Tag Archives: puritan ethic

Five Themes of American Conventional Wisdom Part 2: Scientism & the Culture of Professionalism

Following up on yesterday’s post, “Five Themes of American Conventional Wisdom”, I continue the thread by looking at my friend Ron Miller’s second theme (from his book, What Are Schools For?) which he labels as “Scientific Reductionism”. What intrigues me most in his text is his description of science as a belief system or “ism” (scientism) and the “culture of professionalism” that emerged in America from that belief system.

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Five Themes of American Conventional Wisdom

puritansIn the first section of his wonderful book, What Are Schools For?, (looking at the history of education in America and the possibilities for a more holistic educational view) author (and my friend) Ron Miller calls out five dominant cultural assumptions that he believes are at the root of conventional American thinking, particularly conventional American thinking about education.

The five are…

1. Puritan (Calvinist/Protestant) Theology
2. Scientific Reductionism (& the Cult of Professionalism)
3. Restrained Democratic Ideology
4. Capitalism & Free Enterprise
5. Self-Righteous Nationalism

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American Calvin

Grant Wood's iconic painting, American Gothic
So much of America’s strengths and weaknesses, and what differentiates us from even our closest friends and allies in Western Europe, is our culture’s embrace (or at least our Anglo-Saxon “ruling tribe’s” embrace) of Calvinism, morphed to some degree as the “Protestant” or “Puritan Ethic.” This ideology, developed by John Calvin in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation, threads its way through the enlightenment and industrial revolution in Europe, and rode the boats of the Puritans to the “new world”, and continues today to be deeply woven into religious and secular thought and institutions in America. Continue reading →