All Commentary
Saturday, June 1, 1974

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1974/6


The essays in Stephen Tonsor’s Tradition and Reform in Education (Open Court, $8.95) were written during the several years of the student rebellion that was spawned at Berkeley, California, in the mid-Sixties, and they tend to vary considerably in the amount of passion that sustains them. Some of them seethe with a righteous anger; others are coolly argued. The four concluding essays concentrate on the special problems of Catholic and Christian education, but Professor Tonsor is no special pleader.

In most of the earlier essays in the book he extols a diversity that would allow his philosophical enemies to speak their pieces provided, of course, that a balance of Left, Right and Center makes room for alternative points of view. Tonsor does not fear cultural pluralism; he wants to promote a society in which children will be able to choose from a wide variety of schools and educational objectives. He does, however, insist on cultivating the idea of excellence — and this is what unifies the many disparate sections of the book.

Like William Buckley’s Four Reforms, Tonsor’s essays accentuate the procedural. The big basic reform that he advocates would concentrate on returning choice to our educational system, or systems. Far from being a pure libertarian or anti-Statist, Tonsor would permit the spirit of Horace Mann, the philosopher of the public school, to linger with us for a while. He is no ideological enemy of Federal or state support of school systems. Moreover, he champions a uniform system of testing elementary and secondary school pupils in both public and private schools to establish academic performance. This means that politicians must still keep an advantage which, in times of controversy, might confuse excellence with conformity.

But, with public education systems persisting everywhere, it is, with Tonsor, a matter of making some new beginnings. He wants to see the public school forced into competition with private schools and privately-marketed educational services. So, like William Buckley, Milton Friedman and Stan Evans, he is led to the voucher system. This would make pluralism, the widening of choice, an immediate possibility — and, as new private schools come into existence, the fight to keep the politicians from imposing their idea of a good uniform testing system on all types of school could be left to the future.

Full-Cost Education

Another procedural reform that enlists Tonsor’s enthusiasm would be to establish full-cost education. This would tend to weed out the malingerers, the good-time Char-lies and the dilettantes who now regard the campus life as a four-year vacation. To enable the talented and ambitious poor boy to avail himself of a college education, Tonsor would make loans available that could be paid off once the recipient had achieved a certain salary level after his graduation. Tonsor does not propose to discuss the “how” of financing the loans — he thinks this question would resolve itself once his principle has been accepted by university administrations throughout the country.

Along with vouchers and full-cost tuition Tonsor would insist on new procedures in adding to faculties. Ever since the New Deal, when young professors went “liberal” and Statist in droves, our faculties have tended to make acceptance of the new Leftist orthodoxies the first requirement for being hired. In the course of time nine out of ten faculty members in almost any university could be counted on to assume that there can be no limits to government intervention, that “society” must always take precedence over individual rights, that centralization in Washington is to be desired, that big business is organized robbery, and even that one must be a Democrat with a big D if one is to be trusted with the writing of history.

Unrepresented Minorities

Speaking of his own University of Michigan, Tonsor remarks in one essay that out of sixty-nine full-time members of its history department “we do not have a single professor whose primary study has been the field of religion in America.” As for the economics department, it “does not have a single non-Keynesian among its tenured members.” In such an atmosphere, so Tonsor asks, “is it really possible for either the student or the professor to arrive at the truth?”

Tonsor is not clear about the ways and means of compelling faculties to replace the homogeneity of the new collectivist orthodoxy with an across the board variety of doctrine. He does say, however, that the university does not belong either to the faculty, or to the students, or to any special pressure group in society. Since the “whole of society” owns the big state university, and since trustees are responsible for the private university, the implication of what Tonsor is saying is that boards of regents or university corporations should step in to compel the representation of all points of view in the composition of faculty departments. This is easier said than done, but if, in the case of the private university, rich or even medium-well-heeled donors were to insist, say, on balancing a John Kenneth Galbraith with a Hayek or a Milton Friedman in an economics department, we would be making a beginning at re-establishing pluralism.

