Thursday, May 5, 2016

Horace Mann, Champion of Public Education

It is a bit ironic to be posting this article in praise of public education from Japan, where I have come to help celebrate the centennial of Seinan Gakuin, the private school system founded by Baptist missionaries. Nevertheless, I am serious in what I write here about public education and its great nineteenth century champion, Horace Mann.
Some of my best memories from when I was a high school student are of going to nearby Maryville, Mo., for music contests. They were held at the school whose official name since 1972 has been Northwest Missouri State University.
One of the things I remember seeing on that campus as a high school student was a building bearing the name Horace Mann Laboratory School. At the time I didn’t know who Horace Mann was, but I later learned that he was one of the most important persons in the development of public education in the United States.
That school was founded 110 years ago, in June 1906. Interestingly, Mann was born 110 years before the beginning of that educational institution in Maryville that bears his name.
Born in Massachusetts on May 4, 1796, from ages ten to twenty Mann had no more than six weeks’ schooling during any year. He made use of the town library, though, and at the age of 20 he enrolled at Brown University, graduating in three years as valedictorian. He went on to become an outstanding educator and politician.
After graduating from Brown, Mann practiced law before winning a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he served from 1827 to 1833. Then he served in the Massachusetts Senate until he became the head of the nation’s first board of education in 1837. In his biography titled Horace Mann (1974), Robert B. Downs called Mann “a highly effective missionary for universal public education.”
In addition to the school in Maryville, Mo., there are more than 70 other Horace Mann schools scattered across the nation.
There were also people named after him. For example, recently I posted an article about Julian Bond (see here). His father’s name was Horace Mann Bond—and he also became a distinguished educator, serving as the first African-American president of Lincoln University (in Penn.) from 1957 to 1972.
Often called “the father of American public education,” Mann championed six innovative educational principles:
(1) the public should no longer remain ignorant; (2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public; (3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds; (4) that this education must be non-sectarian; (5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society; and (6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.
Perhaps the most controversial of Mann’s principles was that it be non-sectarian. That idea was opposed by clerics who thought that education should include religious indoctrination—something that was being done widely at the time, and which R.J. Rushdoony (introduced recently here) and his followers think ought to be done in home schools now.
Mann became the first president of Antioch College (Ohio) in 1852. There he employed the first woman faculty member to be paid on an equal basis with her male colleagues. Mann’s commencement message to the graduating class of 1859 included the words, “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” 
Those words are still repeated at every commencement ceremony at Antioch College—and, indeed, they are words well worth considering.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

In Memory of Dr. Nagai

Some of you readers of this blog know Kathy Laffoon, my oldest daughter. Kathy and her family moved to Liberty in 2008 when she took a job as a gifted education teacher in the Liberty Public School. In the last few years she has been working with many of her middle school students doing National History Day (NHD) projects—and in recent years I have been a resource person or a mentor for some of those students.

This year two of Kathy’s students teamed up to do a NHD project on Dr. Takashi Nagai, who died 65 years ago on May 1, 1951.

I enjoyed meeting with those two boys a few times in connection with their project, and I was impressed to see how interested they were in learning about Nagai. They made a webpage (link to it here) in order to introduce him to other people.

Some of you may remember my mentioning Dr. Nagai in articles I posted on this blog last August. (See here and here.) He was a doctor who was teaching at the medical college in Nagasaki, Japan, at the time the atomic bomb was dropped on that city on August 9, 1945.

Nagai’s research specialty was radiology, and he had already contracted leukemia from his exposure to radiation. And then he was seriously injured by the bomb.

In spite of his illness and injuries, though, Nagai worked tirelessly to give medical assistance to many who were injured by the explosion and also to those who suffered long term health problems because of what came to be known as “radiation sickness.”

From July 1946 until his death, Nagai was confined to bed. He spent much of his time writing, and his best known and most powerful book is Bells of Nagasaki. He finished writing that book in 1946 but did not get permission from the American Occupation officials to publish it until 1949.

The English translation of Nagai’s book was published in 1994. It was done by William Johnston, an Irish-born Catholic missionary who arrived in Japan just in time to attend Nagai’s funeral in 1951.

The title of Nagai’s book refers to the bells of Urakami Cathedral, which at the time was the largest Christian church in Asia. Nagai was a member of that church, and, of course, grieved greatly at its destruction. It was very near the epicenter of the atomic explosion, and some of its remains can still be seen in the Nagasaki Peace Park.

In 1947, local Catholics built a simple two-tatami (about 36 sq. ft.) teahouse-like structure for Nagai. He named it Nyokodo (literally As-Yourself Hall,” after Jesus words, Love your neighbor as yourself”).

While bed-fast there in what he considered his hermitage, Nagai was visited many notable people, such as Helen Keller in 1948. The following year he was also visited there by Emperor Hirohito and by Cardinal Gilroy, as the emissary of Pope Pius XII.
Dr. Nagai with his children in Nyokodo
Many years ago I went with some of my Seinan Gakuin University students to visit Nyokodo, which with the addition of a library had become the Nagasaki City Nagai Takashi Memorial Museum in 1952. My visit there was before the English translation of Nagai’s book was published, and I hadn’t taken the time to read it in Japanese. Consequently, I didn’t appreciate it as much then as I would now.

