This week on The Learning Curve, guest cohost Jonathan Greenberg speaks with Loyola University Maryland professor and American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Dr. Diana Schaub. They discuss America’s democratic civic culture and how Enlightenment thinkers shaped the Founders’ views about modern republican self-government. Prof. Schaub explores the legacies, speeches, and writings of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, and how knowledge of U.S. history and primary sources can debunk revisionist approaches to teaching history and civics. She closes the interview with a reading from her recent book, His Greatest Speeches: How Lincoln Moved the Nation.
Stories of the Week: Gerard talked about a report in Inside Higher Ed on Oregon’s Blue Mountain Community College ending a GED program that it runs in three state prisons, saying it can no longer afford the costs. Cara discussed a review in Education Next of David Steiner’s new book A Nation at Thought: Restoring Wisdom in America’s Schools.
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Read a transcript here:
[00:00:00] Gerard Robinson: Listeners, welcome back to another exciting episode of The Learning Curve. I am here, of course, joined by Cara Candal, my pod partner on all things interesting. How are you, my friend?
[00:00:46] Cara Candal: Well, I just had a flashback when you said pod, I was like, what is he talking about? Because I’m feeling like it’s 2021, Gerard, because well, I’m just gonna say it, half of my daughter’s seventh grade class is out with COVID right now and one of them living in my house, so, wow, when you said pod, I went pod, pod. Oh, podcast. Yes, but luckily, I don’t think anybody is suffering too much. There’s just a lot of watching of screens happening and yeah, you know, we’re, it’s, it’s, listen, the weather here, but I don’t talk, I think we, do talk about the weather a lot on this podcast, but I usually don’t have it. Nice things to say and it has just been absolutely tremendous. It’s been gorgeous. We, you know, I think when you live in a climate like, we Bostonians, do you really appreciate every. 70 degrees sunny day. So I’ll just put it that way. How are you doing?
[00:01:40] GR: Well, uh, I got a little rain here, but other than that we are prepping for graduation here at UVA. So, to all the seniors and those in professional and graduate schools, congratulations on your hard work. And that’s pretty much what we’re doing, you know, doing that and. Just wait.
00:02:07] Cara: Now, talk to me. Mm-hmm. Talk to me for a moment about graduation. Because living here in a place where you could throw a rock and hit 13 different institutions of higher learning. I try my best when I know graduation is coming to number one, never try and get a dinner reservation anywhere. Number two, just stay, stay as far away as possible from any of the campuses. Try not to drive your car near them. And number three, for the next week or so, I will be assiduously avoiding any furniture that has been laid out on corners for fear of bedbugs.
So, I know you are enjoying, sort of watching the folks that you’ve shepherded through your classes graduate. I’m sure there’s probably also some relief that you’ve come to the end of semester, but any other experiences as, as the school year comes to an end?
[00:02:51] GR: Well, Charlottesville truly is a college town. Boston is too, but Boston’s also a big city. Charlottesville’s, 46,000 people, and [00:03:00] that’s including the students. And so you can take, oh wow, I was city of Charlottesville and put them inside comfortably in the football stadium. Now when it’s graduation, you almost double the population. Grandma, grandpa, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, lovers, nieces and nephews. They all come to Charlottesville and for about a good week and a half because, oh, I guess people would know this. Charlottesville for Central Virginia is a major tourist attraction. Everything from Monticello to UVA to wineries.
And so, people come here early enough to do the kind of tourist things they like. And then all the hotels are done. Airbnb is doing well. Food. So, like you we know where to stay. We’re not too far away from grounds, but, you know, we’ve gone through it long enough to know, hey, this is just a week and a half where there’s a heck of a lot of traffic. It looks more like Atlanta or LA than Charlottesville. But it’s a fun sober time given the fact that Virginia, as you know, Thomas Jefferson, University going back to 1819 it’s a long tradition. And throughout all the, the history and the current debates about what it means to go to a school like this, students are leaving here with a quality education and ready to change the world.
[00:04:16] Cara: I love it. Always so optimistic. It’s wonderful, Gerard. Yeah. Okay. Very cool. So what’s on your mind this week?
[00:04:23] GR: Well, my story in fact is about higher education. In fact, it’s from inside higher ed, and this one is from the State of Washington. And the title of the article is A Cost Saving Measure Raises Concerns for Incarcerated Students. Now, many of our listeners know, and maybe some of our new listeners may not know that I spent some of my academic professional cachet working with adults who were incarcerated. In fact, last week I went to a graduation at the Fluvanna Women’s prison or Correctional Center here in Virginia.
[00:04:57] It is the first in-person graduation held for the women since 2019 due to COVID. And it was just wonderful to be in there and to see our students, more than 30, who received a certificate from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and to see their families. But there were a number of women who also earned a GED as we’ve talked about on this show.
And some of our guests have talked about a number of people who go to state and federal prison, never finished high school. And so many of them will go in and either it’s volunteer to do it or you’re volun-told and one or the other. So, we had women who graduated with a GED. Now, the way that relates to my story is Blue Mountain Community College in the state of Washington is no longer going to offer a GED program.
