- Why Schools Don’t Educate
- Montana Suspends Gun Sales Tax Out of Fear of the People
- The Erosion of Individual Liberties: When Justice and Politics Become One
- Video: George Carlin -”Who Really Controls America”
Posted: 11 Jul 2010 03:24 PM PDT
I accept this award on behalf of all the fine teachers I’ve known over the years who’ve struggled to make their transactions with children honorable ones, men and women who are never complacent, always questioning, always wrestling to define and redefine endlessly what the word “education” should mean. A Teacher of the Year is not the best teacher around, those people are too quiet to be easily uncovered, but he is a standard-bearer, symbolic of these private people who spend their lives gladly in the service of children. This is their award as well as mine.
We live in a time of great school crisis. Our children rank at the bottom of nineteen industrial nations in reading, writing and arithmetic. At the very bottom. The world’s narcotic economy is based upon our own consumption of the commodity, if we didn’t buy so many powdered dreams the business would collapse – and schools are an important sales outlet. Our teenage suicide rate is the highest in the world and suicidal kids are rich kids for the most part, not the poor. In Manhattan fifty per cent of all new marriages last less than five years. So something is wrong for sure.
Our school crisis is a reflection of this greater social crisis. We seem to have lost our identity. Children and old people are penned up and locked away from the business of the world to a degree without precedent – nobody talks to them anymore and without children and old people mixing in daily life a community has no future and no past, only a continuous present. In fact, the name “community” hardly applies to the way we interact with each other. We live in networks, not communities, and 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 guilt among 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 subway trains begging and sleep on the streets.
I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my twenty-five years of teaching – that schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained 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 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. Although teachers do care and do work very hard, the institution is psychopathic – it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to different cell where he must memorize that man and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.
Our form of compulsory schooling is an invention of the state of Massachusetts around 1850. It was resisted – sometimes with guns – by an estimated eighty per cent of the Massachusetts population, the last outpost in Barnstable on Cape Cod not surrendering its children until the 1880’s when the area was seized by militia and children marched to school under guard.
Now here is a curious idea to ponder. Senator Ted Kennedy’s office released a paper not too long ago claiming that prior to compulsory education the state literacy rate was 98% and after it the figure never again reached above 91% where it stands in 1990. I hope that interests you.
Here is another curiosity to think about. The homeschooling movement has quietly grown to a size where one and a half million young people are being educated entirely by their own parents. Last month the education press reported the amazing news that children schooled at home seem to be five or even ten years ahead of their formally trained peers in their ability to think.
I don’t think we’ll get rid of schools anytime soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we’re going to change what is rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution “schools” very well, but it does not “educate” – that’s inherent in the design of the thing. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent, it’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.
Schools were designed by Horace Mann and Barnard Sears and Harper of the University of Chicago and Thorndyke of Columbia Teachers College and some other men to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce through the application of formulae, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.
To a very great extent, schools succeed in doing this. But our society is disintegrating, and in such a society, the only successful people are self-reliant, confident, and individualistic – because the community life which protects the dependent and the weak is dead. The products of schooling are, as I’ve said, irrelevant. Well-schooled people are irrelevant. They can sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on the telephones, or sit mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal but as human beings they are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves.
The daily misery around us is, I think, in large measure caused by the fact that – as Paul Goodman put it thirty years ago – we force children to grow up absurd. Any reform in schooling has to deal with its absurdities.
It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety, indeed it cuts you off from your own past and future, scaling you to a continuous present much the same way television does.
It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct buildings, or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of buildings when you want to read poetry.
It is absurd and anti-life to move from cell to cell at the sound of a gong for every day of your natural youth in an institution that allows you no privacy and even follows you into the sanctuary of your home demanding that you do its “homework.”
“How will they learn to read?” you say and my answer is “Remember the lessons of Massachusetts.” When children are given whole lives instead of age-graded ones in cellblocks they learn to read, write, and do arithmetic with ease if those things make sense in the kind of life that unfolds around them.
But keep in mind that in the United States almost nobody who reads, writes or does arithmetic gets much respect. We are a land of talkers, we pay talkers the most and admire talkers the most, and so our children talk constantly, following the public models of television and schoolteachers. It is very difficult to teach the “basics” anymore because they really aren’t basic to the society we’ve made.
