An Education of Solitude

I've been reading articles and speeches by John Taylor Gatto recently, which is probably dangerous for someone like me who gets perhaps a little too excited about radical non-mainstream ideas, but I found this passage (amongst many that I thought worthy of quoting) and couldn't resist. He may be radical, he may be a bit too salty for some, but I think we're a society in great need of this kind of shaking up. I'm only sorry there aren't more (teachers or otherwise) like him willing to put themselves on the line for what they believe. Sometimes we need to go to an extreme so we can find middle ground. At least, that seems to be how it works in my head. This excerpt is taken from a article titled: Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why

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Maturity has by now been banished from nearly every aspect of our lives. Easy divorce laws have removed the need to work at relationships; easy credit has removed the need for fiscal self-control; easy entertainment has removed the need to learn to entertain oneself; easy answers have removed the need to ask questions. We have become a nation of children, happy to surrender our judgments and our wills to political exhortations and commercial blandishments that would insult actual adults. We buy televisions, and then we buy the things we see on the television. We buy computers, and then we buy the things we see on the computer. We buy $150 sneakers whether we need them or not, and when they fall apart too soon we buy another pair. We drive SUVs and believe the lie that they constitute a kind of life insurance, even when we're upside-down in them. And, worst of all, we don't bat an eye when Ari Fleischer tells us to "be careful what you say," even if we remember having been told somewhere back in school that America is the land of the free. We simply buy that one too. Our schooling, as intended, has seen to it.

Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they'll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a pre-teen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there's no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

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I recently had a long conversation with some of my girlfriends who all have kids the same age as mine going to the same school, and as we talked (and complained) about the public school system one response kept popping back up: it's not the same school experience as when we were kids...

No, it's not. It's worse.

FYI, John Gatto is building an 128 acre retreat in upstate NY which will feature a library and will focus on educating (not schooling) children and public school reform...it's called Solitude. Something, I agree, our kids need more of...they don't need more school, they need less, and less after school activities, less homework, less competition, less testing, less grading - and more Solitude.

If you're interested in more of Gatto's views on public schooling, this article, his NYC Teacher of the Year Award acceptance speech from 1990, titled: Why Schools Don't Educate is an excellent place to start. He breaks down the hours our children have each week to develop unique consciousness/individuality...taking away school time, homework, activities, TV time, eating, and time otherwise spent under constant surveillance - it results in 9 hours each week. Fascinating.

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