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Sunday, January 29, 2017

170.Cleaning The Canvas: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Cleaning The Canvas 

Traditional education can be seen as sculptural in nature, individual destiny is written 
somewhere within the human being, awaiting dross to be removed before a true image 
shines forth. Schooling, on the other hand, seeks a way to make mind and character 
blank, so others may chisel the destiny thereon. 

Karl Popper's book The Open Society and Its Enemies reveals with great clarity how old 
the idea of tabula rasa (erroneously attributed to John Locke) actually is. In writing of 
Plato's great Utopia, The Republic, Popper shows Socrates telling auditors: "They will 
take as their canvas a city and the characters of men, and they will, first of all, make their 
canvas clean — by no means an easy matter.... They will not start work on a city nor on an 
individual unless they are given a clean canvas, or have cleaned it themselves." (emphasis 
added) Popper continues: 

In the same spirit, Plato says in The Statesman of the royal rulers who rule in accordance 
with the royal science of statesmanship: "Whether they happen to rule by law or without 
law, over willing or unwilling subjects;... whether they purge the state for its good by 
killing or banishing some of its citizens — as long as they proceed according to 
science. ..this form of government must be declared the only one that is right." This is 
what canvas-cleaning means. He must eradicate existing institutions and traditions. He 
must purify, purge, expel, banish and kill. 

Canvas-cleaning frees the individual of all responsibility. Morality is voided, replaced by 
reinforcement schedules. In their most enlightened form, theories of a therapeutic 
community are those in which only positive reinforcements are prescribed. 

The therapeutic community is as close as your nearest public school. In the article 
"Teacher as Therapist" (footnote, pages 270-271), a glimpse of Emile programmed on a 
national scale is available. Its innocently garrulous author paints a landscape of therapy, 
openly identifying schools as behavioral training centers whose positive and negative 
reinforcement schedules are planned cooperatively in advance, and each teacher is a 
therapist. Here everything is planned down to the smallest "minimal recognition," 
nothing is accidental. Planned smiles or "stern looks," spontaneity is a weed to be 
exterminated — you will remember the injunction to draw smiling faces on every paper, 
"even at the high school level." 

An important support girder of therapeutic community is a conviction that social order 
can be maintained by inducing students to depend emotionally on the approval of 
teachers. Horace Mann was thoroughly familiar with this principle. Here are Mann's 
words on the matter: 

When a difficult question has been put to a child, the Teacher approaches with a mingled 
look of concern and encouragement [even minimal recognition requires planning, here 



you have a primer of instructional text]; he stands before him, the light and shade of hope 
and fear alternately crossing his countenance. If the little wrestler triumphs, the Teacher 
felicitates him upon his success; perhaps seizes and shakes him by the hand in token 
congratulation; and when the difficulty has been formidable and the effort triumphant, I 
have seen Teacher catch up the child and embrace him, as though he were not able to 
contain his joy.. .and all this done so naturally and so unaffectedly as to excite no other 
feeling in the residue of the children than a desire, by the same means, to win the same 
caresses, (emphasis added) 

Children were to be "loved into submission; controlled with gestures, glances, tones of 
voice as if they were sensitive machinery." What this passes for today is humanistic 
education, but the term has virtually the same magnitude of disconnect from the historical 
humanism of the Erasmus/DeFeltre stripe (which honored the mind and truly free choice) 
as modern schooling is disconnected from any common understanding of the word 
education. 

Therapy As Curriculum 

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