools are utterly failing students, it is lost that schools are born out of communities, communities out of families, therefore it is the families that are failing these kids long before the state schools get their hooks into them.

The film’s producer, Davis Guggenheim, claimed that the film “is all about families trying to find great schools.” This disingenuous reduction of his film’s intentions signals the sophistical yarn that a student’s success or failure is solely dependent upon admittance to a “great” school. The movie is a series of pathological arguments taking the form of heart wrenching stories. Daisy wants desperately to be a nurse, a doctor and a vet, and to go to “medical college to become a surgeon.” She is unlikely to achieve all her ambitions under the best of circumstances.

Guggenheim (who is also responsible for the Al Gore film Inconvenient Truth) and his ideological backers propagate the myth that the kids “whose lives hang in the balance” are solely dependent upon a lottery to go to a “better” school. We are given the impression that if the tragic victims portrayed in the film don’t win the lottery, there is no hope for their futures. The school official in the movie selecting the winning lottery balls absurdly conjectured “it all boils down to geography and luck.” These deterministic reductions are worse than just an offence against truth; they ignore the majority of the realities that govern human learning such as the role of the family, the cultivation of character, subsidiarity and free will.

Mega-philanthropist Bill Gates promotes and appears in the film.  In an interview with James Rocha, we read that “Gates explained he’s been involved in making sure audiences have a number of ways to interact with Waiting for ‘Superman’.” Barbara Miner, although a foe of conservatism, exposes the financial and ideological backers who provided the “supersized dollars” for Waiting for “Superman”. They are listed in the film credits as Paramount Vantage, Participant Media, and Walden Media.

Waiting for “Superman” is a pathological work of genius that successfully yet subtly propagates the victim narratives springing from class warfare ideologies, the racist multiculturalism creeds and the politics of recognition dogmas that have effectively choked the remaining life out of an already bankrupt educational system.

The movie rightfully vilified the teachers unions and the public classrooms, but not nearly enough and not for the right reasons. The attacks were used as instruments to highlight the sophistic heroes of the movie, Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada.

Education through Testing
Geoffrey Canada runs Harlem Children’s Zone Inc. a well-funded cradle to college charter school program. A close look at Canada’s platitudinous monologues in the movie will reveal attractive but empty jargon, unless we really believe that “celebrating teachers” is a viable plan for improving the quality of classroom teachers. Canada does mention “excellence,” but if he were prodded to explain what he means by “excellence” what would he say? He would say it can be measured by a test score. But what he says is not what he does. He claims to graduate 100% of his students but “Canada has TWICE kicked out an entire class—because their persistently low test scores embarrassed the bankers and lawyers on his board.”

The sophists running the public schools have replaced the original summum bonum, that of being educated, with an artificial final end of a high standardized test score. School administrators now make claims about “success” in terms of higher scores and other arbitrary measures. However, when data is manipulated or falsified, the statements become lies. The dialogue about how the United States fares in the world is not about how educated we are, but about how high our test scores are.  In Waiting for Superman, the measure of success is expressed in terms of standardized test scores and its euphemisms include reading level, math level, graduation rates and college entrance.

Rhee’s concordance with this sophistry can be detected in most of her positions, but particularly in her quote in Time Magazine. “People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning,’ … I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’” The sophist’s golden cow is a test score.

In the movie, Guggenheim narrates “in 2007 the education world went into a frenzy over the possibility that Michelle Rhee could actually turn around the school district.” Far from turning it around, Michelle Rhee as chancellor of the D.C. public schools, took action and in an unprecedented display of force “fired more than 600 teachers for low test scores, sending a strong message that her priority was higher test scores at any cost”  She rewarded those whose test scores were high with monetary bonuses.  It remains to be seen whether or not the firings were prudent because according the National Commission on Teaching and American’s Future, “46% of all new teachers in the United States leave the profession within five years.” The number in D.C. is called by the Washington Post, “astronomical, at fifty percent of new teachers within two years; 75 percent are gone within five.”

Shortly after Waiting for “Superman” came out, Rhee narrowly sidestepped responsibility for a cheating scandal. Journalist John Merrow wrote approvingly of Rhee at the beginning of her public career. In 2011 it came to light that during the years when Rhee was chancellor, from 2007 to 2010, standardized tests taken under her reign had an extraordinarily large amount of wrong answers erased and changed to right answers. This became known as the “erasure” scandals. Merrow reversed course as evidence began to reveal Rhee’s role in the scandal.  An entire accounting of Merrow’s investigative journalism on Rhee can be read on Diane Ravatich’s blog.