Universities as Dumping Grounds

Tonsor, in his preface to his book, identifies himself with the Hoover Institution at Stanford. But when he was at the University of Michigan he spoke his piece with a passionate disregard of what the administrative overseers of the institution might think of him. During the period of the campus riots he accused Michigan of being led by men without vision or a sense of America‘s future. The University “rewards felons and penalizes the orderly.” Its benefits were granted on the basis, “not of ability, not even on the basis of a color-blind equality, but on the basis of an irrationally conceived demand on public largesse.” Broadening his criticism to include the college scene as a whole, Tonsor remarked that “for twenty years now our universities have become the dumping grounds for all our unsolved educational, social and political problems and university administrations have welcomed the development of this concept of the university as a public dump.”

“Do you have an urban problem?” Tonsor asks. Then “take it to the university.” “Do you have a psychopathic son or daughter?” Your solution is to “send him to the university.” “Do you have a felon on probation?” If so, the “university is just the place for him.”

The university, in short, has been a place for trying to solve every problem but the problem of teaching. In paying out immense sums for the Federal support of education, the American people have been had. Maybe the first procedural change should be to let the whole higher education shebang collapse by withdrawing public support. This would force a new breed of university president to rely on full-cost tuition payments, and we would soon have a new dispensation on the campuses, one that would be prepared to stick to teaching in order to attract the really serious students.

 

WALTER KNOTT, KEEPER OF THE FLAME by Helen Kooiman (Fullerton, California: Plycon Press, 1973), 236 pages, $7.95.

Reviewed by Robert G. Anderson

The spirit of individual enterprise which is so much a part of our American heritage has never been more eloquently demonstrated than by the creation of Knott’s Berry

Farm. The Boysenberry, chicken dinners, and ghost town of Knott‘s Berry Farm represent a twentieth century family accomplishment unmatched by anything in this era.

Walter Knott, Keeper of the Flame, by Helen Kooiman is one of the most moving stories this reviewer has ever read. It is hard to judge greatness amongst those in our midst, but unquestionably Walter Knott fits the mold. This biography cannot help but give inspiration and faith to all who value individual liberty, and the potential for individual accomplishment that emerges from a heritage of freedom.

The final chapter asks, “What Makes Walter Knott Tick?” His accomplishments as a farmer, entrepreneur, builder, patriot, and philanthropist are legion. But certainly among his greatest satisfactions must be his success as a father. His only son summarizes, “I consider my Dad a great man, but for reasons other than what the general public would consider. He had one purpose and this great motivation. Money doesn’t mean anything to him, but being a great builder did and does…,”

Walter Knott has certainly been a builder. If ever a man began with few of life’s material goods, it was this man. As a fast maturing youngster — his father died when the lad was six — Walter Knott entered the business world selling produce from his gardening ventures. His love of farming led him into homesteading in the Mojave desert, sharecropping for a rancher in San Luis Obispo County, and finally to a partnership in berry farming at Buena Park, California.

The family worked together, Walter, Cordelia, and their four children, and the story of their achievements is one of the most remarkable testimonials to the free economy ever told. It will surely remain as a classic testimonial of what can be achieved by individuals within a free enterprise, private property society.

Perhaps the most fascinating theme of the book is Walter Knott’s recognition of his debt to our heritage of political and economic freedom. Few men have provided a more enduring witness to this obligation than this man. His construction of an exact replica of Independence Hall, and the Liberty Bell which it houses, is detailed fully in the book — monuments to remind Americans for years to come of our heritage of free institutions.

Walter Knott understands the importance of a free enterprise society, and he also recognizes that such a society is being eroded away. The chapter entitled “The Farmer Makes A Speech,” is reason alone for the purchase of this book. It provides an insight into the man as a brilliant philosopher, historian, and devotee of freedom.

When so much is written today of a critical nature about our country and its people, this book stands out as a refreshing change. To know what one man and his family have accomplished when free, gives hope to others, and more reason than ever to preserve the system that made it all possible.

 

AUGUST 1914 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, translated by Michael Glenny (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972) 662 pp., $10.00.

Reviewied by Martha Treichler

It is the underlying message of this book that, for a country to be free, everyone in it must accept moral responsibility not only for what he does himself, but also for what those around him do. This demands an individualism of the sort rarely encouraged by Russian religion and culture.

