Saturday, July 31, 2004

What does it mean to school someone?

As a public high school teacher in the US for several years, the "mainstream" pupils* that I witnessed were studying on a level that would have been identified as middle school (6-8th grade) in my youth. The dumbing down of schools over the 20-odd years since my own graduation is undeniable. In addition, all efforts by staff, teachers and principals that really wanted to educate the children, failed. While many people have pointed to particular reasons why and have offered what amount to band-aids to fix the problem, none of these cures has ever worked. As my experience expanded to include enforced participation in the state teacher preparation program, I began to perceive that the problems are systemic and universal.

I have more recently read the works of John Taylor Gatto, a 30 year NYC teacher (3-time teacher of the year), and found much that chimed with my experience. In particular, his claims that the school system is actually accomplishing its purpose, but that purpose is not what the people now in the schools believe it to be, really struck me as true. There are many things that Mr. Gatto states, some of which seem a bit far-fetched, which I would need back-up documentation to be convinced of. But on the whole, the logic of those explanations has me quite nearly convinced that he is more or less on the mark.

Basically, his thesis is that approximately 100 years ago, give or take (his historical analysis focuses on the period of about 1850-1930, with historical roots going back quite a bit further), lead businessmen (including Rockefeller and Carnegie), together with radical educational theorists, began the establishment of a new order, one of enforced, mass schooling with the real purpose of remolding society, the purpose being corporate and financial exploitation on the part of the former, and zealous idealism on the part of the latter. But you really should read how he puts it.

While I was initially tempted to write off that idea as crackpot, upon reflection it explained practically everything that I simply couldn't understand when I had been struggling in that system. The thorough enslavement of society as a whole to consumerism, the manifest failure of the schools themselves, the monstrous bureaucracy that works directly against the teachers while pretending to do the opposite, the docility of people today as their freedoms are taken away one by one (most don't realize that this is actually happening), the parroting of state propaganda, ranging from educational terms such as inclusiveness and diversity (without following those concepts through to their logical conclusions) to political/military slogans such as "support the troops" (when people misinterpret into "Be supportive of individuals in the military" ideas actually meant to support policy decisions of leaders - and these misunderstandings are deliberately fostered and encouraged, all of these things are the results of our education system, and the lack of true education. The fact that all of these symptoms of a non-free society are of enormous benefit to the corporate empires hardly seems like a happy coincidence.

The main weakness (to date) in Mr. Gatto's writings for me personally is that it is difficult to verify his claims online, making some of his information suspect, and some of his claims dubious. Nevertheless, much of what he has said fits. All too well.

One brief sample of his work, rebutting conspiracy theory charges: "If you obsess about conspiracy, what you'll fail to see is that we are held fast by a form of highly abstract thinking fully concretized in human institutions which has grown beyond the power of the managers of these institutions to control. If there is a way out of the trap we're in, it won't be by removing some bad guys and replacing them with good guys."

For a more thorough one, click here. Whether you agree with this guy or not, he certainly addresses the major problems that aren't going away.

* The word student, in European languages, means a person who professionally studies; specifically, a college student. "Pupil" is the term reserved for school-age children. I would, however, honor any child that actively strives to learn with the title of student.

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