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An American Affidavit

Thursday, January 24, 2019

26.George Washington: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

26.George Washington: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

George Washington 

   A good yardstick to measure how far modern schooling has migrated from the education  of the past is George Washington's upbringing in the middle eighteenth century.  Although Washington descended from important families, his situation
wasn't quite the  easeful life that suggests. The death of his father left him, at eleven, without Ben

 Franklin's best rudder, and the practice of primogeniture, which vested virtually the  entire inheritance in the first son (in order to stabilize social class) compelled Washington  to either face the future as a ward of his brother, an unthinkable alternative for George, or     take destiny into his own hands as a boy. You probably already know how that story  turned out, but since the course he pursued was nearly schoolless, its curriculum is worth  a closer look. For the next few minutes imagine yourself at "school" with Washington. 

      George Washington was no genius; we know that from too many of his contemporaries to  quibble. John Adams called him "too illiterate, too unlearned, too unread for his station  and reputation." Jefferson, his fellow Virginian, declared he liked to spend time "chiefly  in action, reading little." It was an age when everyone in Boston, even shoeblacks, knew  how to read and count; it was a time when a working-class boy in a family of thirteen like  Franklin couldn't remember when he didn't know how to read.  

      As a teenager, Washington loved two things: dancing and horseback riding. He pursued  both with a passion that paid off handsomely when he became president. Large in  physical stature, his appearance might have stigmatized him as awkward. Instead, he  developed the agile strength of a dancer and an equestrian, he was able to communicate  grace through his commanding presence, elan that counterpoised his large build at any  gathering. Thanks to his twin obsessions he met his responsibilities with the bearing of a  champion athlete, which saved his life during the Revolution. In the midst of the fray, a  British sharpshooter drew a bead on this target, but found himself unable to pull the  trigger because Washington bore himself so magnificently! George Mercer, a friend,  described Washington as a young man in the following way:  

     He is straight as an Indian, measuring six feet, two inches in his stockings and weighing  175 pounds.... His frame is padded with well developed muscles, indicating great  strength. 

      British military superiority, including the best available war-making technology, would  have made hash of a brainless commander in spite of his admirable carriage, so we need  to analyze the curriculum which produced "America's Fabius," as he was called. 1 

      Washington had no schooling until he was eleven, no classroom confinement, no  blackboards. He arrived at school already knowing how to read, write, and calculate  about as well as the average college student today. If that sounds outlandish, turn back to  Franklin's curriculum and compare it with the intellectual diet of a modern gifted and  talented class. Full literacy wasn't unusual in the colonies or early republic; many schools  wouldn't admit students who didn't know reading and counting because few  schoolmasters were willing to waste time teaching what was so easy to learn. It was  deemed a mark of depraved character if literacy hadn't been attained by the matriculating  student. Even the many charity schools operated by churches, towns, and philanthropic  associations for the poor would have been flabbergasted at the great hue and cry raised  today about difficulties teaching literacy. American experience proved the contrary.  

     In New England and the Middle Atlantic Colonies, where reading was especially valued,  literacy was universal. The printed word was also valued in the South, where literacy was  common, if not universal. In fact, it was general literacy among all classes that spurred     the explosive growth of colleges in nineteenth-century America, where even ordinary  folks hungered for advanced forms of learning.  

     Following George to school at eleven to see what the schoolmaster had in store would  reveal a skimpy menu of studies, yet one with a curious gravity: geometry, trigonometry,  and surveying. You might regard that as impossible or consider it was only a dumbed-  down version of those things, some kid's game akin to the many simulations one finds  today in schools for prosperous children — simulated city-building, simulated court trials,  simulated businesses — virtual realities to bridge the gap between adult society and the  immaturity of the young. But if George didn't get the real thing, how do you account for  his first job as official surveyor for Culpepper County, Virginia, only 2,000 days after he  first hefted a surveyor's transit in school? 

