Saturday, April 29, 2017

Are the kids correct?

We keep hearing about all the issues in classrooms these days. Students unruly behaviour. Teachers and EAs wearing Kevlar vests. Students, teachers, parents all upset.

Students are being given absurd labels like ADD, ODD, ADHD. All of this so we can treat them like something is wrong. But what if nothing is wrong with them but in the way we are looking at the situation. What if the kids are correct and, the adults and experts, have it wrong?  

Every person has their own learning style. Every person has their own rate of learning as well. Some people learn to read and write at an earlier age than others do. Some may not fully be ready until they are older, say 7 to 11 years old. The same with math and other subjects. Are we forcing them to learn things outside their own learning cycle? If we are then we are promoting the child’s resistance to learning, creating the label that we have given them. But if we allow a child to learn at their own pace, the behaviour problem disappears, the child is content.

Most schools do not respect the individual learning of students. The minute we mark something we are telling students what we see them as capable of achieving. We compare them against each other and set expectations for success. But as adults we have our own idea of what success is. Children need to develop their own idea of what success is. They do that when they discover the world around them, not by the guidelines adults set for them. They do this through play, communication, exploration.

How does a school do this? Set up a group that promotes play and self learning. Allow those students to learn at their own pace. Do we need everything in the curriculum? No, studies demonstrate that when kids learn at their own pace they become stronger, more motivated learners. They learn because they want to, not because we make them.

So the question is: do we trust children’s capacities?

The quick answer is yes. That is because we see children through our eyes, not through their eyes. We see ourselves trusting their capabilities, until we tell them no, or feel frightened or afraid for them. Them we adopt the stance that the adult knows best. And in some cases this may be true but without good communication skills the children will never see it.

Life is about learning. We, the adults, have learned far more than school could ever teach us. It is time to allow kids to have the same all through their lives. Encouraging them to learn about what they wish will give them a sense of control over their lives. Isn’t that what every kid with ADHD, ADD, and ODD wants?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Purpose of Education

A question for you. What is the purpose of education? What, in your opinion, is the ideal learning experience for children?

The world has such a wide variety of learning systems in place. I would like to see the things people propose as being essential for learning.

I look forward to hearing your responses.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Some Nuthall observations



Nuthall discovered that teachers are largely unaware of what their students are learning and base their practice on the cultural ideal of a busy active classroom.  However, Nuthall found no evidence of a direct link between teaching and learning.

The evidence showed that differences in student learning were the result of individual student motivation and to what extent the individual student shared the values and culture of the teacher/tester/school.

What he discovered, unsurprisingly, is that teaching is an enormously complex process not easily studied due to the hundreds of variables involved
When researching he could not find any scientifically sound teaching methods that could be relied upon to produce similar results.

Nuthall reasoned that because teaching/learning is such a personal and individual process valid research must include the subjective and personal elements of what goes on between the teachers and their students.

In order to manage a class of 25 to 35 students, all of whom have different knowledge, skills, interests and motivations, teachers have to focus on the performance of the class as a whole.  It is impossible to focus on the individual learning of any one student for more than very brief periods.
Within these standard patterns of whole-class management, students learn how to manage and carry out their own private and social agendas.  They learn how and when the teacher will notice them and how to give the appearance of active involvement.  They get upset and anxious if they notice that a teacher is keeping more than a passing eye on them.
If teaching is like conducting an orchestra, then it must be primarily about group management and must follow predictable patterns, so that both teacher and students know how to interact with each other.
Learning is usually a progressive change in what we know or can do.  What creates or shapes learning is a sequence of events or experiences, each one building on the effects of the previous one.  An event at one point in the sequence will have a different effect from the effect the same event would have had if it had occurred at another point in the sequence.
It is less important what that student is doing, or what resources the student is using, or what are any of the other contextual aspects of the experience.  What matters is the sense the student is making of the experience.
“that a large proportion of each student’s significant learning experiences were either self-selected or self-generated, even in quite traditional classrooms.”

The more able students talked more amongst themselves about relevant content.  They asked more questions and persisted with problems for a longer time.  They seemed to be more interested, more persistent, and less likely to be distracted.  There was no evidence that they found the tasks easier, or had fewer difficulties.  There was no evidence that their minds processed the experience differently.  The difference was in the way they managed their involvement in classroom activities, and in the advantage they gained from having more relevant background knowledge.
So those students whose backgrounds provide them with the cultural knowledge and skills to use the classroom and its activities for their own purposes, learn more than those who dutifully do what they are told but do not want, or know how, to create their own opportunities.  Differences in ability are more likely to be the product of differences in classroom experiences than the other way around.
“Knowledge is more like a continuous landscape rather than a set of discrete countable objects.  It cannot be sensibly represented by numbers.  This lead to the conclusion that the scores that students get on standard paper and pencil tests are primarily the result of the students’ motivations and cultural background, and only secondarily about what the student knows or can do.”

Teachers consistently said they knew their teaching was going well based on the appearance of student engagement.
It was the look in the students’ eyes, the questions they asked, the fact that they didn’t stop talking about the topic or problem when they left the classroom.  In short, by the feel and sounds of interest and focused busyness.

Graham Nuthall


Below is an article by Graham Nuthall as well as a brief bio of him. His research demonstrates the reasons why Sudbury Schools work.

http://www.victoria.ac.nz/education/research/nzaroe/issues-index/2001/pdf/text-nuthall.pdf

Professor Emeritus Graham Nuthallgraham_nuthall_4

Graham Nuthall is credited with the longest series of studies of teaching and learning in the classroom that has ever been carried out and it has been recognised by the educational research community as one of the most significant. A pioneer in his field, his research focused on the intimate relationship amongst students and the teachers within the classroom, resulting in a deeper understanding of the significant and often very subtle classroom interactions which influence learning.
After completing his PhD at the Univeristy of Illinois he returned to the University of Canterbury and was made a professor at the age of 37.

