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Thoughts on Gatto, pt. 2 September 8, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, societal commentary, teaching.
Tags: , ,

I don’t agree with everything Gatto says in the Seven-Lesson School Teacher, but the lessons themselves are very real. Every time I’ve read the essay, I have been able to think back on my own circumstances and see how those lessons were being taught.

I feel it’s important to say that the essay has a very paranoid tone to it. I don’t think that everyone who is a teacher or educator feels this need to mold students into sheeple. I think many educators view their job as a way to provide opportunity and equality in the classroom to those who obviously are disadvantaged outside of the classroom. However, the manifestation of equality in the classroom has become that every student must be the same and every student must conform. Despite their admirable goals, the implementation strips individuals from excelling or failing (and owning their excellence and failure). It also strips them of passion.

And that leaves us with those lessons. Those who have lived successfully within the system and its goals will deny they exist. Those who have had to deal with those lessons because they have been an impediment to achieving their goals or pursuing their passions will probably nod their head knowingly.

So how do you deal with them? How can you avoid teaching them? I think that it’s much easier to do that when homeschooling than teaching. I think it’s important to discuss how to avoid them, as much as possible, and to find other ways to educate without stifling.

So let’s start with the first one: confusion. How do you avoid teaching things as unconnected parts, separate from other academic pursuits as well as from the knowledge needed to exist daily?

At home, it’s very easy to take things we’re studying and for me to verbally put it into a larger context. When you learn something, it’s helpful to learn its history as well as its implications. This often involves taking time to look up and discuss related topics. Teachers don’t have that time. I do. And even when I don’t, I must. We discuss things in this manner not only when studying but also when talking about everything. You have to explicitly connect the dots when talking history and current affairs, science and cooking, math and…everything else when talking to kids. You teach them to look for relationships and patterns. Some people seem to do this intuitively, but I think it takes time for kids to get the hang of it. Once they do, they will be come curious how things are related and start doing their own research.

As I said before, however, teachers don’t have time to do this, in many cases. You can also be constrained by the subject matter. But the best teachers and the best books try to give a context for how the knowledge was developed, explaining where it came from. Historical context can be presented for every idea, even in technical fields. (One of my favorite books is actually a math book: “Applied Differential Equations with Historical Notes” by Simmons.) Yes, I’m one of those people who thinks that science ought to be taught with history to give a better understanding of the idea itself as well as give proper recognition to some amazing people.

To do this effectively, however, one must have a pretty good background in the related materials, which is certainly not encouraged if one has a heavy teaching and research load. However, these references to related things, a place to find context, is greatly appreciated by many students. Likewise, it is always important to talk about the implications of ideas and how they continue to affect us. Where does this knowledge lead? This can be viewed (and taught) from the perspective of society, of a group of people, or of the individual. Someone learning about transistors, for instance, really should learn how they have been important in the development of electronics, how understanding them is important to learning advanced concepts in engineering, and that, personally, one needs to know the material if they ever hope to get a job. I think most people understand the third point, but I don’t see the first two emphasized enough.

I’ll stop there and continue with the other lessons in my next post.



1. Chris Gammell - September 9, 2010

After actually reading it this time, I’m a bit confused. Does Gatto actually believe those things, or is the entire essay tongue in cheek? I really hope the latter, even though I could see these being true tenets of modern education 😦


mareserinitatis - September 9, 2010

Oh, no. He genuinely believes them.


Chris Gammell - September 9, 2010

Really?? Did I miss something about how humans are meant be behave and teach future generations? Was there a class I skipped????


mareserinitatis - September 9, 2010

The thing is, Chris, that the school system as it is implemented originated with the Prussians: they wanted a way to teach soldiers and laborers. They also didn’t want the laborers and soldiers to start thinking for themselves such that they would start a revolution and/or try to undermine the government.

Horace Mann, for all his good intentions, chose a model which was created to educate all but also limit where any individual could go with that education. It works to create a society of literate doers, but it does not create a society of thinkers.

Most people, especially teachers, don’t understand that the system was created this way from the get-go. They don’t understand (or care) that they are complicit in creating a society of people for whom mediocrity is perfectly acceptable. The school system works perfectly for what the initial creators intended…but it doesn’t fulfill all those wonderful hopes and dreams or cure the ailments with which society is dealing. And it never will unless it is changed in some extremely fundamental ways.


Chris Gammell - September 10, 2010

Well I guess I’m confused then. Didn’t you say you agreed with some of the essay?


mareserinitatis - September 10, 2010

Yes, I agree with what he says. He says that there are a lot of social lessons being taught in school. I agree that the lessons he’s talking about are really part of the agenda of public school, although not necessarily of individual teachers.


Chris Gammell - September 10, 2010

OK last question then. He’s explaining these things that happen, and you agree with them happening, and it’s not tongue in cheek…but does he like it? Does he think it’s a GOOD thing that these practices occur? I think that’s what I was getting at from the beginning.


2. Fluxor - September 10, 2010

I think it’s clear he doesn’t like it. In fact, it sounds like he’d like to abolish state-run education.


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