History of Schools

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Teaching / Society & Its Pathologies / Social Order / DeCentral / DeSchool /
commissioned 1971, @ K. 1997

2011 11 05 I’m gradually importing all InfoAll posts to pKnatz blog, reconstructing Knatz.com and coordinating with all pk domains. For the moment I leave the source file at InfoAll, not deleting the interim file till all graphics are also imported andthe whole of the blog is successfully transferred (and checked).
My Free Learning article was commissioned by EdCentric Magazine and published by them in 1971. It contained my history of schools, not all of which Edcentric printed. In 1997 I republished the piece online using the whole manuscript. The early 2000s saw it moved to InfoAll.org, but 2007 saw the fed censor one of my five domains but in fact knock down all five (as well as destroy my life and my business).
Temporarily suture some points here:
The university was once the only place were scholarship could exist independent of the Church. Now there is no place (but poverty) where scholarship can exist independent of the far from scholarly or truthful government.

Today’s universities can discover truths that the government will sponsor the search for. So could medieval priests discover truths that the church was looking for.

Both church and state have been replaced today by a single megalithic kleptocracy. Different states today resemble each other far more than they differ. If a modern equivalent to the late Medieval-early Renaissance university is ever to develop I fear it will have to wait till satellites can exist in space with independent economies (and at distances which would render kleptocratic hegemony pound-foolish per penny).

FLEX and FIX could have fixed everything, but the public declined the invitation to provide the infrastructure that could have given real meaning to our bullshit words about freedom, independence, education, and learning.

Here follows the original module:

Medieval monasteries were populated by Monks among whom vows of celibacy and poverty were common. Their task was to act as librarians and publishers for the sacred texts of Christendom. They housed the old books and scrolls and labored to copy the most important. Any new church got its new Bible from these scribes. Only the religious arm of society had a literature. The secular arm, in contrast, had records. It’s literature would soon come into being. For the old literature, kings and magistrates kept priests around to access it where appropriate. (Records of course are far older than literature: as least as far as written literature is concerned.)

The Bible was the Latin Bible, the Septuagint was a relic even the priests had forgotten. The Church had become cozy with its unchallengeable authority. Obviously it didn’t want any Martin Luthers stimulating any questions via original readings. Why obvious? Because the medieval Church made the study of Greek a capital crime!

Humanist was the name applied to those who defied the danger and studied Greek anyway.

More and more ancient texts were being unearthed. Aristotle, Ovid … For centuries the monks’ pornography had been pretty much limited to the Song of Songs and to what they themselves doodled in the margins of their illuminations. With Ovid, they had stories of guys sneaking under the floorboards of the latrine to squint up at the girls washing themselves. Some of the monks preferred the wisdom of Aristotle to that of Solomon. Once found, those texts couldn’t be lost again.

The monasteries split. Those which kept and copied the Bible also kept the name. Those which kept and copied the Aristotle were called universities. If you had a copy of Aristotle, and word got around, you were invited to bring your copy to a university and to lecture there. That meant: you sat in a room with your copy, and you read it. Aloud. Slowly, so those interested could gather around you with their scribal materials and copy, word by word.

Thus, a principle function of both monastery and university was publisher: the one was a sacred publisher; the other was a secular publisher. Much of our distinction between sacred and secular comes from that distinction, imagined to be real at the time, between Bible and Other; Christian and Pagan …

Before the Renaissance there were very few secular monasteries or universities. With the new plenitude of old manuscripts in the Renaissance, the universities burgeoned. Many of the modern characteristics of universities were established at that time.

There’s a precedent to the “lecturing” part so familiar that it’s seldom recognized. In synagogue, the rabbi reads aloud from the Torah to the assembled men. Women can listen through a screen. In Church, the minister stands at the lectern and reads the week’s lesson from the Bible. Once upon a time, he was literate; you were not. More importantly, he, the Church, had the book! you did not! In other words, the priest was the guy with the scroll; the congregation was the shlubbs without the scroll. Possession was the entire law.

In the young universities, those who gathered around the books were capable of copying as well as listening. Each then produced a copy and would go to lecture with it at another of the burgeoning universities.

