Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Some Food for Thought

From John Taylor Gatto's speech titled Bootie Zimmer's Choice: The Case for Private Education, given in 1992:

In 1896 the famous John Dewey, then at the University of Chicago, said that independent, self-reliant people were a counter-productive anachronism in the collective society of the future. In modern society, said Dewey, people would be defined by their associations – the groups they belonged to – not by their own individual accomplishments. In such a world people who read too well or too early are dangerous because they become privately empowered, they know too much, and know hot to find out what they don't know by themselves, without consulting experts.

Dewey's former professor and close friend, G. Stanley Hall, said this at about the same time, "Reading should no longer be a fetish. Little attention should be paid to reading." Hall was an important intermediary in the birth of modern American systematic schooling, one of the three men most responsible for building a gigantic administrative infrastructure over the classroom. How enormous that structure really became can only be understood by comparisons: New York State, for instance, employs more school administrators than all of the European Economic Community nations COMBINED!

G. Stanley Hall is a name to conjure with in many ways; he was the first American PhD out of Wilhelm Wundt's psychometric laboratories in Germany and subsequently a major eminence in the rise of American behaviorism, as the American promoter who brought Sigmund Freud to the United States to promote his theory that behavioral problems in later life can be traced to bad parenting and alleviated by expert interventions. Hall is also an important reason we have standardized testing in our schools.

But back to Dewey. Learning to read too well, said Dewey, caused children to turn inward and made them competitive and independent. The phonics method of teaching reading provided no motives to follow a teacher's lead for very long; it was selfish, even if it did work. It only appealed to the intellectual aspect of our nature – the desire to get control of our own mind.

Reading, writing and arithmetic were not the purpose of this new form of American schooling, a form which substituted memorization for thinking and which we still have with us. In 1923 Dr. Cattell, of "The Psychological Corporation", a private entity composed of the inner circle of American schoolmen like John Dewey, announced the purpose of schooling to its clientele who were expected to support its enterprises in testing and teacher training. Dr. Cattell said this about the purpose of government schooling in 1923: "The scientific control of conduct is what schools are about. The scientific control of conduct is of greater economic importance than the use of electricity or steel."

Once you think that the control of conduct is what schools are about, the word "reform" takes on a very particular meaning. It means making adjustments to the machine so that young subjects will not twist and turn so, while their minds and bodies are being scientifically controlled. Helping kids to use their minds better is beside the point.

Somewhere around the turn of the 20th century, making people dumb for their own good became the point of our national forced schooling exercise. If you find that hard to believe, use the evidence of your own eyes and ears to confirm it. Do you think you can find a better way to teach? You're right, of course you can – but not a better way to teach obedience. Throughout the 19th century to a crescendo achieved at the turn of the 20th century, a small band of very influential people, substantially financed by money and ideas from the Rockefeller foundations and the Carnegie foundations, introduced a system of state socialism into our national education picture. Privately they had determined that this was the best course for the American democracy and with little wasted motion, and no public discussion, they pointed our nation toward that end.

Bertrand Russell once observed that American schooling was among the most radical experiments in human history, that America was deliberately denying its children the tools of critical thinking. When you want to teach children to think you
begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. You keep the games and songs and pretty colors in balance with the soberer purpose. That's if you want to teach them to think. There is no evidence that has been a State purpose since the start of compulsion schooling.
[italics added]

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Aaron said...


Thanks for the Gatto article. I've read most of his books and have done a search for his online articles but hadn't stumbled upon this one. He does pull the wool back. I'm a teacher but also very interested in the homeschooling movement and have recently made contact with local homeschoolers here in Colorado. Good luck with your noble endeavor, I think it is the most exciting and promising undertaking in education today.

хорошее везение,


Silvia said...

The pleasure is all mine. :) Have you read the Teeange Liberation Handbook? Written by a former teacher, Grace Llewellyn.