Wednesday, July 14, 2010

John Taylor Gatto wants to demolish the existing education system and return power to the people

And he tells why

The new economy is awash in contradictions, but few are more troubling than this one: At the very moment that brainpower is more important than ever, education seems more backward than ever. We have a new economy but outdated schools.

Out of this disconnect has emerged a quiet grassroots rebellion aimed at reinventing both the form and the function of American education. Charter schools – publicly funded startup schools that operate mostly free of regulation – have boomed. In 1992, there was one charter school in the United States. Today, there are more than 2,000. The fastest-growing education movement is homeschooling. Today, roughly 1.5 million children learn at home. Just as Internet startups and free agents rattled big business, charter schools and homeschooling are shaking up "big schoolhouse."

Leading them is John Taylor Gatto, education's most original (and perhaps most controversial) thinker. Gatto earned his reformer's credentials the hard way. For 30 years, he taught English in some of New York City's toughest schools – and became the East Coast's answer to Jaime Escalante, the East Los Angeles teacher immortalized in the film Stand and Deliver. Gatto was the kind of once-in-a-lifetime teacher who changed lives (hundreds of former students remain in touch with him), even as he outraged administrators. In 1991, he was New York State's Teacher of the Year. Then he quit.

"When I left school teaching, I was blind with rage. I didn't know whose throat to grab first," growls Gatto, whose round face, white hair, and bearish build make him look like the tough brother of TV's Captain Kangaroo. "After a while, I could see that responsibility for education had to be revested in ordinary people."

He began writing essays and articles that recommended a systematic overhaul of learning in America and soon attracted a nearly cultish following among homeschoolers, charter-school advocates, and other education reformers. To many members of that incipient movement, Gatto has become their philosopher king. But Gatto, 65, gives himself a different job title. "I'm a saboteur," he says. "I'm sabotaging the idea that you know best what my family needs."

Schools, he says, are irremediably broken. Built to supply a mass-production economy with a docile workforce, they ask too little of children, and thereby drain youngsters of curiosity and autonomy. Tougher discipline, more standardized tests, longer days, and most other conventional solutions are laughably short of the mark. "We need to kill the poison plant we created," Gatto has written. "School reform is not enough. The notion of schooling itself must be challenged." His alternative: to get rid of institutional mass-production schools, allow every imaginable experiment to blossom, make free public libraries universal, and expand hands-on apprenticeships.

Earlier this year, Gatto published a book, The Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteacher's Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling (Oxford Village Press). Nearly a decade in the making, the enormous volume is a sprawling work of history, political philosophy, and citizen activism. Two major publishers liked the book enough to offer Gatto sizable advances – on the condition that he trim the pages and mute the language. He refused. So he produced and distributed the book himself, selling 5,000 copies the first week.

"This is the Blair Witch Project of books," says Roland Legiardi-Laura, 47, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and a former eighth-grade student of Gatto's. "It's been under the radar, but not for long." Legiardi-Laura and his former teacher are now adapting the book into a documentary that aims to do for education what Ken Burns's series on the Civil War did for the War Between the States.

The Underground History of American Education is pointed and provocative. It's hard to agree with everything Gatto has to say, but it's even harder to come away from his searing critique unchanged. A single reading of a single essay inevitably makes you start to question the purpose and the premise of American education. "I had no intention of being an author," says Gatto, who lives with his wife on Manhattan's Upper West Side. "I hate being a product. But I feel that I have a responsibility to bear witness to what I've seen." Fast Company met with Gatto in Legiardi-Laura's loft apartment across from Tompkins Square Park in New York City.

Q. How did you get started in teaching?

A. I never thought I would be a teacher. The prevailing Ivy League ethic when I left college in the late 1950s was that you would be a man in a gray flannel suit. And if you had blood flowing through your veins, you didn't want to be a banker or a businessman. You wanted to be an ad man. So I became a copywriter at an ad agency. At first, it was very exciting. But after a while, you say, "Is the rest of my life going to be writing 50 words a month, holding my drink the correct way, and knowing when people shift from martinis to Gibsons?"

