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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

223. Silicon Valley: The Underground History of Amercian Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Chapter Eighteen 

Breaking Out of the Trap 

We have a choice to make once and for all: between the empire and the spiritual and 
physical salvation of our people. No road for the people will ever be open unless the 
government completely gives up control over us or any aspect of our lives. It has led the 
country into an abyss and it does not know the way out. 

— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, as quoted by Pravda (1986) 

To hell with the cheese, let's get out of this trap! 

— A mouse 

Silicon Valley 

To reform our treatment of the young, we must force the center of gravity of the school 
world to change. In this chapter I'll try to show you what I mean, but my method will be 
largely indirect. To fashion the beginnings of a solution from these materials will require 
your active engagement in an imaginative partnership with me, one that shall commence 
in Silicon Valley. 

I went to Silicon Valley in the middle of 1999 to speak to some computer executives at 
Cypress Semiconductor on the general topic of school reform. The fifty or sixty who 
showed up to my talk directly from work were dressed so informally they might easily 
have been mistaken for pizza delivery men or taxicab drivers. The CEO of the 
corporation, its founder T.J. Rodgers, was similarly turned out. I didn't recognize him as 
the same famous man portrayed on a large photo mural mounted on the wall outside until 
he introduced me to the audience and the audience to me. 

To let me know who my auditors were, Rodgers said that everyone there was a 
millionaire, none needed to work for him because all were self-sufficient and could find 
work all over the place simply by walking into a different company. They worked for 
Cypress because they wanted to, just as he did himself and, like him, they were usually 
hard at it from very early morning until long after five o'clock. Because they wanted to. 

The thesis of my talk was that the history of forced schooling in America, as elsewhere, is 
the history of the requirements of business. School can't be satisfactorily explained by 
studying the careers of ideologues like Horace Mann or anyone else. The problem of 
American education from a personal or a family perspective isn't really a problem at all 

the vantage point of big business, big finance, and big government. What's a problem to 
me is a solution for them. An insufficient incentive exists to change things much, 
otherwise things would change. I learned that from Adam Smith, Smith turns out to be a 
much different sensibility than the priesthood. of corporate apologiests thinks he is. 

Regard it this way: in our present system, those abstract bignesses are saddled with the 
endless responsibility of finding a place for hundreds of millions of people, and the even 
more daunting challenge of creating demand for products and services which, historically 
viewed, few of us need or want. Because of this anomaly, a Procrustean discipline 
emerges in which the entire population must continually be cut or stretched to fit the 
momentary convenience of the economy. This is a free market only in fantasy; it seems 
free because ceaseless behind-the-scenes efforts maintain the illusion, but its reality is 
much different. Prodigies of psychological and political insight and wisdom gathered 
painfully over the centuries are refined into principles, taught in elite colleges, and 
consecrated in the service of this colossal tour deforce of appearances. 

Let me illustrate. People love to work, but they must be convinced that work is a kind of 
curse, that they must arrange the maximum of leisure and labor-saving devices in their 
lives upon which belief many corporations depend; people love to invent solutions, to be 
resourceful, to make do with what they have, but resourcefulness and frugality are 
criminal behaviors to a mass production economy, such examples threaten to infect 
others with the same fatal sedition; similarly, people love to attach themselves to favored 
possessions, even to grow old and die with them, but such indulgence is dangerous 
lunacy in a machine economy whose costly tools are continually renewed by enormous 
borrowings; people like to stay put but must be convinced they lead pinched and barren 
existences without travel; people love to walk but the built world is now laid out so they 
have to drive. Worst of all are those who yearn for productive, independent livelihoods 
like the Amish have, and nearly all free Americans once had. If that vision spreads, a 
consumer economy is sunk. For all these and other reasons, the form of schooling we get 
is largely a kind of consumer and employee training. This isn't just incidentally true. 
Common sense should tell you it's necessarily so if the economy is to survive in any 
recognizable form. 

Every principal institution in our culture is a partner with the particular form of 
corporatism which has began to dominate America at the end of WWII. Call it paternal 
corporatism, wise elites can be trained to provide for the rest of us, who will be kept as 
children. Unlike Plato's Guardians whom they otherwise resemble, this meritorious elite 
is not kept poor but is guaranteed prosperity and status in exchange for its oversight. An 
essential feature of this kind of central management is that the population remain 
mystified, specialized dependent, and childish. 

The school institution is clearly a key partner in this arrangement: it suppresses the 
productive impulse in favor of consumption; it redefines "work" as a job someone 
eventually gives you if you behave; it habituates a large clientele to sloth, envy, and 
boredom; and it accustoms individuals to think of themselves as members of a class with 
various distinguishing features. More than anything else, school is about class 
consciousness. In addition, it makes intellectual work and creative thinking appear like 
distasteful or difficult labor to most of us. None of this is done to oppress, but because the 
economy would dissolve into something else if those attitudes didn't become ingrained in 

We have evolved a subtly architected, delicately balanced command economy and class- 
based society upon which huge efforts are lavished to make it appear like something else. 
The illusion has been wearing thin for years; that's a principal reason why so many 
people don't bother to vote. In such a bargain, the quality of schooling is distinctly 
secondary; other values are uppermost. A great many children see through the fraud in 
elementary school but lack the language and education to come to proper terms with their 
feelings. In this system, a fraction of the kids are slowly over time let in on a part of this 
managerial reality because they are intended to eventually be made into Guardians 
themselves, or Guardian's assistants. 

School is a place where a comprehensive social vision is learned. Without a contrary 
vision to offer, the term "school reform" is only a misnomer describing trivial changes. 
Any large alteration of forced schooling, which might jeopardize the continuity of 
workers and customers that the corporate economy depends upon, is unthinkable without 
some radical change in popular perception preceding it. Business/School partnerships and 
School-to-Work legislation aren't positive developments, but they represent the end of 
any pretense that ordinary children should be educated. That, in any case, was the burden 
of my talk at Cypress. 

Deregulating Opportunity 

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