Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dumbing Us Down Review

Dumbing Us Down
By John Taylor Gatto
First Published 1991
2nd edition published - 2002


This book is a collection of talks and presentations that John Taylor Gatto gave in the 1990s after he was chosen as New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990 and 1991 as well as State Teacher of the Year in 1991.

In the preface - John mentions his belief that government monopoly schools are structurally non reformable.

Here in Canada, the Catholics have been allowed to keep their own education system and schools. They used to be called the separate system, but now the catholic schools are publicly funded. 

Still, The Catholics have always provided a superior education and  it was an easy choice for me to send my son to a catholic school rather than the public one - especially after I saw just how rude the public schools kids were.

The local Catholic school in my neighbourhood is a small one. There are less than 200 students for 10 years of classes, Junior and Senior Kindergarten and grades 1 through 8.

Even the high school my son will be attending is small. It has around 700 students in 4 grades, and not the 1200 to 1500 that many of the public high schools have.

Chapter 1 - 7 Lessons that the Government Teaches

1 - Confusion - no cohesion in the curriculum, everything about the natural order and sequence of learning is disrupted as much as possible. Quality education implies a depth of learning. Kid don't get the chance to go into depth. They learn the basics and then get moved onto the next subject. I think that is why Unit themes are so popular in homeschooling circles. You get the chance to go into depth on one particular topic as much as you want and can absorb.

2 - Class Position - all students get graded to fit along the bell curve - and you stay where you are placed - why must that happen? 

3 - Indifference - the bells teach students that no work is worth finishing - when the bell goes, you drop everything and move to the next task

4 - Emotional Dependence - The teachers have to bribe the kids constantly to behave in class and to get good grades - they use candy or small toys as bribes and thus are turning the kids into performing as if they are in a circus - whuich technically they are!! But the kid dont learn how to study for their own sakes - they learn only to study if there is a reward - preferably a candy or a toy...  - asserting ones individuality goes against the teachers control - so the teachers punishes those whom he cannot control - sends them to the principal

5 - Intellectual Dependency - good students wait for the teacher to tell them what to do - good kids do whatever thinking the teacher assigns them with the minimum of fuss - bad kids are curious - they ask questions and demand answers  - this is a lesson for the world - that these well trained stuidents will wait for the boss to tell them what to do - which is the opposite of the workplace idea of "using your initiative is rewarded"

When I was doing surveys, I was told that I had to follow the survey scripts absolutely word for word. When I tried to change it to make it sound more natural and friendly, more like normal speech, I was told over and over again to STOP doing that. Read the script and ONLY the script. That was boring. I didnt last long in that job.

6 - Provisional Self Esteem - it is impossible to make self confident spirits (students) conform.

7 - You cannot hide - constant survellance at school, at home and eventually at the job - the idea of homework is to keep the student busy so that they dont have any "private" time.

I was asking questions about religion, and history from the age of 16. I have been a non-conformist since then as well. and I am teaching my son to always be asking questions as well. He's actually pretty smart and coasts along in school, getting a B average. He could do better, but there was no incentive in his small catholic elementary  school for him to try harder.

I am hoping that once he starts high school, he will have more choices and variety in the subjects he can do and therefore would be willing to work harder. One thing my son has done that goes against the school is that he chose NOT to be confirmed. This is a major catholic sacrament. Dad is not very happy, but my son made the choice and I agreed. I am actually thrilled that he has chosen not to do this. The lesshe is sucked into the church, the better. 

The only 2 major downsides we were told are - 1 - He cannot get married in a catholic church and 2 - he cannot be a godparent to someones child. It is NOT the end of the world to not be involved in these 2 activities. I have never been asked to be a godmother to anyone's child and I did not get married in any church. I got married outdoors in a rose garden. He can still get married in any other non-catholic church and he can also do what I did and get married outside. Problems solved.

 Chapter 2

Schools don't really teach anything except how to obey orders.

Children have no sense of consequence, no curiosity, no sense of history, no sense of the adult world, they only live for the here and now!!

They are unfamiliar with talking about themselves to their friends, everything is kept superficial, they tend to keep themselves so private, they often lose touch with their own idea of who they are. 

They are dependent, passive and materialistic. They pretty much live in the world of "Gimme Gimme Gimme." and then get upset when they don't get what want they want. In fact the one reason why there is so much drugs, alcohol, violence and anger, is probably a reaction to the assembly line education everyone has received.

The best way to fix this??

Self Knowledge is the only basis for True Knowledge.

Give the child a problem and then leave the child to solve it on their own. They have to learn to think for themselves instead of being told what to do. This is the basis of Unschooling and home schooling. They need time to develop self knowledge. This time is being taken up with school, homework, sleep and so on. Very little private time for self knowledge.

I have forgotten pretty much everything I ever learned in high school, except for reading, writing and basic 'rithmetic. I only remember that I hated maths and that history was so boring but geography and computer studies were great. This was in 1981 and 1982 - my last 2 years at High School.

I spent the next few years bumming around various colleges and university trying to discover what it is that I wanted to be when I grew up. It was not until several years later once I was ain a fairly stable job, that I began re-educating myself. I purchased so many books, mostly second hand from my favourite second hand book shop. These books covered mostly history, but there was also literature, science, maths and computer technology. 

I spent 5 years learning the TRUTH - especially concerning history, religion and shakespeare. I am astounded that there was not ONE single word mentioned in any of my english classes over the shakespeare  authorship debate. Not one!!! So I basically had to RE-EDUCATE myself all over again after I left High School. It was extremely enlightenng!!!

Chapter 3 and 4.

We all know the idea that "It takes a village to raise a child" What does that mean exactly?

In homeschooling terms, this means that members of the community are called in to teach or pass on their knowledge and expertise to those children who are being homeschooled. Community members are rarely or very seldom called into the schools to pass on their expertise. They are not considered by the teachers to be "experts".

The community has been stifled by the networks. Children are forced to attend schools and their jobs and in doing so they forms friends and networks. There is NO community in the school, university or the work place - because those groups do NOT help to raise a child. They are there for networking and making contacts. 

We all know that most people gets jobs based on WHO they know rather than WHAT they know. We can no longer rely on support from our community because we have been trained up since childhood to depend on our networks first and the communities second. And most of the time the networks cannot or will not give you the support you need when you need it. 

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