The Underground History Of American Education - Chapter 15

Posted on 06/12/2005 in misc

In this chapter, Gatto talks in the present for the first time. This is not a history lesson anymore, this is what the schools are doing to your kids today. If you've been keeping up, none of this will be a surprise.

To understand how this happens, you have to grok the nature of bureaucracies. It's not personal.

The sensationalistic charge that all large corporations, including school corporations, are psychopathic becomes less inflammatory if you admit the obvious first, that all such entities are nonhuman. All large bureaucracies, public or private, are psychopathic to the degree they are well-managed. It's a genuine paradox, but time to face the truth of it. Corporate policies like downsizing and environmental degradation, which reduce the quality of life for enormous numbers of people, make perfectly rational sense as devices to reach profitability.

The hierarchical nature of large bureaucracies is what allows these institutions, comprised of people, to ultimately make completely inhumane decisions.

Michel wrote in Political Parties that the primary mission of all institutional managers (including school managers) is to cause their institution to grow in power, in number of employees, in autonomy from public oversight, and in rewards for key personnel. The primary mission is never, of course, the publicly announced one. Whether we are talking about bureaucracies assigned to wage war, deliver mail, or educate children, there is no difference. In 1911, a prominent German sociologist, Robert Michel, warned in his book Political Parties that the size and prosperity of modern bureaucracies had given them unprecedented ability to buy friends. In this way they shield themselves against internal reform and make themselves impervious to outside reform.

Ever notice how every government reform project, whether it be the schools, the postal system, the Pentagon, or the Dept. of Fisheries, leaves the reformed organization bigger and less efficient than before? It has to be by design. Random luck dictates that once in a while, government should be able to do something right.

Name that something. Name just one government program that works well and at least cost.

A massive effort is underway to link centrally organized control of jobs with centrally organized administration of schooling. This would be an American equivalent of the Chinese "Dangan"; linking a personal file begun in kindergarten (recording academic performance, attitudes, behavioral characteristics, medical records, and other personal data) with all work opportunities.

This is one case where government inefficiency is our friend. All this data already exists on all of us. It's scattered in hundreds of databases. Government will never effectively connect all the dots. The real problem is that government will act as though it has connected all those dots and will make decisions with incomplete data.

This American Dangan will begin with longer school days and years, with more public resources devoted to institutional schooling, with more job opportunities in the school field, more emphasis on standardized testing, more national examinations, plus hitherto unheard of developments like national teaching licenses, national curricula, national goals, national standards, and with the great dream of corporate America since 1900, School-to-Work legislation organizing the youth of America into precocious work battalions.

Sound familiar? The only reason that last bit hasn't happened yet is that we have maintained historically low unemployment rates since early in the Clinton Administration. I have no doubt that next time unemployment creeps towards double digits, some sort of national jobs program, with government deciding which job you get, will be proposed.

Gatto then provides us a list of the 8 things schools are really teaching your kids.

The first lesson schools teach is forgetfulness; forcing children to forget how they taught themselves important things like walking and talking.

This was one of the great insights I had as we stared the homeschool journey. Kids teach themselves to walk and talk before age 4, yet they need government approved teachers for the relatively easy stuff after that?

The second lesson schools teach is bewilderment and confusion.

School curriculum only makes sense to school curriculum developers. The kids are totally confused. Nothing is connected from one year to the next, or even one class to the next. Everything exists in silos, devoid of any real meaning.

The third lesson schools teach is that children are assigned by experts to a social class and must stay in the class to which they have been assigned.

Increasingly, there is only one class as the schools strive to treat and teach every kid exactly the same, ignoring all those individual differences that separate us from the robots.

The fourth lesson schools teach is indifference. By bells and other concentration-destroying technology, schools teach that nothing is worth finishing because some arbitrary power intervenes both periodically and aperiodically.

This is one I had never thought about before now. How often do you fail to start something because there isn't time. Is that a learned behavior from school? If we weren't "schooled" would it be more natural to start without regard to finish times? I definitely see that tendency in my kids.

The fifth lesson schools teach is emotional dependency. By stars, checks, smiles, frowns, prizes, honors, and disgraces, schools condition children to lifelong emotional dependency. It's like training a dog.

Positive reinforcement with kids is a good thing, but too much of a good thing leads to the self esteem nonsense we see today.

The sixth lesson schools teach is intellectual dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. Good people do it the way the teacher wants it done. Good teachers in their turn wait for the curriculum supervisor or textbook to tell them what to do.

I was never real good at that waiting to be told what to do part.I remember frequently having the days work done 10 minutes into class. The instructional pattern was easy to figure out, so I usually knew we were going to be expected to do all the odd problems at the end of the chapter, or whatever. So instead of listening to the teacher drone on, I usually did the work on my own and was done before anybody else started. Back then, I never understood why that wasn't a good thing.

The seventh lesson schools teach is provisional self-esteem. Self-respect in children must be made contingent on the certification of experts through rituals of number magic. It must be self-generated as it was for Benjamin Franklin, the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, or Henry Ford.

The kids that figure this out on their own make lousy students. I now realize that lousy student should be a compliment!

It teaches how hopeless it is to resist because you are always watched. There is no place to hide. Nor should you want to.

And now we have a generation of kids, our future leaders, who think random backpack searches and metal detectors at the doors are normal and acceptable.

By allowing the existence of large bureaucratic systems under centralized control, whether corporate, governmental, or institutional, we unwittingly enter into a hideous conspiracy against ourselves, one in which we resolutely work to limit the growth of our minds and spirits. The only conceivable answer is to break the power of these things, through grit, courage, indomitably and resolution if possible, through acts of personal sabotage and disloyalty if not.

Is home education personal sabotage and disloyalty? I sort of like the sound of that actually.

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