Monday, October 03, 2005

Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why

Not sure about the legality of this Harper's article being published on the net but as long as it's here, it's worth a read. I remember reading it when it was published a couple of years ago and i was sadly reminded of my own time in high school in Quebec: an unrelentingly horrible four years. How i managed to survive even now remains something of a mystery to me. One year there were 4555 students (grades 7 through 11). Gatto's article is a near perfect description of my experience of primary and secondary school. I used to think that all high school was as bad as what i had known. I've since met many people who had better experiences that i did and my neices and nephews are in pretty good situations now. But Gatto's analysis and advice is worth heeding:
Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they'll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a pre-teen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there's no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves. (Harper's, September 2003)
Thanks for the link, Erin.

1 comment:

colin said...

I really like Gatto, he's got some really great things to say about the state of the American education system/industry. Another great author is Paul Goodman. He wrote Compulsory mis-education, and The community of scholars in the 60's and most of it is still very relevant today. Also, Paulo Freire has some amazing books on the concept of Democratic Education drawing on his experience with adult education in Brazil.