[00:05:45] GR: Now, on face value, people who are involved in adult correction education will say, Hey, that’s a problem and that’s not good. And it is a problem and it’s not good. But why is it taking place? Well, if you [00:06:00] take incarcerated students out of the equation alone, let’s just remember that higher education is shrinking the number of students who are enrolling into two-year and four-year institutions, be it nonprofit or religious or public. They’re just going down. And this was before COVID, of course, with COVID things even went worse. And so now you have university presidents, provost deans, and faculty-centered leaders who are saying, listen, when you have fewer students, the state assembly likely is only going to give you more money. Well, with the drop in students now, some of this going back to the great recession of 2008 and what that did to the birth rate at that time, that’s now showing up in our numbers in higher ed.
[00:06:46] GR: And so, the leaders are saying, listen, we think it’s great to give people a GED program. There’s a lot of research there’s research even published in peer review journals, which identified the importance of a GED and its relationship to recidivism. Also, its relationship preparing for people for the workforce. But here’s the problem. If you’re a university leader, you’ve got to make a decision. If I have X number of students to serve, X number of professors, I have to hire to do so. We’ve got to make something happen. And then you couple that with the fact that starting in at the end of June this year, for the first time since 1994, colleges are going to have access to a Pell Grant to allow people who are incarcerated to get access to public money.
[00:07:31] GR: And so, community college said, listen, We’re interested in partnering with uh, the Pell Grant people to figure out how to use that money to support students. Well, the initial pushback is, wait a minute, you’re helping students already have a G E D or high school diploma, receive an associate’s degree, but you’re saying bye-bye to the students who don’t have a G E D and therefore couldn’t qualify.
[00:07:54] GR: For a a higher diploma. And so there’s a really big debate, and I saw this coming a couple of years ago, where it was going to be what we call in economics an opportunity cost. The cost for doing A means you can’t do B, but the university leadership said, listen, we’re not going to leave these students in the lurch. They said, we’re going to teach out the ones that we have right now. But they’ve also created a relationship and are in conversation with other partners who can provide GED training to people who need it in prison. So, this is, I would say the first and what will be a very long debate about higher education because although we’re talking about people who are in prison going to education, this is at its core adult education.
And as we know and have talked about on the show, the majority of students who are now enrolled in higher education are over the age of 25. They don’t live on college campuses. They’re not throwing Frisbees and they don’t have a meal plan. Prison education in one way is a glimpse into what the future of higher education and the future of adult education will look like.
GR: So, I understand what [00:09:00] the leaders are going through. I’m glad they’re trying hard to find a partnership, but, and leadership, and you and I know this, being leaders ourselves, you have to make some tough calls. What do you think?
[00:09:11] Cara: I mean, I think, well, you always have such a nuanced take because this is an issue that you’ve worked on for so long and I know is very near and dear to your heart. And every time I listen to you talk, especially on the, side of like how the institutions have to figure this out, one of the things that keeps. Coming to my mind is we know of the very direct relationship between access to an education and, you know, ending up, for example, in the correction system or that when people don’t have access to the kinds of opportunities that will provide them with an education, the risk of being on a path or being in a situation where you end up in the correction system is greater. We know, third grade reading rates we’ve talked about for a long time. So, Gerard, I’m wondering as I hear you talk, what is the return on investment? When we do make these investments in folks to provide them with an education that they need, especially if you’re in a corrections facility we know that there’s obviously adults who are over the age of 25 and pursuing higher education at this point see some sort of return on investment.
So how much of a part of a conversation is the long-term return as a society if we do the right thing and then continue to make the right investments in folks?
[00:10:25] GR: These are great questions. So, let’s see what we are learning from researchers. So, Lois Davis and a group of researchers did a 33-year meta-analysis, and what they decided to do was to take a look at reports that identified if you are incarcerated and you enrolled in a correction education program. And correction education program falls into four categories. Adult basic education. That’s your, let’s say seventh to eighth to ninth grade level adult secondary education that’s preparing you to get the GED or higher-level courses workforce development/voc-tech, that’s for job training, HVAC certificates, or post-secondary.
[00:11:11] GR: And that could be associate’s degree, baccalaureate or higher. And they identified uh, a few things. Number one, for every dollar invested in a correctional education program, there was a $4 to $5 return on investment for the people who participated in the program during incarceration, and once they left, they’re not coming back.
[00:11:31] GR: Return of investment $4 to $5. Number two, they identified that there’s a 20%, or actually a 28% likelihood that you won’t return to prison if you participate in the program. Number three, wardens and guards have identified that people in correctional education programs, in fact, make the programs safer because they’re much more involved and much more likely to be doing something positive and once they leave, find themselves to be productive citizens [00:12:00] in society. So, they’re good economic, moral, and programmatic returns for people who do so.
