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Monday, May 22, 2017

33. An Enclosure Movement For Children: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

An Enclosure Movement For Children 

The secret of American schooling is that it doesn't teach the way children learn, and it 
isn't supposed to; school was engineered to serve a concealed command economy and a 
deliberately re-stratified social order. It wasn't made for the benefit of kids and families 
as those individuals and institutions would define their own needs. School is the first 
impression children get of organized society; like most first impressions, it is the lasting 
one. Life according to school is dull and stupid, only consumption promises relief: Coke, 
Big Macs, fashion jeans, that's where real meaning is found, that is the classroom's 
lesson, however indirectly delivered. 

The decisive dynamics which make forced schooling poisonous to healthy human 
development aren't hard to spot. Work in classrooms isn't significant work; it fails to 
satisfy real needs pressing on the individual; it doesn't answer real questions experience 
raises in the young mind; it doesn't contribute to solving any problem encountered in 
actual life. The net effect of making all schoolwork external to individual longings, 
experiences, questions, and problems is to render the victim listless. This phenomenon 
has been well-understood at least since the time of the British enclosure movement which 
forced small farmers off their land into factory work. Growth and mastery come only to 
those who vigorously self-direct. Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, 
enjoying privacy — these are precisely what the structures of schooling are set up to 
prevent, on one pretext or another. 

As I watched it happen, it took about three years to break most kids, three years confined 
to environments of emotional neediness with nothing real to do. In such environments, 
songs, smiles, bright colors, cooperative games, and other tension-breakers do the work 
better than angry words and punishment. Years ago it struck me as more than a little odd 
that the Prussian government was the patron of Heinrich Pestalozzi, inventor of 
multicultural fun-and-games psychological elementary schooling, and of Friedrich 
Froebel, inventor of kindergarten. It struck me as odd that J. P. Morgan's partner, 
Peabody, was instrumental in bringing Prussian schooling to the prostrate South after the 
Civil War. But after a while I began to see that behind the philanthropy lurked a rational 
economic purpose. 

The strongest meshes of the school net are invisible. Constant bidding for a stranger's 
attention creates a chemistry producing the common characteristics of modern 
schoolchildren: whining, dishonesty, malice, treachery, cruelty. Unceasing competition 
for official favor in the dramatic fish bowl of a classroom delivers cowardly children, 
little people sunk in chronic boredom, little people with no apparent purpose for being 
alive. The full significance of the classroom as a dramatic environment, as primarily a 
dramatic environment, has never been properly acknowledged or examined. 

The most destructive dynamic is identical to that which causes caged rats to develop 
eccentric or even violent mannerisms when they press a bar for sustenance on an 
aperiodic reinforcement schedule (one where food is delivered at random, but the rat 
doesn't suspect). Much of the weird behavior school kids display is a function of the 
aperiodic reinforcement schedule. And the endless confinement and inactivity to slowly 
drive children out of their minds. Trapped children, like trapped rats, need close 
management. Any rat psychologist will tell you that. 

The Dangan 

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