Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling In Graduation Speech.

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LogansRun's picture
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Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling In Graduation Speech.

This really nails it, in regards to Institutionalized Education!  She's nervous as heck giving the speech so it doesn't come across as well as if you read it yourself.  Very well thought out though!  





Here's the script of the speech itself:

The following speech was delivered by top of the class student Erica Goldson during the graduation ceremony at Coxsackie-Athens High School on June 25, 2010

Here I stand

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, "If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, "Ten years . ." "¨The student then said, "But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast -- How long then?" Replied the Master, "Well, twenty years." "But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?" asked the student. "Thirty years," replied the Master. "But, I do not understand," said the disappointed student. "At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?" "¨Replied the Master, "When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path."

This is the dilemma I've faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Some of you may be thinking, "Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn't you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible. 

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer - not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition - a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I'm scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, "We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness - curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don't do that." Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not "to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. ... Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim ... is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States."

Comment: The full passage reads: "The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever pretensions of politicians, pedagogues other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else."

To illustrate this idea, doesn't it perturb you to learn about the idea of "critical thinking." Is there really such a thing as "uncritically thinking?" To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn't for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren't we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don't have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can't run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be - but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, "You have to learn this for the test" is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn't have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a "see you later" when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let's go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we're smart enough to do so!


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Re: Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling In ...


Quite prescient.  Thanks for sharing.

A recurring thought I've had on our education system.

Education system (and much of society) increasingly teaches too much on what to think, not how to think.



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Re: Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling In ...

She nailed it.  Education requires a valid purpose in the eyes of the person being educated.  Omit purpose, or substitute false purpose, and education fails – in a most painful way if the false purposes, false for that individual, are heavily enforced (most schools, many parents).  My son attended what many regard as one of the top high schools in the U.S..  But he enrolled with eyes wide open, with a good feel for gaming the system without ruffling feathers, and knowing he would have to endure some BS to achieve his purposes and to enjoy the experience.  At one casual parent-student gathering hosted by seniors I asked many of them (sincerely, I wasn't being snide) why they were going to college.  Yes, there were a few "I want to be a ...." but frequently what I got was versions of, "What do you mean?" or, "I'm not sure what I want to do in life".

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Re: Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling In ...

Ostracised. That was the word that came to mind when I read this. I think of her peer's too, and what they think and feel, but what they will have to do after all of the agreement to the causes in her speech and her future actions; what of the tether that holds in place the identity that is 'me', when around me 'I' am frequently questioned for my actions; my incendiary; my Noam Chomsky central core - my Matt Simmons fearlessness - my John Taylor Gatto get even, not angry - my William Black stand alone - my Micheal Moore that questions but never quite fulfils - my Naomi Klein and John Pilger, leaving the world speechless with their findings whilst hunting out a voice for others to lead with - my outrage - my hunting out others to carry the torch with me in the pursuit of finding others; my resolve.

All of this, these battle's fought and won and lost and yet to be, come to nothing without the backing of the masses, who look at me at all points from the beginning to the end of my public speeches or public outbursts. They look at me with eyes that question my motives with a variation of venomous disdain or total eclipsed agreement, and then ask me what I should do. What 'I' should do? I need others to have independent 'out of the box' thinking that support themselves for us all to support each other. If I can't find others to stand with me and help mind each others backs, and no matter what I know and what I can teach, I will fall with both the dumbest and the brightest of us - starve just the same - bleed just the same - die just the same.

It is a painful journey. Nobody said that life was easy, though it can be made easy by appearance if you're sold the idea of'chasing paper' early on - are bought and paid for with an educational identity and an employment identity, a home ownership identity with a neighbour identity; a two car two family holiday a year while the years pour down the sink in the bathroom mirror, checking out your balls for lumps once a week to see whether your 'good and wholesome'  lifestyle is actually killing you imperceptively slow.

You still have to identify with 'who you are', while daily removing the masks of everyday life, and daily standing firm with your conviction' without breaking your resolve, and that without losing sight of the goal you've set yourself - to wake people up to whatever reality you choose wisely to supplant while continuing to believe in yourself; to wash and to dress and to fit and to act ...

~ VF ~

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Pedagogy of the Oppressed ~ by Paulo Friere

Pedagogy of the Oppressed ~ by Paulo Friere <<read online>>


Wikipedia Review

Pedagogy of the Oppressed is the most widely known of educator Paulo Freire's works. It proposes a pedagogy with a new relationship between teacher, student and society.

Dedicated to what is called "the oppressed," Freire includes a detailed Marxist class analysis in his exploration of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. From his own experience helping Brazilian adults to read and write, the book remains popular among educators all over the world and is one of the foundations of critical pedagogy. According to Donaldo Macedo, a former colleague of Freire and University of Massachusetts professor, Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a revolutionary text, and people in totalitarian states risk punishment reading it. The book has sold over 750 000 copies worldwide.