[00:12:06] Cara: I absolutely think that that has to be a part of the conversation as we talk about the future of higher education going forward, and I appreciate your example of what’s going on In the adult correctional system is sort of a precursor to, or the canary in the coal mine for what we’re dealing with an indicator of what we’re seeing in higher education.
More generally. I can’t, you know, I think since my first child was born, I kept telling my husband, don’t worry, don’t worry. Something has to change in higher education in the U.S. Maybe we’re finally seeing some shift, a little crunch as we think about the investments. The kinds of investments we make in people and what, you know, government involvement and institutional involvement needs to look like in terms of the investments.
So thank you for that story. I think there are few people in this country that have in our country, let me correct myself, that have the same understanding of higher education and especially its intersection with adult corrections as you do. So, I appreciate you. Thank you, Gerard.
My story this week is, well, it’s less of a story. My thought for the week is about a book written by friend of the show, Dr. David Steiner. And this is actually a review of Steiner’s book. It’s in Education Next, and the review was completed by Matthew Levy. I’m going to say it’s Levy the book though.
[00:13:24] Cara: I want to talk the book, which is sort of, it’s a very different review than your story. It’s called A Nation at Thought: Restoring Wisdom in America’s Schools. And I’m gonna say I, this review is not fully glowing, but I’m interested in the reasons behind it. So, for those of you who don’t know Dave, many of you probably do, David Steiner is the former head of Hunter College’s School of Education. He was a state education commissioner of New York. He taught at Boston University Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. He is a very accomplished scholar and has done a lot in terms of, cultivating the next generation of education policy leaders now in his book.
He is talking about what he sees to be the state of K-12 education. And rarely do we hear that the state of K-12 education in the U.S. is something to crow about. But, you know, and Dr. Steiner’s on the same page, but he takes a different take, right? So, we can talk about. A Nation at Risk, which was 40 years ago.
[00:14:28] Cara: Now we can talk about all of the common problems that we think about when we think about education. We spend too much, or we don’t spend enough, or we don’t have enough teachers, we don’t train them well, all of the things, and Dr. Steiner in this book takes a very different take just saying like, even when we’re getting systems right, we’re not teaching kids necessarily how to think. So hence the title A Nation at Thought. And he’s saying we’re doing some of the things, we’re going through some of the motions. But even in really good schools, we’re not teaching folks to think, and he wants us to think about what it means to cultivate thinkers that raising educational outcomes is one thing, but giving everybody a much higher just level of education period and access to a higher level of education period is another thing.
And it’s not to say that Dr. Steiner doesn’t acknowledge that there are some foundational problems, especially in early education, meaning K-5, meaning like teaching reading based in the science of reading. He recognizes that there’s some foundational problems that we need to fix, but he’s saying that we actually need to think, it sounds like it’s a push to think bigger and to think broader. And you know, there is also a nod to the idea that sometimes schools are not only asked to be all of the things to all of the people we are, they are asked to be, family centers and centers of community and places where people are fed, and we know all of these things. But they’re also places where sometimes instead of [00:16:00] focusing according to Dr. Steiner on what matters, which is teaching and learning and thinking that we’re focusing on things that some people see as peripheral, like, Getting distracted by the how we cultivate sort of. Well, one of the examples given is growth mindset or socio-emotional learning.
[00:16:17] Cara: I think many of us who are parents would say those things are very important. We can define them differently and we may use different words to describe them, but they’re important. But they don’t matter so much if we’re not really teaching children to think. And so, the review here takes a little bit of a jab at Dr. Steiner for being elitist is one word that’s thrown around, certainly to describe his family. And it’s, interesting to me, Gerard, he also, Dr. Steiner is also critiqued for, saying that there’s some sorts of schools, like there are some high performing charter schools that do this, that, and there are private schools that do this, the thing that it’s possible to do, and he advocates for access to those schools.
I think what’s really interesting to me about the tenor of this review, which is that, I don’t know, maybe we shouldn’t take this book quite as seriously because it’s asking too much or it’s asking something that we can only expect of an elite few. I think that that gets the argument wrong or takes it wrong because in my mind, if we are arguing for everybody to have a type of education that not only enables them with foundational skills and enables them to make choices about what they will do later in life, be it college or career, or some amalgam of the two that we should of course aim to deliver a higher level of education, one that cultivates thinking, and I would put to our audience that this is exactly what wealthy parents who have access to the types of schools that many people can only dream of expect of those schools. You don’t pay a pricey private school tuition for your kids to just learn the basics of what the Common Core would teach. You expect that to be a floor and you want to achieve some greater ceiling, some higher level of engagement. And so, I think that this is, it’s an interesting review. I would encourage people to take a look at the book and form their own opinions of it. But nonetheless, I appreciate the review because I think that it pushes us in this conversation.
