Thursday, May 18, 2006

I am still not a kook.

My close friends have put up with a lot of my borderline-paranoid libertarianesque ranting about mass schooling (public school in particular). In the hopes that I can further convince them that, at the very least, I'm not a complete crank, here's a really good (and brief!!) synopsis of the basic position I take on the issue: It's basically an executive summary of John Talyor Gatto's "The Underground history of American Education", who, I understand, is slightly more long-winded and libertarian than most people I know can tolerate.

This page spends a lot of time quoting prominent figures in the formation of our current system of public education over the years. The sheer volume, nay, superabundance of ghastly quotations from captains of industry, secretaries of education, presidents, chairs of the columbia teacher's college, behavioral psychologists, etc, was what ultimately convinced me of Gatto's message. Otherwise, I might have passed him off as an embittered libertarian crank.

Quotations of course, can be taken out of context, and so I've started to read the entirety of some of the more important works that he cites, when I can find them. Here's a link to Horace Mann's 7th annual report to the Massachussetts Board of Education: It gets interesting around page 5, where Mann says:

But allowing all these charges against the Prussian system to be true, there were still two reasons why I was not deterred from examining it.

In the first place, the evils imputed to it were easily and naturally separable from the good which it was not denied to possess. If the Prussian schoolmaster has better methods of teaching reading, writing, grammar, geography, arithmetic, &c., so that, in half the time, he produces greater and better results, surely, we may copy his modes of teaching these elements, without adopting his notions of passive obedience to government, or of blind adherence to the articles of a church. By the ordinance of nature, the human faculties are substantially the same all over the world, and hence the best means for their development and growth in one place, must be substantially the best for their development and growth every where. The spirit which shall control the action of these faculties when matured, which shall train them to self-reliance or to abject submission, which shall lead them to refer all questions to the standard of reason or to that of authority, -- this spirit is wholly distinct and distinguishable from the manner in which the faculties themselves should be trained; and we may avail ourselves of all improved methods in the earlier processes, without being contaminated by the abuses which maybe made to follow them. The best style of teaching arithmetic of spelling has no necessary or natural connection with the doctrine of hereditary right: and an accomplished lesson in geography or grammar commits the human intellect to no particular dogma in religion.

You could argue from all this that at least Mann was well-meaning. Perhaps he was. Still, he knowingly helped create a system that, by his own admission, could be used to instill blind obedience to whatever power structure came to wield it, and then assumed that by some act of providence, the system would never fall into the hands of those who would use it to secure and advance their own power. His assumption that the teaching of grammar and the training of subservient citizens are totally orthagonal is also suspect. By what method other than making them totally subservient to authority can you get a room full 3rd graders to sit still long enough for a grammar lesson?


Post a Comment

<< Home