Two institutions at present control our children’s lives – television and schooling, in that order. Both of these reduce the real world of wisdom, fortitude, temperance, and justice to a never-ending, non-stopping abstraction. In centuries past the time of a child and adolescent would be occupied in real work, real charity, real adventures, and the realistic search for mentors who might teach what you really wanted to learn. A great deal of time was spent in community pursuits, practicing affection, meeting and studying every level of the community, learning how to make a home, and dozens of other tasks necessary to become a whole man or woman.
But here is the calculus of time the children I teach must deal with:
Out of the 168 hours in each week, my children sleep 56. That leaves them 112 hours a week out of which to fashion a self.
My children watch 55 hours of television a week according to recent reports. That leaves them 57 hours a week in which to grow up.
My children attend school 30 hours a week, use about 6 hours getting ready, going and coming home, and spend an average of 7 hours a week in homework – a total of 45 hours. During that time, they are under constant surveillance, have no private time or private space, and are disciplined if they try to assert individuality in the use of time or space. That leaves 12 hours a week out of which to create a unique consciousness. Of course, my kids eat, and that takes some time – not much, because they’ve lost the tradition of family dining, but if we allot 3 hours a week to evening meals, we arrive at a net amount of private time for each child of 9 hours.
It’s not enough. It’s not enough, is it? The richer the kid, of course, the less television he watches but the rich kid’s time is just as narrowly proscribed by a somewhat broader catalog of commercial entertainments and his inevitable assignment to a series of private lessons in areas seldom of his actual choice.
And these things are oddly enough just a more cosmetic way to create dependent human beings, unable to fill their own hours, unable to initiate lines of meaning to give substance and pleasure to their existence. It’s a national disease, this dependency and aimlessness, and I think schooling and television and lessons – the entire Chautauqua idea – has a lot to do with it.
Think of the things that are killing us as a nation – narcotic drugs, brainless competition, recreational sex, the pornography of violence, gambling, alcohol, and the worst pornography of all – lives devoted to buying things, accumulation as a philosophy – all of them are addictions of dependent personalities, and that is what our brand of schooling must inevitably produce.
I want to tell you what the effect is on children of taking all their time from them – time they need to grow up – and forcing them to spend it on abstractions. You need to hear this, because no reform that doesn’t attack these specific pathologies will be anything more than a façade.
1. The children I teach are indifferent to the adult world. This defies the experience of thousands of years. A close study of what big people were up to was always the most exciting occupation of youth, but nobody wants to grow up these days and who can blame them? Toys are us.
I could name a few other conditions that school reform would have to tackle if our national decline is to be arrested, but by now you will have grasped my thesis, whether you agree with it or not. Either schools have caused these pathologies, or television, or both. It’s a simple matter [of] arithmetic, between schooling and television all the time the children have is eaten away. That’s what has destroyed the American family, it is no longer a factor in the education of its own children. Television and schooling, in those things the fault must lie.
What can be done? First we need a ferocious national debate that doesn’t quit, day after day, year after year. We need to scream and argue about this school thing until it is fixed or broken beyond repair, one or the other. If we can fix it, fine; if we cannot, then the success of homeschooling shows a different road to take that has great promise. Pouring the money we now pour into family education might kill two birds with one stone, repairing families as it repairs children.
Genuine reform is possible but it shouldn’t cost anything. We need to rethink the fundamental premises of schooling and decide what it is we want all children to learn and why. For 140 years this nation has tried to impose objectives downward from the lofty command center made up of “experts,” a central elite of social engineers. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work. And it is a gross betrayal of the democratic promise that once made this nation a noble experiment. The Russian attempt to create Plato’s republic in Eastern Europe has exploded before [our] eyes, our own attempt to impose the same sort of central orthodoxy using the schools as an instrument is also coming apart at the seams, albeit more slowly and painfully. It doesn’t work because its fundamental premises are mechanical, anti-human, and hostile to family life. Lives can be controlled by machine education but they will always fight back with weapons of social pathology – drugs, violence, self-destruction, indifference, and the symptoms I see in the children I teach.
It’s high time we looked backwards to regain an educational philosophy that works. One I like particularly well has been a favorite of the ruling classes of Europe for thousands of years. I use as much of it as I can manage in my own teaching, as much, that is, as I can get away with given the present institution of compulsory schooling. I think it works just as well for poor children as for rich ones.
