Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weapons of Mass Instruction

I just wrapped up reading John Gatto's book, Weapons of Mass Instruction - This book really challenged my thoughts.  I am an advocate of public schools. It got to the point where I almost stopped reading it a few times.  I felt it was attacking everything that I stood for, but in the end I am glad I finished.  As leaders/educators we need to be able to see both sides of an argument. It is interesting that Gatto taught in the very system he is so critical of for 30 years. He received multiple teacher of the year awards in New York public school.

We just wrapped up our book chat on Seth Godin's Linchpin on #edfocus last week. Gatto is a linchpin - he is every part of the definition.  The following are some of the "Weapons of Mass Instruction" that we do need to look at and think about as we go forward with school reform.

Throughout the book Gatto references several well known people that have either dropped out of high school, dropped out of college, or did not attend college.  Each of them are very successful.  He makes the argument that our bureaucratic education system is set up to kill creativity and train mindless individuals.  I think many of us agree with this including myself. Gatto defines compulsory education as, "The new forced schooling octopus taught anyone unable to escape its tentacles that inert knowledge - memorizing the dots - is the gold standard of intellectual achievement.  Not connecting those dots.  It set out to create a reflexive obedience to official directions as opposed to accepting responsibility for one's own learning." (p. 16)

He makes a compelling argument regarding people that have made it without any sort of education, but we also need to think about the millions of others that are living in poverty that have little to no education.  Were these people in the right place at the right time or is it the system?

Are we a system of the don't?

Gatto talks about how we teach at a very young age the word, "don't" - "DON'T run, climb trees, talk, play rough, talk unless you raise your hand, fidget, get out of your seat, stare out the window, take your shoes off, eat or drink in class, laugh, take too long, read ahead, go off the path, say I'm bored, mix with older kids, complain, bring toys... Don't have your own ideas, don't show initiative, don't be independent, don't make your own choices, don't take responsibility for your own learning." (p. 127)

Does this kill creativity in the future and limit problem solving abilities? I find myself doing this to my own children, part of that is disciplining them when they are doing something wrong.  It is a valid point and something to think about.

TIME - The ever present issue in schools.  Gatto pleads for uninterrupted time in schools.

"When time is tightly scheduled, we are compelled to attend more to appearances of attention and concern than to the reality of those qualities; without uninterrupted time you haven't a prayer of synthesizing fact bits thrown at you." (p. 143)

"Schools are a rat's maze of frantic activity: bells, loud-speakers, messengers pounding at the doors, shrieks from the playground, official visitors, unofficial visitors, toilet interruptions, coming and going, catcalls, bullying and flirting's."

He has a point here, how do you limit interruptions in your schools?  How can we use our time that we have with students better?

Gatto calls for major structural, symbolic, political changes to our schools.  Many are radical reforms, but I believe he does generate good points.  It is important that we hear arguments from people we may not agree with, often times they do have points we can learn from.  

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