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Gatto labels the godless, behavioristic schools as psychopathic. The language sounds a little strong until you consider the recent event at Columbine High in Colorado: a perfect example of psychopathic behavior. Having witnessed years of social pathology in schoolssome of which he shares in vignettes about different studentsGatto speaks with the authority of experience when he lists eight pathological results of modern schooling (which I list in greatly abbreviated form): 1) children indifferent to the adult world of values and accomplishment, 2) children with almost no curiosity and short spans of attention, 3) children with a poor sense of future who live in a continuous present, 4) children with no sense of past, 5) children who lack compassion, 6) children who cant stand intimacy or frankness and masquerade behind fabricated personalities, 7) materialistic children, )8 dependent children who grow up to be whining, terrified, dependent adults...
Gatto describes the results of pathological schooling as a conspiracy against ourselves. In one of the most significant insights of this book, Gatto charges those who believe that the system is fixable with being part of the conspiracy: Before you can reach a point of effectiveness in defending your children or your principles against the assault of blind social machinery, you have to stop conspiring against yourself by attempting to negotiate with a set of abstract principles and rules which by its nature cannot respond. Under all its disguises that is what institutional schooling is, an abstraction which has escaped its handlers. Nobody can reform it. First you have to realize that the values you cherish are the stuff of madness to a system. In systems-logic the schools we have are already the schools the system needs. The only way they could be improved is to have kids eat, sleep, live and die there.
Gatto opens his chapter on The Politics of Schooling with a quote from Elwood Cubberley: Each year the child is coming to belong more to the State and less and less to the parent. He then proceeds to demonstrate how this came about. He identifies three categories of players in the school game: government agencies, active special interest (e.g., Carnegie and Ford Foundations, Businessmens Roundtable), and the knowledge industry (e.g., teacher-training colleges, researchers, testing organizations).
For all these players, schooling is an excuse to raid the public pocketbook to push their own agendas. They do this through the political process. Such efforts have resulted in conscious carefully-orchestrated manipulation of society. Manipulation and control usually prove that schools have been successful in achieving the goals for which they were designed in spite of opinions among the general population to the contrary. As Gatto says, The system isnt broken so no amount of repair will fix it.
Gattos stories about Benson and Walden, small towns in Vermont, serve as living proof that schooling exists to support agendas other than those of parents and local communities. He tells about the forced elimination of one-room schools that were both efficient and effective, in favor of a more expensive, centralized school in Walden.
In Benson, taxpayers revolted over outrageous costs of education in their new modern school; they werent pleased with supporting at least 18 full-time staff to teach 137 children. Political manipulation and dishonesty were used to create schools in both instances, which probably has something to do with the fact that Vermonts per capita cost for education (in 1995) was well above average for even government schools at $6.500.
At the end of this chapter Gatto says, As schooling encroaches further and further into family and personal life, monopolizing the development of mind and character, children must become human resources at the disposal of whatever form of governance is dominant at the moment. That in turn confers a huge advantage on the leadership of the moment, allowing it to successfully reproduce itself and foreclose the strength of its competitors. I suspect that if you have any lingering doubts about the folly of allowing government to be involved in schooling, you will have abandoned them by the time you finish this chapter.
Homeschoolers have already answered the question posed in the chapter titled What is an Education? Gatto uses many illustrations from the Amish to applaud real education that supports ones own view of life and its purpose. The next chapter is a continuation on this theme, addressing the role of teachers. Gatto says, Teachers are agents...they sell ritual procedures and memorization as Science to kids who will never know any better. A different kind of teacher would set out to help kids design original experiments, test hypotheses, predict from theory, search for truth. Imagine millions of children unleashed to follow the road to discovery in millions of uniquely personal ways, a breathtaking image. Of course, any teacher who really did that would be hunted down like a wild animal and shot.
He goes on to describe real teachers as teachers who teach who they are, helping children to learn important things about themselves and about life.
Gatto continues with encouragement to break out of the trap. Dropping out of school might actually be a good thing. If Gatto is correct, schools are purposely keeping young people in suspended immaturity to keep them out of the job market and complete their indoctrination.
He addresses fears about earning a living with stories of people he knows who defy all classical stereotypesyoung people and adults who found better ways to learn what they needed to know than what schools told them.
Gatto quotes Bertrand Russell (from his book Authority and the Individual) to make a point that summarizes a key theme of this entire book ...[P]resent tendencies toward centralization may well prove too strong to be resisted until they have led to disaster. Perhaps, said Russell, the whole system must break down, with all the inevitable results of anarchy and poverty, before human beings can again acquire that degree of personal freedom without which life loses its savor. I hope that this is not the case, but it certainly will be the case unless the danger is realized and unless vigorous measures are taken to combat it.
Gatto ends with a list of 13 radical suggestions for changing the direction of schooling and a challenge: We can follow the lead of the English General Braddock to a "regression to a royal destiny we escaped three lifetimes ago by rejecting freedom and choosing the authoritarian security and control the State. Or we can follow the example of George Washington who rejected the lure of Empire and control, choosing freedom and self-responsibility.
He relates stories of true communitythe old lady who wasn't afraid to scold young John for shooting a bird with his BB rifle, and earned his respect in the process. Leaning moral values was the result of rubbing shoulders with men and women who cared about things other than what money bought...... He says, They talked to me. Have you noticed nobody talks to children in schools? Impersonal, instrumental commands take the place of real interaction between adults and children in schools.
Gattos own classically dysfunctional family, the uncertainty and occasional unheralded uprootings that he experienced, surprisingly, serve as evidence of the importance of true community in helping children develop a moral base. Gatto strenuously challenges the impersonal, government-directed villageas a substitute for real-life communities.
Gatto learned some of his most important life lessons in the real world. Because of that, he rebelled against the artificiality and rigid control of the school system in favor of trying to teach kids as individuals.
Gatto's ideas about schooling are sometimes ambivalent A year spent at Xavier Academy, a Jesuit boarding school, revealed the contrast between the watery brain diet of government schooling and education that assumes children have the dignity, free will, and power to choose right over wrong. Gatto writes, Materialistic schooling, which is all public schooling even at its best can ever hope to be, operates as if personality changes are ultimately caused externally, by applications of theory and by a skillful balancing of rewards and punishments. The idea individuals have free will which supersedes social programming is anathema to the very concept of forced schooling. At the same time, Gatto recognizes the harshness in some of his experiences at Xavier Academy, especially for a seven and eight-year-old boy. Weighing the good and the bad he says, Had it not been for Xavier I might have passed my years as a kind of freethinker by default, vaguely aware an overwhelming percentage of the entire human race did and said things about God I couldn't fathom. How can I reconcile that the worst year of my life left behind a dimension I should certainly have been poorer to have missed?
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