His work was published in many international journals including the Harvard Educational Review. He won many awards including the New Zealand Science and Technology Medal from the Royal Society. In 2003 he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to education.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Black Hole Of Ordinary Life

The Black Hole Of Ordinary Life

I read this sentence fragment the other day and became fascinated by it. To me I see it as the sameness that life predictably falls into when we go about our days and nothing really changes. Next day. Same Shit is what I have heard some people say. Yes, the daily drudgery of living. We are all there. We have all had this experience. Feeling the same things repeat themselves. Feeling that we are trapped.

I believe this is the place where depression lives. It is the feeling of doing the same mind numbing thing day after day. The feeling that we are in the middle of something we cannot find our way out of. Often to get out it means a change must occur. We must do something differently. Some people flee. Others drink. Still others discover they have an interest in something that provokes that desire to do something different.

The black hole of ordinary life. Indeed.

Rethinking the post secondary route

Why are we training every high school student to go to college or university? Why are we not encouraging apprenticeship programs at earlier levels so that students can easily transfer into a job environment which they are interested in? If they need more school they can return to school to obtain it.  Their is a strong need in our society for people who have acquired business experience. There is a need for entrepreneurs. Both of these can be started at an early age and developed to give them the strength to understand what they are going to do with the rest of their lives.

School as it exists is only to foster the needs of an unspecified job market, putting workers into their businesses without creating a common factor for the growth of the business and the individuals. Successful small business have employers and employees who communicate effectively with each other so that all make work towards the better good of the business. Unsuccessful businesses have lone wolves who are the answer to everything, in their own eyes.

Effective businesses have competent people working for them. They have people with passion and creativity. These people often leave them because they are destined for projects larger than one small store can handle but an ethical employer will have no problem hiring more competent people.

Building a better relationship between business and schools makes sense in so many ways. Students, at an earlier age gain insights into what it takes to be in the business world. If they are entrepreneurial minded they can easily see where their lives could lead.

It is time for us to rethink the school - job market approach. Sending everyone off to post secondary learning is not helping everyone.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

From School lo Education and a Happy Life

In order to have a happy life we must have goals that are achievable. These goals cannot be set up by anyone but us as an individual. They must be realistic. They must be exciting. They must stir our imagination and invest our creativity. Can we achieve these goals alone? In the our purest sense yes, but we all need a social network to bounce our theories around with. We must be able to communicate clearly that which we want and envision a path towards achieving it. We must have friends who will guide us, challenge us, make us think about what we want from life. They can suggest avenues to explore.

The setting of these goals is a part of our lifelong drama. It starts early in our lives when we first start challenging the tenets of our parents, our education and our government. They must be beneficial to us. It is an ongoing part of our lifelong learning and must be adaptable to the changes that are necessary for us to grow.  

The education of us takes place outside the classroom. It takes place wherever we are as we explore the world around us, everyday. It takes place in our homes, our offices, our cars, our social and athletic events. It takes place in our communications with each other and with unknown individuals we meet along the way.

With this in mind why we do we subject students to lengthy periods of inactivity where what they are learning has no relevance or meaning to them? How do they find meaning for their lives when mired in meaningless homework assignments? How do they fulfill themselves with information they cannot use? Would it not be better to have students more engaged in thoughts and ideas that are important to them?

It is time to shift education in another direction, one where the students are in control of their learning. But that may be for another blog.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What are children receiving from an education?



When you ask children about their favourite part of the school day 3 things pop up immediately. The first is recess where they get to run around and explore with their friends. The second is gym where again they get to run around and be with friends in a less structured environment. The third is art where creativity reigns.

These three times in the day or week come to mind because they are free to explore more of their own ideas

I am sure there are as many reasons that people have developed about this attitude from kids. The reality is that most of school doesn’t meet the needs of the students. People will argue that students don’t know what they need. That is not true. Students are always aware of what they need at that point in time, and school rarely delivers it.  How can they? Things are taught out of  a natural order that confuses kids. Combine that with they are taught things that they feel they don’t need in their lives so they end up frustrated and bored. Schools rely on marks to make the students lives meaningful. They talk about the importance of learning but the end result is either you have the marks or you don’t. Marks are for comparison. Teachers rank kids based on marks. Schools base entrance on marks. The emotional stability of the students is to be honed because of good marks or poor marks. It undermines who they are and what they can accomplish.

The thing is children learn what they live. They develop skills based on what they need in their lives rather than on what someone else says they need. They work to discover meaning for themselves as well as discovering the purpose of their lives. While life has right and wrong answers it also teaches us about the decisions we make. Kids need to make these discoveries, not be told about them. Self respect and self esteem grow because of the trial and error method they employ. Kids will keep searching for meaning because they need to understand their world and what they do. This requires time and energy that school is not prepared to give them.

So what are students really learning in school? Not just about the subjects they are introduced to but about how they can discover this themselves. And most of that happens outside of school. This is where they learn the most and strengthen their skills. This is where they receive their best education.








Friday, March 24, 2017

Education vs Schooling


Feel free to add you own ideas!

Education is a lifetime of work. Schooling lasts for 13 years.

Education is filled with your own ideas that have developed with much thought and practice, Schooling is filled up with thoughts and ideas that you are suppose to learn but most of which you have either forgotten or never learned.

Education is about the freedom to explore and develop your own theories about ideas. Schooling tells you what is important but not why you need to learn it.

Education requires time and practice. Schooling has timelines and deadlines with too much information and little practice

Education is learning as you go through life. Schooling has time limits that stop learning until the next appointed time.

Education has a flow and ebb to it as you gather the information that you need.

In Education you may be bored at times but you find your way out of it. In schooling you may be bored and there is no way out of it.

Education develops sound relationships. Schooling develops networks that don’t last.

Education does not require money. Schooling requires a lot of money.

Education is independent thinking as you develop your own thoughts and ideas. Schooling is the memorization of facts and the accumulation of others thoughts on topics.  

