Posts Tagged ‘John Taylor Gatto’

James is knocking it out of the park again!

My dad hit me when I got bad grades. Particularly when I was young and got a bad grade in “Conduct”. Happiness was an “A”. Even better: an “A+”. Sadness was an “F”. It was almost like a joke. Like the only way to get an “F” is if you tried to screw up almost as much as you tried to get an “A”.

But  in twelve years of basic schooling I can’t’ remember anyone asking where the “E” was. It goes A, B, C, D (which was really horrible to get a D. It means you were trying somewhat (so as to avoid the “F”) but you were just plain stupid and got a D. Not even a C.) and then, the magic “F”. Which was more than just a letter but a one-letter acronym. None of the other letters stood for anything. They were just letters. They could’ve been replaced by numbers (Claudia tells me in Argentina they were graded by numbers from one to ten. No letters). It’s not like “A” stood for Amazing. Or “B” Boring. “C” Crazy. “D” Dumb. You could’ve just replaced them by 1, 2, 3, 4. Or a “1+”. But F was irreplaceable.

(the mirror image of the tattoo says “Never a Failure, Always a Lesson”)

“F” stood for “Failure”.  [Note: except when I was really little. There was “O” for outstanding. “S” for Satisfactory. And “N” for needs improvement. I got an N for conduct and it’s the first time I remember my dad hitting me after the teacher told him I was always calling her old, which she was and there is no shame of that but I only realize that now that I am as old as she was.]

So why no “E”. I think teachers got together 5000 years ago. Maybe 10,000 years ago and came up with the horrifying conclusion: Some students might think “E” stood for Effort. As in, “at least I didn’t get an ‘F’. I got an ‘E’ which means I put in an effort.” And doesn’t that go along all too easily with the lie teachers say, “I’m not going to judge you on your grade, I’m going to judge you on the effort you put into this class.”

Did they ever really judge you on that? And if they did, do you really think they would want you to get an “E” on a test and then have to put up with your arguing at the end of a semester when you would say, “See! I put in the effort! I got an “E” on everything and you said that would be how you would judge me.”

“This is awful”, said a teacher at that first convention of the union of the national teachers club. “We have to take the ‘E’ out of the alphabet.”

“But,” said Mr. Maroon. “We spend years teaching them that song: A, B, C, D, E, F, G… to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star. And now we have to tell them there is no E?”

“There is an E! Just not in grades. Why is this such a difficult thing to understand? If we put an ‘E’ in there then our schools will NEVER get funding. All our schools depend on our students, smart or stupid, doing well on those standardized tests where they fill in the multiple choice circles and cyborgs read them and grade them and the better they do, the more funding we get. If we put an ‘E’ into the system the students might clog up the pipes with Effort instead of Amazing. They might even think “E” is for Exceed because at least it beats Failure! WE CANNOT HAVE AN ‘E’!”

I doubt that conversation really happened. They really backed themselves into a corner. They thought by using letters instead of numbers that would fool kids into some state of confusion where they really didn’t know how they did. Like, “is a B good or bad?” But everyone knows where they stand when it comes to 1 through 10.

But now they were stuck with the “E”. Until they decided to strike it from the alphabet. But only some of the time. Except for that one time an entire novel was written without using the letter “e”. That guy knew what he was doing. The insidious removal of the most common letter in the English language.

Because that’s what English is about. It’s not “Anglo”. It’s not quite “Saxon”. It’s not “Latin”. But its a weird mixture of all three, concocted like a test tube baby in some scientist’s laboratory when the aliens landed and impregnated our ancient Mothers with the sperm from their dying planets (since they came from a Federation of planets surrounding a supernova, or perhaps supernovae (there’s that “E” again) ).  So we can keep on experimenting and investing and twisting and testing. Now “google” is a verb, a noun, a business, the beginnings of an artificially intelligent singularity, a map, an email, a social network, and a photo album with the flowers as bookmarks. We don’t need those anymore thanks to Google. No memories are special enough to mark them with a flower, thanks to the newest word in the dictionary.

Ugh, trying to unravel the Rubik’s Cube-like scam of lower education is a full-time job. Once you get a side with all one color you realize you’ve hopelessly prevented yourself from getting the other side to be one color.

I have not read much about home schooling or unschooling so I am no expert. But I’ve thought about it. And this is how I would do it if my kids were to let me unschool them.

A) First, (and again, this is without reading about it at all so I, at best, uneducated on the topic). I prefer the word “unschooling” to “home schooling”. I assume home schooling means I replace the teacher, buy them science textbooks, math, Canterbury Tales, etc. I don’t want to do that. That sounds boring to me and I assume to them as well. Unschooling sounds more like it – i.e. just completely no education at all.

B) Only one requirement: read one book a week. It doesn’t matter what book. I will pay them 10 cents a page. WHAT!? How can you pay your kids to learn? Well, I want my kids to get used to being paid for doing things they enjoy. Later in life (just a few years really) they will have to do it anyway. Why not get used to being paid for something they enjoy right now? This way they will know easily to avoid getting paid for things they don’t enjoy. (this is hopefully a way to avoid them going into a life of prostitution).

Then we talk about it. Then we visit the bookstore and they get to browse other books and see what they like. I get a synesthesia of experience when I go into a bookstore, some sections have bright colors and draw me to them (fiction, current affairs, philosophy, art, comics, history) and some I can just feel the drab greyness (interior decorating, crafts, children). They would browse until something pulls at them. Then they would buy it and read it.

C) Every day: I’d set out drawing and painting materials. They’d also be encouraged to keep a diary. I want the creative neurons going. I can’t force them to do this. But maybe they would want to.

D) At least an hour of sports a day.

