Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto

9. A Letter to my Granddaughter About Dartmouth

  • At the heart of the advice given here is that schools can paralyze your ability to think for yourself. They also can get in the way of learning what you want to learn. If you want docile people who are told what to think and how to think you probably invent something like the schools we have. Grandpa John’s learning index features eight yardsticks. 1. Self-Knowledge – Do you know your own character? 2. Observation – Are your powers of observation razor-sharp? Can you evaluate primary documents without having someone else tell you what they mean? 3. Feedback – Can you accept criticism and evaluate its worth? 4. Analysis – Can you break a problem into its elements and see their relationships? 5. Mirroring – Are you trapped in your own tight skin or can you fit into any group or situation? 6. Expression – Can you speak and write with clarity, style, and force? 7. Judgement – Can you evaluate dispassionately? Can you see through an attractive personality? 8. Adding Value – Do you add value at every encounter?

10. Incident at Highland High

  • John’s hope is that this book prompts you to engage in your own analysis of your own schooling and schooling in general. As a student, if you understand the mind-control aims of schooling you can easily avoid its worst effects as you access its raw material for your own analysis. Unlike schooling, which is a command and control operation, education is self-organized and not done to make things efficient for the school administration. School is all about rules and not very forgiving of free will deviation. Schools are made of disciplinary silos while in the real world the action is at disciplinary boundaries. Cross-fertilization is a powerful driver and as you address your own problems you will probably not realize which disciplines you are using. To be happy you need good relationships, good health, and satisfying work. These are seldom the aims of schools.
  • The rest of this chapter features three stories. The first features police in Nuremberg, Germany going to the home of a home-schooled sixteen-year-old to arrest her for the crime of home-schooling, which is still on the books from Hitler’s era. The second features the police interrupting a speech John was giving at Highland High School in Highland, NY when he was Teacher of the Year. It seems that the principal didn’t like how John was criticizing schools. He called the superintendent who called the police. The third features a school district in Vermont that was fighting to keep its one-room schoolhouses. The state decided to get rid of them and showed a plan that cost $250,000 to make each school handicapped accessible. John found an architect who put the price at less than one-tenth the cost but he wouldn’t put his name on it for fear of never working again in the state. John also notes that standardized test scores for superintendents, principals, and teachers are near the bottom of the major occupational groups.

Afterword: Invitation to an Open Conspiracy: The Bartleby Project

  • We start with a bit of history telling how after World War II schools started using standardized tests to rank and track students. John notes that the only thing school administrators are willing to buck the system on is physical education requirements. In New York City only one school in twenty-five provides the 24 minutes a day required by law. These are the same schools that often offer fest-food-style meals. Together, these two actions promote our nation’s obesity epidemic.
  • For John, there is only one way to rid ourselves of the damage caused by the use of standardized tests and that is for students to simply refuse to take them and refuse to participate in test prep activities. Several years ago the opt-out movement took hold in some states. In New York State we reached a 20% opt-out level so there is some hope. I personally join with John in asking you to please consider not letting your children take the federally mandated tests.

John Taylor Gatto

  • John taught 30 years in public schools before resigning from school teaching on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal during the year he was named New York State’s official Teacher of the Year. Since then he has been a tireless advocate for school reform, traveling over three million miles to lecture on the subject. His earlier book, Dumbing Us Down, has sold over 100,000 copies. You can follow him on Twitter @realjohngatto. His website is johntaylorgatto.com and his email is info@johntaylorgatto.com.
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