Tag Archives: John Taylor Gatto

Back to school for the fall

18 Aug

A lot of kids are starting school this week. I’ve seen lots of pictures of kids with their brand new backpacks and hopeful smiles pasted all over Facebook. All of the neighborhood kids have been noticeably absent from our house only to reappear after 3 o’clock.

And my kids have been busy. Planning a puppet show (that should be interesting), playing Spanish games on the computer, practicing the guitar, and learning how to be self-sufficient. My kids forget that their friends are locked up in schools and frequently ask throughout the day if they can pop by their houses to invite them to events (like the puppet show – lol) or to show their friends something that they are making. They also miss the freedom of being outside to explore their world. We try to curb their outside activities while school is in session just to avoid any harassment from the community. I know that all I have to do is inform the inquiring authorities that we homeschool, I just don’t want to have to deal with truant officers and DCFS. That is the downside of being the only homeschooling family in the community.

What concerns me is why is our family the odd ball? Why? When every parent I talk to complains about the effectiveness of their schools, or the problems their children are having at school, or the infusion of materialistic and socialistic ideals in their school. Even parents who send their kids to “a good school” encounter some of these problems. So why does everybody keep sending their kids to school?

Every school has an agenda

And it’s not always the same agenda as the parents. Sure every school talks about it’s focus on academic subjects. And some schools even do a good job raising the grades of students in certain subjects. But every school (public, private, magnet, charter) has another agenda. Sometimes the teachers and administrators don’t even know what the agenda is, but it’s still there.

I just encountered an extreme example of schools’ hidden agendas this past month. A friend of mine (a fellow art teacher) had just accepted a job at a new charter school in St. Louis. Somewhere along the way she discovers that the school is owned and operated by Turkish patriots who infuse Turkish politics, religion, practices, and beliefs throughout their school system. She tossed out phrases that I had not heard of (i.e. “Gulen Movement” – read about it at: 123) and was afraid of remaining with the school. She wanted my advice on how to get out. Well, luckily it was well before school started so she had lots of options.

Now, I can hear a lot of you telling yourself that this is an exception. But it’s not. Sure, the public schools aren’t pushing Turkish patriotism, but they do have a hidden agenda.

What is the purpose of schools?

Mass schooling of a compulsory nature really got its teeth into the United States between 1905 and 1915, though it was conceived of much earlier and pushed for throughout most of the nineteenth century. The reason given for this enormous upheaval of family life and cultural traditions was, roughly speaking, threefold: 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. (John Taylor Gatto, Against School)

The purpose of schools is to maintain a docile mass populace – easily managed and obedient workforce. Think I’m crazy? There are tons of documentation out there to show this is a fact. (I have a short list to get you started.) This is a far cry from the 3 Rs normally talked about (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic – they don’t even all start with R. Did this bother anybody else?)

That erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it 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 United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else. (H.L. Menken, The American Mercury, 1924)

We sacrifice our family bond for the hope of a successful future for our children. How did we get to this point? It was by careful design.

(Alexander) Inglis breaks down the purpose – the actual purpose – of modern 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 Darwin’s theory of natural selection as applied to what he called “the favored races.” In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit – with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments – clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That’s what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.
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. (John Taylor Gatto, Against School)

So, go ahead and send your kids off to school with a smile and a wave. But don’t be surprised at the results.

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References and suggested reading.

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 Amazon.com