Anchored by the Classic Learning Test

The Four Levers of the Educational Apocalypse | Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg

March 07, 2024 Classic Learning Test
The Four Levers of the Educational Apocalypse | Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg
Anchored by the Classic Learning Test
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Anchored by the Classic Learning Test
The Four Levers of the Educational Apocalypse | Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg
Mar 07, 2024
Classic Learning Test

On this episode of Anchored, Jeremy is joined by Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg, mentor teacher at John Adams Academy and founder of City of Truth.  After 33 years in the classical school movement, Steven shares advice for young teachers and discusses the four levers that control education in America. They also address the challenge of finding qualified teachers in a secular humanism era.

Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Anchored, Jeremy is joined by Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg, mentor teacher at John Adams Academy and founder of City of Truth.  After 33 years in the classical school movement, Steven shares advice for young teachers and discusses the four levers that control education in America. They also address the challenge of finding qualified teachers in a secular humanism era.

Jeremy (00:03.018)
Welcome back to the Anchor Podcast, the official podcast of the Classic Learning Test. Folks, we've got an exciting conversation in SOAR for us today.

Steven Jonathan Rumelsberg has been a public and private school teacher for over 30 years. He is the founder of City of Truth, an apostolate to help Catholic parents and aspiring Catholic school teachers to recover an authentic Catholic liberal arts education in order to edify the domestic church for the sake of the common good. Steven, welcome to the Anchor Podcast. Thank you for being with us.

Steven Jonathan (00:35.77)
Thank you for having me, Jeremy. It's good to see you again.

Jeremy (00:38.402)
So Stephen, we've just met in the past few weeks and you have been...

laboring in this education renewal movement for decades now. I'm wondering if you could take us back to the beginning of how you yourself discovered, you know, I think of the generation that grew up and was catechized in the 17 and 80s. And whenever I meet anyone who went through that and they love Christ in the church, I'm like, you're a miracle. How did you survive and come out on the other side smiling and in love with the Lord? So Stephen, tell us

little bit about your background if you would.

Steven Jonathan (01:14.874)
Yeah, that's a great point that may not apply to me quite so much. I was born and raised in a secular humanist home. So we didn't really have religion. And I ended up going, I live in California and I ended up going to UCSB, Santa Barbara. And I got my degree in history and then jumped right into the classroom as a substitute teacher, as a total secular humanist. And my first year, I...

Jeremy (01:22.987)

Jeremy (01:38.84)

Steven Jonathan (01:42.178)
I just didn't know what I got myself into. I realized, you know, I myself really hated school my whole life. And then I realized I really didn't like children either. So I was, found myself in this classroom with kids that I just hate. And in fact, I wanted to choke the life out of one of them. And the bell rang for recess, saved us both. They went out. And then I had a miracle in my life happen. God spoke the truth about agape into my soul in an instant.

Jeremy (01:53.008)

Jeremy (02:11.643)
Oh, wow.

Steven Jonathan (02:12.662)
And when the kids came back from recess, I've loved every kid I've ever met for the sake of Christ, not for their own sake, just with no effort at all for the last 33 years.

Jeremy (02:23.85)
Okay, so this is a kind of a St. Paul kind of a, You were in an encounter with Christ and in a moment, kind of your heart and mind changed. How did that also impact your understanding of what education is? How was that reshaped by this conversion?

Steven Jonathan (02:44.386)
Yeah, it was the pinnacle, it was the beginning of a mission I was set off upon or a quest where I instantly knew that what was going on in the public schools was bad for human souls. In that moment I said, I need to discover what's wrong with my own education. I was, of course, I still am pretty poorly educated, but at the time I was dreadfully educated, and I started to search for what is going to edify these little human souls and what is an education? Because I had no idea.

Jeremy (03:13.285)
And what were the conclusions you were coming to and what were some of the sources?

Steven Jonathan (03:21.102)
Yeah, my first discovery was that - it's a no brainer to know that the state textbooks are just sold as they're kind of coma inducing. And so I learned early on that right a few weeks after this happened that fairy tales and myths lit a fire in the hearts of my little students. And I just saw that right away. So I gravitated towards the ancient Greeks. I started studying the epic poems, the philosophers, the historians.

Jeremy (03:29.046)
Yeah. So crushing.