[00:18:20] Cara: I think since COVID Gerard, we have lost a lot of the conversation of this question of what should sspecially a high school education look like. We’ve spent so much time trying to focus as we should on recovering, learning, on trying to do the right things to make sure that kids have foundational skills, that we are rarely able to have a conversation about what is the real end goal, like what does it mean to have a kind of education that’s not only going to help people have a solid job, but, but lead to flourishing, right? Make you happy, make you engaged, make you really able to analyze and understand the world around you in important ways. And so, whether or not the reviewer really loves the book, I think that this review at least made me think, and I hope it will drive others to seek the book out.
[00:19:09] Cara: So again, that is A Nation at Thought, Restoring Wisdom in America’s Schools by Dr. David M. Steiner. Now, Gerard, I’m sure you know Dr. Steiner. I think we’ve had him on the show before. And I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to engage with the book or if you have ideas about the content here.
[00:19:27] GR: No, no, great point. Good one to read because we often don’t have an opportunity to read a review of a book. So, I know David well. He appointed me as a senior fellow to an institute when he was at SUNY prior to going to Johns Hopkins he served as a thought partner to me during my time in the state chief role but afterward, and number three, David, in fact, is a really smart person. Now, if we want to call him an elitist, that term, let’s say 15 years ago, would’ve offended me. And today it does not, because what I want to do is to make sure that we educate as many students as possible to put them at the core. Of conversations like this so they can in fact be at the table to debate what it means to be a lead or not within my political world, I have a saying, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” And so, when I hear people tell me that it’s elitist to be at the table, I say, well, what do you want to do? You want to be at the table to debate the nuances of what will be served, who can eat and who cannot, or do you want to stay on the sideline, feel good about yourself as less elite.
[00:20:38] GR: I take a lesson from the research of Dr. James Hunter, who’s a sociologist here at the University of Virginia. He’s written several books. In fact, you mentioned flourishing. He co-edited a book, in fact, on human flourishing. And what he identified in his research about social movements in the Western world, he said no matter what social movement you look at abolitionism in [00:21:00] Europe the reformation movement in Europe, he said there were a core group of people who became the center or the core. And these were the ones who made change. Yes, there were millions of people who were influenced. Yes, it took millions of people to do so, but it was a small group of people at the center. And guess what? Many of them would be inspect, considered the elite, not in a anti-poor, anti-people, anti-whatever you want to choose. It was that these were people, for whatever reason, were afforded an opportunity to be at the middle, and they were the ones that led this. And so if we want to have a thoughtful nation, a wise nation, then yeah, we should give some time to thought. I will take pretty seriously what Dr. Steiner has to say, not only because of his track record. As an educator, but he comes from a family of educators. His father uh, the famous Dr. Steiner of English at Yale University for decades. So, he’s got a great track record, so I would take a look at it. So, the elite thing, I put it in perspective. I hope that myself and my family and my children and their children’s children will be a part of the league to be at the table to make those decisions. Number two. You’re right. We really haven’t, you know, we’ve kind of walked away from the discussions about what’s the purpose of education beyond simply getting a job.
[00:22:23] GR: You know, when I think of a well-educated person I hope that my daughters are as wise, as gifted, as smart as one of the guests we’ve had on our show, Stacy Schiff. We’ve talked about her book Witches. We’ve also had her on before. I mean, she is someone who oozes literacy in terms of what you want in terms of someone who can take great texts and who can blend them well, who can think critically, but who can walk the lanes of philosophy and history and science and literature and geometry.
[00:22:55] GR: And say, this is why it makes sense. We’ve had E.D. Hirsch on this show. He’s talked about the idea of what it means to have a core curriculum and what it means to have fundamental push. So, I’m going to read the book. I can tell you, I probably won’t read the review beyond what you said, but you definitely sparked me.
[00:23:14] GR: You don’t need to to get it. Yeah. You definitely sparked me to do this, so I, I’m all about, so yeah, let’s go with the elites.
[00:23:22] Cara: I like that framing. It’s an unpopular phrase probably, which makes me like it even more. So yeah, I encourage our listeners to read the book and I agree with you, I think Professor Steiner has done so much for education and I’m sure that this is an important contribution.
[00:23:38] Cara: Gerard, we need to get to our guests. And we are going to hand it off to a guest interview today for previously recorded conversation with Diana Schaub. She is a non-resident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and it promises to be a wonderful interview. So that’ll be coming up listeners right after this.
[00:24:45] Jonathan Greenberg: Welcome everyone. My name’s Jonathan Greenberg. I’m the director of research and strategy at the Jack Miller Family Foundation, and thank you for joining us. Our guest this week is Dr. Diana Schaub. Dr. Schaub is a professor of political science at Loyola University of Maryland, where she’s taught for almost three decades, and concurrently is a non-resident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
[00:25:08] Jonathan: Her works focused on American political thought and history, particularly Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, African American political thought, Montesquieu, and the relevance of core American ideals to contemporary challenges and debates. Dr. Schaub is the author of three books, His Greatest Speeches, how Lincoln Moved the Nation, published in 2021, What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song, co-edited with Amy and Leon Kath in 2011, and Erotic Liberalism, Women and Revolution in Montesquieu Persian Letters published in 1995.
