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The Underground History of American Education
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The Underground History of American Education
Warning: Long post.

You can read the book here.

[Image: 51pmfstVVyL._SL500_AA300_.jpg]

This book is written by John Taylor Gatto a retired New York City public school teacher of over 30 years who investigates what's wrong with education, how education used to be, what went wrong with education, and what type of education is successful. Among some of the most surprising facts one finds out is how Hindu Schooling came to America, how rich corporate titans influenced education policies, and how children aren't really meant to learn anything at all in school. It's quite shocking.

This is the most interesting and pertinent information that I think would be of most use to anyone:

John Taylor Gatto Wrote:The Schools Of Hellas

Wherever it occurred, schooling through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (up until the last third of the nineteenth) heavily invested its hours with language, philosophy, art, and the life of the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. In the grammar schools of the day, little pure grammar as we understand it existed; they were places of classical learning. Early America rested easily on a foundation of classical understanding, one subversive to the normal standards of British class society. The lessons of antiquity were so vital to the construction of every American institution it’s hardly possible to grasp how deep the gulf between then and now is without knowing a little about those lessons. Prepare yourself for a surprise.

For a long time, for instance, classical Athens distributed its most responsible public positions by lottery: army generalships, water supply, everything. The implications are awesome— trust in everyone’s competence was assumed; it was their version of universal driving. Professionals existed but did not make key decisions; they were only technicians, never well regarded because prevailing opinion held that technicians had enslaved their own minds. Anyone worthy of citizenship was expected to be able to think clearly and to welcome great responsibility. As you reflect on this, remember our own unvoiced assumption that anyone can guide a ton of metal traveling at high speed with three sticks of dynamite sloshing around in its tanks.

When we ask what kind of schooling was behind this brilliant society which has enchanted the centuries ever since, any honest reply can be carried in one word: None. After writing a book searching for the hidden genius of Greece in its schools, Kenneth Freeman concluded his unique study The Schools of Hellas in 1907 with this summary, "There were no schools in Hellas." No place boys and girls spent their youth attending continuous instruction under command of strangers. Indeed, nobody did homework in the modern sense; none could be located on standardized tests. The tests that mattered came in living, striving to meet ideals that local tradition imposed. The word sköle itself means leisure, leisure in a formal garden to think and reflect. Plato in The Laws is the first to refer to school as learned discussion.

The most famous school in Athens was Plato’s Academy, but in its physical manifestation it had no classes or bells, was a well-mannered hangout for thinkers and seekers, a generator of good conversation and good friendship, things Plato thought lay at the core of education. Today we might call such a phenomenon a salon. Aristotle’s Lyceum was pretty much the same, although Aristotle delivered two lectures a day—a tough one in the morning for intense thinkers, a kinder, gentler version of the same in the afternoon for less ambitious minds. Attendance was optional. And the famous Gymnasium so memorable as a forge for German leadership later on was in reality only an open training ground where men sixteen to fifty were free to participate in high-quality, state-subsidized instruction in boxing, wrestling, and javelin.

The idea of schooling free men in anything would have revolted Athenians. Forced training was for slaves. Among free men, learning was self-discipline, not the gift of experts. From such notions Americans derived their own academies, the French their lycees, and the Germans their gymnasium. Think of it: In Athens, instruction was unorganized even though the city-state was surrounded by enemies and its own society engaged in the difficult social experiment of sustaining a participatory democracy, extending privileges without precedent to citizens, and maintaining literary, artistic, and legislative standards which remain to this day benchmarks of human genius. For its five-hundred-year history from Homer to Aristotle, Athenian civilization was a miracle in a rude world; teachers flourished there but none was grounded in fixed buildings with regular curricula under the thumb of an intricately layered bureaucracy.

There were no schools in Hellas. For the Greeks, study was its own reward. Beyond that few cared to go.

This is another good chapter on What Really Goes On and how school is harmful to children which results in Pathology As A Natural Byproduct.

Pathology As A Natural Byproduct Wrote:With these eight lessons in hand you should have less trouble seeing that the social pathologies we associate with modern children are natural byproducts of our modern system of schooling which produces:

1) Children indifferent to the adult world of values and accomplishment, defying the universal human experience laid down over thousands of years that a close study of grown-ups is always the most exciting and one of the most necessary occupations of youth. Have you noticed how very few people, adults included, want to grow up anymore? Toys are the lingua franca of American society for the masses and the classes.


2) Children with almost no curiosity. Children who can’t even concentrate for long on things they themselves choose to do. Children taught to channel-change by a pedagogy employing the strategy "and now for something different," but kids who also realize dimly that the same damn show is on every channel.


3) Children with a poor sense of the future, of how tomorrow is linked to today. Children who live in a continuous present. Conversely, children with no sense of the past and of how the past has shaped and limited the present, shaped and limited their own choices, predetermined their values and destinies to an overwhelming degree.


4) Children who lack compassion for misfortune, who laugh at weakness, who betray their friends and families, who show contempt for people whose need for help shows too plainly. Children condemned to be alone, to age with bitterness, to die in fear.


5) Children who can’t stand intimacy or frankness. Children who masquerade behind personalities hastily fabricated from watching television and from other distorted gauges of human nature. Behind the masks lurk crippled souls. Aware of this, they avoid the close scrutiny intimate relationships demand because it will expose their shallowness of which they have some awareness.


