Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Thought Patterns

Thoughts come first. If we entertain them, they turn into attitudes and actions. Thoughts are also contagious. When they spread, they permeate a people and transform them. The United States came to be after philosophers like John Locke catalyzed it. “All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” These thoughts were Locke’s and the country they produced a century hence prospered until conflicting thoughts from Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and others slowed it down. During the last few years of my teaching career I emphasized how thoughts shape America, for well or ill.
Study of such thoughts and actions has shaped me as well. I’ve come to favor some philosophies over others and that affected how I viewed history and, in turn, it affected how I taught it. I strove for objectivity but felt compelled to disclose my biases to students early in the school year. No thoughtful person is completely objective and students should be aware of their teachers' biases. Because I wrote a weekly column published in local newspapers, my biases were out there anyway. I told them I was a Catholic Christian, conservative in both my religious and my political views. Then I taught them what the political spectrum was, then reduced it to one page and gave it to them for reference.
It also became necessary to disclose that I believed in objective truth - that there was indeed an objective reality that we humans perceive imperfectly. When I paused to feel out how that concept was sinking in, I realized before very long that I was preaching to the choir. Students not only understood, but wondered why I would take time and trouble describing what they considered so obvious. Of course there was such a thing as objective truth. They knew it intuitively. They were eighth graders and hadn’t been to college. This concept hadn’t yet been purged from their minds by pseudo-intellectual, relativist professors. They were uncorrupted.
It soon became apparent that, rather than debate the question of whether objective reality existed, my job was to prepare them for encounters with instructors for whom the only truth was that there was no such thing. I started by writing the word “philosophy” on the board, then asked them what it meant. Students offered answers like “The study of thinking” and such. Then I’d tell them to look up a formal definition, whereupon they’d tell me the definition: “the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.”
“Okay,” I said. “Whoever wrote that definition has the same perspective we have - he or she believes in objective truth, right?”

They got that.

“If we didn’t believe there was such a thing as objective truth, we wouldn’t bother to pursue it, would we?”

Some looked at me as if they were disappointed that I’d be wasting their time teaching something they already knew, and I should have realized they’d be bored. “Bear with me, please,” I’d say. “America’s founding fathers believed in a Creator who had a purpose, however mysterious that might be. Eighteenth and nineteenth-century Americans did too. They believed they had a God-given right to pursue happiness as individuals, and they could practice any religion they wished in that pursuit, unimpeded by government and America prospered. The 20th century can be viewed as one in which that gradually changed.
My curriculum was twentieth-century American History, civics, economics, and current events. It was my intention that one of the over-arching themes during the year would be how seeds of conflicting philosophies begun in the nineteenth century, like Darwinism, which postulates that everything just happened for no purpose; Marxism, which declares religion as an opiate of the people; but especially nihilism, which purports that nothing matters; and relativism, which denies objective truth. All these would become dominant in the late 1900s when my students were born. As such thought patterns prevailed, Americans changed, and so did their country.
I was unsure at first whether fourteen-year-olds would be able to comprehend such concepts, but I needn’t have worried. They ate it up. When I “came out” as a person who looked at our existence quite differently from the relativists whose thinking dominated our age, most understood. Showing them how I thought, and why, seemed the most honest way to approach my job.
My column was, and still is, controversial - being as I am a minority conservative in a very blue state. Every week or so there would be a letter to the editor in one of the local papers critical of my views, or of me personally. Every couple of months I’d read a particularly vitriolic letter to each of my classes and watch their eyes widen. “Doesn’t that bother you?” a student would ask.

“At first it did,” I’d explain, “but after a year or so I started looking forward to letters like this because when I’m getting flak, I know I’m over the target.” Then I’d tell them the superintendent directed me to tell my students “from time to time” that it was all right for them to disagree with my views or what they thought my views might be - just like the letter writer did.

Inevitably, a student would say: “We already know that, Mr. McLaughlin.”


Laurie from Bartlett said...

ahhh...if only there were more like you Tom! Breath of fresh air!

maynard thomson said...


Read your column in this morning's CDS. Thought it excellent, a line to pursue.


Ol' Hickory said...

Tom, this country was philosophically inspired by Francis bacon more than anyone else. And it was certainly not a "Christian" nation. That is all pr and bs.
Anyone who doesn’t believe that the Founding Fathers rejected organized religion should read the Treaty of Tripoli (1797), which was passed unanimously and signed into law by President John Adams. Article 11 of the Treaty reads:

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

The evidence and writings of the Founding Fathers themselves demonstrates that they were Deists. However, many of them also had ties to Satanism and the occult.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Many of the founding fathers were deists, yes, and some were Christians. The deists believed in a Creator from Whom we get our rights. President Obama epitomizes our age when he recites lines from the Declaration of Independence about our unalienable rights and omitting those three words "by our Creator."

I know nothing of founders' ties to the occult.

Anonymous said...

To reject Darwinism should be punishable by refusing to give people treatment from all of the medical advances his thinking has led to. One can be highly religious and still "believe" in evolution. To reject the objective truth of his ideas is to be a hypocrite.

Tom McLaughlin said...

What do you mean about "medical advances his thinking has led to." Example?

I taught a two-week "beginnings" unit which compared and contrasted various creation stories from different cultures and religions with both the "Big Bang" theory and Darwinian evolution. Sometimes we did formal debates where students picked sides and went at it.

They always asked me during the process what side I was on and I promised to tell them at the end of the unit. My position was/is a blend of Creation/Evolution, which happens to be consistent with Catholic teaching.

I never denied evolution, but I mentioned flaws in the argument that the Big Bang and Evolution theories were exclusive explanations for how everything began and came to be as it is now.

Most students, though, had already reasoned out those flaws by the time I told them my position. The only thing they never seemed to notice was the lack of meaning in the purely secular Big Bang/Evolution position.

Anonymous said...

My apologies. I misunderstood your criticism of Darwinism.

As for the medical advances, Darwin's revelations led to a drastic change in how biologists viewed the world and nature. Without an understanding of evolution, our knowledge of heritability and genetics would be flawed. We would not truly understand how to harness viruses and bacteria, or understand why these same microbes can evade our defenses. These ideas not only form the foundation of modern biology, they actively help scientists and researchers in their pursuit of further advances.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Interesting information. Thanks.

Looks like viruses and bacteria are evolving faster than our thinking is, as they outpace our ability to control them. Hopefully, that's just temporary.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Darwin have a death bed confession where he denounced his theories? Or is that just bs?

Tom McLaughlin said...

I've seen claims, but I don't think they have much credence.

Anonymous said...

I'll be the first to say this isn't a reliable source, but if these guys think that's fake, it probably is.

Q said...

I've never been told anything about gender identities by anyone. Not even homosexuals that I've come across recently. Without any prior knowledge on these things that go against the two gender norm, why would I have felt like something other than girl despite being born and raised literally like a princess? I didn't know there was a disorder about it, and never heard of identities based on a spectrum other than strictly boy and girl.The idea of "brainwashing" kids now into these things is too ridiculous. If I asked 100 people about them I would expect only one, IF one, to actually know anything. It's not really widespread at all. I live in a state with a well known around the world city, one that has plenty of activism on these issues. People still go on as normal, and this is a year after you've written your view down. I don't understand what the issue is. I have asked friends after I've learned about these things how they felt. None of them suddenly felt pressured to change or were unsure of themselves. My young nephew is 100% sure he is a boy and he sort of knows about things. When I was young, I knew and heard nothing about these (LGBT was not an issue) and still wasn't 100% sure about being a girl. It's not a pushed change. It's just in the open now.