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An American Affidavit

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

123.Singing And Fishing Were Free: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Singing And Fishing Were Free 

I went Christmas caroling long before I knew how to read or even what Christmas was 
about. I was three. The carolers stood on a corner diagonally across from my 
grandfather's printing office where their voices filled an informal amphitheater made by 
the slope of Second Street just before it met Main, the principal intersection of the town. 
If I had to guess where I learned to love rhythmical language it would be on that corner at 
the foot of Second Street hill. 

In Monongahela I fished for carp and catfish made inedible by river acids leaching out of 
the mines and waste put there by the mills. I fished them out with homemade dough balls 
whipped together in Grandmother Mossie's kitchen. In Monongahela I waited weekly for 
the changing of Binks McGregor's haberdashery window or Bill Pulaski's hardware 
display as eagerly as a theater-goer might wait to be refreshed by a new scenery change. 

Mother's family, the Zimmers, and the branch of Gattos my father represented, were poor 
by modern big city standards, but not really poor for that time and place. It was only in 
late middle age I suddenly realized that sleeping three to a bed — as Mother, Sister and I 
did — is almost an operational definition of poverty, or its close cousin. But it never 
occurred to me to think of myself as poor. Not once. Not ever. Even later on at 
Uniontown High School when we moved to a town with sharp social class gradations and 
a formal social calendar, I had little awareness of any unbridgeable gulf between myself 
and those people who invited me to country club parties and to homes grander than my 
own. Nor, do I believe, did they. A year at Cornell, however, made certain my innocence 
would come to an end. 

Mother was not so lucky. Although she never spoke openly of it, I know now she was 
ashamed of having less than those she grew up with. Once she had had much more before 
Pappy, my granddad, was wiped out in the 1929 crash. She wasn't envious, mind you, 
she was ashamed, and this shame constrained her open nature. It made her sad and 
wistful when she was alone. It caused her to hide away from former friends and the 
world. She yearned for dignity, for the days when her clothes were made in Paris. So in 
the calculus of human misery, she exercised her frustration on Dad. Their many 
separations and his long absences from home on business even when they lived together 
are likely to have originated in this immaculate tension. 

The great irony is that Mother did beautifully without money. She was resourceful, 
imaginative, generally optimistic, a woman with greater power to create something from 
nothing — totem poles from thread spools, an award-winning Halloween costume from 
scrap paper and cloth, a high-quality adventure from a simple walk through the hills — 
than anyone. She had no extravagant appetites, didn't drink, didn't crave exotic food, 
glamorous places, or the latest gadgets. She set her own hair and it was always lovely. 
And she kept the cleanest house imaginable, full of pretty objects which she gathered 
watchfully and with superb taste on her journey through life. As if to compound the irony 
of her discontent, Mon City was hardly a place to be rich. There wasn't much to buy 

The Greatest Fun Was Watching People Work 

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