In many of Grimm’s fairy tales, the way out of the forest, always mysterious, dark and dangerous, is the way in – in reverse.
The brightest of heroes -- hopeful, dangerously inexperienced, but gifted by God with cleverness and primed to learn -- leaves a trail of markers on his or her way into the forest so that, when a danger intrudes that threatens to overcome them, they may find their way home again.
Home, the familiar past, the good and Godly spirit sometimes hidden in the warp and woof of the tale, is the great desideratum.
The hero – think of Odysseus -- can and should bring his past with him into any future of his making. You can carry your past, as Aeneas carries his father on his back out of burning Troy, to a new future in a new country, to a new virgin wilderness. That is the hope and dream of every storm-tossed refugee from the terrors of the dark forest who, through his own wits, has come into a new country bearing his father, his past, on his back.
The past, William Faulkner said in an interview, “is not over. It is not even past.” One’s daily calculations are intimately bound up with one’s recollections and, it is not often enough stressed, with history, in addition to one’s own personal experience.
In education, the past unfamiliar to students used to matter. It was taught to students, usually in civics classes, by teachers familiar with the foundational history of the United States. But this was in bygone days, long before the arrival of Marxian pedagogical geniuses such as Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first published in English in 1970.
Sol Stern, a contributing editor of City Journal, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice, writes, “Since the publication of the English edition in 1970,” Pedagogy of the Oppressed has achieved near-iconic status in America’s teacher-training programs.
In our own time, oppression has expanded to fill every corner of the pedagogical and political universe. Even the dust mites of history have become oppressively oppressive.
The operational thesis of Freire’s book is that every form of teaching is a form of oppression. Therefore, teaching, as such, should be abandoned in favor of learning. And preachy teachers should become First Students, supplying their charges with intellectual matter, but taking great care not to intrude on what should be a private pedagogical process. Furthermore, the past – “never over” according to Faulkner – is much in need of reform. Not only should the past be over, so that the future may be built on a solid Marxian foundation, it should be transformed so that the past may be a prelude to a future no longer out of the reach of postmodern revolutionists.
The very first commandment of the new Marxian Decalogue was etched in stone by Marx in a note to a later work, the Theses on Feuerbach. “The philosophers,” Marx wrote,” have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” These words are etched in stone as an epitaph on Marx’s tombstone in Highgate Cemetery in North London.
Teaching – that is, the imparting of knowledge from those who know to those who do not know – is not oppression, unless the imparted knowledge is a porridge of Marxist/Leninist propaganda. Such was the case in the re-education centers of Stalinist Russia and Maoist China, where opponents of the regime were ruthlessly suppressed as deviants of the Marxist/Leninist credo. The deviants -- usually teachers, journalists, writers, opponents all of totalitarian regimes such as Soviet physicist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov or, most impressively, Alexander Solzhenitsyn – simply disappeared.
Stalin was famous for altering photos in which the victims of Stalinist oppression, many of whom were Old Bolsheviks, were deleted from pictures before the falsely charged offenders were eliminated in fact, usually by forcing them to testify to their deviations in rigged show-court trials. Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon is a fictional account of the trial and persecution of one such Stalinist victim who agrees with the “justice” of the false charges brought against him.
Koestler’s “fiction” – a testament to the effectiveness of terror and political force -- very likely is not taught any longer in our Freire-dominated institutions of higher learning. The message written on every page of Darkness at Noon is -- Truth is always the first victim of oppressive regimes, and crimes against intelligence nearly always are followed by crimes against truth-sayers.
It was G. K. Chesterton who said that in an age of radical reform, orthodoxy – fidelity to history and faith – appears to have all the vigor and strength of a heresy.
Just so, in our own day, real history, real education, as opposed to reformist claptrap, the principles of small “r” republican governance, all appear to have the strength and vigor of heresies in times past.
And the way out of this dark forest is the way in – in reverse.