6) Materialistic children who assign a price to everything and who avoid spending too much time with people who promise no immediate payback—a group which often includes their own parents. Children who follow the lead of schoolteachers, grading and ranking everything: "the best," "the biggest," "the finest," "the worst." Everything simplified into simple-minded categories by the implied judgment of a cash price, deemed an infallible guide to value.


7) Dependent children who grow up to be whining, treacherous, terrified, dependent adults, passive and timid in the face of new challenges. And yet this crippling condition is often hidden under a patina of bravado, anger, aggressiveness.



Quote:In 1909 a factory inspector did an informal survey of 500 working children in 20 factories. She found that 412 of them would rather work in the terrible conditions of the factories than return to school.
— Helen Todd, "Why Children Work," McClure’s Magazine (April 1913)

In one experiment in Milwaukee, for example, 8,000 youth...were asked if they would return full-time to school if they were paid about the same wages as they earned at work; only 16 said they would.
— David Tyack, Managers of Virtue (1982)


Here is another article that somewhat supports the books ideas with recent data: The Case Against Grades.

The Case Against Grades Wrote:The Effects of Grading

1) Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning. A “grading orientation” and a “learning orientation” have been shown to be inversely related and, as far as I can tell, every study that has ever investigated the impact on intrinsic motivation of receiving grades (or instructions that emphasize the importance of getting good grades) has found a negative effect.

2) Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task. Impress upon students that what they’re doing will count toward their grade, and their response will likely be to avoid taking any unnecessary intellectual risks. They’ll choose a shorter book, or a project on a familiar topic, in order to minimize the chance of doing poorly -- not because they’re “unmotivated” but because they’re rational. They’re responding to adults who, by telling them the goal is to get a good mark, have sent the message that success matters more than learning.

3) Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking. They may skim books for what they’ll “need to know.” They’re less likely to wonder, say, “How can we be sure that’s true?” than to ask “Is this going to be on the test?” In one experiment, students told they’d be graded on how well they learned a social studies lesson had more trouble understanding the main point of the text than did students who were told that no grades would be involved. Even on a measure of rote recall, the graded group remembered fewer facts a week later (Grolnick and Ryan, 1987).

Hello.
(This post was last modified: 03-31-2012 09:17 PM by blurb.)
03-31-2012 08:59 PM
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vinman Offline
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RE: The Underground History of American Education
I love this guy. I read his first book, "Dumbing Us Down" about 10 years ago. Charlotte Iserbyt writes along the same lines. He gives the best speeches on the Prussian Model of education.

"Feminism is a trade union for ugly women"- Peregrine
04-01-2012 12:44 AM
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xsplat Offline
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RE: The Underground History of American Education
I'm a long time fan as well.

In my public high school we had some classes, such as math, geared towards two different aptitude levels, and you had to opt for the easier or harder class to join. I hear that sort of segregation doesn't happen in the grade schools because the brighter students bring up the overall aptitude of the whole class. But of course it's at the expense of the brightest - and you could argue most valuable - students.

Tom Robbins in his novels argued that society should stop investing heavily in the stupid, and instead invest heavily in the brilliant. Makes sense to me. That's where innovation comes from, if you foster it.

So I wonder if John Gatto is mixing apples and oranges when he compares public education with self education. The self educated are by definition auto-didacts, and we know that it takes a certain IQ to be an auto-didact in difficult subjects. Something like 130, I believe. Below that people tend to need mentors to help focus them and to mimic. And there is also the question of drive - some people are driven to learn. Most are not. So some people are innately curious and talented, and can do better when not dragged down by hanging around mediocre students.

But could those same people also excel in gifted student programs that allowed them greater leeway of exploration?
(This post was last modified: 04-01-2012 02:53 AM by xsplat.)
04-01-2012 02:45 AM
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whitenoise Offline
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RE: The Underground History of American Education
i'm not sure we have much to learn from the social organisation of classical greece. and he goes totally down the rabbit hole attributing pretty much all childhood pathologies to education, even though it's very true that young people suffer from delayed responsibility through over education.
04-01-2012 09:26 AM
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mistermister Offline
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RE: The Underground History of American Education
...came across this on youtube.

The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto

[lol. i can't post links until i've hit 10 posts. wow. this place is locked down. i appreciate that.]

very insightful. been a fan of his for some time. struggling with how to introduce him to my friends with children.
04-01-2012 10:13 AM
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xsplat Offline
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RE: The Underground History of American Education
(04-01-2012 09:26 AM)whitenoise Wrote:  i'm not sure we have much to learn from the social organisation of classical greece. and he goes totally down the rabbit hole attributing pretty much all childhood pathologies to education, even though it's very true that young people suffer from delayed responsibility through over education.

I was re-reading some of his book and was surprised to discover that he doesn't believe that children have different aptitudes. That's quite a radical perspective. No wonder his peers kept trying to drive him out of teaching.

Because of that disagreement over such a fundamental premise I also now question his conclusions.

He does include much wisdom and knowledge in with his bullshit though. And I'd like to learn the art of writing such convincing bullshit.
(This post was last modified: 04-01-2012 11:12 AM by xsplat.)
04-01-2012 11:10 AM
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