Translated into several languages, most editions of Pedagogy of the Oppressed contain at least one introduction/foreword, a preface, and four chapters.


The first chapter explores how oppression has been justified and how it is overcome through a mutual process between the "oppressor" and the "oppressed". Examining how the balance of power between the colonizer and the colonized remains relatively stable, Freire admits that the powerless in society can be frightened of freedom. He writes, "Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion." (47) According to Freire, freedom will be the result of praxis--informed action—when a balance between theory and practice is achieved.

The second chapter examines the "banking" approach to education—a metaphor used by Freire that suggests students are considered empty bank accounts that should remain open to deposits made by the teacher. Freire rejects the "banking" approach, claiming it results in the dehumanization of both the students and the teachers. In addition, he argues the banking approach stimulates oppressive attitudes and practices in society. Instead, Freire advocates for a more world-mediated, mutual approach to education that considers people incomplete. According to Freire, this "authentic" approach to education must allow people to be aware of their incompleteness and strive to be more fully human. This attempt to use education as a means of consciously shaping the person and the society is called conscientization, a term first coined by Freire in this book.

The third chapter developed the use of the term limit-situation with regards to dimensions of human praxis. This is in line with the Alvaro Viera Pinto's use of the word/idea in his "Consciencia Realidad Nacional" which Freire contends is "using the concept without the pessimistic character originally found in Jaspers"(Note 15, Chapter 3) in reference to Karl Jaspers's notion of 'Grenzsituationen'.

The last chapter proposes dialogics as an instrument to free the colonized, through the use of cooperation, unity, organization and cultural synthesis (overcoming problems in society to liberate human beings). This is in contrast to antidialogics which use conquest, manipulation, cultural invasion, and the concept of divide and rule. Freire suggests that populist dialogue is a necessity to revolution; that impeding dialogue dehumanizes and supports the status quo. This is but one example of the dichotomies Freire identifies in the book. Others include the student-teacher dichotomy and the colonizer-colonized dichotomy.

~ VF ~

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Dumbing Us Down ~ by John Taylor Gatto

Dumbing Us Down ~ by John Taylor Gatto


Wikipedia Review

John Taylor Gatto (born December 15, 1935) is an American retired school teacher of 29 years and 8 months and author of several books on education. He is an activist critical of compulsory schooling and of what he characterizes as the hegemonic nature of discourse on education and the education professions.

Gatto was born in the Pittsburgh-area steel town of Monongahela, Pennsylvania. In his youth he attended public schools throughout the Pittsburgh Metro Area including Swissvale, Monongahela, and Uniontown as well as a Catholic boarding school in Latrobe. He did undergraduate work at Cornell, the University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia, then served in the U.S. Army medical corps at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Following army service he did graduate work at the City University of New York, Hunter College, Yeshiva University, the University of California, and Cornell.

He worked as a writer and held several odd jobs before borrowing his roommate's license to investigate teaching. Gatto also ran for the New York State Senate, 29th District in 1985 and 1988 as a member of the Conservative Party of New York against incumbent David Paterson. He was named New York City Teacher of the year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. In 1991, he wrote a letter announcing his retirement, titled I Quit, I Think, to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, saying that he no longer wished to "hurt kids to make a living." He then began a public speaking and writing career, and has received several awards from libertarian organizations, including the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Excellence in Advancement of Educational Freedom in 1997.

He promotes homeschooling, and specifically unschooling. One professor of education has called his books "scathing" and "one-sided and hyperbolic, [but] not inaccurate" but later agreed with him.

Gatto is currently working on a 3-part documentary about compulsory schooling, titled The Fourth Purpose. He says he was inspired by Ken Burns's Civil War.

Main Thesis

What does the school do with the children? Gatto takes this in "Dumbing Us Down", the following propositions:

1. Makes the children confused. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize, to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials that programming is similar to the television, fills almost the whole, "free" time of the children. One sees and hears something, to forget it again.

2. It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.

3. It makes them indifferent.

4. It makes them emotionally dependent.

5. It teaches them a kind of self-confidence, which require constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).

6. It makes it clear to them that they can not hide, because they are always supervised.

The Six Lesson School Teacher ~ by John Taylor Gatto (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.


Part 2 ~ Part 3 ~ Part 4 ~ Part 5 ~ Part 6 ~ Part 7 ~ Part 8 ~ Part 9

~ VF ~

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Weapons of Mass Instruction ~ by John Taylor Gatto

Weapons of Mass Instruction ~ by John Taylor Gatto


A Review Of Weapons of Mass Instruction ~ by H. Ann Myers

Compulsory Education Is An Oxymoron

John Gatto, author of Dumbing Us Down, has published a new book Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling. Note that the subtitle of Gatto's book uses the term "compulsory schooling" rather than that oxymoron "compulsory education".

