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The Book That Drove Them Crazy - "The Closing of the American Mind" 25 years later
The Weekly Standard Magazine ^ | April 5, 2012 | Andrew Ferguson

Posted on 04/05/2012 3:36:57 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife

"The Closing of the American Mind"

If I had reread The Closing of the American Mind 10 years ago, when my own children were themselves under 10, I confess I would have thought Bloom’s portrait of educational decline was overwrought. And then they grew up and went off to college.

..............[Allan] Bloom wrote a moment before the population of modernity’s Holy Trinity - Marx, Freud, and Darwin - decreased by two-thirds. Marx lost his allure, at least nominally, after the collapse of the murderous regimes that had been built from his ideas. Freud was demoted from scientist to cultural observer, and an unreliable one besides. Only Darwin survives, undiminished and if anything enlarged, as the font of a new materialism whose effects Bloom foresaw even then and witheringly described. I can think of lots of reasons why The Closing of the American Mind deserves as many readers as it earned in the eighties; Bloom’s sly wit and the torrential energy of his prose are worth the price of admission, in my opinion. But this one carries a special urgency. As well as anyone then or now, he understood that the intellectual fashion of materialism& = of explaining all life, human or animal, mental or otherwise, by means of physical processes alone - had led inescapably to a doctrinaire relativism that would prove to be a universal corrosive.

The crisis was - is - a crisis of confidence in the principle that serves as the premise of liberal education: that reason, informed by learning and experience, can arrive at truth, and that one truth may be truer than another. This loss of faith had consequences and causes far beyond higher ed. Bloom was a believer in intellectual trickle-down theory, and it is the comprehensiveness of his thesis that may have attracted readers to him and his book. The coarsening of public manners, the decline in academic achievement, the general dumbing down of America - even Jerry Springer - had a long pedigree that Bloom was at pains to describe for a general reader.

“The crisis of liberal education,” he wrote, “is a reflection of a crisis at the peaks of learning, an incoherence and incompatibility among the first principles with which we interpret the world, an intellectual crisis of the greatest magnitude, which constitutes the crisis of our civilization.”

He asked readers to consider contemporary students as he encountered them. They arrived ill-equipped to explore the large questions the humanities pose, and few saw the need to bother with them in any case. Instead, he said, they were cheerful, unconcerned, dutiful, and prosaic, their eyes on the prize of that cushy job. They were “nice.” You can almost see him shudder as he writes the word. “They are united only in their relativism,” he wrote. “The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate.”

Relativism, in fact, was the only moral postulate that went unchallenged in academic life. Defenders of relativism often defend it by denying it exists: No one, they say, truly believes that one idea is ultimately as good as another. And of course they’re right that none of us in our own lives act as though we believed this. But most of us profess it nonetheless, especially if we’ve got a college education, in which case we will be careful to use air quotes when we are forced to say the word “truth” in polite company. In a genial but harrowing review of Closing, a professor at -Carleton College, Michael Zuckert, told of canvassing the students in his class on American political thought. He asked whether they agreed that the truths in the first lines of the Declaration of Independence were indeed “self-evident.” Seven percent voted “yes.” On further conversation, he wrote, it turned out “that they were convinced there is no such thing as ‘truth,’ self-evident or otherwise, in the sphere of claims of the sort raised in the Declaration.” He would have gotten the same response in almost any college classroom today, and I’m not too sure about the 7 percent.

What follows when a belief in objectivity and truth dies away in higher education? In time an educated person comes to doubt that purpose and meaning are discoverable - he doubts, finally, that they even exist. It’s no mystery why fewer and fewer students in higher education today bother with the liberal arts, preferring professional training in their place. Deprived of their traditional purpose in the pursuit of what’s true and good, the humanities could only founder. The study of literature, for example, was consumed in the trivialities of the deconstructionists and their successors. Philosophy curdled into positivism and word play. History became an inventory of political grievances.

