Revolution by the Book will periodically post
excerpts from new (or older) AK Press books.
This one is an essay by John Taylor Gatto,
which appears in Everywhere All the Time:
A New Deschooling Reader, edited by
Matt Hern (AK Press, 2008).
* * *
The Public School Nightmare: Why Fix a System Designed to Destroy Individual Thought?
By John Taylor Gatto
||John worked as a scriptwriter in the film business, an advertising writer, a taxi driver, a jewelry designer, an ASCAP songwriter, and a hotdog vendor before becoming a schoolteacher. He climaxed his teaching career as New York State Teacher of the Year after being named New York City Teacher of the Year on three occasions. He quit teaching on the Op Ed page of The Wall Street Journal in 1991 while still New York State Teacher of the Year, claiming that he was no longer willing to hurt children. His books include: Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (1992); The Exhausted School (1993); A Different Kind of Teacher (2000); and The Underground History Of American Education (2001).
I want you to consider the frightening possibility that we are spending far too much money on schooling, not too little. I want you to consider that we have too many people employed in interfering with the way children grow up-and that all this money and all these people, all the time we take out of children’s lives and away from their homes and families and neighborhoods and private explorations, gets in the way of education.
That seems radical, I know. Surely in modern technological society it is the quantity of schooling and the amount of money you spend on it that buys value. And yet, last year in St. Louis, I heard a vice-president of IBM tell an audience of people assembled to redesign the process of teacher certification that, in his opinion, this country became computer-literate by self-teaching, not through any action of schools. He said 45 million people were comfortable with computers who had learned through dozens of non-systematic strategies, none of them very formal; if schools had pre-empted the right to teach computers use we would be in a horrible mess right now instead of leading the world in this literacy.
Now think about Sweden, a beautiful, healthy, prosperous, and up-to-date country with a spectacular reputation for quality in everything it produces. It makes sense to think their schools must have something to do with that. Then what do you make of the fact that you can’t go to school in Sweden until you are seven years old? The reason the unsentimental Swedes have wiped out what would be first and seconds grades here is that they don’t want to pay the large social bill that quickly comes due when boys and girls are ripped away from their best teachers at home too early.
It just isn’t worth the price, say the Swedes, to provide jobs for teachers and therapists if the result is sick, incomplete kids who can’t be put back together again very easily. The entire Swedish school sequence isn’t twelve years, either-it’s nine. Less schooling, not more. The direct savings of such a step in the United States would be $75-100 billion-a lot of unforeclosed home mortgages, a lot of time freed up with which to seek an education.
Who was it that decided to force your attention onto Japan instead of Sweden? Japan with its long school year and state compulsion, instead of Sweden with its short school year, short school sequence, and free choice where your kid is schooled? Who decided you should know about Japan and not Hong Kong, an Asian neighbor with a short school year that outperforms Japan across the board in math and science? Whose interests are served by hiding that from you?
One of the principal reasons we got into the mess we’re in is that we allowed schooling to become a very profitable monopoly, guaranteed its customers by the police power of the state. Systematic schooling attracts increased investment only when it does poorly, and since there are no penalties at all for such performance, the temptation not to do well is overwhelming. That’s because school staffs, both line and management, are involved in a guild system; in that ancient form of association no single member is allowed to outperform any other member, is allowed to advertise or is allowed to introduce new technology or improvise without the advance consent of the guild. Violation of these precepts is severely sanctioned-as Marva Collins, Jaime Escalante and a large number of once-brilliant teachers found out.
The guild reality cannot be broken without returning primary decision-making to parents, letting them buy what they want to buy in schooling, and encouraging the entrepreneurial reality that existed until 1852. That is why I urge any business to think twice before entering a cooperative relationship with the schools we currently have. Cooperating with these places will only make them worse.
Out of the dusty, desolate, dreary, dark depths of the Bay Area comes a ray of hope, a new ambition, a harbinger of good things: it is the Alexander Berkman Social Club!
The ABSC is a group of anarchists who want to talk about what anarchism is, how anarchists see things, and what anarchy could look like. Named after the editor of San Francisco’s mighty The Blast, they hold continual monthly meetings that are open to all.
Their second event, like the first, was a tremendous success. Held in commodious chambers on a third floor of San Francisco’s 522 Valencia Street, it featured a broad ranging discussion of anarchism and sexuality. Esteemed anarcho-archivist Jessica Moran began the discussion with a fascinating introduction to anarchism and free love in the United States in the late nineteenth century; AK author, Terence Kissack spoke about his excellent new book, Free Comrades: Anarchism and Sexuality in the United States, 1895-1917; and long-time Sanfranarchist, Joey Cain, brought the evening to a close with a thrilling presentation on Edward Carpenter, who was arguably the great grandfather of the modern gay rights movement. There were also delicious snacks and the (now world-famous) ASBC raffle!!
To keep informed about future meetings and see more photos, go to the Alexander Berkman Social Club website. You can also download audio recordings of the first two events at this website.
The next event will occur on Thursday, August 28 and will focus on prisons and prisoners. It will feature Barry Pateman, who will speak about the early days of the Anarchist Black Cross; Isaac Ontiveros from Critical Resistance, who will speak on prison abolition; and music by the ABSC house band, featuring Devin Hoff.
Jessica Moran, speaking on anarchism and free love in the US.
Terrance Kissack talking about his book, Free Comrades.
Joey Cain enlightening us about Edward Carpenter and, in fact, using his foot to make a point!
November 7-9, 2008 in Montpelier, Vermont
“Call for Proposals & Ideas”
The ninth edition of the Renewing the Anarchist Tradition (RAT) conference, sponsored by the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS), once again aims to provide a participatory and scholarly space in which to reexamine, reinvigorate, and make relevant the social and political tradition of anarchism.
Each year, RAT brings together anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and libertarian leftists who want to critically engage both the tradition itself and the world in which we live. Participants and presenters at the conference thereby contribute to developing a more rigorous contemporary theoretical framework for anarchism as well as a stronger basis from which nonhierarchical movements can organize and resist.
2008 is a strange time to be an anarchist in North America. Thomas Friedman is calling for a green revolution, and Bono is at the forefront of a global war on poverty. The bright light of the U.S. presidential election campaign, anointed by Silicon Valley capital, has harnessed massive popular desire for radical social transformation–“Change”–to propel himself toward the White House. The reception he receives abroad articulates a thirst for a genuine internationalism, even as he signals his readiness to command more of the same military interventionism that has devastated people and social movements around the world. As anarchists and anti-authoritarians, it is easy to feel marginal, dissipated, defeated, and irrelevant as we watch some of our dearest ideas co-opted, sucked of content, turned inside out, and projected into the mainstream political scene.
What better moment, then, to come together to reflect on and honestly appraise the practices, platforms, convictions, dogmas, truisms, and theories that anarchism offers? What better moment to reimbue that tradition with a crucial sense of urgency and the substance that can genuinely challenge racism, imperialism, sexism, colonial pillage, capitalist exploitation, and the multifold and mutually reinforcing forms of oppression and systems of domination?
RAT is also a place to discuss and share theoretical tools from beyond the anarchist tradition that can add to building more sustainable social movements and practices, and eventually a world characterized by freedom, justice, and dignity for all.
The first anarchist bookfair in Salamanca, Spain will begin on August 14 (today) and runs through August 17. There will be films, discussions, panels about new books, workshops on book production, music, and lots of vegan food. Attendance is free. Anyone interested in going can find out more here (site in Spanish).
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