Waiting for “Superman” illustrates how severely broken public education is and brings up the real issues of school reform and the voucher system. However, the “magic bullet” of charter schools is not the answer. A transfer of money and power from the dreadful public classrooms to charter schools is a bit like transferring the administrative duties of running Nazi death camps from the Germans to the Belgians, yet still the need for reform is beyond dire. However, reform is futile if the goal remains a high standardized test scores.

To this day Rhee denies culpability for wrongdoing in the erasure scandals.  In a similar scandal, but not as fortuitous as Rhee, Dr. Beverly Hall, superintendent of Atlanta public schools was investigated for widespread systematic cheating on standardized tests and accepting bonuses for corrupt scores. The New York Times reported that Hall took over $500,000.00 in bonuses personally. Hall was awarded superintendent of the year in 2009 and was celebrated at the Whitehouse. In 2011, she and 178 other teachers and school personnel were implicated and investigated in the cheating scandal. Thirty-five educators, including Hall, were indicted and had to surrender to authorities. They await trial.

With government sponsored bonuses for high standardized test scores and teachers with low test scores being fired, who can speculate accurately about the massive cheating that must be taking place? Could anyone deny that what the public knows about this cheating is anything but the tip of the iceberg?

In one of Plato’s last dialogues called The Sophist he says, “the Sophists fabricate reality.”  Pieper comments on Plato’s modern relevance in asserting that the general public of today is unable to find or even to seek for the truth because they are content with the trickery and deception that form their convictions. They live content “with a fictitious reality created and designed through the abuse of language.”

Our public institutions are habituated in the abuse of language and abuse of power. Real reform of public education would have to be grounded in truthful speech and divorced from the sophistry so pervasive in modern society.

We ought to remind ourselves of one of Pieper’s important concluding statements:

The natural habitat of truth is found in interpersonal communication. Truth lives in dialogue, in discussion, in conversation, it resides therefore, in language, in the word.  Consequently, the well-ordered human existence is essentially based on the well-ordered language employed.

Like the proverbial frog in a pot of slowly heating water, most Americans are unaware of the depth of sophistry that governs our public schools. Generations of sophists have been trying to engineer a brave new world in all spheres of public life, the last place we should accept this is in our children’s classrooms.

Editor’s note: Pictured above are filmmaker Davis Guggenheim and  financial backer Bill Gates on Oprah in 2010 promoting Waiting for “Superman”.

Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg


Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is a Catholic convert and a teacher with over twenty years experience in the public education system. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a degree in History in 1991. He is also a husband and father of 3 children and a catechist at his parish in Bakersfield, California.

  • crakpot

    Standardized test scores started as a good idea to expose the level of incompetence in public schools. NAEP showed Catholic schools above public schools in every single state, and liberal havens like California at the bottom (49th in 8th grade science). PISA showed USA public schools below the middle of the pack internationally (#16 out of 26 in science scores of 15 year olds). It was not hard to graph that against dollars spent per pupil. That’s when the unions got busy faking scores.

    I also disagree that dialog is where we find the truth. We find it in the voice of conscience, best heard when alone with your thoughts. You may bother someone else’s conscience, but that is hardly “dialog.” As for physical truths, even science, what was once a mutual, experimental search for the truth has devolved into courtroom-like argument, which is little more than ritualized lying.

    • Facile1

      Conscience ALONE cannot reconcile language to TRUTH.

      As a Catholic, I believe TRUTH in language can be found only when one reconciles one’s conscience with scripture, the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and the traditions (acts of mercy) of a Catholic community.

      Language is a human invention. The TRUTH is not.

      No amount of sophistry can change the TRUTH.

      And anyone who loves the TRUTH will not escape GOD.

      TRUTH begins with GOD (read Genesis) and cannot exist outside of GOD.

      We are commanded, therefore, to LOVE GOD FIRST (read Matthew 22: 34-40 The Greatest Commandment.)