Education is about your success. Failure is a learning experience. Schooling is about marks, position in the classroom, and social structure, with failure seen as a negative.

Education is about developing a set of rules you can live by. Schooling is you being forced to follow someone else’s rules.

Education is about learning how to be adaptable in a changing world. Schooling is about following strict structures.

Education is about conversing about things you care about. Schooling is about being forced to discuss things you won’t talk about again.

Education is individual and to your needs. Schooling is about the middle ground of everyone in the room.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher


This article was written in 1991. We can see how slowly the earth moves in education circles. 36 years later and it is truer than ever.

Fall '91 issue of Whole Earth Review

The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher


by John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, 1991 

Call me Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to do, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. My license certifies me as an instructor of English language and literature, but that isn't what I do at all. What I teach is school, and I win awards doing it.
Teaching means many different things, but six lessons are common to schoolteaching from Harlem to Hollywood. You pay for these lessons in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what they are:
The first lesson I teach is: "Stay in the class where you belong." I don't know who decides that my kids belong there but that's not my business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human being under the burden of the numbers each carries. Numbering children is a big and very profitable business, though what the business is designed to accomplish is elusive.
In any case, again, that's not my business. My job is to make the kids like it -- being locked in together, I mean -- or at the minimum, endure it. If things go well, the kids can't imagine themselves anywhere else; they envy and fear the better classes and have contempt for the dumber classes. So the class mostly keeps itself in good marching order. That's the real lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to know your place.
Nevertheless, in spite of the overall blueprint, I make an effort to urge children to higher levels of test success, promising eventual transfer from the lower-level class as a reward. I insinuate that the day will come when an employer will hire them on the basis of test scores, even though my own experience is that employers are (rightly) indifferent to such things. I never lie outright, but I've come to see that truth and [school]teaching are incompatible.
The lesson of numbered classes is that there is no way out of your class except by magic. Until that happens you must stay where you are put.
The second lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light switch. I demand that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. But when the bell rings I insist that they drop the work at once and proceed quickly to the next work station. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of.
The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Bells are the secret logic of schooltime; their argument is inexorable; bells destroy past and future, converting every interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes every living mountain and river the same even though they are not. Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.
The third lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by authority, without appeal. As a schoolteacher I intervene in many personal decisions, issuing a Pass for those I deem legitimate, or initiating a disciplinary confrontation for behavior that threatens my control. My judgments come thick and fast, because individuality is trying constantly to assert itself in my classroom. Individuality is a curse to all systems of classification, a contradiction of class theory.
Here are some common ways it shows up: children sneak away for a private moment in the toilet on the pretext of moving their bowels; they trick me out of a private instant in the hallway on the grounds that they need water. Sometimes free will appears right in front of me in children angry, depressed or exhilarated by things outside my ken. Rights in such things cannot exist for schoolteachers; only privileges, which can be withdrawn, exist.
The fourth lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum you will study. (Rather, I enforce decisions transmitted by the people who pay me). This power lets me separate good kids from bad kids instantly. Good kids do the tasks I appoint with a minimum of conflict and a decent show of enthusiasm. Of the millions of things of value to learn, I decide what few we have time for. The choices are mine. Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity.
Bad kids fight against this, of course, trying openly or covertly to make decisions for themselves about what they will learn. How can we allow that and survive as schoolteachers? Fortunately there are procedures to break the will of those who resist.
This is another way I teach the lesson of dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson of all, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that our entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned. Think of what would fall apart if kids weren't trained in the dependency lesson: The social-service businesses could hardly survive, including the fast-growing counseling industry; commercial entertainment of all sorts, along with television, would wither if people remembered how to make their own fun; the food services, restaurants and prepared-food warehouses would shrink if people returned to making their own meals rather than depending on strangers to cook for them. Much of modern law, medicine, and engineering would go too -- the clothing business as well -- unless a guaranteed supply of helpless people poured out of our schools each year. We've built a way of life that depends on people doing what they are told because they don't know any other way. For God's sake, let's not rock that boat!
In lesson five I teach that your self-respect should depend on an observer's measure of your worth. My kids are constantly evaluated and judged. A monthly report, impressive in its precision, is sent into students' homes to spread approval or to mark exactly -- down to a single percentage point -- how dissatisfied with their children parents should be. Although some people might be surprised how little time or reflection goes into making up these records, the cumulative weight of the objective- seeming documents establishes a profile of defect which compels a child to arrive at a certain decisions about himself and his future based on the casual judgment of strangers.
Self-evaluation -- the staple of every major philosophical system that ever appeared on the planet -- is never a factor in these things. The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but must rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth.
In lesson six I teach children that they are being watched. I keep each student under constant surveillance and so do my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children; there is no private time. Class change lasts 300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at low levels. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, even to tattle on their parents. Of course I encourage parents to file their own child's waywardness, too.
I assign "homework" so that this surveillance extends into the household, where students might otherwise use the time to learn something unauthorized, perhaps from a father or mother, or by apprenticing to some wiser person in the neighborhood.
The lesson of constant surveillance is that no one can be trusted, that privacy is not legitimate. Surveillance is an ancient urgency among certain influential thinkers; it was a central prescription set down by Calvin in the Institutes, by Plato in the Republic, by Hobbes, by Comte, by Francis Bacon. All these childless men discovered the same thing: Children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society under central control.
