Tuesday, August 25, 2009
You don't have to make $200,000 a year and pay for a privet tutor for your kids to get the attention to education they need. You could just home school.
Monday, August 24, 2009
First U.S. Rehab Center for Internet Addicts Opens
Lessons in social skills such as conversation and reading body language are among the programs offered at the first U.S. rehab center for Internet addicts, which recently opened in the state of Washington.
"We are a cold turkey place; no technology," reStart psychotherapist Hilarie Cash told Agence France Presse. "A gamer is not going to be allowed to game any time they are here because it is the gaming that is their drug of choice."
Along with learning social skills, participants at the five-acre rural facility do hands-on activities such as feeding baby goats or building a chicken coop.
"We are not anti-technology," Cash told AFP. "It is about helping people addicted to technology to get through the withdrawal and help their brains get wired back to normal and connected to the world in a positive way."
Friday, August 7, 2009
I found this essay in the Fall '91 issue of Whole Earth Review. It finally clarified for me why American school is such a spirit-crushing experience, and suggested what to do about it.
Before reading, please set your irony detector to the on position. If you find yourself inclined to dismiss the below as paranoid, you should know that the design behind the current American school system is very well-documented historically, in published writings of dizzying cynicism by such well-known figures as Horace Mann and Andrew Carnegie.
The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher
by John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, 1991
Call me Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to do, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. My license certifies me as an instructor of English language and literature, but that isn't what I do at all. What I teach is school, and I win awards doing it.
Teaching means many different things, but six lessons are common to schoolteaching from Harlem to Hollywood. You pay for these lessons in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what they are:
The first lesson I teach is: "Stay in the class where you belong." I don't know who decides that my kids belong there but that's not my business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human being under the burden of the numbers each carries. Numbering children is a big and very profitable business, though what the business is designed to accomplish is elusive.
In any case, again, that's not my business. My job is to make the kids like it -- being locked in together, I mean -- or at the minimum, endure it. If things go well, the kids can't imagine themselves anywhere else; they envy and fear the better classes and have contempt for the dumber classes. So the class mostly keeps itself in good marching order. That's the real lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to know your place.
Nevertheless, in spite of the overall blueprint, I make an effort to urge children to higher levels of test success, promising eventual transfer from the lower-level class as a reward. I insinuate that the day will come when an employer will hire them on the basis of test scores, even though my own experience is that employers are (rightly) indifferent to such things. I never lie outright, but I've come to see that truth and [school]teaching are incompatible.
The lesson of numbered classes is that there is no way out of your class except by magic. Until that happens you must stay where you are put.
The second lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light switch. I demand that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. But when the bell rings I insist that they drop the work at once and proceed quickly to the next work station. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of.
The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Bells are the secret logic of schooltime; their argument is inexorable; bells destroy past and future, converting every interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes every living mountain and river the same even though they are not. Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.
The third lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by authority, without appeal. As a schoolteacher I intervene in many personal decisions, issuing a Pass for those I deem legitimate, or initiating a disciplinary confrontation for behavior that threatens my control. My judgments come thick and fast, because individuality is trying constantly to assert itself in my classroom. Individuality is a curse to all systems of classification, a contradiction of class theory.
Here are some common ways it shows up: children sneak away for a private moment in the toilet on the pretext of moving their bowels; they trick me out of a private instant in the hallway on the grounds that they need water. Sometimes free will appears right in front of me in children angry, depressed or exhilarated by things outside my ken. Rights in such things cannot exist for schoolteachers; only privileges, which can be withdrawn, exist.
The fourth lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum you will study. (Rather, I enforce decisions transmitted by the people who pay me). This power lets me separate good kids from bad kids instantly. Good kids do the tasks I appoint with a minimum of conflict and a decent show of enthusiasm. Of the millions of things of value to learn, I decide what few we have time for. The choices are mine. Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity.
Bad kids fight against this, of course, trying openly or covertly to make decisions for themselves about what they will learn. How can we allow that and survive as schoolteachers? Fortunately there are procedures to break the will of those who resist.
This is another way I teach the lesson of dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson of all, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that our entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned. Think of what would fall apart if kids weren't trained in the dependency lesson: The social-service businesses could hardly survive, including the fast-growing counseling industry; commercial entertainment of all sorts, along with television, would wither if people remembered how to make their own fun; the food services, restaurants and prepared-food warehouses would shrink if people returned to making their own meals rather than depending on strangers to cook for them. Much of modern law, medicine, and engineering would go too -- the clothing business as well -- unless a guaranteed supply of helpless people poured out of our schools each year. We've built a way of life that depends on people doing what they are told because they don't know any other way. For God's sake, let's not rock that boat!