In his prologue Gatto asks, "Do we really need school? I don't mean education, just forced schooling: six classes a day, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve years? Is this deadly routine really necessary (xv)?"

It certainly is puzzling that something with such a dreadful and contradictory name as "compulsory education" was passed into law by all the states of the union. But there was a lot of arm twisting and coercion going on back in the mid to late 1800's and early 1900's. (That certainly does not happen these days). By 1918 every state in the union had adopted some form of legislation for compulsory school attendance.

The idea of public education gained sympathy with the American populace because of its idealistic notion that the poor needed access to education in order to be able to pull themselves out of poverty. Gatto's story is that the compulsory part of public education has much darker and deeper roots.

Gatto quotes from books such as Professor Arthur Calhoun's Social History of the Family; A Sociological Philosophy of Education (1928); and William Kirkpatrick's Education and the Social Crisis. Gatto shows that these books and others reflect a utopian philosophy and "dream of scientific population control" (4).

And what is that utopian philosophy? Well, Gatto explains it best, but it has something to do with the poor staying poor and the middle class getting poorer. In other words, if we think government is going to step in and fix it (the economy, our schools), we think wrongly.

Using Pennsylvania as an example, Governor Rendell has been talking about consolidation of school districts in order to save taxpayer money. The following is taken from an on-line pdf document titled "2009-10 Executive Budget Facts":

Governor Rendell proposes to create a legislative commission to study how best to right-size Pennsylvania's local school districts. His goal is to have no more than 100 school districts.

Full-scale school consolidation provides a very effective way to relieve the local property tax burden all across Pennsylvania. There is no need to maintain 500 separate schools districts across the state, each with its own staggering, and growing, administrative costs.

Historically in public education, however, consolidation has been the means by which local control of schools is loosened and diminished. Care to define right-sizing for us, Governor?

Gatto writes, "These mergers were sold as efficiency measures to save taxpayers money, but an oddity occurred—as the districts were enlarged, costs went up, not down, and continued upward in subsequent years. With local watchdogs gone, tendencies to use mass schooling as a cash cow were exploited by every special interest group with political friends (19)."

For anyone involved with public education as a student, parent, or teacher, the issues Gatto addresses in this book are exactly the questions you have asked. Did you ever get a good answer? Probably not.

Students, you deserve to know why you have to go to school and why you are bored when you get there. Parents, you need to know why standardized testing takes up so much time in school. Teachers, you want to know why your initial enthusiasm for teaching has dissipated. Take your education into your own hands. Start by reading Gatto's book.

How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why ~ by John Taylor Gatto

  John Taylor Gatto is a former New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year and the author, most recently, of The Underground History of American Education. He was a participant in the Harper's Magazine forum "School on a Hill," which appeared in the September 2003 issue.  

I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best, and during that time I became an expert in boredom. Boredom was everywhere in my world, and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave the same answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers didn't seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren't interested in learning more. And the kids were right: their teachers were every bit as bored as they were.

Boredom is the common condition of schoolteachers, and anyone who has spent time in a teachers' lounge can vouch for the low energy, the whining, the dispirited attitudes, to be found there. When asked why they feel bored, the teachers tend to blame the kids, as you might expect. Who wouldn't get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in grades? If even that. Of course, teachers are themselves products of the same twelve-year compulsory school programs that so thoroughly bore their students, and as school personnel they are trapped inside structures even more rigid than those imposed upon the children. Who, then, is to blame?

We all are. My grandfather taught me that. One afternoon when I was seven I complained to him of boredom, and he batted me hard on the head. He told me that I was never to use that term in his presence again, that if I was bored it was my fault and no one else's. The obligation to amuse and instruct myself was entirely my own, and people who didn't know that were childish people, to be avoided if possible. Certainty not to be trusted. That episode cured me of boredom forever, and here and there over the years I was able to pass on the lesson to some remarkable student. For the most part, however, I found it futile to challenge the official notion that boredom and childishness were the natural state of affairs in the classroom. Often I had to defy custom, and even bend the law, to help kids break out of this trap.

The empire struck back, of course; childish adults regularly conflate opposition with disloyalty. I once returned from a medical leave to discover t~at all evidence of my having been granted the leave had been purposely destroyed, that my job had been terminated, and that I no longer possessed even a teaching license. After nine months of tormented effort I was able to retrieve the license when a school secretary testified to witnessing the plot unfold. In the meantime my family suffered more than I care to remember. By the time I finally retired in 1991, 1 had more than enough reason to think of our schools-with their long-term, cell-block-style, forced confinement of both students and teachers-as virtual factories of childishness. Yet I honestly could not see why they had to be that way. My own experience had revealed to me what many other teachers must learn along the way, too, yet keep to themselves for fear of reprisal: if we wanted to we could easily and inexpensively jettison the old, stupid structures and help kids take an education rather than merely receive a schooling. We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness-curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insightsimply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids to truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then.

