Continuously opining, intermittently publishing.

Archive for June, 2010

I recently read this article by John Taylor Gatto.

One of his more poignant theses is that mandatory “free” public schooling was created and is intended to make children mediocre and compliant, specifically by denying them real training in thinking critically. “School trains children to obey reflexively: teach your own to think critically and independently.” His juxtaposition of reflexive obedience and critical thinking as polar opposites is a compelling contrast. Soldiers are not expected to think critically; they are expected to obey. Prisoners are not expected to think critically; they are, quite oppositely, demanded to obey. So why are children expected to obey teachers and schoolmasters reflexively? Because they have putative authority? Garbage! If the Founders of this country reflexively obeyed their King, we would be British subjects.

As parents, we should hope that and train our children to reflexively obey us, at least when we employ the Look or the Voice to let them know that immediate obedience is important. Most times, however, it has become clear to me recently that we should allow our children leeway to ask us “why?” so that we can teach them greater reasoning. Sure, at some point, when our children are young or are impulsive or lack wisdom and are in our care, we may need to curtail the discussion for their own good, but more often than not, children should be treated with the same respect we expect of other adults. We should give them the courtesy to act thoughtfully and give them commands, guidance and suggestions with love, not with imperiousness.

Public education, on the other hand, greatly rewards behavioral compliance. From a utilitarian view, schools couldn’t function without it. See William Golding, Lord of the Flies. But we should ask why, philosophically, should a place of education expect behavioral reflexivity?

Why should my child or your child obey a virtual stranger, the teacher, without question? Because the law mandates that children, absent meeting the requirements for homeschooling, be present in school and obey? Rubbish. I may want my children to generally respect other adults, but I do not want my child to obey them reflexively.

This evening I was looking through a smattering of old school records. I graduated high school with a perfect cumulative 4.0 grade point average, so my ability to thrive inside a public educational environment is not in question. I do not approach this issue with a chip on my shoulder.

Some of my permanent record jumped out at me. In my American History class in high school, the teacher noted I had too many absences. I don’t generally remember being absent from classes in high school unless I was sick, so how many was too many? And since I received an A and understood the material, why does it matter anyway? Take a step back. Why does it matter whether, assuming a student apprehends the material to a comparative level of exceptional competence, he is absent or, {gasp}, he never shows up? Presence in a classroom where the material is already known must serve another purpose. I think Gatto is correct when he points out that it serves the purpose of ensuring that children are compliant citizens for government when they become adults.

To the same extent, I saw my absence records for elementary school. In one case, I think my first grade report card noted that I was not in class for 3 1/2 days out of some period. Since I was 6 or 7, I highly doubt that I was willfully truant, so I must have been absent at the behest of my mother of father. Why in the world should it matter enough to tell the parents when a first-grader is absent?

One might argue that it is a matter of safety. If my mom or dad didn’t know where I was on a given day, a record of my total absences one to three months later will be irrelevant for promoting my safety. No, what it serves is to cajole, scold &/or enlist the parents into helping the State teach their children to be compliant.

Reinforcing this idea is that most of my grades (ranging from Satisfactory + to Satisfactory to Satisfactory – to Unsatisfactory) had to do with behavior, not apprehension.

It has never bothered me to this extent before, but now I review my old records and I am reviled by the counting of my attendance and the remarks about my behavior. I was always a superbly obedient kid, particularly in school, but it grates on me now to think that anyone ever had the authority or power to count my days present and absent in a system that is built to ensure mediocrity and to command my fealty.

Anachronistic update: another article by Gatto.