The Paradigm of Revolt in Public Education

In 1962, historian of science Thomas S. Kuhn shocked the academic world with his book The Structures of Scientific Revolution. He asserted that scientific communities are closed minded and promote convergent thinking as a function of dogma in scientific work. The jolt is that science is popularly thought of as promoting divergent thinking and open-minded inquiry. Kuhn concedes that in the beginning when questions are first arising around a subject this is the case, but once a field rounds up its foundational questions, it forms a set of assumptions that become the dogmatic underpinnings of that community. Kuhn explains that “a scientific community cannot practice its trade without some set of espoused beliefs.”

Kuhn called these sets of assumptions “paradigms” and though there has been much confusion about this word, by paradigm he meant two basic things. First, the notion of a model, a piece of work in a scientific discipline that serves as an example for other works in that discipline. Second, a disciplinary matrix or a view of the world and what an explanation of it should look like. He asserted that this is something you acquire as a result of having worked through typical questions in a particular discipline or community.

Kuhn characterized normal science as the work scientists do with a paradigm. The paradigm is a blueprint and the regular work of scientists is to solve puzzles that fill out the paradigm. If a scientist and his experiment do not prove the assumptions they are considered a failure, not the paradigm. These unsolved puzzles are rejected by the community, not based on whether or not they are true, but because they did not support the paradigm.

Over time the unsolved puzzles accumulate and eventually there are variations and a divergent view grows and leads to a paradigm breakdown and thus the ground is laid for revolt. This process leads to extraordinary science which aims at inculcating a replacement paradigm. Kuhn says that “a shift in professional commitments to shared assumptions takes place when an anomaly subverts the existing tradition of scientific practice.”

These shifts are what Kuhn calls scientific revolutions. He noted that changes in science were less changes in reality than changes in fashion. His theory called into question the accepted notion that science is a rational approach to interpreting reality and asserts it is more of a social phenomenon similar to that of mob rule. An interesting fruit of the tree of Kuhn’s theory is Scientific America’s diatribe series against Ben Stein’s movie Expelled.

In a written discussion, Dr. Christopher Blum explained that Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions rests in two truths; that the first principles of any science are themselves indemonstrable and that trust in a teacher comes at the beginning of learning. Aquinas’ Commentary on the Posterior Analytics demonstrates the first and St. Augustine’s On the Usefulness of Belief elucidates the second.

When Aristotle’s first principles were discarded and replaced by the Cartesian and reductionists schemes of enquiry, the human condition was replaced by artifacts. The project of reforming the human person to the image of Christ was transformed into a revolt against our human limits. The culture of life was replaced by the culture of death. The Enlightenment philosophers returned to the errors of the pre-Socratics.

In 1798 Joseph de Maistre observed “since the time of the Reformation, there has been a spirit of revolt which really struggles, sometimes publically, sometimes privately, against all sovereign powers and especially against monarchies.” The rejection of Aristotelian first principles and the authority of the good teacher have led to this modern climate of radical skepticism and radical individualism. De Maistre called it “the revolt of individual reason against general reason.”

Dan Robinson wrote in 1985 “the social and scientific revolutions of the past two centuries have transformed our perspective on the most fundamental aspects of civilized life.” The changes wrought on human living since the scientific revolution “invade regions of life and thought that have nothing to do with science itself,” especially the public schools.

Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions has the potential to expose operations in the pseudo-scientific field of American public education. For the last century there has been a series of revolts and hostile takeovers between warring paradigms, all of them possessing a set of unifying assumptions excavated from the infertile ideologies of the Enlightenment thinkers. Kuhn’s theory finds a starker relief and clarity when used as a lens to interpret the trends in public education; its reliance on manmade dogma, fashionable sentiments and mob rule.

Today we witness a particularly massive revolt by adherents of the Common Core Standards paradigm successfully vying to take over the insolvent State Standards curriculum. To see the nature of revolt when a new paradigm is warring against an old paradigm, several in the throng of the Common Core advocates provide two excellent examples of how propaganda, fashionable sentiment and mob rule are used to destroy the credibility of the old paradigm. This video called Why We Need Common Core Standards mocks the outcomes of the old paradigm and makes false implications that the new paradigm will be better.

