June 28, 2007

"Teachers taught, and students listened. Teachers commanded, and students obeyed."

It's nice to see that UW-Madison history professor William Reese is so prominently cited in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case.

From the Thomas opinion:
By the time the States ratified the Fourteenth Amendment , public schools had become relatively common. W. Reese, America’s Public Schools: From the Common School to “No Child Left Behind” 11–12 (2005) (hereinafter Reese)....

Because public schools were initially created as substitutes for private schools, when States developed public education systems in the early 1800’s, no one doubted the government’s ability to educate and discipline children as private schools did. Like their private counterparts, early public schools were not places for freewheeling debates or exploration of competing ideas. Rather, teachers instilled “a core of common values” in students and taught them self-control. Reese 23; A. Potter & G. Emerson, The School and the Schoolmaster: A Manual 125 (1843) (“By its discipline it contributes, insensibly, to generate a spirit of subordination to lawful authority, a power of self-control, and a habit of postponing present indulgence to a greater future good …”); D. Parkerson & J. Parkerson, The Emergence of the Common School in the U. S. Countryside 6 (1998) (hereinafter Parkerson) (noting that early education activists, such as Benjamin Rush, believed public schools “help[ed] control the innate selfishness of the individual”).

Teachers instilled these values not only by presenting ideas but also through strict discipline. Butts 274–275. Schools punished students for behavior the school considered disrespectful or wrong. Parkerson 65 (noting that children were punished for idleness, talking, profanity, and slovenliness). Rules of etiquette were enforced, and courteous behavior was demanded. Reese 40. To meet their educational objectives, schools required absolute obedience. C. Northend, The Teacher’s Assistant or Hints and Methods in School Discipline and Instruction 44, 52 (1865) (“I consider a school judiciously governed, where order prevails; where the strictest sense of propriety is manifested by the pupils towards the teacher, and towards each other . . .” (internal quotation marks omitted)).2

In short, in the earliest public schools, teachers taught, and students listened. Teachers commanded, and students obeyed. Teachers did not rely solely on the power of ideas to persuade; they relied on discipline to maintain order.
Any comments on that idea for public schools? Note the distinction between: 1. preferring that model for the schools, and 2. accepting it as something that is constitutionally permissible. You can believe #2, without going for #1. You can also reject both #1 & #2, or accept both. You could also believe #1, but not #2, but I will have to disapprove of you if you don't concede that you must forgo your preference.

ADDED: Thanks to my colleague, Karl Shoemaker, who pointed out the references to Reese. Regular readers remember Shoemaker as the historian who sent me this photo of ancient marginalia (and gave me the chance to write my favorite rhyming blog post title:



Richard Fagin said...

Teachers commanded, students obeyed. It worked pretty well in the Boston Public Schools in the late 1960s. We were even required to stand when answering the teacher. It is not at all surprising that the Boston school system went down the tubes when teachers lost control of the classroom.

Joe said...

Teachers largely lost control of the classroom due to government interference and the Marxist insistence that kids are blank slates and fundamentally equal.

Several years ago, one of my children was in a class with a severely retarded and handicapped child. Ultimately, she could either teach or take care of the retard. The legal environment required the latter.

(And how is it that we have schools suspending students for hugging or carrying a butter knife, but not for pounding the shit out of classmates and disrupting class? We have a minority of asshole parents being reinforced by do-gooder idiot lawyers and even dumber judges.)

Trumpit said...

I guess corporal punishment should be reinstituted according to Thomas. Personally, I'd like to beat the crap out of those gangbanging, graffitti spraying juveniles. They're too dumb to learn anything worthwhile so what are we to do with them? Yeah, beat the crap out of them!

I suppose the Kent State massacre was the appropriate response to those hippie students who weren't hitting the book, and instead were protest the Vietnam war. Of course, they were smoking dope, too. Yeah beat the crap out of the them, too! Oh, I forget, they were shot to death. No biggie.

Clarence Thomas, the renowned historian, surely remembers what happened at Kent State because Kent sounds similar to his favorite plaything - onion rings.

George said...

I love Thomas' use of this quote from an 1886 case...

The master of a school is necessarily invested with much discretionary power… . He must govern these pupils, quicken the slothful, spur the indolent, restrain the impetuous, and control the stubborn. He must make rules, give commands, and punish disobedience. What rules, what commands, and what punishments shall be imposed, are necessarily largely within the discretion of the master, where none are defined by the school board.

Quicken the slothful,
Spur the indolent,
Restrain the impetuous, and
Control the stubborn.

Good stuff.

tc said...