Steven Jonathan (03:48.562)
I really got into it. And when I started bringing those realities or those truths to the kids, it just brought them to life. And that led me to the Romans, that led me to the Hebrews, that led me to the Medievals. And eventually, unfortunately for me at the time, it led me to the Catholic Church, the only prejudice I really was holding onto. So it took about 17 years, and then I had no choice but to enter Holy Mother Church.

Jeremy (04:07.155)

Jeremy (04:14.782)
Well, Stephen, I'm wondering if you could, I think both of us are kind of lay historians of kind of the history of education and how things went off the rails as insanely as they have. When you were in this discovery process of rediscovering authentic education, well, what did you come to understand about when and how things became so insane?

Steven Jonathan (04:38.002)
Yeah, I thought, I thought my first conclusion when I realized it was so messed up is I thought, oh, it had to be the 60s or the 80s when they adopted a whole language in these things. I really did. And then as I studied further and deeper into history, I realized from St. Newman that it was 1850s, it was pretty much nails in the coffin time. And you discover by the Prussian schools and then John Dewey, it's just utterly irrevocably on the wrong track. Maybe the nails were in the 60s.

Jeremy (04:45.486)

Jeremy (04:59.392)

Steven Jonathan (05:04.402)
But I discovered it went all the way back to the original rebellion in heaven when Lucifer caught a glimpse of himself and was echoed in the garden and then has echoed all the way up the years. We either build up our society and it crumbles and all of this is a result of our kind of education.

Jeremy (05:23.006)
Now, one of the questions I was interested in talking with you about today is, you know, you are currently, you mentor teachers, John Adams, one of the...

respected classical charter schools in the country, you are also passionately Catholic. I'm wondering if you could speak about how that works. Some folks that are outside of the classical charter movement kind of look on the classical charter world as hard to reconcile with authentic classical education that they would argue, and I would be sympathetic to, as impossible to remove from Christ.

Steven Jonathan (06:02.29)
Yeah, it really is. It's such an uncomfortable question, but I got to just say John Adams Academy is my favorite school I've ever been at. I've been at many Catholic endeavors and just absolutely gotten canceled. But John Adams Academy is the one school where they told me when I started, don't leave your faith at the door. You can't proselytize, but don't leave your faith at the door. And I was most open-armed welcome to be Catholic and faithful at John Adams Academy, more than any other Catholic school I've ever been at.

Jeremy (06:14.94)

Jeremy (06:21.718)

Jeremy (06:29.73)

Steven Jonathan (06:30.962)
It's really remarkable. And I think I just really admire Dean Foreman. He's an amazing guy. And Dr. Troy Hanke, that's the superintendent and my boss, Zeta Camerota, just fantastic souls. And they don't encourage proselytizing, but they do encourage uncovering the truth. Their principles are the best foundational principles I've seen in the school so far. That's not to say there's not better. It's just my experiences has showed me that. But it's weird to say that you could be more Catholic

Jeremy (06:48.587)

Steven Jonathan (06:59.89)
at a California public charter school than you can in a Catholic school, but I think it's true.

Jeremy (07:02.562)
Yeah. Wow. Well, we have a whole book at the CLT office written by it's on John Adams Academy. I'm sure you know the book I'm talking about. And I've only some through it. Can you tell our audience about that?

Steven Jonathan (07:16.53)
Yeah, Dean Farman wrote a book about his experience of starting the charter school, which began as homeschooling and then turned into this small little tiny school that they instituted for their children. And as more people heard about it, more people were attracted to it. And right now, John Adams is three K-12 schools with a waiting list exactly as long as the student population, which I think is about 4,000 right now. It's a movement that just took off on fire.

Jeremy (07:43.734)
You're saying the waiting list at John Adams Academy is 4,000 students, that's incredible. That's incredible. You have been laboring in this movement for 33 years, as we said at the beginning here. I think back to even the early days when we started CLT, 2015, and folks, most people had no point of reference when we'd say,

Steven Jonathan (07:49.01)
It's incredible.

Jeremy (08:06.786)
you know, classical schools. They'd be like, what do you mean classical schools, right? Fast forward, you know, seven and a half years, it's very hard, I think, to find almost anyone who doesn't have some reference point. Oh, you know, my niece or nephew goes to a classical school or oh, my sister homeschools. What have you seen? Do you feel like this movement is hitting a tipping point or is it close?

