July Reads

Devoured all these:

Hybrid Homeschools by Mike McShane

A quick and tasteful overview of one fast-growing model of school. The type that is 1 day a week or more in a traditional classroom, but not 5 days a week. It’s a good book, and a great model. More people should try both.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer 

I can’t tell if I like the style, in fact I’m pretty sure I don’t like it. The condescending tone of the narrator at times bleeds into the condescension of the author. Though there are some things about the tone I do very much appreciate. I can’t tell if I like the author. She sometimes seems to be a total show off and other times convinces me of her brilliance. I know that I like the world that she created, and find it believable, albeit melodramatic. And I know that I am intrigued by the themes she’s developing.

The Deluge by Adam Tooze.

Adam Tooze’s epic globe-trotting foray into the politics and economics of the interwar period. The book sometimes suffers from a heavy reliance upon characterization, but the genius of the work is how states interact with each other as though they are unitary actors, yet each state knows that the political conditions on the homefront determine the boundaries of the diplomatic negotiations, and so there is deep complexity about what each state can credibly commit to. Some moments were absolutely cinematic. The negotiations at Versailles, the domestic politics of Japan, basically everything about Lloyd George. The vision of the post WWI liberal order changed my historical worldview about the force of ideology in history, upgrading it a good deal. It’s not only the Soviet’s who were possessed by an Idea. At the same time, I also adjusted my views about the relationship between economic crises and internal political decay in the US and abroad.

Articles

Already a classic biology essay.
Today is better than then!
Modernism is history.
Time to Rekindle Poetry

Books on the Pros and Cons of Different Educational Models

There is no end to the writing of books on education and for every book pulling one one way, there is another pulling differently. Although the best advice for finding what to do with your child, I think, is to start with looking at the details of which options are actually available to you as opposed to starting exclusively with the theory and a wish list of school qualities.

Nonetheless, here are the books that I think are the most useful for thinking about education from several perspectives. 

Disclaimer: I don’t endorse less than half of half the books on this list, and I do endorse more than half of half the books removed from it. 

There are no books on pedagogy here. Those will be for another time.

Books about Education and Learning

Why Knowledge Matters by E.D. Hirsch

Argues that a carefully planned curriculum that imparts communal knowledge is essential in achieving one of the most fundamental aims and objectives of education: preparing students for lifelong success. Hirsch examines historical and contemporary evidence from the United States and other nations, including France, and affirms that a knowledge-based approach has improved both achievement and equity in schools where it has been instituted.
The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them by E.D. Hirsch

Argues that, by disdaining content-based curricula while favoring abstract–and discredited–theories of how a child learns, the ideas uniformly taught by our schools have done terrible harm to America’s students. Instead of preparing our children for the highly competitive, information-based economy in which we now live, our schools’ practices have severely curtailed their ability, and desire, to learn.

The Case Against Education by Bryan Caplan

Why we need to stop wasting public funds on education. Despite being immensely popular – and immensely lucrative – education is grossly overrated.

Why Students Don’t Like School by Thomas Willingham

Research-based insights and practical advice about effective learning strategies.

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich

Schools have failed our individual needs, supporting false and misleading notions of ‘progress’ and development fostered by the belief that ever-increasing production, consumption and profit are proper yardsticks for measuring the quality of human life.

Homeschooling

Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist

Home educator Laura Berquist presents a modern curriculum based on the time-tested philosophy of the classical Trivium—grammar, logic and rhetoric.

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechick  

This classic gives nitty-gritty help for each subject in each grade. Become an informed, confident teacher, free from rigid textbooks. Learn how to individualize spelling; how to use “real books” in history, reading, and other studies; how to make arithmetic meaningful; how to avoid the grammar treadmill; how to develop advanced reading skills; and much more.

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer

How to give your child an academically rigorous, comprehensive education from preschool through high school―one that will train him or her to read, to think, to understand, to be well-rounded and curious about learning.

Home Education by Charlotte Mason

My attempt in the following volume is to the suggest to parents and teachers a method of education resting upon a basis of natural law; and to touch, in this connection, upon a mother’s duties to her children.

Hybrid School

Hybrid Homeschooling: The Future of School by Mike McShane

A quiet, readable, encouraging guide to parents and educators, filled with examples, anecdotes and first-person accounts, on what may be the fastest growing sector in American education.


Charter School

Charter Schoolsand Their Enemies by Thomas Sowell.

