[IAEP] Sugar Labs Mission & The 6 lesson Schoolteacher

Dave Crossland dave at lab6.com
Sun Apr 23 11:28:47 EDT 2017


What motivates me to contribute to sugar labs is an intuition that it is a
reasonable response to the topics raised in the following essay.

Since we are talking about the mission, I wonder if my intuition is
correct. Is the mission of sugar labs to counter schoolteaching as
described below?
The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher

by John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, 1991

*Call me* Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to
do, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. My license certifies me as an
instructor of English language and literature, but that isn't what I do at
all. What I teach is school, and I win awards doing it.

Teaching means many different things, but six lessons are common to
schoolteaching from Harlem to Hollywood. You pay for these lessons in more
ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what they are:

*The first* lesson I teach is: "Stay in the class where you belong." I
don't know who decides that my kids belong there but that's not my
business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be
returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways children
are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human
being under the burden of the numbers each carries. Numbering children is a
big and very profitable business, though what the business is designed to
accomplish is elusive.

In any case, again, that's not my business. My job is to make the kids like
it -- being locked in together, I mean -- or at the minimum, endure it. If
things go well, the kids can't imagine themselves anywhere else; they envy
and fear the better classes and have contempt for the dumber classes. So
the class mostly keeps itself in good marching order. That's the real
lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to know your place.

Nevertheless, in spite of the overall blueprint, I make an effort to urge
children to higher levels of test success, promising eventual transfer from
the lower-level class as a reward. I insinuate that the day will come when
an employer will hire them on the basis of test scores, even though my own
experience is that employers are (rightly) indifferent to such things. I
never lie outright, but I've come to see that truth and [school]teaching
are incompatible.

The lesson of numbered classes is that there is no way out of your class
except by magic. Until that happens you must stay where you are put.

*The second* lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light switch.
I demand that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and
down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other
for my favor. But when the bell rings I insist that they drop the work at
once and proceed quickly to the next work station. Nothing important is
ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of.

The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too
deeply about anything? Bells are the secret logic of schooltime; their
argument is inexorable; bells destroy past and future, converting every
interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes every living mountain
and river the same even though they are not. Bells inoculate each
undertaking with indifference.

*The third* lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a predestined
chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by authority, without
appeal. As a schoolteacher I intervene in many personal decisions, issuing
a Pass for those I deem legitimate, or initiating a disciplinary
confrontation for behavior that threatens my control. My judgments come
thick and fast, because individuality is trying constantly to assert itself
in my classroom. Individuality is a curse to all systems of classification,
a contradiction of class theory.

Here are some common ways it shows up: children sneak away for a private
moment in the toilet on the pretext of moving their bowels; they trick me
out of a private instant in the hallway on the grounds that they need
water. Sometimes free will appears right in front of me in children angry,
depressed or exhilarated by things outside my ken. Rights in such things
cannot exist for schoolteachers; only privileges, which can be withdrawn,

*The fourth* lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum you
will study. (Rather, I enforce decisions transmitted by the people who pay
me). This power lets me separate good kids from bad kids instantly. Good
kids do the tasks I appoint with a minimum of conflict and a decent show of
enthusiasm. Of the millions of things of value to learn, I decide what few
we have time for. The choices are mine. Curiosity has no important place in
my work, only conformity.

Bad kids fight against this, of course, trying openly or covertly to make
decisions for themselves about what they will learn. How can we allow that
and survive as schoolteachers? Fortunately there are procedures to break
the will of those who resist.

This is another way I teach the lesson of dependency. Good people wait for
a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson of
all, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to
make the meanings of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that our
entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned. Think of what would
fall apart if kids weren't trained in the dependency lesson: The
social-service businesses could hardly survive, including the fast-growing
counseling industry; commercial entertainment of all sorts, along with
television, would wither if people remembered how to make their own fun;
the food services, restaurants and prepared-food warehouses would shrink if
people returned to making their own meals rather than depending on
strangers to cook for them. Much of modern law, medicine, and engineering
would go too -- the clothing business as well -- unless a guaranteed supply
of helpless people poured out of our schools each year. We've built a way
of life that depends on people doing what they are told because they don't
know any other way. For God's sake, let's not rock that boat!

