The home educating dads who gather Friday before work at Panera Posse pulled out a standard-issue brown napkin and a high-quality 99-cent red pen last week and scratched out a list of favorite books.
The list lacks the foresight of a carefully thought out enumeration, such as of books you’d want to have if you were stranded on an island a la Robinson Crusoe.
To prepare for an interminable solitude of that sort, one would come up with a much less flashy list that might contain perhaps the holy scriptures or Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible or perhaps Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. (Two of us agreed later that a massive book on God’s sovereignty and the glories of his unmerited grace would keep us in good stead if beach combing, coconuts and naps under a primitive lean-to constituted our daily routine.)
Our list is of a lighter sort. It jabs. It pokes. Provisional, it emits sparks. One oddball submission — by computer programmer John Kozlowski — could have ignited a gust of indignation. But we are big boys, and its defense was so clear that we sat without protest, and I scrawled it my red ballpoint on the tabletop.
I would hardly call Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto an edifying text. But it appears on our list because it makes visible the nature of spiritual and cultural warfare between the City of God and the City of Man.
“What it has done for me is to show me contrast,” John says. “Rather than see just one extreme of the biblical mandate on one side and the culture on the other, I can see where the culture can go by seeing an extreme in the Manifesto *** . That gives me a much wider spectrum, because the culture is somewhere in the middle. *** A more accurate spectrum is God’s mandate on one side and the Communist Manifesto on the other, with the culture placed somewhere in between.”
The manifesto was published in German in 1848 by Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels, and proposed public schools, a central bank with inflationary currency and centralized control of life in the name of the working class. It is the handbook of anarchists and Soviet revolution, and allows for psychological retraining, Gulags, government-run companies and other blessings.
James Hindman, who works in an insurance office, is an active Scout leader and has six children, offered these:
➤ Dumbing Us Down, by John Taylor Gatto. Mr. Gatto is a former New York teacher of the year whose poetical, lyrical prose penetrates to the heart of the oppression of the industrial school model and has an effect of liberating the mind and opening new vistas of thought and action. This book is a thumbnail of a longer work, cited below.
➤ The Law, by Frederic Bastiat. A slim, famous volume by a free market Frenchman, a book that has carrying power today for its sharp critique of political power and the welfare state.
➤ Basic Doctrines that Primitive Baptists Believe, by Zack Guess. A churchman finds doctrinal encouragement in a text outlining Reformation-era distinctives of his denomination.
Chris Davis, a traffic engineer at a local company, counts among his favorites:
➤ World War I, The Rest of the Story and How It Affects You Today, by Richard Maybury. “Although I don’t agree with some of his conclusions, his model of history, including ‘the ten deadly ideas that lead to war,’ is very thought provoking and has modified my position,” Chris says.
➤ The Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis. “Often when I think of some aspect of the Christian life, I will be reminded of a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia series that wonderfully pictures the characteristic of which I was thinking. One of my favorite sections is from The Horse and His Boy when Shasta learns that the lions he believes have pursued him the entire trip are really just one lion, Aslan, who has been protecting him and orchestrating his travels.”
John also offered:
➤ John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin is essential reading for every protestant, whether he is a member of the Church of God or the Southern Baptist Convention. People object to Calvin because he magnifies God — but takes away too much from the goodness, holiness and moral ability of man. In our day of socio- and psychocentric Christianity, such a displacement is called for.
➤ Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
➤ The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto. This is a major study of American history and unlocks the mysteries of the factory school, the centralized educational bureaucracy that Americans have unwittingly adopted as local, friendly, helpful and part of the family. Here are two paragraphs from Chapter 15, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Schooling.”
The sixth lesson schools teach is intellectual dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. Good people do it the way the teacher wants it done. Good teachers in their turn wait for the curriculum supervisor or textbook to tell them what to do. Principals are evaluated according to an ability to make these groups conform to expectations; superintendents upon their ability to make principals conform; state education departments on their ability to efficiently direct and control the thinking of superintendents according to instructions which originate with foundations, universities, and politicians sensitive to the quietly expressed wishes of powerful corporations, and other interests. For all its clumsy execution, school is a textbook illustration of how the bureaucratic chain of command is supposed to work. Once the thing is running, virtually nobody can alter its direction who doesn’t understand the complex code for making it work, a code that never stops trying to complicate itself further in order to make human control impossible. The sixth lesson of schooling teaches that experts make all-important choices, but it is useless to remonstrate with the expert nearest you because he is as helpless as you are to change the system.” All its chapters are available at lewrockwell.com.