A leading conservative intellectual defends charter schools against the teachers’ unions, politicians, and liberal educators who threaten to dismantle their success.  

Public School

The Death and Life of the American School by Diane Ravitch.

An urgent case for protecting public education, from one of America’s best-known education experts.

June Reads

Devour

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. A phenomenal compendium about designing physical space to promote and pull people into human flourishing. Some of it is starry-eyed wishful thinking, other aspects deeply practical advice. Everything from how neighborhood streets should be arranged, to a living room, to front porches and offices.

Dive

Institutio Oratoria by Quintilian. I’m searching for clues into the process of great great formation in education. Quintilian was a staple for a reason!

Dip

Autobiography by John Stuart Mill. Some great examples of how forced elaboration hones the understanding of a subject. His father would go on walks delivering him a lecture on political economy, and then have him dictate back the lecture the next day – a grueling exercise that caused learning.

Some works are so good that you can’t devour them. Instead they nibble at you. The Bible, the best poetry, and Moby Dick are like this to me. Like a fine glass of bourbon, I can’t drink but a sip before my head gets dizzy and my mind goes chasing after some invisible infinite thread. But I am almost finished with Moby Dick, at last. I say ‘at last’ because I have been on its line for a long time, unable to wriggle away, yet unable to devour the whole hook, line, and reel. A fast fish, soon to be loose again.

Best Articles in June

Don’t let the students “choose their own adventure.”
Evidence that Science is Hard and getting Harder.
Bengal almost industrialized.
The state of the art of nuclear power construction costs.
Secret Theological-philosophy.


Resources on The Content and Method of Classical Tutoring

Henrik the Great asked me to dust off what I know about the curriculum and practice of private tutoring. While I don’t know much, I do know the basics and the big names.

I assume you read my excerpts from Jesuit educational ideals already. which offers some pointers.

For a detailed example of an entire curriculum see Jesuit Education: Its History and Principles (1904) which, while a lackluster book for several reasons, does include a detailed course of study which would be fairly standard not just among Catholic but also Anglican and Lutheran teachers during the 17th – 19th century. For example, John Stuart Mill’s early education was very much in the same vein.

Here are the big works on pedagogy and curriculum:

Aristotle (all, but especially)

On Rhetoric

Roman

Cicero, Ad Herrenium, which lays out the entire course rhetoric and persuasion for the next 1800 years. It is also the first place that the use of deep memory techniques is briefly discussed. 

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, which reviews Cicero’s course and extends the ideas and practice.

Marcus Aurelius mentions in his meditations mentions the quality of teaching of many of his tutors, especially the method of writing dialogues on alternate positions. This method was popular enough that many early Christian writings are in dialogue form as well. 

Cassiodorus, Institutes of Secular Learning

Medieval

Peter Lombard’s Sentences were the standard method and textbook for 400 years.

Aquinas On the Teacher. Of course, Aquinas’s Summae tried to make a replacement for the sentences, but was not successful until well after his death (three centuries!).

John Buridan’s Summulae de Dialectica was a standard textbook on Logic and logical method for a couple hundred years.

I do not know of any medieval source who discussed and presented scholastic pedagogical method explicitly, although it was very influential. I need to check what would have been the standard reference.

Renaissance

Petrus Paulus Vergilius, De Ingenuis Moribus frequently translated as The New Education. Refocuses education on service to civic life.

Aeneas Silvius, On Education 

Erasmus De Ratione Studii, On the Method of Study, and Ciceronianus, which covers how he thinks schooling can excel beyond mere memorization and imitation.

I think it is easy to underestimate how much sway these older authors had on 17th-19th century education. They were giants.

I have some takeaways from these readings and my own experience being classically educated but am not yet able to fully articulate them.

Enlightenment

I am not well aware how tutoring curricula changed in the Enlightenment. I wouldn’t count the differences in method to be great, although the content certainly shifted to include more mathematics. The personal libraries of the great thinkers reflect remarkably little change from the interests of the Renaissance Humanists, as far as I know. Though, I am happy to be corrected.

March Reads

This month I wrote far more than normal. Three complete articles, two drafts, and comments on some papers. No dips and no devours; just some semi-weekly dives.

Dive

Utopia by Thomas More. Thomas’ in the Prologue of how difficult it is to find time for self-study and intellectual wandering was like a TUMS, calming my nerves.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Here are some choice cuts from this past week.

So strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then, that while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to perceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock company of two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and that another’s mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster and death. Therefore, I saw that here was a sort of interregnum in Providence; for its even-handed equity never could have so gross an injustice. And yet still further pondering—while I jerked him now and then from between the whale and ship, which would threaten to jam him—still further pondering, I say, I saw that this situation of mine was the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, in most cases, he, one way or other, has this Siamese connexion with a plurality of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you snap; if your apothecary by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die. True, you may say that, by exceeding caution, you may possibly escape these and the multitudinous other evil chances of life.

Chapter 72 The Monkey rope

[The context is that the giant head of a sperm whale hangs attached to the side of the ship. The crew has killed a Right Whale, and plan on balancing it out with another head of a lesser Leviathan].

In good time, Flask’s saying proved true. As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale’s head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

Chapter 73 Stubb and Flask kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

February Reads

February

Devour

Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics by Nicholas Wapshott – This is a great introduction to these two men. Excellently written. The prose style creates tension and drama.

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward Glaeser. I love Ed.

Economic Hierarchies by Gordon Tullock.

Dive

Alternatives in Assessment of Achievements, Learning Processes, and Prior Knowledge* Helpful in the discussion about how coherent a curriculum needs to be.

Dip

Keynes’ General Theory: Reports of Three Decades

The Land that Never Was: Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Most Audacious Fraud in History by David Sinclair. I hope to return to this and devour it.

Agency vs. Ambition: MothMinds

Here’s nice quote from the mothminds website. It is worth keeping.

From the outside, agency is often misinterpreted as ambition, but I learned through observing these two types of people that they are actually quite different. Ambition means you’re motivated to play games that others have already created in the world, while agency means you’re driven to play a game of your own. It quickly became clear to me that our world desperately needs more niche moth-like perspectives and in turn, interesting, actualized visions of the future.  What’s more, a moth’s natural inclination to camouflage is core to its success, but it also makes it illegible to the world — which means there’s no clear path to become a moth.

Molly

Quotes from Jesuit Educational Ideals

The following notes are from the book Ignatius’ Idea of a Jesuit University by Ganss 1957 without amendment, comment, or much formatting.

“Now we shall take up the advantages for the Society herself, for the extern students and for the nation or province where the college is situated. This is the utility which has been found through experience in colleges of this type. Even though part of this can be gathered from what has already been said:

  1. First of all, in the case of our own numbers, those who lecture gain profit for themselves and learn much by teaching others and become more confidently the masters of what they know.
  2. Our own members who hear their lectures gain profit to the care and continuous diligence which the teachers display in fulfilling their office.
  3. They profit not merely in regard to letters, but generally also in preaching, and the teaching of Christian doctrine. And they exercise themselves in the use of the means by which they must help their neighbors later on. And they are encouraged through seeing the fruit, which God our Lord allows them to see.
  4. Although no one may induce the students, especially when they are young to enter the Society. Nevertheless, they can win esteem for themselves by good example, conversation, and the Latin declamations about the virtues, which are delivered on Sundays, and they can gain many laborers in the vineyard of Christ, our Lord. These advantages are for the society itself.

The benefits for the extern students who come to profit from the lectures are the following:

  1. They’re occupied to a sufficient extent with their lessons. much care is taken that all learn through lectures disputations and compositions. Thus provisions are made for them to reap great fruit of letters.
  2. The poor who lack the means to pay the ordinary teachers or private tutors in the homes here find free, what they can only get with great cost and difficulty in their desire to become educated men.
  3. They provide profit in spiritual matters, through learning Christian doctrine and grasping from the sermons and customary exhortations, that which is conducive to their eternal salvation.
  4. They make progress in purity of conscience and consequently in all virtue, through confession every month and through the care taken, that they be decent in their speech and virtuous in their entire lives.
  5. In their studies, they draw much greater merit and fruits, since they’re accustomed to bring all persons to the service of God from the time when they begin to learn just as they are taught.

There are also the following benefits for the inhabitants of the country or province where these colleges are established.

