Guest Opinion: Truth vs. Dogma and the Pre-School Education Debate
the dogma that we pass on to our children is indeed more important than simply 1+1=2. The question becomes what dogma do we want passed along, and who do we want to do the passing?
God gave parents the divine commission to educate and form the consciences of their children, which includes passing along Christian dogma. If the State decides to recognize homosexual "marriage", for example, then that becomes State dogma, and it would be incumbent upon State educators to pass that dogma along to children in schools.
RICHMOND, VA (Catholic Online) - In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced his plan to plan to provide free, high-quality preschools across the country. The President said, "Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road." The President wants a nation already in debt up to its ears to "invest" what the liberal Center for American Progress undoubtedly underestimates would be roughly $98 billion over 10 years so that they will not be disadvantaged "for the rest of their lives". This is reminiscent of a speech he made in March of 2009 before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where he said that, "For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly $10 back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health care costs, and less crime".
Unfortunately, that fantastic claim is based on a couple of tiny studies of programs decades ago that have not been replicated. In fact, his own HHS completed a study on the impact of Headstart programs in which taxpayers have invested over $150 billion, and concluded that, "the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole." In other words, the "investment" has paid off like that in Solyndra.
So, why would President Obama have a lasting interest in preschool education if it has been shown to produce no tangible benefits? The answer may be in the intangibles that are passed along with "education". One of those is dogma.
"But no", you say, "I remember the President's 2009 Inaugural Address when he said, 'On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.' Our President wants to do away with dogma."
We have heard that before, too. Here is an excerpt perhaps some of my readers may remember: "I envisage the future, therefore, as follows: First of all, to each man his private creed. Superstition shall not lose its rights. The Party is sheltered from the danger of competing with the religions. These latter must simply be forbidden from interfering in future with temporal matters. From the tenderest age, education will be imparted in such a way that each child will know all that is important to the maintenance of the State."
"As for the men close to me, who, like me, have escaped from the clutches of dogma, I've no reason to fear that the Church will get its hooks on them. We'll see to it that the churches cannot spread abroad teachings in conflict with the interests of the State. We shall continue to preach the doctrine of National Socialism, and the young will no longer be taught anything but the truth." That is from Adolph Hitler's Table Talk as recorded by Martin Borman.
Both men seem to want to do away with a terrible thing called dogma. To understand what is being said, we need to know what dogma is. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines dogma as:
1a : something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet
1b : a code of such tenets
1c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
2: a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.
To look at the first definition, we see in a and b that a dogma consists of one or more tenets, which begs the question, what is a tenet? Again resorting to the dictionary, we see that a tenet is: "A principle, belief, or doctrine generally held to be true; especially one held in common by members of an organization, movement, or profession, e.g. the central tenets of a religion". So, a tenet is simply a belief held in common by some group of people, and a dogma is a set of these beliefs.
Note that definition 2 of dogma says that it is doctrine or a body of doctrines. If we look at the definition of doctrine, we find the following:
1:archaic : teaching, instruction
2a : something that is taught
2b : a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief : dogma
2c : a principle of law established through past decisions
2d : a statement of fundamental government policy especially in international relations
2e : a military principle or set of strategies
Thus, dogma and doctrine are essentially synonymous. In the definition of dogma, however, we find definition 1c, which says that it is a set of beliefs "put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds". This pejorative meaning is the sense in which both President Obama and Adolf Hitler used it. If it were true that dogma was a term strictly reserved for untrue beliefs, then who wouldn't want to eliminate it and to ensure that our children do not fall prey to it?
Dogma is almost always used in the negative sense of 1c, being without adequate grounds. Steve Jobs, founder of what is now the most valuable company in the world, Apple, worth over a half trillion dollars, advised people, "Don't be trapped by dogma-which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice." Jobs was famous for "thinking outside the box" creatively, but the dangerous implication that is implicit in the nihilism seen in much liberal thought is that whatever has gone before is to be disregarded and considered at best as irrelevant, and at worst evil. Religion is the usual straw man here.
It is interesting that the word doctrine, which is synonymous with dogma, is rarely seen or used in this light. Definitions d and e are instructive - they both pertain to government. It seems implicit that a government doctrine cannot be "put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds" as could a religious doctrine. There have been many discussions about the application of the Monroe Doctrine, for example, but few except perhaps for an extreme leftist like Noam Chomsky, would be willing to label it as completely wrong. This is not the case, however, for religious beliefs.
The problem is that definition 1c, dogma as being "put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds", and definition 2, dogma as "doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church", are confused and equated by an increasingly atheistic society. Looking back to the definitions it would appear that the difference between how dogmas or doctrines, which are simply the beliefs of a group of people, are seen is a simply a function of what group of people hold those beliefs. To paraphrase what is commonly heard from relativists, one man's dogma is another man's doctrine. If I agree with the beliefs of a political party, then it is well-considered doctrine that should be reinforced. If I disagree, then it is outmoded dogma that should be expunged.