At the core of this elite system of education is the belief that self-knowledge is the only basis of true knowledge. Everywhere in this system, at every age, you will find arrangements to place the child alone in an unguided setting with a problem to solve. Sometimes the problem is fraught with great risks, such as the problem of galloping a horse or making it jump, but that, of course, is a problem successfully solved by thousands of elite children before the age of ten. Can you imagine anyone who had mastered such a challenge ever lacking confidence in his ability to do anything? Sometimes the problem is the problem of mastering solitude, as Thoreau did at Walden Pond, or Einstein did in the Swiss customs house.
One of my former students, Roland Legiardi-Lura, though both his parents were dead and he had no inheritance, took a bicycle across the United States alone when he was hardly out of boyhood. Is it any wonder then that in manhood when he decided to make a film about Nicaragua, although he had no money and no prior experience with film-making, that it was an international award-winner – even though his regular work was as a carpenter.
Right now we are taking all the time from our children that they need to develop self-knowledge. That has to stop. We have to invent school experiences that give a lot of that time back, we need to trust children from a very early age with independent study, perhaps arranged in school but which takes place away from the institutional setting. We need to invent curriculum where each kid has a chance to develop private uniqueness and self-reliance.
A short time ago I took seventy dollars and sent a twelve-year-old girl from my class with her non-English speaking mother on a bus down the New Jersey coast to take the police chief of Sea Bright to lunch and apologize for polluting [his] beach with a discarded Gatorade bottle. In exchange for this public apology I had arranged with the police chief for the girl to have a one-day apprenticeship in a small town police procedures. A few days later, two more of my twelve-year-old kids traveled alone to West First Street from Harlem where they began an apprenticeship with a newspaper editor, next week three of my kids will find themselves in the middle of the Jersey swamps at 6 A.M., studying the mind of a trucking company president as he dispatches 18-wheelers to Dallas, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Are these “special” children in a “special” program? Well, in one sense, yes, but nobody knows about this program but the kids and myself. They’re just nice kids from Central Harlem, bright and alert, but so badly schooled when they came to me that most of them can’t add or subtract with any fluency. And not a single one knew the population of New York City or how far it is from New York to California.
Does that worry me? Of course, but I am confident that as they gain self-knowledge they’ll also become self-teachers – and only self-teaching has any lasting value.
We’ve got to give kids independent time right away because that is the key to self-knowledge, and we must re-involve them with the real world as fast as possible so that the independent time can be spent on something other than more abstraction. This is an emergency, it requires drastic action to correct – our children are dying like flies in schooling, good schooling or bad schooling, it’s all the same. Irrelevant.
What else does a restructured school system need? It needs to stop being a parasite on the working community. Of all the pages in the human ledger, only our tortured entry has warehoused children and asked nothing of them in service to the general good. For a while I think we need to make community service a required part of schooling. Besides the experience in acting unselfishly that will teach, it is the quickest way to give young children real responsibility in the mainstream of life.
For five years I ran a guerilla program where I had every kid, rich and poor, smart and dipsy, give 320 hours a year of hard community service. Dozens of those kids came back to me years later, grown up, and told me that one experience of helping someone else changed their lives. It taught them to see in new ways, to rethink goals and values. It happened when they were thirteen, in my Lab School program – only made possible because my rich school district was in chaos. When “stability” returned the Lab was closed. It was too successful with a wildly mixed group of kids, at too small of a cost, to be allowed to continue. We made the expensive elite programs look bad.
There is no shortage of real problems in the city. Kids can be asked to help solve them in exchange for the respect and attention of the total adult world. Good for kids, good for all the rest of us. That’s curriculum that teaches Justice, one of the four cardinal virtues in every system of elite education. What’s sauce for the rich and powerful is surely sauce for the rest of us – what is more, the idea is absolutely free as are all other genuine reform ideas in education. Extra money and extra people put into this sick institution will only make it sicker.