  1. In temporal matters, parents relieved of the expensive of having teachers to instruct their children in letters and virtues.
  2. They keep their consciences free in the matter of instructing their children. Those who only with difficulty will find someone to whom they can entrust their children, even at their own expense. Will with all security find instructors in these colleges
  3. In addition to learning, they also have in the colleges, someone who can preach both among the people and within the monasteries, and who through administering the sacraments can very fruitfully supply great help, as is evident.
  4. They themselves and the members of their household will devote themselves to spiritual matters, with good example to their children. Likewise, they will grow fond of confessing more frequently and of living as Christians.
  5. They will have in our own members inhabitants of the country to inspire and aid them towards undertaking good works, such as hospitals, houses of reformed women, and such like matters. Their bestowing charity upon our members also entails their having a care of such good works.
  6. From among those who are at present merely students, in time, some will depart to play diverse roles, one to preach and carry on the care of souls, another to the government in the land and the administration of justice, and others to other occupations.
  7. Finally, since young boys become grown men, their good education in life and doctrine will be beneficial to many others, with the fruit expanding more widely every day.

I could elaborate this further, but this will suffice to set forth what is perceived here in regard to colleges of this common.

May Christ, the Eternal Life, guide us to serve him better. Amen.”

St. Ignatius to Father Antonio Araoz from Rome, December 1, 1551.

Pages 25 and 26.

The result which Ignatius aimed to produce in the students was manifestly, a carefully reasoned and therefore scientifically grounded Catholic outlook on life, which would enable and inspire them to contribute intelligently and effectively to the welfare of society. That outlook was the focal point towards which Ignatius directed all the branches in the curriculum, and all the elements his school contained. Since theology imparts whatever can be known from divine revelation about God and His creatures, especially man and his duties and destiny, it is the foremost indispensable source of this outlook. But obviously, it must be studied thoroughly and scientifically. So the student grasps the integration of its major sections and its subsidiary branches. Quite as one who has had a college major in physics must know all the principal phases of his subject.

PAGE 54.

Since schools have always been an extension of the home throughout their history, they too, no less than parents, have been concerned to teach something helpful towards a livelihood and towards satisfying intellectual curiosity. Their professors have noticed that their students are more strongly and spontaneously motivated to study hard a subject, which while being truly cultural, was simultaneously useful for living in a way characteristically and satisfyingly human and even for earning a livelihood.

PAGE 127.

Enthusiasm for Plato and for Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian, and his successors, in whom many of his ideas reappeared with various modifications, was high among the Christian educators of the early Renaissance, such as Petrus Paulus Vergilius, Vittorino da Feltre, and Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini. Hence, they revived the ancient ideal of liberal education, Christianized it, and adapted it to their own age.

They conceived the aim of education to be that of producing the perfect man fitted to participate well in the activities of his day. As a means to train him, they worked into their theories of liberal education, numerous elements, the physical, the intellectual, the aesthetic, the literary with stress upon eloquence, the moral, the religious, and the social. As will be shown in greater detail, the ideals or models of education took the forms of the complete citizen and Christian gentlemen of Vitorrino da Feltre, the perfection of the man as a Christian citizen of Vagarius, the courtier of Castiglione, and in the northern countries of the Christian scholar of Erasmus. Other noteworthy ideals more or less outside the Christian current of the Renaissance were the prince of Machiavelli, the gentleman scholar of Thomas Eliot, Montaigne, and later on, after Ignatius’ death, of John Locke, still another ideal was the experimental scientist of Francis Bacon.

PAGE 140.

The means to produce this developed citizen are the liberal studies, which Vagarius defines as follows.

“We call those studies liberal which are worthy of a free man, those studies by which we attain and practice virtue in wisdom, that education which calls forth, trains, and develops those highest gifts of body and mind, which ennoble men and which are rightly judged to rank next in dignity to virtue only. For to the vulgar temper gain and pleasure are the one aim of existence, to the lofty nature, moral worth and fame.”

Vagarius lists the subjects which he thinks can properly be classified as liberal.

“Amongst these I record the first place to history, on grounds both of its attractiveness and of its utility. Qualities which appeal equally to the scholar and to the statesman. Next, in importance ranks moral philosophy, which indeed in a peculiar sense is a liberal art, in that its purpose is to teach men the secret of true freedom. History then gives us the concrete examples of the precepts inculcated by philosophy. The one shows what men should do. The other what men have said and done in the past, and what practical lessons may draw therefrom for the present day. I would indicate as the third main branch of study, eloquence, which indeed holds a place of distinction among the refined arts. By philosophy, we learn the essential truth of things, which by eloquence we saw exhibit in orderly adornment as to bring conviction to differing minds. And history provides the light of experience, a cumulative wisdom, but to supplement the force of reason, and the persuasion of eloquence. For we allow that soundness of judgment, wisdom of speech, integrity of conduct, are the marks of a truly liberal temper.”