(sports are good for kids)

E) I’d set up playdates for after school so they can get socialization. Or playdates with other kids that are being unschooled or home schooled (there are more than you think out there). My kids think that all home-schooled kids are “weird” because they aren’t social. But I ask them, “when do you talk to your friends anyway?” And they say, “after school”. So that argument is out the window.

F) The rest of the time they can do whatever they want: eat, read, watch TV, sleep, blow stuff up, do nothing but stare at the wall, walk around the block, go to the movies. Whatever. In fact, I hope they do a lot of nothing. People get addicted to doing “something”. What’s so great about “something”. I like to do nothing. Even when people do nothing they try to label it: like “meditation”. Ugh, what a boring thing: meditation. Try, “I just did nothing. I even thought about nothing in particular.”

When you are capable of actually doing nothing (not so easy after decades of “something addiction”), there’s a deep well that springs up, and fills every corner of you, crowding at the anxieties, the fears, the pressures put on you from government jobs colleagues bosses friends family. The nothing replaces all the vomit they try to kiss into your mouth.

By doing all the above they have more opportunity to discover their passions, more play time, more creative time, just as much social time.

The standard criticism: kids should learn how to deal with kids they don’t like and doing things they don’t like. People say this to me all the time, ranging from Harvard graduates to my own kids. “Kids should do things they don’t like!” Really?

My answer: Why? It doesn’t seem like adults are any good at that so how did experiencing it as a kid help them?

What makes me an expert on unschooling? Absolutely nothing. And that’s the point. I just don’t want them to do any of the 100 bad memories I (and just about everyone else) has about standardized schooling. Why should they have to go through with it?

And I’m going to grade them every week. I’ll give them a big piece of paper with the letter “E” on it. And we can talk about what it means. Maybe every week it will mean something different. That sounds like fun.

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Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling in Graduation Speech

Here I stand

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, “If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.” The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast – How long then?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?” Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contend that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don’t do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not “to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States.”

To illustrate this idea, doesn’t it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking?” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn’t for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can’t run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let’s go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we’re smart enough to do so!

Re-blogged from Prison Plant dot com. Click to see video.

WD-40 lubricant with straw for easy-spray.

Open a can and grease the schooling machine

A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers (emphasis mine)…. The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth.    ~ Aldous Huxley

Where’s the resistance?  The American system of schooling has quenched the fire of resistance in our youth.  Rebellion is drugged out of kids.  Unquestioning obedience is demanded. Compliance to “authority” is the goal.

I’d just turned 16 and was the proud owner of my first car, a brown, four-door, Ford LTD.  That baby would fly.  In my first summer driving, my brother, our two best friends and I went cruising.  Back then it was on dirt roads.  One of the Einstein’s in the back seat wanted to lift a couple of crates of empty soda bottles from an old mans front porch…for gas money.  To make a long story painful, the plan went off without a hitch – we thought.

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...

Someone saw us and called the Sheriff.  In our little town, they didn’t need a tag number.  Everybody knew everybody’s business…and parents.  Sheriff Jones called my daddy to let him handle us pranksters. We got back home and saw Daddy standing in the driveway.  Nobody was nervous yet.  As we piled out of the dusty, brown land yacht, we suddenly realized our fate.  Daddy shouted for us to get in the back of his plumbing truck.  We did so with terror etched in our eyes.

My childhood friend later told me, “I thought he was taking us to woods to beat our asses with a stick!”

Daddy flew up the two miles of dirt road faster than safely allowed with no conversation from the four rogue teenagers squeezed between oxy/acetylene tanks, side-body tool boxes, and a homemade pipe rack served as our razor wire fencing.  When he reached pavement, he slammed on the brakes and the line from “Cool Hand Luke” rolled through my mind: “Any man playing grabass or fightin’ in the building spends a night in the box.”  We walked seven miles to town picking up bottles to pay for our deed.

Strother Martin

I distinctly remembered rebelling and refusing to pick up bottles as we walked.  Why?  Because Daddy told me to, and I justified my guilt.  I was just the driver.  Plus, I hated being told what to do, by anyone.

The more righteous reader might say I got what I deserved and need a humbling lesson.  A good ol’ country ass-whooping was probably in line.  Well, that and many other contumacious moments have served me well on my pilgrimage of knowing my self.

Coercion and fear was needed for us to scour the ditches of our main highway on that hot  July day.  Please don’t think that I equate my dad to a tyrant.  He’s my hero actually.  I want to be like him one day.

It just seems that servitude and serfdom is embraced today by our young.  When I see a kid that’s been tossed into our halls, I’ll stop, if I’m not jumping through some stupid, bureaucratic, time-wasting, paper pushing hoop.  It brings back memories of my school days.  I have a new respect for the ones labeled as trouble makers.  When I ask them what’s up, they get all defensive.  I tell them I hated (and hate) school too.  That usually tears down the student-teacher wall and allows us to talk freely.

For the most part, students are obedient slaves.  This isn’t a recent phenomenon.  Upon accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on in 1990, John Taylor Gatto dropped a bomb on those in attendance still denying the truth about schooling by saying,

“The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders.  This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions.”

English: Russia, Shackles in Museum of Deporta...

Today, government schools promote: socializing (brainwashing) students for selfless good-of-the group mentality, individualists are not happy and probably mentally ill, forced association, robotic answers to stupid questions teachers say are important, vilifying self-interest, stripping souls of courage, wussification of boys, placement in an educational caste system through standardized testing, “education” is the only redeeming hope for society’s collective paradise, and above all, compliance.  Students are viewed as soft globs of clay in need of molding.

What’s with all the doom and gloom about our public school system?  History.  Truth.  All it takes is a small amount of effort to open one’s eyes and dare a peek at reality.

If you can’t pry the lids open, don’t worry, forced schooling will keep lubricating the State’s tyrannical machine like a good can of WD-40.