by John Taylor Gatto, August 20, 2009
This is part two of a series of five articles that I am publishing on the problems that our public schools are facing.
John Taylor Gatto was named ‘New York City Teacher of the Year’ on three occasions. He is also the author of The Underground History of American Education and has written over five books on the education system in the United States. His career in public speaking launched when he became the subject of of a show at Carnegie Hall, entitled “An Evening With John Taylor Gatto”. He is currently at work on a documentary film about the nature of modern schooling entitled The Fourth Purpose.
My Story and How I Became An Expert in Boredom
I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and also in some of the best, and during that time I became an expert in boredom.
Boredom was everywhere in my world, and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave the same answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it.
They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren’t interested in learning more.
And the kids were right: their teachers were every bit as bored as they were.
The Teachers Are Bored Too
Boredom is the common condition of schoolteachers, and anyone who has spent time in a teachers’ lounge can vouch for the low energy, the whining, the dispirited attitudes, to be found there.
When asked why they feel bored, the teachers tend to blame the kids, as you might expect.
Who wouldn’t get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in grades? If even that. Of course, teachers are themselves products of the same twelve-year compulsory school programs that so thoroughly bore their students, and as school personnel they are trapped inside structures even more rigid than those imposed upon the children.
Who, then, is to blame?
Do we really need school?
I don’t mean education, just forced schooling: six classes a day, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve years.
Is this deadly routine really necessary? And if so, for what? Don’t hide behind reading, writing, and arithmetic as a rationale, because 2 million happy homeschoolers have surely put that banal justification to rest. Even if they hadn’t, a considerable number of well-known Americans never went through the twelve-year wringer our kids currently go through, and they turned out fine.
What about George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln? Someone taught them, to be sure, but they were not products of a school system, and not one of them has ever “graduated” from a secondary school.
Shortly after I retired from teaching I picked up Conant’s 1959 book-length essay, The Child the Parent and the State, and was more than a little intrigued to see him mention in passing that the modem schools we attend were the result of a “revolution” engineered between 1905 and 1930. A revolution? He declines to elaborate, but he does direct the curious and the uninformed to Alexander Inglis’s 1918 book, Principles of Secondary Education, in which “one saw this revolution through the eyes of a revolutionary.”
Inglis breaks down the purpose – the actual purpose – of modem schooling into six basic functions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the traditional goals of school:
1) The adjustive or adaptive function: Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can’t test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn and do, foolish and boring things.
2) The integrating function: This might well be called “the conformity function,” because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.
3) The diagnostic and directive function: School is meant to determine each student’s proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in “your permanent record.” Yes, you do have one.
4) The differentiating function: Once their social role has been “diagnosed,” children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits – and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.
5) The selective function: This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin’s theory of natural selection as applied to what he called “the favored races.” In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit – with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments – clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That’s what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.
6) The propaedeutic function: The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.
That, unfortunately, is the purpose of mandatory public education in this country. There you have it. Now you know.
Now for the good news!
Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid.
Schools train children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. Schools train children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently.
Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology – all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid.
Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues.
The solution, I think, is simple and glorious – let them manage themselves.
John also wrote, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Recently, my wife and I watched the movie, Animal, starring Ving Rhames, Terrence Howard and Jim Brown. The most important element of this movie was the Willie Lynch speech on how to make slaves (look for it on this website, it’s explosive and transformative). It’s time to bring our darkness into the light. Embrace it and move through it; that’s the only way to find our way back to love. What better place to do that than Real Talk World?
Pete – http://realtalkworld.com/
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having (creating) a human experience.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“How you define yourself and the world around you, forms your intent, which, in turn, forms your reality.” – Seth
In other words, we create our reality from what we believe about ourselves, and the world around us.
If we do not consciously choose our beliefs, we unconsciously absorb them from our surroundings.
If our beliefs, attitudes, values and expectations create our reality, can we afford not to question them?
The more we love, understand and appreciate ourselves, the better we treat ourselves, and the world.
Blessings of love and understanding be to us all!
The secrets of the universe lie hidden in the shadows of your experience. Look for them!