Mike Map

View Mike Map in a larger map

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Wisdom# 11

A selection from one of my recent favorites, John Taylor Gatto. The book is called Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, and the essay "We Need Less School, Not More."

Almost all of my free-thinking-time this semester has been spent reading things in this vein and trying to figure out how to incorporate them into my work and life.

"Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important: how to live and how to die.

"What’s gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is one right way to proceed with growing up. That’s an ancient Egyptian idea symbolized by the pyramid with an eye on top, the one that’s on the other side of George Washington on our one-dollar bill. Everyone is a stone defined by its position on the pyramid. This theory has been presented in many different ways, but at bottom it signals the worldview of minds obsessed with the control of other minds, obsessed by dominance and strategies of intervention to maintain that dominance.

"It might have worked for the Pharaohs but it certainly hasn’t worked very well for us. Indeed, nothing in the historical record provided evidence that any one idea should dominate the developmental time of all the young, and yet aspirants to monopolize this time have never been closer to winning the prize. The humming of the great hive society foreseen by Francis Bacon, and by H.G.Wells in The Sleepeer Awakes, has never sounded louder than it does to us right now.

"The heart of a defense for the cherished American ideals of privacy, variety, and individuality lies in the way we bring up our young. Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important; force them to plead for the natural right to the toilet and they will become liars and toadies; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even. The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly.

"Individuality, family, and community, on the other hand, are, by definition, expressions of singular organization, never of “one-right-way” thinking on a grand scale. Private time is absolutely essential if a private identity is going to develop, and private time is equally essential to the development of a code of private values, without with we aren’t really individuals at all. Children and families need some relief from government surveillance and intimidation if original expressions belonging to them are to develop. Without these freedom has no meaning.

"The lesson of my teaching life is that both the theory and the structure of mass education are fatally flawed; they cannot work to support the democratic logic of our national idea because they are unfaithful to the democratic principle. The democratic principle is still the best idea for a nation, even though we aren’t living up to it right now.

"Mass education cannot work to produce a fair society because its daily practice is practice in rigged competition, suppression, and intimidation. The schools we’ve allowed to develop can’t work to teach nonmaterial values, the values which give meaning to everyone’s life, rich or poor, because the structure of schooling is held together by a Byzantine tapestry of reward and threat, of carrots and sticks. Official favor, grades, or other trinkets of subordination have no connection with education; they are the paraphernalia of servitude, not of freedom.

"Mass schooling damage children. We don’t need any more of it. And under the guise that it is the same thing as education, it has been picking our pockets just as Socrates predicted it would thousands of years ago. One of the surest ways to recognize real education is by the fact that it doesn’t cost very much, doesn’t depend on expensive toys or gadgets. The experiences that produce it and the self-awareness that propels it are nearly free. It is hard to turn a dollar on education. But schooling is a wonderful hustle, getting sharper all the time."

I highly recommend everything I've read by Gatto (Dumbing Us Down, A Different Kind of Teacher, and various essays online) as well as by John Holt (How Children Fail, Freedom and Beyond, and more), who was writing about similar stuff forty years ago. Even if I weren't a teacher, I would still find it all very illuminating. After all, who can reject the idea that the way we educate our young reveals what we hope they'll become once they're grown? Don't all of our political, social, and environmental issues have some root in the way that children in our society spend their fifth through eighteenth years?

I'm now off to Seoul to exchange some more books at the Seoul Nat' Uni library, hang out with old friends, and spectate upon the Buddha's Birthday festivities. Peace!