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The 4 Crucial Responsibilities to Accept Before Education Can Occur: Part 2

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The 4 Crucial Responsibilities to Accept

Before Education Can Occur

Part 2

By John Taylor Gatto


Schooling removes valuable time for parents and children to associate with each other.

3. What I learned from watching kids for thirty years is that it’s almost impossible to know your true self without knowing deeply your parents’ true selves at the same time. No one can really live easily without insight into our parents, and our grandparents, including insight into the culture they came from. Knowing your parents and grandparents takes time, however, and time is what schooling removes in great chunks. How a free people ever allowed the state to interfere to this degree in the minds of children I cannot imagine, but history tells us it happened gradually, by degrees, as lobsters are boiled to death.

Family Values and Education

Once children enter school the undermining and destruction of values they are taught at home is begun. The erosion of parental and cultural values is deliberate, and utterly subversive of the unity families need to be strong. In courses labeled drug education, sex education, and death education, children are taught that their parents’ rights and wrongs are based on outmoded definitions, that parents’ ideas are not reliable guides, that experts – always called “scientific” experts – are the best pathfinders to follow.

School people are fond of talking privately about bad parents, but they have no patience at all with the idea that schooling makes bad parents by removing their responsibility for their child’s development, and by removing valuable time for parents and children to associate with each other.

Family is the only class of association impossible to duplicate, yet school slyly suggests that your family can be compared with all others, ranked on supposedly objective evaluation scales. After all, if sons and daughters can be ranked, why not the mothers and fathers? And if families can be so ranked, isn’t it also possible to trade bad parents for good ones?

Quantifying family merit is another one of the big lies of schooling, like quantifying reading ability or tracking children according to their supposed future destinies. The actual truth is your family is necessary, irreplaceable, and quite incomparable with other families (except in irrelevant ways). Inside your family orbit you are automatically someone significant and special. Think of that for a moment: significance accorded because of who you are, and not because of what you do. This is an essential form of nourishment. It cannot be reliably supplied by strangers or even friends – only by the family over the long haul.

The reason some children survive twelve years of schooling lies mainly in parents who wittingly or unwittingly teach their sons and daughters to preserve an original temper deep inside, one indifferent to school people and school things.

The secret of my own success as a teacher was primarily that I set out to teach children how to be saboteurs of the system, how to get away with their sabotage, and what to do with the stolen time. I taught that an education must be at times a fairly lonely thing.

The classic error that good schools make is in programming an activity or an enrichment for every waking minute, they allow no private time or private space but subject their clientele to a constant barrage of attention, scrutiny, surveillance, ranking, group activity. It is monstrous.

And I tell you what is more, it is pornographic in a deep and profoundly literal sense of what pornography really is: spying on someone else’s private business, demanding to know secret things you have no right to know.

Over the past two centuries we have deteriorated from a nation where people minded their own business to a nation where a huge percentage of the workforce – Christopher Lasch said 22% – is hired to spy on, to snoop, to tabulate, and to report on each other’s behavior. We are not a factory full of machines to be tended. We are complex and mysterious spirits to be respected and approached with trepidation. My real value as a teacher began when I realized I had become a pornographer and decided to stop doing it. That was an important piece of my own education.

Foundations of an Education

4. So an education as opposed to schooling is a fairly lonely thing unless you are lucky enough to be learning among your own family, culture, religion, neighbors…and even then you need lots and lots of time alone, lots of absolute privacy.

With that in mind it’s time to move on to the foundations of an education, which are nothing more or less than the foundations of self-knowledge and self-respect. From watching kids for 30 years I think those foundations consist of accepting four tremendous responsibilities. The earlier in life they are accepted the more certain the road to education is.

The First Responsibility to Accept Before Education Can Occur

The first responsibility is a constant personal awareness of Good and Evil. If that continuum is too theological you might try Right and Wrong, as long as you keep in mind that the secular frame of meaning in the second pair must be based on law and ethical culture; nevertheless one or the other judgment is essential.

I’ve spent a considerable part of my adult life tracking the removal of this notion of good and evil from human affairs. In 1513 Machiavelli published his book, The Prince, which advised politicians how to live in a private universe beyond good and evil while keeping up a proper front. In the intervening half a millennium an immense coalition of special interests has arisen whose very bread and butter depends upon casting doubt on the existence of moral absolutes. This is the very heart of political science and it explains how our own government could deliberately expose its citizens to nuclear radiation hazards, why it released radioactive waste in the air over Hanford, why it conceived the Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiment where the black patients afflicted with that disease were deliberately left untreated, but were lied to about that and given worthless medication. And many other instances could be given.

Since Machiavelli every Western government, including our own, has felt itself above good and evil – and since Kant and Hegel every major government has felt aggressively justified in considering those moral terms quite relative. But pragmatic philosophers, behavioral and developmental psychologists, and the whole cantilevered empire of science, scientism, and scientistic social workers feel this way, too.

The condition signals a great difference between family education and schools: One of the first things a family tries to teach its children is the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. One of the first things our schools do is destroy that distinction.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of John Taylor Gatto’s revealing examination of true education.

(c) 1995 John Taylor Gatto

John Taylor Gatto was a New York State Teacher of the Year who tendered his resignation via an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Author of several books, including The Underground History of American Education, John wrote this timeless piece in 1995 as a foreword for Linda Dobson’s first book, The Art of Education: Reclaiming Your Family, Community and Self.
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