Again: the universities functioned as curator and publisher. There was no pretense of superior understanding. Lecturing, as you may see in the Latin root, was reading, not explaining.

In Chaucer’s day, by the end of the Fourteenth Century, a book you didn’t copy yourself cost as much as a good middle class house. By the next century, the invention of printing, brought the cost way down. Now the humanists were already poor whether or not they had taken vows, the poorer since they had forsaken advancement in the Church. The monasteries had gardens which produced food if not money; the universities had left that part behind. (The monasteries were part parasitic on the Church (the Church parasitic on the public); the universities were entirely parasitic. Anything that doesn’t find its own food, me, for example, is a parasite.) And so printing brought the secular scholars face to face with starvation. The publishers were making and selling the books. Anyone with a house could now house a library. The universities were bereft of their function. So they started explaining and charged tuition for the privilege of listening. It was no longer the case that the lecturer had the book that you wanted and you had to put up with him to get it; now you already had the book. The lecturer’s survival depended on your swallowing his new claim to wisdom.

For the early Renaissance,
the universities were the ideal technique for
taking a scare resource and making it abundant.

In the early universities, the lecturer was your shortest path to “Aristotle.” In modern schools, the teacher stands between you and Aristotle. (If the teacher has even heard of Aristotle.)

Contemporary schools are the ideal technique for
taking an abundant resource and making it scarce,
a cheap resource and making it expensive.

Now you have the book. You know how to read. But both you and employers are discouraged from believing you to be capable of understanding the book until it, or a certain number of other books, have been explained to you by an accredited member of the wisdom guild.

The universtiy … so untouched by the tarnish of reality
Stephen Hunter

Buckminster Fuller said “Do more with less.” Buckminster Fuller showed us how to do more with less. Ivan Illich’s (combined with my subsequent) designs for networking could have done more for people in 1970 than governments, churches, and schools combined: and for no more (in the way of hardware and software) than netflix.com now uses to distributed DVDs. (Of course we didn’t have contemporary software or hardware, but we understood what was needed and were ready to write what was necessary: (if my associates could have written Fortran for IBM, they certainly could have written a peer matching application for all of us together with a community Rolodex-with-a-feedback-feature).

FLEX, as I pointed out at CIDOC to an Illich suspicious of Fuller, could do more with less.

(I followed Illich “because” he embodied Fuller (because he embodied God). (Not infallibly however; Illich seemed to mistrust Fuller as representing materialism! Mechanism!)

(I saw Fuller as god the maker, the creator, the architect. I sensed that Illich saw Fuller as a forger of idols.)

Anyway, FLEX offered to do more with less. The public showed a firm preference for Church-State-School-…: with doing ever-less-and-less for ever-more-and-more.

(Don’t forget that it was for Fuller that I had written The Model! Release, which I wrote for Illich, hasn’t yet impressed even Illich fans (has anyone read it?), whereas the Model has heard sucked breath and been grapevined for four decades.)

In an oral culture, the less experienced, the less skilled gather around the more experienced, the more skilled, to learn. No, not during the hunt, not while gathering the tubers or tilling the soil; in the evening, around the fire, or at Sabbath or some other seasonally rhythmic meeting. The boys learn from the men, the girls from the women, the men learn from the chief, the child-bearing women from the menopausal veteran, and so forth.

As detailed above, school structure has this history. Now I emphasize that the phenomenon has sub-speciated since. The Renaissance was birthed by the interested gathering around new and rare resources. Before long, other forces and interests came into play. When Shakespeare wrote of a Hamlet, understood to be a figure from the past, having been sent abroad (from Denmark to Wittenberg) to school, his contemporaries recognized the practice.

(English aristocrats had no need to go abroad: it’s the wogs who have to do that. There were plenty of schools for aristocratic brats right there in England. The minor aristocrats might have to leave their county; the major aristocrats could practically walk. Scottish George Gordon, once he came in line for the Barony of Byron, was sent to Harrow: a sizable hike from Scotland.)