But we don't do that. And the more I asked why not, and persisted in thinking about the "problem" of schooling as an engineer might, the more I missed the point: What if there is no "problem" with our schools? What if they are the way they are, so expensively flying in the face of common sense and long experience in how children learn things, not because they are doing something wrong but because they are doing something right? Is it possible that George W. Bush accidentally spoke the truth when he said we would "leave no child behind"? Could it be that our schools are designed to make sure not one of them ever really grows up?

Do we really need school? I don't mean education, just forced schooling: six classes a day, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve years. Is this deadly routine really necessary? And if so, for what? Don't hide behind reading, writing, and arithmetic as a rationale, because 2 million happy homeschoolers have surely put that banal justification to rest. Even if they hadn't, a considerable number of well-known Americans never went through the twelve-year wringer our kids currently go through, and they turned out all right. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln? Someone taught them, to be sure, but they were not products of a school system, and not one of them was ever "graduated" from a secondary school. Throughout most of American history, kids generally didn't go to high school, yet the unschooled rose to be admirals, like Farragut; inventors, like Edison; captains of industry like Carnegie and Rockefeller; writers, like Melville and Twain and Conrad; and even scholars, like Margaret Mead. In fact, until pretty recently people who reached the age of thirteen weren't looked upon as children at all. Ariel Durant, who co-wrote an enormous, and very good, multivolume history of the world with her husband, Will, was happily married at fifteen, and who could reasonably claim that Ariel Durant was an uneducated person? Unschooled, perhaps, but not uneducated.

We have been taught (that is, schooled) in this country to think of "success" as synonymous with, or at least dependent upon, "schooling," but historically that isn't true in either an intellectual or a financial sense. And plenty of people throughout the world today find a way to educate themselves without resorting to a system of compulsory secondary schools that all too often resemble prisons. Why, then, do Americans confuse education with just such a system? What exactly is the purpose of our public schools?

Mass schooling of a compulsory nature really got its teeth into the United States between 1905 and 1915, though it was conceived of much earlier and pushed for throughout most of the nineteenth century. The reason given for this enormous upheaval of family life and cultural traditions was, roughly speaking, threefold:

1) To make good people. 2) To make good citizens. 3) To make each person his or her personal best. These goals are still trotted out today on a regular basis, and most of us accept them in one form or another as a decent definition of public education's mission, however short schools actually fall in achieving them. But we are dead wrong. Compounding our error is the fact that the national literature holds numerous and surprisingly consistent statements of compulsory schooling's true purpose. We have, for example, the great H. L. Mencken, who wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not

to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. ... Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim ... is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States... and that is its aim everywhere else.

Because of Mencken's reputation as a satirist, we might be tempted to dismiss this passage as a bit of hyperbolic sarcasm. His article, however, goes on to trace the template for our own educational system back to the now vanished, though never to be forgotten, military state of Prussia. And although he was certainly aware of the irony that we had recently been at war with Germany, the heir to Prussian thought and culture, Mencken was being perfectly serious here. Our educational system really is Prussian in origin, and that really is cause for concern.

The odd fact of a Prussian provenance for our schools pops up again and again once you know to look for it. William James alluded to it many times at the turn of the century. Orestes Brownson, the hero of Christopher Lasch's 1991 book, The True and Only Heaven, was publicly denouncing the Prussianization of American schools back in the 1840s. Horace Mann's "Seventh Annual Report" to the Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1843 is essentially a paean to the land of Frederick the Great and a call for its schooling to be brought here. That Prussian culture loomed large in America is hardly surprising, given our early association with that utopian state. A Prussian served as Washington's aide during the Revolutionary War, and so many German-speaking people had settled here by 1795 that Congress considered publishing a German-language edition of the federal laws. But what shocks is that we should so eagerly have adopted one of the very worst aspects of Prussian culture: an educational system deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens 11 in order to render the populace "manageable."

It was from James Bryant Conant-president of Harvard for twenty years, WWI poison-gas specialist, WWII executive on the atomic-bomb project, high commissioner of the American zone in Germany after WWII, and truly one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century-that I first got wind of the real purposes of American schooling. Without Conant, we would probably not have the same style and degree of standardized testing that we enjoy today, nor would we be blessed with gargantuan high schools that warehouse 2,000 to 4,000 students at a time, like the famous Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado. Shortly after I retired from teaching I picked up Conant's 1959 book-length essay, The Child the Parent and the State, and was more than a little intrigued to see him mention in passing that the modem schools we attend were the result of a "revolution" engineered between 1905 and 1930. A revolution? He declines to elaborate, but he does direct the curious and the uninformed to Alexander Inglis's 1918 book, Principles of Secondary Education, in which "one saw this revolution through the eyes of a revolutionary."