The state church taught the Russian people to accept and endure rather than to question and to blame; consequently, they had no faith in the power of their own actions to affect their own lives. Religious superstition was resorted to by everyone from the peasants to the aristocracy as a way of avoiding unpalatable facts. One could always say, “We must submit to God’s will,” instead of placing blame where it belonged or accepting personal responsibility.

Then there was the political octopus. Bureaucracy makes people inefficient and negligent because it is inherently unwieldy and subject to corruption and incompetence. As one character says, “Intelligent, practical men don’t govern — they create and transform…”

Solzhenitsyn makes the reader sense the rumblings and awakenings of the revolution. There is, in the university, the optimism, altruism and naïveté of those who felt that getting rid of the Tsar would cure everything. A student declares that “all we need today is an analysis of the contemporary social environment and material conditions…” An older teacher responds, pointing out that this “would be so if the life of the individual were really determined by his material environment.” The teacher explains, “the environment is always at fault, so all you have to do is change it… But there is more than environment, and therefore each individual has, perhaps in spite of his environment, a personal responsibility for what he does and for what other people around him do.”

The social planners of the time were sure they could make Russia a Utopia if only they had power to put their reforms into effect. But Solzhenitsyn has one of his characters say, “The best social order is not susceptible to being arbitrarily constructed… the laws of the perfect human society can be found only in the total order of things. In the purpose of the universe. In the destiny of man.” Therefore, “above all, each one of us is called upon to perfect the development of his own soul.”

Social planners and revolutionists believe otherwise and are, therefore, ineffective. “No revolution ever strengthens a country,” says a father to his radical young daughter. “A reasonable man cannot be in favor of revolution because revolution is a long and insane process of destruction.”

There are somber battle scenes, and the author has high praise for the courage of the Russian soldiers who suffered so horribly and died in such great numbers because of the incompetence of their leaders. But he sees “their passive endurance” as a reason for their not having better rulers. “Russia is doomed to be governed by fools.”

This book, too late for Russia, is still in time for us if we heed its warning. And if we cannot reverse the trend of corrupt bureaucracy by taking personal responsibility, why then, like Russia, we too are “doomed to be governed by fools.”

 

HOFFER’S AMERICA by James D. Koerner (LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company, 1973), 137 pages, $5.95.

Reviewed by Allan C. Brownfeld

When The True Believer was published in 1951, the name of its author, Eric Hoffer, was unknown. Readers of the book recognized, however, that a powerful and original talent had made its appearance and were even more astonished to learn that Hoffer was a common laborer who had been blind in childhood, who had then recovered his eyesight and had proceeded to educate himself entirely by his own efforts.

Now, twenty years later, after six additional books, Hoffer is recognized as a brilliant aphorist and a provocative commentator upon men and events. In this new book, one of Hoffer’s close friends, James D. Koerner, himself a distinguished author, attempts to satisfy the curiosity of Hoffer’s readers as to his current opinion of things — and to stimulate the interest of those who have not yet encountered him. In both of these attempts he is notably successful.

Why, for example, have we not heard more from Eric Hoffer in recent years? The reason relates to the income tax laws and to Hoffer’s feeling that the conduct of the Internal Revenue Service is inherently unjust and tends to stifle all initiative.

Hoffer still remembers with some bitterness how much of the income he earned in his best year, $180,000, went to the government. He states that, “I make more money when I don’t write than when I do.” At the end of that year he had about $11,000 left and he proposed to make it a clean sweep and give the rest to the University of California to establish an essay prize. Now he tries to shield his estate and his family from taxes by limiting his publication to a book every other year. As he puts it, “I am supposed to lay a tiny little egg every two years. I laid one in 1971, so the next one is now 1973.”

Hoffer’s is a firm voice for individualism and for freedom from coercion by the state. As he sees the American past, it was personal liberty — and the heavy burden of work that it imposes on each man — that gave the ordinary American the scope he needed to excel. Whether he used that freedom to build a giant fortune, join a hundred organizations, cut himself off from much of society, or pursue whatever else he had set his mind on, it was the combination of freedom and responsibility that, in Hoffer’s view, made the American achievement possible.

For Hoffer, the freedom to be left alone, to be free of coercion by the state or society, has always been critical. When he first traveled from New York to California as a young man, he “looked around,” as he puts it, “and I liked what I saw. This was a country in which you could be left alone… This country was made largely by people who wanted to be left alone. Those who couldn’t thrive when left to themselves never felt at ease in America.”

