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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

242 Nuts And Bolts: The Underground History of Amercian Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Nuts And Bolts 

Let me end this book, my testament, with a warning: only the fresh air from millions 
upon millions of freely made choices will create the educational climate we need to 
realize a better destiny. No team of experts can possibly possess the wisdom to impose a 
successful solution to the problem inherent in a philosophy of centralized social 
management; solutions that endure are always local, always personal. Universal 
prescriptions are the problem of modern schooling, academic research which pursues the 
will-o-the-wisp of average children and average stages of development makes for 
destructive social policy, it is a sea anchor dragging against advancement, creating the 
problems it begs for money to solve. But here is a warning: should we ever agree to 
honor the singularity of children which forced schooling contravenes, if we ever agree to 
set the minds of children free, we should understand they would make a world that would 
create and re-create itself exponentially, a world complex beyond the power of any group 
of managers to manage. Such free beings would have to be self-managing. And the future 
would never again be easily predictable. 

Here might be a first step toward such a great leap forward for human beings. Not a 
comprehensive formula, remember, but a first step: 

If we closed all government schools, made free libraries universal, encouraged public 
discussion groups everywhere, sponsored apprenticeships for every young person who 
wanted one, let any person or group who asked to open a school do so — without 
government oversight — paid parents (if we have to pay anyone) to school their kids at 
home using the money we currently spend to confine them in school factories, and 
launched a national crash program in family revival and local economies, Amish and 
Mondragon style, the American school nightmare would recede. 

That isn't going to happen, I know. 

The next best thing, then, is to deconstruct forced schooling, minimizing its school 
aspect, indoctrination, and maximizing its potential to educate through access to tools, 
models, and mentors. To go down this path requires the courage to challenge deeply 
rooted assumptions. We need to kill the poison plant we created. School reform is not 
enough. The notion of schooling itself must be challenged. Do this as an individual if 
your group won't go along. 

Here is a preliminary list of strategies to change the schools we have. I intend to develop 
the theme of change further in a future book, The Guerrilla Curriculum: How To Get An 
Education In Spite Of School, but I'm out of time and breath, so the brief agenda which 
follows will have to suffice for the moment. As you read my ideas maintain a lively 
awareness of the implicit irony that to impose them as a counter system would require as 

dictatorial a central management like the current dismal reality. The trick, then, is not to 
impose them. My own belief based on long experience is that people given a degree of 
choice arrive without coercion at arrangements somewhat like these, and even improve 
upon them with ideas beyond my own imagination to conceive. Such is the genius of 

Dismiss the army of reading and arithmetic specialists and the commercial empire they 
represent. Allow all contracts with colleges, publishers, consultants, and materials 
suppliers in these areas to lapse. Reading and arithmetic are easy things to learn, although 
nearly impossible to "teach." By the use of common sense, and proven methods that don't 
cost much, we can solve a problem which is artificially induced and wholly imaginary. 
Take the profit out of these things and the disease will cure itself. 

Let no school exceed a few hundred in size. Even that's far too big. And make them local. 
End all unnecessary transportation of students at once; transportation is what the British 
used to do with hardened criminals. We don't need it, we need neighborhood schools. 
Time to shut the school factories, profitable to the building and maintenance industries 
and to bus companies, but disaster for children. Neighborhoods need their own children 
and vice versa; it's a reciprocating good, providing surprising service to both. The factory 
school doesn't work anywhere — not in Harlem and not in Hollywood Hills, either. 
Education is always individualized, and individualization requires absolute trust and 
split-second flexibility. This should save taxpayers a bundle, too. 

Make everybody teach. Don't let anybody get paid for schooling kids without actually 
spending time with them. The industrial model, with pyramidal management and plenty 
of hori-zontal featherbedding niches, is based on ignorance of how things get done, or 
indifference to results. The administrative racket that gave New York City more 
administrators than all the nations of Europe combined in 1991, has got to die. It wastes 
billions, demoralizes teachers, parents, and students, and corrupts the common enterprise. 

Measure performance with individualized instruments. Standardized tests, like schools 
themselves, have lost their moral legitimacy. They correlate with nothing of human value 
and their very existence perverts curriculum into a preparation for these extravagant 
rituals. Indeed, all paper and pencil tests are a waste of time, useless as predictors of 
anything important unless the competition is rigged. As a casual guide they are probably 
harmless, but as a sorting tool they are corrupt and deceitful. A test of whether you can 
drive is driving. Performance testing is where genuine evaluation will always be found. 
There surely can't be a normal parent on earth who doesn't judge his or her child's 
progress by performance. 

Shut down district school boards. Families need control over the professionals in their 
lives. Decentralize schooling down to the neighborhood school building level, each 
school with its own citizen managing board. School corruption, like the national school 
milk price-rigging scandal of the 1990s, will cease when the temptations of bulk 
purchasing, job giveaways, and remote decision-making are ended. 