[00:25:39] Jonathan: Monograph Emancipated the Mind Lincoln, the Founders and Scientific Progress published in 2018 is based on her remarks at the 2018 Walter Burns Constitution Day lecture. She’s also been published in the popular press, including in the Baltimore Sun, the Claremont Review of Books, Commentary and the Wall Street Journal. Her BA in Political Science is from Kenyon College and MA and PhD are in political science from the University of Chicago. Dr. Schaub welcome and thank you for joining us.
[00:26:07] Diana Schaub: It’s wonderful to be here.
[00:26:08] Jonathan: So, in your outstanding 2011 book, What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song, you use a variety of selections from American statesmen, literary figures, and songwriters to explain our national identity, creed, character, and the virtues and aspirations of active citizenship. Would you share with our listeners some of the enduring civic lessons for citizens and school children drawn from this volume?
[00:26:30] Diana: Jonathan, it turns out that your question is a tough one to answer, and let me explain why. One of the presuppositions of the anthology is that patriotism and civic engagement are as much matters of the heart, as of the mind. The stories, speeches, and songs that we included in the volume are there because they have the power to shape the souls of the readers.
[00:26:52] Diana: Now, there may be lessons that can be extracted from particular selections. But the deeper experience is an education of the sentiments. Maybe [00:27:00] something more like the experience of listening to a piece of music. It is of course, important for young people to learn the facts and dates of American history and to learn the principles of our form of government.
[00:27:10] Diana: As the recent status reports on civic knowledge show, there’s an appalling degree of ignorance that needs to be remedied. Yeah, we might want to consider whether that ignorance is linked to a more fundamental lack of affectional attachment to the nation in other words, the ignorance might be in part at least a byproduct of apathy and cynicism.
[00:27:31] Diana: My co-editors, Amy and Leon Kass, and I compiled the volume in the belief that literature can help to awaken the sentiments and form the moral imagination. Let me try to give you a quick example. The anthology concludes with the short story by Willa Cather entitled The Namesake in under 10 pages. Cather tells an engaging and mysterious story about an American sculptor living as an expatriate in Paris. From his Parisian studio the great sculptor shares with a group of younger expatriates, the story of how he discovered the meaning of his home country and his own identity as an American. It’s an epiphany that continues to guide his artistic productions. So, in reading and discussing a story like this, students can begin to reflect on their own sense of national belonging and perhaps experience epiphanies of their own. I really want to stress that the anthology is a non-ideological, non-doctrinal project. The volume contains a wide variety of authors and perspectives. Some more appreciative of the American characters, some more critical but all of them, I think, nuanced and thought provoking.
[00:28:40] Jonathan: Thank you for that. Um, Jefferson famously said that his trinity of the three greatest men in the world had ever produced were Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke. Take a minute to talk, if you would, about why these three thinkers were so elemental to Jefferson’s Enlightenment vision of education, and how the works of those figures helped shape the founder’s views about modern republican self-government.
[00:29:00] Diana: I guess I would say that Bacon, Newton, and Locke are famous for revolutionizing our understanding of the physical sciences and of the moral/political sciences. Thomas Jefferson, of course, was a student of many fields of study and so he was conversant with the new conception of science and the new discoveries made by Bacon and Newton. However, it was Locke, I think, who was most important for Jefferson’s understanding of government. Locke’s influence is visible in that famous paragraph of our Declaration of Independence, where Jefferson describes the truths that Americans hold to be self-evident.
[00:29:38] Diana: The passage that states the force self-evident truths reads like a summary. Of the teaching of Locke’s, Second Treatise of Government beginning from the state of nature where you’ve got every human being equal and free not subject to the rule of any other human being. As a result of that natural equality, the only legitimate foundation for government is the consent of the governed.
[00:30:01] Diana: There’s a great passage in a letter that Jefferson writes, where he explains the political meaning of natural equality quote, because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding. He was not therefore lord of the person or property of others. So greater knowledge desirable as it is not an entitlement to rule unless the person with that greater knowledge can persuade those less knowledgeable to elect him.
So according to the Declaration, if a government is not based on consent or if it is systematically violating the natural rights of individuals, then people have a right to revolution. Maybe just one more note on this. So, I do think that Jefferson is an Enlightenment figure, but he was also very versed in the ancients.
[00:30:51] Diana: And there’s an interesting letter from Jefferson written near the end of his life where he explains that in drafting the Declaration, he was not aiming to be original, that the document was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and that it presented the harmonizing sentiments of the day among the widely known and shared sources of the time period. Jefferson mentions explicitly the elementary books of public right as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney. So, I think although the influence of Locke on the Declaration is unmistakable. Jefferson himself indicates that our founding charter is influenced by both ancient and modern political philosophy. So, there are timeless or transcendent political truths.