Other studies which he regarded as liberal are letters, especially poetic art and rhetoric, which lead to eloquence, disputation, or logical argument, gymnastics, music, arithmetic and astronomy.

PAGE 141.

Although it may seem at first a paradox or even a contradiction, it is now certain that during the Renaissance, the humanists as a body regarded classical and liberal studies as eminently practical. These subjects were indeed cultural, but they were simultaneously as practical as curricula in engineering, journalism or commerce are today. The humanists went to the ancient authors to find guidance for practical everyday life. Vagarius envisaged a practical objective, the citizen taking capable part in the affairs of the day, training for practical life was the leading purpose of Vittorino da Feltre, who approved Cicero’s statement, Virtutis laus omnis in actione consistit. Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini. himself, a practical man of action and affairs, approvingly quoted the same statement, and pointed out from the examples of Demosthenes, Aristotle, Caesar and Pliny that the study of literature develops administrative capacity. The study of antiquity, completed by its final course of ancient philosophy, was regarded as the finest preparation for law, medicine, or theology.

The Latin language too was learned primarily for utilitarian purposes, as it was during the Middle Ages. Further even skill in producing stylistic elegance in Latin had its utilitarian and economic values for two functions, the handling of official correspondence and the writing of speeches on solemn occasions. The humanists are indispensable as Latin secretaries to the multitudinous princes, nobles and civil officials and republics, and to bishops, Cardinals and Popes. Hence proficiency in Latin was the means enabling anyone, no matter how poor or from how lowly a social class to obtain the most coveted, honored and lucrative employments of the day. As we saw above, on page 39, the highest salaries in the Papal University of Rome paid to the professors of medicine and of rhetoric, subjects then studied only in Latin. Also, the humanists of Florence deemed the learning of literature, the best preparation for a career as a merchant or banker.

Page 164.

We shall spare ourselves much time and useless twinges of conscience by a resolution which would run somewhat as follows. There is no possibility of completely divorcing a liberal education from material considerations. In the light of a record which goes back to antiquity, it would be undesirable to make the attempt, for if it succeeded, it would result in a dilettantism, which would be denial of what a liberal education aims to do.

From James Marshall Campbell, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of the Catholic University of America

PAGE 171

The whole of the thought of the earlier humanistic educators is this that the people should be developed into the complete man those faculties trained to excellence or virtue in order that he may capably benefit the society of his day. The same central thought is present in Ignatius’ constitutions and procedures There is concern for the bodily health (this is gymnastic, at least in germ). There is training of the intellect through the whole curriculum of grammar, the arts, and theology. There is constant exercise in self-expression or eloquence and in disputation to meet the tastes and needs of the age. There is training of the aesthetic faculties and emotions through the study of ancient literature, including rhetoric, poetry, and history. If training in the vernacular languages and literatures had been part of the educational systems of the day from which Ignatius drew, he would no doubt have approved this training along with his other borrowings. It was not merely training of mind concomitantly acquired through mastering these studies but also through the crowning courses in philosophy and theology, the imparting of extensive body of knowledge which makes up a scientifically grounded theistic philosophy of life, a philosophy which gives true significance and worthwhile meaning to the life of man both in this world and the next.

There is constant encouragement of the student not only to moral and sacramental living, but also to the exercise of all the supernatural virtues which lead to the highest union with God. There’s constant insistence on the social purposes of education. There’s the equipping of the man not only to live as a Christian gentlemen, but also to earn his living in a way satisfying to himself and beneficial to society. For as we have seen the subjects taught in Ignatius’ curriculum in his day the surest road for a poor boy to achieve economic security and without such security even a highly trained man is little likely to function as a leader.

Page 176.

In this curriculum he made theology the most important and crowning branch and philosophy an aid to it, and the languages an aid to the learning and use of both. This last point was particularly true of Latin, but some attention was also given to Greek, Hebrew, and the vernaculars. Since the educated men of this period at a high admiration for Ciceronian Latin, Ignatius stressed practice and Ciceronian style. Since he wished the students to form their personal convictions, through much self-activity rather than through a passive absorbing of the professor’s views, and since his times were filled with public disputations in Latin, which Catholics held either with Protestants or among themselves, Ignatius stressed practice in declamation, disputations, and “circles” in which small groups of students held “repetitions.” Also in his curriculum, Ignatius did not limit the interests of his students in one area such as classical antiquity, or medieval culture, or the speculative genius of scholasticism, or the Renaissance, with its preoccupation with style and form. Rather, he widened the student’s vision to take in the hole of Christian culture. In his curriculum, there were not only Latin and Greek, and Aristotelian philosophy and Scholastic theology, but also scripture and positive theology, which included the Fathers of the Church. Hence his schools were a home in which the whole heritage of Christian culture was made an object of study, and was transmitted to future generations, with at least as much efficiency as in any other schools of the era. He was indeed eminently a practical organizer, choosing what was particularly useful to his end in his own times. All the elements in his system conspired to prepare the students to be and to do what they should to live well throughout this life and the next.

