The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher

dumbing_us_downNo one in America today is better qualified to report on the true condition of our government education system than John Taylor Gatto, the now-famous educator who spent 26 years teaching in six different schools in New York City and quit because he could no longer take part in a system that destroys lives by destroying minds

In 1990 the New York “Senate named Mr. Gatto New York City Teacher of the Year. The speech he gave at that occasion, “The Psychopathic School,” amounted to a devastating indictment of public education (reprinted in The Blumenfeld Education Letter, May 1991, under the title “Why Schools Don’t Educate”). In 1991 Mr. Gatto was named New York State Teacher of the Year, at which occasion he gave a speech, “The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher,” so insightful of the wrong-headedness of public education that it will probably become a classic in educational literature.

Gatto describes the seven lessons that are taught in all public schools by all teachers in America, whether they know it or not.  He writes:

The first lesson I teach is confusion. Everything I teach is out of context.  I teach the un-relating of everything.  I teach dis-connections….Even in the best of schools a close examination of curriculum and its sequences turns up a lack of coherence, full of internal contradictions….Confusion is thrust upon kids by too many strange adults, each working along with only the thinnest relationship with each other, pretending, for the most part, to an expertise they do not possess….In a world where home is only a ghost, because both parents work…or because something else has left everybody too confused to maintain a family relation, I teach you how to accept confusion as your destiny.

The second lesson I teach is class position….The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right class….My job is to make them like being locked together with children who bear numbers like their own.…If I do my job well, the kids can’t even imagine themselves somewhere else, because I’ve shown them how to envy and fear the better classes and how to have contempt for the dumb classes….That’s the real lesson of any rigged competition like school.  You come to know your place.

The third lesson I teach is indifference….When the bell rings I insist they drop whatever it is we have been doing and proceed quickly to the next work station.  They must turn on and off like a light switch….Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.

weapons_of_mass_instructionThe fourth lesson I teach is emotional dependency.  By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors, and disgraces, I teach kids to surrender their will to the predestinated chain of command.

The fifth lesson I teach is intellectual dependency….It is the most important lesson, that we must wait for other people better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives….[Only], the teacher can determine what my kids must study, or rather, only the people who pay me can make those decisions, which I then enforce.  If I’m told that evolution is a fact instead of a theory, I transmit that as ordered, punishing deviants who resist what I have been told to tell them to think….Successful children do the thinking I assign them with a minimum of resistance and a decent show of enthusiasm….Bad kids fight this, of course, even though they lack the concepts to know what they are fighting, struggling to make decisions for themselves about what they will learn and when they will learn it…Fortunately there are tested procedures to break the will of those who resist; it is more difficult, naturally, if the kids have respectable parents who come to their aid, but that happens less and less in spite of the bad reputation of schools.  No middle-class parents I have ever met actually believe that their kid’s school is one of the bad ones.  No one single parent in twenty-six years of teaching.

The sixth lesson I teach is provisional self-esteem….The lesson of report cards, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents but should instead rely on the evaluation of certified officials.  People need to be told what they are worth.

The seventh lesson I teach is that one can’t hide.  I teach students they are always watched, that each is under constant surveillance by myself and my colleagues….The meaning of constant surveillance and denial of privacy is that no one can be trusted, that privacy is not legitimate.