In lesson five I teach that your self-respect should depend on an observer's measure of your worth. My kids are constantly evaluated and judged. A monthly report, impressive in its precision, is sent into students' homes to spread approval or to mark exactly -- down to a single percentage point -- how dissatisfied with their children parents should be. Although some people might be surprised how little time or reflection goes into making up these records, the cumulative weight of the objective- seeming documents establishes a profile of defect which compels a child to arrive at a certain decisions about himself and his future based on the casual judgment of strangers.
Self-evaluation -- the staple of every major philosophical system that ever appeared on the planet -- is never a factor in these things. The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but must rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth.
In lesson six I teach children that they are being watched. I keep each student under constant surveillance and so do my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children; there is no private time. Class change lasts 300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at low levels. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, even to tattle on their parents. Of course I encourage parents to file their own child's waywardness, too.
I assign "homework" so that this surveillance extends into the household, where students might otherwise use the time to learn something unauthorized, perhaps from a father or mother, or by apprenticing to some wiser person in the neighborhood.
The lesson of constant surveillance is that no one can be trusted, that privacy is not legitimate. Surveillance is an ancient urgency among certain influential thinkers; it was a central prescription set down by Calvin in the Institutes, by Plato in the Republic, by Hobbes, by Comte, by Francis Bacon. All these childless men discovered the same thing: Children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society under central control.
It is the great triumph of schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best parents, there is only a small number who can imagine a different way to do things. Yet only a very few lifetimes ago things were different in the United States: originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social class boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do many things independently, to think for themselves. We were something, all by ourselves, as individuals.
It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for "basic skills" practice is a smokescreen behind which schools pre-empt the time of children for twelve years and teach them the six lessons I've just taught you.
We've had a society increasingly under central control in the United States since just before the Civil War: the lives we lead, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the green highway signs we drive by from coast to coast are the products of this central control. So, too, I think, are the epidemics of drugs, suicide, divorce, violence, cruelty, and the hardening of class into caste in the U.S., products of the dehumanization of our lives, the lessening of individual and family importance that central control imposes.
Without a fully active role in community life you cannot develop into a complete human being. Aristotle taught that. Surely he was right; look around you or look in the mirror: that is the demonstration.
"School" is an essential support system for a vision of social engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that narrows to a control point as it ascends. "School" is an artifice which makes such a pyramidal social order seem inevitable (although such a premise is a fundamental betrayal of the American Revolution). In colonial days and through the period of the early Republic we had no schools to speak of. And yet the promise of democracy was beginning to be realized. We turned our backs on this promise by bringing to life the ancient dream of Egypt: compulsory training in subordination for everybody. Compulsory schooling was the secret Plato reluctantly transmitted in the Republic when he laid down the plans for total state control of human life.
The current debate about whether we should have a national curriculum is phony; we already have one, locked up in the six lessons I've told you about and a few more I've spared you. This curriculum produces moral and intellectual paralysis, and no curriculum of content will be sufficient to reverse its bad effects. What is under discussion is a great irrelevancy.
None of this is inevitable, you know. None of it is impregnable to change. We do have a choice in how we bring up young people; there is no right way. There is no "international competition" that compels our existence, difficult as it is to even think about in the face of a constant media barrage of myth to the contrary. In every important material respect our nation is self-sufficient. If we gained a non-material philosophy that found meaning where it is genuinely located -- in families, friends, the passage of seasons, in nature, in simple ceremonies and rituals, in curiosity, generosity, compassion, and service to others, in a decent independence and privacy -- then we would be truly self-sufficient.
How did these awful places, these "schools", come about? As we know them, they are a product of the two "Red Scares" of 1848 and 1919, when powerful interests feared a revolution among our industrial poor, and partly they are the result of the revulsion with which old-line families regarded the waves of Celtic, Slavic, and Latin immigration -- and the Catholic religion -- after 1845. And certainly a third contributing cause can be found in the revulsion with which these same families regarded the free movement of Africans through the society after the Civil War.
Look again at the six lessons of school. This is training for permanent underclasses, people who are to be deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius. And it is training shaken loose from its original logic: to regulate the poor. Since the 1920s the growth of the well-articulated school bureaucracy, and the less visible growth of a horde of industries that profit from schooling exactly as it is, have enlarged schooling's original grasp to seize the sons and daughters of the middle class.
