Friday, January 16, 2015

The Underground History of American Education, Part I

You can read my notes on the Prologue HERE.

In Part I of The Underground History of American Education, the author, John Taylor Gatto, considers what education "used to be."  Education focused on duty, hard work, responsibility, and self-reliance.
"Young people in America were expected to make something of themselves, not to prepare themselves to fit into a pre-established hierarchy.  Every foreign commentator notes the early training in independence, the remarkable precocity of American youth, and their assumption of adult responsibility."
"Anyone worthy of citizenship was expected to be able to think clearly and to welcome great responsibility."
But there was, from the onset of the birth of our nation, an attack on Western ideals.  These ideas began to creep into our culture very slowly until the post-Civil War period and just in time for the Industrial Revolution.  One goal was to create a school environment that destroyed creativity, independence, and hope, frankly.  If a large portion of the masses could be forced into this new way of thinking, this would help build upon the new utopia that man has always strived to reach.

School was the easiest way to implement these ideas.  But this is dangerous because
"Utopian schooling is never about learning in the traditional sense; it's about the transformation of human nature."
"To mandate outcomes centrally would be a major step in the destruction of Western identity."
But it has happened already.  According to the author, by the 1960's this long push for forced schooling had done its job.  Human nature has been changed.  

One concept was to extend childhood and alleviate early responsibility.  Keep young people in school longer and create an atmosphere where they believe they (and their peers) are not capable of self-governance or independence.

Another idea was to eliminate real books and how we read them.  (Hello, textbooks?)  Real books force us to think.
"Real books transport us to an inner realm of solitude and unmonitored mental reflection in a way schoolbooks and computer programs can't.  Real books conform to the private curriculum of each author, not to the invisible curriculum of a corporate bureaucracy."
"Reading, and rigorous discussion of that reading in a way that obliges you to formulate a position and support it against objections, is an operational definition of education in its more fundamental civilized sense."
"Reading teaches nothing more important than the state of mind in which you find yourself absolutely alone with the thoughts of another mind, a matchless form of intimate raport available only to those with the ability to block out distraction and concentrate.  Hence the urgency of reading well if you read for power."
One more great quote from the author about reading:  (I love this!)
"Once you trust yourself to go mind-to-mind with great intellects, artists, scientists, warriors, and philosophers, you are finally free." 
That's just two points, but there are so many more packed into Part I; you will have to read it for yourself.  The bottom line is this: the author makes the case that
"...government schooling made people dumber, not brighter; made families weakernot stronger; ruined formal religion with its hard-self exclusion of Godset the class structure in stone by dividing children into classes and setting them against one another; and has been midwife to an alarming concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a fraction of the national community."
I cannot say anymore, but I will return with Part II later.  For now, consider this:
"Growth and mastery come only to those who vigorously self-direct.  Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, enjoying privacy..." 
Now, ask yourself if schools today provide that to young people

Go to Part II.


Susanna said...

WOW. I am going to have to read this... like now. Great review! `

Cleo said...

I'm smiling at the "textbook" reference because I remember being at a convention where Gatto was the main speaker ........ when one homeschooling mom asked him, "I know you dislike textbooks, but is there anything valuable in them?", Gatto answered in his big, booming voice, "No! They're worse than poison!" :-D I love how strongly he believes in his ideals.

Ruth said...

Thanks! You can read it online.

Ruth said...

BTW, I lent it to a friend of mine, and she decided to buy her own copy so she could mark it up.

Ruth said...


Carol said...

Much of what you've written here sounds familiar though I've only read 'Dumbing us Down' but I did hear the author speak at a homeschooling conference here a few years ago. The fact that he was for many years part of the system he's railing against really adds weight to his arguments. Interesting that one of the criticisms levelled against home education is that it shields students from the real world while Gatto said that school was artificial & nothing like the real world.

Cleo said...

In Puyallup, WA perhaps 3-4 years ago. He's getting pretty old, so I wanted to see him before he goes to meet his Maker. :-) He was a little idealistic with a few of his comments, but overall, his views are bang-on. He was going to make a movie at some point but I think that fizzled, although you can see some of his talks on Youtube.

Ruth said...

When he writes about his experiences as a teacher, the reader will see a man who genuinely loved young people and truly believed in them. He must have been a great teacher.

Ruth said...

Yeah, I don't know if that movie is going to happen. He's close to 80 now. But they are releasing an updated edition of The Underground History of American Education this year.

Cleo said...

I didn't know that. Woo hoo! I have two copies so I have one to lend. I'll have to check if it's been returned. If not, perhaps I need another one! ;-)

Plethora said...

I need to get back to reading this, but I think I need two copies because I wanted to highlight so many quotes and marking my books is not in my nature.

Perhaps I'll move to the free pdf online so I can highlight.

Ruth said...

That's a great idea! Or just take notes in a notebook. I started doing that when I was reading it online, before I got a hard copy.