According to Hoffer’s theory, the problem of coping with personal freedom is particularly severe in America because personal freedom is so complete. The burden of freedom, and the ways in which people try to cope with it, is a central theme through all of his writings.

Hoffer laments the decline of the work ethic and sees this decline in such phenomena as featherbedding by labor unions, in books full of misprints, in the surliness of clerks. “If we lose the sense of work and purpose,” he says, “we will become a weak nation, a poor nation, and we will cease to be a fighting nation and that will be the end of us.”

The increase in violent crime in the U.S. is, Hoffer believes, the direct consequence of a disabling fear that has overtaken most Americans. He believes that a stable society, like a stable individual, is the product of an equilibrium in which a tendency to crime and violence is held firmly in check by a more dominant force. Weaken or remove that force and evil will reign. In a free society that force is represented by the readiness of the majority to resist and punish the minority who are violent and who want to exploit any sign of timidity or weakness.

Hoffer cites the cliche, poverty causes crime, then comments: “That is what they are always shoving down our throats… Poverty does not cause crime. If it did we would have been buried in crime for most of our history and so would every other nation on earth.” He observes that he has lived for most of his life with poor people who did not commit crimes. “Criminals cause crime,” he declares, “And the minute we let them get away with it, we are going to have lots more.”

Hoffer recalls the occasion when he was a member of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence and a black spokesman appeared as a witness and said such things as, “We are full of rage” and he replied: “Mister, it is easy to be full of rage. It is not so easy to go to work and build something.” When a militant white student would appear to complain about the administration’s abridgement of the right of students to dissent, he would heatedly reply, “It is people like you who destroy everybody else’s right to dissent. We have more democracy on the waterfront than radicals allow on the Berkeley campus.”

To those who ask preferential quotas for minorities he responds that to treat anyone “more equal than equal” is to treat him as an inferior. He finds it astonishing that minorities demanding special attention fail to grasp the elementary truth that they are demanding to be patronized.

The arrogance of American “intellectuals” is a subject which brings forth a vigorous response from Eric Hoffer. To Hoffer, the touchstone of the intellectual is not a passion for truth but a passion for power, especially power over people. The sine qua non of the Hoffer intellectual is his conviction that he belongs to an educated minority whose duty it is to instruct the rest of mankind and if necessary compel them to be better than they are. According to Hoffer, one need not be particularly intelligent to be an “intellectual.” He notes that, “In their hearts American intellectuals have always hated the ordinary man… They have never been able to accept the fact that the riffraff of Europe were able to tame the American continent and build the world’s best and greatest nation largely without the guidance of intellectuals.”

That, of course, is just a tiny bit of Eric Hoffer. His book is certainly a dose of good medicine for America.

 

HOW TO TEACH CHILDREN TWICE AS MUCH by Allan E. Harrison (New Rochelle, N. Y.: Arlington House, 1973), 153 pp., $6.95.

Reviewed by Melvin D. Barger

It’s not hard to build a case proving that the teaching efficiency of the public school system is low. Some of the system’s most outspoken critics have been teachers, although teachers’ remedies usually turn out to be a self serving mixture of higher pay for themselves, increased Federal aid, lower teacher-pupil ratios, and an expansion of teacher certification programs. The hard pressed taxpayer is becoming skeptical about these nostrums — or at least fed up because so many educational resources are producing so little in the way of results.

Allan E. Harrison is a maverick, a lone teacher who apparently thinks that present teaching resources would be more than adequate if properly used. He was almost forced out of the profession by the boredom and tension he found during his first few days in the classroom. Almost as a means of self preservation, he improvised a teaching method using capitalistic principles in the classroom. It was to get him in hot water with his superiors later on, but he accomplished three things that have eluded other teachers in today’s heavily certificated systems. Classroom discipline problems became minimal, teachers and students both came to enjoy the classroom work, and students made amazing academic progress that was measurable by improvements in standard achievement tests.