These schools were called “public,” meaning they were for the future rulers of the public (and also for future literate advisors to the rulers: Chaucer, and Polonius, and Horatio could go too. What happened to them there would be exposed to a horror-stricken middle class by the Nineteenth Century. They were frozen, starved, beaten … Lord Byron complained and joked endlessly about his “kibes.”

More than a little something of these “public” schools was inherited by the public schools of the United States. Not much of Virgil may have gotten through, but the birch rod came unobstructed.

OK. Monks got kibes as part of their Christian asceticism. Humanities scholars inherited it. Poverty. Celibacy. So what’s going on? English aristocrats were hardly celibate or impoverished. Ah: while they were young, they were. English law did not bring income even to the heir by primogeniture till he came into his majority. At home in the castle there were maids all over the place. Not much privacy, but lots of nooks and crannies. The whole rest of the world was filled with peasant girls. Once at his helm, the castle did become private: Everybody out! Except you with the canapé tray and you with the soup tureen and you with the raven flax and décolletage. Et cetera.

Like dear St. Francis of Assisi I am wedded to poverty, but in my case the marriage is not a success.
Oscar Wilde, after jail, in broken health

I nest this mini-history within the others for a reason. I have a hypothesis about such schools. In simple, it is:
The English punished their aristocrats in advance for the crimes they would commit one they achieved their majority. For the period of their adolescence, the silver spoon was taken out of their mouth and the birch rod was laid across their back. Remember the male youth of Romeo and Juliet?
Sixteen years old, armed, and murdering each other in the street? The Duke banishes Romeo. How many of the other murders were even mentioned? How about blood shed by the inevitable “pain-in-the-ass innocent bystanders”? Absolutely: never punished? never even mentioned!I feel sorry for all of us in overpopulated, over(mis)organized society (kleptocracy): but I feel especially sorry for the majority on the receiving end of the birch rod who never get handed the sword or the castle. Punish the aristocrats, fine; but why punish the whole population with instruments of torture designed for the lords? Public school.

The immediately above was inserted this 2000 02 24. I sat down with three ideas and have written only one. When the others reoccur to me, I’ll return. I can’t ask them to come now: I’ve got to get back to the most important of all things: Macroinformation. [With Macroinformation.org censored, see my blog of the same name.]

By the Twentieth Century, with the development of paperbacks and the existence of some acreage still to be deforested, a book became, for the first time in the history of the species, cheap entertainment. But some monastic habits find vestigial survival in the schools, most notably the habits of poverty and chastity. Lord Byron’s matriculation at Cambridge might as well have been a circus parade—some students today drive their ‘Vettes to campus. But most are borrowing money to stay poor. Their expectation of course is that this prolonged dependency will be handsomely compensated in future.

Though student marriages have increased over the decades, the expectation of student chastity wasn’t blown apart until the 1960s.

All societies educate their young. Illich wrote that schools are the reproductive organ of society. “The rationally tested truth of things” is one of the most minor aspects of the meaning of “education” and may be near to wholly absent in what is meant by the term in most schools. Our concern is to pass on both our beliefs and our techniques. The beliefs include superstition, credulity, time honored lies, and so forth. The techniques are our arts and crafts, our technology. There’s seldom either committee or budget to review the quality of the technology. It’s normally more “art” than science.

2002 05 30 I’ve long been proud of my illustration above of school’s purpose in making abundant information scarce but I now feel shamed that I’ve still not expressed another characteristic of schools with equal simplicity: schools are authority based, not fact based. The inquisitor’s version of things is immediately, unchallengeably recorded as official; not the heretics. The graduate’s thesis is on file in the library; not the thesis the faculty ganged up on. It’s pure kleptocracy: “history” is recorded by the thieves and murderers (who always record it that they’re “peaceful and law abiding” (or whatever fiction is politically fashionable in that era).

2000 02 13 I return here to emphasize in this module something implicit around the site that I don’t think I’ve stated baldly enough yet. Calling the Middle Ages the Dark Ages may over-simplify complexes of things but there’s still something to it. Christian Europe was very far from being the world’s intellectual or social leader however much it claimed to be the spiritual leader of the sub-celestial world. Neither was China at that time. At least for the latter case, Jared Diamond explains why: they were too successful as a monopoly. Progress comes from difference, competition, contention. I say (and imagine that Diamond has or would also) that the same applies to Medieval Europe. Christian Europe had turned into an intellectual vegetable. Power and intellect don’t go together. (One reason I’ve never striven for power.) It was the “two literatures,” however factitious the distinction, that spurred the Renaissance.