Page 178

  1. He regarded education as a means of attaining the end of his society, the salvation and perfection of the students in order that might promote the salvation and perfection of their fellow man, unless vigorously and intelligently loving the society with the spirit of the Kingdom of Christ. He hoped that students will learn how to live well, in this life and the next.
  2. In intellectual order, the end towards which Ignatius wished his curriculum to lead was a scientifically reasoned Catholic outlook on life. That is one which the student has thought through to his own personal conviction, in contrast to the memorized knowledge, which is characteristic of a child. That outlook was the focus of integration of all other elements in his system. It was what would enable as well as inspire the students to perfect themselves to contribute intelligently and effectively to the welfare of society.

Page 182

Questions about the Early Jesuits

Tyler is reading *The Jesuits: A History*:

Here is one passage that for obvious reasons caught his eye:

The Jesuits invested the lion’s share of their bureaucratic efforts in personnel planning.  We have already encountered the Society’s obsession with the quality, education, and development of its members several times — this passion was translated into bureaucratic procedures to an astounding degree.  Every Jesuit’s mental, spiritual, intellectual, and physical capacity was routinely evaluated.  The Society devised elaborate procedures for conducting such examinations.  Even the wording of these assessments was prescribed.  A kind of grading system with standard content was devised that was then used to answer about a dozen questions from each member.  Every three years, local and provincial superiors were required to prepare interviews of the staff under their authority, whom they were required to assess in table form.  These catalogues have justly been celebrated as an outstanding example of the bureaucratization of the modern period.

The 17th and 18th century Jesuits seem like a miracle of human capital formation.

Last year I read three books on the Jesuits for quite similar reasons. My thought was how did such a small organization create a culture of excellence that pushed the bounds of science, sociology, and politics so well (or did it? Maybe Jesuit mythos and reality are quite separate?), and what mistakes caused it to be suppressed?

The bureaucratic excellence might be one such reason. I am almost disturbed by the level of obedience these men had to superiors. The intense cultivation of ability combined with the “state capacity” to aim member’s abilities towards all manner of problems. That combination does seem frightening to anyone without such organizational competence. Don’t compete with this superhuman foe, the king and lords of Spain thought, shoot for suppression.

How much internal dissension was there? How was it dealt with? What were the most politically unwise or impolitic moves the Jesuits made in the 18th century? Who were the Jesuits enemies and why? How can we compare Jesuit accomplishments to the secular accomplishments of the day? What was the Jesuit role in the wars between the enlightenment secularism and the Catholic Church? Which Jesuits engaged with John Locke or Montesquieu?

I am not satisfied with any of the answers I have found, though I now know a fair deal more about Jesuit education. I need more nuts and bolts of Jesuit organization in the 17th – 18th century. I lust for more details.

Jesuits: a Multibiography (1997)

St. Ignatius’ Idea of a Jesuit University (1957)

Jesuit Education in Light of Modern Educational Problems (1904)

Saint Louis as New Rome: the social science of building a catholic city.

[Transcript of a talk I gave at Communio, St. Louis Young Adults. Great crowd and conversation.]

Thank you for the introduction. Events like these are a public service to the community. Those who put them together do not get the rewards of their effects. So any value we get from each other’s company tonight, we have Adam at the bar, Garrison for the mic, and Father Rennier for the invite to thank. One weird way to summarize my talk would be as a call for a lot more creative conviviality.

I spend my time deliberately studying economics, writing philosophy and poetry, and practicing math. I see my role as being as informed as possible about the dismal science of institutions, education, policy, and urban growth as well as literature, arts, and science, so that I can use and share this information with others as a Proud Dilettante.

In addition to running JPII, teaching high school classes, and being a husband and dad, I dream of a St. Louis Renaissance. St. Louis has been called The Rome of the West, and it was once-upon-a-time a first-rate city. It is a good city today, and I love it. It could be even better.