Into the vacuum left by the humanities comes science, which by its own admission is unconcerned with the large questions of meaning and purpose. Even so, on campus and elsewhere, science is now taken as the final authority on any important human question - and not always the rigorous physical sciences, either, but the rickety, less empirical, more easily manipulated guesswork of behavioral psychology, cultural anthropology, sociology, developmental studies, and so on. Nowadays, if we seek insight into the mysteries of the human heart (not high on the academic agenda in any case) we are far more likely to consult a neurobiologist or a social psychologist than Tolstoy or Aristotle. This is not progress............... The Book That Drove Them Crazy


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: academia; allanbloom; andrewferguson; arth; bloom; culture; education; highereducation; society
GOOD piece.
1 posted on 04/05/2012 3:37:02 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

The “public school” is BY FAR, the largest, most expensive, most subversive, and most destructive entitlement program in the country.

The “public school” is better understood as the “government school collective”.

It is silly to imagine that you can fix the public schools, because the very concept itself is communist.

Any child that comes out of the government school collective with their moral compass and common sense intact does so in spite of the government school indoctrination, not because of it.

If you want to win the culture war, have lots of children (see my tagline) and homeschool them or form your own school cooperative with your church or synagogue and like-minded friends and relatives.

Nobody loves your children more than you do.

Nobody can teach your children like you can.

Your children would love nothing better than to be taught by you, if you start doing so before they are corrupted by the government school collective.

It is hypocritical for you to submit your children to an authority with whom you fundamentally disagree. And your children will know it.

If you have children, make whatever sacrifices you must to get them out of the public schools.

DO NOT FEED THE BEAST!

Especially not with your own children.


2 posted on 04/05/2012 4:22:53 AM PDT by Westbrook (Children do not divide your love, they multiply it.)
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
Then, seven years later, another book: The Bell Curve, by Richard J. Herrnstein, drove them crazy all over again.
3 posted on 04/05/2012 4:24:33 AM PDT by Steely Tom (If the Constitution can be a living document, I guess a corporation can be a person.)
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To: All

For clarity:

“....fashion of materialism& = of explaining all life...”

IS

...”As well as anyone then or now, he understood that the intellectual fashion of materialism - of explaining all life, human or animal, mental or otherwise, by means of physical processes alone - had led inescapably to a doctrinaire relativism that would prove to be a universal corrosive.”...


4 posted on 04/05/2012 4:25:44 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: metmom; wintertime; JenB

Ping


5 posted on 04/05/2012 4:55:40 AM PDT by Clintonfatigued (A chameleon belongs in a pet store, not the White House)
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
I read "Ravelstein", but never read "Closing of the American Mind".

You reminded me that I need to get this book. Thanks.

6 posted on 04/05/2012 4:58:59 AM PDT by what's up
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

Alas, I fear that Marx and Freud didn’t fade away because they were discredited; they were simply incorporated so deeply into modern academic thought that they have become basic premises and no longer even need to be identified as such.


7 posted on 04/05/2012 5:06:15 AM PDT by livius
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
Didn't hear of this book. Will definitely look for it.
8 posted on 04/05/2012 5:15:31 AM PDT by originalbuckeye
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To: Westbrook

Son to be followed by “My kids public school isn’t so bad” and “I’m/I know a public school teacher trying to help kids”. I have more respect for crack dealers.


9 posted on 04/05/2012 5:17:36 AM PDT by jjotto ("Ya could look it up!")
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America - Charlotte Iserbyt
10 posted on 04/05/2012 5:19:22 AM PDT by khelus
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

Great book, too. “Closing” is one of the dozen or so most infuential books I’ve ever read. It’s part of my “mental furniture.” Every cultural trend described by Bloom—from the breakdown of the family, to the situation of blacks at the university, to the destructive influence of feminism and promiscuity on campus—has gotten exponentially worse. The biggest difference is that now, these trends aren’t limited to places like Cornell, U of Chicago, Columbia, et al. They are general everywhere in academia, and have reinforced the corruption of the broader culture.

The cohort of students described by Bloom now runs the country , and is hellbent on carrying out the Revolution. The relativism fostered by Heidegger’s “openness,” the Frankfurt School, and Deconstructionism has done its preparatory work; souls empty of family ties, religious restraints and moral absolutes are now filled with the “passionate intensity” of liberation theology, eco-radicalism, etc.

