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Category Archives: Homeschool Advocacy
At some point, at some time in the recent past, I got on the HSLDA mailing list. For those not in the know, that is the Home School Legal Defense Association. Since 1983, they have been defending the rights of … Continue reading
“Wow, really?” I can hear you asking now, “After you told us yesterday to read more fiction? Confusing much, Christine?” I know, I know, there are times I send mixed messages. However, let us not revisit the past (oh that … Continue reading
I’m going to post this on both my blogs. But first I want to say… Thank You. For reading my blog. For commenting. For just being you. I came up with the idea for writing daily in two blogs – … Continue reading
Homeschooling is quickly evolving from ‘just Emily and me’ to the entire family contributing. It’s fantastic, it really is. And I can’t help thinking that we are all better for the experience. On Monday, Emily ran out to the mailbox … Continue reading
Welcome back to another installment of my review of “Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto. If you have missed any of the earlier chapters, go to the Book Reviews page and simply click on any of the links to read those first. We will be returning to Mr. Gatto’s book each week for another chapter.*Note: Typical book reviews are ONE post, but Mr. Gatto’s book was so chock full of information that I decided to take it one chapter at a time. Believe me, the wait each week is worth it, but if you grow tired of waiting, you can purchase this book through the link below.
Chapter 8: What is Education?
Gatto begins this question by introducing a great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant and Kath’s four questions that strike at the heart of any educational quest:
- What can I know?
- What may I hope?
- What ought I to do?
- What is Man?
I have to agree with Gatto that it is ironic that Germany, who revered Kant and his work, is the same country that created the basis for compulsory education that we use to this day – essentially turning its back on everything Kant held as important to an educated life.
Gatto’s list, too long to repeat here, described educated (instead of schooled) people and it was a list I sat down and copied out, to review and work through personally. Some of things he described I had down pat, others were worth careful consideration and possible change in order to achieve.
Gatto writes, “Without clear awareness of the short arc of a life, nothing means very much…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.”
p.151 “[School] leaches from the economy its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.”
p.152 “You should begin with the attitude that nothing is wrong in the natural variation which finds one child reading at five and another at twelve. By the time both are fifteen nobody can tell which one learned to read first.”
I was self-taught by age three and proficient by age five. My husband, however, struggled with reading for years. In the 3rd grade a teacher attempted to have him moved to the special needs class. When my mother-in-law insisted they test his IQ first, they discovered he tested out at an incredibly high level – genius material. He struggled with reading, and was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia, although he did not manifest any of the classic symptoms.
Today he believes that he does NOT have dyslexia, instead he simply learns differently, so differently that learning to read in a public school was not just difficult, it was excruciating. To this day, Dave prefers audiobooks over the act of physically reading. He probably ‘reads’ as many, if not more, books than I do on an annual basis and has an amazing memory.
Gatto continues to paint a beautiful picture of what his vision of a school could be, adding, “What makes achieving that…particularly difficult is that the opponents to change are all too frequently our relatives or ourselves.” Our closest friends and family, even ourselves, stand in the way of this ideal education.
For some reason, this chapter and the previous one, have brought back stark memories of the teachers’ lounge – where teachers ran and hid before and after school and during the lunch hour – a place no student was ever welcome. I remember the exclusion hurt my feelings. That, when given the choice, they chose to separate themselves from us, to hide away and meet any intrusion with sharp, barked commands to remove our teenage selves from the premises post-haste.
In this picture that Gatto paints so beautifully, all I can see is me, there in the teacher’s lounge, spending my lunch time laughing and talking with a teacher. Perhaps it is a silly vision, but how I wanted (and continue to dream of) a place of learning where teachers are our friends and mentors, not refugees or prison guards.
Gatto finishes that beautiful picture with the economic advantage, “Any type of change which will produce new value for our society through schooling will involve less school time, less school personnel, less store-bought materials, less interference in the natural processes of learning. Any school reform that will work, academically and behaviorally, will cost much less money than we are currently spending.”