Inglis, for whom a lecture in education at Harvard is named, makes it perfectly clear that compulsory schooling on this continent was intended to be just what it had been for Prussia in the 1820s: a fifth column into the burgeoning democratic movement that threatened to give the peasants and the proletarians a voice at the bargaining table. Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a sort of surgical incision into the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever re-integrate into a dangerous whole.

Inglis breaks down the purpose - the actual purpose - of modem schooling into six basic functions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals listed earlier:

1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.
2) The integrating function. This might well be called "the conformity function," because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.
3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in "your permanent record." Yes, you do have one.
4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been "diagnosed," children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits - and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.

5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin's theory of natural selection as applied to what he called "the favored races." In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit - with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments - clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That's what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.

6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.

That, unfortunately, is the purpose of mandatory public education in this country. And lest you take Inglis for an isolated crank with a rather too cynical take on the educational enterprise, you should know that he was hardly alone in championing these ideas. Conant himself, building on the ideas of Horace Mann and others, campaigned tirelessly for an American school system designed along the same lines. Men like George Peabody, who funded the cause of mandatory schooling throughout the South, surely understood that the Prussian system was useful in creating not only a harmless electorate and a servile labor force but also a virtual herd of mindless consumers. In time a great number of industrial titans came to recognize the enormous profits to be had by cultivating and tending just such a herd via public education, among them Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.

There you have it. Now you know. We don't need Karl Marx's conception of a grand warfare between the classes to see that it is in the interest of complex management, economic or political, to dumb people down, to demoralize them, to divide them from one another, and to discard them if they don't conform. Class may frame the proposition, as when Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said the following to the New York City School Teachers Association in 1909: "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." But the motives behind the disgusting decisions that bring about these ends need not be class-based at all. They can stem purely from fear, or from the by now familiar belief that "efficiency" is the paramount virtue, rather than love, lib, erty, laughter, or hope. Above all, they can stem from simple greed.

There were vast fortunes to be made, after all, in an economy based on mass production and organized to favor the large corporation rather than the small business or the family farm. But mass production required mass consumption, and at the turn of the twentieth century most Americans considered it both unnatural and unwise to buy things they didn't actually need. Mandatory schooling was a godsend on that count. School didn't have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume nonstop, because it did something even better: it encouraged them not to think at all. And that left them sitting ducks for another great invention of the modem era - marketing.

Now, you needn't have studied marketing to know that there are two groups of people who can always be convinced to consume more than they need to: addicts and children. School has done a pretty good job of turning our children into addicts, but it has done a spectacular job of turning our children into children. Again, this is no accident. Theorists from Plato to Rousseau to our own Dr. Inglis knew that if children could be cloistered with other children, stripped of responsibility and independence, encouraged to develop only the trivializing emotions of greed, envy, jealousy, and fear, they would grow older but never truly grow up. In the 1934 edition of his once well-known book Public Education in the United States, Ellwood P. Cubberley detailed and praised the way the strategy of successive school enlargements had extended childhood by two to six years, and forced schooling was at that point still quite new. This same Cubberley - who was dean of Stanford's School of Education, a textbook editor at Houghton Mifflin, and Conant's friend and correspondent at Harvard - had written the following in the 1922 edition of his book Public School Administration: "Our schools are ... factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned .... And it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down."

It's perfectly obvious from our society today what those specifications were. Maturity has by now been banished from nearly every aspect of our lives. Easy divorce laws have removed the need to work at relationships; easy credit has removed the need for fiscal self-control; easy entertainment has removed the need to learn to entertain oneself; easy answers have removed the need to ask questions. We have become a nation of children, happy to surrender our judgments and our wills to political exhortations and commercial blandishments that would insult actual adults. We buy televisions, and then we buy the things we see on the television. We buy computers, and then we buy the things we see on the computer. We buy $150 sneakers whether we need them or not, and when they fall apart too soon we buy another pair. We drive SUVs and believe the lie that they constitute a kind of life insurance, even when we're upside-down in them. And, worst of all, we don't bat an eye when Ari Fleischer tells us to "be careful what you say," even if we remember having been told somewhere back in school that America is the land of the free. We simply buy that one too. Our schooling, as intended, has seen to it.

Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they'll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a pre-teen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there's no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.


~ VF ~

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Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?



Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?

Good morning. How are you? It's been great, hasn't it? I've been blown away by the

whole thing. In fact, I'm leaving.