It is the great triumph of schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best parents, there is only a small number who can imagine a different way to do things. Yet only a very few lifetimes ago things were different in the United States: originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social class boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do many things independently, to think for themselves. We were something, all by ourselves, as individuals.
It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for "basic skills" practice is a smokescreen behind which schools pre-empt the time of children for twelve years and teach them the six lessons I've just taught you.
We've had a society increasingly under central control in the United States since just before the Civil War: the lives we lead, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the green highway signs we drive by from coast to coast are the products of this central control. So, too, I think, are the epidemics of drugs, suicide, divorce, violence, cruelty, and the hardening of class into caste in the U.S., products of the dehumanization of our lives, the lessening of individual and family importance that central control imposes.
Without a fully active role in community life you cannot develop into a complete human being. Aristotle taught that. Surely he was right; look around you or look in the mirror: that is the demonstration.
"School" is an essential support system for a vision of social engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that narrows to a control point as it ascends. "School" is an artifice which makes such a pyramidal social order seem inevitable (although such a premise is a fundamental betrayal of the American Revolution). In colonial days and through the period of the early Republic we had no schools to speak of. And yet the promise of democracy was beginning to be realized. We turned our backs on this promise by bringing to life the ancient dream of Egypt: compulsory training in subordination for everybody. Compulsory schooling was the secret Plato reluctantly transmitted in the Republic when he laid down the plans for total state control of human life.
The current debate about whether we should have a national curriculum is phony; we already have one, locked up in the six lessons I've told you about and a few more I've spared you. This curriculum produces moral and intellectual paralysis, and no curriculum of content will be sufficient to reverse its bad effects. What is under discussion is a great irrelevancy.
None of this is inevitable, you know. None of it is impregnable to change. We do have a choice in how we bring up young people; there is no right way. There is no "international competition" that compels our existence, difficult as it is to even think about in the face of a constant media barrage of myth to the contrary. In every important material respect our nation is self-sufficient. If we gained a non-material philosophy that found meaning where it is genuinely located -- in families, friends, the passage of seasons, in nature, in simple ceremonies and rituals, in curiosity, generosity, compassion, and service to others, in a decent independence and privacy -- then we would be truly self-sufficient.
How did these awful places, these "schools", come about? As we know them, they are a product of the two "Red Scares" of 1848 and 1919, when powerful interests feared a revolution among our industrial poor, and partly they are the result of the revulsion with which old-line families regarded the waves of Celtic, Slavic, and Latin immigration -- and the Catholic religion -- after 1845. And certainly a third contributing cause can be found in the revulsion with which these same families regarded the free movement of Africans through the society after the Civil War.
Look again at the six lessons of school. This is training for permanent underclasses, people who are to be deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius. And it is training shaken loose from its original logic: to regulate the poor. Since the 1920s the growth of the well-articulated school bureaucracy, and the less visible growth of a horde of industries that profit from schooling exactly as it is, have enlarged schooling's original grasp to seize the sons and daughters of the middle class.
Is it any wonder Socrates was outraged at the accusation that he took money to teach? Even then, philosophers saw clearly the inevitable direction the professionalization of teaching would take, pre-empting the teaching function that belongs to all in a healthy community; belongs, indeed, most clearly to yourself, since nobody else cares as much about your destiny. Professional teaching tends to another serious error. It makes things that are inherently easy to learn, like reading, writing, and arithmetic, difficult -- by insisting they be taught by pedagogical procedures.
With lessons like the ones I teach day after day, is it any wonder we have the national crisis we face today? Young people indifferent to the adult world and to the future; indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence? Rich or poor, schoolchildren cannot concentrate on anything for very long. They have a poor sense of time past and to come; they are mistrustful of intimacy (like the children of divorce they really are); they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction.
All the peripheral tendencies of childhood are magnified to a grotesque extent by schooling, whose hidden curriculum prevents effective personality development. Indeed, without exploiting the fearfulness, selfishness, and inexperience of children our schools could not survive at all, nor could I as a certified schoolteacher.
"Critical thinking" is a term we hear frequently these days as a form of training which will herald a new day in mass schooling. It certainly will, if it ever happens. No common school that actually dared teach the use of dialectic, heuristic, and other tools of free minds could last a year without being torn to pieces.
Institutional schoolteachers are destructive to children's development. Nobody survives the Six-Lesson Curriculum unscathed, not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it. In one of the great ironies of human affairs, the massive rethinking that schools require would cost so much less than we are spending now that it is not likely to happen. First and foremost, the business I am in is a jobs project and a contract-letting agency. We cannot afford to save money, not even to help children.
At the pass we've come to historically, and after 26 years of teaching, I must conclude that one of the only alternatives on the horizon for most families is to teach their own children at home. Small, de- institutionalized schools are another. Some form of free-market system for public schooling is the likeliest place to look for answers. But the near impossibility of these things for the shattered families of the poor, and for too many on the fringes of the economic middle class, foretell that the disaster of Six-Lesson Schools is likely to continue.
After an adult lifetime spent in teaching school I believe the method of schooling is the only real content it has. Don't be fooled into thinking that good curricula or good equipment or good teachers are the critical determinants of your son and daughter's schooltime. All the pathologies we've considered come about in large measure because the lessons of school prevent children from keeping important appointments with themselves and their families, to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity and love -- and, of course, lessons in service to others, which are among the key lessons of home life.
Thirty years ago these things could still be learned in the time left after school. But television has eaten most of that time, and a combination of television and the stresses peculiar to two-income or single-parent families have swallowed up most of what used to be family time. Our kids have no time left to grow up fully human, and only thin-soil wastelands to do it in.
A future is rushing down upon our culture which will insist that all of us learn the wisdom of non-material experience; this future will demand, as the price of survival, that we follow a pace of natural life economical in material cost. These lessons cannot be learned in schools as they are. School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why Schools Don't Educate by John Taylor Gatto

