Monday, March 12, 2012

A Different Kind of Teacher, by John Taylor Gatto

Yikes!  I read The Underground History of American Education by Gatto, and then A Different Kind of Teacher, also by John Gatto.  But I am starting with A Different Kind of Teacher because I am still trying to synthesize all that I read and learned from the other.  Which is a giant tome!  It took me over a month to read.  This one took only a few days.

And so much information to process!  They both 'filled in a lot of blanks' for me, in regards to education.  I have understand the 'how' of classics-based education for a few years, and am in awe of what it is doing for myself and my children.  But I still struggled with the 'why' of it.  Esp in regards to 'why' America, and much of the 'developed world'  has gotten so far from that style of education.  This book definitely cleared up a lot of that for me!  Well, it started the process of clearing it up anyway.  I'm a painfully slow learner, so only after a lot of hard work, more reading, and tons of thinking and comparing,will it really make sense to me.  But I'm excited to see that the process is finally underway at least.

Mr. Gatto grew up in a dysfunctional Pennsylvania family, and then moved to NYC to work in the ad industry and make big money.  He decided it was not fulfilling enough, so he went into education.  After 30 years of fighting the system, he finally stepped out and started writing to try and show others how and why to fight it.

He believes in the TJE style of education-using classics and mentors, and lots and lots of hard work thrown into the mix-mental, emotional and physical.  

I was personally convicted, yet again, that I need to let learning be it's own reward for my children.  I still get stuck in the old way of thinking, that a child must be 'bribed' to want to learn.  But yet, I know that is not true.  And bribing only hurts the child's drive in the long-run.  I still have to use that system for my 1st Grade Sunday School class.  I think I sometimes get stuck between the 2 'worlds'. :)  But I'll get it.  And maybe someday I'll be able to transfer what I'm learning into the SS room.  But probably not...

Here are some quotes that I loved...

Real knowledge has to be earned by hard and painful thinking; it can't be generated in group discussions or group therapies but only in lonely sessions with yourself.  Real knowledge is earned only by ceaseless questioning of yourself and others, and by the labor of independent verification.  You can't buy it from a social worker, a psychologist, a licensed specialist, or a schoolteacher. There isn't a public school in this country set up to allow the discovery of real knowledge-not even the best ones-although here and there individual teachers, like guerrilla fighters, sabotage the system and work toward this ideal. 

The new dumbness-the non-thought-of received ideas-is much more dangerous than simple ignorance, because it's really about thought control. In school, a washing away of the innate power of individual mind takes place, a cleansing so comprehensive that original thinking becomes difficult.  

Real learning is always its own reward and praise is as useless to it as punishment. 

The crisis in our schools is not one of reading and writing but of meaning. Until we can decontrol our economy and localize it into thousands of independent communities; until we can decontrol our social system and localize it in the lives of individuals and families; and until we can see the truth that important life choices are not the proper province of any professional establishment, the meaninglessness will continue to grow. 
From a mom in Cape Cod who was taken to court because she refused to report what she is teaching to her local school superintendent: 'if we are not free to educate our children, our liberty is an illusion.  I do not have a curriculum.  I have never used one....  The state does not have the power to standardize children.  My education philosophy precludes the use of a curriculum.  My method has been successful enough to produce a daughter who is a member of the National Honor Society and twin sons who...tested in the top one percent on a national placement test for 2 consecutive years.  The priorities of our curriculum are daydreaming, natural and social sciences, self-discipline, respect of self and others, and making mistakes.' and women must build the meanings of their lives around finding a few, a very few people to touch and love and care for.  If you fail in that it doesn't matter how well financed the school you went to was, how healthy the space program is, or how many machines you own-you'll be miserable.  

Figure out what matters.  Do it yourself; work hard at it; no one else can do it for you.  Relying on others in this regard or ignoring the necessity will ruin you though you sit surrounded by machines in a rich school watching videos of spaceships.  Each of us has a design problem to solve: to create from the raw material around us the curriculum for a good life.  It isn't easy and it isn't the same for any 2 people. 

About 150 years ago, we signed a Devil's Bargain-to destroy the earth, the forests, the air, and the water for money-a bargain in which hour part entailed abandoning family life and neighborhood loyalties, locking up all the children and old people, keeping everyone useless out of the way while we made money. And some of us, at least, did make money, becoming rich and powerful enough to think of a global economy and a world order that would make us even richer.  But it was a trick done with mirrors.  We only pulled it off by spending the inheritance of the future.  It's almost gone and there doesn't seem to be an easy way to get it back. 

Where do we start?  First you have to find yourself.  There isn't any other way.  If you wait on that you'll be buried even deeper in the artificial programs of others.  First you have to strip away decades of programming and overlays and discover your own outline beneath it all. It hurts to do that. This was once called 'knowing yourself.'  Until you take that step there won't be any self to know, just a collection of relays and switches, sensors and twitches that can be manipulated by engineers you can't see.  On the other hand, if you know what matters and are willing to fight and even die for it, nothing can colonize your mind and you will be truly a free spirit. 

One important way men and women come to know themselves is to closely study their own families. People who run from that obligation will find no substitute for the missing knowledge.  To be real you need to celebrate your own history, humble and tormented as it might be, and the history of your own parents and grandparents, howsoever that be marked by scars and mistakes.  It is the only history you will ever have; reject it and you reject yourself.  All the rest is the sickness of fantasy.  Cherish what is yours; protect it; defend it; never accept the false evaluations of outsiders in regard to it.  Whether your family is the best or the worst doesn't matter very much.  Being first or last at anything truly doesn't matter, and your case will be hopeless as long as you think it does. 

Describing a conversation with another parent about a child: But the final, unsolvable dilemma was that my friend misinterpreted my part of the dialogue as competition.  Because of his necessary habit as a businessman, he unconsciously assumed he and I were in some sort of contest to determine who had the soundest strategy.  An undertone of right/wrong made free testing of ideas, proves impossible.  Rather than pushing out ideas for inspection, deferring judgment, asking questions to clarify, we were forced into caution by the powerful compulsion of keeping score on each other.  This had to be a pure waste...  

His last chapter is 'The Art of True Conversation'.  He describes the difference between 'social talk' and 'spirit talk'. I esp loved this quote: There is a fundamental and radical difference between the important talk of youth that makes love, friendship, and significance reasonably easy to reach, and the social conversation of older people, in particular of self-important older people, that  makes it apparent these life-and-death qualities are very difficult to obtain in later life.  I have found this to be so true! Although it's not impossible. :)

These are some random quotes from the book. I would have liked to have quoted much more.  But, if you find these interesting, definitely pick up a copy of the book and read it yourself.  It's easy to read and so enlightening. 

Now on to try and summarize The Underground History of American Education.  Yikes, so much!

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