If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I was deeply impressed with and influenced by John Taylor Gatto’s books, especially The Underground History of American Education.

Reading this has helped me better understand what is going on in my classrooms: what are the forces at work, what are the dynamics in play.

Questions I had were:

  • Why are students so incurious?
  • Why are students so lacking in initiative?
  • Why are students just waiting to be told what to do?
  • Why are students so docile and quiet in class, yet so full of energy outside? (most of them)
  • What is real learning?
  • How come it is so rare to see real learning in class?

Now I understand better how they are products of a system. Even before I’d read Gatto or McVeigh I suspected that students’ body language was that of people in jail, that of people who sensed that they were undergoing something that essentially is not for them, something that does not have their wellbeing or interests at heart, but has some other agenda, wants to mould them to its own image. This is soul-sapping, even if it is not understood consciously.

Gatto identifies 8 pathologies caused by schooling:

  1. indifference to adult world – toys are us
  2. no curiosity, poor concentration – bells to ring the changes of class
  3. poor (non-existent?) sense of past, of how they came to be here. Little sense of how the past has predestinated the present.
  4. A poor sense of the future, of where they are going, of how tomorrow is inextricably linked to today.
  5. cruel
  6. uneasy with intimacy
  7. materialistic
  8. dependent, passive and timid

Gatto suggested some approaches and activities that he had tried, that attempt to counterract these pathologies.

One thing I’ve been doing is interviewing my students individually, trying to get to them know them better. I need to know them better if I’m going to make suggestions about activities or assignments. I’m trying to develop activities that promote reflection, growth, as well as language development.

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