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Unfortunately, as philosophers from Hamann to Wittgenstein have shown:-

    1. There is no “perfect language” which mirrors reality without remainder;

    2. Theoretical abstraction creates imaginary entities which have no relation to real life;

    3. Every language is a way of life based on patterns of communal experience;

    4. There is no universal language into which particular languages can be translated;

    5. Only by entering into its actual everyday usage is a language to be understood;

    6. We must distrust grammar and rely instead on the peculiarities of concrete word usage.

    • Steven Jonathan

      Yes Michael, when it comes to the artificial sign, there is no “perfect language” just like there is no perfect human judge. But we are aware of the perfect word, the Logos, the Christ, and that word is not intelligible to us by our own powers, as Christ reminded us this morning: “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes.”

      I am sure I don’t need to remind you of Wittgenstein’s 7th chapter of the Tractatus, but I will. He writes:

      “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

      And yet we are still not silent. We believe we can know and those who are informed by the Christ do know and those who are informed by their own arrogated authority are in error.

      I think we must distrust the human grammar, but not the grammar of the Logos.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        Yes, Wittgenstein’s remark is very like Abbé Brémond’s, when he says that “In the course of the normal development of man there occur moments in which the discursive reason gives place to a higher activity, imperfectly understood and indeed at first disquieting.”

        Like Wittgenstein, he insists this experience is ineffable, beyond language. “It is like bathing in a fathomless ocean, or breathing an intangible and limitless air. It gives contact and certitude, but not understanding: as breathing or bathing give us certitude about the air and the ocean, but no information about their chemical constitution.” He reminds us of Tauler, “driven beyond all the ordinary resources of image to speak of ‘the Abyss which is unknown and has no name . . . more beloved than all that we can know.’”

    • Michael Susce

      Oh, how I love to destroy the aforementioned modern philosophers and self denying statements even by one like myself with average intelligence.

      READY: If the following are true, then the language in these statements HAVE NO VALIDITY! But in fact, they assert the actual opposite of what they claim!!! These statements are trying to convey by the use of language an exact or perfect description what is exactly going on in the world of language!!

      Of course language has it’s limits. But to undermine any exactness in language and then using the very same language as a tool in articulating the exactness of the reality of language.

      An aside: a miracle. I was on vacation in Florida about eleven years ago and purely by the grace of God discovered that Derrida, a few years before his death, was speaking at the University of Florida. Needless to say, I attended. Without going into great detail, in an auditorium of a thousand people, he denied the vagueness of language and asserted that language had to have some exactness inherent in it(he used other terms): otherwise we would be unable to communicate at all!! This claim undermined his whole life work. The crowd was in stunned silence. Anyway, that experience has been with me ever since. Of course you wont hear about THAT! May God have mercy on his soul.

      (As a matter of fact, Pope John Paul was mentioned but cannot remember the context.

      • Facile1

        Interesting story. It made me laugh. Thank you.

        I do not know who Derrida is. (Forgive my ignorance.) My educational background is in the sciences (undergraduate degrees in engineering and a graduate degree in mathematics.)

        In science and mathematics, we assume non-singularity — that is, a duck is a duck if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. Scientists believe in reproducible results. Mathematicians test matrices for singularity (A singular equation has no solution.)

        One day I had a bad dream. I could not see the corners of my room. My universe had collapsed. I became unhinged. I could not get out of bed that day.

        Since then, I learned the awful TRUTH that we live in a world of singularities. Non-singularity is a lie. All of science and mathematics is founded on a lie. For how can non-singular EVIDENCE exist in a material and ephemeral universe when: by material, we mean evidence is subject to decay; and by ephemeral, we mean evidence is a function of time?

        “(Derrido) denied the vagueness of language…” Many scientists and mathematicians do the same out of necessity and utility. But the honest ones quantify their ignorance by factoring ‘error’ or running ‘controlled’ experiments in a laboratory setting.

        Thus, I came to my FAITH by way of revelation and am now reconciled to a world filled with miracles and mystery.

        Thank you again for the amusing story.

