The Educated Person

6 Sep

John Taylor Gatto asserts that we don’t need schooling at all to learn what we need in life. And he’s right. His books state clearly from his experiences and reflect what I have experienced both as a teacher and a student. Schools don’t teach what you need. They don’t even help facilitate learning by providing real opportunities. Schools are in the business of crowd control and thought control. I remember several instances (for an extreme example) during power failures. We were forced to sit in a dark room and do nothing. All day. The kids were complaining, and rightly so. We as teachers were expected to pacify the students and act like it was important for them to be in school, no matter what. I could not, in good conscious, do that. When my students asked me why they had to remain in school when it was evident that we would be unable to do anything, I told them the truth. I told them that the school gets money for each student in attendance. I told them that the school wants them to learn to sit down and follow orders. I told them that the school didn’t really care if they were learning. And when students asked if they could call their parents to go home, I let them, even though cell phone use in the school is restricted.

Yes, learning to read, write, and compute is important. But you don’t need school to learn those skills. True learning comes from experience not from sitting in a classroom following school dictated instruction. Did you ever ask your teacher, “Why do we need to learn this?” or “Why is this important?” Was your teacher able to answer that question satisfactorily? This is a major problem with schools. Everything is so segmented that we can no longer make the life connections between subject matter. I used to try to get teachers to work with me to integrate subjects in meaningful ways. I taught art, making integration very easy. My first year teaching I sent letters to every classroom teacher (my first teaching position was in an elementary school) stating my desire to work with them to facilitate learning and show the students how everything works together. Not one teacher got back to me on this. Later in the school year I would get the occasional panicked teacher approach me on THE DAY of their class’s session with me asking if I would help teach some specific of their classwork. I was stuck. I only saw those kids once a week for 50 minutes and had my own curriculum as well. We were almost always in the middle of a major project. And yet the teacher expected me to drop everything at a moments notice to teach her students how to tell time, or symmetry, or shapes. It was maddening. And it didn’t matter that I often covered those subjects (except for telling time) in my classes anyway. It would have been easier for me and better for the kids if I had known the teacher’s schedule at the beginning of the year (when I handed out those letters) so that I could have coordinated those particular subjects for reinforcement.

I also had huge numbers of sixth graders (I’d estimate it to be about half) unable to use scissors. They just didn’t know how. Scissors were taken away from the classroom because they were too dangerous. Then they’d come to my art class and not know what to do. SIXTH GRADERS. All because they were never given the opportunity. That’s just wrong.

Wisdom and understanding come from experience. Not from the classroom. Not from abstract thinking. Life is about experience. Abstract thinking is useless if you are unable to logically and physically relate that information to real life experience. Schools don’t provide the opportunity for experience. And any teacher that does is quickly weeded out. I should know, I was one of them.

So, what does it mean to be educated? Here’s a start.

1. An educated person writes his own script through life. He is not a character in anyone else’s play, nor does he mouth the words of any intellectual’s utopian fantasy. He is self-determinded.
2. Time does not hang heavily on an educated person’s hands. He can be alone. He is never at a loss for what to do with time.
3. An educated person knows his rights and knows how to defend them.
4. An educated person knows the ways of the human heart; he is hard to cheat or fool.
5. An educated person possesses useful knowledge: how to build a house, a boat, how to grow food, etc.
6. An educated person possesses a blueprint of personal value, a philosophy. This philosophy tends toward the absolute; it is not plastic or relative, altering to suit circumstances. Because of this an educated person knows at all times who he is, what he will tollerate, where to find peace. But at the same time an educated person is aware of and respects community values and strange values.
7. An educated person can form healthy attachments wherever he is because he understands the dynamics of relationships.
8. An educated person accepts and understands his own mortality and its seasons. He understands that without death and aging nothing would have any meaning. An educated person learns from all his ages, even from the last minutes of his life.
9. An educated person can discover the truth for himself. He has intense awareness of the profound significance of being, and the profound significance of being here.
10. An educated person can figure out how it be useful to others, and in trading time, insight, and service to meet the needs of others, he can earn the material things he needs to sustain a wholesome life.
11. An educated person has the capacity to create new things, new experiences, new ideas.
John Taylor Gatto, A Different Kind of Teacher, pp. 225-226

You have to get out there and experience life and make mistakes and learn from those mistakes and try it again. And you need to let your children have this opportunity or they will be doomed to follow the herd of mindless bodies taking orders and living a meaningless existence. Maybe your child will be able to break free of this trap. But it is hard. I didn’t come out of the water until I was an adult. And by then I was already entangled into several awkward situations that it has been a struggle to get out. Nothing dangerous. I didn’t start doing drugs (although I know a lot of people that did). But I was a single mom stuck in a job that had made me jaded not liking myself much. That is not a good place to be. And from what I have seen of the world, that is the place where a lot of people are. Now, my situation may not be perfect, but I am content. I am happy with what I am doing. I am striving toward something beautiful and I know that the journey is just as important, if not more important, than the destination.

Buy John Taylor Gatto’s books at


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