How can relationships grow in high school classrooms? – Ask John #6

From a teacher:

Dear John,

I see students relating to each other at recess, in the halls, and other spaces, and sometimes teachers join in too. But in the classroom, it seems to be all about addressing predetermined outcomes.

I believe it’s possible to be in open and emergent spaces and still meet the administrative mandate. Do you agree?

If so, what are the most obvious access points to bring relationship into status quo high school classrooms?




Dear Eric,

It IS possible, you are right, to do both, and as long as you stay a school teacher, catering to the bureaucrat’s needs before you meet children’s, is de rigueur. The secret is to make the bosses look good, not yourself.

Your insight that avoiding predetermined outcomes is essential, too, is brilliant––the most effective way to do both is to build your curriculum around project-based learning, which produce end-products that can be claimed by––and credited to administrators and local politicians.

Do that and you will be given a green light by all parties to the school equation. Trust what I just told you. I did it daily for 20 years and was handed a blank check for curriculum design by every big shot “over” me, you will be, too.

If you teach math, for instance, and concentrate on statistical verification of news stories allegedly founded on statistical claims, e.g.: that your local society opposes death penalty punishment and your class-generated research shows instead that your neighborhood favors it––as my classes did working for a senator, you have produced knowledge that might not exist but for your pedagogical enterprise and your classes’ statistical skills and interviewing prowess. You will earn a news story, and the impressive recommendations to earn scholarships and other opportunities with.

Each major subject area can be re-cast around project learning, which adds value, tangible value, to both students and the world at large. The kids will love the good feelings that come automatically from being USEFUL in concrete ways, and lauded genuinely for it. A few months of this underlines the utter irrelevancy of grades and returned tests, useless as anything but garbage.

Hope I’ve been clear enough in agreeing with your premise. Beside project-organized learning, apprenticeships and internships are also invaluable success-points to elevate relationship learning to the place it deserves.

For over 20 years, with all sorts of students, I made those three components the working mechanisms of an extremely high-level intellectual curriculum the kids enjoyed, their parents loved and participated in, school administrators were grateful to have, and media people reveled in. It earned me an international reputation and a truckload of teaching awards, and earned my kids greater self-respect, hundreds of college scholarships, and a community better for our presence.

That’s it, Eric, your turn.

Your friend,

John of Pittsburgh. Luck, and if we meet, the Guinness is on you, mixed with Fort Pitt or Iron City. GO STEELERS!


-John Taylor Gatto

State Teacher of the Year, New York, 1991


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“The Underground History of American Education”

Foreword by Ron Paul, M.D., Former U.S. Congressman & Candidate for President of the United States of America.

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