At the heart of the word dogma is the concept of truth. The assumption is made that there IS such a thing as truth, and that it can, and has been, revealed to man by God. That assumption alone is enough to raise the hackles of many liberals today because they believe that everything is relative, and "truth" is not universal but only truth to an individual or perhaps to a society. This notion is intellectually fatuous, because it is immutable and eternal truth that you were born, for example. That is not just your opinion, it is objective fact. Similarly, the Church believes that there are immutable and eternal truths that have been revealed to us by God; that there are three Persons in God, that Christ died for us, that He arose from the dead, that He founded the Church, and that He instituted the sacraments. The full meaning of these truths may continue to be elucidated, but the truths themselves will not change.
These truths, and the dogma they comprise, are not the whim of a capricious ecclesial authority either. The Church has an infallible teaching authority from God which preserves the Church from error. This claim has been a bone of contention with Protestants, but is only common sense. If Christ established his Church on earth, would he not have wanted it to remain free from error? He had scarcely risen from the tomb before heresies began to arise. A quick look at the thousands of Protestant denominations, each with different tenets, is sufficient to demonstrate the results of a lack of a Magisterium and teaching authority.
The root of all this is the human need for a frame of reference for our lives. Due to our nature, we need both an intellectual and a spiritual basis from which to operate. We are born more or less a tabla rasa, as St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed, not with some Platonic pre-formed mental programming. Therefore our minds, and our consciences, need to be instructed. Education could be termed non-spiritual dogma. Dogma in that sense is the accumulated wisdom of the ages. Dogma in the religious sense it carries a transcendental meaning of being instilled with eternal truths, which is spiritual dogma, of divine origin.
The intellectual barrier to this rather obvious observation is Descartes' concept of reason. For classical Greek philosophers, reason was linked teleologically with the natural order, in the sense that everything had a purpose. Reason was considered a higher order of activity than other aspects of human behavior because it linked man with the divine order of the cosmos itself, or to later theologians and philosophers, God. During the Enlightenment, however, the metaphysical understanding of what it meant to be a human being began to change, and the teleological understanding of the world was questioned. Descartes rejected Plato's idea of humans as "rational animals" and said that they were simply "thinking things", not much different from rocks. He suggested that there was nothing that differentiated human nature from the rest of creation, and that any knowledge outside of that was subject to doubt. Thus any sort of transcendental truth is not admitted, because it cannot be known outside the individual's personal experience. That notion still undergirds much of modern thinking, and its widespread acceptance explains why the "Enlightenment" is given that title.
The fact of the matter is that dogma, or doctrine, or whatever you want to call it is simply a collection of beliefs held by a group of people. If we talk about a doctrine such as the Trinity, that is a religious tenet. If we talk about the right to freedom of speech, that is a political tenet. In America, both are held by large numbers of people, and those groups used to overlap to a large degree. That is becoming less and less the case.
Any education must have a set of tenets, or a dogma/doctrine that underlies that education. One cannot study geometry without believing the Pythagorean Theorem. One cannot study chemistry or physics without believing Boyle's law. Beyond the physical sciences, however, the relationship between these tenets and truth becomes questionable. Can one understand where we came from without believing in Darwinism? Can one understand economics without subscribing to the big government ideas of John Maynard Keynes? Can one understand human society without seeing it as the dialectic of class struggle?
Regardless of what a group of people believe, those beliefs are going to be transmitted to the tabla rasa's of our children. Thomas Dewey, called the Father of Modern Education, believed that the transmittal of those societal beliefs were perhaps more important that the reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic that he was ostensibly teaching. "The mere absorption of facts and truths is so exclusively an individual affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat." (The School and Society, 1899) The "social gain" was to mold those young minds along the lines of the educators' dogma. Our children are going to receive dogma no matter what the President says, because it is inherent in education. If one looks education as a pyramid of ideas, the foundation laid early on determines the child's receptiveness to succeeding ideas throughout his lifetime.
In his musings, Hitler was candid enough to say that when he got rid of the religious dogma, he would, "preach the doctrine of National Socialism, and the young will no longer be taught anything but the truth." For him, Nazism was the doctrine/dogma that would replace the religious dogma he would eliminate. In other words, he would simply substitute one dogma for the other, and that is perfectly reasonable if we understand dogma to be simply the beliefs underlying education. President Obama did not state what would follow once he, ". proclaim(ed) an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics." We can only guess.
God gave parents the divine commission to educate and form the consciences of their children, which includes passing along Christian dogma. If the State decides to recognize homosexual "marriage", for example, then that becomes State dogma, and it would be incumbent upon State educators to pass that dogma along to children in schools. If children have been properly formed at home, have had the necessary foundation laid, such a State dogma could be resisted. If the theory of materialistic evolution is taught rather than the idea that life came from a divine Creator, a child with a properly formed mind will at least have the knowledge that there are other perhaps more logical answers to where we came from.
So, Dewy was quite right; the dogma that we pass on to our children is indeed more important than simply 1+1=2. The question becomes what dogma do we want passed along, and who do we want to do the passing?
Dr. Frederick Liewehr is an endodontist who teaches and works in private practice. He converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in 1983, having been drawn ineluctably to Christ's Church by the light of Truth. He is a member of St. Benedict parish in Richmond, a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus and a Cooperator of Opus Dei.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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