My roommate in New York City at the time was a guy named Dick Boehm. He was a waiter at the Waldorf-Astoria, but he also had a teaching license. He'd taught for one day and said, "You have to be crazy to do this for a living." And he threw his teaching license in a drawer. His license didn't have a picture on it, so I took a few days off from the ad agency, used Dick's license, and went around the city substitute teaching.

I was bored, I guess. And I was tweaking the city's nose by teaching school as Dick Boehm. But I ran into some genuinely horrifying experiences in which kids were obviously being denied basic intellectual tools. And the reason, at least the surface reason, that they were being denied those tools was the belief that there were some things that these kids couldn't do. People would tell me, "It would embarrass the kids to try to do more." It's real easy, when you're a young man, to buy that crap.

Q. When did you stop buying it?

A. There were two experiences that changed my life. One took place in a school in Harlem on 120th Street. I tended to favor subbing in Harlem because they were so desperate just to get bodies in there that I was pretty sure that they wouldn't check the records. I was assigned to teach a Spanish course. I knew a couple-hundred words of Spanish, so I figured that I could fake it pretty well. I got in there and asked the kids if they knew how to tell time. I assumed that they did, and I thought we could review it. But they said no, they didn't know how to tell time. I said, "I can teach you how to tell time in this one class period, and you'll know it forever." So I did that.

You get five classes a day as a sub, and by the third class, I got summoned to the principal's office. Some assistant principal began to scream at me. Her face turned a deep purple red. "How dare you do this! You have destroyed the entire curriculum for the month of June. I have no idea how I will explain to the teacher when she comes back," she said. "But I'll tell you this: You will never be hired at this school again!" At first, I thought I was locked up with a lunatic. Then, the more I reflected on this odd situation, the more I realized that this was the attitude in all subject areas. They expected so little of these kids that it was easy to communicate the whole curriculum for the month of June in 15 minutes.

The second life-changing experience came at a school on 103rd or 104th Street and Columbus Avenue. I was assigned as a sub in a third-grade remedial reading class – an easy assignment. You could write stuff on the board, pass out worksheets, and then sit there and read the Daily News. A little girl named Milagros Maldonado came up to the desk and said, "I don't need to do this. I already know how to read." All I wanted to do was finish the day, but I said to her, "Well, you know, these things are done by people older than you who are looking out for your own best interest, and they think you're better off here." And she said, "No, I can read anything."

There was a reader on the teacher's desk, and she grabbed the reader and said, "Ask me to read anything." I cracked it open to a story called "The Devil and Daniel Webster," which is an extremely difficult piece of American Victorian prose. And she read it without batting an eyelash. I said to her, "You know, sometimes, Milagros, mistakes are made. I'll speak to the principal." I walked into the principal's office and the woman began shrieking at me, saying, "I'm not in the habit of taking instruction from a substitute teacher." I said, "I'm not telling you what to do. It's just that this little girl can read."

And she said something to me that, at my dying moment, I'll still remember. She said, "Mr. Gatto, you have no idea how clever these low-achieving children are. They will memorize a story so that it looks as if they know how to read it." Talk about an Alice in Wonderland world! If that little girl had memorized "The Devil and Daniel Webster," then we want her in national politics! The principal said, "I will come in and show you." After school, she came in and put Milagros through her paces. The little girl did well. Then she told Milagros, "We will transfer you." And when Milagros left, the principal said to me, "You will never be hired at this school again."

Q. That made you want to teach?

A. Yes. The attitude toward these children in liberal New York City wasn't remotely like the attitude toward children in western Pennsylvania, where I grew up. There the assumption was that if somebody couldn't do the work, it was because they were lazy or defiant. In these schools, the assumption was that some kids were permanently disabled, and everyone had to settle into their assigned place.

So I told the people at the ad agency that I was going to leave to teach full time. I thought I'd be right back. I said to myself, I'm going to do this for a year or two and I'm going to demonstrate, to my own satisfaction, that these rules of classification are nonsense. Thirty years later, I still hadn't found out how far it was possible to push human beings to become big, self-directing, independent, and able to write their own script. The trouble is, especially with poor kids, they have such an indoctrinated belief that they can't do it, and that belief is reflected in antagonism and anger that they carry with them throughout life. But the truth is that genius is an exceedingly common human quality, probably natural to most of us.