It’s funny how Bloom— a secular academic homosexual— could be so perceptive about the breakdown of the nuclear family and the ravages of relativism! Bloom, who disavowed being “conservative,” sounds almost like his contemporary, Pope John Paul II when describing the centrality of religion, the family, and the priority of culture to politics.

Although during Reagan’s time one could think that our side was winning, the Revolution was still germinating beneath the surface. It was much more widespread and powerful than anyone realized. Now we will see if America can face down the Revolution within her own borders. Germany, Russia, Italy, and Japan couldn’t. Spain did, but at a terrible cost. As many have said in recent years, we live in interesting times.


11 posted on 04/05/2012 5:21:35 AM PDT by ishmac (Lady Thatcher:"There are no permanent defeats in politics because there are no permanent victories.)
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To: what's up

“I read “Ravelstein”, but never read “Closing of the American Mind”.
You reminded me that I need to get this book. Thanks.”

Yes. Do read it. Bloom writes well, stretches our minds like a good muscle stretch, and rewards us with cogent occlusions.


12 posted on 04/05/2012 5:31:10 AM PDT by RoadTest (There is one god, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.)
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To: jjotto

> Son to be followed by “My kids public school isn’t so bad”
> and “I’m/I know a public school teacher trying to help
> kids”. I have more respect for crack dealers.

I hear this all the time.

It’s so hard to get through to people that “compulsory education” and “public school” are collectivist-statist (COMMUNIST) ideas.

So, they ask, is government road-building collectivist?

Well, not exactly. We’re talking there about INFRASTRUCTURE, and nobody is COMPELLED to use them, and the only folks who pay for them (theoretically) are those who pay taxes when they buy cars, register cars, buy fuel, and pay highway tolls, i.e, those that use the highways pay for them.

But most of the time, I feel like I’m talking to tree stumps, because, invariably, they will present anecdotal evidence that some school or some teacher is doing good.

Look. I could probably find some good food rooting around in a restaurant dumpster, but I’m not going to soil myself doing that.


13 posted on 04/05/2012 5:31:17 AM PDT by Westbrook (Children do not divide your love, they multiply it.)
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
It's interesting that, as widely read and cited as this book was, it spurred almost no changes. And that's because "we" (meaning anyone not involved in the educational establishment) never demanded it strongly enough. We conservatives have the habit, I think, of just putting up with liberal establishments like education and the mass media instead of getting involved in them and fighting them from inside.

It's a tough assignment, because somebody has to design the cars, drill the oil, and build the houses, too. I think that's where most of us end up. What to do?

14 posted on 04/05/2012 5:31:57 AM PDT by BfloGuy (The final outcome of the credit expansion is general impoverishment.)
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

That was a pivotal period for me. I admit I was a Rolling Stone subscriber and prone to believing what they published (although the likes of William Greider are never to be taken seriously). Bloom’s book had them incandescent with rage and which caused me to wonder why.

After reading book I realized that Bloom was correct - which explained the vitriol directed at him.


15 posted on 04/05/2012 5:33:43 AM PDT by relictele (We are officially OUT of other people's money!)
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To: Westbrook

blehhhhh...

The problem isn’t that public schools are public - the problem is that said system is required to accept and keep all kids - even those who do not wish to be there, those who are continually disruptive, those who are criminal. THAT’S the problem. Find a way to eliminate the majority of undesirables and you have the environment you want.

And, so you know, Thomas Jefferson himself advocated for free education.

Help rid the schools of losers - either by choosing a charter, private, or home school. But it’s silly to blame a non-existent problem.


16 posted on 04/05/2012 5:34:40 AM PDT by Principled
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To: ishmac

“Closing” is one of the dozen or so most infuential books I’ve ever read. It’s part of my “mental furniture.”

Three of mine:

The Unseen Hand
Blacklisted By History
The Creature From Jekyll Island


17 posted on 04/05/2012 5:36:45 AM PDT by RoadTest (There is one god, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.)
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To: khelus

Thank you for posting that. Downloaded and saved.


