Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lowest Common Denominators:

This Texas Controversy compounded with the years of meticulous study I've done on religion & the American Founding got me thinking about what K-12 students should be taught.

The problem is history is complex and there are great complex nuances to the religion & the American Founding issue. Given rational fear of K-12 historical ignorance I conclude we should be concerned they learn 1) raw facts, and 2) narratives both sides should be able to agree on, narratives "experts" like me might find too simple, but K-12 students might not.

Issues such as "was George Washington a Christian?" compounded with "what is the proper definition of Christian and does orthodox Trinitarian doctrine have anything to do with it?" are WAY beyond the call of what K-12 students should be expected to understand. Rather, we should expect them to be able to accurately recite who were the first X Presidents, what dates did they take office, where were they born and so on.

On three issues of contention -- Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and the American v. French Revolution -- the real story is too complex for K-12 students and teaching it the way the conservatives in Texas want distorts the record and will lead to misunderstanding.

First Aquinas: After years of intense study, I understand a case can be made for Thomas' silent influence on the Founding. Thomas Jefferson listed Aristotle, Cicero, Locke and Sidney as the four chief influences on the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson probably would never have heard of Aristotle but for Aquinas who incorporated his teachings into Christendom. And Locke positively affirmed Richard Hooker, the Anglican heir to Aquinas' Roman Catholic natural law. Still, the FFs were, for the most part, anti-Roman Catholic bigots and thus, rarely if ever cited Aquinas as positive authority.

Second Calvin: Reading his Institutes, Calvin seemed to endorse an almost absolute duty of believers to submit to even un-godly pagan tyrannical rulers. He did leave one exception where lower magistrates, pursuant to a legally established and recognized mechanism, could work within the system to veto the rule of higher magistrates (similar to when Congress impeaches and removes the President).

Calvin did not recognize revolution. And whatever else the Founders said they were doing (i.e., resisting the unlawful actions of the British King), they said they were revolting. They used that specific term over and over again.

Yet, Calvin's exception, in the hands and minds of later Calvinists, evolved to a point where the concept of "revolt" could be sold to Presbyterians (with a little help from the natural law teachings of Locke).

Finally, the French Revolution. Texas wants to teach that this was a "different" event than the American. Of course, all individual events are different from all other individual events. The problem is, the two events had striking parallels along with meaningful differences.

The French Revolution, like the American, was theistic; both appealed to "God's" imprimatur. The two events seemed so similar at first that a great deal, probably a strong majority of, "Christian" American Founders supported the FR and THOUGHT it a continuation of the American.

Notable biblicists -- some orthodox and some heterodox (most sympathetic to the Democratic-Republican Party) -- thought Jesus would return in France at the success of their revolution to triumphantly usher in a global millennial republic of liberty, equality and fraternity. This was the first "End of History" thesis.

The French Revolution was similar to Iraq II. Both events had initial bipartisan support, with one party leading the way. Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans more enthusiastically supported the FR than the Federalist Party. And the Federalists, as a whole, jumped ship, before the DRs.

Historical hindsight being 20/20, the meaningful differences between the French and American Revolutions, why one worked and the other didn't, became more apparent after the FR's failure.

I think I've accurately detailed three complex historical dynamics. The problem, as I see it, is all three exist at a level of complexity that is appropriate for college and graduate level study.

K-12 students won't properly understand Thomistic or Calvinistic nuances during the American Founding anymore than they would Leo Strauss' theory of the esoteric, hedonistic, Hobbsean John Locke.

Rather, teach them, just the facts, ma'am.

Update: Don't take my "teach just the facts" too literally as some of the commenters at Positive Liberty have. Of course, good history teaching at whatever level involves telling compelling stories and making them come alive.

It's about what we expect students to learn. This is the kind of thing I would want K-12 students to master. And this I would save for college or graduate level history.


Our Founding Truth said...

Calvin did not recognize revolution.>

According to David W. Hall's work, this statement doesn't jive with both Calvin and Luther. I've got it on my blog; go ahead and check it out.

Calvin and Luther, both, allowed rebellion for at least trying to establish Catholicism, not to mention other abuses.

The Calvinists were correct in their willingness to rebel against the King. I will look it up, but I'm fairly certain the framers considered the Revolution a civil war, meaning it was total self-defense.

Jonathan Rowe said...

1) The FFs did, over and over again, use the term "revolution" to describe what they were doing.

If there were self defense issues raised, the FFs took it further.

2) I'm still looking up one footnote of Hall's on Calvin & resistence. If it's valid, it blatantly contradicts what Calvin said in his Institutes, which in no uncertain terms forbids revolt and instructs believers to submit to even tyrannical kings.

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Our Founding Truth said...

I read your last post. I like it. I will comment on it tomorrow. You may be right about everything except your last paragraph.

I'm getting the quotes, that the framers, and all the then literature, said the revolution was not a rebellion, but self defense.

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