Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling
John Taylor Gatto
reviewed by Jeremy Solomon
wrong with the school system to Gatto is not bad teachers, bad administrators,
nor even bad parents.
Rather, it is the design of the institution
altogether from inception. Instead of superficially searching for
quick fix reforms, Gatto desires to see the system junked altogether.
Gatto sees most schools as prisons of coercion, where
students are regulated by a
life of fragmented knowledge, where they
|show obedience to strangers, where the design of
education is dependency, obedience, regulation and subordination.
Schools make childhood surreal by:
enforcing sensory deprivation
sorting children into rigid categories (read:
training children to stop at the sound of a
keeping children under constant surveillance
them of private time and space
assigning numbers to children which feigns
the ability to
discriminate personal qualities
insisting that every moment be filled
with low level abstractions
children to make their own intellectual discoveries
this process his goals for school reforms are as follows:
teaching needs to be deconstructed -
teachers need to be centrally
involved in the development and maintenance of
standards and practices,
not just the drones of someone else's blueprints.
decentralize school systems - no one
right way to teach but allow
for other possibilities, such as home
developing areas for privacy and solitude
in character development
- schools are too big and too concerned with
less policing in schools - trim
bureaucracy for more teachers.
eliminating artificial subject divisions
-students should solve real
world problems not abstractions in an interdisciplinary
fashion and should
not mimic a Henry Ford assembly line with classes limited to
Gatto also looks at a
corollary issue: why do schools cost so much? Statistics have shown that home schooled
students have higher test scores on average than students who go to
public schools. Even many high school dropouts do quite well.
So why doesn't money generate into better educated students?
New York state, for example, spends 51% of its budget on administrative
costs. Local administration reduces this to only 25% spent on
students. Gatto sees this a "protection money paid to the school
How did this happen on a nation wide scale?
Government schooling came to function as a jobs project
where "the primary mission of schools and compulsion laws guaranteed an
audience no matter how bad the show" (25). Indeed administrators
nationally have grown 110% from 1983 to 1991 and increased spending by
the federal government has only aggravated the problem rather than
How did the school system get so bad? Between
1896 and 1920 a small group of industrialists and financiers
subsidized university chairs and researchers with the aim of bending
schooling to the service of business and the political state.
For leading industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie and John T.
Rockefeller, public schooling was engineered to serve a modified
command economy and an increasingly layered social order. And how
best to do this? By copying the Prussian model of public
The Prussian way was to train
only a leadership cadre while other students would be taught
to fit in their place. Moreover, fear of European immigrants in
the 1840s, specifically Catholics, made it essential to leading
industrialists and educators to adopt a system based on three Prussian
The state is sovereign, the only
true parents of children.
the guardians of children.
The schoolroom and the
shall be dumbed down
into simplified fragments.
The Prussian systems explains the
inordinate interest the foundations
of Carnegie and Rockefeller took in shaping early public schooling
around compulsory education, which to Gatto, has been from the beginning
a scheme of indoctrination designed to create a harmless proletariat
held hostage by its addiction to luxury and security.
The Prussian school system relied heavily on
the French philosopher August
Comté who argued that one could create a useful proletariat by breaking
connections between children and their families, their communities,
their God and themselves. Rather than family enterprise and
individual effort as the main agencies of personal definition, state
institutions would do this better with an army of specialists.
So if the present school system is so awful, how can it be reformed? Gatto argues that there is no one way to
teach, that schooling should be what the parents, community and even
the children want it to be, an experiment not codified by the state.
Rather than have standards set by politicians or administrators,
schools should survive the market place, much like a business, with
plenty of competition. Before the "Progressive" era of mid 19th
century compulsory education laws there was great diversity and
autonomy in education rather than one best system which was forced on
everyone. Though not a proponent of vouchers, Gatto believes that a
portion of school taxes should be given back to parents so they could
shop around for better options than public education has to offer.
For schools to be worthwhile they need to
have worthwhile goals such as:
creating independent, resourceful and fearless
tapping the educational power of family life
bestowing significance on personal choices
epidemic of alienation and loneliness
democracy as a natural mission
reversing the growing isolation of social classes
regenerating community life
Gatto believes schools can pursue these goals
and still teach reading writing and arithmetic.
Gatto, J. (2000) A Different Kind
of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling, Berkeley
Hills Books; ISBN: 1893163210
PRINTABLE PAGE |
| TOP | NEXT