Look at What I Found in My “File Tell”

What have I unearthed in my explorations through my own “file tells”? (If this doesn’t make sense, then read the previous post that introduces the “file tell” concept based upon the architectural term, “tell” or “tel”).

In this process of preparing to move, I’ve dug up photos not seen in decades, letters from old friends, and cards with hand written signatures from our parents, long gone (so precious to see Paul’s adoptive mom’s lovely handwriting). I found award plaques. (“Shall we throw them out?” Surprisingly, Paul chooses not to do so.) I’ve unearthed old teaching notes, childhood essays (fascinating see my young self from afar), and amazingly, a silver box filled with sympathy cards dated 1960 regarding the passing of my maternal grandmother (which I gave to Aunt Mary, Grandma’s last living child).  One bin held paper relics from graduate school, and “Aha”! There it is!

I’ve carried the memory over several decades of a particular extended quotation from a 19th century educator and theologian, but I couldn’t locate it. I know where I used to have it filed, but I purged a four drawer filing cabinet before our last move, so I no longer was able to find this desired file and thought it might be gone forever from my possession.

But there it was.

The excerpt consumes most of one page of typed notes from a graduate course I took at Grace Theological Seminary when I was working on my master’s degree in Christian School Administration back in the 1980s. The course called History and Christian Philosophy of Education was taught by Dr. William Male. Dr. Male was the academic dean of Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary during my years as an undergraduate and graduate student there. Dr. Male taught a similar version of this course on the undergraduate level. Since my undergraduate degree was in English Education, this course was a required class, so I experienced two versions of this class by Dr. Male, who had a passion for Christian schools back in the day when the movement (for much of the 20th century evangelical world) was young.

You never know what you’ll find when you sort and pack to move.

Dr. Male has had a huge impact on my life. He encouraged me to consider teaching in a Christian school rather than public school, and encouraged me to consider seriously an offer I received for teaching in a Christian school in California, where he said the Christian school movement was developmentally ahead of the midwest. Because of his counsel and my sense of the deep conviction of the Holy Spirit, I accepted a teaching position in Scotts Valley, California (north of Santa Cruz and south of San Jose). It was there that I met Paul, an aeronautics student at San Jose State, who was to become my husband. (We celebrated 41 years of marriage on October 17.) Were it not for Dr. Male’s counsel, I would not have met Paul.  Dr. Male’s wise counsel changed the direction of my life.

So, what was this quotation that Dr. Male included in his teaching material some 35 years ago? Of course, it deals with the nature of education, its very foundation. I’ll tell you who the author is after you read the excerpt from a volume first published in 1887.

“I am as sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social, and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.”

Take a breath. I didn’t prepare you for this prescience. Dr. Male included two paragraphs. Here is the second:

It is capable of exact demonstration that if every party in the States has the right of excluding from the public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes most must give way to him that believes least, and then he that believes least must give way to him that believes absolutely nothing, no matter in how small a minority the atheists or the agnostics may be. It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States’ system of national popular education will be the most efficient and wide instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.”

Take another breath. Dr. A.A. Hodge saw this coming long before our grandparents were born. Was he off the mark? From where did he gain such penetrating vision?

This excerpt is from Dr. Hodge’s work, Popular Lectures on Theological Themes.*

Within the same file I found one of my blue book exams from this same course, History and Christian Philosophy of Education. Interesting. The disintegration of American public (and much private) education was not as far along in 1986 when I took this course, which is evident in some the test questions and answers. But the digression was observable, and we discussed it in class.

Dr. Male spoke of the “mindlessness” evident in courses that were designed to prepare teachers to be teachers at that time. What did he mean by that and how does “mindlessness” fit  with Dr. Hodge’s insight? That presents a train of thought for us to follow in my next post, as we continue to unearth gems from my “file tell.”

The next time you hear from me, I’ll be writing from my new home, just 2.8 miles from the home we’re selling. I’ve tossed boxes and bags of papers and files. But no worries. I’ve so much material that my “file tell,” the best of it, will follow me, and the dig will continue.

*Dr. A.A. Hodge was a professor at Princeton for many years, following in the footsteps of his father, Charles Hodge who was a Princeton professor before him. (I have Charles Hodge’s classic three volume set on theology. Rich and deep.)

  • Click below to read more about Dr. A.A. Hodge

A. A. Hodge






Categories: Christian Reader, Education, Government, Moving | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Look at What I Found in My “File Tell”

  1. Amanda Olsen

    Regarding the quote from Dr. A. A. Hodge, “I am as sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion…”, what religion might he be referring to? Or perhaps to any religion or a group of religions? If he meant a particular religion, and if that particular religion was Christianity, I would love to hear your understanding of how Dr. Hodge says this works in a pluralistic society. And, if it doesn’t work in a pluralistic society from his perspective, does he advocate theocracy?

    • Karen Thomas Olsen

      Ahh. Thank you for your carefully considered inquiries. I’ll give a first level, general response. I’ll address some of your concerns more specifically in future posts. However, Paul and I are still in the middle of moving into our new home, so attention to my blog and time to prepare and write are limited. Also, as we enter the holiday season, I may want to postpone this train of thought for a while.

      That said, Dr. A.A. Hodge (1823-1886) lived in a culture and society in America where the term, “religion” was generally thought to reference Christianity (via many denominations and sects, expressed diversely) or a Judeo-Christian framework from which to interpret life. In connotative usage during that era, if someone was described as “religious,” the common assumption was that the basis of that “religiousness” was the Christian religion. Over the coming century, the usage of the term, “religion” changed.

      Next, the primacy of individual liberty (based upon a biblical view of personal conscience and individual responsibility before God) enshrined in our founding documents shaped a country where theocracy was not an option. Why? Theocracy, divine rule via a priestly class or group– a theocratic oligarchy of sorts, does not fit the design of our Constitutional Republic. I believe that Dr. Hodge supported our Constitutional Republic.

      The belief of Dr. Hodge and others of his day was that an educated citizenry was needed to maintain this Republic. Such education included as its core a religious education based upon biblical teaching. Citizens were to be respected as the source of governmental power and social order. A theocratic oligarchy was not their answer. The USA has no monarchy, but if there is any royalty, it would be “we, the people.” Hodge saw no sacred-secular division, so the spheres of education and government would fluidly feel the moral shaping stemming from its religious people. But people ignorant of their religious base cannot be influenced by that historical foundation nor provide such influence on its culture or government.

      The pluralism of Dr. Hodge’s day is different from the pluralism of our day, partly because of the absence of (or anemic presence of) that religiously moored foundation in our day that was more present in his day (as well as other dynamics we have no time or space to address now). This is a first and general response to your important questions.

      • Amanda Olsen

        Thanks! I currently struggle to see how his ideas are actionable let alone defensible in a pluralistic society so I really look forward to hearing this unpacked and learning where I may be misunderstanding things (which may simply be a term or two!).

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