Now a lot of these ideas I am testing out. And so what I offer is not a clear answer: do this and Saint Louis will become great, all problems will disappear, and you will feel happy and fulfilled and no longer have bad breath. I don’t have an answer like that. But I do have several useful tools for thinking about metropolitan life that I think will be most useful to you. And allow us to have a very good discussion afterwards.

To start let’s talk about the city. What is the modern city all about?

You want the simple answer? culture and dating markets. If you are not interested in either of those, then the city isn’t for you. If you win in the dating market and don’t care about culture you will likely leave the city, broadly conceived, when children start coming along.

And maybe that’s your plan. You come to Communio, you go to lots of other events, meet people, eventually a spouse, maybe find a better job, and then you leave for the deepest reaches of Lincoln County. There’s nothing wrong with that. But in this talk I am going to provide an alternative vision for Saint Louis that emphasizes the need for creating a thriving cultural zone across the metropolitan area.

So keeping in mind culture and dating markets, I will present three key ideas from social science, primarily economics, about how to make a culturally vibrant Catholic city.

Those three ideas are Culture First, Agglomeration Effects, and Signaling.

1.  Culture First

 Cities today are about people first and commerce second.

Many people think that cities exist for jobs by which they mean big employers, like Boeing, Barnes, and Mercy. This is a fundamental mistake: successful American cities are places where businesses get made or move to to take advantage of the high skilled people who are already there. Holding skills constant, businesses, especially factories, will move to places where the cost of land and labor is lowest. Most modern American businesses are not huge enterprises that require lots of workers, rather they are small firms that need a reliable supply of skilled workers, like skilled machinists, programmers, mapping experts, nurses, biotech researchers, office organizers, and interinstitution coordinators to name but a few in demand jobs in the Saint Louis area.

In the 19th century cities were built around transportation costs. Saint Louis is on the river, Detroit was on the lakes. But as transportation costs fell, and land and labor costs went up, the businesses left the cities, first moving to the suburbs, then leaving all together… this left cities quite vulnerable.

Ed Glaeser economist at Harvard has this to say in Triumph of the City: “Cities thrive when they have many small firms and skilled citizens. Detroit was once a buzzing beehive of small-scale interconnected inventors—Henry Ford was just one among many gifted entrepreneurs. But the extravagant success of Ford’s big idea destroyed that older, more innovative city. Detroit’s twentieth-century growth brought hundreds of thousands of less-well-educated workers to vast factories, which became fortresses apart from the city and the world. While industrial diversity, entrepreneurship, and education lead to innovation, the Detroit model led to urban decline. The age of the industrial city is over.”

Today, geography counts for very little. To quote Dune, “Place is only place.” People are everything. So the question becomes what induces people to gather in one place? I see it as culture, beauty, fun, weather, desirable social ties, and yes, dating opportunities. Or as Californian poet Robinson Jeffers says, “Music and religion, honor and mirth, // renew life’s lost enchantments.”

If you build these, you attract young, energetic, quirky, intelligent people, yourselves. Firms will follow in your wake. If I am right, then the causal arrow is from culture to economic growth, meaning that the core units that makes for a successful city are community and creativity: economic growth, career opportunities, and, most importantly, more cultural investment follow from them.

Cities are about people first and commerce second. This brings us to the second economic idea:

2.   Agglomeration effects. Agglomeration is a very ugly word; sounds like an ingredient in Jello, but it means the effect of having an increasing amount of something.

The idea of agglomeration effects in economics is that thirty people are not merely thirty times as productive as one person. They are often many more times as productive, because the thirty people learn from and are encouraged by one another. Take the example of prayer from Saint Louis de Montfort in The Secret of the Rosary: “Somebody who says his Rosary alone only gains the merit of one Rosary, but if he says it together with thirty other people, he gains the merit of thirty Rosaries. This is the law of public prayer.”

This idea that grace is greater in public gatherings is a distinctly Catholic one. But it is also found in economics in the guise of agglomeration effects.

Alfred Marshall’s 1890 Principles of Economics describes agglomeration in loving detail:

When a [community] has thus chosen a locality for itself, it is likely to stay there long: so great are the advantages which people following the same [mode of existence] get from near neighbourhood to one another. The mysteries of the trade become no mysteries; but are as it were in the air, and children learn many of them unconsciously. 