        • Michael Susce

          It is good to read about those like yourself who were immersed in science to such an extent as to have lost their common sense and have returned to the whole of reality. A famous scientist on YouTube, I think his name is Michiko, an Asian, boldly claims that particle physics has ended the debate on Free-Will! When I hear absurdities like these I am skeptical of all their recent scientific conclusions. Because scientists are claiming again such craziness (Communism claimed it was scientific), people like yourself are extremely valuable in educating people away from these falsehoods. By the way, I have a large poster of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field in my home. When I look at it I am faced with two truths: 1) God is and 2) of all of human history, I have been blessed with an astounding abundance of proof of the hand of God and therefore, I am with out excuse and I can never deny Him: I know too much.
          God bless, Michael

          • Facile1

            Dear Michael,

            I’m glad you saw the humor in my story. My sense of humor can be so obscure, one may need to do some research before getting the joke.

            Just one point. It’s a small one. It’s best not to use the word “proof” when speaking to a recovering atheist with pretensions to science.

            “Proof” does not exist in an ephemeral and material universe — especially when one is speaking of an eternal and spiritual TRUTH (ie GOD). We only have evidence — evidence that is a function of time and is subject to decay. With God, we have a preponderance of evidence (BUT evidence nonetheless, NOT proof). It still requires FAITH to sort through it all.

            Again, thank you for your kind words.

            Rejoice in GOD’s LOVE always and go in peace,

            PS I find myself sympathizing with Michiko (I’m also Asian.) Unlike you, I cannot say I was blessed with “the hand of God”. It was more like being hit with a 2×4. Michiko might find himself in the same position one day (and it is painful.) I pray for atheists.

            • Michael Susce


              What is the definition of proof? And have you read any of Father Jaki’s books? Especially, God and the Cosmologists? This book was a turning point for me in understanding the difference between science and scientists.

              God bless, Michael

              • Facile1

                Dear Michael,

                I’ve never read Jaki. St. Thomas Aquinas argued for GOD’s existence in various proofs on paper. “Proof” works best on paper because “proof” IS a “logical construct” (ie an invention of human reason). BUT “proof of GOD” on paper will not work for atheists and scientists.

                Language is a human invention. The TRUTH is NOT.

                TRUTH begins with GOD (read Genesis) and cannot exist outside of GOD (Read John’s Apocalypse).

                No amount of invention (ie human) can change the TRUTH (ie GOD.)

                No one who loves the TRUTH can escape GOD.

                BUT to enjoy GOD and HIS abundance (to enter into HIS joy), FAITH is required. (Read Matthew 6:33)

                I know I did not answer your question. But I want you to know why I can’t and I won’t. I do not find it intelligible to require “proof” as a prerequisite to FAITH. So I no longer keep a working definition for “proof”.

                LOVE GOD FIRST and go in peace.


      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        No, as Wittgenstein says, “The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head against the limits of language. These bumps make us see the value of the discovery.” (PI 119) And again, “My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense.” (PI 464)

        We can show that propositions are meaningless, on their own terms (e.g. “What is the greatest prime number?”) without making any very exalted claims about the power of our own language. We are just showing that language does not work, on our opponents’ terms.

    • Facile1

      Language is a human invention (read Genesis); and therefore is subject to human error and manipulation.

      The TRUTH is NOT.

      The TRUTH begins with GOD and cannot exist outside of GOD.

      LOVE GOD FIRST and go in peace.

  • Alecto

    Although public education is an ongoing issue for many Americans, I confess I cannot relate to the concept. It isn’t that I do not care about education, I view the issue differently because my entire family, even extended family, is a product of a private, Catholic system. Parochial schools are an integral part in building and perpetuating the family. It is an injustice to compel conscientious education objectors to subsidize corruption of American ideals and support that which undermines us.

    My question is not how to divorce public schools from detrimental influences, or how to reform them, but how to replace them with an entirely private system?

    • Steven Jonathan

      Alecto, you bring up a very complicated subject. I would like to know more about how you think that ought to happen and what might be the results.
      If you are suggesting that public education is beyond reform, you will find me in agreement.

      • Alecto

        I’ve just arrived at this conclusion and yes, I agree, it’s complicated. Public education is increasingly beyond reform because it has been taken over by the central government bureaucracy. Are the solutions legal (suits) or political? Getting state legislatures to refuse federal “education” (indoctrination) funds and drop the national interference in local matters is a good start. But, we couldn’t even stop another school bond measure locally in the last election. People are on autopilot all over the country.