I recently read the following article by John Taylor Gatto. It was written in 1990. It still is very appropriate for today. And no I don't have his permission to put it here but I still give him credit for it.


Why Schools Don't Educate
by John Taylor Gatto
I accept this award on behalf of all the fine teachers I've known over the years who've struggled to make their transactions with children honorable ones, men and women who are never complacent, always questioning, always wrestling to define and redefine endlessly what the word "education" should mean. A Teacher of the Year is not the best teacher around, those people are too quiet to be easily uncovered, but he is a standard-bearer, symbolic of these private people who spend their lives gladly in the service of children. This is their award as well as mine.
We live in a time of great school crisis. Our children rank at the bottom of nineteen industrial nations in reading, writing and arithmetic. At the very bottom. The world's narcotic economy is based upon our own consumption of the commodity, if we didn't buy so many powdered dreams the business would collapse - and schools are an important sales outlet. Our teenage suicide rate is the highest in the world and suicidal kids are rich kids for the most part, not the poor. In Manhattan fifty per cent of all new marriages last less than five years. So something is wrong for sure.
Our school crisis is a reflection of this greater social crisis. We seem to have lost our identity. Children and old people are penned up and locked away from the business of the world to a degree without precedent - nobody talks to them anymore and without children and old people mixing in daily life a community has no future and no past, only a continuous present. In fact, the name "community" hardly applies to the way we interact with each other. We live in networks, not communities, and everyone I know is lonely because of that. In some strange way school is a major actor in this tragedy just as it is a major actor in the widening guilt among social classes. Using school as a sorting mechanism we appear to be on the way to creating a caste system, complete with untouchables who wander through subway trains begging and sleep on the streets.
I've noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my twenty-five years of teaching - that schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don't really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very hard, the institution is psychopathic - it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to different cell where he must memorize that man and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.
Our form of compulsory schooling is an invention of the state of Massachusetts around 1850. It was resisted - sometimes with guns - by an estimated eighty per cent of the Massachusetts population, the last outpost in Barnstable on Cape Cod not surrendering its children until the 1880's when the area was seized by militia and children marched to school under guard.
Now here is a curious idea to ponder. Senator Ted Kennedy's office released a paper not too long ago claiming that prior to compulsory education the state literacy rate was 98% and after it the figure never again reached above 91% where it stands in 1990. I hope that interests you.
Here is another curiosity to think about. The homeschooling movement has quietly grown to a size where one and a half million young people are being educated entirely by their own parents. Last month the education press reported the amazing news that children schooled at home seem to be five or even ten years ahead of their formally trained peers in their ability to think.
I don't think we'll get rid of schools anytime soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we're going to change what is rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution "schools" very well, but it does not "educate" - that's inherent in the design of the thing. It's not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent, it's just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.
Schools were designed by Horace Mann and Barnard Sears and Harper of the University of Chicago and Thorndyke of Columbia Teachers College and some other men to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce through the application of formulae, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.
To a very great extent, schools succeed in doing this. But our society is disintegrating, and in such a society, the only successful people are self-reliant, confident, and individualistic - because the community life which protects the dependent and the weak is dead. The products of schooling are, as I've said, irrelevant. Well-schooled people are irrelevant. They can sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on the telephones, or sit mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal but as human beings they are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves.
The daily misery around us is, I think, in large measure caused by the fact that - as Paul Goodman put it thirty years ago - we force children to grow up absurd. Any reform in schooling has to deal with its absurdities.
It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety, indeed it cuts you off from your own part and future, scaling you to a continuous present much the same way television does.
It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct buildings, or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of buildings when you want to read poetry.
It is absurd and anti-life to move from cell to cell at the sound of a gong for every day of your natural youth in an institution that allows you no privacy and even follows you into the sanctuary of your home demanding that you do its "homework".
"How will they learn to read?" you say and my answer is "Remember the lessons of Massachusetts." When children are given whole lives instead of age-graded ones in cellblocks they learn to read, write, and do arithmetic with ease if those things make sense in the kind of life that unfolds around them.
But keep in mind that in the United States almost nobody who reads, writes or does arithmetic gets much respect. We are a land of talkers, we pay talkers the most and admire talkers the most, and so our children talk constantly, following the public models of television and schoolteachers. It is very difficult to teach the "basics" anymore because they really aren't basic to the society we've made.
Two institutions at present control our children's lives - television and schooling, in that order. Both of these reduce the real world of wisdom, fortitude, temperance, and justice to a never-ending, non-stopping abstraction. In centuries past the time of a child and adolescent would be occupied in real work, real charity, real adventures, and the realistic search for mentors who might teach what you really wanted to learn. A great deal of time was spent in community pursuits, practicing affection, meeting and studying every level of the community, learning how to make a home, and dozens of other tasks necessary to become a whole man or woman.
But here is the calculus of time the children I teach must deal with:
Out of the 168 hours in each week, my children sleep 56. That leaves them 112 hours a week out of which to fashion a self.
My children watch 55 hours of television a week according to recent reports. That leaves them 57 hours a week in which to grow up.
My children attend school 30 hours a week, use about 6 hours getting ready, going and coming home, and spend an average of 7 hours a week in homework - a total of 45 hours. During that time, they are under constant surveillance, have no private time or private space, and are disciplined if they try to assert individuality in the use of time or space. That leaves 12 hours a week out of which to create a unique consciousness. Of course, my kids eat, and that takes some time - not much, because they've lost the tradition of family dining, but if we allot 3 hours a week to evening meals, we arrive at a net amount of private time for each child of 9 hours.
It's not enough. It's not enough, is it? The richer the kid, or course, the less television he watches but the rich kid's time is just as narrowly proscribed by a somewhat broader catalog of commercial entertainments and his inevitable assignment to a series of private lessons in areas seldom of his actual choice.
And these things are oddly enough just a more cosmetic way to create dependent human beings, unable to fill their own hours, unable to initiate lines of meaning to give substance and pleasure to their existence. It's a national disease, this dependency and aimlessness, and I think schooling and television and lessons - the entire Chautauqua idea - has a lot to do with it.
Think of the things that are killing us as a nation - narcotic drugs, brainless competition, recreational sex, the pornography of violence, gambling, alcohol, and the worst pornography of all - lives devoted to buying things, accumulation as a philosophy - all of them are addictions of dependent personalities, and that is what our brand of schooling must inevitably produce.
I want to tell you what the effect is on children of taking all their time from them - time they need to grow up - and forcing them to spend it on abstractions. You need to hear this, because no reform that doesn't attack these specific pathologies will be anything more than a facade.
  1. The children I teach are indifferent to the adult world. This defies the experience of thousands of years. A close study of what big people were up to was always the most exciting occupation of youth, but nobody wants to grow up these days and who can blame them? Toys are us.
  2. The children I teach have almost no curiosity and what they do have is transitory; they cannot concentrate for very long, even on things they choose to do. Can you see a connection between the bells ringing again and again to change classes and this phenomenon of evanescent attention?
  3. The children I teach have a poor sense of the future, of how tomorrow is inextricably linked to today. As I said before, they have a continuous present, the exact moment they are at is the boundary of their consciousness.
  4. The children I teach are ahistorical, they have no sense of how past has predestined their own present, limiting their choices, shaping their values and lives.
  5. The children I teach are cruel to each other, they lack compassion for misfortune, they laugh at weakness, and they have contempt for people whose need for help shows too plainly.
  6. The children I teach are uneasy with intimacy or candor. My guess is that they are like many adopted people I've known in this respect - they cannot deal with genuine intimacy because of a lifelong habit of preserving a secret inner self inside a larger outer personality made up of artificial bits and pieces of behavior borrowed from television or acquired to manipulate teachers. Because they are not who they represent themselves to be the disguise wears thin in the presence of intimacy so intimate relationships have to be avoided.