[00:31:39] Jonathan: So, your most recent book, His Greatest Speeches, How Lincoln Moved the Nation, which is really brilliant, by the way, examines the, the three landmark speeches, the ones that everybody knows pretty well, the Lyceum Address, the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural. Can you discuss the major themes of those speeches and how young people can learn about education for nationally unifying purposes by studying Lincoln’s ideals about democratic government?
[00:32:08] Diana: Yeah, it’s always good to start at the beginning. So, let’s start with Lincoln’s 1838 Lyceum address. This is a speech that he gives when he, himself was a very young man. He’s under 30 years of age, and he starts with the dangers that the nation was facing in the late 1830s. Mob rule was becoming pervasive throughout the land. There was a breakdown in the rule of law as citizens decided that they could just take shortcuts to justice through vigilante action. Lincoln believed that the inevitable result of that growing disregard for the rule of law would be increasing alienation from our democratic form of government. Societal breakdown causes citizens to begin to doubt the very possibility of self-government. Over time, as the situation becomes more extreme, more anarchic citizens might well turn to a strong man or a tyrant who would at least promise them safety and security, if not liberty.
[00:33:02] Diana: So, the solution against this danger that Lincoln recommends is absolute law abiding this a law abiding that has to flow from reverence for the Constitution and laws. In other words, Lincoln realizes that our ability to perpetuate our form of government depends on the character of the people, the solidity of our institutions, no matter how well constructed they are, depends on a non-institutional source. Self-government in the collective depends on the existence of self-governing individuals. So, this is why Lincoln stresses the need not only for reverence for the law, but for the rule of reason over passion in the human soul, while the Lyceum address is about Lincoln’s own time and its particular dangers, it’s also an analysis of the perduring problem of the human passions and the way in which destructive passions like hatred and revenge and inordinate ambition can threaten the experiment in self-government. And it really is interesting when you assign this text students today immediately see its relevance.
[00:34:14] Diana: Clearly Lincoln’s audience, the audience of his day did not act on his call to moderate their negative passions. A quarter century later, the Civil War broke out. And in the Gettysburg address now President Lincoln confronted the attempt to destroy and break up the republic. His response was to take Americans back to the founding moment to remind them of what our nation is and as he explains it is a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, and it is that nation. And he adds any nation so conceived and so dedicated that is being tested by the Civil War. Once again, his answer to the difficult question of how to maintain our form of government rests with the people. They must be not only devoted to the cause of saving the union, but they must have resolve. In other words, they have to act, act in such a way as to achieve the new birth of freedom. Lincoln teaches us that it’s incumbent on each generation to rededicate themselves to the original founding principles and then. To live in accord with them. So, the specific shape of the challenges to our founding principles is going to vary over time, but Lincoln suggests that these challenges will recur.
[00:35:39] Jonathan: You wrote a piece recently called The Second Inaugural versus the 1619 Project and in that you wrote, Lincoln shares with today’s 1619’ers, the conviction that we must fully acknowledge our nation’s foundational wrong slavery, not only by confessing, but by doing, doing in fact, all that is requisite to, as Lincoln wrote, achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves. Would you talk about how knowledge of U.S. history and great primary sources can be used to debunk ideologically driven revisionist approaches to American history and civics?
[00:36:12] Diana: My general view is that more history and especially history gathered from primary sources is the antidote to bad history and partisan history. And let me just stick with Lincoln here to illustrate what I mean. In the article that you referenced, I describe Lincoln’s Second Inaugural as the original and better 1619 Project. So, yes, Lincoln shares the conviction that Americans must acknowledge and repent for the foundational wrong of slavery. However, his approach differs from the recent revisionism in decisive ways, and for starters, his history is just more accurate. The 1619 Project presents the nation as irredeemably racist, racist from the beginning, racist throughout, structurally racist. The 1619 Project argues that the American Revolution was nothing other than white nationalism, that the Constitution was a conspiracy to strengthen the slaveholders.
[00:37:13] Diana: But for Lincoln, by contract, the spirit of 1619, which he acknowledges exists, he’s fighting it. But that spirit of 1619 and the spirit of 1776 are opposites. The national story, properly understood, is the struggle between the principles of natural right. As articulated in the Declaration of Independence and then the violation of those principles, which began on a small scale in 1619, but gathered force in the generation preceding the Civil War.
[00:37:47] Diana: And it culminated in the secessionist attempt to dissolve the nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to equality. So, it was the secessionist who wanted to build a vast slave empire, not the original Founders. It just seems to me that misrepresentations about the Founding are legion right now and Lincoln’s speeches, and I would maybe say especially the speeches from the 1850s in his, debates with Stephen Douglas, they offer the best explication of the founding principles, an explication that also turns out to be a vindication of the Founders. Now I do want to note that Lincoln does not by any means ignore the shortcomings or what you might call the incompleteness of the Founding.
