01 March 2009

Harpers, September 2003

In September of 2003, Harper's published a thought provoking article by professional educator John Taylor Gatto.

Called Against School, in the article Gatto questions the purpose of our system of schooling. He then explores the early writings of some of the early proponents of our current educational methods.

While we are told that the purpose of the schools is
1) To make good people.
2) To make good citizens.
3) To make each person his or her personal best.
That's not what Gatto finds in his research though.

This is going to require some research...


  1. I always hated school growing up. There has to be a better alternative.

  2. I've been a fan of Gatto's ever since reading his Underground History of American Education. Very eye-opening, and helped explain many of the things I'd experienced as a child in school...

  3. I think we've found it, Mark. ;)

    Yeah, Kristen, I can see that. As I read that article, I found that a whole lot of strangeness suddenly made sense and I was appalled and intrigued.

  4. I'm curious (for a nutshell summary of) what it is that he found in his research about school.

  5. The crux of Gatto's findings was that the US education system was originally envisioned as a variation of the Prussian system.

    From Wikipedia:

    It was "developed by the "captains of industry" and the government explicitly to create an educational system that would maintain social order by teaching us just enough to get by but not enough so that we could think for ourselves, question the sociopolitical order, or communicate articulately."

    From the article:

    The actual purpose of modem schooling (can be broken down) into six basic functions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals listed earlier:

    1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.

    2) The integrating function. This might well be called "the conformity function," because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.

    3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in "your permanent record." Yes, you do have one.

    4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been "diagnosed," children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits - and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.

    5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin's theory of natural selection as applied to what he called "the favored races." In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit - with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments - clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That's what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.

    6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.

    Now, Gatto is the first to admit that most teachers are not aware of this purpose and don't consciously work toward it. They work hard to meet the needs of students and to counter these influences.

    Nonetheless, the system (and their teacher training) is set against them and it is only the rare teacher who will be talented to overcome the system.

    Gatto also feaeds that because teachers are immersed in the Prussian education mindset, they will unconsciously promote it, despite their intentions to do otherwise.

    I hope that helps.


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