The video Mr. Winkle Wakes up plays on the false theme that public schools haven’t changed in the last 100 years. It promotes the fish story that our public schools need more technology to be brought up to date, encouraging the same utilitarian progressive paradigm that has sucked the life out of our public education for so many generations. A colleague fighting the good fight against the Common Core curriculum called this the “computer geek” paradigm.

Both videos are dishonest propaganda and misleading. Education has been in a state of constant flux and the changes in the last 100 years have been dramatic. The new Common Core Standards are not new, just a repackaging of previously failed paradigms. These two videos are a childish attempt to destroy the existing paradigm and build a pathological support base for the new Common Core Standards. It is an act of revolution to pave the way for the new paradigm and has no connection to true progress. This mirrors Kuhn’s descriptions of the scientific communities.

My colleagues and I have been shown these dreadful videos no less than six times in various trainings over the year. We are encouraged to laugh at how stupid the past paradigm has been and to cheer the new one. And though they are right in identifying this last paradigm as dreadful, the replacement paradigm is worse. Kuhn would confirm that it is only a matter of time before we teachers find ourselves sitting in front of a new set of propagandistic videos condemning and ridiculing the Common Core standards. Perhaps the next paradigm will be a new internationally imposed curriculum that will prepare our children for economic survival of the fittest in the “global village.”

In this modern age, Dan Robinson, in The Wonder of Being Human, succinctly observes the process by which the scientific communities invade spheres of life not properly under their jurisdiction.

What begins as a discovery in science, or even a scientific conjecture, is soon taken as a model or metaphor of some larger realm of human concern. In time, at the urging of the leaders of public opinion, the metaphor becomes installed as the reality and the seasonless convictions of the ordinary person are thus put on official notice! Only years later, under reality’s sobering lights, does it once again become clear that our ageless dilemmas have survived these once “new truths”; that the vexing problems of value have not surrendered to the thick and thickening book of fact; that the most recent revolutions of perspective have done little more than move us around the circle whose center is the human condition.

Thomas Kuhn’s explanation of paradigm shifts reveals more than may be readily apparent. Recall the very first paradigm shift when the light bearer uttered his “non serviam” in a prideful rage and fashioned the archetypical pattern for the paradigm of revolt. It was laid at the feet of our first parents by our slithering enemy. And now from time immemorial we have two basic choices: the paradigm of revolt or the paradigm of reform. The prophets reminded us of the righteous choice by crying out “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” The very first lines of the Apostles’ catechism the Didache recapped: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death.” The good teacher St. Augustine expanded upon the vital theme in his masterpiece The City of God. In Evangelium Vitae,  John Paul the Great brings this reality to our era by the hermeneutic of continuity in what he rightfully called “culture of death” as the paradigm of revolt that we must cast-off in favor of the Gospel of Life.

In the field of public education, reality’s sobering lights are effectively and increasingly obscured by the fog of scientism and revolutionary propaganda. Public education has clearly chosen the paradigm of revolt. As Catholic parents we ought to reject the constant paradigm shifts of the public schools and demand a reformation to an education grounded in Aristotelian first principles, staffed by good teachers grappling with the perennial questions of life and the realities that concern the human condition, especially our proper end in eternal beatitude. Our inquiries into the natural world and the education we seek for our children must square with the paradigm of reform to the Christ, the one immutable doctrine unaffected by revolt; our eternal disposition depends on it.

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.

  • lifeknight

    Thank you for an enlightened essay!

  • Mark Millward

    Sir, I salute you for a pocket-sized tour de force. What a depth of argumentation and comparison you have plumbed, well done indeed!

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Quine famously remarked that since the function of science is to predict future experiences in the light of past ones, “the only ground for choosing which explanations to believe is the degree to which they expedite our dealings with sense experiences.”