[00:38:33] Diana: In fact, he gives a concise account of why the Founders, despite their anti-slavery principles, were unable to end slavery in their own time. In our type of government principles must always be pursued prudentially. In other words, through the democratic process. After all, one of our principles is that government must be based on consent. So, what happens when majorities are unjust? You can’t simply ignore majority will. You can’t just replace it with rule by an enlightened few. While you must abide by the decision of the majority, you can always work to educate your fellow citizens, but that of course means that improvement can be achingly slow since it depends on the persuasion of others who see things differently. Lincoln, I think, teaches this kind of patient persistent dedication to the principles of democracy, too.
[00:39:30] Jonathan: more questions for you, both of which are about a man who I, I think really is a, a man for our times, Frederick Douglass. And the first is about the three autobiographies that he wrote totaling 1,200 pages, and each begins the same way with him seeking to discover his birthday and paternity, neither of which he says most slaves knew. Would you discuss his personal narrative as primary sources for better appreciating not only Douglass’s life but also was the basis for helping today’s students understand the horrors of American slavery?
[00:40:00] Diana: Yeah. And of course, we just want to say at the beginning, since I already mentioned Stephen Douglas, that Stephen Douglas Lincoln’s opponent in that senate race in 1858 is different from Frederick Douglass the escaped slave who goes on to become the great abolitionist orator and leading Republican after the Civil War.
[00:40:20] Diana: So, Douglass had no accurate knowledge of his age or his paternity slavery. He says, left him without an intelligible beginning in the world. This ignorance of one’s origin which was deliberately enforced by the masters was standard. said he didn’t remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday.
[00:40:41] Diana: Although Douglas’s father was assumed by many to have been his master, Douglas could never verify those hunches. Here’s what he said about that. Slavery does away with fathers. Even his mother was taken from him hired out as a field slave on a neighboring farm. The separation of mothers from infants was another routine practice of [00:41:00] slave holders.
[00:41:01] Diana: The damaging effects of hiring out could be as profound as that resulting from the actual sale of a mother or a child which also happened frequently in his autobiography. The first detailed memory that Douglass relates is just a horrific account of the whipping of his aunt his Aunt Hester.
[00:41:23] Diana: I think it’s worthwhile maybe just to, if we have enough time to, to recap this story because it, shows really the value of, of the autobiography. Douglas had been transferred from his grandmother’s cabin to the slave quarters at Wye House. That was the home plantation of the Lloyd family.
[00:41:39] Diana: Douglass’ master was the chief overseer for Colonel Edward Lloyd V. Lloyd was a three-time Maryland governor and U.S. senator. His vast empire included 21 farms, 10,000 acres, and 500 slaves. Aaron Anthony, the overseer, and his family they owned 600 acres and 30 slaves of their own, and they lived in a house on the Lloyd property.
[00:42:00] Diana: It was there that Douglas witnessed the whipping of his Aunt Hester awakened by her screams at dawn, he found her stripped to the waist, her wrists bound suspended from a ceiling hook. She stood upon a chair. Her arms stretched up their full length while old master whipped her mercilessly. With a blood-clotted cow skin, Douglas says the louder she screamed, the harder he whipped and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. Her crime was to have been caught in the company of a young man. Whether Frederick Douglass was aware of the sexual implications of what he was witnessing is unclear, but the mature Douglass makes the situation abundantly clear to his readers of Aaron Anthony’s motives. He said quote, “had he been a man of pure morals himself, he might have been thought interested in protecting the innocence of my aunt, but those who knew him will not suspect him of any such virtue.”
[00:43:00] Diana: So, the opening chapter of the narrative is entirely about slavery’s perversion of domestic life as an institution. Slavery was hostile to family formation and family-based identity among slaves. Douglass’s narrative provides a powerful first-person account of the many abuses suffered by slaves. It’s the kind of text to which students respond immediately and viscerally.
Now, I suppose the same information could be conveyed in a textbook, but that format is always flat and bloodless. Douglass is a real person, attractive, admirable students become invested in the story of his life along with him. They experience his intense longing for freedom. They’re astonished when he shares with them that learning to read was his pathway to freedom. They’re thrilled by the account of his courageous resistance to enslavement and his eventual daring escape from bondage to freedom. Douglass’s narrative and other primary texts provides students with living history.
[00:44:06] Jonathan: That’s extraordinary. Thank you so much for that answer. The last question also about Douglas. Would you discuss him as a, a morally powerful and compelling order? How were his speeches received by the public, his fellow abolitionists? And later, even by President Lincoln, as well as what are his civic lessons for us and for students today.
[00:44:23] Diana: As an escaped slave who was you know, he escaped eventually to Massachusetts and settled there. Douglass sought out the abolitionists and he soon became an immensely popular speaker on the anti-slavery lecture circuit. Of course, in other quarters Douglass was intensely hated and feared. Initially, he mostly recounted his experiences as a slave. Direct testimonials like his from escaped slaves were important because they counteracted the pro-slavery propaganda about the supposed mildness of American slavery.
