Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned.
– Mark Twain
As a father of two young children, my thoughts have increasingly started to center around their young lives and the future world they’ll inhabit. Such considerations quickly lead to stressful questions such as, what are the best schools in the area? Which option can provide the best environment in which to thrive? If the best options aren’t public, can we afford them? Is it worth the money? All these questions and more have filled the minds of my wife and I over the past couple of years, but lately we’ve started to ask even bigger questions, such as whether the compulsory education system as it exists in the U.S. in 2017 makes any sense in the first place. I’m increasingly starting to conclude that it doesn’t.
Before I get into that, let’s take a step back. A lot of what I do here at Liberty Blitzkrieg is highlight what’s perverse and destructive about human behavior at this time, and how things can be made dramatically better in the future. If I had to summarize my worldview concisely, I’d state that human beings at the moment are living under highly centralized, hierarchical power structures which are gamed by unethical, greedy and corrupt people at the top who exploit the masses ruthlessly.
Since the worst of humanity will always work hardest and most violently to attain power (this will always be the case), the only way to achieve lasting, positive change is to systemically move to a different model for human activity. Trying to get decent people at the top of a highly centralized power structure is counterproductive and merely a short-term solution if it can even be achieved in the first place. What we need to do is tear down and reduce centralized power as much possible in the first place. If power becomes distributed far more widely across the planet, the ability for mass control and consolidation becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.
The most significant theme of the next hundred years (at least) will be a dramatic shift toward decentralized networks in nearly all aspects of human affairs. We’ve already seen its profound impact in a dramatic decentralization of information/media content creation and distribution, and we’re starting to see its impact when it comes to currency/monetary systems. Without the arrival and viral adoption of the internet on the scene, none of this would’ve been possible. More importantly, only 50% of the planet is currently online and massive social media networks have only been going for a decade or so. If we assume the internet isn’t going anywhere, we’re only in the very, very beginning stages of how it’ll ultimately shape human affairs.
As I noted in the recent post, Bitcoin, Terence McKenna and the Future of the Internet:
I remain in awe of the implications of people across the world easily talking to one another in real time and forming global networks. We’ve become so accustomed to social media at this point many of us already take for granted how extraordinary and revolutionary it really is. Nothing like this has ever happened before in human history, and it’s hard for me not to be extremely optimistic about its impact on life here on earth over a longer time horizon.
One of the most remarkable things about humans across the world talking to one another, is it becomes increasingly difficult to manipulate distinct populations into hating each other and rallying around wars that only benefit elite sociopaths in the first place.
As things stand now, people from all over the planet are examining the way the world functions and coming to the conclusion that it’s completely insane and anti-human. We live in a world where we’re told to be slaves to authority and expert judgement, despite the fact that such figures are consistently and spectacularly wrong, with their proclamations often leading to massive levels of death, destruction and economic collapse all over the world. To summarize, the world as it’s currently organized is transparently insane and cannot stand up to even the slightly degree of scrutiny. As more and more people wake up to this reality, the world will change in unimaginable ways. The earth as it stands today will be recognizable in 25 years.
Although I’ve discussed what this means when it comes to governing institutions and monetary systems on many occasions this year, one area that I’ve only begun to explore is education. As our kids creep toward the age where most children enter the school system, my wife and I have started to examine what this system looks like, and if it’s as insane as everything else about the world today. The answer seems to be, yes.
Earlier this year, I came across a 1990 speech given by famed teacher and author, John Taylor Gatto, and it completely and totally blew my mind. I highlight a few excerpts below, but cannot stress enough how important it is to read the entire thing. It’s one of the most powerful pieces of information I’ve ever shared.
Our school crisis is a reflection of this greater social crisis. We seem to have lost our identity. Children and old people are penned up and locked away from the business of the world to a degree without precedent – nobody talks to them anymore and without children and old people mixing in daily life a community has no future and no past, only a continuous present. In fact, the name “community” hardly applies to the way we interact with each other. We live in networks, not communities, and everyone I know is lonely because of that. In some strange way school is a major actor in this tragedy just as it is a major actor in the widening guilt among social classes. Using school as a sorting mechanism we appear to be on the way to creating a caste system, complete with untouchables who wander through subway trains begging and sleep on the streets.
I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my twenty-five years of teaching – that schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very hard, the institution is psychopathic – it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to different cell where he must memorize that man and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.
Our form of compulsory schooling is an invention of the state of Massachusetts around 1850. It was resisted – sometimes with guns – by an estimated eighty per cent of the Massachusetts population, the last outpost in Barnstable on Cape Cod not surrendering its children until the 1880’s when the area was seized by militia and children marched to school under guard…
Here is another curiosity to think about. The homeschooling movement has quietly grown to a size where one and a half million young people are being educated entirely by their own parents. Last month the education press reported the amazing news that children schooled at home seem to be five or even ten years ahead of their formally trained peers in their ability to think.
