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Monday, June 12, 2017

50. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: The Underground HIstory of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Ignorant Schoolmaster 



After Gedike, the next innovator to hit on a reading scheme was Jean Joseph Jacotot, a 
grand genius, much misunderstood. A professor of literature at nineteen, Jacotot 
discovered a method of teaching nonspeakers of French the French language beginning 
not with primers but with Fenelon's Telemachus. Jacotot read aloud slowly while 
students followed his reading in a dual translation — to their own familiar language and to 
Fenelon's spoken French. Then the process was repeated. After the group reading, each 
student individually dismantled the entire book into parts, into smaller parts, into 
paragraphs, into sentences, into words, and finally into letters and sounds. This followed 
the "natural" pattern of scientists it was thought, beginning with wholes, and reducing 
them to smaller and smaller elements. 

Jacotot has a reputation as a whole-word guru, but any resemblance to contemporary 
whole- word reading in Jacotot is illusion. His method shifts the burden for analysis 
largely from the shoulders of the teacher to the student. The trappings of holistic 
noncompetitiveness are noticeably absent. Penalty for failure in his class was denial of 
advancement. Everyone succeeded in Jacotot's system, but then, his students were highly 
motivated, self-selected volunteers, all of college age. 

From Jacotot we got the idea anybody can teach anything. His was the concept of the 
ignorant schoolmaster. It should surprise no one that the ideas of Jacotot interested 
Prussians who brought his system back to Germany and modified it for younger children. 
For them, however, a book seemed too impractical a starting point, perhaps a sentence 
would be better or a single word. Eventually it was the latter settled upon. Was this the 
genesis of whole-word teaching which eventually dealt American reading ability a body 
blow? 

The answer is a qualified No. In the German "normal word" method the whole-word was 
not something to be memorized but a specimen of language to be analyzed into syllables. 
The single word was made a self-conscious vehicle for learning letters. Once letter 
sounds were known, reading instruction proceeded traditionally. To a great extent, this is 
the method my German mother used with my sister and me to teach us to read fluently 
before we ever saw first grade. 

Frank Had A Dog; His Name Was Spot 

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