Now consider this: I say that the American world has returned (as power always will) to a mono-culture. I say that the universities are the mono-culture medium, just as the Church was. The universities do not stand apart from the government and haven’t for at least fifty years now. (Good God, no: they get funds from the government. Of course there’s a pretense of standing apart, but how real is it? I’ll come back and develop this section further. Before I leave though let me establish this topic: how rationally structured are universities? They’re still medieval. Galileo couldn’t show his satellites of Jupiter to any public, not even to his supposed peers; only to a bunch of cardinals. They united against him and his evidence and that was that: at least temporarily. (Neither the professors nor the cardinals were likely to have imagined that centuries of people would ever inspect their doings.) I started to pave a segue to my points about Scholasticism and nominalism in Shakespeare’s sonnets and the university cardinals slammed the door hard. Like an idiot, I thought I could go around them: direct to the public. (Who else was I going to appeal to? another cardinal?) I learned the hard way that there is no public. Only a bunch of morons waiting to be told what’s what by the mono-culture of university/government/press.


What’s the opposite of diversity?




Indeterminacy Politics



1998 10 19 It’s around a year now that I’ve been promising to get back here to add more on economics and education. At the moment, I don’t even remember what I primarily had in mind. It’s a different tack that returns me to this page today. I’ve traced the history of the university. I’ve highlighted the crafty way in which the original institution has reversed the spirit of its function. Now I ask:
What was the Identity of the university?
What is its present Identity?

Yale University was founded by the volunteer faculty assembling themselves and pooling their private collections of books onto one common table. Clearly Yale, at least at that moment, was in the humanist tradition described above: the university was its library.

The university is resources: human and symbolic, records and expertise with those records.

In the 1950s both the Democratic and Republican parties were soliciting Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for president. He was finessed into the presidency of Columbia University for practice. My Russian literature professor told the following delicious story: Ike held his first meeting with the faculty. He said he intended to be a hands-on president. He’d be accessible: have an open-door policy. Any employee of the university would be welcome to come through that door at any time, he said.

A professor emeritus stood. He told Ike that that sounded very nice but reminded him that he was addressing the faculty. “There’s only one employee of the university present in the hall: and that’s you! We are the university!

That’s not too far removed from my Yale story: the faculty is clearly an important part of the resources. By the latter part of the 1960s the students at Columbia made headlines by vociferously claiming themselves to be an integral part of the university. My fellow students of the 1950s wouldn’t have dreamed of such a claim.

But: by the 1950s, Columbia University had accepted a cyclotron: not as a gift from alumni, not purchased from income from endowments by the trustees, but from the United States government. Were there any strings attached? When has the government ever given anything without strings attached? Ike won. When the students acted up, the administration, not the faculty, called in tactical police.

The day Columbia accepted a cyclotron from the fed
was (still another) beginning of the end of the free university:
and only sadder days have followed in our silly period of ahem history.

Columbia is a private institution, older than the United States. It’s original name was King’s College, the land grant coming from authority in England. Its present land holdings include much of the most cherished parts of New York City: downtown, midtown, Morningside Heights, and uptown. A school song goes:

Oh, who owns New York?
Oh, who owns New York?
Oh, who owns New York?
The people say.
Why, we own New York.
Yes, we own New York.

C – O – L – U – M – B – I – A !

Did the rebellious students have a right to trash faculty offices and papers? Certainly not. Did the students have a title with their name on it to show the police before bringing claim against them for trespassing? No. Did the administration? I don’t think the courts would want to face this one.

The university is an idea. That’s the title John Henry, Cardinal Newman‘s book on the subject appears under. The idea was clear in the early Renaissance. The idea was clear at the founding of Yale. Today it’s a muddle.

One thing’s for sure: whoever can call the police and have them come has a claim to practical ownership, whatever the centuries of tradition and papers say.

