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Cogitations from the Home Front

Stewart Ogilby,
Editor of &

June 12, 2010

American Education, Information, and the Present Crisis

Americans who spearheaded social reforms demanding social responsibility from top-heavy financial and commercial elites of "The Guilded Age" (these same problems have returned) were born in rural America during or shortly after the Civil War.

A large proportion of these social workers and investigative reporters came from homes in which the father was a clergyman, as documented by Robert Crunden in "Ministers of Reform". With access to books in the house, young people of that generation developed strong social consciences. They discounted parental exhortations of "hell, fire, and brimstone" but retained ethical Christian precepts.

It should not be surprising to learn that many of our Progressive Era's historically effective individuals received early educations in one-room school-houses. Before John Dewey that formal education was largely classical. The Department of Education and its teacher unions were a long way off.

One of the few memorable experiences of my own state mandated education resulted from informal discussions overseen by a young teacher. We eighth grade students met daily in a single classroom, our "home-room", immediately following lunch. This teacher took the opportunity to encourage an informal discussion prior to the bell which required our resuming a militaristic response to hourly bells which prompted our tromping from one classroom's short-term subject to another.

Testing as the state's top percentile student with perfect scores in both English and math on the State of Ohio's "Every Pupil Exam" (a frightening forerunner of today's bureaucratically enforced monitoring of student achievement and instructor compliance), I found school boring beyond words. If it had not been for girls and athletics I might have retreated into schizophrenia or overt sociopathology.

Unfortunately, our young home-room teacher left his teaching job to sell automobiles in order to support a family, a decision he struggled over and permitted us to discuss during a lunchtime session. Our desks were arranged in rows and I recall that his rules required one to stand when speaking in this friendly environment. Thank goodness, political correctness was still in the distant future! More than sixty years later, I understand the truth of the statement that "one teacher can make a difference". I don't recall his name, but I distinctly recall his pleasant personality and those interesting lunchtime discussions conducted with his sensible assistance.

I recall little else of that year's schooling. Everything else seemed a bit extraneous. I now realize how frustrating and meaningless it is to try making sense out of nonsense. My parents, as most persons without college experience, mistakingly assumed that educational quality varies directly with cost. The following year they struggled financially to place me, a farm-boy who happened to love reading, in a fashionable local prep school. I grew to dislike that school more every year. It had little more education than the public school and considerably more nonsense. Thankfully, it had a lot more athletics. Alas, girls remained at the public school to which I finally had the presence of mind to return in order to graduate with friends.

Looking at a prior century's educational curriculum in our country, I now realize that most bright American youngsters are today severely cheated educationally during key developmental years.

America is the land that bred Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Robert Green Ingersoll, Albert Jay Nock, Lewis Mumford and countless others. Thanks to the entrepreneurship of S.S. McClure, writers who spearheaded progressive reforms gained notoriety and McClure made his fortune.

Other than online, where can today's social reformers find their voice? I think of Elbert Hubbard, who bought his own print shop in East Aurora, New York. Hubbard, a charismatic genius and publishing entrepreneur, wrote over seven million words before drowning along with his second wife in 1915 when taking a trip to Europe on the Lusitania to meet the Kaiser in hopes of dissuading Germany's leader from pursuing the First World War. For twenty years the highly popular little magazine he wrote, The Philistine, could be found in homes, barber shops, newsstands, diners, drug stores, and other public places throughout America.

What has happened to the imperfect but wonderful country in which I grew up? Where are socially concerned educated humanists, appalled by horrors and incensed by the overt financial, military and environmental abuses perpetrated by our demonstrably undemocratic American government?

America's controlled mainline press and TV networks are rightfully losing their credibility. Our public today is criticized as politically apathetic. Much of what appears to be apathy stems from confusion engendered by lies, spin, propaganda, and censorship. The literate public is starved for information in an age where there is a glut of trivia and confusing drivel. Are there opportunities today for entrepreneurs in alternative print journalism such as found in Ohio's The Liberty Voice and the Capitol area's Rock Creek Free Press? Hubbard is said to have invented testimonial advertisements that appeared in his little magazine, helping to finance it.

Newspapers now have online editions. The time has come to turn the tables. Bloggers are indeed roaring. Let's convert the best found online in areas of investigative reporting, informed opinion, true breaking news, and pertinent history to the little magazine format. It doesn't have to be big, slick and glossy. Find a copy of The Philistine from the early 1900's and steal a few ideas. I'll be glad to buy the first advertisements because I can tell you it will be successful if edited intelligently and funded sufficiently to distribute a high volume of copies. In fact, such a national little magazine will put the final nail in the coffin of today's financially struggling controlled newspapers.

Thucydides observed and recounted war's effect on civil society. Is it too late to reconsider a classical secondary education, implemented locally, for American youngsters who, early in life, grasp the basic code of reading and writing?

The time has come to turn back the clock in America. Mankind demands more than provided by principles of economism, as evidenced by the universality of religions, however chimerical. Ultimately, the rapidly advancing brain of Homo sapiens (or, if you prefer, "the human soul") seeks the truth.

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