Monday, January 28, 2008

A Teacher's view of government schools

Vin Suprynowicz discusses the views on government-schools of a winner of New York's Teacher of the Year award:
In July 1991, John Taylor Gatto, New York's Teacher of the Year, quit, saying he was tired of working for an institution that crippled the ability of children to learn. He explained why in an essay published that month in The Wall Street Journal.

Let's look at that essay...:

"Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history," Mr. Gatto begins. "It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents.

"Socrates foresaw if teaching became a formal profession, something like this would happen. Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard; by subordinating the laity to the priesthood. School is too vital a jobs-project, contract giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be 're-formed.' It has political allies to guard its marches, that's why reforms come and go without changing much. ...

"David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can't tell which one learned first -- the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school I label Rachel 'learning disabled' and slow David down a bit, too. For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop. He won't outgrow that dependency. I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, 'special education' fodder. She'll be locked in her place forever.

"In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths. ..."

I found his point about David vs. Rachel interesting because I had had similar observations that: (a) kids learn when they are ready, (b) forcing them to learn before they are ready is a waste, and (c) the age when they first ready to learn something, such as reading or arithmetic, as long as they learn it, very often has little or no influence on their success in adult life. As an example, for the past several decades, algebra has been taught to younger and younger students: Algebra, for example, was taught to 10th graders 40 years ago, then 8th graders, then 7th graders. Yet, when these younger students reach college, there is no evidence that they are any further ahead than the prior generation. If anything, the evidence is the opposite. This observation contrasts strongly with the modern educational system which focuses quite obsessively on achieving learning at the earliest age.

Hat tip: Phi Beta Cons and Ed Driscoll.

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