Friday, December 15, 2006

Gatto on Education

John Taylor Gatto is a former New York City Teacher of the Year and a former New York State Teacher of the Year. He resigned in a spectacular fashion after 30 years of teaching and now writes and speaks against public education, based upon his extensive personal experience and upon intensive research into the history of our educational system. What follows is a quote from his book, A Different Kind of Teacher, and is very revealing about some of the assumptions we make about education. I would commend the entire book to you, but a word of caution is in order. Mr. Gatto admits he is not a Protestant. I suspect he may be Catholic. But regardless, he does not understand the Bible or the pursuit of holiness as one is sanctified. As such, he does not understand the Puritans, which he cites several times in the book. Take anything he says about the Puritans with a large grain of salt. Other than that, he is quite insightful into the state of our educational system today.

From Chapter 8:

I'll start off bluntly by giving you some data I'd be shocked if you already know. A few simple facts, all verifiable, which by their existence call into question the whole shaky edifice of American schooling from kindergarten through college and its questionable connection to the job market. The implications of this data are quite radical so I'm going to take pains to ground it in the most conservative society on earth, the mountain world of Switzerland. You all remember Switzerland: that's where people put their money when they really want it to be really safe.

The Swiss, just like us, believe that education is the key to their national success, but that's where our similarity ends. In 1990 about sixty percent of American secondary school graduates enrolled in college, but only twenty-two percent did in Switzerland; in America almost one hundred percent of our kids go to high school or private equivalents, but only a little over a fifth of the Swiss kids do. Any yet the Swiss per capita income is the highest of any nation in the world and the Swiss keep insisting that virtually everyone in their country is highly educated!

What on earth could be going on? Remember it's a sophisticated economy which produces the highest per-capita paycheck in the world we're talking about, high for the lightly-schooled as well as for the heavily-schooled, higher than Japan's, Germany's, or our own. No one goes to high school in Switzerland who doesn't also want to go to college; three-quarters of the young people enter apprenticeships before high school. It seems the Swiss don't make the mistake that schooling and education are synonyms.

If you are thinking silently at this point that apprenticeships as a substitute for classroom confinement isn't a very shocking idea and it has the drawback of locking kids away from later choice of white collar work, think again. I wasn't only talking about blue-collar apprenticeships--although the Swiss have those, too--but white-collar apprenticeships in abundance. Many of the top management of insurance companies, manufacturing companies, banks, etc., never saw the inside of a high school, let alone a college.

Shocking is the word for it, isn't it? I mean here you are putting away your loot in a Swiss bank because it's safe over there and not so safe here, and now I've told you the bank president may only have a sixth grade schooling! Just like Shakespeare did.

As long as we are playing "Did You Know?", did you know that in Sweden, a country legendary for its quality of life and a nation which beats American school performance in every academic category, a kid isn't allowed to start school before the age of seven? The hardheaded Swedes don't want to pay for the social pathologies attendant on taking a child away from his home and mother and dumping him into a pen with strangers. .... Did you know that the entire Swedish school sequence is only nine years long, a net twenty-five percent time and tax savings over our own....

Did you know that Hong Kong, a country with a population the size of Norway's, beats Japan in every scientific and mathematical category in which the two countries compete? Did you know that Hong Kong has a school year ten and one half weeks shorter than Japan's?

...Or did you know that in Flemish Belgium, with the shortest school year in the developed world, that the kids regularly finish in the top three nations in the world in academic competition?

These facts about the success of other nations' schooling systems should cause anyone reading this to start to seriously question what it is that we do and why we do it this way.

White-collar apprenticeships....
Short school years...
Shorter number of school years...

And yet all we ever hear from our "educators" is that our children need to spend more time in school in order to compete with these nations that spend less time in school! Isn't there a huge logical disconnect here???

Are you afraid to take your children out of the school systems because they won't be able to "compete?" If you have taken them out, are you afraid to let some of the curriculum go in order to disciple or minister the Gospel to others? I dare say that this short section from Gatto's book should encourage you that it is OK and your children will be fact, they will probably be better simply because of the time you spend doing something other than curriculum! Step out of the box; be creative!! You won't hurt your children, and they will love you for it!

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