I don’t think we’ll get rid of schools anytime soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we’re going to change what is rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution “schools” very well, but it does not “educate” – that’s inherent in the design of the thing. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent, it’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.
Schools were designed by Horace Mann and Barnard Sears and Harper of the University of Chicago and Thorndyke of Columbia Teachers College and some other men to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce through the application of formulae, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.
To a very great extent, schools succeed in doing this. But our society is disintegrating, and in such a society, the only successful people are self-reliant, confident, and individualistic – because the community life which protects the dependent and the weak is dead. The products of schooling are, as I’ve said, irrelevant. Well-schooled people are irrelevant. They can sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on the telephones, or sit mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal but as human beings they are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves…
It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety, indeed it cuts you off from your own past and future, scaling you to a continuous present much the same way television does…
I could name a few other conditions that school reform would have to tackle if our national decline is to be arrested, but by now you will have grasped my thesis, whether you agree with it or not. Either schools have caused these pathologies, or television, or both. It’s a simple matter [of] arithmetic, between schooling and television all the time the children have is eaten away. That’s what has destroyed the American family, it is no longer a factor in the education of its own children. Television and schooling, in those things the fault must lie.
What can be done? First we need a ferocious national debate that doesn’t quit, day after day, year after year. We need to scream and argue about this school thing until it is fixed or broken beyond repair, one or the other. If we can fix it, fine; if we cannot, then the success of homeschooling shows a different road to take that has great promise. Pouring the money we now pour into family education might kill two birds with one stone, repairing families as it repairs children.
Genuine reform is possible but it shouldn’t cost anything. We need to rethink the fundamental premises of schooling and decide what it is we want all children to learn and why. For 140 years this nation has tried to impose objectives downward from the lofty command center made up of “experts”, a central elite of social engineers. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work. And it is a gross betrayal of the democratic promise that once made this nation a noble experiment. The Russian attempt to create Plato’s republic in Eastern Europe has exploded before [our] eyes, our own attempt to impose the same sort of central orthodoxy using the schools as an instrument is also coming apart at the seams, albeit more slowly and painfully. It doesn’t work because its fundamental premises are mechanical, anti-human, and hostile to family life. Lives can be controlled by machine education but they will always fight back with weapons of social pathology – drugs, violence, self-destruction, indifference, and the symptoms I see in the children I teach…
Independent study, community service, adventures in experience, large doses of privacy and solitude, a thousand different apprenticeships, the one day variety or longer – these are all powerful, cheap and effective ways to start a real reform of schooling. But no large-scale reform is ever going to work to repair our damaged children and our damaged society until we force the idea of “school” open – to include family as the main engine of education. The Swedes realized that in 1976 when they effectively abandoned the system of adopting unwanted children and instead spent national time and treasure on reinforcing the original family so that children born to Swedes were wanted. They didn’t succeed completely but they did succeed in reducing the number of unwanted Swedish children from 6000 in l976 to 15 in 1986. So it can be done. The Swedes just got tired of paying for the social wreckage caused by children not raised by their natural parents so they did something about it. We can, too.
Family is the main engine of education. If we use schooling to break children away from parents – and make no mistake, that has been the central function of schools since John Cotton announced it as the purpose of the Bay Colony schools in 1650 and Horace Mann announced it as the purpose of Massachusetts schools in 1850 – we’re going to continue to have the horror show we have right now. The curriculum of family is at the heart of any good life, we’ve gotten away from that curriculum, time to return to it. The way to sanity in education is for our schools to take the lead in releasing the stranglehold of institutions on family life, to promote during school time confluences of parent and child that will strengthen family bonds. That was my real purpose in sending the girl and her mother down the Jersey coast to meet the police chief. I have many ideas to make a family curriculum and my guess is that a lot of you will have many ideas, too, once you begin to think about it. Our greatest problem in getting the kind of grass-roots thinking going that could reform schooling is that we have large vested interests pre-emptying all the air time and profiting from schooling just exactly as it is despite rhetoric to the contrary. We have to demand that new voices and new ideas get a hearing, my ideas and yours. We’ve all had a bellyful of authorized voices mediated by television and the press – a decade long free-for-all debate is what is called for now, not any more “expert” opinions. Experts in education have never been right, their “solutions” are expensive, self-serving, and always involve further centralization. Enough. Time for a return to democracy, individuality, and family. I’ve said my piece. Thank you.
This above excerpts are from a speech by John Taylor Gatto accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990. Please read the entire thing and share it with the following link: Why Schools Don’t Educate.
Tomorrow I’ll discuss the concept of unschooling and why it’s captured my attention recently.
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