What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
A couple days ago I finished reading Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto. Some of you may recognize his name from the Your Child Left Behind post where I linked to an article he wrote titled The Tyranny of Compulsory Schooling.
Dumbing Us Down is a short book comprised of a few speeches Gatto has given on the subject of public education (or, has he correctly terms it, “compulsory schooling”.
Describing how he came to formulate the opinions he now has, Gatto writes:
…I began to wonder, reluctantly, whether it was possible that being in school itself was what was dumbing [the children] down. Was it possible I had been hired not to enlarge children’s power, but to diminish it? That seemed crazy on the face of it, but slowly I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior. (Dumbing Us Down, p. xxxiv)
That’s quite the bold statement, and Gatto backs it up throughout his book with other bold statements, examples, and scathing assessments. Gatto is clear to make the distinction between education and schooling, something that makes perfect sense to me as one who has recently completed a college education. For example, he writes:
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.
…we need to realize that the school institution “schools” very well, though it does not “educate” — that’s inherent in the design of the thing. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent. It’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing. (Dumbing Us Down, p. 21, 23)
Personally, I don’t remember anything I learned in high school or earlier. And even in college, I don’t recall the slightest thing about the general education I was forced to take (more “compulsory schooling”). You couldn’t get me to recite the various forms of mitochondria, the names or beliefs of the more prominent philosophers, or how to perform a double integral.
This is the plague of compulsory schooling. Instead of being inspired to seek education and learning, children are pitted one against another in order to beat the bell curve and get a good grade. Students, therefore, study hard, memorize the necessary terms, and regurgitate the information onto the mandated test. Two days later, good luck having them repeat that same knowledge to you that they so laboriously learned.
I think it’s a given, as Gatto stated, that most learning takes place in the laboratory of life. Schools don’t do much in the way of education, but they do indeed school very well. Are you beginning to see the contrast? They are not the same thing.
When I graduated from college last year, I was amazed at how much free time I had. I was free from the minutia of assignments, projects, quizzes and tests, and instead had ample time to read and learn what I wanted to learn. Free from compulsory schooling, I was able to educate myself. I can honestly say that I have learned more in the past year than I did in my four years of college education. Why? Because I have been free to choose what I want to learn. I have time to pursue the education that I have chosen for myself. Whatever interests me becomes my study topic for the day, rather than being compelled to study (not learn) something a teacher requires.
Gatto is a proponent of open education, as I am. He favors situations and programs where children can learn from anybody, young and old, rather than a “licensed” teacher hired for the job. Along these lines, he opines:
It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from teh immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety; indeed, it cuts you off from your own past and future, sealing you in a continuous present much the same way television does.
This was once a land where every sane person knew how to build a shelter, grow food, and entertain one another. Now we have been rendered permanent children. (Dumbing Us Down, p. 24, 100)
This is an idea that has been floating in my head for some time, and not until I read this book was I able to formulate that idea into words so concrete: we have been rendered permanent children. I know how to do very little. Luckily, my mother had a plan in raising my brothers and I, and I was able to depart from childhood with a toolkit filled with several resources and abilities. Many children whose parents delegate their upbringing and skill development to “experts” (or drop the ball and don’t take any active role) are not so fortunate.
Think about it. It was not so long ago that Americans were resourceful human beings who had a plenitude of solid, general knowledge. They knew how to build and fix things, how their government operated, how to cook, clean, sew, and produce what was needed to sustain their own lives. Such skills have become obsolete as we’ve become a market where one earns a living by specializing in one or two things. I am a web designer. How valuable will my skills be if/when the economy changes, technology rapidly advances, or I lose my eyesight? What will I have to fall back on? Through my schooling, I have been rendered a permanent child, dependent on so many other companies and individuals for my meals, shelter, warmth, and basic personal needs. I find that idea disheartening.
What is a possible solution, you might ask? Gatto suggests:
Encourage and underwrite experimentation; trust children and families to know what’s best for themselves; stop the segregation of children and the aged in walled compounds; involve everyone in every community in the education of the young: businesses, institutions, old people, whole families; look for local solutions and always accept a personal solution in place of a corporate one. (Dumbing Us Down, p. 93)
We have been commanded to bring up our children in light and truth. Can we best do so by delegating their secular education to organizations and individuals whose self-serving interest for economic security and growth undermine their alleged altruism? Gatto expounds in detail why schools (and the committees, organizations, and legislation that support them) are detrimental to the education of our children. For the sake of brevity I can’t enumerate them all, but his book is very much worth reading (I gave it an A+) to gain insightful perspective on the history, purpose, and methods of compulsory schooling.
Needless to say, Gatto provides countless other reasons in his book that affirm my personal desire to seek alternative education methods for my children.