I happen to like and approve Justice Thomas. But as to education:

I live in Yonkers,N.Y. where that lunatic-fringe feminist Federal Judge Leonard Sand -along with the equally myopic NAACP lawyer Michael Sussman-
set out to reorganise everyone's life to fit our current national feminist
ideology,that which is leading the USA and the world to destruction.
As everyone knows by now,they failed abysmally as test scores are worse now than before despite the billions of dollars spent by this tin-pot dictator of a federal judge and the feminist teachers union (YFT) heads us all ever-farther down into the toilet bowl because of their refusal to accept that boys and girls (and men and women) are not the same,are not "equal".
And this is one of the many things that needs to be changed that I was talking about when I wrote this below:

We who are lawyers today really disgust me. During my days in prac- tice,I was a legal aid-type defense attorney in the Family and Criminal Courts of NYS as well as a private practice lawyer,handling real estate, wills,estates,taxes,corporations...
And I tried more than a few cases before juries and judges...
So I have seen and done all kinds of law,legal practice...and I have seen the consequences of what we do in the people I've represented as well as in the overall societal degeneration -nationally and inter-
nationally- that we are responsible for. This was not what I was brought up to believe we lawyers are supposed to do.
As a matter of fact,as I see it, we lawyers today are little more than leeches sucking the country's
blood and leaving its body dry. We are selfish egotistical children -
And I intend to change that -ra- dically- in the very near future.
7:45 PM

Ann Althouse said...

I clerked for Judge Sand. If you have something to say against him.... it'd better be good.

Theo Boehm said...

Justice Thomas has his ideas about education.  Bracing view of the past, what?  For those of you who prefer that model (Althouse's choice No. 1), I thought some actual images from the world Justice Thomas so highly commends might be in order.

This may be a class in the ideal school that Justice Thomas has in mind.  Here's one from Jr. High, and another from HS.  There must be some policy we can adopt to bring back this world.  Aren't those kids cute?

And schools taught things people needed to know.

Ring around the rosie.  But at least they weren't wearing gang colors.

Is this what Justice Thomas has in mind for teaching kids good order and discipline?  The tyke on the left in the front row looks like he's ready for something.

And for those little workers already contributing to society, some education in off hours was just the thing.  No need to keep these boys from being rowdy!

Of course, this is another way children were raised in the good, old days.  This taught them something, too.

Seven Machos said...

I have tended to come around to Thomas's view. He says free speech is all or nothing, and in schools he thinks it should be nothing. There's something to be said for that idea. Whatever it should be, it shouldn't be what the rule is now, which is, apparently, free speech unless you ay sonething the oerlords don't like.

downtownlad said...


1) He wasn't in school

2) He wasn't a child - he was 18

But I guess those pesky little facts get in the way when you're trying to repeal the first amendment.

reader_iam said...

"the retard"

reader_iam said...

You betrayed your own point (and why? for what?) with that disgusting choice.


reader_iam said...

On you, that is.

reader_iam said...

Oh, gawd, must we now embark upon explaining the difference(s) between "same" and "equal"?

What's with this thread (especially given how short it is, so far)?

What forces have been unleashed by this post? (And why?)


Synova said...

I think that it's important to note that what has changed the most is that students have less choice about attending school at all and schools are required to educate them no matter what. Used to be that students who found it all too oppressive simply quit.

If students (and their parents) had more choice and the *schools* had more choice... in other words, if the association was a voluntary one from *both* directions, the "teachers commanded, and students obeyed" comment would hardly be remarkable at all.

Compulsory public schooling, where neither party is in a voluntary association, makes it necessary that those people compelled are not compelled to give up their constitutional rights to free speech and what-all. It might be annoying as all get out and disruptive of the learning environment but that's what the nature of compulsory public schooling gets you.

The answer is voluntary associations in both directions, a child free to leave and a school free to kick him or her out.

In that case the school would be free to have and to enforce any limitations on behavior it deemed necessary to good order and to effective education, on campus or off. Those rules would be voluntarily accepted and so would violate no one's constitutional rights.

(I also figured I should note that in this case I'm in agreement with Downtownlad. Students' right to obnoxious speech of the sort that embarrasses the school should be protected. Embarrassment simply doesn't rise to the level necessary to infringe on a person's right to speak.)

Kev said...

"The answer is voluntary associations in both directions, a child free to leave and a school free to kick him or her out."

Especially the latter. Because of the current inability (or so it would seem) of schools to expel the truly bad kids, they end up having to come up with all these draconian rules that end up punishing everyone for the misdeeds of a few. Those actions often result in the good kids becoming jaded towards rules in general, while the bad kids aren't really affected at all.

Here's an example from my own experience: One of my top students (who normally got A's and B's) had to spend two days in the in-school suspension room last year for the heinous offense of having an untucked shirt. The assistant principal with whom he pleaded his case admitted to him that the school only had the shirts-tucked-in rule because they couldn't outlaw what they really wanted to--which was baggy, gang-like apparel--because they were afraid of being accused of racism if they did.

So the end result is that the school had to clamp down on everyone in order to target a very small segment of the population, and a really good kid had to spend two days in a room with really bad kids for a not-so-very-good reason.

Jacques Albert said...

"Free, compulsory education" may have once been a good idea whose time is now gone. . . . When the Latin, sometimes Greek, rhetoric, history (not "current events"), mathematics and science curricula gave way to the Deweyist "life and work skills" programmes in the States, the American experiment in near-universal education was doomed to costly failure. . . . Such sums wasted for such paltry results! Vae victis!

Yes, the generally disloyal and, well, cowardly Vietnam protest generation also encouraged the subsequent bad behaviour of school pupils in the States--many of these protesters are now teachers . . . .

Jacques Albert said...

"Free, compulsory education" may have once been a good idea whose time is now gone. . . . When the Latin, sometimes Greek, rhetoric, history (not "current events"), mathematics and science curricula gave way to the Deweyist "life and work skills" programmes in the States, the American experiment in near-universal education was doomed to costly failure. . . . Such sums wasted for such paltry results! Vae victis!

Yes, the generally disloyal and, well, cowardly Vietnam protest generation also encouraged the subsequent bad behaviour of school pupils in the States--many of these protesters are now teachers . . . .

Pogo said...

One fact about which one is not allowed to speak:

When my wife and I volunteer to serve as ushers when schools bring their students to plays at our local community theater, you can instantly tell whether the kids are from a private or a public school. How?

Behavior. The latter are riotous, unmannered, loud, uncivilized, and unstoppable. The former wait in line, quietly. Sit where they are told. Clap. And never throw things or shout during the play, or they are Dealt With.

The latter are far more numerous, and go on to high school and college and then become the citizens that can't take care of themselves, can't think, can't control their impulses, can't delay gratification.

Dewey was not just an idiot.; he was a monster of sorts.

peter hoh said...

Pogo, having worked in one of those private schools of which you speak (and yes, we did get compliments whenever we took the students on a field trip) I can tell you that once that air of order and tradition is established, we could get away with being very progressive in the classroom.

When order and tradition are established, discipline can be rather soft and mushy and still be quite effective.

In my first year, a few boys acted inappropriately in rehearsal -- or perhaps it was during our first Christmas service (we had two). They were playing with their candles, I recall. The principal called them into her office and did nothing more than speak to them. Problem solved.

No threats, no physical punishment. Actually, there was no punishment for those boys. But they were effectively disciplined.

Teaching to different learning styles. Yeah, we were all over that a decade before that became part of the public school lingo. In a public district we drew from, a couple conservative parents raised a fuss about a certain story book read aloud by a first grade teacher (not the two mommies book). We had been using it for several years without any complaints.

jimbino said...

Thomas is an intellectual lightweight with a degree in English. Unfortunately, none of the others have distinguished themselves in anything resembling math, science or engineering either.

reader_iam said...


I found it incredibly quaint that, at my son's private school, the kids in at least the lower school consider it a big deal to be sent to the "principal" for "a word."

Of course, it probably helps that parents also take this seriously, as well--and not because the child was sent to The Office, but because the child did something that caused him or her to be sent.

And, no. The kids aren't automatons--far from it. But you can take 'em places in groups without creating a public nuisance.

downtownlad said...

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech (unless you're advocating drug use), or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Joe said...

Re: reader_jam 11:15


1. a person of subnormal intelligence

Your protest is exactly what's wrong with schools. You are so fucking paranoid to offend anyone you pretend retards are normal and probably that bullies are misunderstood. It's bullshit and you know and so does everyone but we all keep pretending.

Pogo said...

The complaint about "retard" isn't an attempt to euphemize or a demand to be PC, but to point out that your argument, an otherwise successful one, is immediately undone by choosing that word over, say, "Ultimately, she could either teach or take care of the retarded students."

Same point, but your method causes more than half the folks who read it to disagree with you. Hell, I agree with your point. I have two retarded brothers and think they are both woefully inappropriate for a standard classroom.

"Developmentally delayed" and "Mentally challenged" are bullshit terms. "Retarded" is truthful. But "the retard" has two definitions, one informs ("subnormal"), but the other inflames and borders on fightin' words. So why use it?

reader_jam has a particularly wise way with words, so her advice should be taken gracefully.

pequod said...

While I don't necessarily agree with his philosophy, Justice Thomas has proven himself to be the most logically consistent justice on the Court.