I won’t spend much time on my career as a classroom teacher, but this introductory series of posts is all about setting the stage, and my experiences with formal education played a role behind the stage. After spending a year teaching in South Chicago, a year and a half teaching in an Oregon juvenile detention center (where, ironically, I had more freedom as a teacher than I had anywhere else) and about three years substitute teaching in about twenty different Oregon schools, I was fed up with the education system. Dull mandatory curricula intended to “meet standards,” overcrowded classrooms, and the doing away with opportunities for creative outlets so as to spend even more time preparing kids for standardized exams was more than I cared to bear.
Deborah Meier and others have written thorough critiques of the No Child Left Behind Act, which I’d suggest any parent of a young child may want to consider reading (you can click on the cartoon to read a short critique of NCLB). And it’s worth listening to the broad critique offered earlier this year by the renowned Noam Chomsky of MIT. Perhaps the most pointed attack of the US education system that I’ve come across was made by John Taylor Gatto, as stated in a review of one of his books. The reviewer, Ron Miller, wrote the following:
“And here is the crux of Gatto’s critique: in the past 125 years, social engineers have sought to keep American life under tight central control. Compulsory schooling is a deliberate effort to establish intellectual, economic, and political conformity so that society can be managed efficiently by a technocratic elite. ‘School, claims Gatto, is an artifice that makes…a pyramidal social order seem inevitable, although such a premise is a fundamental betrayal of the American Revolution’ (p. 13). Along with the media – especially television, which Gatto criticizes harshly in another essay – schooling removes young people from any genuine experience of community, any genuine engagement with the world or immersion in lasting relationships. It robs them of solitude and privacy. Yet these experiences are what enable us to develop self-knowledge and to grow up ‘fully human,’ argues Gatto.”
Miller goes on to quote Gatto:
“If, for instance, an A average is accounted the central purpose of adolescent life – the requirements for which take most of the time and attention of the aspirant – and the worth of the individual is reckoned by victory or defeat in this abstract pursuit, then a social machine has been constructed which, by attaching purpose and meaning to essentially meaningless and fantastic behavior, will certainly dehumanize students…(p. 62).”
I came to the realization that doing away with disparities between schools was not anywhere close to being sufficient. A complete overhaul of the education system was called for. There are what are known as democratic (small ‘d’) schools, where students largely determine the path their studies take and every member of the school has a say in how the school is run, but such schools are few and far between. So, I have suspended my teaching career indefinitely.