Very quickly, however, Douglass wanted to do more. Then retell his story. He wanted to assess it and explain it. He wanted to speak to the threat that slavery posed to the nation itself. He wanted to weigh in on the proper course and tactics in the fight against slavery. Now, he, he always continued to incorporate elements of autobiography into his oratory. But he also started thinking, speaking and writing more about the essential nature of the American regime, and especially the nature of the Constitution in the 1840s and 1850s. There was a great debate going on as to whether the US Constitution was a pro-slavery or an anti-slavery document.
[00:45:45] Diana: Fascinatingly, as Douglass studied the issue, he changed his position. He separated himself from the Garrison abolitionists who thought that the Constitution was pro-slavery, and he instead [00:46:00] allied himself with the Liberty Party, who believed that the Constitution was anti-slavery and that the Constitution could in fact be employed as a powerful weapon in the anti-slavery cause. This change of opinion about the character of the Constitution really shifted Douglass from being a revolutionary, vowing to annul the Constitution itself. He shifted from being a revolutionary to being a reformer. He continued to denounce slavery in the strongest terms, but he now regarded himself as a patriot who was trying to convince his fellow citizens to live up to their own highest ideals.
[00:46:39] Diana: Now, it’s worth mentioning that this controversy over the nature of the Constitution is still with us. Douglass’s speeches and writings on the Constitution are another essential primary source that allows students to work through the competing arguments, allow them really to reach their own conclusions on the question.
[00:46:58] Diana: This is one of the great advantages of reading primary texts. Instead of indoctrinating students in one direction or the other, students acquire the skill of reading and interpreting. Complex arguments and deciding for themselves. So, one of the civic lessons that Douglass always emphasized was the need for civic dialogue on fundamental questions.
Remember he was the editor of a newspaper, and he kept his pages open to viewpoints with which he disagreed. As he explained, we need discussion among ourselves, discussion to rouse our souls to intenser life. And activity, anything to promote earnest thinking among our people may be held as a good thing in itself, whether we ascent two or dissent from the proposition, which calls it forth. So, Douglass would, I think, be a stern critic of today’s cancel culture. He sought to persuade his opponents rather than to silence them.
[00:48:00] Jonathan: Dr. Diana Schaub, thank you so much for your time today. If I can impose on you just for a few more minutes to treat us to a brief reading from one of your works, we’d really appreciate it.
[00:48:11] Diana: Yeah, sure. That’s really a flattering re request with which I will comply. So, I’m going to take us back to Lincoln. This is from the preface to the fairly new book His Greatest Speeches. Think of the most solemn form that words can take. A promise or an oath binding oneself through words to action. The nation’s founding charters were solemn. Speech of that sort. Promises however can be broken, and Lincoln believed that was precisely what was happening in his day. He often used speech to expose the sophist and demagogic misuse of speech by his contemporaries, who were sometimes knowingly, sometimes not undermining and overturning the founding promise of the nation. Unlike those who trusted in inevitable progress, Lincoln feared that retrogression and digression were just as likely. He observed how the principle of human equality, which had been clearly articulated in the beginning, despite its egregious violation in practice was being lost to sight, covered over distorted, repudiated, and forgotten, perhaps because of its too long permitted violation. Lincoln’s speeches were directed toward recovery of the nation’s integrity, rejoining word indeed, promise and performance. My conviction is that Lincoln’s greatest speeches matter as intensely today as when first delivered. Although civil war may not be looming, the republic does not stand as sturdily or as undivided as all would hope. To the extent that Americans are confused about, ignorant of, and whether consciously or not departing, from the timeless principles of self-government, Lincoln’s speeches can once again restore the promise of America by reminding us of the promises we have made as democratic citizens.
[00:50:09] Jonathan: Dr. Diana Schaub, professor of Political Science at Loyola University of Maryland, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, thank you so much for your time.
Diana: Thank you.
[00:51:04] Gerard Robinson: So, my tweet of the week comes from Andy Rotherham, who many of our listeners will know as a co-founder and partner at Bellweather. He’s also on the Board of Education here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, doing his second tour, and he’s got a tweet from May 13, and he says it’s astounding that the Oakland strike is not getting more attention. Perhaps the most appalling part of this fiasco is the substance of the contract disagreements between the districts and the teachers. The district has offered the teachers a 10% raise retroactive to November 1, plus a restructured salary schedule that provides 13% to 22% raises over time. That’s the end of his tweet. We know there was a strike with teachers in Los Angeles, not with teachers, but teachers joining a local strike. And there’s one in Oakland. And in fact, prior to reading Andy’s tweet, I was unaware of I know that tweet, so I was just going to say, I feel ashamed.
[00:52:05] Cara: Thank you for this. Thank you for bringing the shame. I was in the dark. Thank you for that tweet of the week, Gerard, and it’s going to be time for us to sign off until next week when we will be speaking with Philip Hamburger, who is a professor of law at Columbia University. Until then, Gerard, I wish you a wonderful graduation weekend, and I hope it’s enjoyable, and you find some quiet amidst the surge of people in your beautiful hometown.
[00:52:34] GR: I hear you. Good talking to you. Take care. Bye-bye.