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The Jupiter is for Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, which is what I was listening to while reading this morning–and on a Saturday and not a Sunday, too.

Mostly I only take Sunday off, and not even Sunday when I’m in the middle of a book, either writing the first draft or cutting it. 

But this year, I’ve completed not one but two major projects–a Gregor Demarkian due out for 2013, and the first Georgia Xenakis.  I am feeling deserving of a little self indulgence. 

To put it mildly.

But writing for me is what writing always is, and I do always come up against the problem that I cannot write at all when I’m reading certain books. 

Towards the end of any project, I start to get nervous about reading books I haven’t read before, because I just don’t know if I can work when I’m reading them or not.   I therefore tend to go back to things I’ve read before and know will let me work.

These things do not make a whole lot of sense as a group.  I am not entire sure why these books hang together, or what they have in common beyond the fact that they are books I can read while I’m writing.

All of P.D. James is on that list, and so is all of Anne Perry.  Stephen King is not.  The Loeb translation of Plato is.  Burning Questions works.  So does any Perry Mason or Agatha Christie. Only Gaudy Night, out of the Dorothy L. Sayers, makes the list.

It’s like I said.  There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.  I’m sure there’s an organizing principle in there somewhere.  I just can’t find it.

This time, when I finished Burning Questions and still had a week of writing and cutting to do, what I wanted to read was The Feminine Mystique.  For one thing, I know I can work through it.  For another, the theme fit with Burning Questions.  For a third, it had been nearly ten years since I had read it the last time, and that’s always an interesting comparison.

As it turned out, this was not something I was going to be able to do.  It was one of those things.  I had two copies of it in the house, and I could find neither one of them.  I searched for five days, and then I recognized I would have to give up and find something else.  A friend sent me two copies, and my younger son went to the library and ordered me one on interlibrary loan, but I had to read something right away.

What I finally chose to read was something else I hadn’t reread in a few years, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. 

This is not, by the way, what I want to talk about today.  I had the same problem with the Bloom that I always do.  For one thing, I can never quite figure out what he wants.

But the bigger deal was this–I finished reading that just yesterday afternoon, and when I did, I went looking for some decompression literature, something to be reading when I’m not sure what I want to read next, or when I need something short to balance something long, or whatever.

My usual choice for that kind of thing is Sherlock Holmes–and I want to stress as strongly as possible that if you’re looking for a good complete collection of those stories to actually carry around and read, they’re available in a Barnes and Noble classics edition in two volumes that’s inexpensive, well put together, and arranged chronologically as originally published.

This time, however, Holmes was not what I was looking for.  All I really need for these periods are collections or short stories or articles, so that I can read to the end of one or two and then put the book away to go back to later. 

This time, what I picked up was that enormous collections of essays on education starting with the ancients that I’d first tried a bit of about three years ago.  I’m pretty sure I reported on some of that here–essays and excerpts from longer works by everyone from Plato to the day before yesterday.

When I got to the book this time, the first section I was faced with was by Erasmus, and the second was by Martin Luther.

Erasmus is one of my favorite people in history, and Martin Luther is a man whose work I do not generally like at all.

I say that last with reservation, because not much of Luther’s writing is available in English, and my German wasn’t ever up to it. 

But what I have read of Luther, I have not been happy with, and far too much of it has been concerned with polemics against “learning” that sound a lot like modern-day anti-intellectualism. 

It’s one of the commonplaces in the modern day secular movement that the Catholic Church repressed learning and Luther freed it.  I even met a number of people–and one in particular–who were convinced that the Reformation must have come before the Renaissance, because the Catholic Church would never have allowed the latter.

The section on Luther in this book, however, contained an instruction to the civil authorities in Germany, most of which was concerned with two themes:

1) That learning and study should be encouraged, and pagan learning should not be entirely proscribed–only Aristotle, who was full of error and evilness and other nonChristian and not good things.


