Education History Book Review: Shield’s Making and Unmaking of a Dullard

Shields concludes that teachers need to retard the smart kids in order to save them from the all but inevitable sickness, death, or at least invalidism, that will inevitably result from letting them study what they want.

I think the hazard with letting them study what, when, and as they wish is not that they’ll succumb to invalidism, but that they’ll succumb to individualism, and especially its most hazardous symptom: autonomous critical thinking.

If Joe Moore is right in his assessments of the Prussian Model schools– and I suspect he’s not far off– as foundationally designed to train docile academic serfs for the industrial/enlightenment age, then their greatest threat is independent rational thought on the part of the laity not inducted into their priesthood. But the book-Brahmins are not wholly idiots: finding it impossible to run a Harrison Bergeron on every overachiever, they’ve taken since the ’80s or so to flattering the smart kids on their intellect, teaching them “critical thinking” that’s critical of all but the Brahmins themselves, and encouraging “Freethinking” that’s primarily free of the influence of whomever’s been elected Emmanuel Goldstein this year.

Yard Sale of the Mind

Thomas Shields (1862-1921), a priest and doctor of psychology at Catholic University of America, wrote his Making and Unmaking of a Dullard in 1909. Although written in the form of a dialogue taking place at weekly dinner parties over the course of months, it is universally considered his autobiography. As a dialogue, it is a resounding failure: no one besides the author comes off any deeper than a cardboard cutout, nor contributes much of anything except leading questions that simply interrupt the flow of Shields’s story.

Archive.org is wonderful

This book reinforces an impression long held: the central figures in American education history are, almost without exception, unimaginative mediocrities. Horace Mann or William Torey Harris would, I imagine, bore one to tears ov er a beer, if they every did something so common; Shields comes off as precisely the sort of academic Silence Dogood or Mark Twain would have a…

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1 thought on “Education History Book Review: Shield’s Making and Unmaking of a Dullard”

  1. What is most fascinating: at the same time = say, 1875 – 1910 – there were German Catholic immigrants and many bishops of assorted ethnicities fighting like crazy to keep their kids out of the public school by building the parochial schools AND an academic elite led by Shields and Pace out of Catholic University of America in DC working like crazy to make parochial schools all but indistinguishable from those public schools.

    The immigrant’s burning desire to fit in won out over his own experience: Germans immigrants knew German schooling wasn’t meant for their benefit, saw the same things here, and pushed back hard – and were brought to heel by the second or third generation.

    Liked by 1 person

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