Monday, January 02, 2012

Exhausting John Gatto

Twenty years ago, John Taylor Gatto (at great personal expense) organized an educational conference/event at Carnegie Hall. The purpose was to give publicity to *educational alternatives* - in other words alternatives to government and government-facsimile private schools.

Of course the media ignored him and the financial interests of Big Education did what they could to sabotage the affair.

Here are a couple of excerpts I saw fit to jot down:

Our form of schooling creates an abundance of social pathologies and contradicts the way children actually learn - sacrificing human potential to an obsession with hierarchy, order, routine, surveillance, and the creation of lifelong dependence on "expert" authority. This latter function of schooling has come to support many parasitic forms of employment in our economy. Bertrand Russell once called American schooling the most extreme social experiment in Western history, a mechanism to realize Plato’s Republic. (p23)

Meanwhile, something even more sinister was taking place - a fact we learned to our horror two weeks before the show. In the financing of such events, fund-raisers regularly call on sources well known to be supportive of such things. In the case of "The Exhausted School," three such sources had taken the lead to contact Odysseus Group! Nothing could be more promising than that, it seemed. We were wrong. Each of our potential angels and a whole spread of others as yet untried were reached by some unknown agency and warned away from Carnegie Hall.

Who was doing this? Through some adroit detective work and drawing on favors owed, our volunteer fund-raiser disclosed her astonishing conclusion: It was the president of a prestigious foundation on Vanderbilt Avenue, she said, an institution which claimed hegemony in school reform! She confronted him, she continued, but he denied even knowing about Carnegie Hall. That was the clincher. She produced a photocopy of an informational inquiry about the event written by the president himself months before to a friend of hers!

Nothing could be done, of course, but press on. Eventually 1,024 people paid their way into Carnegie Hall in spite of the media blackout, the absence of advertising, and a desperate attempt on the part of "reformers" to destroy our attempt to establish a grass roots voice...(p24-25)

An education gives you the power to make your own decisions and a schooling teaches you to follow the lead of other people - not the same thing at all. (p27)

We live in a time of great school crisis, and that crisis is linked to a greater social crisis in the general community. We seem to have lost our identity. Children and old people are locked away from the business of the world to a degree without precedent - nobody talks to them anymore. Without children and old people mixing in daily life, a community has no future and no past, only a continuous present.

We live in networks, not communities. Everyone I know is lonely because of that. In some strange way school is a major actor in this tragedy, just as it is a major actor in the widening gulf among races and social classes. Using school as a sorting mechanism, we appear to be on the way to creating a caste system, complete with untouchables who wander through the subway trains begging, and sleep upon the streets

I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my 26 years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes any more that scientists are made in science classes, or politicians in civics classes, or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery because thousands of human, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides, and even as administrators. But the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very hard, the institution is psychopathic - by which I mean it has no conscience.

How on earth did we ever accept the idea a government had the right to tell us where to go to school? How did we ever come to believe the State should tell our children what to think? (p29-30)
Today, in 2012, it almost seems foolish to rent Carnegie hall for $50,000+ (some of which came out of Gatto's pocket!) in hopes of getting a message out, or starting a revival-type movement.

But back then, recall Al Gore's internet wasn't invented, there was no YouTube, no social networking, and thus no real cost-efficient way to spread *ideas*.

I've shared the rest of my excerpts on this Google Doc - The Exhausted School.

I was elated to discover this book. While it's far from his best work - being his earlier/earliest(?) work....I just can't get enough of Gatto!

But be sure to read his other books first, particularly - The Underground History of Education - which you can read online, for free. Click the link.

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