        • Beth

          Great discussion. If I can add my thoughts–I don’t see a change in the public ed situation because not only have the parents of current students been educated in the same way but also the teachers. The majority of folks associated with education don’t know any other way. I include myself in the group up until about five years ago when we decided to homeschool using Mother of Divine Grace classical curriculum. We have not looked back for even a nanosecond! Love having my family back and their future looks so bright, joyful and filled with Christ!

        • Facile1

          I do not have children of my own. But I believe strongly in the ‘voucher’ system as a stop-gap solution, where people such as myself (who are childless) may take as a tax-deduction any contribution we make (including help in tuition we give our families).

  • Tuxedo Mom

    I’m on board with much of what the author asserts. In fact, disenchanted with our public and parochial school options, my husband and I have taken the decision to homeschool our two boys. But here’s the question I’m grappling with:

    I understand the problems with using test scores as the basis for accountability especially given the cheating that goes on, but how are we to have some kind of objective measure of performance without comparison of standardized test scores?

    • Steven Jonathan

      Dear Mom,
      It is a good choice to homeschool. The objective standard in a word is Christ. The danger is in thinking that anything the public schools or the state would have us do in an educational setting could be helpful, it cannot be. A better mind than mine could make it clear that getting help from the state in educating our children is like getting advice from Al Sharpton on race relations, it is a bad idea.

      Would you mind telling me which program you plan to use? Or briefly what materials you will incorporate? There are great ways to homeschool and there are horrid ways, the plan is important.

      • Tuxedo Mom

        Sure – we’ve selected Seton Home Study for most of the curriculum. We especially like how it infuses the Catholic faith in every subject (even spelling, science, etc.) and how traditional it is, with emphasis on repetition and memorization for learning and the study of phonics until grade 5, among other things.

        A great world history book I’ve come across is called “A Child’s History of the World” by V. M. Hillyer. It’s a non-politicized history written originally in 1924 and (subsequently updated) that uses very simply language to convey the history of mankind as a story. I highly recommend it. It’s refreshing to be able to read an unvarnished history; for example, about Islam, the author writes that the moslems believed “women were only fit to be slaves to the men, and they thought that a man might have as many wives as he wished all at one time!”

        • Steven Jonathan

          Thank you for sharing that. I don’t know much about Seten but I appreciate what you say and I am very happy for your children, it will surely bear good fruit. Have you heard of the Angelicum Academy? They are a Catholic Great Books homeschooling program, and very much worth looking into.

        • Alecto

          McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers. Timeless lessons in more than reading.

    • david

      Success in life? 🙂

      • Tuxedo Mom

        Sorry, David, but I meant to say: how are we to have some kind of objective measure of performance of the SCHOOLS.

      • Alecto

        Yes, but we’re at a stage where the sophists discussed above have influenced even the meaning of success in life. For those who advocate on behalf of secular public schools, it’s manifested in credentials or wealth. For most Christians, it has more to do with intangible attributes, faith and charity.

  • Randall Ward

    If you want to discover how useless the government schools are; homeschool your children. It is easy and you will discover how eager children are to learn in the right environment. We homeschooled our two youngest and they are now 33 ande 32 years old and doing great.

  • tamsin

    I’m inspired to read Josef Pieper’s book.

    Regarding the Sophists,

    I never studied philosophy when I was in school, but was driven to do so when I became a mother in order to comprehend the philosophical underpinnings of constructivist mathematics curricula, and the use and abuse of language to sell constructivism to well-meaning teachers and administrators in my children’s school.

    That’s when I first read descriptions of the historical Sophists, and the eternal desire to win with words.

    I learned about eristic more recently when I was investigating hombre111’s deployment of the proof by lack of evidence fallacy here in a Crisis Magazine combox. He was “asking” for proof that gay marriage harms marriage.

    Lastly, I have been reading Will Durant’s Life of Greece, primarily to find out how democracy developed as a political goal, and how it will end through the use and abuse of words.

    Everything old is new again, even the victory of (homo)sexual appetites over common sense, and the common good.

    So should I read Pieper, or just go straight to Plato’s Euthydemos?

    • Steven Jonathan

      Tamsin, I would say both.

    • david

      eschew obfuscation 😉

    • Facile1

      I would not worry (regardless).

      Language is a human invention. The TRUTH is NOT.

      Language is subject to human error and manipulation. It is futile to believe one can “win with words.” The Lord didn’t bother to write anything down. Ever wonder why? If He could read, He can write.