    As he says in the Two Dogmas of Empiricism, ” “The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.”

    The subjectivity of all science is a common theme of the Post-Modern critics of the Enlightenment.

  • cestusdei

    When I talk to younger people they know more about computers then I do, but they don’t know when the US civil war was fought or what the golden rule is.

  • Tony

    A cure for the foolish notion of “progress” in public education: look at textbooks, especially from the pre-Dewey days. I have more than a hundred of them …

    • Steven Jonathan

      Yesterday I bought 3 McGuffy readers, 1920 printing of the 1879 edition for $3.87. Compare it to a contemporary literature book and we have a legitimate reason to mourn for our children.

    • ColdStanding

      Have you ever read Kenelm Henry Digby?


      I am having a most enjoyable time combing through the archive of these older, perhaps lesser, writers. I think that there are several that might be worthy (hint, hint Sophia Press) of revival.

      • Tony

        Kenelm Digby was one of the earliest interpreters, in writing, of Spenser’s Faerie Queene. I don’t know much else about him, though. The thing is, there are great writers in English history, now almost wholly neglected in our schools, and even in our universities. Our “good” schools no longer teach surveys in British literature, so freshmen in college will never have heard of, much less read, Wordsworth, Dryden, Coleridge, Spenser, Herbert, Browning …

  • AcceptingReality

    “……reforming the human person into the image and likeness of Christ”, which I take to mean growing in holiness and forming our consciences in Truth, which leads to a true sense of reality and knowledge of God who made us, seems like such a novel idea. Why didn’t I think of that?

  • Facile1

    Language (including mathematics, the language of science) is a human invention. The TRUTH is NOT.

    Why does it surprise us then that ‘paradigms’, which are nothing more than a ‘choice of words’, are subject to human error and manipulation?

    The challenge of the student, whether in a laboratory or a court of law or in one’s own life’s experience, is to learn to discern TRUTH from invention.

    Love of the TRUTH must come first.

    The first step is necessarily taken in FAITH.


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  • ColdStanding

    Paradigm sounds an awful lot like a repackaging (sexing-up) of “form”.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      Paradigm has a clear technical meaning in linguistics, where it means the various declensions of nouns or conjugations of verbs that can be conveniently organised into tables, such as one finds in elementary grammars. Thus, in English, personal pronouns can be fitted into a table based on person, number, gender and case. First borrowed as a useful metaphor for fitting scientific findings into a general framework, such as the periodic table or the tree of life, it is now largely meaningless.

      Parameter has undergone much the same process. Originally used in conics, meaning the constant in the gradient of a curve or surface, it now means any factor (when it is not being confused with perimeter)

      • ColdStanding

        That was helpful, thank you. I’ve been thinking of paradigm, for a couple of hours now, in light of your definition and it brings together many things that should be together but that, in my ignorance, I had left apart. Most of my encounter with Kuhn comes through Henri Bortoft’s Wholeness of Nature. Perhaps he is too obscure an author to have gained your notice.

      • ColdStanding

        If I may impose on another matter, could you comment upon this article by Peter Geach:

        That is, if you have one of your pithy summations laying about and wouldn’t mind posting it. Thanks.

        • Michael Paterson-Seymour

          I have a quotation from his wife (Miss Anscombe): “The terms “should” or “ought” or “needs” relate to good and bad: e.g. machinery needs oil, or should or ought to be oiled, in that running without oil is bad for it, or it runs badly without oil.”