  7. The children I teach are materialistic, following the lead of schoolteachers who materialistically "grade" everything - and television mentors who offer everything in the world for free.
  8. The children I teach are dependent, passive, and timid in the presence of new challenges. This is frequently masked by surface bravado, or by anger or aggressiveness but underneath is a vacuum without fortitude.
I could name a few other conditions that school reform would have to tackle if our national decline is to be arrested, but by now you will have grasped my thesis, whether you agree with it or not. Either schools have caused these pathologies, or television, or both. It's a simple matter [of] arithmetic, between schooling and television all the time the children have is eaten away. That's what has destroyed the American family, it is no longer a factor in the education of its own children. Television and schooling, in those things the fault must lie.
What can be done? First we need a ferocious national debate that doesn't quit, day after day, year after year. We need to scream and argue about this school thing until it is fixed or broken beyond repair, one or the other. If we can fix it, fine; if we cannot, then the success of homeschooling shows a different road to take that has great promise. Pouring the money we now pour into family education might kill two birds with one stone, repairing families as it repairs children.
Genuine reform is possible but it shouldn't cost anything. We need to rethink the fundamental premises of schooling and decide what it is we want all children to learn and why. For 140 years this nation has tried to impose objectives downward from the lofty command center made up of "experts", a central elite of social engineers. It hasn't worked. It won't work. And it is a gross betrayal of the democratic promise that once made this nation a noble experiment. The Russian attempt to create Plato's republic in Eastern Europe has exploded before [our] eyes, our own attempt to impose the same sort of central orthodoxy using the schools as an instrument is also coming apart at the seams, albeit more slowly and painfully. It doesn't work because its fundamental premises are mechanical, anti-human, and hostile to family life. Lives can be controlled by machine education but they will always fight back with weapons of social pathology - drugs, violence, self-destruction, indifference, and the symptoms I see in the children I teach.
It's high time we looked backwards to regain an educational philosophy that works. One I like particularly well has been a favorite of the ruling classes of Europe for thousands of years. I use as much of it as I can manage in my own teaching, as much, that is, as I can get away with given the present institution of compulsory schooling. I think it works just as well for poor children as for rich ones.
At the core of this elite system of education is the belief that self-knowledge is the only basis of true knowledge. Everywhere in this system, at every age, you will find arrangements to place the child alone in an unguided setting with a problem to solve. Sometimes the problem is fraught with great risks, such as the problem of galloping a horse or making it jump, but that, of course, is a problem successfully solved by thousands of elite children before the age of ten. Can you imagine anyone who had mastered such a challenge ever lacking confidence in his ability to do anything? Sometimes the problem is the problem of mastering solitude, as Thoreau did at Walden Pond, or Einstein did in the Swiss customs house.
One of my former students, Roland Legiardi-Lura, though both his parents were dead and he had no inheritance, took a bicycle across the United States alone when he was hardly out of boyhood. Is it any wonder then that in manhood when he decided to make a film about Nicaragua, although he had no money and no prior experience with film-making, that it was an international award-winner - even though his regular work was as a carpenter.
Right now we are taking all the time from our children that they need to develop self-knowledge. That has to stop. We have to invent school experiences that give a lot of that time back, we need to trust children from a very early age with independent study, perhaps arranged in school but which takes place away from the institutional setting. We need to invent curriculum where each kid has a chance to develop private uniqueness and self-reliance.
A short time ago I took seventy dollars and sent a twelve-year-old girl from my class with her non-English speaking mother on a bus down the New Jersey coast to take the police chief of Sea Bright to lunch and apologize for polluting [his] beach with a discarded Gatorade bottle. In exchange for this public apology I had arranged with the police chief for the girl to have a one-day apprenticeship in a small town police procedures. A few days later, two more of my twelve-year-old kids traveled alone to West First Street from Harlem where they began an apprenticeship with a newspaper editor, next week three of my kids will find themselves in the middle of the Jersey swamps at 6 A.M., studying the mind of a trucking company president as he dispatches 18-wheelers to Dallas, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Are these "special" children in a "special" program? Well, in one sense, yes, but nobody knows about this program but the kids and myself. They're just nice kids from Central Harlem, bright and alert, but so badly schooled when they came to me that most of them can't add or subtract with any fluency. And not a single one knew the population of New York City or how far it is from New York to California.
Does that worry me? Of course, but I am confident that as they gain self-knowledge they'll also become self-teachers - and only self-teaching has any lasting value.
We've got to give kids independent time right away because that is the key to self-knowledge, and we must re-involve them with the real world as fast as possible so that the independent time can be spent on something other than more abstraction. This is an emergency, it requires drastic action to correct - our children are dying like flies in schooling, good schooling or bad schooling, it's all the same. Irrelevant.
What else does a restructured school system need? It needs to stop being a parasite on the working community. Of all the pages in the human ledger, only our tortured entry has warehoused children and asked nothing of them in service to the general good. For a while I think we need to make community service a required part of schooling. Besides the experience in acting unselfishly that will teach, it is the quickest way to give young children real responsibility in the mainstream of life.
For five years I ran a guerilla program where I had every kid, rich and poor, smart and dipsy, give 320 hours a year of hard community service. Dozens of those kids came back to me years later, grown up, and told me that one experience of helping someone else changed their lives. It taught them to see in new ways, to rethink goals and values. It happened when they were thirteen, in my Lab School program - only made possible because my rich school district was in chaos. When "stability" returned the Lab was closed. It was too successful with a wildly mixed group of kids, at too small of a cost, to be allowed to continue. We made the expensive elite programs look bad.
There is no shortage of real problems in the city. Kids can be asked to help solve them in exchange for the respect and attention of the total adult world. Good for kids, good for all the rest of us. That's curriculum that teaches Justice, one of the four cardinal virtues in every system of elite education. What's sauce for the rich and powerful is surely sauce for the rest of us - what is more, the idea is absolutely free as are all other genuine reform ideas in education. Extra money and extra people put into this sick institution will only make it sicker.
Independent study, community service, adventures in experience, large doses of privacy and solitude, a thousand different apprenticeships, the one day variety or longer - these are all powerful, cheap and effective ways to start a real reform of schooling. But no large-scale reform is ever going to work to repair our damaged children and our damaged society until we force the idea of "school" open - to include family as the main engine of education. The Swedes realized that in 1976 when they effectively abandoned the system of adopting unwanted children and instead spent national time and treasure on reinforcing the original family so that children born to Swedes were wanted. They didn't succeed completely but they did succeed in reducing the number of unwanted Swedish children from 6000 in l976 to 15 in 1986. So it can be done. The Swedes just got tired of paying for the social wreckage caused by children not raised by their natural parents so they did something about it. We can, too.
Family is the main engine of education. If we use schooling to break children away from parents - and make no mistake, that has been the central function of schools since John Cotton announced it as the purpose of the Bay Colony schools in 1650 and Horace Mann announced it as the purpose of Massachusetts schools in 1850 - we're going to continue to have the horror show we have right now. The curriculum of family is at the heart of any good life, we've gotten away from that curriculum, time to return to it. The way to sanity in education is for our schools to take the lead in releasing the stranglehold of institutions on family life, to promote during school time confluences of parent and child that will strengthen family bonds. That was my real purpose in sending the girl and her mother down the Jersey coast to meet the police chief. I have many ideas to make a family curriculum and my guess is that a lot of you will have many ideas, too, once you begin to think about it. Our greatest problem in getting the kind of grass-roots thinking going that could reform schooling is that we have large vested interests pre-emptying all the air time and profiting from schooling just exactly as it is despite rhetoric to the contrary. We have to demand that new voices and new ideas get a hearing, my ideas and yours. We've all had a bellyful of authorized voices mediated by television and the press - a decade long free-for-all debate is what is called for now, not any more "expert" opinions. Experts in education have never been right, their "solutions" are expensive, self-serving, and always involve further centralization. Enough. Time for a return to democracy, individuality, and family. I've said my piece. Thank you.
 
