Friday, August 6, 2010

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants - Part 2: John Taylor Gatto

John Taylor Gatto is not a homeschooling dad or a homeschooling expert, although he is happy to promote it.

He is an ex-teacher and a strong advocate for radical educational reform.

He is all about taking charge of one's education and making it real and meaningful.

He's the ultimate EduPunk.

Although we cannot look to his writing and speaking to inform how we choose to learn at home with our kids, we can borrow from his experiential research and logical arguments in order to build the sturdy philosophical foundation we need in order to move forward with confidence in our homeschooling journey.

In the summer of 1993, I was fortunate to hear John speak in an intimate setting. It was a session that affected me profoundly. When I taught in public schools, I ran my classroom as "learner-centered" as possible within that milieu. When John showed his slides and told his stories about working with kids, helping them own their learning in relevant ways in their communities, it was inspiring.

That was just two years after John Taylor Gatto, New York State's Teacher of the Year, sent his essay, I Quit, I Think to The Wall Street Journal and ended his teaching career of 30 years.

Gatto's book, Dumbing Us Down: The hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling (1992), is a very important critique of schooling as we know it. According to the description on the back of my first edition copy:

Dumbing Us Down reveals the deadening heart of compulsory state schooling: assumptions and structures that stamp out the self-knowledge, curiosity, concentration and solitude essential to learning. Between schooling and television, our children have precious little time to learn for themselves about the community they live in, or they lives they may lead. Instead, they are schooled to merely obey orders and become smoothly functioning cogs in the industrial machine.
If you haven't yet read it, it's worth getting your hands on a copy as it will certainly help solidify your understanding of why what we do as home learning parents is so important.

Some wonderful John Taylor Gatto Quotes chosen by Helen Hegener of Home Education Magazine:
  • There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as fingerprints.
  • In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.
  • I want to open up concealed aspects of modern schooling such as the deterioration it forces in the morality of parenting. You have no say at all in choosing your teachers. You know nothing about their backgrounds or families. And the state knows little more than you do. This is as radical a piece of social engineering as the human imagination can conceive. What does it mean?
  • One thing you do know is how unlikely it will be for any teacher to understand the personality of your particular child or anything significant about your family, culture, religion, plans, hopes, dreams.
  • You wouldn’t build a home without some idea what it would look like when finished, but you are compelled to let a corps of perfect strangers tinker with your child’s mind and personality without the foggiest idea what they want to do with it.

The following video is an interview with John Taylor Gatto by Lennart Mogren, Sweden in March 2003.

From the interview:
Schooling is a form of adoption. You give your kid away at his or her most plastic years to a group of strangers. You accept a promise, sometimes stated and more often implied, that the state, through its agents, knows better how to raise your children and educate them than you, your neighbours, your grandparents, your local traditions do. And that your kid will be better off so adopted. By the time the child returns to the family, or has the option to do that, very few want to. Their parents are some form of friendly stranger to them.
Links to explore:

Wikipedia entry (more links at the bottom)

Home Education Magazine article by Helen Hegener

Previous Posts in the Standing on the Shoulders of Giants series:

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