      For the next three years, Washington earned the equivalent of about $100,000 a year in  today's purchasing power. It's probable his social connections helped this fatherless boy  get the position, but in frontier society anyone would be crazy to give a boy serious work  unless he actually could do it. Almost at once he began speculating in land; he didn't  need a futurist to tell him which way the historical wind was blowing. By the age of  twenty-one, he had leveraged his knowledge and income into 2,500 acres of prime land in  Frederick County, Virginia. 

      Washington had no father as a teenager, and we know he was no genius, yet he learned  geometry, trigonometry, and surveying when he would have been a fifth or sixth grader  in our era. Ten years later he had prospered directly by his knowledge. His entire life was  a work of art in the sense it was an artifice under his control. He even eventually freed his  slaves without being coerced to do so. Washington could easily have been the first king  in America but he discouraged any thinking on that score, and despite many critics, he  was so universally admired the seat of government was named after him while he was  still alive. 

      Washington attended school for exactly two years. Besides the subjects mentioned, at  twelve and thirteen (and later) he studied frequently used legal forms like bills of  exchange, tobacco receipts, leases, and patents. From these forms, he was asked to  deduce the theory, philosophy, and custom which produced them. By all accounts, this  steeping in grown-up reality didn't bore him at all. I had the same experience with  Harlem kids 250 years later, following a similar procedure in teaching them how to  struggle with complex income tax forms. Young people yearn for this kind of guided  introduction to serious things, I think. When that yearning is denied, schooling destroys  their belief that justice governs human affairs. 

      By his own choice, Washington put time into learning deportment, how to be regarded a  gentleman by other gentlemen; he copied a book of rules which had been used at Jesuit  schools for over a century and with that, his observations, and what advice he could  secure, gathered his own character. Here's rule 56 to let you see the flavor of the thing:  "Associate yourself with men of good Quality if you Esteem your own reputation." Sharp  kid. No wonder he became president.    

     Washington also studied geography and astronomy on his own, gaining a knowledge of  regions, continents, oceans, and heavens. In light of the casual judgment of his  contemporaries that his intellect was of normal proportions, you might be surprised to  hear that by eighteen he had devoured all the writings of Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett,  and Daniel Defoe and read regularly the famous and elegant Spectator. He also read  Seneca's Morals, Julius Caesar's Commentaries, and the major writing of other Roman  generals like the historian Tacitus. 

      At sixteen the future president began writing memos to himself about clothing design, not  content to allow something so important to be left in the hands of tradesmen. Years later  he became his own architect for the magnificent estate of Mt. Vernon. While still in his  twenties, he began to experiment with domestic industry where he might avoid the  vagaries of international finance in things like cotton or tobacco. First he tried to grow  hemp "for medicinal purposes," which didn't work out; next he tried flax — that didn't  work either. At the age of thirty-one, he hit on wheat. In seven years he had a little wheat  business with his own flour mills and hired agents to market his own brand of flour; a  little later he built fishing boats: four years before the Declaration was written he was  pulling in 9 million herring a year. 

      No public school in the United States is set up to allow a George Washington to happen.  Washingtons in the bud stage are screened, browbeaten, or bribed to conform to a narrow  outlook on social truth. Boys like Andrew Carnegie who begged his mother not to send  him to school and was well on his way to immortality and fortune at the age of thirteen,  would be referred today for psychological counseling; Thomas Edison would find  himself in Special Ed until his peculiar genius had been sufficiently tamed. 

      Anyone who reads can compare what the American present does in isolating children  from their natural sources of education, modeling them on a niggardly last, to what the  American past proved about human capabilities. The effect of the forced schooling  institution's strange accomplishment has been monumental. No wonder history has been  outlawed.   

6. 'Washington's critics dubbed him "Fabius" after the Roman general who dogged Hannibal's march but avoided battle with the Carthaginian.  Washington wore down British resolve by eroding the general belief in their invincibility, something he had learned on the Monongahela when  Braddock's force was routed. Eventually the French became convinced Washington was on the winning side, and with their support America  became a nation. But it was the strategy of Washington that made a French-American alliance possible at all.    

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