There have been three themes, haven't there, running through the conference, which

are relevant to what I want to talk about.

One is the extraordinary evidence of human creativity in all of the presentations that

We’ve had and in all of the people here. Just the variety of it and the range of it.

The second is, that it's put us in a place where we have no idea what's going to

happen, in terms of the future, no idea how this may play out.

I have an interest in education -- actually, what I find is, everybody has an interest in

education; don't you? I find this very interesting. If you're at a dinner party, and you

say you work in education -- actually, you're not often at dinner parties, frankly, if you

work in education, you're not asked. And you're never asked back, curiously. That's

strange to me. But if you are, and you say to somebody, you know, they say, "What

do you do," and you say you work in education, you can see the blood run from their

face. They're like, "Oh my god," you know, "why me? My one night out all week." But

if you ask people about their education, they pin you to the wall. Because it's one of

those things that goes deep with people, am I right?, like religion, and money, and

other things.

I have a big interest in education, and I think we all do, we have a huge vested

interest in it, partly because it's education that's meant to take us into this future that

we can't grasp.

If you think of it, children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has

a clue, despite all the expertise that's been on parade for the past four days, what the

world will look like in five years' time. And yet we're meant to be educating them for it.

So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary.

And the third part of this is that we've all agreed nonetheless on the really

extraordinary capacity that children have, their capacities for innovation. I mean,

Sirena last night was a marvel, wasn't she, just seeing what she could do. And she's

exceptional, but I think she's not, so to speak, exceptional in the whole of childhood.

What you have there is a person of extraordinary dedication who found a talent.

And my contention is, all kids have tremendous talents and we squander them, pretty


So I want to talk about education and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is

that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with

the same status. [applause] Thank you.

That was it, by the way, thank you very much. Soooo, 15 minutes left. Well, I was

born ...

I heard a great story recently, I love telling it, of a little girl who was in a drawing

lesson, she was 6 and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this little  

girl hardly paid attention, and in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was

fascinated and she went over to her and she said, "What are you drawing?" and the

girl said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." And the teacher said, "But nobody knows

what God looks like." And the girl said, "They will in a minute."

When my son was 4 in England -- actually he was 4 everywhere, to be honest; if

we're being strict about it, wherever he went, he was 4 that year -- he was in the

nativity play. Do you remember the story? No, it was big, it was a big story. Mel

Gibson did the sequel, you may have seen it, "Nativity II." But James got the part of

Joseph, which we were thrilled about. We considered this to be one of the lead parts.

We had the place crammed full of agents in T-shirts: "James Robinson IS Joseph!"

He didn't have to speak, but you know the bit where the three kings come in. They

come in bearing gifts, and they bring gold, frankincense and myrhh. This really

happened -- we were sitting there and we think they just went out of sequence, we

talked to the little boy afterward and we said, "You OK with that" and he said "Yeah,

why, was that wrong?" -- they just switched, I think that was it. Anyway, the three

boys came in, little 4-year-olds with tea towels on their heads, and they put these

boxes down, and the first boy said, "I bring you gold." The second boy said, "I bring

you myrhh." And the third boy said, "Frank sent this."

What these things have in common is that kids will take a chance. If they don't know,

they'll have a go. Am I right? They're not frightened of being wrong.

Now, I don't mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What

we do know is, if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything

original. If you're not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults,

most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.

And we run our companies like this, by the way, we stigmatize mistakes. And we're

now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can


And the result is, we are educating people out of their creative capacities.

Picasso once said this, he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to

remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don't grow into

creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it. So why is this?

I lived in Stratford-on-Avon until about five years ago, in fact we moved from Stratford

to Los Angeles, so you can imagine what a seamless transition this was. Actually we

lived in a place called Snitterfield, just outside Stratford, which is where

Shakespeare's father was born. Were you struck by a new thought? I was. You don't

think of Shakespeare having a father, do you? Do you? Because you don't think of

Shakespeare being a child, do you? Shakespeare being 7? I never thought of it. I

mean, he was 7 at some point; he was in somebody's English class, wasn't he? How

annoying would that be? "Must try harder."

Being sent to bed by his dad, you know, to Shakespeare, "Go to bed, now," to

William Shakespeare, "and put the pencil down. And stop speaking like that. It's

confusing everybody."

Anyway, we moved from Stratford to Los Angeles, and I just want to say a word

about the transition, actually. My son didn't want to come. I've got two kids, he's 21

now, my daughter's 16; he didn't want to come to Los Angeles. He loved it, but he


had a girlfriend in England. This was the love of his life, Sarah. He'd known her for a

month. Mind you, they'd had their fourth anniversary, because it's a long time when

you're 16. Anyway, he was really upset on the plane, and he said, "I'll never find

another girl like Sarah." And we were rather pleased about that, frankly, because she

was the main reason we were leaving the country.