      I would read Pieper or Plato; but ONLY if I cannot think of better things to do. I personally like to take naps. A book helps.

      LOVE GOD FIRST and go in peace.


      Whenever I catch hombre111 claiming (s)he is a priest in these blogs, I post this reply to his/her commentary:

      “How does one VERIFY INDEPENDENTLY a claim to ecclesiastical authority when the person of interest blogs under an assumed name? Claiming ecclesiastical authority is at best a disservice to the reader and at worst demonic.”

      I do not find credible anyone who claims ecclesiastical authority anonymously.

  • Beth Ann Vosskuhler-Waleski

    OK…I am a teacher, so make of my comments what you will. I think we can agree that public schools at all levels are dens of immorality. Why then, are we attacking teachers’ unions? I was in a public school where my principal was guilty of agregious(sp?) sins against his teaching staff, so had nothing other than the union to protect me. If principals all lived by good Catholic moral principles (no pun intended), we would not need unions, but sadly that is not the case. Catholic schools are not much better. I once had a Catholic school principal tell a lie about me which almost destroyed my career and local reputation. Teachers, be they at Catholic or public schools, as a rule want to do the best job possible educating your children. Unions aim to let them be free to do that. Nothing more.

    • david

      egregious 😉

      • Beth Ann Vosskuhler-Waleski

        My spelling might not be perfect, but I can spell Elizabeth Ann Seton. Is this some sort of dig because you don’t like my post? Really, correcting someone’s spelling of an uncommonly used word can be a cheap shot if it’s meant to be.

        • Tony

          Beth — the unions have blocked reforms at every pass, and have promoted the idea that teachers are co-parents; I’m afraid that they have been corrupt since they bought Dewey wholesale. I know that teachers need protection, but who is going to protect us from the protectors? They’ve done untold harm.

          • Beth Ann Vosskuhler-Waleski

            What reforms are we talking about? If they involve standardized tests, I am afraid they will not work, and teachers know this. These reforms are fought by teachers with good reason.

            • Tony

              Reforms regarding what qualifies one to teach in a public school; reforms regarding tuition tax-vouchers for people who send their children to other schools; reforms regarding the sheer size of schools; reforms giving more authority to parents over what is taught and how; reforms that would at least call an end to the schools’ unremittingly rotten treatment of boys; reforms to get rid of politicized textbooks; reforms granting authority to individual teachers to choose their own textbooks subject to school board approval; reforms regarding the composition and the authority of school boards …

              • Beth Ann Vosskuhler-Waleski

                The only one of those I know teachers have fought for sure is the one about vouchers. Teachers want small classes, and to choose their own texts. There has also been much talk of the treatment of boys as well.

          • Adam Baum

            No, taxpayers need protection. Public sector unions are killing state and local balance sheets-and to hear members talk, their offices are coal mines.

        • kremmiz

          Beth, after reading your response to david, I decided to give him a thumbs up and a response of my own. A competent teacher would know how to use a dictionary. In fact, I put the misspelled word in the box above and it was not only underlined red to indicate it was misspelled, but a simple right click on it gave the correct spelling of it that one could click on to replace the misspelled word. Don’t go getting upset with me now. You yourself stated “I am a teacher, so make of my comments what you will.” This combined with the subject at hand…

    • Adam Baum

      In my state, (I work blocks from the Capitol) the teachers unions seem more concerned with exerting influence in the legislative process than with obtaining workplace equity for teachers. They maintain a constant lobbying presence and seem to have enormous sums of money to fight any kind of initiative that would limit the property taxes that are killing the elderly, who work a lifetime to “buy” a house, only to find out that they are still renters from the local taxing authority,

      I constantly hear from the unionized public school teachers in my family that they just want a “fair” wage, but ignore that in the rest of the world nobody gets cadillac benefits, an upper quartile wage, with anything remotely like tenure and a lengthy summer vacation. They also want to be treated as “professionals”, mindless of the fact that most “professionals” don’t unionize or go on strike.

      Teachers unions are a cornerstone exhibit in the the school of economics known as “public choice”, defined by one of its creators, the late James Buchanan as “politics without the romance”.

    • Facile1

      Unions, like all organizations, are “in it” for themselves first. All other “aims” are a far second. Do not be deceived. More than your heart may break.

      LOVE GOD FIRST and go in peace.