Steven Jonathan (08:29.842)
I think it's really close to hitting a tipping point. Cause like you said years ago, I think we just trusted the public schools. Was it Abraham Lincoln who said, the philosophy in the classroom in one generation becomes the politics in the next? If that's Lincoln, it's so profoundly true. And I think it got to a point where people are saying, well, what on earth is going on in the classroom? Even though it's kind of a, it's an idol. It's a golden calf for the United States of America, modern education.

Jeremy (08:42.851)
That is Lincoln. That's right. Yeah.

Jeremy (08:57.966)
Thank you.

Steven Jonathan (08:58.642)
But I think the tipping point came when they saw what was coming out of the schools and how society is precipitously declining. So classical is that one thing we can gravitate towards that has some stability as opposed to the ever-revolving door of the modern pedagogies that come and go like fashions. It's unbelievable.

Jeremy (09:19.257)
I'm wondering, especially as I think about your work.

Jeremy (09:24.65)
And when I talk to heads of school, when I visit schools, it seems like one of the main barriers for this movement, scaling and really going mainstream and hitting a tipping point is teachers, right?

well-qualified teachers. It's simply impossible for Thomas Aquinas and Hillsdale to graduate enough students to staff all of these amazing classical schools that are growing. I think for so many of these heads of schools, they spend a lot of their time.

trying to find talent. I've talked to many of them, Steven, you'd probably agree with this. They actually view state licensure as a liability sometimes. It kind of signals that the young person has unfortunately ingested all the wrong ideas about education for four years and they're gonna have to be kind of kind of retaught. How can schools overcome this hurdle with staffing schools with excellent teachers?

Steven Jonathan (10:25.074)
Schools literally can't because it's very true that the modern credentialing program is soul poison. People don't understand it and it does require derasening. So what ends up happening is that you hire these young beautiful souls who have been deformed by the schools but still come from good family culture. And so that sort of decrepit default, it works. You can do it. But again, society all pulls towards what the modern credentialing program is.

is doing to our souls. And so I think it's a real problem that needs to be openly and vigorously debated. How is it that we can form teachers to meet the demand of all these families that do want classical education for their children? Because right now it's pretty bleak in a real way, even though we have many souls of goodwill participating. So the saving grace is the moral capital from families that have protected their children from some of the damage that the school's done.

Jeremy (11:24.846)
Steven, I'm wondering, this is something we've kind of identified through years and years of conversation at CLT and of course this is in.

addition to, of course, parents as the first and primary educators of their own kids, which we certainly believe in support here at CLT. But the way we see it is that there are essentially four levers that kind of drive education in America, kind of control education in America. And I'd be curious if you agree with this or if you would nuance this a bit. The four that we see, though, are the control of public funds, which is now being addressed with school choice.

The next one is accreditation, that whoever gets to say who is and isn't a school is going to have this tremendous impact. The next is going to be teacher certifications or licensure. If you can't teach unless you go and ingest all the bad ideas, the last one we would say is standardized testing, this concept that what gets put on the test that are often required, even for private schools, in many states, even for private schools, even for homeschoolers, that's what we have identified as kind of these big...

macro for levers. I wonder if you'd have a comment on that or maybe nuance that at all.

Steven Jonathan (12:37.81)
Yeah, it sounds like the four horsemen. I think that's well articulated. Those are the things that really stand in the way of the CLT and the classical movements of forging ahead in a healthy way. There's no doubt that those are so overtaken by what you might call just government influence or the way of the world or secular humanism. And I think people don't realize that secular humanism is really the thing that classical education is battling against.

And those four pillars right there are a manifestation and wholly edified by secular humanism. So that's a real problem that we will not soon get over.

Jeremy (13:07.15)

Jeremy (13:16.81)
Let's talk about this term for a minute, sexual or humanism, because I've heard you use this before in your very popular newsletter. You use it there as well. I'm thinking about it in light of this Elon Musk biography that I just read and Soren Schwab, our VP of partnerships who does the podcast and Noah Tyler, CFO. We all read it. One of the points that Elon Musk makes is that the battle is between what he actually calls extinctionists.

kind of anti-human, we see this with the anti-natalist language and everything else, and kind of the pro-humanist. And in some ways that divide seems maybe more accurate than secular humanists simply because I don't know that these people are humanists at all. I'm wondering if you can shed some light on your use of that term.