If you would like to read more about Dr. Nagai, I recommend Paul Glynn’s fine book A Song for Nagasaki (1988), which Kathy’s students found to be very helpful in preparing their National History Day project.
Here is the link to a 5-minute radio interview with Dr. Nagai that was broadcast nationwide in Japan on Aug. 9, 1950. The interview is in Japanese, of course, but there is a brief English explanation worth reading. And those of you who can’t understand Japanese might still enjoy hearing his voice.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Reluctantly Remembering Rushdoony

It was 100 years ago that Seinan Gakuin was founded as a small school for junior high boys in Fukuoka City, Japan. June and I have just arrived in Japan to see old friends and to participate in the centennial activities of Seinan Gakuin. I will share ightmore about those events next month.
It was also 100 years ago, on April 25, 1916, that a baby was born in New York City and given the name Rousas John Rushdoony. His parents were recently arrived Armenian immigrants, having fled the Armenian Genocide of 1915. His ancestors had lived for generations in a remote area near Mount Ararat.
R.J. Rushdoony followed his father and many of his ancestors into the ministry. He was ordained by the Presbyterian Church USA in 1944 and later transitioned to the more conservative Orthodox Presbyterian denomination.
In the early 1950s, Rushdoony became a reader of, and then a contributor to, the Christian libertarian magazine Faith and Freedom, which advocated an “anti-tax, non-interventionist, anti-statist economic model” in opposition to FDR’s New Deal.
Rushdoony moved to Los Angeles in 1965 and founded the Chalcedon Foundation. The monthly Chalcedon Report, which Rushdoony edited, began appearing in October of that year. In the early 1970s his daughter Sharon married Gary North (b. 1942), an economic historian. Rushdoony and his son-in-law worked together, and later separately, on what is known as Christian Reconstructionism.

Rushdoony’s major work, and the foundational book for Reconstructionism, is his 890-page book The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973). His key ideas of theocracy (“government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided,” according to Merriam-Webster) and theonomy (rule by God’s law) are found in that book.
Rushdoony’s ideas are also known as Dominionism, the belief that Christians following God’s law should have dominion over civil affairs. As puts it “Dominionists are, for all intents and purposes, the literal Christian equivalent of Islamists demanding Sharia law.”
“Dominion Theology” is succinctly explained in Sara Diamond’s authoritative book Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (1995). (See especially pages 246-9.)
A recent and also notable book on the subject is Michael J. McVicar’s Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (2015). In it also there is a brief section titled “Dominion Theology” (pp. 197-201).
As noted in these two books, Rushdoony’s greatest influence was in the late 1970s and 1980s. I briefly wrote about him and his influence in my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism (see pp. 48-51). That influence was seen in his contact with Pat Robertson (and his appearances on Robertson’s “700 Club”), with Jerry Falwell, and with Francis Schaeffer, who, to his credit, later repudiated the Reconstructionist movement.
While his influence may not be as great now as it was 30 years ago, neither is it negligible. Among current right-wing politicians, perhaps Sen. Ted Cruz has, partly through his father, been most influenced by Rushdoony’s view of Christianity.
In Christian Nation, the dystopian novel that I wrote about on Feb. 14 (see here), Rushdoony is mentioned repeatedly.
So, because of his historical significance as a “mover and shaker” of the Christian Right, R.J. Rushdoony is someone who needs to be remembered on this 100th anniversary of his birth. But I remember him reluctantly because of the justifiably negative reactions toward the kind of Christianity he espoused and for his failure to have a more enlightened view of God, the Bible, and the responsibility of Christians in the world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Off to Japan!

This month I have read a most interesting book: Japan Restored: How Japan Can Reinvent Itself and Why This Is Important for America and the World (2015) by Clyde Prestowitz, who is the founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute. He previously served as counselor to the Secretary of Commerce in the Reagan Administration.

In the very first sentence of the book, Prestowitz tells about first seeing Japan from aboard the SS President Cleveland in 1965. That grabbed my attention, for June and I along with our two children at the time boarded that same passenger ship in San Francisco and first saw Japan from its deck on September 1, 1966.
In contrast to that leisurely 13-day trip across the Pacific Ocean, on this coming Sunday (April 24) June and I are scheduled to board a flight from Los Angeles and to arrive in Japan 11 hours and 50 minutes later. This will be my fifth trip back to Japan since retiring in 2004, and it will be a bittersweet time.
We are eagerly looking forward to being back in Japan, which was our home for 38 years, and to seeing many friends, several of whom we first met in 1966 or in 1968. But, sadly, this may well be our last trip there.

Our first two nights will be spent in a hotel north of Tokyo—and not far from Fukushima, the main region damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. We will transfer airplanes at Narita Airport in Tokyo on the 25th (because of the time differences, we don’t get to Japan until Monday afternoon in spite of it being only a 12-hour flight) and fly into Sendai Airport, which was damaged by the 2011 tsunami and had to be closed to commercial flights for just over a month.
We are going to Sendai mainly to visit dear friends, Sumio and Yoko Kaneko. Rev. Kaneko was our pastor for several years after we moved to Fukuoka City in 1968. For more than 40 years now I have considered him one of my best friends anywhere in the world—but we would hardly have been friends as kids 70+ years ago.
Kaneko-sensei is a few years older than I, and he has told me how he and his school classmates in the early 1940s were taught to hate Americans. In every country, people are taught to hate the enemy during wartime.
Mrs. Kaneko was born in January 1935 in Ashiya, Japan, a town between Osaka and Kobe, less than 200 miles east of Hiroshima. Three years ago she wrote a fifty-page booklet telling about her girlhood in wartime Japan. Much of her book tells about being sent with other children to a “camp” in the mountains where they would presumably be safer than in the highly-populated area on the seacoast where they lived.
I greatly enjoyed reading her fascinating story, and I wondered why we had not asked her back in the early 1970s to share her experiences.
The main reason for going to Japan at this time is to participate in the centennial activities of Seinan Gakuin, the school system where I was a professor for 36 years and also an administrator for many years before retirement.
I’ll likely write more about Seinan Gakuin next month, but in the meantime perhaps some of you might like to read some of Prestowitz’s book that begins with a vision of Japan in 2050. I hope his vision comes true—and that many of Seinan Gakuin’s graduates will help make it come true.