Something Rotten in the State of Montana?

Montana is seeking to impose an unscientific, Kinseyan ideological model of pathological sexual instruction on the undeveloped, immature brains of vulnerable children. I would argue that the exposure of children to the kinds of sexual stimuli proposed by Montana’s education mavens reflects unmitigated ignorance, malevolence or both

Michael F. Shaughnessy interviews Judith A. Reisman

1. Dr. Reisman , first of all could you tell us a little bit about your background and experience?

Well, below is my short summary but based on YOUR knowledge and interests, let me say I worked for years for CBSTV, Captain Kangaroo, writing songs, and producing musical stories, sort of the original MTV, for children. I also produced “Great Works of Art” for children for various museums, Cleveland Museum of Art, and for Scholastics Magazine. My interests were in using great art to educate children.

My university education involved the effects of television on children’s attitudes and behavior and from that I moved (long story) into the effects of pornography, as a form of trauma really, on adult and child attitudes and behavior. I focused on visual versus text reception by the brain, mind, memory.
{Judith A. Reisman, PhD has focused on fraudulent sex science-education and on pornography as an Erototoxic pandemic, addicting children and society. Dr. Reisman is a news analyst and commentator for several press outlets, and was principal investigator/author of the pioneering U.S. Department of Justice, Juvenile Justice study, Images of Children, Crime and Violence in Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler (1989). She also authored Kinsey, Sex and Fraud (Reisman, et al., 1990), Soft Porn Plays Hardball (1991), Partner Solicitation Language as a Reflection of Male Sexual Orientation (w/Johnson, 1995), and Kinsey, Crimes & Consequences (1998, 2000) and the forthcoming Sexual Sabotage (2010).

Dr. Reisman was scientific consultant to four U.S. Department of Justice administrations, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She is listed in Who’s Who in Science & Engineering, International Who’s Who in Sexology, International Who’s Who in Education, Who’s Who of American Women, The World’s Who’s Who of Women, etc. Her scholarly findings have had international legislative and scientific impact in the United States, Israel, South Africa, Canada, and Australia. Tim Tate, UNESCO award-winning Producer-Director of “Kinsey’s Paedophiles,” (Yorkshire Television, UK, 1998) stated: “every substantive allegation Reisman made was not only true but thoroughly sourced with documentary evidence—despite the Kinsey Institute’s reluctance to open its files.”

Based on her work, The German Medical Tribune and the British medical journal, The Lancet demanded that the Kinsey Institute be investigated for deliberately covering up massive sex crimes against children and fraudulent science. Website,}

2. Now, what seems to be happening in the state of Montana?

Montana is seeking to impose an unscientific, Kinseyan ideological model of pathological sexual instruction on the undeveloped, immature brains of vulnerable children. I would argue that the exposure of children to the kinds of sexual stimuli proposed by Montana’s education mavens reflects unmitigated ignorance, malevolence or both. Their imposition of sexplicit and indeed deviant forms of sexual conduct on captive schoolchildren is institutional child sexual abuse. Were a man or woman to stop a child on the street and whisper the same information teachers will force on these school children, he or she could be arrested for child molestation. Thus yes, the sexual stimuli “education” planned is unmonitored, untested, not validated and on the evidence provably traumatic for normal child development. Moreover, the assault on parents as the single responsible caretakers and instructors in sexuality for their own children is deliberately repudiated by the sexuality curriculum starting in kindergarten and continues conditioning, confusing and hijacking these children until they are free should they graduate….

3. Who seems to be, for lack of a better word, behind, these curricular changes or modifications?

Certainly those who planned this pathological program perceive themselves as better than, more knowledgeable than, the parents of these children, and for that reason these elitists would override all of the moral values of parents and society. Thus such persons qualify as radicals by definition, as subversive of the historic morality and the belief system of this nation. That their plans for children are in concert with that of the organized pedophile movement is ignored to the detriment of these really, experimental, children.

4. According to the Constitution , are schools supposed to be teaching about “ alternative life styles “ or even doing sex education?

