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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

241 I Would Prefer Not To: The Underground History of Amercian Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

I Would Prefer Not To 

What to do? 

Take Melville's insight "I would prefer not to," from Bartleby, the Scrivener and make it 
your own watchword. Read Tolstoy's Death of Ivan Ilych for a shock of inspiration about 
what really matters. Breaking the hold of fear on your life is the necessary first step. If 
you can keep your kid out of any part of the school sequence at all, keep him or her out of 
kindergarten, then first, second, and maybe third grade. Homeschool them at least that far 
through the zone where most of the damage is done. If you can manage that, they'll be 
okay. 

Don't let a world of funny animals, dancing alphabet letters, pastel colors, and treacly 
music suffocate your little boy or girl's consciousness at exactly the moment when big 
questions about the world beckon. Funny animals were invented by North German social 
engineers; they knew something important about fantasy and social engineering that you 
should teach yourself. 

Your four- year-old wants to play? Let him help you cook dinner for real, fix the toilet, 
clean the house, build a wall, sing "Eine Feste Burg." Give her a map, a mirror, and a 
wristwatch, let her chart the world in which she really lives. You will be able to tell from 
the joy she displays that becoming strong and useful is the best play of all. Pure games 
are okay, too, but not day in, day out. Not a prison of games. There isn't a single formula 
for breaking out of the trap, only a general one you tailor to your own specifications. 

No two escape routes are exactly alike. Stanley, my absentee pupil, found one. Two 
magnificent American teenagers, Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan, who enchanted the 
world with a display of physical artistry and mental discipline on ice skates in the 
Olympic games in Japan, found another. Neither went to school and both gained wealth 
and prominence for their accomplishments. For me they show again what stories might 
be written out of ordinary lives if our time to learn wasn't so lavishly wasted. Are your 
children less than these? 

At least nine major assumptions about the importance of government schooling must be 
acknowledged as false before you can get beyond the fog of ideology into the clear air of 
education. Here they are: 

1) Universal government schooling is the essential force for social cohesion. There is no 
other way. A heavily bureaucratized public order is our defense against chaos and 
anarchy. Right, and if you don't wipe your bum properly, the toilet monster will rise out 
of the bowl and get you. 



2) The socialization of children in age-graded groups monitored by State agents is 
essential to learn to get along with others in a pluralistic society. The actual truth is that 
the rigid compartmentalizations of schooling teach a crippling form of social relation: 
wait passively until you are told what to do, never judge your own work or confer with 
associates, have contempt for those younger than yourself and fear of those older. Behave 
according to the meaning assigned to your class label. These are the rules of a nuthouse. 
No wonder kids cry and become fretful after first grade. 

3) Children from different backgrounds and from families with different beliefs must be 
mixed together. The unexamined inference here is that in this fashion they enlarge their 
understanding, but the actual management of classrooms everywhere makes only the 
most superficial obeisance to human difference — from the first, a radical turn toward 
some unitarian golden mean is taken, along the way of which different backgrounds and 
different beliefs are subtly but steadily discredited. 

4) The certified expertise of official schoolteachers is superior in its knowledge of 
children to the accomplishments of lay people, including parents. Protecting children 
from the uncertified is a compelling public concern. Actually, the enforced long-term 
segregation of children from the working world does them great damage, and the general 
body of men and women certified by the State as fit to teach is nearly the least fit 
occupational body in the entire economy if college performance is the standard. 

5) Coercion in the name of education is a valid use of State power: compelling 
assemblies of children into specified groupings for prescribed intervals and sequences 
with appointed overseers does not interfere with academic learning. Were you born 
yesterday? Plato said, "Nothing of value to the individual happens by coercion." 

6) Children will inevitably grow apart from their parents in belief, and this process must 
be encouraged by diluting parental influence and disabusing children of the idea their 
parents are sovereign in mind or morality. That prescription alone has been enough to 
cripple the American family. The effects of forced disloyalty on family are hideously 
destructive, removing the only certain support the growing spirit has to refer to. In place 
of family the school offers phantoms like "ambition," "advancement," and "fun," 
nightmare harbingers of the hollow life ahead. 

7) An overriding concern of schooling is to protect children from bad parents. No wonder 
G. Stanley Hall, the father of school administration, invited Sigmund Freud to the United 
States in 1909 — it was urgent business to establish a "scientific" basis upon which to 
justify the anti-family stance of State schooling, and the programmatic State in general. 

8) It is not appropriate for any family to unduly concern itself with the education of its 
own children, although it is appropriate to sacrifice for the general education of everyone 
in the hands of State experts. This is the standard formula for all forms of socialism and 
the universal foundation of Utopian promises. 



9) The State is the proper parent and has predominant responsibility for training, morals, 
and beliefs. This is the parens patriae doctrine of Louis XIV, king of France, a tale 
unsuited to a republic. 

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