Independent study, community service, adventures in experience, large doses of privacy and solitude, a thousand different apprenticeships, the one-day variety or longer – these are all powerful, cheap and effective ways to start a real reform of schooling. But no large-scale reform is ever going to work to repair our damaged children and our damaged society until we force the idea of “school” open – to include family as the main engine of education. The Swedes realized that in 1976 when they effectively abandoned the system of adopting unwanted children and instead spent national time and treasure on reinforcing the original family so that children born to Swedes were wanted. They didn’t succeed completely but they did succeed in reducing the number of unwanted Swedish children from 6000 in l976 to 15 in 1986. So it can be done. The Swedes just got tired of paying for the social wreckage caused by children not raised by their natural parents so they did something about it. We can, too.
Family is the main engine of education. If we use schooling to break children away from parents – and make no mistake, that has been the central function of schools since John Cotton announced it as the purpose of the Bay Colony schools in 1650 and Horace Mann announced it as the purpose of Massachusetts schools in 1850 – we’re going to continue to have the horror show we have right now. The curriculum of family is at the heart of any good life, we’ve gotten away from that curriculum, time to return to it. The way to sanity in education is for our schools to take the lead in releasing the stranglehold of institutions on family life, to promote during school time confluences of parent and child that will strengthen family bonds. That was my real purpose in sending the girl and her mother down the Jersey coast to meet the police chief. I have many ideas to make a family curriculum and my guess is that a lot of you will have many ideas, too, once you begin to think about it. Our greatest problem in getting the kind of grass-roots thinking going that could reform schooling is that we have large vested interests pre-emptying all the air time and profiting from schooling just exactly as it is despite rhetoric to the contrary. We have to demand that new voices and new ideas get a hearing, my ideas and yours. We’ve all had a bellyful of authorized voices mediated by television and the press – a decade long free-for-all debate is what is called for now, not any more “expert” opinions. Experts in education have never been right, their “solutions” are expensive, self-serving, and always involve further centralization. Enough. Time for a return to democracy, individuality, and family. I’ve said my piece. Thank you.
This article is the text of a speech by John Taylor Gatto accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990.
Posted: 11 Jul 2010 11:12 AM PDT
Government should always fear the people. This is the best news I’ve read all year.
CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Department of Revenue has suspended sales tax collections from gun shows because of increasing animosity toward the state’s field tax agents.
Dan Noble, director of the department’s excise tax division, said Friday that an incident at a gun show triggered the decision.
He added, however, that resistance from gun show sponsors and participants has been a recurring problem statewide.
“I have 10 field reps throughout the state, and every one of them has experienced some animosity,” he said. “Folks are nervous anyway because there are guns there. I don’t want to put my people at risk.”
Guns shows, like craft shows, are required to set up temporary sales tax licenses but do not have to pay the $60 fee for a permanent sales tax license.
The department’s field tax representatives attend the shows and ask the sponsors to distribute tax forms to the sellers who, in turn, are required to collect and remit sales tax to the Department of Revenue.
Noble said the tax agents have never had a problem with compliance from the craft shows, for example.
“We tend to have more trouble at gun shows than any place,” Noble said. “This last incident was something I felt kind of crossed the line and, because of it I have suspended our activity in trying to collect this until we can get a better way of approaching it.”
He said the “climate” has changed and some of the gun show people are “fairly extreme.”
Noble said he didn’t want to identify the show where the incident took place because the problem has been statewide.
Anthony Bouchard, executive director of the Wyoming Gun Owners’ Association, said the only confrontation he knew of was at a gun show in Pine Bluffs. The gun show participant involved was an “in your face” type, he said, adding that he did not believe there was any threat made.
“I think they’re trying to create a political climate, to make it sound like a bigger thing than it is,” he said.
The position of his group, Bouchard said, is that the state shouldn’t charge sales tax on gun and ammunition sales because of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“Everybody’s on edge,” said John Wise, director of the Pine Bluffs Shooting Association and of the gun show.
Identifying himself as a “Tea Partier and damned proud of it,” Wise said Friday that people are angry at the federal government over health care reform and other actions.
Wise said he was sitting at the front desk during the April gun show at Pine Bluffs when a participant got into a confrontation with a state sales tax representative. The tax agent called for backup from the Pine Bluffs Police Department.
Wise said the police officer intervened, the tax agent left, and no charges were filed. He said he thought both men had “short fuses.”
A police report from Pine Bluffs said only that there was a disturbance at the gun show and that one person, a man, was escorted from the building by police.
Wise said individual gun owners who pay $30 to rent a table at a gun show so they can sell a couple of guns should not have to collect sales tax for the state.
Bouchard said he will personally work on legislation to exempt gun show sales from the state’s sales tax.
Noble said he plans to contact local representatives of the National Rifle Association to see if they have any recommendation on how to avoid these problems. Since other states are having the same problem, Noble said he will contact them as well.
“The last thing in the world I want to do is to involve law enforcement in something like this,” he said. “If that’s what it takes, I guess we do it. I would rather wait and see if we have opportunity to work with people so it’s not threatening to my employees.”
Noble informed members of the Legislature’s Joint Interim Revenue Committee on Thursday of his decision because at some point legislation may be necessary, he said.
Posted: 11 Jul 2010 08:06 AM PDT
By Lt. Col. Barry Wingard
In the “War on Terror,” I am amazed how every time our enemy takes action, it sets into motion a scramble by our government to take away the individual rights of Americans. Will we reach a point at which we will be completely stripped of our civil liberties in the name of eliminating danger from external threats?
I am hopeful that this won’t happen for two reasons. First, my travels have shown me that the world as a whole is closely scrutinizing American policies and behavior. Second, American history is replete with examples of the government making mistakes that went too far by denying rights or privileges to particular groups or individuals. In each instance, society stood against these practices and demanded the same rights for everyone, eventually returning the equilibrium in a way that could never have been accomplished by a single person.
Despite our victories of the past, unjust treatment of groups and individuals continues in the world we live in today. It is being played out every day at Guantanamo Bay and throughout America, where to be Muslim is to be suspect.
At Guantanamo, we have been detaining prisoners for nearly a decade without charges or trials, claiming that the detainees fall into a special category that allows us to treat them differently from the mandates of our justice system and our values as Americans. The presumption of innocence is one of the great hallmarks of the American judicial system. At Guantanamo, the government presumes the opposite. If you are caged there, you are guilty, and you will serve a life sentence, regardless of the evidence against you.
My client, Fayiz al-Kandari, is a Kuwaiti who has been held in a Guantanamo cage for eight and a half years. He is presumed guilty and, in all likelihood, will be held indefinitely as the Obama administration considers reinstituting the worst of the worst of Bush’s detention policies. The US government has not been able to prove Fayiz actually did anything, but it does not have to because he falls into a special category of prisoner – one with fewer rights than you or me.
Imagine for a moment that American citizens were locked away for more than eight years without charges or trials. Would we as a country allow that to happen? Well, until we refuse to exclude certain groups from the rights that protect all of us, we are headed in that direction. And this is as great a threat to America as any external force.
It is only a matter of time until the tables turn against us. America’s willingness to surrender a person’s right to justice and due process at Guantanamo will ultimately find its way to the rest of society, perhaps eventually affecting us all on a personal level. When men decide how the judiciary system will function based on popular or political consensus, we have become a land of men and not laws.
If we do not change course at Guantanamo, we could ironically find ourselves subject to the same rights as Guantanamo Bay detainees: none. It’s an extreme situation, admittedly, but what we are doing to individuals in US custody is no less extreme.
It is not just the US government that may overstep its bounds with American citizens. Any American who travels abroad should consider that, once the United States sets the precedent of indefinitely detaining individuals without any legal process, other countries will follow suit. Prejudice is not a one way street. During a recent trip to the Middle East, I was told that all Christians should immediately be jailed for infliction of terror around the world. How is this different from what Americans are allowing to occur at Guantanamo Bay?
Historically, laws expand in scope and almost never retract without express legislation to the contrary. It was for a reason that our founding fathers were particularly concerned with individual liberties. In their infinite wisdom, they recognized that it is the vulnerable citizens who need buffers to protect them against government overreaching, and that the erosion of rights is a slippery slope. This is precisely why they created the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
The continued assault on our liberties will not only increase our feelings of insecurity; it will lead to more mistakes by the government that will result in fewer individual rights for Americans. We as a society must demand that the government not be allowed to interfere with our rights and that it prove every allegation against everyone it detains beyond a reasonable doubt – in a real court, in the light of day, for all to observe.
The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States government.
Posted: 11 Jul 2010 05:28 AM PDT