Install permanent parent facilities in every school with appropriate equipment to allow 
parent partnerships with their own kids and others. Frequently take kids out of school to 
work with their own parents. School policies must deliberately aim to strengthen families. 

Restore the primary experience base we stole from childhood by a slavish adherence to a 
Utopian school diet of steady abstraction, or an equally slavish adherence to play as the 
exclusive obligation of children. Define primary experience as the essential core of early 
education, secondary data processing a supplement of substantial importance. But be sure 
the concepts of work, duty, obligation, loyalty, and service are strong components of the 
mix. Let them stand shoulder to shoulder with "fun." Let children engage in real tasks as 
Amish children do, not synthetic games and simulations that set them up for commercial 
variants of more-of-the-same for the rest of their lives. 

Recognize that total schooling is psychologically and procedurally unsound. Wasteful 
and horrendously expensive. Give children some private time and space, some choice of 
subjects, methods, and associations, and freedom from constant surveillance. A strong 
element of volition, of choice, of anti-compulsion, is essential to education. That doesn 't 
mean granting a license to do anything. Anyway, whatever is chosen as "curriculum," the 
vital assistance that old can grant young is to demand that personal second or third best 
will not do — the favor you can bestow on your children is to show by your own example 
that hard, painstaking work is the toll an independent spirit charges itself for self-respect. 
Our colleges work somewhat better than our other schools because they understand this 

Admit there is no one right way to grow up successfully. One-system schooling has had a 
century and a half to prove itself. It is a ghastly failure. Children need the widest possible 
range of roads in order to find the right one to accommodate themselves. The premise 
upon which mass compulsion schooling is based is dead wrong. It tries to shoehorn every 
style, culture, and personality into one ugly boot that fits nobody. Tax credits, vouchers, 
and other more sophisticated means are necessary to encourage a diverse mix of different 
school logics of growing up. Only sharp competition can reform the present mess; this 
needs to be an overriding goal of public policy. Neither national nor state government 
oversight is necessary to make a voucher/tax credit plan work: a modicum of local 
control, a disclosure law with teeth, and a policy of client satisfaction or else is all the 
citizen protection needed. It works for supermarkets and doctors. It will work for schools, 
too, without national testing. 

Teach children to think dialectically so they can challenge the hidden assumptions of the 
world about them, including school assumptions, so they can eventually generate much of 
their own personal curriculum and oversight. But teach them, too, that dialectical 
thinking is unsuited to many important things like love and family. Dialectical analysis is 
radically inappropriate outside its purview. 

Arrange much of schooling around complex themes instead of subjects. "Subjects" have a 
real value, too, but subject study as an exclusive diet was a Prussian secret weapon to 

produce social stratification. Substantial amounts of interdisciplinary work are needed as 
a corrective. 

Force the school structure to provide flex-time, flex-space, flex-sequencing, and flex- 
content so that every study can be personalized to fit the whole range of individual styles 
and performance. 

Break the teacher certification monopoly so anyone with something valuable to teach can 
teach it. Nothing is more important than this. 

Our form of schooling has turned us into dependent, emotionally needy, excessively 
childish people who wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. Our national dilemma is 
that too many of us are now homeless and mindless in the deepest sense — at the mercy of 

The beginning of answers will come only when people force government to return 
educational choice to everyone. But choice is meaningless without an absolute right to 
have progress monitored locally, too, not by an agency of the central government. 
Solzhenitsyn was right. The American founding documents didn't mention school 
because the authors foresaw the path school would inevitably set us upon, and rejected it. 

The best way to start offering some choice immediately is to give each public school the 
independence that private schools have. De-systematize them, grant each private, 
parochial, and homeschool equal access to public funds through vouchers administered as 
a loan program, along with tax credits. In time the need for even this would diminish, but 
my warning stands — if these keys to choice are tied to intrusive government oversight, as 
some would argue they must be, they will only hasten the end of the American libertarian 
experiment. Vouchers are only a transition to what is really called for: an economy of 
independent livelihoods, a resurrection of principles over pragmatism, and restoration of 
the private obligation, self-imposed, to provide a living wage to all who work for you. 

School can never deal with really important things. Only education can teach us that 
quests don't always work, that even worthy lives most often end in tragedy, that money 
can't prevent this; that failure is a regular part of the human condition; that you will never 
understand evil; that serious pursuits are almost always lonely; that you can't negotiate 
love; that money can't buy much that really matters; that happiness is free. 

A twenty-five-year-old school dropout walked the length of the planet without help, a 
seventeen-year-old school dropout worked a twenty-six-foot sailboat all by herself 
around the girdle of the globe. What else does it take to realize the horrifying limitations 
we have inflicted on our children? School is a liar's world. Let us be done with it. 


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