Harrison launched the system by organizing the class as a miniature economic community. His class created a monetary system, with each student being “paid” for academic performance and also fined for breaking classroom laws and for other acts of negligence. The students formed companies to offer the specialized services needed in the classroom. A bright student in arithmetic, for example, was the proprietor of the academic company in that subject, and could earn money by coaching the slower pupils. Other students became bankers, clean-up inspectors, school supply vendors, and class time schedulers. The system became so detailed that even trips to the restrooms and drinking fountains were scheduled on a commercial basis.

Although a few students balked at first, the Harrison system brought an almost magic transformation in the classroom. For the first time, Harrison‘s sixth graders were part of the action, with responsibilities of their own for the way the class was conducted. They made their own laws and determined fines for infractions; thus, violations became crimes against the entire class rather than games to outwit the teacher. Each student could move ahead at his own learning pace, and could wheel and deal in companies in much the same manner as traders in the commercial world. Some of them soared ahead to become junior tycoons.

Harrison used every problem as an opportunity to teach students something about the larger society. He permitted individuals the luxury of going into bankruptcy, but stipulated that they lost rights and privileges in the process. There were penalties for cheating and stealing. When students became destitute, a nonprofit foundation was formed to dispense welfare. Later on, the “indigent” students were subsidized with monies raised by a graduated income tax. This paved the way for a discussion about the competence of government to solve social problems, with the students finally deciding that individual responsibility was best in the long run. Then the class bully was permitted to become a Communist dictator. He promptly froze all bank accounts, confiscated property, and abolished the voting franchise. He was soon ousted in a bloodless coup.

Convinced that his system was working, Harrison obtained enthusiastic endorsements from his students’ parents and a few professional colleagues. But he encountered resistance from superiors and others in the schools. It seemed that practical, workable ideas are not always acceptable in the public system. Instead, professional educators prefer innovations which offer “a lot of smoke and no fire.” Here and there, however, a few teachers used Harrison‘s system and reported remarkable improvements in classroom morale learning achievements.

Harrison has other ideas that go against the tide; for example, he doubts that low teacher-pupil ratios have much to do with teaching efficiency. He would introduce a merit system that would actually encourage larger class sizes.

The key to Harrison‘s system and educational philosophy is the rediscovery and teaching of self-reliance, and he obviously believes that every child already has a large capacity for learning that can be released under the right conditions. Harrison‘s system and the emphasis on self-reliance are not likely to win many converts among educators, but it’s something that parents and other laymen can keep in mind when educational problems are being discussed. The most neglected teaching resource in every school is the students’ own desires to learn and to shoulder individual responsibilities. This priceless resource has been there right along, and can be used whenever somebody has the courage to give children adult responsibilities. Harrison developed a system that does this, and there are probably other methods that also work. The question is, Does anybody in the public school system except Harrison and a few other mavericks really care about developing genuine self-reliance in children?

 

HOW TO TUTOR by Samuel L. Blumenfeld (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1973), 298 pp., $9.95.

Reviewed by Melvin D. Barger

How To Tutor is a related book, in the sense that it deals with further remedies for the educational deficiencies of the public school system. The book is a detailed guide for tutors to follow in teaching children the Three R’s. A large part of the book consists of lessons that must be learned in an orderly manner. The tutor is given practical instructions for the teaching of each subject, and is reminded of the importance of learning basic rules and other fundamentals that are being neglected in current instruction books. Blumenfeld believes that the new teaching methods harm the child by not giving him a good foundation in the alphabet, simple arithmetic, and cursive writing. He points out, for example, that arithmetic has become submerged in the teaching of math; yet it is arithmetic, not higher mathematics, that most people will need throughout their lives.

According to Blumenfeld, the important ingredients of good tutoring are patience, an understanding of the young mind, and a knowledge of the subject you are teaching. He believes that parents with only a high school education can become good tutors if they are willing and able to follow his instructional materials. Any community has large numbers of persons who could serve as competent tutors, even without formal teaching experience.