A 2008 article in The Washington Post puts a number on the cost of public school, Andrew Coulson wrote, “We’re often told that public schools are underfunded. In the District [District of Columbia], the spending figure cited most commonly is $8,322 per child, but total spending is close to $25,000 per child — on par with tuition at Sidwell Friends, the private school Chelsea Clinton attended in the 1990s.”
Hell, with a 1/10 of that amount I can give my child an amazing education, far in advance of anything the schools could possibly offer.
Gatto points to the advent of personal computing and asks, “How then did we learn to use [a] computer? By struggle…by whining to friends, by watching others, by networking…reading books, pushing ourselves. We learned to compute the same way we learned to drive – without much professional help.”
At high school in the early to mid 80s, computers were still DOS-based, slow, non-end-user-friendly monstrosities. I say this from personal experience. I HATED them with a passion most people reserve for liver and onions or brussel sprouts or pelvic exams.
My dad insisted I take a computer science course, something I’m sure he regretted a thousand times over as I whined, cried and yes, even stomped my feet over. In the late 80’s early 90’s came Windows, and with a workable platform that I could understand and interact with, I jumped in feet first. I’ve been attached at the hip to computers ever since.
At several points in the past 21 years I have taken a computer course seeking understanding on a particular program, only to find I knew most if not all of the secrets by the time the class began. Computers are such a perfect example that you don’t need an instructor to tell you what to do, you just learn by asking, “Gee, what will this do?” and clicking a button. Sometimes all hell breaks loose, but most times, it is a learning experience and soon after, a new skill.
Gatto ends this chapter by addressing yet another burning question I had after reading his thoughts on tests and grades. He writes, “Draw a parallel with driving. It’s a dangerous ballet of hand/eye/foot coordination…Notice that everyone who does this actually learns to do it on their own…we don’t demand drivers be schooled, only that they be competent.”
“And think of this: none of these drivers is graded, they pass or they fail the driving test; if they fail they take it a second or third or tenth time until they pass.”
My burning question had arisen out of his concept of school without grades. My mind had immediately fixated on medical students and thought with horror of them sailing through medical school without so much as a sort of “A” in their work. But Gatto points out that with pass or fail, there are still some system of checks and balances.
He asks tongue in cheek, “Shouldn’t motorists have to mount illuminated signs indicating the grade of driver they are?” And while this might be an attractive idea, he continues, writing, “We expect one another, whatever our grades or test scores, to use good judgment in driving and for the most part, we aren’t disappointed.”
Gatto says, “Grades and test scores are a terrible measure of quality” and I can’t help but agree. I’ve goofed off in class, barely done the work, and still gotten an A. I’ve been in classes were I can honestly say I learned absolutely nothing, while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. There is something wrong with a world in which that happens.
Chapter 9: A Letter to My Granddaughter About Dartmouth
This entire chapter is devoted to Gatto’s granddaughter, Kristina. He starts it off by reminiscing over a news photo of Kristina, grinning and holding up the citation she received after riding her bike on a city street in defiance of a city ban.
Gatto then turns his sights on his family’s history, and of course, Kristina’s, listing a long line of rule-breaking, defiant men and women, who fought against injustice, or just simply…fought. He writes, “You’re a chip off the old block alright, Kristina.”
He moves on to question whether Dartmouth is necessarily a good choice for her, or any college for that matter. He writes, “That’s not to say education doesn’t matter. It does. You need finely tuned critical judgment to defend yourself in the dangerous house of mirrors America has become. It’s just that college won’t give you education. Only you can do that.”
That paragraph struck me on a couple of different levels. The “house of mirrors” is reminiscent to me of a discussion I just posted today on my other blog, The Deadly Nightshade, in which my neighbor asked about Cuba, saying “I thought Cuba was…well…bad.” The mirrors in America are very much like funhouse mirrors, they distort, present only one viewpoint, and ignore all others.