Is it any wonder Socrates was outraged at the accusation that he took money to teach? Even then, philosophers saw clearly the inevitable direction the professionalization of teaching would take, pre-empting the teaching function that belongs to all in a healthy community; belongs, indeed, most clearly to yourself, since nobody else cares as much about your destiny. Professional teaching tends to another serious error. It makes things that are inherently easy to learn, like reading, writing, and arithmetic, difficult -- by insisting they be taught by pedagogical procedures.
With lessons like the ones I teach day after day, is it any wonder we have the national crisis we face today? Young people indifferent to the adult world and to the future; indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence? Rich or poor, schoolchildren cannot concentrate on anything for very long. They have a poor sense of time past and to come; they are mistrustful of intimacy (like the children of divorce they really are); they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction.
All the peripheral tendencies of childhood are magnified to a grotesque extent by schooling, whose hidden curriculum prevents effective personality development. Indeed, without exploiting the fearfulness, selfishness, and inexperience of children our schools could not survive at all, nor could I as a certified schoolteacher.
"Critical thinking" is a term we hear frequently these days as a form of training which will herald a new day in mass schooling. It certainly will, if it ever happens. No common school that actually dared teach the use of dialectic, heuristic, and other tools of free minds could last a year without being torn to pieces.
Institutional schoolteachers are destructive to children's development. Nobody survives the Six-Lesson Curriculum unscathed, not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it. In one of the great ironies of human affairs, the massive rethinking that schools require would cost so much less than we are spending now that it is not likely to happen. First and foremost, the business I am in is a jobs project and a contract-letting agency. We cannot afford to save money, not even to help children.
At the pass we've come to historically, and after 26 years of teaching, I must conclude that one of the only alternatives on the horizon for most families is to teach their own children at home. Small, de- institutionalized schools are another. Some form of free-market system for public schooling is the likeliest place to look for answers. But the near impossibility of these things for the shattered families of the poor, and for too many on the fringes of the economic middle class, foretell that the disaster of Six-Lesson Schools is likely to continue.
After an adult lifetime spent in teaching school I believe the method of schooling is the only real content it has. Don't be fooled into thinking that good curricula or good equipment or good teachers are the critical determinants of your son and daughter's schooltime. All the pathologies we've considered come about in large measure because the lessons of school prevent children from keeping important appointments with themselves and their families, to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity and love -- and, of course, lessons in service to others, which are among the key lessons of home life.
Thirty years ago these things could still be learned in the time left after school. But television has eaten most of that time, and a combination of television and the stresses peculiar to two-income or single-parent families have swallowed up most of what used to be family time. Our kids have no time left to grow up fully human, and only thin-soil wastelands to do it in.
A future is rushing down upon our culture which will insist that all of us learn the wisdom of non-material experience; this future will demand, as the price of survival, that we follow a pace of natural life economical in material cost. These lessons cannot be learned in schools as they are. School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.
A 1997 interview on We The People radio has been transcribed here.
[The following is from a letter by Grace Llewellyn (author of the Teenage Liberation Handbook), printed in the Spring 1992 issue of the Whole Earth Review:]
.. Gatto has a new job. Having resigned, he continues to implement his unique "guerilla curriculum" at the Albany Free School, and also lectures nationwide. In his lectures and his writing Gatto not only adeptly denounces the public schools, but also makes radical suggestions for improving them. These suggestions are grounded not in hypothetical clouds but rather on his own innovative methods of teaching which involve community service projects, independent study, apprenticeships, and solitude. ... More of Gatto's writing can be found in a new collection of his essays entitled "Dumbing Us Down" (New Society Publishers, 1992) [excerpted in WER issue #81].
"Dumbing Us Down" is available from New Society Publishers (POB 189, Gabriola Island, BC, V0R 1X0 CANADA), or via Gatto's own online bookstore, or from your friendly neighborhood bookstore (ISBN 0-86571-448-7).
A more comprehensive book, newly available on-line as well as in print is "The Underground History of American Education", and may be found at John Taylor Gatto's own web site, johntaylorgatto.com. You can buy a copy via his online bookstore, or from your friendly neighborhood bookstore (ISBN 0-945-70004-0). (Note: I have no financial relationship with him or the publisher.)
Harper's September 2003 issue had an essay, "Against School".
If you maintain a web page, you are encouraged to add a link to this one, as a short introduction to the problem of school. This page will be stable forever.
