Monday, October 12, 2009

Running Out Of Gatto Books...

I just finished John Taylor Gatto's - A Different Kind of Teacher.

I was a bit skeptical of reading it, being one of his earlier works. But it turned out to be pretty decent.

Below find the passages I deemed worthy of my transcribed notes.

IMO, the first one about *economic consensus* wins the prize:


The sheer craziness of what we do to our children should have been sufficient cause to stop it once the lunacy was manifest in increased social pathology, but a crucial development forestalled corrective action: schooling became the biggest business of all. Suddenly there were jobs, titles, careers, prestige, and contracts to protect. As a country we’ve never had the luxury of a political or religious or a cultural consensus. As a synthetic state, we’ve had only economic consensus; unity is achieved by making everyone want to get rich, or making them envy those who are.


And finally, the library has real books, not school books. Its volumes are not written by collective pens or picked by politically correct screening committees. Real books conform only to the private curriculum of each writer, not to the invisible curriculum of some collective agenda. The one exception to this is children’s books – but no sensible child ever reads those things, so the damage from them is minimal.

Real books are deeply subversive of collectivization. They are the best known way to escape herd behavior, because they are vehicles transporting the reader into deep caverns of absolute solitude where nobody else can visit. No two people ever read the same great book. Real books disgust the totalitarian mind because they generate uncontrollable mental growth – and it cannot be monitored.


Only one person in ten reads more than one book a year after they graduate from our schools according to the American Librarian’s Association.


School’s theoreticians do not believe in free will, holding instead that people are mechanisms, and that disaster would follow the release of central controls over children. From this base of ideas flows automatically certain structures of schooling known to be harmful. If you believe in free will and a moral universe, then the schooling you design will attempt to promote self-reliance, compassion, and free choice. If you believe that families are the basic institution of human life, then the schooling you design will have the intention to strengthen bonds of family. But if you believe that human beings are imperfect machines, wound up like bad clocks, then school becomes a field in which to implant habits, to install controls over group behavior, to form synthetic family associations in the hope of superseding real families. School becomes a place to teach everyone they cannot trust themselves or anybody else except the voice of authority.

Twentieth-century American government schools are compulsory behavior clinics with little interest in scholarship, as their own internal workings betray. They are the result of an ancient belief among mobile aristocracies, like our own Puritan classes, that the mass of humanity cannot be trusted, and is, indeed, dangerous.

...From a foundation of mistrust built in kindergarten, a foundation whose central tenet is that children do not learn but have to be taught, that children must be tricked into accepting responsibility by motivating them with worthless prizes, worthless praise, and plenty of good old-fashioned humiliation, from such a wellhead many hideous things crawl out naturally. From a foundation of mistrust, a technology of security and behavior-modification grows, a belief that young people must be shaped by state, not by their own families, cultures, and communities.


...did you know that in Sweden, a country legendary for its quality of life and a nation which beats American school performance in every academic category, a kid isn’t allowed to start school before the age of seven? The hardheaded Swedes don’t want to pay for the social pathologies attendant on taking a child away from his home and mother and dumping him into a pen with strangers.


According to research published by Christopher Jencks, the famous sociologist, and others as well, the quality of school which any student attends is a very bad predictor of later success, financial, social, or emotional. On the other hand the quality of family life is a very good predictor. That would seem to indicate a national family policy directly spending on the home, not the school.


When English Puritans reached Salem in 1629, there were no Anglican officials present to certify their choice of leaders, so they took that responsibility – illegally – into their own hands. That simply, yet revolutionary, act transferred enormous political power to ordinary churchgoers, whose sole qualification to wield such power was that they had joined a congregation that took religion seriously....This became the only nation in history where ordinary citizens could take issue with authority without being beaten, jailed, or killed.

Congregations were never universal in focus, but always intensely local. Members knew their fellow congregants by name and family history. These were not mere networks….And if a congregation had a problem, it would not accept outside intervention unless all other possibilities had been exhausted.

Were some of these congregations bad? Sure, some of them were horrible. But at least the damage stopped at the boundaries of a single church and community. That’s the difference between a Congregational model and a state-church system, or indeed any systematic form of universal governance: a system won’t let you walk away, whereas a congregation will say, "Good-bye and good riddance."

We are far from a time when we trusted ourselves to run our own lives without surveillance. Since the Civil War, nearly a century and a half of increasingly suffocating "expert" intervention in our schools and elsewhere has left us thinking that, to decide anything important, we have to call in Harvard, or Stanford, or Yale, or the Carnegie Corporation – all honorable institutions, but also outsiders, strangers. As a consequence, our children have no goal to aim for apart from the approval of these official strangers. I suspect such expert interventions are one reason why families are falling apart. How can children respect their parents when those sad souls are regularly contradicted by various representatives of the state? Parents have been made childlike by this "Expert Procedure," just as the Puritans were given full adulthood by the Salem Procedure.

The Salem Procedure is completely antagonistic to the current model because it consists in lay people picking their own experts and keeping them on a very short tether. It also draws from the well of common-sense wisdom found among people who actually work, rather than talk, for a living...