I believe the key to our survival, and more importantly, our thriving, is to educate ourselves to see through these distortions to the real world – with all of its varying shades of gray. Only then can we make decisions on a personal, local and even global level that are intelligent and well thought out.
The second part “college won’t give you education. Only you can do that” he clarifies, adding, “You will learn how to game the system at Dartmouth…you’ll learn how to conceal your pain and confusion. You’ll learn to think how and what the boss wants you to think, how to dress as the boss wants you to dress, and how to value what the boss wants you to value. and you’ll learn to believe that all those things were your own idea. It’s very subtle…you won’t even realize it’s happening.”
If a corporate future is your true hope and aspiration, then college is the place to get it. At least, that’s the message I walk away with. However, if you want to learn how to think for yourself, maybe not so much.
Gatto then gives his granddaughter “Grandpa John’s Real Learning Index” – which comprises of eight areas:
- Self knowledge – “By now you should have introspected enough to know your own character: its proclivities, strengths, weaknesses, blessings, curses.”
- Observation – “Your powers of observation in any situation should be razor sharp: at will you should be able to function like an objective camera/tape recorder sucking in accurate data for later analysis.”
- Feedback – “If you rely on test scores and teacher evaluations as stars to steer by you are in for a shock when you discover discrepancies between what you’ve been taught to think and reality.”
- Analysis – “Can you take a new problem, break it into structural and procedural elements, gauge the relationships among those, reckon major outside influences, and do all this without expert help?”
- Mirroring – “Can you fit into every group, even a group of your enemies, opting in and out as you please, yet remaining yourself?”
- Expression – “Do you have a voice that’s your own?”
- Judgment – “The society you are entering is a house of mirrors; little of what you see and few of those you meet will be what they appear.”
- Adding Value – “Do you add value to every encounter, to every group of which you are a part?”
All of these points, or indexes, are extremely important. The last one struck me as particularly poignant, however, because it is one of the main reasons I write this blog and others – to bring value, if possible, to change lives or empower others to change their own lives.
Gatto goes on to point out that “College was transformed into a training ground for work right after WWII, work that is as corporations and government bureaus and university departments define work, not as real people do.”
Gatto also pointed to the rising number of incarcerated people, we have 25% of all incarcerated people on this earth in our jails, 90% of them for non-violent crimes. Yet we only have 5% of the global population. How is it that we are “five times more eager than average to lock up our fellow citizens, six times more likely than China is to do the same thing.”
Are we being trained towards incarceration through compulsory schooling? Gatto quotes one of the well-known education leaders, writing, “Horace Mann himself called school ‘the best jail’ to his financial backers, by which he meant that the jail you sentence your mind to when you go to school is harder to escape than any iron bars.”
Gatto goes into great detail on the history of American education at his website. You can find the book ‘in toto’ here, or purchase a copy by clicking on the image below.
Welcome back to the newest installment of my review of “Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto. If you have missed any of the previous chapters, simply click on the Book Review page link and find the link you missed. We will be returning to Mr. Gatto’s book each week for another chapter.
*Note: Typical book reviews are ONE post, but Mr. Gatto’s book was so chock full of information that I decided to take it one chapter at a time. Believe me, the wait each week is worth it, but if you grow tired of waiting, you can purchase this book through the link below.
Chapter Seven: Weapons of Mass Instruction
Gatto begins this massive chapter by introducing the reader to Jacques Lusseyran, a blind French teenager who was the head of an underground resistance group of about 600 people during World War II. Gatto quotes Lusseyran from his autobiography And Then There Was Light – “A group of human beings that stay in one room by compulsion begin to smell.”
I’ve made a note to look up this book and read more about Lusseyran and his accomplishments.
Gatto also takes this opportunity to write, “school is not a good place for your kids,” in case you had any doubts on his feelings or beliefs on that score. He continues, “From the first month of my teaching career of 30 years, I realized that intellectual power, creative insight, and good character was being diminished in my classroom and that indeed I had been hired for precisely that purpose.”