Steven Jonathan (14:06.738)
Yeah, well secular, it's funny, Elon Musk is onto something and it's true, there are two kinds of people now, transhumanists and humanists, and it's also true that humanism, as a movement out of the enlightenment, was generally, in the beginning, seen as a positive thing. But secular means of the material order. So what it means is sort of like a material atheist or even someone who says, I'm spiritual, not religious, or something like that.

So the movement says there is nothing beyond the material order and that the humans, we are the ones that are organizing the material order in order to better society or make a heaven on earth or whatever it is they wanna do. But I think humanists and extinctionists both fit into the secular humanist order.

Jeremy (14:51.394)
Hmm. Okay. That's a great way to think about it. There is this really chilling exchange in the book between Elon and Sergio Brim over at Google. And Brim is saying if the AI takes over, who cares? That's just the next stage in evolution. And Musk is pushing back like, you're crazy. But the fact that Brim can have that.

is the fruits of a very toxic education. I mean, is that how bad mainstream education has gotten? Is that, what do you think?

Steven Jonathan (15:25.65)
No, I think it's worse than that because what we really miss in the optics is that the moral capital of our past really does confront this nihilism that's being institutionalized more and more and more. So by appearances, it seems to be a lot better than it actually is. It's funny that Elon Musk says this about AI as he radically develops AI and implants and all these other crazy things. I mean, I worry about Elon Musk. I don't trust him.

Jeremy (15:49.934)
Oh, totally.

Oh yeah. No, it is. I mean, it's a sea of contradictions. And the idea with Neuralink, as it is in the book, is that essentially the only way humans are going to have a chance against AI is if we basically become AI ourselves. It's weird. It's really weird. He wants to fight us by like, yeah, making us just like the bots. And

Steven Jonathan (16:11.378)
That's so false. Yeah.

Jeremy (16:16.69)
Yeah, yeah, really, really wild. See, what would your advice be to young teachers? You mentor young teachers. I experienced this a little bit. My wife and I both went to inner city New York right out of college, and we were.

We were so excited. We were so optimistic. We were gonna change. We were beat up after three years. The light had faded from our eyes. And as much as I love and we celebrate on this podcast, everything happening in the classical school movement, it's really hard work. It's really, really hard work. And in fact, there's no shortcuts around hard work to form young people in the right ways. What would your advice be to young teachers that are listening?

Steven Jonathan (16:58.93)
It's dreadful out there right now. It's absolutely dreadful. And I think Elon Musk would advise us to be more like the institutions we go into in order to attack them. But I think that's just the opposite. I think we have to recover our humanity and we have to become humane in the face of these systems that have been codified, accepted, normalized. I think people don't realize that the primary methods of forming human beings in the modern classroom are brainwashing.

gaslighting and virtue signaling. I think people just don't realize that. And when I say something like that, they find it hyperbolic. But it's a reality, I could demonstrate it. I've been in public classrooms for 33 years and it's so dehumanizing. So what I did, which was by God's grace, is I went back into the tradition and I recovered an understanding of those immaterial realities that Edify wanted to be an excellent teacher. It's the only way to fly into the radar.

Jeremy (17:30.947)

Jeremy (17:53.058)

Steven Jonathan (17:57.202)
and inculcate formation of virtue in your own students. It's the only way. You cannot play the secular humanist game and help people. You just can't, no matter what.

Jeremy (18:08.822)
But let's talk about school choice for a minute. Being, again, a mentor teacher at John Adams Academy, and of course, friendly to the school choice movement, it's been very interesting to me who the anti-school choice kind of crowd is, and it's these weird bedfellows of kind of like your Randy Winegardener, they don't want a penny being spent on anything that could be pro-Western civ or religion or anything like that.

But then you also have some folks, my dear friend Robert Bortons, he's the CEO of Classical Conversations. He has deep concerns about what school choice or even ESAs will ultimately mean in terms of giving the government more authority to say who is and who isn't a school. Do you worry that folks are overly optimistic about the school choice movement? I mean, they have this in Europe, there's school choice in much of Europe and.