18 posted on 04/05/2012 5:36:45 AM PDT by Auntie Mame (Fear not tomorrow. God is already there.)
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To: ishmac
Bloom, who disavowed being “conservative,” sounds almost like his contemporary, Pope John Paul II when describing the centrality of religion, the family, and the priority of culture to politics.

Reading the excerpts from Closing, I thought Bloom was on his way to converting to Catholicism.

19 posted on 04/05/2012 5:38:48 AM PDT by Oratam
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To: Steely Tom

Exposure of their agenda and the telling of truths that thwart their agenda

does indeed drive them crazy.

Usually what you get, though, is not a refutation of the exposed truth, but simply a denial and an ad hominem attack (”racist!”).


20 posted on 04/05/2012 5:39:45 AM PDT by MrB (The difference between a Humanist and a Satanist - the latter knows whom he's working for)
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To: Principled

-—And, so you know, Thomas Jefferson himself advocated for free education.-—

The more I learn about Jefferson, the less impressive he becomes. His abridged Bible is ridiculous, and I’m hoping that his “ten commandments” were meant as a joke.


21 posted on 04/05/2012 5:41:06 AM PDT by St_Thomas_Aquinas (Viva Christo Rey!)
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To: what's up

“I read “Ravelstein”, but never read “Closing of the American Mind”.
You reminded me that I need to get this book. Thanks.”

Yes. Do read it. Bloom writes well, stretches our minds like a good muscle stretch, and rewards us with cogent conclusions.


22 posted on 04/05/2012 5:41:25 AM PDT by RoadTest (There is one god, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.)
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To: ishmac

Relativism... ie, the rejection of Truth, the rejection of even the concept of truth...

as old as the devil himself.


23 posted on 04/05/2012 5:43:32 AM PDT by MrB (The difference between a Humanist and a Satanist - the latter knows whom he's working for)
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To: MrB

-—Relativism... ie, the rejection of Truth, the rejection of even the concept of truth... as old as the devil himself.-—

At this time of year, I’m reminded of someone who once asked, “What is truth?”


24 posted on 04/05/2012 5:46:43 AM PDT by St_Thomas_Aquinas (Viva Christo Rey!)
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

There’s a reason why classical liberal education had to go — it would expose the internal logical fallacies of socialism. The current purpose of a college education is to indoctrinate students into socialism and statism.


25 posted on 04/05/2012 5:48:33 AM PDT by PapaBear3625 (In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. - George Orwell)
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

BFL. Can’t believe it’s been 25 years.


26 posted on 04/05/2012 5:52:18 AM PDT by Skooz (Gabba Gabba we accept you we accept you one of us Gabba Gabba we accept you we accept you one of us)
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To: St_Thomas_Aquinas

While Truth itself was standing there right in front of him.


27 posted on 04/05/2012 5:59:20 AM PDT by MrB (The difference between a Humanist and a Satanist - the latter knows whom he's working for)
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To: Oratam

-—Reading the excerpts from Closing, I thought Bloom was on his way to converting to Catholicism.——

I remember that the book starts strongly, with Bloom boldly stating that the only belief that all freshman hold in common, is the belief that truth is relative. Thereafter, the book’s energy dissipates.

That is Peter Kreeft’s assessment of the book as well. IOW, not worth the time. I recommend John Gatto’s “Underground History of American Education” instead. Gatto’s style is meandering, and his thesis lacks focus, but the book is jam-packed with astounding facts and insightful analysis.


28 posted on 04/05/2012 6:01:32 AM PDT by St_Thomas_Aquinas (Viva Christo Rey!)
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To: MrB

-—While Truth itself was standing there right in front of him.-—

It gives me chills, especially considering how old I was before I finally “got it.”


29 posted on 04/05/2012 6:05:26 AM PDT by St_Thomas_Aquinas (Viva Christo Rey!)
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To: Oratam
I thought Bloom was on his way to converting to Catholicism.

I know that I was, heh,heh. There are certainly universal human goods that are knowable by man as man. Who would think that 25 years later we we would be grateful for the writings of a secular, academic, homosexual Jew! We must always be grateful for learning the truth about things, no matter who tells it.