How many more “favors” from the government have slipped into habitual acceptance? (Habitual acceptance leads to dependency.) More than we could count. Untraceable.

How independent do the independent universities remain? I have my answers. If we heard all the answers, we’d have a real muddle.

T. S. Eliot said it:This is the way the world ends.
Not with a Bang but a whimper.

Related Pieces
being added to pk blogs to recreate censored domains
Crichton, State of Fear, on universities

Capital Crime
2000 01 24 Only just discovered a serious error in the version of this piece I’ve had mounted now for years: I’d written that the Church was ignorant that there was a Greek version of the Bible. I should have said that it was more like they’d forgotten. The Church honored Saint Jerome for doing the translating. But I can’t overstate how unhappy the Church was with the prospect of any new Saint Jeromes.

Professor: Ike’s library
My professor also recounted the tale of the first party he attended at Ike’s President’s Mansion on Morningside Drive. He was bored. He drifted into the library. Ike’s books were floor to ceiling. It was the kind of library you see in the movies, where you need a ladder rolling from a track to get at anything. My professor noticed all the vellum bindings, the gold letters, the titles proclaiming the Complete Works of This One and That One. “Ah, Pushkin” (or some such favorite), he muttered.
But when he went to slip the volume from the shelf to his hand, it was no dice. The Complete Works of Pushkin turned out to be one long panel of tooled leather adhered to a wooden dummy. He poked further. There were no books in the President’s library! It was all dummies! All for show!

Onondaga County press room

Onondaga County press room
Are the “books” fake?

What did it actually show though to someone who looked?
Ten years ago my poverty after writing my third novel landed me once again in Florida where I wouldn’t need much in the way of shelter or clothing: just food and electricity for the Toshiba T-1100. (I had to write!) I soon learned that the people at the local library didn’t know much about books either. I fled up the road where I’d heard there was a college.
Every ten or fifteen years I try to reread all of Shakespeare. I never succeed, but it’s OK if I get through six or eight before other things distract me. At least I have the sense to choose first the plays I know least well. Why read Lear for the eighth time if I’ve only read Timon once? (Attendance at stage renditions run in similar proportions. Yes, I have seen Timon actually performed. Once. New York. Shakespeare in the Park. ’60s-ish. Could have been the ’70s.)
Anyway, 1989: I’m due. Hmm. Measure for Measure.
There’s a weak spot to shore up. I find I don’t need permission to enter the stacks at the college library: stacks are all there are. I find the English literature section quickly enough, all half a row of it. Not like the Columbia Library where you can get your week’s exercise browsing the English literature rows just once. But at least there’s a complete Shakespeare. And there’s Measure for Measure.
Not the variorum edition I’d like. It’s an edition I don’t recognize. No vellum. No gold letters. But neither is it a wooden fake. Eighteen-something or other for the publishing date: over one hundred years old. Never heard of the editor. Or the publisher. “Donated to the South Florida Community College” some dozen years earlier is rubber stamped inside the cover. It’s only then that I notice: the pages don’t flip. The pages haven’t been cut! The text is in there, in its womb, as it were.
I kind of like the continental habit of cutting the pages as you read. Every Frenchman has a letter opener as an essential tool for reading. No one has ever read any pages of this book beyond the fly leaf! In a hundred years! And it’s the college library’s only copy! This library’s Shakespeare is a virgin!
I investigate further: the majority of the series, book after book, first quire to last, had its hymen intact! Furthermore, it was the only complete Shakespeare there.
This is a college?
Now what has that word come to mean?

1998 10 23 Come to think of it, it got worse. Some time later I was back at that library to review a proposition by Wittgenstein. I found nothing. The reference librarian was being less than helpful when she suddenly perked up. “Oh, here’s comes the head of the science department.” I transferred my inquiries to him. “Who?” he asked. “Ludwig Wittgenstein.” “Who’s he?” “Only the most important philosopher of the Twentieth Century.” He glowered at me. “That’s a matter of opinion.” Acid spit between his teeth. How could Wittgenstein be important if this “Chairman” had never heard of him?
“It certainly is not a matter of opinion.” My son seethed with indignation on hearing the story. “Completely apart from tracing the influence, all you have to do is quantify the references by other philosophers. It’s a statistical certainty.”
But of course this head of a college science department was merely bluffing, masking his ignorance with the familiar know-nothing cliché. But the bluff was stupid. Hadn’t he picked up that the person standing before him wasn’t himself totally ignorant on the subject? There is something worse than ignorance: arrogant ignorance.

