Sunday, 25 April 2010

Teacher destroys school

John Taylor Gatto is a remarkable man. Voted teacher of the year in New York, he stood up and gave one of the most incendiary speeches I have ever seen transcripted.

The following are exerpts from the text of a speech by him accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990 (emphases mine).

Although teachers do care and do work very hard the institution is psychopathic, it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to different cell

Schools were designed by Horace Mann and Barnard Sears and Harper of the University of Chicago and Thorndyke of Columbia Teachers College and some other men to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce through the application of formulae, formulaic human beings whose behaviour can be predicted and controlled.

To a very great extent schools succeed in doing this, but in a national order increasingly disintegrated, in a national order in which only humanly successful people are independent, self-reliant, confident, and individualistic (because community life which protects the dependent and weak is dead and only networks remain), 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.

It is absurd and anti-life to move from cell to cell at the sound of a gong for every day of your natural youth in an institution that allows you no privacy and even follows you into the sanctuary of your home demanding that you do its “homework”.

“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.

I want to tell you what the effect is on children of taking all their time from them — time they need to grow up — and forcing them to spend it on abstractions. You need to hear this because no reform that doesn’t attack these specific pathologies will be anything more than a facade.

  1. The children I teach are indifferent to the adult world. This defies the experience of thousands of years. A close study of what big people were up to was always the most exciting occupation of youth, but nobody wants to grow up these days and who can blame them? Toys are us.
  2. The children I teach have almost no curiosity and what they do have is transitory; they cannot concentrate for very long, even on things they choose to do. Can you see a connection between the bells ringing again and again to change classes and this phenomenon of evanescent attention?
  3. The children I teach have a poor sense of the future, of how tomorrow is inextricably linked to today. As I said before, they have a continuous present, the exact moment they are at is the boundary of their consciousness.
  4. The children I teach are ahistorical, they have no sense of how past has predestined their own present, limiting their choices, shaping their values and lives.
  5. The children I teach are cruel to each other, they lack compassion for misfortune, they laugh at weakness, they have contempt for people whose need for help shows too plainly.
  6. The children I teach are uneasy with intimacy or candour. My guess is that they are like many adopted people I’ve known in this respect — they cannot deal with genuine intimacy because of a lifelong habit of preserving a secret inner self inside a larger outer personality made up of artificial bits and pieces of behaviour borrowed from television or acquired to manipulate teachers. Because they are not who they represent themselves to be the disguise wears thin in the presence of intimacy so intimate relationships have to be avoided.
  7. The children I teach are materialistic, following the lead of school teachers who materialistically “grade” everything — and television mentors who offer everything in the world for free.
  8. The children I teach are dependent, passive, and timid in the presence of new challenges. This is frequently masked by surface bravado, or by anger or aggressiveness but underneath is a vacuum without fortitude.

FAMILY is the main engine of education. If we use schooling to break children away from parents — and make no mistake, that has been the central function of schools since John Cotton announced it as the purpose of the Bay Colony schools in 1650 and Horace Mann announced it as the purpose of Massachusetts schools in 1850 — we’re going to continue to have the horror show we have right now. THE CURRICULUM OF FAMILY is at the heart of any good life, we’ve gotten away from that curriculum, time to return to it.

Fairly brings tears to my eyes to hear such things. Bravo. Here's the great man elaborating further:

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