Try not to contract an acute case of self-loathing reading John Taylor Gatto’s Why Schools Don’t Educate, a speech in which we are all agents of a system which subjugates students emotionally, physically, and intellectually.
The products of schooling are, as I’ve said, irrelevant. Well-schooled people are irrelevant. They can sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on the telephones, or sit mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal but as human beings they are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves.
Yeah, I get it. This has kinda been the School 2.0 vector all along, right?
My reservations with Gatto’s preference for self-knowledge, internships, apprenticeships — an educational buffet line, essentially — over traditional teacher-led instruction have historically been, whither the kids years behind their peers in math, reading, and writing?
Rarely do those disciplines (reading, writing, ‘rithmetic) carry obvious value to the student in the present, only in hindsight to the future practitioner. I’ve always wondered what would compel those students to study fractions absent any compulsory institution like a school saying so.
This has gone unanswered (to my satisfaction) until Gatto’s essay. (And if I’ve missed anyone’s response, lemme know.)
“How will they learn to read?” you say and my answer is “Remember the lessons of Massachusetts.” When children are given whole lives instead of age-graded ones in cellblocks they learn to read, write, and do arithmetic with ease if those things make sense in the kind of life that unfolds around them.
Of course he’s referring to Massachusetts in 1850. And, of course, he’s calling whole lives, whole families, and whole communities prerequisites for effective education. Which, I mean, yeah, I guess if we could only get our students’ lives, families, and communities on track then maybe we could fix education. But this isn’t the Massachusetts of 1850 and education is so often called to cure what John Taylor Gatto says must be cured in advance of any educating.
Anyway, I’m usually frustrated by the abundance of idealism and the dearth of pragmatism in this discussion so it was nice then to see them paired up, if only under 19th-century terms.
Finally, I just want to point out (’cause someone’s gotta) that Gatto gets it way wrong with television, which he indicts eleven times throughout the speech.
Either schools have caused these pathologies, or television, or both. It’s a simple matter [of] arithmetic, between schooling and television all the time the children have is eaten away. That’s what has destroyed the American family, it is no longer a factor in the education of its own children. Television and schooling, in those things the fault must lie.
What Gatto is really under no obligation to clarify, but what is a glaring deficiency of his speech nonetheless, is the difference between watching television and watching 55 hours of television. The consumption of t.v. isn’t what’s wrecking kids; it’s the indiscriminate consumption of t.v.
I realize my self-appointment as Television’s Ambassador to Education kinda makes me easy to write off here, but Gatto (and most teachers I’ve sparred with over the matter) advocate an extremist policy I couldn’t handle if it concerned movies, blogs, music, or any medium.
Still and all, it’s never been easier to dodge the 55-hour mark.
- Don’t own a television. Buy or watch your select stable of shows online. Or not at all. (But you are missing out.)
- Own one. Get a DVR. Let your kids record a select stable of shows and nothing more. Fast-forward the commercials.
Whether he means to or not, Eric points out how time has vindicated television:
I think we can now replace “television” in this speech with “entertainment” in general, meaning the constant barrage of on-demand entertainment through TV, film, music, and the internet.
Like if we smashed every t.v. in the world, the kids wouldn’t find another way to narcotize themselves?
[that cold bucket of water via Eric]