© John Taylor Gatto. All rights reserved.
This article is the text of a speech by John Taylor Gatto accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990. It is reprinted with permission of the author.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Words of advice about learning.

I found these words of advice to be true when teaching children in general but more importantly as a parent.

Karen Chow, Hong Kong has these words of advices for alternative learners
The full article can be found here.

http://jual.nipissingu.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2016/03/v10201.pdf 

1) Children are naturally curious and can be self-taught.

2) Teaching is given only when students request it

3) Children can learn by observations and interaction with people so parents are not the only role models.

4) A person should be free to do what he/she wants as long as he/she is not harming others and the environment. Conformity to rules and social conventions before one feels the need to cooperate may not be good for children.

5) Don’t interrupt kids when they are concentrating on any tasks.

6) Expose children to things you are interested or unfamiliar with. Supply them with abundant opportunities to look at the world, and see the things that we don’t see, discover the things that we don’t know. Trust that they always choose what’s best for them and as long as we don’t restrict them, they will blossom into beautiful flowers.

7) Try to connect to the children’s emotions and feelings as much as you can.

8) Cultivate good virtues. Tell children how you feel, why you act in those ways and what you think, they will automatically possess the good virtues from us and people around.

9) Encourage the whole family to go to the nature more often, and pursue green living.  

Trust and Faith in Children




Perceptions. Everyone has them. We perceive thoughts and ideas from things we hear or say or see. These perceptions foster our thoughts and actions. And if we are not careful we fall into traps that our perceptions lead us to. We often have difficulty in overcoming our preconceived notions. We believe them strongly, sometimes forcefully.

The problem with perceptions is that often they allow us to cut off ideas and explain ideas away before we take the time to examine them. They limit our growth.

A school such as a Sudbury School or using SOLE, Self Organized Learning Environments, requires a new way of looking at issues. In education we build upon the premise that education is the way we have been brought up. It works because society says it works. It’s not perfect, there are some bad points but essentially it works. When we examine a different type of school where the kids are in charge people don’t believe the kids can do it. People believe the kids will wreck it, be lazy and do nothing or worse not learn. Our preconceived notions come into play. Social pressure looms. People do not want to try something different, don’t want to be seen as different, don’t want their kids to be seen as different and do not want to defend their choices.

The way of growing requires trust and faith. We need to learn to trust children to be the best they can be. They always are. It is our perception and handling of right and wrong that sends them in directions, searching for answers. If we believe our kids are good they will be good. Of course they will make mistakes but if we don’t treat it like the end of the world things will remain calmer and interesting.