    • Deacon Ed Peitler

      You still have much to learn.

      • Beth Ann Vosskuhler-Waleski

        Don’t we all?

  • WRBaker

    Catholic schools, where one might expect less sophistry in its administration, probably have more.

    A case in point is Common Core. It’s apparent that Catholic schools are embracing it and, of course, they asked the prime teachers (parents) of their children first, right? They asked their teachers, too, I’ll just bet.

    Funded by Bill Gates (and let’s not forget his “Catholic” wife) and others who wish to have everyone geared for the workforce as “they see” the future should have alerted many to what was occurring.
    Most administrators of Catholic schools have gone along with the “public” school crowd (who want federal funding more than they care about student learning) in embracing Common Core because they need to be able to compare their schools’ progress and they know textbooks will change and they certainly want to be up-to-date (why Catholic schools haven’t banded togetherto produce their own textbooks is unknown). These administrators are now in the, “Because I say so” mode in defending their rationale for making the switch.

    Catholic primary and secondary school teachers are used to sophistry, though they only earn about 80% of their public school counterparts and receive fewer benefits, virtually no extra earnings and most are withoutunions to backstop them. For this, they put up with a lot (because the students come first).

    Testing has become the only means to measure success, which often leads to teachers (willingly or not) to teach-to-the-test, which proves what? Why bother changing a curriculum if that is all-important? We can become the best test takers in the world that way, since money replaces knowledge. Catholic school teachers have resisted testing becoming the last word, but it looks like this might now change.

    Just ask yourself this, how many students know who Plato and Socrates were? For that matter, how many can answer the question, “Why did God make you?” It’s because they weren’t taught – there is that pesky word again!

    • Adam__Baum

      The use of public education to “form” people is nothing new, Gates is just doing what he does best, using somebody else’s idea (mouse, GUi, etc) to advance his ambitions. In this case, it’s Horace Mann’s ideas, except Gates wants to create a supply of pliable workers and consumers.

      Politicians see it as an avenue to control, of course. We have clearly allowed an autocratic few to wield inordinate power and influence, they are now using it. In a healthy democratic republic, where there is dissatisfaction, the people change their leaders, in tyranny, the leaders change the people-or attempt to-until they grow weary of them-then they just exterminate them.

    • Facile1

      I was raised in an exclusive girl school (in the Philippines) run by American Catholic nuns. And yes, I was an atheist for most of my life. I was sent to college in the US by my parents where I continued to live after I married (and divorced) an atheist.

      BUT I do not believe in Public Education for the simple reason that I believe in the separation of Church and State.

      Let there be private schools (Catholic, Muslim, non-sectarian and otherwise). Let childless singles like myself take a tax-deduction for any contribution we make to education (including tuition help). BUT tear down ALL public schools. Unions will survive.

      “Knowledge transfer” can only be achieved in the context of one’s IMMEDIATE family and community. YES, this means no forced busing. If the school’s teaching is incongruous with the child’s own experience in his family and his community, there is a better chance the answer will come from a person who loves the child than when the parents cannot choose the school and the community.


      It is only when one truly loves GOD FIRST can one put one’s love for anything else in its proper place — whether it is the love for one’s government or the church (paganism), the love for one’s family or one’s neighbours (humanism), or the love for one’s child or one’s self (narcissism).

      LOVE GOD FIRST and go in peace.

  • Tony

    The object of a liberal education, Newman said, was
    not to make a saint, or a merchant, but to make the gentleman, a man whose
    experience with the humane letters in languages classical and modern would lend
    him a wide vista for sane and sober judgment.
    Such a man’s mind, says Newman, “is almost prophetic from its knowledge
    of history; it is almost heart-searching from its knowledge of human nature; it
    has almost supernatural charity from its freedom from littleness and prejudice;
    it has almost the repose of faith, because nothing can startle it; it has
    almost the beauty and harmony of heavenly contemplation, so intimate it is with
    the eternal order of things and the music of the spheres.”
    Bill Gates, by that definition, is neither a gentleman nor an educated man. He is ignorant of history, cares nothing for human nature, struts like a little god armed with his cure-alls, is continually surprised that anyone could oppose him, and has no faith at all except in bytes and nanoseconds.

