223. Silicon Valley: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org
Breaking Out of the Trap We have a choice to make once and for all: between the empire and the spiritual and physical salvation of our people. No road for the people will ever be open unless the government completely gives up control over us or any aspect of our lives. It has led the country into an abyss and it does not know the way out. — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, as quoted by Pravda (1986)
To hell with the cheese, let's get out of this trap! — A mouse
To reform our treatment of the young, we must force the center of gravity of the school world to change. In this chapter I'll try to show you what I mean, but my method will be largely indirect. To fashion the beginnings of a solution from these materials will require your active engagement in an imaginative partnership with me, one that shall commence in Silicon Valley.
I went to Silicon Valley in the middle of 1999 to speak to some computer executives at Cypress Semiconductor on the general topic of school reform. The fifty or sixty who showed up to my talk directly from work were dressed so informally they might easily have been mistaken for pizza delivery men or taxicab drivers. The CEO of the corporation, its founder T.J. Rodgers, was similarly turned out. I didn't recognize him as the same famous man portrayed on a large photo mural mounted on the wall outside until he introduced me to the audience and the audience to me. To let me know who my auditors were, Rodgers said that everyone there was a millionaire, none needed to work for him because all were self-sufficient and could find work all over the place simply by walking into a different company. They worked for Cypress because they wanted to, just as he did himself and, like him, they were usually hard at it from very early morning until long after five o'clock. Because they wanted to.
The thesis of my talk was that the history of forced schooling in America, as elsewhere, is the history of the requirements of business. School can't be satisfactorily explained by studying the careers of ideologues like Horace Mann or anyone else. The problem of American education from a personal or a family perspective isn't really a problem at all from the vantage point of big business, big finance, and big government. What's a problem to me is a solution for them. An insufficient incentive exists to change things much, otherwise things would change. I learned that from Adam Smith, Smith turns out to be a much different sensibility than the priesthood. of corporate apologiests thinks he is.
Regard it this way: in our present system, those abstract bignesses are saddled with the endless responsibility of finding a place for hundreds of millions of people, and the even more daunting challenge of creating demand for products and services which, historically viewed, few of us need or want. Because of this anomaly, a Procrustean discipline emerges in which the entire population must continually be cut or stretched to fit the momentary convenience of the economy. This is a free market only in fantasy; it seems free because ceaseless behind-the-scenes efforts maintain the illusion, but its reality is much different. Prodigies of psychological and political insight and wisdom gathered painfully over the centuries are refined into principles, taught in elite colleges, and consecrated in the service of this colossal tour deforce of appearances.
Let me illustrate. People love to work, but they must be convinced that work is a kind of curse, that they must arrange the maximum of leisure and labor-saving devices in their lives upon which belief many corporations depend; people love to invent solutions, to be resourceful, to make do with what they have, but resourcefulness and frugality are criminal behaviors to a mass production economy, such examples threaten to infect others with the same fatal sedition; similarly, people love to attach themselves to favored possessions, even to grow old and die with them, but such indulgence is dangerous lunacy in a machine economy whose costly tools are continually renewed by enormous borrowings; people like to stay put but must be convinced they lead pinched and barren existences without travel; people love to walk but the built world is now laid out so they have to drive. Worst of all are those who yearn for productive, independent livelihoods like the Amish have, and nearly all free Americans once had. If that vision spreads, a consumer economy is sunk. For all these and other reasons, the form of schooling we get is largely a kind of consumer and employee training. This isn't just incidentally true. Common sense should tell you it's necessarily so if the economy is to survive in any recognizable form.
Every principal institution in our culture is a partner with the particular form of corporatism which has began to dominate America at the end of WWII. Call it paternal corporatism, wise elites can be trained to provide for the rest of us, who will be kept as children. Unlike Plato's Guardians whom they otherwise resemble, this meritorious elite is not kept poor but is guaranteed prosperity and status in exchange for its oversight. An essential feature of this kind of central management is that the population remain mystified, specialized dependent, and childish.
The school institution is clearly a key partner in this arrangement: it suppresses the productive impulse in favor of consumption; it redefines "work" as a job someone eventually gives you if you behave; it habituates a large clientele to sloth, envy, and boredom; and it accustoms individuals to think of themselves as members of a class with various distinguishing features. More than anything else, school is about class consciousness. In addition, it makes intellectual work and creative thinking appear like distasteful or difficult labor to most of us. None of this is done to oppress, but because the economy would dissolve into something else if those attitudes didn't become ingrained in childhood.
We have evolved a subtly architected, delicately balanced command economy and class- based society upon which huge efforts are lavished to make it appear like something else. The illusion has been wearing thin for years; that's a principal reason why so many people don't bother to vote. In such a bargain, the quality of schooling is distinctly secondary; other values are uppermost. A great many children see through the fraud in elementary school but lack the language and education to come to proper terms with their feelings. In this system, a fraction of the kids are slowly over time let in on a part of this managerial reality because they are intended to eventually be made into Guardians themselves, or Guardian's assistants.
School is a place where a comprehensive social vision is learned. Without a contrary vision to offer, the term "school reform" is only a misnomer describing trivial changes. Any large alteration of forced schooling, which might jeopardize the continuity of workers and customers that the corporate economy depends upon, is unthinkable without some radical change in popular perception preceding it. Business/School partnerships and School-to-Work legislation aren't positive developments, but they represent the end of any pretense that ordinary children should be educated. That, in any case, was the burden of my talk at Cypress.