Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Smart Cat Says Dumb

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory SchoolingDumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is definitely a 3.4 star book. A very quick read: I finished it in a good bit less than an hour of actual reading, and it's easily worth ten times that. It is tremendously subversive, and in a very wholesome way.

The author, John Taylor Gatto, is a fairly big deal in the NY state school system--Teacher of the Year and all that jazz--and his thesis is that our school system actually hinders learning. One of the analogies that he uses is the difference between a painter and a sculptor: a painter puts something on a canvas, and we view education this way. A sculptor takes away the obstacles, as Michaelangelo reputedly said, a sculptor "liberates" what is within the stone, and this is how we should view education. A teacher's job is not to fill the student's head with facts, but rather to facilitate their desire and ability to learn.

Which, to a great extent is true. And he goes back further than this; he goes back to the seven things that all teachers teach children and what the ramifications of these things are, and he carries it out further than this; he carries it out to what needs to happen to actually change the school system as it is. And this is why it is closer to three stars than to four in my mind: while it is extremely insightful and absolutely essential for anyone interested in education to, at the very least, encounter, it is operating within the framework of the public school system.

And he understands this system: he goes back to Horace Mann and he truly and profoundly knows what he's dealing with, but he thinks it can be saved, while I think it's invention was a catastrophic event the likes of which the American world will never see again. It is the single damning weakness of our nation: it has created a generational gap, ripping (indeed, aborting, as it were) the children from the wombs of their parents long before they were ready to be on their own, thus depriving them of all of the wisdom and truth that their parents possessed. And to fill the void that is created? What is it that replaces the discipline and culture of a family? A lowest common denominator cookie-cutter classroom run by teachers that typically look at our children as the one thing standing between them and a couple stiff martinis (you know the ones I mean, straight out of a Pink Floyd song). So we foster this mental infanticide, and the most influential thing that many a mother will ever say to her son is "I'll see you after school, honey," and all of this simply because we live within the failed experiment and view it as the natural state of affairs.

But in any case, Gatto sees the failure of the system in a way that very few people do. This book is a necessary read to understand how the government schools fail our children.

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