I may seem to have strayed from the topic of American spirituality, but I haven’t, really. Until we understand that the factual contents of our minds – the "truths" upon which we base our decisions – have for the most part been inserted there by others whose motives are not our own, we will never fully appreciate the unique gift of American Christian spirituality. For it teaches that the answers to our problems lie within us, that we are the center of the universe, and that wisdom cannot be learned in school, but only through accepting the burden of work, learning the lessons pain teaches, sorting out right and wrong for ourselves, and coming to terms with aging and death. If these are our spiritual compasses, we need no rulers or experts to tell us how to live.

American spirituality offers a set of practical guidelines, street lamps for the village of our lives. Although the focus is on the individual, nobody is asked to wander aimlessly. What constitutes a good life is clearly spelled out: self-knowledge, duty, responsibility, compassion, acceptance of loss, preparation for death. In this neglected tradition, no teacher does your work. You must do it for yourself.


At the turn of the twentieth century a profound social thinker in France named George Simmel wrote a remarkable book called The Philosophy of Money. In it, Simmel, one of the great creative theorists of this century, said that money contained a powerful internal contradiction built into the foundations of its abstract existence: by robbing things of their innate identity and replacing that core identity with a money identity, by making everything interchangeable with money, money often cheapened things and removed their significance! Simmel said that whenever genuine personal qualities like service were offered for money, that the pricing of these things inevitably trivialized what had been priced.

Simmel continued: "Whenever genuine personal values have to be offered for money, one finds that a loosening, a loss of quality in individual life takes place."

Now think again about the meaning of all those American lawsuits, think of all the broken promises they represent, the counterfeit "services" rendered. Is it just barely possible that the shift after World War II to what is called a "service" economy is part of the reason for our visible unhappiness as a nation? Is it just barely possible that when most of us don’t accept the obligation of service to each other, performed freely, as part of the social contract, but instead assign the job to hired hands, that rather than the joy Solomon promised, the payoff might be its opposite, misery?


Schools desperately need a vision of their own purpose. At present they are exactly what many suspect, they are government jobs for children; and the worst kind of government jobs – the make-work kind, not really jobs at all.

There is nothing, or very little, to do in school. Our elite high school texts are on the level of fifth grade readers from 160 years ago, in the time before we got compulsory schooling. And dumbing down the work isn’t some sinister conspiracy, it has become more and more a necessity as generations of well-schooled children succeed themselves and become parents.

So the damage is cumulative, and it is fast becoming insupportable. Look around you at our society. We have created a whirlpool of addictions that children and grown children use to avoid confronting themselves with their own uselessness. We are reluctant to face the truth because it acts as a mirror, revealing more than we can face about the real source of our difficulties. We have forced children to be irresponsible for 12 years. It is no wonder they dislike themselves and us, and no wonder then cannot recover. Cut a man’s legs off as a boy and they will not grow back when he is a man.


At mid-century we reached a point where we could so little bear intimate contact with living things in their messy reality as compared to the clean simplicity of machines that we became willing to lock old people away with strangers, to lock up our mothers and fathers, to create a good investment opportunity in warehousing for the old. We completed a complex circle in doing that, a circle begun a century earlier when we locked our young people away in warehouses with other strangers. Does it matter that our parents die among strangers and our children live penned up by strangers? Does that have an effect on the quality of life left theoretically "free" in the middle? What do you think? The assertion that isolation chambers for the young and old are an advance in human society doesn’t square with any observed reality. It, too, is part of the great nonthought-of received ideas – like memorizing the significance of the space program.


Learn to forgive and you enter an arena of spectacular affirmation. Begin by forgiving yourself, then forgive your family. You will have established a foundation for self-respect and categorical love by doing that – the kind that isn’t given or removed by the logic of performance, but given freely, without conditions. If you affirm forgiveness you have the secret of eternal renewal so clearly described in the Christian Gospels. When you love people who hurt you, the effect is transcendental. You swell up with the power of being fully human and truly free. My own family taught me this in many ways; now forgiveness is one of the affirmations I struggle to practice. When I succeed I feel blessed. You might, too. It’s worth a try.

To be real you need to celebrate your own history, humble and tormented as it might be, and the history of your own parents and grandparents, howsoever that history be marked by scars and mistakes. It is the only history you will ever have; reject it and you reject yourself. All the rest is the sickness of fantasy. Cherish what is yours; protect it; defend it; never accept the false evaluations of outsiders in regard to it. Whether your family is the best or the worst doesn’t matter very much. Being first or last at anything truly doesn’t matter, and your case will be hopeless as long as you think it does.


Beginning with Aristotle and the Greeks the Western world saw the study of how to speak and listen effectively as the quintessential human art. They called this pursuit "rhetoric," and though the meaning has degenerated in contemporary dictionaries into "the art of persuasion," that’s an accountant’s way to regard this central and peculiarly human undertaking. Korzybski and the general semanticists in this century, came to see the constellations of rhetoric as a sine qua non of sanity itself. Without accurate maps of each other we are condemned to wander in an infuriating wilderness.

Petrarch, Erasmus, Machiavelli, and other great names in the pantheon we call Renaissance humanists found an intimate link between rhetoric and moral growth. If you can’t figure out the instrumentality of how the other guy is talking, you can’t benefit fully from his experience or help him much with your own. However socially poised you appear to be, you are condemned to be one of the isolani, known only to yourself, knowing only yourself.

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