It's still pretty toxic.

Steven Jonathan (19:06.386)
oh, more toxic than here. They're just further down the road than us. And it's really true that the more, they're gonna ease up on the school choice to the degree that they have control over those of us who are bucking against them. So you see now that all these wonderful families pulling their kids out and homeschooling, it's almost to the point where all these homeschoolers are doing exactly to their children what the public schools would do to them. So.

Jeremy (19:22.379)

Steven Jonathan (19:33.426)
I think your friend at Classical Conversations is on to something, but on the other hand, we have to be liberated and have less control from the government because parents are the first teachers, no matter what, even if they send their kids out the door every day, it's their choice to send them out the door to be educated by the secular humanists.

Jeremy (19:52.45)
Stephen, tell us about City of Truth, your work. I've just learned about this myself. You have a very popular newsletter that goes out. Tell us about that and how folks would sign up for that.

Steven Jonathan (20:04.402)
Yeah, I just instituted City of Truth about a year and a half ago. And it's the name I got from St. Augustine's book, City of God, where he talks about two kinds of citizenship, those in the city of God and those in the city of man. And it's about what you love. So to translate that into education, I would say those who love truth above themselves are inculcated in a kind of spiritual citizenship in the city of truth. Whereas those who love themselves above the truth are in the city of man.

Jeremy (20:30.146)

Steven Jonathan (20:34.386)
And I'm trying to institute a place, an apostolate where families can come and get resources to recover an authentic city of truth education, which is a liberal arts education that leads into philosophy and theology so that they can become truly the first educators of their own children.

Jeremy (20:52.942)
That's great. And there's a podcast with this as well. What is the podcast?

Steven Jonathan (20:56.914)
Yeah, the podcast is called City of Truth Podcasts and I've only done one so far and that was with you, which was really enjoyable. So I'm just starting to film. You're my first guest. Yeah, the timeline got bumped up because of that last email. So you can sign up for my free email on

Jeremy (21:05.319)
I did not know I was your first guest. That's fantastic.

Jeremy (21:19.722)
video Let's talk books here. We always conclude the Anchor Talk podcast talking about the books that have been most formative for our guests. I go back to Chesterton's Orthodoxy. I try to reread it every year and somehow it's kind of like the gospels. It is always fresh because we're a little different as we grow and mature and have more experiences to understand.

Steven Jonathan (21:21.458)

Jeremy (21:45.078)
What would the book be for you? Maybe the one that you revisit every year or one that has just been deeply formative that you would recommend.

Steven Jonathan (21:51.858)
Hmm, that's a terrible question. I wish I would have been warned about this course. It's good I'm not playing by the rules. It's It's the Bible and then groups of authors like the church doctors and the fathers So for modern guys, I love Chesterton Tolkien Newman and Lewis, I love those guys. I love Joseph peeper. He is he Trent. He's a wonderful neotomas I love Thomas of Guston and the other church doctors. That's my list

Jeremy (21:55.541)
Well nobody plays by the rules. Nobody plays by the rules and everybody says multiple books.

Jeremy (22:21.558)
Great list. Favorite Chesterton?

Steven Jonathan (22:23.826)
Oh gosh. Orthodoxy?

Jeremy (22:25.614)
Because there's the orthodoxy versus the everlasting man. And some people really believe everlasting man is better than orthodoxy. I don't get that. To me, orthodoxy is in a completely different, what are your thoughts?

Steven Jonathan (22:34.994)

Oh, totally different. As a convert, reading Everlasting Man first was amazing for me. I enjoyed that. Orthodoxy was a gut punch. And What's Wrong with the World? I would highly recommend as a kind of a glimpse of somebody with a prophetic eye about what's wrong with the world because what he says in the 1900s is true today. Really good book.

Jeremy (22:58.09)
Love that. Love that, fantastic. Again, we are here with Stephen Jonathan, who is a teacher mentor, who's been laboring in this movement for decades. Stephen, we thank you for your work, your boldness, and please come back on the Anchor Podcast and visit us in the future.

Steven Jonathan (23:16.21)
I will. Thank you so much, Jeremy.

Jeremy (23:18.518)
Thank you.