    • Steven Jonathan


      I appreciate what you say about Gates, he is a barbarian without the good traits of an authentic barbarian. It is as simple as seeing an apple grow from an apple tree. The seeds the public schools plant are weeds and we lament the thorns. Newman’s common sense about education is like water in this scorching desert of pathological narcissism that inevitably follows the “computer geek” world view to its logical end because the programmer is god.

      • Bono95

        Yeah, real barbarians can hunt, fish, make fire, and maybe write better computer programs, or at least teach their kids something useful, like the best way to storm and sack a village, the best places to hide plunder from marauding fellow barbarians, why metal is a better tools and weapons material than stone, etc. 😀

    • Alecto

      Gates is the quintessential Henry Potter!

      • Bono95

        Mr. Gates doesn’t have a pet owl to my knowledge, and I think it’s a safe bet that Harry could create a way better operating system with one wave of his wand. (BTW, I’m typing this on an Apple MacBook Pro) 😀

        • Alecto

          That’s “Henry” not “Harry”! It’s a Wonderful Life, though, if you can get it.

          • Bono95

            OK, I do get it, and I agree. 😀

            • Bono95

              I have to admit I’ve never watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” the whole way through, but then again, I haven’t read a single page of a Harry Potter book either. I don’t even know all the titles.

  • Facile1

    As a Catholic, I believe TRUTH in language can be found only when one reconciles one’s conscience with scripture, the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and the traditions (acts of mercy) of a Catholic community.

    Language is a human invention. The TRUTH is not.

    No amount of sophistry can change the TRUTH.

    And anyone who loves the TRUTH will not escape GOD.

    TRUTH begins with GOD (read Genesis) and cannot exist outside of GOD.

    We are commanded, therefore, to LOVE GOD FIRST (read Matthew 22: 34-40 The Greatest Commandment.)

    And much as I fear for the children I love, there is no reason to be afraid of the future.

    GOD is LOVE and only GOD is LOVE.

    LOVE GOD FIRST and go in peace.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Surely, the first question to address is the purpose of public education.

    Now, Jules Ferry, the founder of the modern French system, copied all over Europe, put it very succinctly: “to throw the youth of the nation into the same mould, and to stamp them, like the currency, with the image of the Republic” [jeter la jeunesse dans le même moule, la frapper, comme une monnaie, à l’effigie de la république] For this purpose, he prescribed schools, funded by the nation, public, obligatory, free and lay. [L’enseignement public obligatoire gratuit et laïque]

    Citizens who oppose this policy have their remedy at the ballot box. Politicians have the obligation to make it clear what citizens are voting for, whilst voters should consider why they would subsidize the education of other peoples’ children on any other terms.

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  • mfilce

    well done. Most of those who look to standardized test scores as the answer to evaluating teacher and student success have not spent much time in the classroom. If they had, they would see the many factors that make such models of reform completely absurd and impractical, not to mention unfair. Rummelsburg nails it when he states, “schools are born out of communities, communities out of families, therefore it is the families that are failing these kids long before the state schools get their hooks into them.”

    It’s no revelation that families take less responsibility for their children and their educational readiness today than in decades past, or even their responsibilities AS parents and members of their communities. Schools and teachers can do little to rectify the neglect perpetuated at home, and if there’s any surprise in this story, it is in how much teachers ARE in fact able to accomplish in spite of this condition.

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  • ZuzanaM

    I have three things to say:

    1) Who is the Father of all Sophists?… You know who! We know him as ‘The Father of All Lies’, aka, Satan.
    2) Prior to the late 60s and early 70s, standardized tests were used successfully as a fair means of evaluating a students knowledge of a subject. But that was a time when the material taught in a particular subject area was objective and true… not subjective and sophomoric. Not to mention the fact that honest people oversaw the tabulation of the results, and higher education hadn’t moved into the ‘big money business’ that it is now.

    3) Years ago I read an article about the new woman superintendent of Baltimore city schools. She successfully improved the bench mark educational scores (literacy and mathematics) by working with Catholic grade schools where children wore uniforms, behaved in class, and emphasized reading, writing and arithmetic. Her teachers actually tutored under the parochial school teachers.

  • Momofsix

    The only real education is one based on Truth and instruction in virtue…this is NOT happening in most Catholic and certainly not public schools. We are going on eleven years of homeschooling and would not trade a day elsewhere. Hope our freedoms to do so will continue.

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