Who owns the school?
A neighbor turned out to be the widow of the retired head of the music department at some university in Greensboro, NC. In I forget what context I told her my professor’s Eisenhower story, fully expecting a resonant listener. I was wrong.
“That’s absurd,” she said. “The faculty thinking they were the university. The very idea!”
I’ve never had any truck with any state college or university. I’ve matriculated and taught only in private, independent colleges and universities. FLEX was the ultimate independent institution. It was deliberate as well as fortunate.
I never had any idea how fortunate until conversing with my neighbor. She knew nothing of the relevant histories. Despite all the revolutions of this millennium, by its end, we’ve turned back into serfs. Owned by the king.

If you don’t know Wittgenstein, Daniel Dennett provided a good short overview for Time‘s The Century’s Greatest Minds [March 29, 1999, p 88-90].
The ignorant community college “Chairman” reminds me of the retarded brother of a guy my sister went out with in high school. That family was sitting at the diner table. The father, a high school teacher, math or history or something, mentioned Leonardo. “Who’s that?” the dumb younger brother asked? “Why Leonardo was a genius,” replied the father.
The son/brother “retard” was quick with his refutation: “He can’t be: if he were a genius, he’d be famous!”
How can you beat that logic?
When the Beetles were at the height of their fame, when Paul was quoted as having said they were more famous than Jesus, the Beetles were still not the world’s most famous musicians: Oum Kalthoum was.
You never heard of her? You don’t know anyone who ever heard of her? Irrelevant and immaterial. Try asking in Egypt. Try asking in Saudi Arabia. Try asking in a place where even politics ground to a halt when she sang on the radio. Take a world-wide survey.(2011 11 05 I’ve now found her recordings on spotify.com!)
I’d like to know how typical this “science” professor’s ignorance was: Dennett comments that “Unfortunately, Wittgenstein’s work has not been appreciated by many scientists.” [p 90]

2011 11 05 Whew! I’ve been moving K. materials here to pKnatz blog, recreating K. & other pk domains, but here I don’t yet delete the source. For the moment the graphics are still there, not here. And I have a lot of editing to do, imaging resizing, resourcing, before holding my breath and pulling the plug.

Russian Literature Professor

“Professor” was this instructor’s role, not his rank: one of the might as well be infinite throw-away academics the universities so abuse. I loved this guy, I loved the way he loved to roll the Russian around in his mouth, on his tongue. Was he Russian? Absolutely not, not by appearance anyway: pure WASP. Last time I saw him he and his family were riding the subway together, all dressed up, his little blond daughter picture perfect in her Sunday-go-to-meeting outfit. The wife was something too. As for the guy, I think I heard him say something about writing, finding a way to just write. I don’t remember his name so I can’t tell you if anything ever got published, noticed. I wish he knew my stuff, me in the same boat.
I recognized him on the subway, did he recognize me? Not that I could tell.

Remembering that guy I think of two other things:
1) I received from him the impression that he was introducing me to the authors on the reading list: Gogal, Larmontov, Pushkin … even Dostoievsky, who I already knew to some extent. (Never mind Tolstoy, I already felt close to Tolstoy.) In English classes I never felt that Prof. X was personally introducing me to Melville or to Trollope.
2) A downer: I wrote something for him involving Berkeley’s image of a tree falling in a forest that I thought was far and away the best school paper I’d yet produced; but I failed to snare this instructor with my poetry. So I showed it to the smartest guy I’d ever met: missed him too.
Did I think there was anything lacking in my inspiration: no: just two guys I liked fell out of my favor. My friend though, years later, fell out of his chair laughing when I read him something else of mine: Election Time!

Deschool Menu


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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