The same thing applies to their education. If we can trust them to grow from birth to the age 4 or 5 on their own with some guidance from us we can trust them for the rest of their lives to do the same thing. It is the formal school setting that is the issue.

Doing something outside the norm takes tremendous courage. From tremendous courage comes great passion, and tremendous belief in a philosophy that not many are exposed to. Are you ready to take this step?  

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Different Approach To Teaching Students



In order to take a look at alternative education models one needs to keep an open mind. This applies to both looking at the model and to teaching using the model.

As adults we only see the type of education we have grown up with. We take the stance “what was good enough for me…” but really what we are saying is this is the only way that kids obtain knowledge. And that is patently not true. Learning is an innate way of life for us. We learn new things everyday and have from the minute we are born. As children we learn so much in such a short time by exploring our world, developing ideas, mimicking adults, developing ideas and following them to their logical conclusion, even if we get hurt doing it.

What happens to us?

What happens is that first well intentioned and caring adults use the word no and say things to dissuade children from continuing their inborn curiosity. We are afraid that they will get hurt. We determine that we don’t have the time to answer their questions so we use language that limits their ideas and demonstrate , often unintentionally. Children read this the way we don’t intend and therefore feel shut out of communication and feel unworthy. Secondly we send children to school where rigid conformity is required, movement limited and mind numbing facts are introduced creating boredom. All this leads to a further distancing oneself from the joyous fun  of learning on their own.

As adults we need a change of our mindset. We need to see children as young adults and treat them as such as they are growing up. We need to foster their innate curiosity. We need to communicate openly and clearly without recrimination or punishment. We need to discuss and explain but more so we need to be someone who asks the right questions rather than telling children what to do. We need to, through asking questions lead them to discover what we would like them to see. A child’s discovery teaches them far more than our words ever could.

Some educational structures, such as SOLE, Self Organized Learning Environments, and the Sudbury School model are built upon this idea , that children need exploring and guidance rather than be told what to do. Their results underscore this fact many times over. It is time for the rest of the world to stand up and take notice.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Another Sudbury School Article

Children in Charge of Their Own Schooling

Would you believe there is a school where children play, have discussions and pursue their own interests all day? Would you believe this school has no classrooms, textbooks, classes, subjects or teachers in the traditional sense? No tests, no essays, no assignments nor report cards? Would you believe that 80% of the students graduating are going on to be successful in college or university, while the other 20% find suitable employment in fields of interest to them?  Would you believe that there are no discipline problems in this school? Would you believe that this school has a range of students from 4 to 19 years of age?

Who would not want to go to a school like this?

It takes a certain mindset for people to really understand what this school is all about. After all we have been brought up to believe that schools as we know them are the best places to learn, despite the fact that most people attending pay little attention to what is being taught. It takes a mindset that believes that children will do from the beginning of time and especially since the day they were born: they have taught themselves.

Children are at first observers of their world around them. They watch you walk and learn how to walk. They listen to you speak and start forming words and then ideas to go along with those words. Children, through play, stretch their minds to test theories and ideas. They converse with anyone who will listen. They stretch their vocabulary and when they are ready to read build on ideas they find stimulating.

Schools on the other hand are authoritarian and hierarchical. They are top down, grade segregated, do as I say institutions that do the opposite to what they believe they are doing. They are turning children off because children do not like to be told what to do anymore than you do at the job you have. They like to explore and develop ideas. They like to talk, test out and build. They like to move. Schools traditionally shun all those things. Schools need to provide experiences that are relevant to their lives, not some hypothetical future but to their lives today.

The children in this school created “ a vibrant, joyous institution, overflowing with high-energy activity, fascinating conversation, and an abiding atmosphere of fair play, all without the benefit of a thick (or thin, for that matter) manual providing formulas and guidelines for its operation.”

The school was founded on two principles:

1: Children learn what they want , when they  want, when they need it. They will follow their own thoughts and ideas.

2: Immerse students in the democratic principles by giving them that responsibility from an early age.

Thats right responsibility formed from democratic principles. In this school the students are in charge. They set the rules and enforce them. They have a meeting every Thursday afternoon at 1 pm. to go over the business for the week. Everyone gets one vote. There are 210 students and 10 adults. The 4 year olds vote is as significant as those of the teachers. This way they learn how things work from an early age and respect the process.

“The first of these is the idea of Individual Rights: every person is endowed with certain "inalienable rights," that are belonging to him, without qualification, as his rights. They cannot be removed, or explained away; nor can they be violated by any person, government, or power, as long as law and order prevail.”

“The second root idea is Political Democracy: all decisions governing the community are decided by the community in a politically democratic way. The first root idea, of Individual Rights, covers those actions in a person's life that primarily affect himself, and for which he is individually responsible. The second root idea, of Political Democracy, covers those actions that primarily affect other people, and for which the community is responsible. There is no sharp dividing line; there never are sharp dividing lines in real life. But there are large areas to which each of these ideas applies independently, and these areas are generally agreed upon.”

“The third root idea is Equal Opportunity: every person has an equal chance to obtain any goal. There is no privilege in America, a phenomenon stressed even in our written Constitution. People are born equal, and they start out with equal chances in life.”  This applies anywhere in the world. We are all born equal. We are given equal chance to succeed.

It is a school where children are immersed in the culture of being respectful humans, they develop their individual intellectual potential and moral character. They are learning to function as citizens in the community. They become responsible for their lives, trust their judgement, gain maturity and formulate a plan for life after school.

It is said that the future belongs to those who can stretch their minds, use new and old materials in novel ways, take all kinds of ideas from a wide variety of sources and use them to the benefit of society.  Students at this school have the ability to cope independently, continuously, and successfully with the demands of life.

At Graduation, yes there is one, each graduating student must convince a ”group of peers that s/he is ready to be responsible for himself or herself in the community at large, just as the person has been at school.” Being responsible means that you are able to do that.

Yes The Sudbury Valley School has certainly done this in their last 50 years.