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Sunday, April 30, 2017

12. The Art Of Driving: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Art Of Driving 

Now come back to the present while I demonstrate that the identical trust placed in 
ordinary people 200 years ago still survives where it suits managers of our economy to 
allow it. Consider the art of driving, which I learned at the age of eleven. Without 
everybody behind the wheel, our sort of economy would be impossible, so everybody is 
there, IQ notwithstanding. With less than thirty hours of combined training and 
experience, a hundred million people are allowed access to vehicular weapons more 
lethal than pistols or rifles. Turned loose without a teacher, so to speak. Why does our 
government make such presumptions of competence, placing nearly unqualified trust in 
drivers, while it maintains such a tight grip on near-monopoly state schooling? 

An analogy will illustrate just how radical this trust really is. What if I proposed that we 
hand three sticks of dynamite and a detonator to anyone who asked for them. All an 
applicant would need is money to pay for the explosives. You'd have to be an idiot to 
agree with my plan — at least based on the assumptions you picked up in school about 
human nature and human competence. 

And yet gasoline, a spectacularly mischievous explosive, dangerously unstable and with 
the intriguing characteristic as an assault weapon that it can flow under locked doors and 
saturate bulletproof clothing, is available to anyone with a container. Five gallons of 
gasoline have the destructive power of a stick of dynamite. The average tank holds fifteen 
gallons, yet no background check is necessary for dispenser or dispensee. As long as 
gasoline is freely available, gun control is beside the point. Push on. Why do we allow 
access to a portable substance capable of incinerating houses, torching crowded theaters, 
or even turning skyscrapers into infernos? We haven't even considered the battering ram 
aspect of cars — why are novice operators allowed to command a ton of metal capable of 
hurtling through school crossings at up to two miles a minute? Why do we give the power 
of life and death this way to everyone? 

It should strike you at once that our unstated official assumptions about human nature are 
dead wrong. Nearly all people are competent and responsible; universal motoring proves 
that. The efficiency of motor vehicles as terrorist instruments would have written a tragic 
record long ago if people were inclined to terrorism. But almost all auto mishaps are 
accidents, and while there are seemingly a lot of those, the actual fraction of mishaps, 
when held up against the stupendous number of possibilities for mishap, is quite small. I 
know it's difficult to accept this because the spectre of global terrorism is a favorite cover 
story of governments, but the truth is substantially different from the tale the public is 
sold. According to the U.S. State Department, 1995 was a near-record year for terrorist 
murders; it saw 300 worldwide (200 at the hand of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka) 
compared to 400,000 smoking-related deaths in the United States alone. When we 
consider our assumptions about human nature that keep children in a condition of 
confinement and limited options, we need to reflect on driving and things like almost 
nonexistent global terrorism. 

Notice how quickly people learn to drive well. Early failure is efficiently corrected, 
usually self-corrected, because the terrific motivation of staying alive and in one piece 
steers driving improvement. If the grand theories of Comenius and Herbart about learning 
by incremental revelation, or those lifelong nanny rules of Owen, Maclure, Pestalozzi, 
and Beatrice Webb, or those calls for precision in human ranking of Thorndike and Hall, 
or those nuanced interventions of Yale, Stanford, and Columbia Teachers College were 
actually as essential as their proponents claimed, this libertarian miracle of motoring 
would be unfathomable. 

Now consider the intellectual component of driving. It isn't all just hand-eye-foot 
coordination. First-time drivers make dozens, no, hundreds, of continuous hypotheses, 
plans, computations, and fine-tuned judgments every day they drive. They do this 
skillfully, without being graded, because if they don't, organic provision exists in the 
motoring universe to punish them. There isn't any court of appeal from your own 
stupidity on the road. 

I could go on: think of licensing, maintenance, storage, adapting machine and driver to 
seasons and daily conditions. Carefully analyzed, driving is as impressive a miracle as 
walking, talking, or reading, but this only shows the inherent weakness of analysis since 
we know almost everyone learns to drive well in a few hours. The way we used to be as 
Americans, learning everything, breaking down social class barriers, is the way we might 
be again without forced schooling. Driving proves that to me. 

Two Approaches To Discipline 

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