30 posted on 04/05/2012 6:12:44 AM PDT by ishmac (Lady Thatcher:"There are no permanent defeats in politics because there are no permanent victories.)
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To: St_Thomas_Aquinas

Thanks for the recommendation.


31 posted on 04/05/2012 6:15:59 AM PDT by Oratam
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To: Westbrook

I heard a woman on WJR. Her son and a few other boys protested at Fredrick Douglass High School because they were getting NO education there. (this was the only place I heard about the protest) One of the boys stated that he traveled down to Bowling Green. When he got the entrance exam, he couldn’t answer a single question.

This mother said that she wanted a change.
However, homeschooling was not an option because “socialization” is so important at this age.
AND she could understand the absenteeism of teachers because of they couldn’t take their sick days, they wouldn’t be paid for them.
Along with that, the solution to her was to have DPS pay for a tutor of her own choosing.

HUH?!?

I was nearly screaming at the radio. I couldn’t believe the stupidity of that mom.


32 posted on 04/05/2012 6:20:49 AM PDT by netmilsmom (I am Breitbart)
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To: livius
Marx and Freud didn’t fade away because they were discredited

Totally agree. Utopians, "progressives," dictators and other assorted power-mad tyrants are always with us and they are fervently destroying the church and using the educational system to destroy us. See Did Communism Fake Its Own Death in 1991?

33 posted on 04/05/2012 6:22:31 AM PDT by ProtectOurFreedom
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To: Westbrook

>>But most of the time, I feel like I’m talking to tree stumps, because, invariably, they will present anecdotal evidence that some school or some teacher is doing good.<<

I know which FReepers you are speaking of.


34 posted on 04/05/2012 6:23:52 AM PDT by netmilsmom (I am Breitbart)
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

The Dictatorship of Relativism: A conversation with Professor Peter Kreeft

http://www.johnmallon.net/Site/Peter_Kreeft.html/


35 posted on 04/05/2012 6:35:06 AM PDT by St_Thomas_Aquinas (Viva Christo Rey!)
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To: Principled

> And, so you know, Thomas Jefferson himself advocated for
> free education

Yes, that’s nice, but it’s not a constitutional mandate. The right to be secure in my person, my home, and my effects *IS*.

Payment for the government school collective is compulsory, and is accompanied with “compulsory attendance” laws.

THAT’s COMMUNIST.

Parents should be allowed to direct the education of their own children. Are there parents that will neglect this responsibility? Sure. But how is FORCING them at gunpoint to put their children in the school, dropping standards to lowest common denominator, and forcing EVERYBODY ELSE to pay for it any better?

Liberty MUST BE the FIRST principle!

Jefferson also said. “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

I have taken the option to educate my own nine children still at home.

Why should I be compelled by threat of force to pay for the propagation of Communism, anti-Americanism, Islam, the Planned Parenthood agenda, the Gay agenda, Evolutionism, Global Warming, Values Clarification, and a vast array of other ideologies and agendas I disbelieve and abhor?

The United States is not, and probably never was, a homogeneous society. It is impossible to have a truly “public school” where ideologies, morals and standards accepted by virtually everyone can be taught.


36 posted on 04/05/2012 7:09:57 AM PDT by Westbrook (Children do not divide your love, they multiply it.)
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To: Westbrook
I never said it was a constitutional mandate. I only reminded you that free education was sufficiently important to at least one of our founders to have him strenuously support it.

Payment for the government school collective is compulsory, and is accompanied with “compulsory attendance” laws.

False. While payment for government schools - limited to property owners in such a district - IS compulsory, attendance is not. The compulsory is that kids are being educated... either at home, at charter, magnet, or private school. So a kid who is being homeschooled for example has no compulsory attendance at school.

Why should I be compelled by threat of force to pay for the propagation of Communism, anti-Americanism, Islam, the Planned Parenthood agenda, the Gay agenda, Evolutionism, Global Warming, Values Clarification, and a vast array of other ideologies and agendas I disbelieve and abhor?

You shouldn't.

Again, my point is that the public schools would be fine without the crap kids. It's that crap kids, more than any other thing, that brings them down. Private and magnet schools can choose their kids... and they're better in spite of the fact that teachers and administrators are similar - and sometimes the same people.