*In lesson* five I teach that your self-respect should depend on an
observer's measure of your worth. My kids are constantly evaluated and
judged. A monthly report, impressive in its precision, is sent into
students' homes to spread approval or to mark exactly -- down to a single
percentage point -- how dissatisfied with their children parents should be.
Although some people might be surprised how little time or reflection goes
into making up these records, the cumulative weight of the objective-
seeming documents establishes a profile of defect which compels a child to
arrive at a certain decisions about himself and his future based on the
casual judgment of strangers.

Self-evaluation -- the staple of every major philosophical system that ever
appeared on the planet -- is never a factor in these things. The lesson of
report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust
themselves or their parents, but must rely on the evaluation of certified
officials. People need to be told what they are worth.

*In lesson* six I teach children that they are being watched. I keep each
student under constant surveillance and so do my colleagues. There are no
private spaces for children; there is no private time. Class change lasts
300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at low levels. Students are
encouraged to tattle on each other, even to tattle on their parents. Of
course I encourage parents to file their own child's waywardness, too.

I assign "homework" so that this surveillance extends into the household,
where students might otherwise use the time to learn something
unauthorized, perhaps from a father or mother, or by apprenticing to some
wiser person in the neighborhood.

The lesson of constant surveillance is that no one can be trusted, that
privacy is not legitimate. Surveillance is an ancient urgency among certain
influential thinkers; it was a central prescription set down by Calvin in
the Institutes, by Plato in the Republic, by Hobbes, by Comte, by Francis
Bacon. All these childless men discovered the same thing: Children must be
closely watched if you want to keep a society under central control.

*It is* the great triumph of schooling that among even the best of my
fellow teachers, and among even the best parents, there is only a small
number who can imagine a different way to do things. Yet only a very few
lifetimes ago things were different in the United States: originality and
variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the
miracle of the world; social class boundaries were relatively easy to
cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do
many things independently, to think for themselves. We were something, all
by ourselves, as individuals.

It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math
skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for
"basic skills" practice is a smokescreen behind which schools pre-empt the
time of children for twelve years and teach them the six lessons I've just
taught you.

We've had a society increasingly under central control in the United States
since just before the Civil War: the lives we lead, the clothes we wear,
the food we eat, and the green highway signs we drive by from coast to
coast are the products of this central control. So, too, I think, are the
epidemics of drugs, suicide, divorce, violence, cruelty, and the hardening
of class into caste in the U.S., products of the dehumanization of our
lives, the lessening of individual and family importance that central
control imposes.

Without a fully active role in community life you cannot develop into a
complete human being. Aristotle taught that. Surely he was right; look
around you or look in the mirror: that is the demonstration.

"School" is an essential support system for a vision of social engineering
that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that
narrows to a control point as it ascends. "School" is an artifice which
makes such a pyramidal social order seem inevitable (although such a
premise is a fundamental betrayal of the American Revolution). In colonial
days and through the period of the early Republic we had no schools to
speak of. And yet the promise of democracy was beginning to be realized. We
turned our backs on this promise by bringing to life the ancient dream of
Egypt: compulsory training in subordination for everybody. Compulsory
schooling was the secret Plato reluctantly transmitted in the Republic when
he laid down the plans for total state control of human life.

*The current* debate about whether we should have a national curriculum is
phony; we already have one, locked up in the six lessons I've told you
about and a few more I've spared you. This curriculum produces moral and
intellectual paralysis, and no curriculum of content will be sufficient to
reverse its bad effects. What is under discussion is a great irrelevancy.

None of this is inevitable, you know. None of it is impregnable to change.
We do have a choice in how we bring up young people; there is no right way.
There is no "international competition" that compels our existence,
difficult as it is to even think about in the face of a constant media
barrage of myth to the contrary. In every important material respect our
nation is self-sufficient. If we gained a non-material philosophy that
found meaning where it is genuinely located -- in families, friends, the
passage of seasons, in nature, in simple ceremonies and rituals, in
curiosity, generosity, compassion, and service to others, in a decent
independence and privacy -- then we would be truly self-sufficient.

