Thursday, July 08, 2010

Dumbing Us Down (John Taylor Gatto)

Modern education is rubbish. There, I've said it - but JT Gatto said it first. Modern education was set up on the factory model, to make people fit for working in the factories - a production line, producing producers (and consumers), willing to work until the bell goes. We spend so much time and effort and wealth on tweaking the system, prodding bits here and removing bits there, and yet it simply doesn't get any better. How can we persist with such a destructive system? Gatto explains why... and it is fascinating. A highly readable and recommendable book.

Thing is, now that we have crossed the threshold into the Long Emergency, and budgets will continue to be cut for the foreseeable future, the old model is not just dead, it is deadening. Those kids that can just about fit in to the present structure can get by, those who stick out for any one of a myriad number of reasons will get squashed and discarded.

These are not new insights. The future is local, and small-scale, and probably home-ed.


  1. The video was more than a little simplistic. Pinning the origin of public schools on early modern Prussia (and calling it a totalitarian state) is anachronistic and ignores the role of church Sunday Schools and numerous other factors. Quoting Einstein about "modern methods of instruction", or Agatha Christie about the lack of imagination in children "today" is likewise disingenuous and assumes nothing has changed. Quoting the journal of a homicidal alienated teenager is similarly unenlightening. Quoting a Roman author would seem to undermine their point that the problem lies in state schooling.

    I'm quite open to Gatto's arguments and accept that there may well be all kinds of problems in various education systems. I'm no opponent of home schooling or Steiner schools or Montessori. But this video didn't contribute to your post.

    I do wonder about the future of education during the long decline (coming from a family of many teachers).

  2. Byron - you're right, video deleted.

  3. Sam,
    Byron may well be right, but why not leave the video up and let others decide for themselves?

  4. An obvious compromise would be to link to it in these comments without posting it above.

    But the bigger question is what a more localised education looks like. What do you do with your kids Sam?

  5. What a sweeping statement. It’s like saying the church is total bollocks and all vicars are crap! The statement is ill informed and pessimistic, not to mention lacking in appreciation of the myriads truly inspirational teachers across the planet – maybe you didn’t meet so many during your education?!

    That said a lot of modern education is rubbish. Some educators have not stood up for what they believe, are buried under an avalanche of directives(many of which are a waste of time and paper)and are not brave enough to fight their corner. The politicians who are in Education departments generally haven’t got a clue of what real learning actually is, especially people whose education has been bathed in facts and academia. When someone comes up with some research that is useful and valuable it is often ignored by political parties in favour of their hobby horse of the day. There are so many different wonderful approaches to education which you appear not to be informed about otherwise you would not have made such a statement.

    Innovation is out there, incredible things are going on, suggest you dig deeper. Vicars are not the authority on everything just because they can write using words in the fattest of all dictionaries, especially when it comes to education. In general from my observations many churches are making a poor fist of getting to grips with what they can, should, could be teaching children in their communities. Children in this country in 2010 are very different from children even 10 years ago (when Gatto's book would have been researched). Inform yourself and look at the church’s plank before you start bashing what is going on in inspirational schools ;-)

    I challenge you to write, in your next post, what you think education is for and what it should look like for 21st century children across the global village we find ourselves on. If you think ‘home schooling’ is the way, please define and give an outline of your approach.

    A grumpy but still smiling parishioner!

  6. I was going to say you're turning into a grumpy old man Sam, but Shlottie said it much better.

    Anyway - 90% of everything is rubbish - statistical fact - no prizes for noting that.

  7. Including 90% of statistics of course, 78% of which are made up. ;-)

  8. he he he - what's the point of having a blog if you can't be provocative?

    Sam says: "Modern education is rubbish."
    Shlottie says: "a lot of modern education is rubbish" and then gives examples of what I had in mind :)

    The weight of my criticism is against the _system_, not against _teachers_ (some of whom remain my heroes in all sorts of ways). Identifying those two things is a core part of the problem.

    To run with the church analogy - I know a great many dedicated clergy who pour heart and soul into their ministry, but who end up being destroyed - mentally, physically, spiritually - by the structures of the church establishment (not just CofE establishment). Whilst I am not someone who thinks all structures are necessarily wrong, there does come a point when you have to ask if the particular structure is doing more harm than good - and I think we're getting to that point with the CofE. Reform is needed.

    I suspect that with education, the situation is similar, but the structure is worse (not least because the structure is so much more recent, and so tied in with Modern commercial and intellectual developments; that is, the anthropology underlying it is fallacious - Ian, remember Pirsig on this in ZMM?). Teachers pour heart and soul into their work, and often have wonderful success - but this is _despite_ the system, not because of it. Imagine what might be achieved if the system supported teaching, rather than undermined it?

    (Imagine what might be achieved if the system supported priestly ministry rather than undermined it?)

    I'll write something more on what I think an 'ideal' education might look like over the weekend, DV.

  9. I've been reading more Tainter (I got halfway through it about eighteen months ago and then was distracted by something else), and so perhaps this analysis could be helped by the concept of decreasing marginal returns on investment in complexity (applying to both education and the church, as well as societies). It's a very stimulating thesis that I'm finding applies in all kinds of situations.

  10. Byron - eggsackly, Tainter is certainly hovering behind my thinking here. My review (which will probably be the substance of my next Courier article):


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