  • Tony

    If you want a decent idea of the post-Dewey collapse of American public schooling, do the experiments I’ve done.
    Pick up an early copy (1911-1930) of Boys’ Life magazine. Choose two or three paragraphs from an expository essay, at random. Run them through the most commonly used algorithm for determining grade level. Do the same for an essay (not a news report; those are simpler) from the current New York Times. You will find that Boys’ Life magazine comes out about 2 grade levels higher (in the college range, actually), and that, if you analyze the grammar and the semantics, the algorithm actually understates the difference.
    Then find copies of one of the more sophisticated literary magazines of the same period, or before. I have bound copies of a year’s worth of Scribner’s (1903) and The Century (1889/90). Run THEM through the algorithm, and see the result go off the charts. Read them carefully, and note how much general knowledge is required if one is to make sense of the essays or short stories — for instance, the description of Milan in Scribner’s, by one Edith Wharton, or the short story A Death in the Desert, in the same magazine, by one Willa Cather.
    Scribner’s, 1903, is as far above the current New York Times, as the current New York times is above the current Boys’ Life Magazine. Boys’ Life Magazine, 1911, is to the current magazine as Scribner’s, 1903, is to some college literary product. Collapse.

    • John

      Does anyone have information about changes in actual reading comprehension levels over the years? In the past, kids may have been given texts that were more difficult to read (at least by the limited measure of lexile level), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were better able to read them than children would be today. The lexile algorithms grade texts with long, embedded sentences higher than those with shorter sentences, which is really more a matter of writing style than true complexity. Modern journalistic writing favors shorter sentences, but this has more to do with the exigencies of editing and removing verbal fluff and the imperative to process information quickly than it does with reader education. I would be very surprised if people in the early part of last century, with its higher rates of illiteracy, particularly among people who were not white, were on average better readers than today’s population.

      • Kenneth

        Grade level says very little about the quality of a piece of literature in an of itself. Just for grins, I ran some of the grand prize winners from the Bulwer-Lytton contest, which showcases “worst paragraphs every written”, through a lexical analyzer ( This little gem is written at an average grade level of 28, although I think you’ll agree it wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the cognoscenti: “She wasn’t really my type, a hard-looking but untalented reporter from the local cat box liner, but the first second that the third-rate representative of the fourth estate cracked open a new fifth of old Scotch, my sixth sense said seventh heaven was as close as an eighth note from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, so, nervous as a tenth grader drowning in eleventh-hour cramming for a physics exam, I swept her into my longing arms, and, humming “The Twelfth of Never,” I got lucky on Friday the thirteenth.”

        This sentence comes out at a 19th grade level: “From my personal experience, I’ll respond that animals are very happy just the way they are, the don’t want to speak the human language or live like humans, animal more over will probably live a much better live if humans will completely be excluded from their habitat.”

        Some of the most beautiful prose from the King James Bible comes in at a mere second grade level, such as this collection of one syllable words: “And God said, Let there be light: And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.” Wouldn’t you agree it’s better than some of the above?

        I took some random samples from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and found that some came in at a 14th grade level and others at a mere grade 0, which I guess indicates that the bard tried hard to appeal to all of those in his audience.

        I also fed in a couple of comments from above. Tony’s was written at a 10th grade level; John’s at a 15th grade level. It’s fun to play with these algorithms, but they’re not the ultimate arbiter of writing quality. We all know “educated idiots” who will use 30 words when one will do and five syllable words when a shorter word would be more precise.

        • Kenneth

          Here’s another “winner” from the Bulwer-Lytton contest: “The blood seeped out of the body like bad peach juice from a peach that had been left on one side so long the bottom became rotten while it still looked fine on the top but had started to attract fruit flies, and this had the same effect, but with regular flies, that is not say there weren’t some fruit flies around because, after all, this was Miami.” Does it really deserve its grade level of 20 — seven grades above Rummelburg’s article, which is written at a mere 13th grade level:-P

        • Me

          That algorithm is quite funny, Kenneth. I put in the four gospels, and they each came out around the 7th or 8th grade level.

      • CharlesOConnell

        The Kids of that era, now Elders, had a standard of civics education unmatched today, hence their high voter turnout rates.

        Look for them be politically disenfranchised as Duty to Die agitations are pushed by the Elites.

      • Steven Jonathan

        John, my personal experience combined with many university professors I have spoken with suggest that reading comprehension has decreased steadily. I have heard from so many that most students, even entering the Ivy League now, need remediation in reading and especially writing.