The idea of scientific management, which Gatto calls “the high level cult created by efficiency engineer Frederick Taylor” promotes the concept of hierarchy. He writes, “The concept of hierarchy is especially important in bureaucracies…there everything is secondary to subordination. Better the ship should be blown to pieces than allow a common sailor to give the orders because he knows more than the captain.”
That really resonated with me. I’ve seen a couple of corporate disasters run themselves off a cliff that I and others could clearly see, but they seemed oblivious to. And honestly, I just sat back and openly laughed at them, wondering how they could be so blind. It didn’t do my career within their world any good – but I was only a lowly office worker, incapable of making decisions like they were. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic here)
Gatto uses the example of a talking choo-choo to illustrate how a school’s curriculum has been dumbed down, he refers again to the Prussian system of education that our own school system is based upon, “That’s why I call it the German disease – the artificial extension of childhood. Make no mistake, it works. Once sufficiently infected with the virus the disease is progressive. Its victims become inadequate to the challenges of their existence without help, and that relative helplessness makes them manageable.”
I suddenly thought of the seemingly overwhelming cultural expectation that parents have of the impending teen years. “Oh,” my parents and countless others would say, “Just wait until she becomes a teenager, then you are really in for it.” There is this overwhelming expectation that the teenage years are difficult and a torment for parents and teens alike. And it made me question why.
Is it possible that deep inside, they realize they have been lied to (think of the grade school lies of Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims and Indians) and that their lives are completely under other’s control, and that they are angry and resentful as a result? Could it be, following Gatto’s points of logic, that it is the last gasp of the independent creature within desperately struggling to be free to think for himself?
If so, is it any wonder the teen years can be hell?
I say can be, not are, because I refused to buy into that crap, and my eldest and I had (for the most part) a far healthier relationship than many parents and teens do.
Gatto admonishes parents to expunge talking choo-choos, and sweet smarmy stories and head straight for Beatrix Potter and others (unedited copies of Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson perhaps?) who are willing to write about things such as the fox in The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck “who asks Jemima to pick out the seasonings in which she is to be cooked.” He points out that children want to read about evil, cruelty, and malice; that they are cognizant that these things exist even before they can speak. To withhold this, Gatto seems to infer, will stunt your children and create for them a fake, saccharine-sweet world that simply does not exist.
Gatto points to compulsory schooling as a main culprit in this when he writes, “The genius lies in setting up a perverse hunger which defies eradication later on as the victim struggles to grow up. This implanted need for simplifications in everything makes self-discipline difficult, and for most of us, only indifferently possible.”
That quote right there, shook me. It made me take a good, hard look inside and wonder at my own implanted need for simplifications. How often have I stopped reading something (including this very book) because some of the concepts presented eluded me on their first reading, confused me, and I retreated to find something simpler to understand?
How broken am I? I shared this with my husband and could not help the tears that came to my eyes, as I wondered aloud, “Where would I be if someone had set me down with The Iliad in its full form and let me read it? Where would I be now?”
It is more than just reading one story, obviously. But I cannot help wondering where I would be today if I had believed enough in myself to start my own business twenty-five years ago, instead of working for two full decades for other people and despising every minute of it? With education and experience in dialectic thought, instead of schooling and conformity, a person’s self-esteem, belief in their own capabilities, and honest self-worth has got to be higher.
The absolute frosting on the cake was still to come. Gatto finally wrote his answer to the question that had been forefront in my thoughts since I began reading this book. Apparently I’m not the only one who wants to hear his suggestion for how to change the relationship between me and my children for the better…
Gatto wrote, “Don’t think of them as kids. Childhood exists, but it’s over long before we allow it to be. I’d start to worry if my kid were noticeably childish past the age of seven and if by twelve you aren’t dealing with young men and women anxious to take their turn, disgusted with training wheels on anything…and add enough value to the neighborhood that they have an independent income; if you don’t see this, you’re doing something seriously wrong.”
My placemarker in the book next to this quote says, “WOW.” As with most of Gatto’s writing, I can see a clear vision of such a child. It is a radical, outrageous thing he is recommending, at least according to the world in which we have been raised. It may seem far too outrageous for you to swallow right away. My husband stared at me in undisguised horror when I read it out loud, yet we both see a great deal of value in this vision. Value for our child and her future.
I can remember with my eldest, we could not get her a work permit until the age of fifteen, two years past the point when she would have liked to get one. At the time, I was still working in offices for other people. I didn’t think entrepreneurship or work-arounds…I only heard “no” and “wait” – and so that is what we did. But now I think of Aliyah F., a homeschooler I profiled a few weeks ago. She buys the feed for her chickens, cares for them, hires her brother to do part of the evening chores, and then is able to sell the excess eggs as part profit and also re-investment in more feed. Aliyah is eleven years old. She shouldn’t be the EXCEPTION to the rule, she should BE the rule.
I’m going to close this chapter review with one last thought…the cauldron of broken time. I was pleased to see one of my favorite authors (and personal heroines) Claire Wolfe mentioned by Mr. Gatto. He wrote, “We know that uninterrupted sleep time is essential for precision in thought, but as Claire Wolfe, a west coast writer once taught me, uninterrupted waking time is similarly essential. When you can’t concentrate, it’s hard to make sense of things. Rather than persist in trying, it’s easier to just quit.”
Gatto goes on to illustrate that the public school day, chunked up into bells, loudspeaker messages, toilet interruptions, and more, has the “psychological effect of being plunged into a cauldron of broken time.” With so many interruptions, with so little time to focus on a particular subject, we are incapable of giving it the attention it deserves for true and honest absorption. And perhaps this is why school has become a ‘swallow and regurgitate’ cycle for children. They are given the material to choke down and then a test is administered. After the test, what if anything will they actually remember?
Stay tuned for Chapters 8 & 9 next week.
Follow up from last week’s post:
Last week I asked you the reader how you can SHOW a child (or adult) something in the world that will pull them away from passive observation and into active participation in the world around them. I also promised that I would let you know how I managed it with my little one. Here are two activities that we did that got my little one engaged…
Studs and shoe shelves -I wrote about this a few weeks ago in this blog, but it should be revisited as a learning and interesting lesson about carpentry, engaging our daughter actively in an activity, and laying the foundation for teaching her a new skill.
A play in a day – Forget watching videos or going to see a play. On Saturday, March 12th, Emily was in her first play. She beat me by one year, my first performance was as the Littlest Star when I was just five years old. She spent a day rehearsing, running around with a group of kids she had never met before, and ended it by performing in a silly play full of costumes, screams and lots of laughs.
Welcome back to the fifth installment of my review of “Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto. If you have missed any of the previous chapters, simply click on the Book Review page link and find the link you missed. We will be returning to Mr. Gatto’s book each week for another chapter.
*Note: Typical book reviews are ONE post, but Mr. Gatto’s book was so chock full of information that I decided to take it one chapter at a time. Believe me, the wait each week is worth it, but if you grow tired of waiting, you can purchase this book through the link below.
Chapter Five: Hector Isn’t the Problem
Mr. Gatto starts out this chapter with the words, “I Quit.” And quit he did, by first writing an essay titled “I Quit, I Think” to the Wall Street Journal. He quit on July 5th, 1991 and the essay was published on July 25th, 1991.
With that out of the way, he tackles the subject of dumbness, writing: “…mass dumbness first had to be imagined; it isn’t real.”
This really stuck with me, in no small part due to my upbringing. There was a certain elitism in my family, intentional or otherwise, that informed my younger years. I was told I was smart, and I knew both of my parents were quite smart, and there was a certain expectation from them for me to behave the part. Nothing was ever said outright, no judgments or all-encompassing assumptions of others’ lack of intelligence but still the inference was there. I was smart, they were smart, and as for others? Well, maybe not so much.
But I noticed something very interesting as I have moved through life and met scores of people…few, very few, are what I would consider ‘dumb.’ At least far less than I had been raised to expect were out there.
If this sounds elitist, fine, color me guilty, for I’m surely guilty of being in a family that at least inferred that we were better than others. As I grew up and became a mother, I did much of the same thing. Especially since I was still young, and still under the impression that a majority of the world were average thinkers at best.
Mr. Gatto points out in a stunning way how schools create and reinforce this belief system, and how mine and my family’s mirrors it. It makes me wonder, what it must be for those on the other side, the ones labeled dumb. The dumb ones from the dumb parents and the dumb families and the dumb parts of town. Those relegated to that dumb status long before they have had a chance to prove themselves.
Mr. Gatto brings up the example of Hector, rule-breaker, general malcontent – we all have known a Hector at one time or another in our lives. He posits that the problem is not with the Hector’s of the world, but with the schools who categorize and label them into “five strict categories: ‘gifted and talented honors;’ ‘gifted and talented;’ special progress;’ ‘mainstream;’ and ‘special ed.'” He points out that categorizing kids in this latter category gives administrators special incentive due to the additional money/funding their care engenders and “[provides] a genuine incentive to find fatal defects where none existed.”
Mr. Gatto ends this chapter by writing, “Important people believe, with the fervor of religious zealots, that civilization can survive only if the irrational, unpredictable impulses of human nature are continually beaten back and confined until their demonic vitality is sapped.”
I guess it comes down to the cold and simple fact that I don’t trust others to make judgment calls on whether my impulses (or those of my children) are irrational or unpredictable in their eyes. And so it follows that I also do not look forward to being continually beaten back or confined until my vitality (demonic or not) is sapped.
Chapter Six: The Camino de Santiago
It turns out that Mr. Gatto, at least at the time of the writing of this book, was on the board of advisors of an organization called TV-Free America. However he quickly found that warning kids of the negative effects of tv was just a drop in the bucket to the warnings and bad omens others had already filled their heads with. Instead, he realized a different approach was necessary, “a solution would have to be found in the natural proclivity of the young to move around physically.”
He went on later to add, “Sufficient activity, all by itself and aimed in any direction, would cause the kids to voluntarily cut back on time spent staring at lighted boxes.”
Mr. Gatto actually encouraged his students to escape for a day or two from school and walk about Manhattan, chronicling what they saw or learned. This included “extracting the hidden knowledge and points of view of old men and women, those confined to homes, and those who spent their time sitting on the benches in Riverside or Central Park.”
Reading his account of this I am struck with the clear vision of an intrepid, curious 13-year-old making their way through an heretofore unknown part of the city, exploring new cultures, meeting and learning from an elder. How envious I am of that child! How lucky they must have been to have the encouragement of a teacher to do such a thing!
Mr. Gatto goes on to point out that a great deal of the awards and accolades that came to him were not so much a matter of what he did as what he did not do. He writes, “Take your boot off the downtrodden necks of your children, study their needs not your own, don’t be intimidated by experts, re-connect your kids to primary experience, give off the game of winners and losers for a while, and your get the same results I did. Maybe better.”
What he wrote next really struck a chord, because I swear he was describing ME:
“Some inner clock is ticking in every life, warning us we have appointments to keep with reality: real work to do, real skills to learn, real battles to fight, real risks to take, real ideas to wrestle with. And a desperate need to keep death present in your imagination, to never forget how short and inevitable is the arc of your life.”
Hot damn, amen, and yes, he is exactly right on.
Encouraging kids to get out and live life, to explore, to learn about life and nature and culture and history, without the crutch of television to inhibit them is probably one of the best concepts he has focused on in this book to date.
It is also a reminder too, that we need to step away from the screen (tv, computer, whatever) and LIVE life. He writes, “Since the advent of schoolrooms and electronic screens, many of us never grow up. Too much of our precious trial and error period is wasted sitting in the dark. Being a mature being means living with a purpose…it’s about welcoming responsibility as the nourishment a big life needs…finding ways to add value to the community in which you live…wrestling with your weaknesses and developing heart, mind and spirit – none of them properties of the spectator crowd.”
Mr. Gatto points out that for those who have become addicted to television or computers, the key to breaking the addiction is to show, not tell, them a different way. And as I wrap up this week’s book review with that thought, I pose to you this question…
How can you SHOW a child (or adult) something in the world that will pull them away from passive observation and into active participation in the world around them?
I’ll let you know how I managed it with my little one next week!
Welcome back to the fourth installment of my review of “Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto. If you have missed the Prologue or Chapter One or Chapter Two, simply click on the links to read those first. We will be returning to Mr. Gatto’s book each week for another chapter.*Note: Typical book reviews are ONE post, but Mr. Gatto’s book was so chock full of information that I decided to take it one chapter at a time. Believe me, the wait each week is worth it, but if you grow tired of waiting, you can purchase this book through the link below.
Chapter Three: Fat Stanley and the Lancaster Amish
Mr. Gatto begins the chapter by defining the difference between schooling and education. He writes, “…schooling is a matter of habit and attitude training. It takes place from the outside in. Education is a matter of self-mastery, first; then self-enlargement, even self-transcendence – as all possibilities of the human spirit open themselves into zones for exploration and understanding.”
I found that to be an excellent definition.
Mr. Gatto then turns us toward the story of fat Stanley, a boy who would show up to class only one or two days each month. When he took Stanley aside and talked to him he learned that Stanley “had five aunts and uncles, all in business for themselves before the age of 21. His aim was to follow in their footsteps.”
Fat Stanley was never at school because he was working, for free, “bartering labor in exchange for learning the businesses – and a whole lot more – working in the company of men and women who cared for him much more than any professional stranger would have.”
Mr. Gatto, upon learning this and also speaking with fat Stanley’s mother, who supported Stanley in his endeavors, actually began to cover for him, logging him as ‘present’ during his many absences.
To some this may seem extreme, even wrong, but Mr. Gatto was struck by Stanley’s tenacity and drive to succeed. He recognized that the lessons Stanley was learning outside of the classroom were far more important than the ones he was learning inside it.
How many of us have left high school or even college and felt lost in the world? Have you felt unprepared and wondered at what to do when faced with decisions and challenges that school never provided you for?
Mr. Gatto draws another disturbing parallel between consumerism and modern education practices. He writes, “The official economy we have constructed demands constantly renewed supplies of leveled, spiritless, passive, anxious, friendless, family-less people who can be scrapped and replaced endlessly, and who will perform at maximum efficiency until their own time comes to be scrap; people who think the difference between Coke and Pepsi, or round hamburgers versus square ones, are subjects worthy of argument.”
It is strikingly familiar to the “Story of Stuff” which I talk about in my organizing class when advising attendees to step back from this runaway consuming, to use a tv or cell phone until it is well and truly dead, not just outdated five months after purchase.
In schools filled with corporate sponsored books, teams and soda machines, kids are surrounded by advertising – not just at home when watching tv, but at school as well. Is it any wonder they grow up to be rabid consumers? Trained to consume, encouraged to overextend their future in credit cards they cannot afford? Is it any wonder our nation is in economic free fall?
And with that rosy picture, Mr. Gatto pulls in the Lancaster Amish. He points out that the Amish “ask for a broad competence and a spirit of self-reliance, for dependability, honesty, neighborliness, compassion, piety, and commitment to the common good. Were we to adopt Amish values wholesale,” Mr. Gatto asserts, “our economy would nosedive.”
In 1996, “Fat and Mean” reported that “while the American economy had grown massively through the 1960s, real spendable working class wages hadn’t grown at all for 30 years...purchasing power of a working couple in 1995 was only 8 percent greater than for a single man in 1905.”
Mr. Gatto turned back to the Amish to discuss the fight in 1976 of Yoder v. Wisconsin, where the state attempted to enforce compulsory schooling on the Amish. In the end, the Amish were able to secure the following codicils:
- Schools within walking distance of home;
- No school to be so large that pupils had to be sorted into different compartments and assigned different teachers every year;
- The school year would be no longer than eight months;
- Important decisions would be under parental control, not that of bureaucrats;
- Teachers hired were to be knowledgeable in, and sympathetic to, Amish values and rural ways;
- Children were to be taught that wisdom and academic knowledge were two different things;
- Every student would have practical internships and apprenticeships supervised by parents.
All of these were really amazing and hard-won concessions. The final two, however, really stood out to me.
I love how Mr. Gatto summed up the chapter when he wrote, “We need to realize what our fingerprints and our intuition actually proclaimed long before DNA: no two people are alike, all “averages” are lies, and nobody can be accurately contained by numbers and graphs.”
And this last quote hit especially close to home, “We need to abandon the notion – and punish those who retain it – that ordinary people are too stupid, irresponsible, and childish to look out for themselves.”
I noticed that the first few chapters are very long, and most of the rest are reasonably shorter, so I am combining chapters from here on out. Here is Chapter Four of Mr. Gatto’s book…
Chapter Four: David Sarnoff’s Classroom
This chapter is actually a letter that Mr. Gatto wrote to his Assistant Principal, Murray, in which he focuses, among other things, on the story of David Sarnoff, the head of RCA, who soon after immigrating here at age nine, lost his father. Suddenly, David was responsible for caring for his family. He learned to speak English and began to make a living as a newsboy in New York City. By fourteen, David had his own newsstand. He had taught himself English, and that included reading the papers he was selling. He ran across an ad for an office boy position at Marconi Wireless and, instead of politely waiting in line along with the other 500 boys jockeying for the job, barged into the office of the company president “unannounced and asked for the job.” He was hired on the spot.
By age 39, he had become president of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA).
The streets were this kid’s school, and as Mr. Gatto points out, “Waiting your turn is often the worst way to get what you want.”
He points also to a famous alternative public school in East Harlem, well complimented, that fails in much of the same way that other public schools do – thanks to bureaucracy and ingrained thinking. He also brings up the idea of including community service as part of the curriculum and suggests that it shouldn’t stop at a couple of hours here or there or even two hours per week. Why? Because the paperwork, training and oversight involved in having a community volunteer for just two hours per week makes it more trouble than it is worth.
An interesting conclusion that certainly does cause me to think – how can I include community service into my own future homeschooling? I will need to keep in mind my goals for such endeavors – mainly that all involved benefit – the children AND the recipients.
It sets my mind to wandering, just thinking about it. I have visions of community and neighborhood gardens begun by kids and adults working together.
Okay, back to focus, back to focus!
As for the rest of this chapter, I didn’t get as much out of it as others. Not that there wasn’t plenty of information…
Where the money goes, blaming of teachers for behavioral issues, why the merit system doesn’t work, how gym and math teachers become school administrators, and more.
But all I kept thinking about was that this was an actual letter he had sent someone. The sheer size of it, combined with the ever-present vision of what the poor sod who had gotten this letter must have looked like, especially when Mr. Gatto announced he was going to circulate the letter to the entire school board. Which must have outed ‘Murray’ to some degree in his sympathy to the cause, which would have doomed his future with the schools as much as Mr. Gatto had done his.
And not to say that is bad. Sometimes it takes napalm to destroy the bridge, sever the ties, and start fresh. But I couldn’t help feeling a little bad for the guy who may have not wanted his name and his sympathy towards Gatto’s cause so well publicized. If someone were going to ‘out’ him, I think it should have been Murray himself.
Well, that wraps it up for this week’s review. Stay tuned, next Tuesday we will cover Chapters Five and Six.
My husband decided to go back to college last year. After nearly twenty years in the computer field, he had been laid off since 2008 and his heart simply wasn’t in returning to the field. He set his sights on … Continue reading
Welcome back to the third installment of my review of “Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto. If you have missed the Prologue or Chapter One, simply click on the links to read those first. We will be returning … Continue reading