Universal Education – John Taylor Gatto

Last week I posted about the first section of A Different Kind of Teacher.  I thought I would have multiple blog posts to write about the second and third sections, and I was right.  Here are some more observations I would like to share.

I must note at the outset that I did not always agree with his conclusions or reasoning.  Still I have found part of myself vibrating away in the background, like a divining rod that has found the water it always knew was there.

The first essay in the second section is titled Universal Education.  In it he begins with repudiating the idea that schooling is education.  He starts laying the foundations of his arguments that the current style of American schooling is outdated and reflects the society of an earlier era, an era driven by the need to “serve a modified command economy and an increasingly layered social order.”   He has some interesting statistics and quotes^ from eminent educators from the period in which mass, compulsory schooling was instigated.  It was the start of scientific schooling.

He compares the way that public schooling designed by the “scientific” goals of three generations ago treats children with the way the Amish* approach life and education.

Schools train individuals to respond as a mass.  Boys and girls are drilled in being bored, frightened, envious, emotionally needy, generally incomplete.  A successful mass production economy requires such a clientele.  Small business and small farm economies, like those of the Amish, require individual competence, thoughtfulness, compassion, and universal participation.

This is one of his main themes throughout; that mass education is about creating a mass labour force but not in a good way.  That through this style of education our children have lost their connection to practical, daily life.  That what schools teach is “make work”, disconnected from the real world.  Perhaps this view of lack of context is one of the things that rings strongest for me.  It is what attracted me to the Montessori way of teaching, where the children are given concrete ideas and forms before the abstract and that it is a mixture of hands-on work as well as being self-directed, uninterrupted work.  Done well it encourages personal observation and thinking skills.  It encourages curiosity because it is self-directed and not mandatory “work”.

Another interesting point he makes, that is by way of being a detour on this educational journey,

Indeed, after inflation is factored in, purchasing power of a working couple in 1995 is only eight percent greater than for a single workingman in 1905.  This steep decline in common prosperity over ninety years has forced both parents from many homes and deposited their kids in the management systems of daycare and extended schooling.

I wonder if that sort of statistic is true for other countries as well.  I have often thought that having both parents needing^^ to work cannot be doing our family unity any good, and without good family unity what happens to those children?  Disconnection to community is my guess.

I do like his idea of what being educated is, though.

To be educated is to understand yourself and others, to know your culture and that of others, your history and that of others, your religious outlook and that of others.  If you miss out on this, you are always at the mercy of someone else to interpret what the facts of any situation mean.

I am particularly taken by the last sentence.  This is also a theme that reappears, the second-hand-thought market that is force-fed education.  It is quite a strong idea to take in, and perhaps for many people it is not something that they can either envisage or wish to acknowledge.  There will be more on this as it becomes a stronger concept in later essays.

Quite a lot of Gatto’s points lead back to the concept of integration.  Personal integration, family integration and community integration.  Education that is integrated with daily life, not removed from it and bundled up in a classroom taught only by “specialists”.

I rather suspect that he might be something of an unschooler at heart.

Now before I finish, please let me extend a blanket apology of sorts for this and following posts about the book.  There are quite a few ideas to take in and get my head around, so I am sorry if sometimes things get a bit jumbled.   I’ll do my best to stay lucid, but I can’t promise that my brain will obey.

^ try this from the chair of psychology at Princeton from 1920… “He wrote that standardized testing would cause the lower classes to face their biological inferiority (sort of like wearing a public dunce cap), which would discourage their reproduction.”

* a very long time ago now I can remember reading all about the Hutterites.  Ah, those were the days.

^^ as opposed to wanting.


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