2) That municipal schools should be set up in every town and city to ensure that every boy and girl should have at least the rudiments of an education.

Now, that the Protestants (unlike the Catholics) insisting on universal literacy for all classes of society and for girls as well as boys was not news to me.  If you’re going to insist on sola scriptura, and on the principle that men did not need the mediation of priests to understand it, then you’re going to have to make sure that all your people can read at least well enough to read a Bible.

What I found much more interesting about this selection, though, was the reason Luther thought it necessary and advisable  for municipalities and churches to set up such schools.

Yes, it would insure that all children would learn to read, even children of poor parents who could not afford to provide tutors or to send their children to private schools with tuition fees.

But the real reason was this:  Luther did not believe we could trust parents to make their children literate, or to properly instruct them in faith and morals.

Parents, apparently, were, to Luther, mostly neglectful, self-concerned, and heedless of their children’s well being.  They were also woefully ignorant, and so mired in sin that they couldn’t provide their children with decent examples of how to live a Christian life.

All this was especially interesting in comparison with the Erasmus I’d just read, which assumed that parents wanted the best for their children, but weren’t sure how to provide it–and a little advice from someone who knew would be all that was necessary for parents to choose the best path, no coercion by the state required.

Which bring me to my question of the day.

The idea that parents are incapable of caring decently for their children and must be forced to by the state has been around a long time, starting at least with Plato, if not before.

And it’s with us still, in the entire “best interests of the child” standard in family courts.

Such ideas have not, however, been universal. 

The question becomes, then, what it is that makes this particular idea so attractive to so many people.

And no, “power” is not the answer.

Seductive as power is, not everybody who craves it craves it in this particular form.  In fact, most people who are after power want it in other ways and in other guises.

I’m tempted to say that this sort of thing crops up  most commonly among people who do not themselves have children, or who have at most one or two–and that seems to hold down to our present day.

Luther, however, went on to have children of his own, and for all I know might have an entire pack of them.

And out of this idea, we have the New England common schools and the directives of most Calvinist societies that all children spend some time in them, which was not altogether a negative thing.

I think it’s the impetus that puzzles me the most–if you’re not interested enough in children to have your own, why are you so passionately interested in what happens to other people’s?

And yes, I know, there’s the power thing.

But as I said, there are lots of other ways to get power, and most people aren’t interested in this one.

So I’d like to figure out what’s going on with the people who are.

Written by janeh

August 11th, 2012 at 9:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Jupiter'

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  1. Hmmm. So our discussion of child-rearing and education is given the name of the god who slew his father–and whose father devoured his children–but it’s pure happenstance, not pertinent to the discussion? Are we absolutely sure?

    There are always two sets of reasons for pursuing a policy. One is that the proponent of the policy believes something to be true about the world, and has devised the best policy he can in response. The other is that the proponent desires the policy to be implemented for some other reason, and the assessment of real-world conditions, whether true or not, is only there to buttress the case for the desired policy.

    When we discuss, not my parents, your parents or Joe’s parents, but “parents” we’re into generalizations, which is a word we use for something we know to be sometimes untrue, but which we do not wish to call an error or a lie. Some parents mean the best for their children, and don’t even need Erasmus’ nudge. Some parents are the worst things that happen to their children. It would be interesting to know more about Luther’s and Erasmus’ parents, and where Luther was in his own parenting when he wrote the essay.

    And the very absence of detailed knowledge moves the discussion toward the effects of the policy. I think I’d keep in mind that Erasmus was, at most, a reformer–a critic within the system–and the educational structure which produced him was fine by him. Luther was a revolutionary, out to change the relationship of church to state and our understanding of the relationship of God and man. I think most revolutionaries are rightly distrustful of parents, who are after all, the products of the system they mean to overthrow. And Luther has a added justification: he believes that parents are mired in sin because he believes everyone is.

