Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.
You’ll never read or listen to a more insightful mind on the subject of “schooling” than the great John Taylor Gatto. He was a school teacher in New York for 30 years and named two-time Teacher of the Year. He resigned from school teaching in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal because he no longer wanted, in his words, “to hurt kids to make a living.”
Since then he has become the most influential voice of dissent on the idea of compulsory (forced) schooling. He has written a few fantastic books and lectures around the world on school reform and the virtues of free-will education.
During his 30 years as an educator, he watched how the “school system” evolved into the massive bureaucracy we see today. He found that the idea of schooling — stripping children from their families, segregating them based on age in white-walled cells, many rules, and teaching directed towards passing standardized tests — is destroying the minds and souls of our youth.
As an educator, he found that boredom riddled the classrooms, both teachers, and students. Most of the faculty he dealt with had become dispirited and disgruntled. The kids thought school was stupid and meaningless. No one wanted to be there. Students were not learning anything of value. They were taught to remember things to pass a test at the end of the week.
Gatto found this deplorable.
He came to believe school was doing more harm than good.
In his own words:
“I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes.
The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders.
This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic — it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.”
Gatto argues that the whole purpose of public schooling is to artificially keep children in childhood.
Childlike citizens tend to obey authority figures without question and are easily managed. This proves valuable in a corporate economy where passive compliance is essential.
He wrote in his book, Weapons of Mass Instruction, “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.”
Gatto once lectured that “guardians of a population deliberately dumb down and render childlike in order government and economic life can be managed with the minimal of hassle.” He believed that school is built around the self-interest of others and not the interests or curiosities of the students.
In his immense research of the beginnings of compulsory schooling, Gatto discovered that the founders of our education system implemented mass schooling with the sole purpose of molding our youth into obedient, subservient pawns for industry. They didn’t want brains, unique individuals, or creative minds. They needed everyone to be alike, standardized, just smart enough to obey orders and dumb enough to never question.
He discovered that “School was looked upon from the first decade of the twentieth century as a branch of industry and a tool of governance.”
One of the biggest advocates of indoctrination in our schools was president Woodrow Wilson. In a speech prior to WW1, he pulled back the curtain: “We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.”
In a 1906 document from Rockefeller’s General Education Board, the ultimate aim was revealed:
In our dreams…people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [of intellectual and moral education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets, or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen — of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple… we will organize children… and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.”
This reminds me of what the great journalist and cultural critic, H.L. Mencken, tried to warn over a half century ago:
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…that is its aim everywhere else.
In 1991, Gatto received an invitation to give testimony to the US Senate Committee on Labor and Human Relations. The major theme was: What will schools look like by the year 2000.
Gatto told them that he feared that “school in 2000 will look exactly like school in 1990. School in 1990 is almost exactly like school in 1890.”
He went on to explain that back in 1790, though, “it was still possible to become educated in America because school didn’t preempt all the time of the young, nor did it act as a leech upon family life then; it didn’t impose servile habits on the growing up time; it didn’t indoctrinate young minds with a burden of too many pre-thought thoughts.”
Gatto explained why he had little hope about the future of education: “My reasons for pessimism stem from knowing that failure is built into our political system because it forces our political leadership to depend for its election on the same financial interests which profit from the schools staying the way they already are. Schools are a most lucrative source of contracts and an enormous jobs project with sinecures for friends and relatives of your campaign donors.”
He makes clear that “change isn’t likely to be possible from any political center for the same reason, but it can come from defiant personal decisions made by simple men and women who won’t stand still for their kids being outraged any more — like the revolution of homeschoolers taking place nationwide. This system has had a century to prove itself, that’s enough. It didn’t work at the start…it doesn’t work today, and it won’t work better in the future…”
Gatto concludes in the committee hearing:
The principal target of school time at present, a target many self-satisfied men and women congratulate themselves upon knowing, is the production of high standardized test scores — which correlate with almost nothing of value. Every president of the United States since such testing was launched has had a mediocre to poor standardized test score…High standards and standardization are two very different things but your have been deliberately led by the rules of Newspeak to regard them as the same, just as you’ve been conditioned to think of education schooling in the same breath.
He ends by providing a list of “valuable human competencies” that define what a true education means:
- Educated people are seldom at a loss what to do with their time; being alone is often a blessing to the educated because they like their own company. Time doesn’t hang heavily on their hands.
- Educated people can form healthy attachments anywhere because they understand the dynamics of relationships.
- Educated people are aware of, accept, and understand the significance of their own mortality and each of its seasons. They learn from each moment, they gain insight all their ages, even to their last minutes on earth.
- Educated people possess a hard-won personal blueprint of value. They accept no prepackaged marching orders without passing them to the test of critical review. But they are also aware of a larger, human community and its values, are knowledgeable about values in different cultures.
- Educated men and women enjoy power to create new things, new ideas and new experiences; the educated discover truth for themselves to the rules of evidence, not by memorizing opinions of others.
- Educated people detect other people’s needs and in moving to meet those needs earn a living. But unlike the ignorant, the educated never become overly dependent on material wealth for happiness recognizing that most valuable goods — love, curiosity, reverence, and empathy — can be had without cost.
- Educated people actively seek variety and know how to master it sufficiently for pleasure and enlightenment. Yet they are aware, too, what without a home of their own and home responsibilities variety is hollow, experience superficial
- The curriculum to become educated is drawn from great life passages which have united generations from the beginning of time. First is the mystery of birth in the mysterious emergence of self. To explore self requires intimate knowledge of one’s parents and ancestors — and of the specific cultures which helped for them. The local cultures, that is, much more than the abstract entities we call political States. Who am I? Where are my limits? What are my possibilities? What range do the strange selves about me display? Exploring these things are like crucial appointments an educated person must keep; without honoring these only incomplete adulthood results.
- The physical world near and far must be thoroughly examined, analyzed, tested. This is work which can’t adequately be done and confinement or through blackboard extractions. When compulsion-school steals time needed for this work the damage is great.
- The complex possibilities of association must be encountered and wrestled with — it won’t work to merely talk about these, or see TV shows. They include family relationships, friendships, companionships, comradeship, love, hate, community, networking and more. Each has strengths and dangers inherent in the form. Not to practice early on is to risk becoming emotionally crippled. But confinement schooling is designed to socialize children into networks — the very weakest and least reliable of all human associations. Networks are designed to betray your trust if relied upon excessively.
- Another major theme which takes attention in the educated mind is a thoughtful approach to vocation — how does one contribute to the common good and at the same time earn a living? Then we meet the theme of “growing up” as a vocation of its own. How is that distinct from being a child? What complex of obligations accepted does growing up entail, acceptance of which brings maturity & independence?
- And we can’t leave out a very close study of death, the last act of the dramatic cycle begun by the mystery of birth. Without clear awareness of the short arc of a life, nothing means very much. If we live forever, no choice would ever be significant because endless time would be available to choose again and again. Time is strictly finite. Every choice precludes another, that’s the reality which vests existence with meaning. We need to realize that the dying owe the oncoming generations a world at least as good as the one they experienced while fully alive; if possible a better one.
For further reading:
Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling