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An American Affidavit

Thursday, February 22, 2018

12. The Art Of Driving: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Art Of Driving

     Now come back to the present while I demonstrate that the identical trust placed in  ordinary people 200 years ago still survives where it suits managers of our economy to  allow it. Consider the art of driving, which I learned at the
age of eleven. Without  everybody behind the wheel, our sort of economy would be impossible, so everybody is  there, IQ notwithstanding. With less than thirty hours of combined training and  experience, a hundred million people are allowed access to vehicular weapons more  lethal than pistols or rifles. Turned loose without a teacher, so to speak. Why does our  government make such presumptions of competence, placing nearly unqualified trust in  drivers, while it maintains such a tight grip on near-monopoly state schooling?  

     An analogy will illustrate just how radical this trust really is. What if I proposed that we  hand three sticks of dynamite and a detonator to anyone who asked for them. All an  applicant would need is money to pay for the explosives. You'd have to be an idiot to  agree with my plan — at least based on the assumptions you picked up in school about  human nature and human competence.  

     And yet gasoline, a spectacularly mischievous explosive, dangerously unstable and with  the intriguing characteristic as an assault weapon that it can flow under locked doors and  saturate bulletproof clothing, is available to anyone with a container. Five gallons of  gasoline have the destructive power of a stick of dynamite. The average tank holds fifteen  gallons, yet no background check is necessary for dispenser or dispensee. As long as  gasoline is freely available, gun control is beside the point. Push on. Why do we allow  access to a portable substance capable of incinerating houses, torching crowded theaters,  or even turning skyscrapers into infernos? We haven't even considered the battering ram  aspect of cars — why are novice operators allowed to command a ton of metal capable of  hurtling through school crossings at up to two miles a minute? Why do we give the power  of life and death this way to everyone?    

     It should strike you at once that our unstated official assumptions about human nature are  dead wrong. Nearly all people are competent and responsible; universal motoring proves  that. The efficiency of motor vehicles as terrorist instruments would have written a tragic  record long ago if people were inclined to terrorism. But almost all auto mishaps are  accidents, and while there are seemingly a lot of those, the actual fraction of mishaps,  when held up against the stupendous number of possibilities for mishap, is quite small. I  know it's difficult to accept this because the spectre of global terrorism is a favorite cover  story of governments, but the truth is substantially different from the tale the public is  sold. According to the U.S. State Department, 1995 was a near-record year for terrorist  murders; it saw 300 worldwide (200 at the hand of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka)  compared to 400,000 smoking-related deaths in the United States alone. When we  consider our assumptions about human nature that keep children in a condition of  confinement and limited options, we need to reflect on driving and things like almost  nonexistent global terrorism. 

      Notice how quickly people learn to drive well. Early failure is efficiently corrected,  usually self-corrected, because the terrific motivation of staying alive and in one piece  steers driving improvement. If the grand theories of Comenius and Herbart about learning  by incremental revelation, or those lifelong nanny rules of Owen, Maclure, Pestalozzi,  and Beatrice Webb, or those calls for precision in human ranking of Thorndike and Hall,  or those nuanced interventions of Yale, Stanford, and Columbia Teachers College were  actually as essential as their proponents claimed, this libertarian miracle of motoring  would be unfathomable. 

      Now consider the intellectual component of driving. It isn't all just hand-eye-foot  coordination. First-time drivers make dozens, no, hundreds, of continuous hypotheses,  plans, computations, and fine-tuned judgments every day they drive. They do this  skillfully, without being graded, because if they don't, organic provision exists in the  motoring universe to punish them. There isn't any court of appeal from your own  stupidity on the road.  

     I could go on: think of licensing, maintenance, storage, adapting machine and driver to  seasons and daily conditions. Carefully analyzed, driving is as impressive a miracle as  walking, talking, or reading, but this only shows the inherent weakness of analysis since  we know almost everyone learns to drive well in a few hours. The way we used to be as  Americans, learning everything, breaking down social class barriers, is the way we might  be again without forced schooling. Driving proves that to me.  

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