But something strikes you when you move to America and when you travel around

the world: every education system on earth has the same heirarchy of subjects.

Every one, doesn't matter where you go, you'd think it would be otherwise but it isn't.

At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and the bottom are

the arts. Everywhere on earth.

And in pretty much every system too, there's a hierarchy within the arts. Art and

music are nomally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There

isn't an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the

way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think this is rather important. I

think maths is very important but so is dance. Children dance all the time if they're

allowed to, we all do. We all have bodies, don't we? Did I miss a meeting?

Truthfully what happens is, as children grow up we start to educate them

progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to

one side.

If you were to visit education as an alien and say what's it for, public education, I

think you'd have to conclude, if you look at the output, who really succeeds by this,

who does everything they should, who gets all the brownie points, who are the

winners, I think you'd have to conclude the whole purpose of public education

throughout the world is to produce university professors. Isn't it. They're the people

who come out the top. And I used to be one, so there. And I like university

professors, but you know, we shouldn't hold them up as the high-water mark of all

human achievement. They're just a form of life, another form of life. but they're rather

curious and I say this out of affection for them, there's something curious about them,

not all of them but typically, they live in their heads, they live up there, and slightly to

one side. They're disembodied. They look upon their bodies as a form of transport for

their heads, don't they? It's a way of getting their head to meetings.

If you want real evidence of out-of-body experiences, by the way, get yourself along

to a residential conference of senior academics, and pop into the discotheque on the

final night, and there you will see it, grown men and women writhing uncontrollably,

off the beat, waiting until it ends so they can go home and write a paper about it.

Now our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there's

a reason. The whole system was invented round the world there were no public

systems of education really before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet

the needs of industrialism.

So the hierarchy is rooted on two ideas: Number one, that the most useful subjects

for work are at the top. So you were probably steered benignly away from things at

school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never

get a job doing that. Is that right? Don't do music, you're not going to be a musician;

don't do art, you're not going to be an artist. Benign advice -- now, profoundly

mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution.

And the second is, academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of

intelligence because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think


of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process

of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant,

creative people think they're not, because the thing they were good at at school

wasn't valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can't afford to go on that


In the next 30 years. according to Unesco, more people worldwide will be graduating

through education than since the beginning of history. [12:27] More people, and it's

the combination of all the things we've talked about -- technology and its

transformation effect on work, and demography and the huge explosion in


Suddenly degrees aren't worth anything. Isn't that true? When I was a student, if you

had a degree, you had a job. If you didn't have a job it's because you didn't want one.

And I didn't want one, frankly.

But now kids with degrees are often heading home to carry on playing video games,

because you need an MA where the previous job required a BA, and now you need a

PhD for the other. It's a process of academic inflation. And it indicates the whole

structure of education is shifting beneath our feet. We need to radically rethink our

view of intelligence.

We know three things about intelligence: One, it's diverse, we think about the world

in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think

kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly,

intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard

yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The

brain isn't divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process

of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through

the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things. The brain is intentionally

-- by the way, there's a shaft of nerves that joins the two halves of the brain called the

corpus collosum, and it's thicker in women. Following on from Helen yesterday, I

think this is probably why women are better at multitasking, because you are, aren't

you, there's a raft of research, but I know it from my personal life.

If my wife is cooking a meal at home, which is not often, thankfully, but you know,

she's doing (oh, she's good at some things) but if she's cooking, you know, she's

dealing with people on the phone, she's talking to the kids, she's painting the ceiling,

she's doing open-heart surgery over here; if I'm cooking, the door is shut, the kids

are out, the phone's on the hook, if she comes in I get annoyed, I say "Terry, please,

I'm trying to fry an egg in here, give me a break." (You know that old philosophical

thing, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it happen, remember that old

chestnut, I saw a great T-shirt recently that said, "If a man speaks his mind in a

forest, and no woman hears him, is he still wrong?")

And the third thing about intelligence is, it's distinct. I'm doing a new book at the

moment called Epiphany which is based on a series of interviews with people about

how they discovered their talent. I'm fascinated by how people got to be there. It's

really prompted by a conversation I had with a wonderful woman who maybe most

people have never heard of, she's called Gillian Lynne, have you heard of her? Some

have. She's a choreographer and everybody knows her work. She did Cats, and

Phantom of the Opera, she's wonderful. I used to be on the board of the Royal Ballet,

in England, as you can see, and Gillian and I had lunch one day and I said Gillian,

how'd you get to be a dancer? And she said it was interesting, when she was at

school, she was really hopeless. And the school, in the 30s, wrote her parents and


said, "We think Gillian has a learning disorder." She couldn't concentrate, she was

fidgeting. I think now they'd say she had ADHD. Wouldn't you? But this was the

1930s and ADHD hadn't been invented at this point. It wasn't an available condition.