        I think the myth of progress and the propaganda of an advancing society give many the impressions that students today are more advanced than the last few generations but I don’t think it is true and I don’t think there is really a scientific measure to truthfully say one way or the other. I think a look at the average school teacher might be helpful too.
        I assert that for all intents and purposes, that most public school teachers are formally illiterate. If you get a chance ask them what they are reading, the answers may surprise you especially if you can get them to tell you what they have read and compare that to a general inability to engage in a meaningful discussion about a particular great book, you will find it a short conversation, unless you happen to run into a rare exception.

  • BM

    Good piece.
    (To the Editor: “non servium” should be spelled “non serviam.”)

  • Proteios

    There is a major misconception that science and Christianity must clash. Most of my Christian scientist colleagues see no clash as we are not limited by the protestant fundamentalist take on creation. In fact I think we ascribe to fr. Maitre and his theory of the Big Bang, which atheists dismissed as not being required because the priest just wanted a creation event. Well, there it is. The creation event and evolution, like gravity are principles God willed into existence. How. He’s God. Our job is to understand them, not redefine the WHY.
    I read recently….sorry no citation…that most atheists (not the Dawkins cult, but those who just don’t believe) struggle with concepts like suffering, not conflicts contrived by the fundamentalist atheists or Christians who have boxed us in intellectually. Most Catholics realize that Catholicism is why we have science and we reap many benefits. Lets not blame the desire to understand Gods creation with those who have grown arrogant because of the increased knowledge of the physical world.

    • Kenneth

      Well said, Proteios. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is quite respectable and avante-garde and is certainly on board with current scientific thought. The fundamentalist creationists are an embarrassment that need not taint Catholics.

  • Independent Scientist


    Good job with your commentary.

    Note that several of the initial paragraphs exactly describe the situation today regarding global warming (aka climate change).

    Note also the reality that CHANGE IS INEVITABLE. In a healthy situation, change occurs through evolution. Where such change is stifled, the collective forces of the resisted changes build up until they break through in one large revolution.

  • John

    I would strongly recommend that anyone who reads Kuhn should also read Thomas Popper’s Logic of Scientific Inquiry and Imre Lakatos’s Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Too many people with no scientific background are inclined to misinterpret Kuhn to simply undermine scientific paradigms in support of their own unscientific beliefs.

    • Steven Jonathan

      John, Good comments!

      My bigger concern here is that claims to knowledge are seen as the justification of authority, an idea that carries weight when the knowledge is of ultimate reality, but modern science has assumed an unmerited prominence in many areas of our lives. Popper also challenged the dominion of the “expert” did he not?

      I think the bigger problem is that too many are encouraged to “think for themselves” and never cultivate the arts necessary to discern, discover or to analyze truth claims that contradict their appetites and uninformed opinions. My recommendation is Fides et Ratio and to put “modern science” back into its proper sphere, no more and no less weighted than it ought to be.

  • Prof_Override

    What part of post-modernism don’t you understand?! This isn’t magic or revelatory, it’s simply how our current world functions (you’ll notice I refrained from saying “how the modern world functions”). “Paradigms” is just lingo for a particular set of relativistic reference points. Pedal faster! you aren’t even in the conversation yet.

    • Steven Jonathan

      Professor Override,

      Here, I am initiating a discussion about the woes of public education and putting forward a possible explanation as to why so few exposed to the public schools will end with the tools to even pedal, much less take part in the conversation.

  • CharlesOConnell

    Chinese One-Child Policy Formulated by ROCKET SCIENTISTS

    The Peoples of China were forced to undergo the cruelties of the One Child Policy because of the subordination of the social and biological sciences to technicians of the hard sciences, Aeronautical Engineers – Rocket Scientists.

    Treating human beings with souls as if they were machines.

  • CharlesOConnell

    “The prevailing model does not satisfactorily explain the complex mechanisms involved in twinning and that the model is not based on facts, but on apparently reasonable conjectures.” – New Scientific Evidence Supports Personhood Rights

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