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An American Affidavit

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

64. The Prototype Is A Schoolteacher: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Prototype Is A Schoolteacher 

One dependable signal of a true believer's presence is a strong passion for everyone 's 
children. Find nonstop, abstract interest in the collective noun "children," the kind of love 
Pestalozzi or Froebel had, and you've flushed the priesthood from its lair. Eric Hoffer 
tells us the prototype true believer is a schoolteacher. Mao was a schoolteacher, so was 
Mussolini, so were many other prominent warlike leaders of our time, including Lyndon 
Johnson. In Hoffer' s characterization, the true believer is identified by inner fire, "a 
burning conviction we have a holy duty to others." Lack of humor is one touchstone of 
true belief. 

The expression "true believer" is from a fifth-century book, The City of God, occurring in 
a passage where St. Augustine urges holy men and women to abandon fear and embrace 
their sacred work fervently. True Belief is a psychological frame you'll find useful to 
explain individuals who relentlessly pursue a cause indifferent to personal discomfort, 
indifferent to the discomfort of others. 1 All of us show a tiny element of true belief in our 
makeup, usually just enough to recognize the lunatic gleam in the eye of some purer 
zealot when we meet face to face. But in an age which distances us from hand-to-hand 
encounters with authority — removing us electronically, bureaucratically, and 
institutionally — the truly fanatical among us have been granted the luxury of full 
anonymity. We have to judge their presence by the fallout. 

Horace Mann exemplifies the type. From start to finish he had a mission. He spoke 
passionately at all times. He wrote notes to himself about "breaking the bond of 
association among workingmen." In a commencement harangue at Antioch College in 
1859, he said, "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." A few 
cynical critics snipe at Mann for lying about his imaginary school tour of Prussia (which 
led to the adoption of Prussian schooling methodologies in America), but those cynics 
miss the point. For the great ones, the goal is everything; the end justifies any means. 
Mann lived and died a social crusader. His second wife, Mary Peabody, paid him this 
posthumous tribute: "He was all afire with Purpose." 

Al Shanker, longtime president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in one of 
his last Sunday advertisements in The New York Times before his death: "Public schools 
do not exist to please Johnny's parents. They do not even exist to ensure that Johnny will 
one day earn a good living at a job he likes." No other energy but true belief can explain 
what Shanker might have had in mind. 

1 For instance, how else to get a handle on the Columbia Teachers College bureau head who delivered 
himself of this sentence in Education Week (March 18, 1998), in an essay titled "Altering Destinies": 
"Program officials consider no part of a student's life off limits." 

Teachers College Maintains The Planet 

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