The idea is that creative communities beget a creative, community-minded atmosphere, and trying deliberately to improve ourselves and each other through acts of community will make a great and desirable city. I think we could be doing a lot on this front.

Community is the opposite of the atomization and excessive individualization, which plagues modern American society. Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone outlines how American civil institutions and groups of the sort we need have progressively declined since the 1950s. The cities that are doing well today are benefiting from agglomeration effects, and those that will do well in the future will do so because they have found ways to foster the sorts of communities that create these effects.

But it does not take an army to reverse trends or change trajectory. Nassim Taleb, the pugnacious philosopher of economic uncertainty offers this note in his book Skin in the Game: “The entire growth of society, whether economic or moral, comes from a small number of people… Society doesn’t evolve by consensus, voting, majority, committees, verbose meeting, academic conferences, and polling; only a few people suffice to disproportionately move the needle.”

Renaissance Florence had a population of only 50,000 people; it only took a couple of committed workshops to initiate something special.

These people, people who move the needle, will be part of a network stubbornly committed to sharing and building culture and solving problems that arise when trying build a more substantial, beautiful, and creative Saint Louis.

Agglomeration effects create exponential creativity, which brings us to idea three.

3.       Don’t “sell” people on your creative ideas, signal your ideals.

If you are at all like me, selling people on stuff can seem kind of banal, venal, or inauthentic. What could be worse than cold call telemarketing? Trying to convince people who do not want or need what you have to offer is a waste of your time and theirs.  However, everyone wants to be delighted and to find their niche, so the problem is how to connect people to those for whom they have an affinity but don’t know it yet?

The key is signaling and selection effects.

Signaling Theory for economists is all about sacramentals. Those outward signs that ought to positively correlate with inner dispositions. A yellow-banded poison dart frog is jet black with neon yellow stripes; it looks poisonous because it is poisonous. It is sending out nature’s amphibious “Leave me alone” signal. On the other hand, at Urban Chestnut the plain, wooden, distraction-free, mead-hall benches, practically sing out “come, sit down, and have a conversation with friends.”

Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t want to be part of any club that’d have a guy like me as a member.” Groucho’s acceptance into the club would signal low enough club quality that he himself wouldn’t want to join.  Whatever it is you are trying to build, whatever peers you are trying to attract, making sure you are sending out the signals which will attract your people is the first step to overcoming alienation and atomization, and the first step to leveraging the interconnected urban environment to attract the people who will like what you have to offer. So first comes the signal. We fire off the bat-signal into the night sky and see who shows up, having faith that those who arrive are the ones God wanted to show up. 

A selection effect means that the people who are attracted to you and your creative group are not random but rather people who are inclined to what you have to offer, people compatible with your mission who had been stumbling along the edge of your social network, seeking just such an environment before they saw your bat-signal.

There are many ways to signal. The choices of how we construct our physical environment signals community values. A park with filled with children playing games doesn’t exist without local children, a safe neighborhood, and people who devote resources to upkeep. The art in our house, the design of our streets, our choice of public music, and the tabs on our computer, signal our priorities and reveal of our preferences.

The best signals are not loud the way a commercial is, but they are discoverable. Like how a Decemberists album shirt says more about you than if you simply said you liked the Decemberists. Even a shirt can lead to people approaching you because the external signals an interior disposition.

Self-selection requires a discoverable signal.

Discoverability is a technical term in social science, but it is like the “light hidden under a bushel principle.” It is a measure of the possibility for others to discover what you have to offer. If one builds the signals alongside the community, one creates discoverability. By sending off the right signals people will know who we are and what we are about. When they search online or even see St. Louis in the media, the same signals of a rich inner core may start to bleed through.

And that’s idea number three. Good signaling allows for self-selection.

Once a subculture’s signal and substance properly rub together, lightning strikes the frozen mountain of creativity; a cascade of graceful snow begins to descend. Agglomeration effects create an accelerating avalanche, and thus the signal becomes even stronger, so that even from many miles away the sight and sound of this cascade resonates through the valleys.

And those are the first three ideas which I think we can take with us for envisioning St. Louis as New Rome: 1. Culture comes first, 2. Agglomeration effects create exponential productivity, and 3. Signals allow for self-selection. Perhaps, next time, we will discuss where gladiator fights fit in to this New Rome idea.

One last takeaway is that a vibrant, distinctively Catholic culture in Saint Louis requires intentional effort. And we’ll talk more about how to do it in Q&A, though, as you know, I’m working on the school and education front. Thank you very much.