My Opinion of "Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why" by John Taylor Gatto
I just read this essay and as I read it, I was horrified. Here was a man who was a teacher for decades confirming some of my worst fears about public education.
I knew from being pretty young that our public education system was lacking, which was why I chose a private high school over one of the public high schools I could have gone to because of the lack of schools in my town. In the classroom, the teachers did nothing to stop the many complaints from the students that they were bored. In fact, they looked pretty bored with the material themselves, but they taught it anyway. When I was fourteen, we were handed a worksheet that was to be done after a twenty minute lesson explaining what the worksheet was about. It had a bunch of terms about poems. Most of them were self-explanatory and the ones that weren't I already knew from last year. I finished the worksheet in about two minutes and approached my teacher. I asked her if I could be excused since I could demonstrate that there was no benefit to me sitting in on this lesson. I offered to do extra credit assignments or other schoolwork that she could check at the end of the lesson to make sure I wasn't just goofing off. She told me that while I had gotten every single term right, I still had to sit through the lesson.
I also got reprimanded by another teacher when I finished up a group project early. While the other group members were busy saying how weird Jane (name changed) was, I was reading an article about how to write good book reviews because I had just started working as a book reviewer for Differences Online Magazine. The teacher was looking at my screen on his own computer through their Big Brother software and he called me out and gave me a warning, even though the work was done and I was clearly not doing much except learning how to state my opinion in a concise manner.
There was no encouragement to work harder and smarter from the teachers. One of my teachers actually got pissed off at me when I finished a large project in two classes and I met Exceeds Standards in all places that were being judged.
Another notorious issue with today's education system is the lack of practical skills. We don't know about doing taxes, buying cars, houses, investing wisely, writing a decent resume, networking, or any other practical necessities. Thank god I like to search things like "how to make money". Otherwise I would have absolutely no idea what a mutual fund was, let alone if it would help me or not.
I don't blame the teachers on this one. They teach what they are given and straying from the rules is dangerous, as illustrated by movies based on true stories like Dangerous Minds and The Freedom Writers . Gatto himself described how he came back from medical leave to the school he taught at to find that any evidence that he had worked at that school had been destroyed and that his teaching license had been revoked. It took him the better part of a year to get it back, which he did after a secretary confessed to witnessing the plot. No, this problem is above the teacher's pay grades and probably above the principal's pay grade as well. It stems from much higher in the food chain, but I confess I don't know where exactly that is.
I figured public school had failed me because of the sheer quantity of students they were trying to put through the system. They were trying please everyone and fit everyone into a one-size-fits-all education that served the majority best. However, conspiracy theories always lurked at the edges of my brain. It seemed a little too convenient that our lack of critical thinking skills and our requirement to please authority more than question it made it easy for marketing to sway us into different votes, products, and other consumer-driven stuff that wasn't that exciting and that we really didn't need. Oh yes, I felt that our education was designed to make us "whales" instead of well-rounded and educated individuals. If you are wondering why I said we were whales and not something like apes or sheep, then I refer you to this article here: enturebeat.com/2013/03/14/whales-and-why-social-gamers-are-just-gamers/
Here's the thing: Gatto confirmed my conspiracy theory.
"What shocks is that we should so eagerly have adopted to one of the very worst aspects of Prussian culture: an educational system deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens in order to render the populace 'manageable'" (Gatto 3).
He lists many sources to back up this claim, including Principles of Secondary Education, a first-hand experience from someone who actually helped design the school system to be this way in the early 1900s.
The truth is, I think the public school system is failing not just outliers, but everyone. Everyone except the Inner Party, that is. (It's actually ironic that we read 1984 in school because it tells us to question everything and not trust authority.)
We should actually be teaching our kids opposite of what our schools are teaching them. We should let them explore and learn in their own ways. Teach them the practical and how to entertain themselves. We should teach them to be curious and to love learning, and we should teach them to question and form their own opinions. I really liked John Gatto's conclusion, where he says: "After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women" (6). Wouldn't it be great if every one of us were creating our own brands of genius every day? I definitely think so.
Have you read this essay or similar works? Tell me if you have because I would love to hear your opinions on education and public schools.