    To make my own generalization, those ambitious for power may choose education because it has great long-term potential, or because it is the best or only avenue open to them. If Jane is right that the theoretical advocates have few children or none, and if I’m correct in my understanding that the great theorists seldom or never taught in an elementary or secondary classroom, it could also be that they’ve seriously overestimated the ability of professional educators to mold a generation. My grandmother used to say she began marriage with no children and three theories of child-rearing and ended up with three children and no theories. John Dewey clearly stopped before he ran out of theories.

    But when I said there were two sets of reasons, I didn’t say that those sets of reasons were mutually exclusive. Happy is the man or woman who honestly believes that the best policies for the nation or the world are also those which work out best for him and his. In that sense, the difference between Columbia University and a third-rate madrassa in Pakistan is not so great as one might wish: both present only the “facts” which support certain policies congenial to their instructors, and which logically imply great power and influence for their graduates.

    The serious reformer or revolutionary, faced with a system which the best-educated assure everyone is the best possible one, and which he himself believes to be deeply flawed, has very few options. If he is educated himself to the same standard, he can insist that everyone is out of step but him, but even if this is true, the argument is seldom convincing. Or, demonstrating that the best-educated are supporters of a flawed system, he can denounce “learning.” This won’t win him any points among the elite, but they weren’t going to support him anyway.

    Listen to what a man says–but pay careful attention to what he does. A man who denounces “learning” while supporting universal literacy has come down heavily on your side. The woman who supports “education” without trying to change non-performing schools–yes I read the article–is not really on your side at all. Never pick the rhetoric over the action.

    Too long a response–but a critical topic.


    11 Aug 12 at 1:05 pm

  2. Okay, I finally realized what Jane’s reading habits reminded me of. What with “can work while reading this but not that, need filler until the next work-state-appropriate book gets here” etc.

    (And this is said with great affection, not criticism, as I find this somewhat endearing)

    It reminds me of my sister, who as a young girl (4 or 5) insisted that nothing on her plate touch anything else. Peas must be strictly isolated from mashed potatoes, chicken must touch neither, don’t jostle her plate or her elbow or watch out!!!

    Finally, someone thought, in the middle of such a squabble, to ask her WHY she was so insistent on the Division of Food. She looked at us all like we were mentally defective. “Because it all goes into different drawers in my stomach!”

    Oh, of course. So there. We could not convince her otherwise, either. Not for several years.

    So I have this picture of the inside of Jane’s head, all divided into drawers where different kinds of reading fits it. Maybe shelves. Yeah, that’s it, shelves. And you can only stock one kind of shelf at a time, and sometimes, the shelves are closed because they’re being used for Work.


    11 Aug 12 at 10:51 pm

  3. I generally hate pop-psycological explanations of things, but didn’t Luther himself have a very unhappy childhood, with a very poor relationship with his father? Might that explain his distrust of families?

    I keep meaning to find time to read a proper, i.e. reliable and properly researched biography of Luther because I’ve only read bits and pieces so far, and he was such an influential figure. I’ve also gotten the impression that he really didn’t start out as a revolutionary; he wanted to be a reformer, but between the RC church and various German princes, some of them more interested in using religion to advance their political standing than in reforming it, things kind of got out of hand.


    12 Aug 12 at 10:36 am

  4. The only thing that sticks in my mind about Luther (apart from his reforms) is that he married a nun. This was the salient fact that our Catholic religious teach (a De La Salle brother).

    Scandalous! :-)


    12 Aug 12 at 9:54 pm

  5. I think that was practically required for some early reformers! For some reason, they couldn’t, or at least often didn’t, marry any woman they took a fancy to; she had to be an ex-nun! I think this had the side-effect of giving the ex-nun a home if, after she left the convent, she found her birth family unwelcoming.

    I knew a couple which was ex-brother and ex-nun respectively. They seemed to have a happy marriage and lots of children – one of which later converted to Mormonism, which must have been a bit of a surprise.


    13 Aug 12 at 7:05 am

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