Browsing the Bookshelf
The Book the Elites Hope You're too Illiterate to Read
Debbie W. Wilson
schooling has no lasting value to exchange for the spectacular chunk of living
time it wastes or the possibilities it destroys (375),
John Taylor Gatto, former New York Teacher of the Year, writes in The
Underground History of American Education(New York: Oxford Village Press, 2000/2001, 413 pages,
$30, index and book list included).
traces the roots of the modern school back to Hinduism's attempt to maintain
caste. I found the idea absurd until I
saw his documentation. Also the results of American "factory
schooling" and the Hindu caste schools are the same, a society of social
classes cast nearly in stone.
begins with early education in America, the education that brought us George
Washington, Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln, Noah Webster.
America's early years, Connecticut and Massachusetts boasted over 95%
literacy. It also boasted a
Judeo-Christian work ethic, a belief that hard work and bettering oneself went
together, close communities and little formal training, and children involved
in those communities.
education produced a people who valued freedom, who accepted the challenges of
life instead of hiding in line, waiting for the government to take care of
them. These people explored the land. They invented. They built homes and businesses, farms and laboratories. So what happened?
to Gatto and his sources, American education produced too much
independence. If workers didn't like
what the boss offered, they went elsewhere or started their own business. The nation went through a number of
financial ups and downs that interfered with the development of large scale
businesses and profits which needed stable money and a dependable workforce.
always happens, those on the top of the social heap wanted to stay there, but
they had to keep others from pulling them down, so they had to change American
education. Theories of evolution,
social gospel, racial superiority and
psychology, coming into vogue after the Civil War, provided them tools and
socially approved motivations.
Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest meant that the social and
economic leaders were at the head of the evolutionary process. If they failed to direct the evolution of
the species through education, the whole species would regress.
Puritans and other fundamental Christian groups began to find their doctrines
about God's holiness, original sin and judgment too harsh. They softened the hard parts by ignoring or
rejecting them and emphasized good works to the exclusion of standards of
holiness. (Don't get me wrong. We are "created unto good works, which
God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10)
Darwinism increased a sense of racial and
ethnic superiority felt by northern Europeans who considered themselves the
apex of evolution. Breeding with the
"lower" races, such as Jews, Italians or blacks, would produce
"monsters," at least if blond girls bred with these "lower"
produced the "empty child" philosophy, the blank slate theory of
Locke revisited. If all children were
born totally empty, then all could be filled the same way and their filling
measured with psychological tools.
the elites rejected the small schools with their strong emphasis on reading,
writing and arithmetic for your children.
(How many elite private schools have reading problems?) Instead, they pushed for large schools with
large bureaucracies that crowded parental involvement and criticism out.
devalued intellectual classes for the masses.
They instituted highly structured, tested and age-segregated social
classes for the masses. They promoted
psychological testing and analysis without parental involvement. They promoted stupid theories, such as new
math and whole language, in the teachers' colleges.
to think that the public school's methods were at fault; now, I think it's
their total philosophy. Ask ten adults
on the street what school should be for and you will probably get answers about
learning basic subjects, being prepared for jobs and work, maybe learning to
get along with others. Ask ten
teachers' college instructors the same question.
dedicated teachers trained by these instructors will tell you that the only
way children learn now is in little groups that learn cooperatively. How did Abe Lincoln ever learn to read with
less than one year of formal training in a blab school? Maybe he didn't know about those little groups.
intends to discuss his ideas for improvement in a future book, How to Get an
Education in Spite of School. His
small neighborhood schools heavily influenced
and controlled by parents,
thinking (logical reasoning),
involvement in community,
an emphasis on
character which includes duty, loyalty, work, obligation and service,
themes to explore
rather than subjects,
sequence, space and content,
of the book discourages reading, in spite of the importance of the
subject. Gatto covers challenging
material that makes you think. It is
not easy reading. From one chapter to
another, many of the same villains crop up and ideas so interrelated that you feel
you have read it before.
his ideas stimulate thinking. His
documentation tends to persuade. His
personal examples delight and fascinate as he takes us into the world of his
youth or introduces us to the students he loves in spite of the school
institution that he loathes.
|"The school institution is clearly a key partner in this arrangement (paternal corporatism): it suppresses the productive impulse in favor of consumption; redefines Work as a job someone will eventually give you if you behave(,) habituates a large clientele to sloth, envy, and boredom; and accustoms individuals to think of themselves as members of a class with various distinguishing features. More than anything else, school is about class consciousness. In addition, it makes intellectual work and creative thinking appear like distasteful or difficult labor to most of us. None of this is done to oppress, but because the economy would dissolve into something else if those attitudes didn't become ingrained in childhood." (362)
charges. Read it a little at a time to
see if you think he proves his case.
You can order this
book from The Odysseus Group, 295 E. 8th Street, Suite 3W, New York, New York
10009, phone (212) 529-9397.
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