John Gatto has talked about his new book -- his work in progress -- foryears. And we've all waited for it patiently. It was delayed by theoriginal publisher who apparently had second thoughts about it. Butfinally, it's done and about to hit American culture with an incrediblewallop.
John sent me a pre-publication edition in May, and it has taken me weeksto read all of it. And you have to read it all, because you just don't wantto miss a word. That's the way John writes, as if he's standing next to youand talking into your ear. And then, I shall probably read it over and overagain. It's a breathtaking, sweeping view of what compulsory schooling hasdone to America.
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And it's more. John Taylor Gatto is much more than New York State'sformer Teacher of the Year. He is a philosopher who is probing into thedepths of our American civilization and finding answers that no one elsecould have possibly dreamed of. And it is obvious that he loves Americabecause he writes with such passion and humor, especially when he writesabout growing up in Western Pennsylvania on the banks of the Monongahela orabout his adventures in the classrooms of Manhattan. The title of his bookis "The Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteacher'sIntimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling."
What makes the occasion of this book so special is the knowledge thatonly an American could have written it. George Santayana wrote in 1920, "Tobe an American is of itself almost a moral condition, an education, and acareer." John is so thoroughly American in his ability to analyze andunderstand what has happened to this country. His knowledge is intimate,profound and accurate.
He understands fully the anatomy of our educational-industrial complex,which is far more dangerous than the military-industrial complex, whichPresident Eisenhower warned us about. After all, what does themilitary-industrial complex produce? Guns, tanks, airplanes, battleships,bombs. All inanimate objects, which the government is supposed to use onlywhen we are threatened. Most Americans are quite content to have all ofthis stuff as insurance against our enemies but not have to use it. But MadMadeleine "Halfbright," eager to bomb Belgrade, told the generals: "Whatgood is having all this stuff if you never use it?" What she didn'tunderstand is that not using it is the whole point about having it. So sheand her NATO colleagues invented a war so that they could use it.
But with the educational-industrial complex, we are dealing with anentirely different animal, one that eats children alive, destroys minds,destroys families, undermines our culture, provides neither protection fromour enemies nor academic learning for our kids. It's an expensive monsterthat Gatto knows all too well and wants us to know it as thoroughly as hedoes. I kept notes while reading the book and here are a few sample quotesto whet your appetite:
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- School is the first impression children get of organized society.Like most first impressions it is the lasting one. Life is dull andstupid, and only Coke provides relief. And other products, too, ofcourse.
- Growth and mastery come only to those who vigorously self-direct.Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, enjoyingprivacy -- these are precisely what the structures of schooling are set upto prevent, on one pretext or another.
- The strongest meshes of the school net are invisible. Constantbidding for a stranger's attention creates a chemistry producing the commoncharacteristics of modern schoolchildren: whining, dishonesty, malice,treachery, cruelty. Unceasing competition for official favor in the dramaticfish bowl of a classroom delivers cowardly children, little people sunk inchronic boredom, little people with no apparent purpose for being alive.
- Much of the weird behavior kids display is a function of the periodicreinforcement schedule. And the endless confinement and inactivity slowlydrives children out of their minds. Trapped children, like trapped rats,need close management. Any rat psychologist will tell you that.
- The cries of true believers are all around the history of schooling,thick as gulls at a garbage dump.
- The very clear connection between all the zones of the emergingAmerican hive-world are a sign of some organized intelligence at work, withsome organized end in mind.
- What should make you suspicious about School is its relentlesscompulsion.
- The net effect of holding children in confinement for twelve yearswithout honor paid to the spirit is a compelling demonstration that theState considers the Western spiritual tradition dangerous.
- Who besides a degraded rabble would voluntarily present itself to begraded and classified like meat? No wonder school is compulsory.
- The crime of mass forced schooling: it amputates the full argumentand replaces it with engineered consensus.
These are the kind of quotes that ought to be in the next Bartlett'sbook of quotable quotes. They are easily understood out of context. Butthe book is thick with argument and history and marvelous insights that arenot as easy to sum up in quotable quotes. They have to be read and savoredfor their unalloyed wisdom. Gatto is wise, and I think theeducational-industrial complex will do nothing to promote his wisdom. Butit will be very hard to contain John Taylor Gatto.
He is one of the most sought-after speakers in America, and he speaks toeveryone: homeschoolers, Christians, humanists, corporate executives, andthey all laugh at his jokes and listen carefully and closely to what he saysbecause they know that no one in America can tell the truth the way he does.The truth is irresistible, even to those who would rather avoid it. Somepeople listen to the truth as a way of testing their ability to stand up toit. In any case, it will be interesting to read what the educators have tosay about the book. But I suspect that few professional educators will wantto stick their necks out. John has his own little portable guillotinewaiting for the right occasion.
Meanwhile, the accolades are pouring in from readers. Mary Pride callsit "The most important book on education I have ever read." Eric Schulteswrites, "How does he probe so deeply the complex issues surrounding ourschools when so many experts can hardly penetrate the surface at all?"Cathy Duffy writes, "Here is the whole story, the hidden agendas, the truebelievers, the dumbing down. If you care at all about children, you'll belivid as you read."
If we ever needed a battering ram to pull down the evil structure ofcompulsory public schooling, this book should be able to do the job. Thebook calls for a revolution. But not a violent one. It can be won easilyand peaceably by merely taking the kids out of the public schools. It'sstill legal to do so. That would change America radically. But thepessimists will say that most parents are too brain-dead to care what goeson in the public schools. Those parents who do care have already gottentheir kids out and are homeschooling them. But we know that every day moreand more parents are beginning to see the light. That's encouraging.
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If you want to get the pre-publication edition of the book, send $30.00plus $4.00 shipping to: Odysseus Group, 295 East 8th Street, New York, NY10009. In a letter to me, John wrote, "The official edition will be outnext January, probably severely shortened, and likely by then to be pickedup by a mainstream publisher. But this one is the way I wrote it." So getthis uncut version in all its brilliance.
Samuel L. Blumenfeld is the author of eight books on education, including"NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education," "The Whole Language/OBE Fraud,"and "How to Tutor." He is also the author of a popular intensive phonicsreading program, "Alpha-Phonics," which can be obtained by calling thepublisher at 208-322-4440.