Of course not, there is nothing in the US Constitution to justify such “instruction.” Indeed all such “education” is child experiment and would be completely illegal were a proper legal force to argue this historically and scientifically in a court of law. All the data finds that since the beginning of “human sexuality education” we have massively increased, not decreased our sexual dysfunctions, diseases, crimes, and such. There is ZERO proof of any success for even the less invasive sex ed courses must less this one.

5. When is this “illustrious “ instruction supposed to begin and are the schools going to make sure that no child gets left behind…?

As far as I understand it this “instruction,” really propaganda assault, is under debate at this time. If the faction passionately desiring this assault on children succeed, it will doubtless begin as soon as they can get clearance. Indeed, as in Massachusetts, it is becoming common for the pedagogical elitists to mandate that “no child gets left behind,” no matter what their parents wish or know to be right for their children.

6. Does the average parent know about what is going on in Montana?

I doubt that most parents realize what is planned and even if they are aware, the real story tends not to become accessible to parents until much too late.

7. Is the legislature behind this? Or are they ignoring it?

I am not an expert in the legislative situation, the private or public machinations. In 1998 Montana legislature did not require such “education.” Obviously there has been a great deal of political activity in the last decade to reverse that conservative posture. NARAL Pro Choice Montana” has been very active in campaigning for this “education” seeing it as the only way to attain their mission of abortion on demand and similar political desires.

8. Tough question, but at what age or grade should kids be taught about emotional intimacy, sexual intimacy, and even friendships?

Not really tough at all. These are parental decisions that are inappropriate for an academic setting. They involve myriad personal unknowns that are not part of “education.” In class and in the playground and lunchrooms teachers should enforce rules about bullying, taking terns, being polite and so on.

Children need to focus their attention on learning their basic academic tasks. They can do that quite well when teachers establish an orderly, respectful, and safe environment. Within such a respectful environment, children will automatically be learning about friendships. It would be nice if emotional and sexual intimacy could be “taught” but the evidence finds some teachers will transmit damaging information based on their own emotional and sexual intimacy problems, and some will abuse such opportunities to attain dominance, control and even blackmail of children. This means such issues must be off limits to school personnel.

9. What have I neglected to ask?

Well, just what makes these sexperts sexperts? How do they get their training, where? Since sex education only existed as “hygiene” before 1950, (cleanliness habits and instruction to wait until marriage for sex unless one wanted to get VD) all sex ed had to come from some “expert.” That “expert” was Alfred Kinsey and his books Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) launched the “field” and the sex ed curricula the Montana folks would like to bring to classrooms today. Since all of the Kinsey data were lies, based on sex abuse of hundreds, even thousands of children (young as 2 months) the entire “field” is based on lies and crimes against children. And the field denies it—so ask where they were trained, by whom—their sexperts will all come down to being Kinseyans. This is the biggest con job on American education in history.


British government to encourage two-year degrees to help cut deficit

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, will propose more two-year university degrees, part-time courses and students living at home in a speech on Thursday. As part of attempts to cut the £155bn deficit, Mr Cable will say that the current degree system, in which some students are taught for just six hours a week, ought to be adapted to make it more efficient.

Two-year degrees with shorter summer holidays would enable graduates to compress their learning into a shorter space of time, meaning tuition fees and debts would be reduced, he will argue.

Mr Cable will also suggest that more students ought to be able to live at home and study at their local university for a degree awarded by another institution.

In his speech he will say that changing to the system of providing higher education, rather than "salami slicing", is the best approach to making cuts, The Independent reported.

This could pave the way for an increase in the number of private universities, which could offer local teaching for students on degree courses which are further from home.

Mr Cable will reopen the debate on government targets for the number of students in higher education, indicating that Labour's 50 per cent target could be scrapped.

The Business Secretary has been asked by George Osborne, the Chancellor, to deliver cuts of 25 per cent in the next four years.

Supporters believe two-year degrees would be more cost-effective and would suit some students better than three-year courses, but leading universities argue the long holidays enjoyed by students on traditional courses are necessary for staff to be able to carry out their research.

His proposals could also include a raising of the cap on tuition fees – currently £3,225 a year – while other areas, such as research funding, will be protected.

The head of University College London said before Mr Cable's speech that places for students at lower-ranking universities could be cut to protect funding for research at top-level institutions.


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