*How did* these awful places, these "schools", come about? As we know them,
they are a product of the two "Red Scares" of 1848 and 1919, when powerful
interests feared a revolution among our industrial poor, and partly they
are the result of the revulsion with which old-line families regarded the
waves of Celtic, Slavic, and Latin immigration -- and the Catholic religion
-- after 1845. And certainly a third contributing cause can be found in the
revulsion with which these same families regarded the free movement of
Africans through the society after the Civil War.

Look again at the six lessons of school. This is training for permanent
underclasses, people who are to be deprived forever of finding the center
of their own special genius. And it is training shaken loose from its
original logic: to regulate the poor. Since the 1920s the growth of the
well-articulated school bureaucracy, and the less visible growth of a horde
of industries that profit from schooling exactly as it is, have enlarged
schooling's original grasp to seize the sons and daughters of the middle

Is it any wonder Socrates was outraged at the accusation that he took money
to teach? Even then, philosophers saw clearly the inevitable direction the
professionalization of teaching would take, pre-empting the teaching
function that belongs to all in a healthy community; belongs, indeed, most
clearly to yourself, since nobody else cares as much about your destiny.
Professional teaching tends to another serious error. It makes things that
are inherently easy to learn, like reading, writing, and arithmetic,
difficult -- by insisting they be taught by pedagogical procedures.

*With lessons* like the ones I teach day after day, is it any wonder we
have the national crisis we face today? Young people indifferent to the
adult world and to the future; indifferent to almost everything except the
diversion of toys and violence? Rich or poor, schoolchildren cannot
concentrate on anything for very long. They have a poor sense of time past
and to come; they are mistrustful of intimacy (like the children of divorce
they really are); they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent,
passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to

All the peripheral tendencies of childhood are magnified to a grotesque
extent by schooling, whose hidden curriculum prevents effective personality
development. Indeed, without exploiting the fearfulness, selfishness, and
inexperience of children our schools could not survive at all, nor could I
as a certified schoolteacher.

"Critical thinking" is a term we hear frequently these days as a form of
training which will herald a new day in mass schooling. It certainly will,
if it ever happens. No common school that actually dared teach the use of
dialectic, heuristic, and other tools of free minds could last a year
without being torn to pieces.

Institutional schoolteachers are destructive to children's development.
Nobody survives the Six-Lesson Curriculum unscathed, not even the
instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No
tinkering will fix it. In one of the great ironies of human affairs, the
massive rethinking that schools require would cost so much less than we are
spending now that it is not likely to happen. First and foremost, the
business I am in is a jobs project and a contract-letting agency. We cannot
afford to save money, not even to help children.

*At the* pass we've come to historically, and after 26 years of teaching, I
must conclude that one of the only alternatives on the horizon for most
families is to teach their own children at home. Small, de-
institutionalized schools are another. Some form of free-market system for
public schooling is the likeliest place to look for answers. But the near
impossibility of these things for the shattered families of the poor, and
for too many on the fringes of the economic middle class, foretell that the
disaster of Six-Lesson Schools is likely to continue.

After an adult lifetime spent in teaching school I believe the method of
schooling is the only real content it has. Don't be fooled into thinking
that good curricula or good equipment or good teachers are the critical
determinants of your son and daughter's schooltime. All the pathologies
we've considered come about in large measure because the lessons of school
prevent children from keeping important appointments with themselves and
their families, to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance,
self-reliance, courage, dignity and love -- and, of course, lessons in
service to others, which are among the key lessons of home life.

Thirty years ago these things could still be learned in the time left after
school. But television has eaten most of that time, and a combination of
television and the stresses peculiar to two-income or single-parent
families have swallowed up most of what used to be family time. Our kids
have no time left to grow up fully human, and only thin-soil wastelands to
do it in.

*A future* is rushing down upon our culture which will insist that all of
us learn the wisdom of non-material experience; this future will demand, as
the price of survival, that we follow a pace of natural life economical in
material cost. These lessons cannot be learned in schools as they are.
School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad
habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards
doing it. I should know.
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