Bird Droppings July 8, 2014
Do children deserve more?
I drove up to North Georgia numerous times the past few weeks, drove to middles Georgia to visit with a good friend a former principal, my grandson had his first birthday, all helped throw my routine out the window the past week. So adding to this hectic schedule physical therapy for my back and shoulder, teaching college three nights a week and well I am tired. I almost forgot other trips to pick up large quantities of rats and mice for my oldest son’s hobby and part time job of breeding and raising ball pythons and numerous other critters my trips have been many. It just so happens that the largest mice and rat breeder in the Southeast is thirty minutes from Piedmont College where I will be going Wednesday this week. So on one of the journey’s I sat in backseat reading some research material which happened to be John Taylor Gatto’s book, Weapons of Mass Instruction.
There are aspects of Gatto’s writing I totally agree with and many opinions that I would differ with him substantially on. I do believe in the public school system. Gatto has come out in favor of un-schooling or homeschooling as alternatives to public school to a large degree. However the stripping away of individuality and creativity we both seem to find such a crucial piece that is occurring in today’s schools we both can argue is wrong. Having been taught in my graduate program in a rather liberal setting perhaps has me jaded towards a more progressive traditional educational philosophy and methodology. As I think back on my own training in teaching it was not far off of what I do today. Students learn best by doing versus being told. I learned that in a Red Cross course in 1967 teaching swimming. I even remember the example of tying a square knot. Few could tie the knot after being told how several times even in detail. But being shown physically not only did everyone learn to tie a square knot but the next day they also remembered and at the end of the course still knew how.
“I don’t think we’ll get rid of schools any time soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we’re going to change what’s rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution “schools” very well, though 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.” John Taylor Gatto
Gatto as he illustrates the historical demise of education in the process of schooling children to be consumers, points to several issues that I have raised in recent writings. A corporate industrial influence on education dating back to early 1900’s which impacts the process of the education and its end result being the major issue then and now.
“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.” John Taylor Gatto
In my some of my graduate school writings I addressed the loss of soul in education. That is the stripping away of individuality that has been going on for so many years. In many schools it has only intensified by the teach to the test mentality that is driving education today across the US. Not all succumb to the numbing and as Gatto says “Dumbing Down of students”, there are teachers who provide opportunity for critical thinking and can keep some of the students from falling through the educational cracks. But with many systems relying on test scores to evaluate teachers and placing emphasis due to state and federal mandates teachers are in fear of their jobs and chose to teach what is on the test, period. Yet even so in some states such as in Texas where legislation actually was proposed to do away with critical thinking skills. Where do these legislative people come from?
John Gatto was New York State teacher of the year in 1990 and in his speech at the award ceremony offered these eight points:
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.
2. The children I teach have almost no curiosity and what they do have is transitory; they cannot concentrate for very long, even on things they choose to do. Can you see a connection between the bells ringing again and again to change classes and this phenomenon of evanescent attention?
3. The children I teach have a poor sense of the future, of how tomorrow is inextricably linked to today. As I said before, they have a continuous present; the exact moment they are at is the boundary of their consciousness.
4. The children I teach are ahistorical, they have no sense of how past has predestined their own present, limiting their choices, shaping their values and lives.
5. The children I teach are cruel to each other, they lack compassion for misfortune, they laugh at weakness, and they have contempt for people whose need for help shows too plainly.
6. The children I teach are uneasy with intimacy or candor. My guess is that they are like many adopted people I’ve known in this respect – they cannot deal with genuine intimacy because of a lifelong habit of preserving a secret inner self inside a larger outer personality made up of artificial bits and pieces of behavior borrowed from television or acquired to manipulate teachers. Because they are not who they represent themselves to be the disguise wears thin in the presence of intimacy so intimate relationships have to be avoided.
7. The children I teach are materialistic, following the lead of schoolteachers who materialistically “grade” everything – and television mentors who offer everything in the world for free.
8. The children I teach are dependent, passive, and timid in the presence of new challenges. This is frequently masked by surface bravado, or by anger or aggressiveness but underneath is a vacuum without fortitude.
Perhaps where I go with this is there are solutions and alternatives to what has been happening in education. It will take effort and it will take people who are concerned not politicians looking for votes and saying the right thing at the right time. But honest truthful people who have a passion for education and learning and a truth concern for children. I skip back to my early days of education and Dr. Laura Nolte who wrote a simple passage about children based on they learn what they live. In our fast pace literally instantaneous society there is so little time for kids to be kids. I will go to John Dewey and his idea of reflection. There is no time to reflect during the day none what so ever.
“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.” John Taylor Gatto, 1990 addressing the Awards ceremony
Over the years I would use the term the sixteen hour syndrome as I addressed our eight hour or six hours depending on the school of teaching time and that time away from school. One thing Gatto did not address in this book but he has in other essays and writings, is the societal changes that have occurred. A reliance on drugs, both legal and illegal, amazing our nation drives the world narcotics market. If we could stop the dependence on drugs it could be significantly different. I have heard many times and seen many times in records where teachers and parents want their kids on medications. Generally these meds are not to be healthier but to calm them down. Recently in a discussion about ADHD I was being told about a child who was diagnosed as ADHD and was fine when on meds he otherwise bouncing off the ceilings. I asked a question I borrow from a good friend Dr. James Sutton clinical child psychologist, does he play video games and for long periods. Yes was the answer and then how is this child ADHD if he can focus for extended time on something he likes. Maybe boredom was a better diagnosis in relationship to school.
“Highly centralized mass production economies can’t function well without colonizing individual minds and converting them to a mass mind. The conversion works best if started early, in the lower grades of elementary school, in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten.” John Taylor Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction
Other societal issues marriage has become disposable. It is simply a commodity to use and then move on from if needed. I watch kids who have been through numerous divorces and step parents and other than Christmas which can be fun with fifteen step brothers and sisters and four houses to visit instead of two. Although I recall a kid I had ten years ago was living with his third step mother since his mother and father both were in jail. It is not just school but a society that had been created through the design and methodology of our mass production system. Yesterday evening I made a comment about opinion and elections. A word or thought in today’s media driven world can change opinion instantly.
There is no thinking or effort to try and reflect it is simply to go a differing direction on a word or thought. Let me go back to that nine hours a week of time to look inside of ourselves that Gatto illustrated. If we can expand that time and put forth a concerted effort to reflect to think to peer inside and search for our soul it is just maybe possible we could turn this mess around. I know personally the days I can meditate for me are more meaningful and creative days. I cherish those moments reflecting and pondering as I say and will grasp them when I can. So I have wandered today a bit maybe overkill on a book but still as I close keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)