But Blumenfeld believes that faulty teaching methods in the public schools are causing children to learn some bad habits. He says that children who cannot learn via the deficient instructions in school classrooms tend to blame themselves for not learning; they are in no position to question the instructional methods being used by their teachers. Thus, if they fail to learn, they blame themselves, and the schools reinforce this view by insisting that the fault lies with the child, not the teaching methods. But almost any child can be motivated to learn once he is outside the classroom with its attendant fear of failure, boredom, and confusion. With good tutoring, the child no longer has the fear of being thought stupid, and he is not forced to move on to the next lesson

Blumenfeld’s book is well-organized and presents a logical sequence of instruction in all three general subjects. It will be a valuable guidebook for the inexperienced person who wants to become a part-time tutor. Persons who read the book should get a copy of The New Illiterates, also by Mr. Blumenfeld, in order to understand the shortcomings the author finds in present instructional methods. Some teachers may feel that Mr. Blumenfeld’s criticisms of the public schools go a bit too far. But every elementary school student should master the basic lessons covered in Mr. Blumenfeld’s book. If children aren’t learning this fundamental material in the classroom, something is wrong, and it is ironic that private remedies such as tutoring are needed to make up for costly deficiencies in the public school system.

 

OUR ENEMY, THE STATE by Albert Jay Nock (New York: Free Life Editions, 1973, $2.95 paper).

Reviewed by Edmund A. Opitz

When Albert Jay Nock wrote Our Enemy, The State, in 1935, he was bucking the tide, and he entertained no false hope that his words would have any immediate effect on the course of human events. But his devotion was to the truth, and he was used to being out of step. So, with clinical detachment he dissected the drift away from social power toward state power, fully aware of his thankless task. Why, then, the painful effort of writing a book? For two reasons, Nock replied.

The general reason is that when in any department of thought a person has, or thinks he has, a view of the plain intelligible order of things, it is proper that he should record that view publicly, with no thought whatever of the practical consequences, or lack of consequences, likely to ensue upon his so doing. He might indeed be thought bound to do this as a matter of abstract duty; not to crusade or propagandize for his view or seek to impose it upon anyone — far from that! — not to concern himself at all with either its acceptance or its disallowance; but merely to record it. This, I say, might be thought his duty to the natural truth of things, but it is at all events his right; it is admissible.

The special reason has to do with the fact that in every civilization, however generally prosaic, however addicted to the short-time point of view on human affairs, there are always certain alien spirits who, while outwardly conforming to the requirements of the civilization around them, still keep a disinterested regard for the plain intelligible law of things, irrespective of any practical end. They have an intellectual curiosity, sometimes touched with emotion, concerning the august order of nature; they are impressed by the contemplation of it, and like to know as much about it as they can, even in circumstances where its operation is ever so manifestly unfavourable to their best hopes and wishes. For these, a work like this, however in the current sense impractical, is not quite useless; and those of them it reaches will be aware that for such as themselves, and such only, it was written.

There are two political institutions, Nock held, government and the State. Government is an agency of society limited to negative interventions aimed at protecting individuals against force and fraud; governments are established to secure persons in their rights and to punish any trespass on them. The State, on the other hand, intervenes positively in society; it dragoons people into the chase after various national goals, wars on poverty, provides welfare, pays out subsidies, offers cradle to grave security, and so on.

Nock was opposed to the State system, whatever name it assumes, but he was not an anarchist. He had no naive opinion of human nature and would have never subscribed to the view that men and women, free of all law and law enforcement, would settle down to live happily ever after in some latter-day Garden of Eden. Keeping government strictly limited and decentralized, he believed, is the way to preserve our liberties.

The State being what it is, it matters little who holds office and wields its inordinate powers. This truth is dawning on some persons today; but the general public, however disillusioned with politicians, still has faith in politics as the means of curing all the ills of society and improving the quality of life. Hopefully, people will someday realize that what counts is the overextension of State power, not who holds public office. The important thing is to refute statist ideas, whatever their guise, and Nock’s book is a big gun in our arsenal.

Those for whom this book was written are scattered amongst us in sufficient numbers to warrant this excellent reprinting in paper of Our Enemy, The State. It was eleven years after the first appearance of this book that Caxton republished it. Arno Press brought out an edition in 1972; and now a group of young people embarked on a fresh publishing venture chose this as their first title. They have added an index and include a Nock essay, “On Doing the Right Thing.” The book has an Introduction and a Bibliographical Essay by Walter E. Grinder; somewhat tendentious, but spirited. On the whole, a neat package.
 


  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.