Monday, June 22, 2009
Thoughts on John Taylor Gatto’s Latest Lecture
John Taylor Gatto’s latest book is “Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling”, published in October 2008. I purchased the book but have not read it yet.
I was surprised and happy to see that on the weekend of June 20th, CSPAN’s BookTV showed a book tour lecture, originally taped on 3/07/09 at the Liberty Forum in New Hampshire. The lecture was two hours long. (Watch video here on the BookTV site.)
If you are not aware of who John Taylor Gatto is, he taught in New York City public schools for thirty years. He had charge of kids who were the ‘problem kids’ that were deemed unteachable and unreachable. Often breaking school rules, Gatto let his students do ‘alternative’ learning experiences in the real world, interacting with real adults in the community, designing their own independent learning projects and sometimes starting their own businesses. Year after year his students had meaningful learning experiences and some found material wealth success with their ventures despite being labeled as failing at traditional school work.
Gatto won Teacher of the Year and some other awards for his teaching efforts although not all were happy with his alternative learning experience methods. He finally quit the teaching business. He became more known to non-teachers when he published a book called “Dumbing Us Down”.
In the past some of his lectures have focused on what his students did while “in” his class. This lecture dated 3/07/09 uses the term “open source learning” quite often, referring to adolescents learning from the real world in nontraditional ways that cannot be replicated inside of school classrooms. He speaks of some of his students and their projects. He speaks more of kids (not his students) who are successful in business today that were high school dropouts whose path to success began when they dropped out of school. A point is made that perhaps dropping out of high school is not so bad after all, if the person goes on to do things they want that school had constricted them from doing.
Also in the talk is a lot about college as unnecessary. More stories are told of successful adults who didn’t go to college. A study is cited that students entering college knew more than those graduating from college, these are good colleges and some top Ivy League colleges.
There is discussion that compulsory schooling forces people into a prolonged state of adolescence. There is some talk of pioneer America and how in the early teen years people were often already on the path to being self-sufficient. Others schooled themselves instead of attending regular school and went on to be our nation’s Founding Fathers. Gatto asks if we should not look down upon today’s high school dropout’s in pity but as them being free to begin real work in the real world.
Some of this is pretty radical given that most seeking certain kinds of professional employment rather than being a self-made entrepreneur will have to have a college degree to fulfill professional degree requirements or get through corporate screening processes. It is true if one is to be self-employed why bother?
This talk is one of the most radical of all that I’ve heard Gatto say as he basically puts down high school attendance and seems to encourage all to give up college attendance as a waste of time and money.
I enjoyed the talk very much. When living an alternative lifestyle such as homeschooling, there is nothing like listening to something more radical than what I'm doing to make me feel more mainstream!
An audience member said in Vermont a new law says that high school students cannot drop out until age 18. That type of government regulation is a bit scary. The family could homeschool though, so that is an option.
Since I am a homeschooling parent I hope my kids can have opportunities to do various things like start a business in their preteen or teen years if they so desire. They are already living more free lives being disconnected from the compulsory schooling system. Should my children choose a career path that requires college attendance I want them to be ready to meet college admission prerequisites. I am not making the decision as to whether my kids go to college or not, I want them more in charge of the decision, so I’m not taking Gatto’s opinion on and forcing it onto my kids. I think that Gatto would agree that a pivotal component in a homeschooled child’s life experience is to do projects and work they want to do rather than being coerced by a parent to do or not do something.
My eleven year old watched the end of the lecture with me and I was surprised at the questions he was asking such as my philosophy of compulsory schooling in Vermont and not letting kids drop out until age 18 (it is 16 in Connecticut the last I knew). We also discussed personal freedom and liberty and how the freedom to homeschool is appreciated by him and me!
If you haven’t seen the lecture, you can watch it on BookTV for free. Pull up a comfy chair and take a listen. (Watch video here on the BookTV site.)
When the audience begins to stand, I spotted Attorney Deborah Stevenson of NHELD (in glasses) and Judy Aron of Consent of the Governed blog (in purple shirt).
John Taylor Gatto’s website
Dumbing Us Down (the most popular book it seems to me)
A Different Kind of Teacher (my favorite of his books)
Underground History of American Education (a giant tome I didn’t finish reading)
Weapons of Mass Instruction (the latest book)
Disclosure: All of the John Taylor Gatto books I own I purchased with my own money.