John Taylor Gatto has some rather different ideas on the state of schooling. Google him up if you’re not familiar with his contrarian views on forced public education. His basic premise — and it appears pretty compelling — is that schools exist to make kids into the compliant cogs required of industry. Here’s what he had to say to Vermont homeschoolers about what it would take to correct some of the problems.
Shocking Origins of Public Education – Gatto
To get better schools that actually served us instead of suffocating us, we would need to successfully challenge certain scholastic and corporate assumptions. We would need to abandon, entirely, the idea that any such reality as mass-man actually exists. We would have to believe what fingerprints and intuition tell us — that no two people are alike, that nobody can be accurately described by numbers, that trying to do this sets up a future chain of griefs. We would have to accept that there is no such thing as a science of pedagogy, nor is one possible — that each individual has a private destiny. We would need to transfer faith to such principles and behave as if it were true. We would have to come to our senses and admit that knowledge is not a substitute for wisdom. We would have to believe each American has the right to live as he or she deems wise providing only they do no harm to others.
Personal experience is often denigrated as “anecdotal evidence” but it is nonetheless compelling for being immediate and directly perceived. Unfortunately personal experience leaves little opportunity to separate superstition from reality except thru replication. My personal experience with school, work, and education makes me think that the current disconnects between public expectations for Education and actual outcomes of Education may be related to Gatto’s contentions. As a people, we seen to recognize that our kids are not coming out of school prepared to take on the world on equal terms. Our response is NCLB, which feels a little like adding ballast to the Titanic’s holds.
Specifically, I believe most Americans — probably most people in the world — buy into the notion that the purpose of Education is to mold youth into productive citizens. When the US had a strong manufacturing base, that meant creating a few people who could manage — the officer corps in our Industrial Army — and a mass of people who could actually work on the production lines day after day, doing the needful without asking questions. The problem now, of course, is that our manufacturing base has departed. It will not be back. Now the skills we need to become productive citizens include the very skills antithetical to being successful cogs in the machine.
If Gatto is correct, the question becomes, “How do we reverse a century of momentum?” We have three generations steeped in the notion that forced public schooling, standardized testing, and mass education is a just and reasonable approach. Moreover, practically every person in the nation today is a product of the system. If Gatto is correct, then we’ve all been indoctrinated. Those in positions of authority owe their authority to that system. Dismantling the system means giving up the authority.
In the 1700s, America was populated by independent, rebellious, and obstreperous people. Over the course of the 1900s, that essential American character appears to have been systematically trained out of the American psyche. The 60′s notwithstanding, the individual capacity to reason and the integrity to stand by the results of that independent reason seem to have been leeched away. Have we devolved to the point where, if Gatto is correct, we no longer have the capacity to correct the problem? Have we made ourselves so stupid that we lack the tools to educate ourselves to adapt to the demands being placed on us by the new economy?