Return to The Cantrip Corpus.
© Copyright 1991 by Whole Earth Review & John Taylor Gatto. All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer: If you are a fan of public/government school and want to stay that way then you probable should not read this because it might educate you beyond repair.
John Taylor Gatto**
How public education cripples our kids, and why I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in
Boredom is the common condition of schoolteachers, and anyone who has spent time in a teachers' lounge can vouch for the low energy, the whining, the dispirited attitudes, to be found there. When asked why they feel bored, the teachers tend to blame the kids, as you might expect. Who wouldn't get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in grades? If even that. Of course, teachers are themselves products of the same twelve-year compulsory school programs that so thoroughly bore their students, and as school personnel they are trapped inside structures even more rigid than those imposed upon the children. Who, then, is to blame?
We all are. My grandfather taught me that. One afternoon when I was seven I complained to him of boredom, and he batted me hard on the head. He told me that I was never to use that term in his presence again, that if I was bored it was my fault and no one else's. The obligation to amuse and instruct myself was entirely my own, and people who didn't know that were childish people, to be avoided if possible. Certainly not to be trusted. That episode cured me of boredom forever, and here and there over the years I was able to pass on the lesson to some remarkable student. For the most part, however, I found it futile to challenge the official notion that boredom and childishness were the natural state of affairs in the classroom. Often I had to defy custom, and even bend the law, to help kids break out of this trap.
The empire struck back, of course; childish adults regularly conflate opposition with disloyalty. I once returned from a medical leave to discover that all evidence of my having been granted the leave had been purposely destroyed, that my job had been terminated, and that I no longer possessed even a teaching license. After nine months of tormented effort I was able to retrieve the license when a school secretary testified to witnessing the plot unfold. In the meantime my family suffered more than I care to remember. By the time I finally retired in 1991, I had more than enough reason to think of our schools - with their long-term, cell-block-style, forced confinement of both students and teachers - as virtual factories of childishness. Yet I honestly could not see why they had to be that way. My own experience had revealed to me what many other teachers must learn along the way, too, yet keep to themselves for fear of reprisal: if we wanted to we could easily and inexpensively jettison the old, stupid structures and help kids take an education rather than merely receive a schooling. We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness - curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight - simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids to truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then.
But we don't do that. And the more I asked why not, and persisted in thinking about the "problem" of schooling as an engineer might, the more I missed the point: What if there is no "problem" with our schools? What if they are the way they are, so expensively flying in the face of common sense and long experience in how children learn things, not because they are doing something wrong but because they are doing something right? Is it possible that George W. Bush accidentally spoke the truth when he said we would "leave no child behind"? Could it be that our schools are designed to make sure not one of them ever really grows up?
Do we really need school? I don't mean education, just forced schooling: six classes a day, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve years. Is this deadly routine really necessary? And if so, for what? Don't hide behind reading, writing, and arithmetic as a rationale, because 2 million happy homeschoolers have surely put that banal justification to rest. Even if they hadn't, a considerable number of well-known Americans never went through the twelve-year wringer our kids currently go through, and they turned out all right. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln? Someone taught them, to be sure, but they were not products of a school system, and not one of them was ever "graduated" from a secondary school. Throughout most of American history, kids generally didn't go to high school, yet the unschooled rose to be admirals, like Farragut; inventors, like
We have been taught (that is, schooled) in this country to think of "success" as synonymous with, or at least dependent upon, "schooling," but historically that isn't true in either an intellectual or a financial sense. And plenty of people throughout the world today find a way to educate themselves without resorting to a system of compulsory secondary schools that all too often resemble prisons. Why, then, do Americans confuse education with just such a system? What exactly is the purpose of our public schools?
Mass schooling of a compulsory nature really got its teeth into the
1) To make good people.
2) To make good citizens.
3) To make each person his or her personal best.
These goals are still trotted out today on a regular basis, and most of us accept them in one form or another as a decent definition of public education's mission, however short schools actually fall in achieving them. But we are dead wrong. Compounding our error is the fact that the national literature holds numerous and surprisingly consistent statements of compulsory schooling's true purpose. We have, for example, the great H. L. Mencken, who wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. . . . Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim.. . is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the
Because of Mencken's reputation as a satirist, we might be tempted to dismiss this passage as a bit of hyperbolic sarcasm. His article, however, goes on to trace the template for our own educational system back to the now vanished, though never to be forgotten, military state of
The odd fact of a Prussian provenance for our schools pops up again and again once you know to look for it. William James alluded to it many times at the turn of the century. Orestes Brownson, the hero of Christopher Lasch's 1991 book, The True and Only Heaven, was publicly denouncing the Prussianization of American schools back in the 1840s. Horace Mann's "Seventh Annual Report" to the Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1843 is essentially a paean to the land of Frederick the Great and a call for its schooling to be brought here. That Prussian culture loomed large in
It was from James Bryant Conant - president of Harvard for twenty years, WWI poison-gas specialist, WWII executive on the atomic-bomb project, high commissioner of the American zone in
Inglis, for whom a lecture in education at Harvard is named, makes it perfectly clear that compulsory schooling on this continent was intended to be just what it had been for Prussia in the 1820s: a fifth column into the burgeoning democratic movement that threatened to give the peasants and the proletarians a voice at the bargaining table. Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a sort of surgical incision into the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever reintegrate into a dangerous whole.
Inglis breaks down the purpose - the actual purpose - of modem schooling into six basic functions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals listed earlier:
1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.
2) The integrating function. This might well be called "the conformity function," because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.
3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in "your permanent record." Yes, you do have one.
4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been "diagnosed," children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits - and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.
5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to
6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.
That, unfortunately, is the purpose of mandatory public education in this country. And lest you take Inglis for an isolated crank with a rather too cynical take on the educational enterprise, you should know that he was hardly alone in championing these ideas. Conant himself, building on the ideas of Horace Mann and others, campaigned tirelessly for an American school system designed along the same lines. Men like George Peabody, who funded the cause of mandatory schooling throughout the South, surely understood that the Prussian system was useful in creating not only a harmless electorate and a servile labor force but also a virtual herd of mindless consumers. In time a great number of industrial titans came to recognize the enormous profits to be had by cultivating and tending just such a herd via public education, among them Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.
There you have it. Now you know. We don't need Karl Marx's conception of a grand warfare between the classes to see that it is in the interest of complex management, economic or political, to dumb people down, to demoralize them, to divide them from one another, and to discard them if they don't conform. Class may frame the proposition, as when Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said the following to the New York City School Teachers Association in 1909: "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." But the motives behind the disgusting decisions that bring about these ends need not be class-based at all. They can stem purely from fear, or from the by now familiar belief that "efficiency" is the paramount virtue, rather than love, liberty, laughter, or hope. Above all, they can stem from simple greed.
There were vast fortunes to be made, after all, in an economy based on mass production and organized to favor the large corporation rather than the small business or the family farm. But mass production required mass consumption, and at the turn of the twentieth century most Americans considered it both unnatural and unwise to buy things they didn't actually need. Mandatory schooling was a godsend on that count. School didn't have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume nonstop, because it did something even better: it encouraged them not to think at all. And that left them sitting ducks for another great invention of the modem era - marketing.
Now, you needn't have studied marketing to know that there are two groups of people who can always be convinced to consume more than they need to: addicts and children. School has done a pretty good job of turning our children into addicts, but it has done a spectacular job of turning our children into children. Again, this is no accident. Theorists from Plato to Rousseau to our own Dr. Inglis knew that if children could be cloistered with other children, stripped of responsibility and independence, encouraged to develop only the trivializing emotions of greed, envy, jealousy, and fear, they would grow older but never truly grow up. In the 1934 edition of his once well-known book Public Education in the
It's perfectly obvious from our society today what those specifications were. Maturity has by now been banished from nearly every aspect of our lives. Easy divorce laws have removed the need to work at relationships; easy credit has removed the need for fiscal self-control; easy entertainment has removed the need to learn to entertain oneself; easy answers have removed the need to ask questions. We have become a nation of children, happy to surrender our judgments and our wills to political exhortations and commercial blandishments that would insult actual adults. We buy televisions, and then we buy the things we see on the television. We buy computers, and then we buy the things we see on the computer. We buy $150 sneakers whether we need them or not, and when they fall apart too soon we buy another pair. We drive SUVs and believe the lie that they constitute a kind of life insurance, even when we're upside-down in them. And, worst of all, we don't bat an eye when Ari Fleischer tells us to "be careful what you say," even if we remember having been told somewhere back in school that
Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they'll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.
First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a preteen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there's no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.
** 09/2003 Harper's Magazine. Copyright of "Against School" is the property of Harper's Magazine. Its content may not be copied without the copyright holder's express written permission except for the print or download intended solely for the use of the individual user. Content provided by EBSCO Publishing.
* John Taylor Gatto is a former
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