People weren't aware they could have that.

Anyway she went to see this specialist, in this oak-paneled room, and she was there

with her mother and she was led and sat on a chair at the end, and she sat on her

hands for 20 minutes while this doctor talked to her mother about all the problems

Gillian was having at school. And at the end of it -- because she was disturbing

people, her homework was always late, and so on, little kid of 8 -- in the end, the

doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said, "Gillian I've listened to all these things

that your mother's told me, and I need to speak to her privately." He said, "Wait here,

we'll be back, we won't be very long," and they went and left her.

But as they went out the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk,

and when they got out the room, he said to her mother, "Just stand and watch her."

And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the

music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said,

"Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick; she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school."

I said, "What happened?"

She said, "She did. I can't tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and

it was full of people like me, people who couldn't sit still. People who had to move to

think." Who had to move to think. They did ballet, they did tap, they did jazz, they did

modern, they did contemporary. She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet

School, she became a soloist, she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet, she

eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School and founded her own company,

the Gillian Lynne Dance Company, and met Andrew Lloyd Weber.

She's been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions

in history, she's given pleasure to millions, and she's a multimillionaire.

Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.

Now, I think -- [applause] What I think it comes to is this: Al Gore spoke the other

night about ecology and the revolution that was triggered by Rachel Carson. I believe

our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in

which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our

education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth, for a

particular commodity, and for the future, it won't serve us.

We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children.

There was a wonderful quote by Jonas Salk, who said, "If all the insects were to

disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human

beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish."

And he's right.

What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now

that we use this gift wisely, and that we avert some of the scenarios that we've talked

about. And the only way we'll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the

richness they are, and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is

to educate their whole being, so they can face this future -- by the way, we may not

see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it. Thank

you very much.


Research on the Education System That Kills Creativity


Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity - the first book of Hugh MacLeod, the popular author of
Out of Our Minds: Learning to be CreativeSir Ken Robinson - How we unlearn to be creative at school and what we can do against it; how to learn to be creative again.
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes EverythingKen Robinson - Sir Ken Robinson's new book based on a collection of interviews with highly successful people.
The Leader in Me: How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child At a Time - a real case book on how the 7 Habits paradigm was applied in teaching leadership to kids; by Stephen R. Covey (2008)


Sir Ken Robinson's famous speech at TED - Do schools kill creativity? Sir Ken Robinson's famous speeech at the TED conference in Monterey, CA (2006)
The transcript of Sir Ken Robinson's speech at TED - download the transcript of Ken Robinson's speech here (PDF)
Amy Tan on Creativity - Amy Tan on Creativity - another TED speech, filmed Feb 2008
Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity - Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity - another great speech at the TED Conference, recorded Feb 2009


Americans For The Arts - Americans For The Arts; Keep Arts in Our Schools; AFTA is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America.

Blog posts

Is College Obsolete? - One hundred years ago college didn't matter for getting a job. Nowadays, colleges, credentialism and hierarchies have commonly failed and hyperlinks replaced them. An insightful blog post by Alex Krupp (2009)
What is School For? - we spend a lot of time and money on schools but not many people ask the question, what it's really good for to go to school; Seth Godin's blog post (2009)
Life Without School - a thoughtful reflection on Sir Ken Robinson's address at TED by a homeschooling mother of three kids
Another Blog Post - another blog post at ScienceBlogs, with some interesting comments reflecting on Ken Robinson's lecture
A blog post at - a nicely written article reflecting on Ken Robinson's speech; by Sören Stamer (2007)

Academic sources - Do a quick search on Google Scholar
Scientific Literature Digital Library - Scientific Literature Digital Library - INDERSCIENCE PUBLISHERS; Publishers of distinguished academic, scientific and professional Journals
Scientific Commons - a Community for Scientific Information (BETA)

Copyright (c) 2009 Schools Kill Creativity



~ VF ~

LogansRun's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 18 2009
Posts: 1444
Re: Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling In ...

Finally got into this SOB!  Thanks to the Admins....really!

Paul, you're a world of info......thank you!  

I have to say, I'm impressed with this womans view of what took place while she was in school!  I mean, how many kids would understand (let alone voice) the issues at hand regarding schooling, as well as society?  Not many I know!  Her speech wasn't perfect by any means.  But the gist of it was well thought out.  I've saved it to show to my kids in a couple years.

If this attitude would only spread, we'd see a different (more positive) world in a generation!  Unfortunately, I don't see that happening.  I wish someone was there to do interviews on the kids that listened to the speech to hear their thoughts.  I can only imagine! 


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