It may be helpful for you to see what the actual problem is w/ schools instead of some bogey-man communism meme. Just sayin'.

37 posted on 04/05/2012 7:22:57 AM PDT by Principled
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To: RoadTest
“I read “Ravelstein”, but never read “Closing of the American Mind”. You reminded me that I need to get this book. Thanks.” Yes. Do read it. Bloom writes well, stretches our minds like a good muscle stretch, and rewards us with cogent conclusions.

I would include "The Vision of the Anointed" by Thomas Sowel in that list. I read it at the same time as "Closing" and found them to be quite complimentary.

38 posted on 04/05/2012 7:32:20 AM PDT by Cowman (How can the IRS seize property without a warrant if the 4th amendment still stands?)
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To: Principled

> I never said it was a constitutional mandate. I only
> reminded you that free education was sufficiently important
> to at least one of our founders to have him strenuously
> support it.

Would he have been willing to pay taxes by threat of force for a school that taught abolition of slavery?

> payment for government schools - limited to property owners

False. Landlords include the cost of property taxes in the rents they charge.

>> Why should I be compelled by threat of force to pay

>You shouldn’t.

But I am!

> Again, my point is that the public schools would be fine
> without the crap kids.

No, the very idea of compulsory attendance and compulsory payment for government schools is collectivist-statist (communist).

> It may be helpful for you to see what the actual problem
> is w/ schools instead of some bogey-man communism meme.
>

I will repeat myself, because you don’t seem to get it.

The very idea of a compulsory attendance law and a compulsory payment for government school collectives is collectivist-statist (communist).

The government schools are staffed mostly by union hacks who are mostly communist ideologues.

The United States is not now, and perhaps never was, a homogeneous society where everybody shares the same moral, religious, and political compass.

Forcing people to pay for government school collectives that violate their principles in these matters is communistic.


39 posted on 04/05/2012 7:41:40 AM PDT by Westbrook (Children do not divide your love, they multiply it.)
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To: Principled

> I never said it was a constitutional mandate. I only
> reminded you that free education was sufficiently important
> to at least one of our founders to have him strenuously
> support it.

Would he have been willing to pay taxes by threat of force for a school that taught abolition of slavery?

> payment for government schools - limited to property owners

False. Landlords include the cost of property taxes in the rents they charge.

>> Why should I be compelled by threat of force to pay

>You shouldn’t.

But I am!

> Again, my point is that the public schools would be fine
> without the crap kids.

No, the very idea of compulsory attendance and compulsory payment for government schools is collectivist-statist (communist).

> It may be helpful for you to see what the actual problem
> is w/ schools instead of some bogey-man communism meme.
>

I will repeat myself, because you don’t seem to get it.

The very idea of a compulsory attendance law and a compulsory payment for government school collectives is collectivist-statist (communist).

The government schools are staffed mostly by union hacks who are mostly communist ideologues.

The United States is not now, and perhaps never was, a homogeneous society where everybody shares the same moral, religious, and political compass.

Forcing people to pay for government school collectives that violate their principles in these matters is communistic.


40 posted on 04/05/2012 7:41:56 AM PDT by Westbrook (Children do not divide your love, they multiply it.)
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To: Westbrook

ok - you know it all.


41 posted on 04/05/2012 8:20:16 AM PDT by Principled
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BFLV


42 posted on 04/05/2012 9:36:06 AM PDT by zeugma (Those of us who work for a living are outnumbered by those who vote for a living.)
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

bfl

Appreciate the reminding about this book, I had wanted to read it and it slipped off my screen.


43 posted on 04/05/2012 9:38:52 AM PDT by Attention Surplus Disorder (The only economic certainty: When it all blows up, Krugman will say we didn't spend enough.)
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To: Steely Tom
Then, seven years later, another book: The Bell Curve, by Richard J. Herrnstein, drove them crazy all over again.

By misinterpreting one paragraph in a multi-hundred page book, by people who never read the book.
His studies and observations are just as valid today; perhaps more so.

44 posted on 04/05/2012 3:46:21 PM PDT by Publius6961 (A)
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