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An American Affidavit

Friday, January 25, 2019

27.Montaigne's Curriculum: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

27.Montaigne's Curriculum: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Montaigne's Curriculum 

   Between the fall of Rome in the late fifth century and the decline of monarchy in the  eighteenth, secular schooling in any form was hardly a ripple on the societies of Europe.  There was talk of it at certain times and places, but it
was courtly talk, never very serious.  What simple schooling we find was modestly undertaken by religious orders which

 usually had no greater ambition than providing a stream of assistants to the ecclesiastical  bureaucracy, and perhaps molding the values of whatever future leaders proved  susceptible; the few exceptions shouldn't be looked upon as the spark for our own     schools. School was only a tiny blip on the radar until the last half of the eighteenth  century.  

     If you and I are to have a productive partnership in this book you need to clear your mind  of false history, the type that clogs the typical school chronicle written for teacher  training institutes where each fact may be verifiable but the conclusions drawn from them  are not. Turn to typical school history and you will learn about the alleged anticipation of  our own schools by Comenius, of the reformed Latin Grammar School founded by Dean  Colet at St. Paul's in London in 1510, of the "solitaries of Port Royal," whoever those  lonely men may have been; each instance is real, the direction they lead in is false. What  formal school experimentation the West provided touched only a tiny fraction of the  population, and rarely those who became social leaders, let alone pioneers of the future.  

     You can disinter proclamations about schooling from Alfred's kingdom or  Charlemagne's, but you can't find a scrap of hard evidence that the thing was ever  seriously essayed. What talk of schooling occurs is the exclusive property of  philosophers, secret societies, and a host of cranks, quacks, and schemers. What you  never find anywhere is any popular clamor for a place to dump children called School.  Yet while schooling is conspicuous by its absence, there's no shortage of intelligent  commentary about education — a commodity not to be conflated with the lesser term until  late in history. 

      Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Pope Pius II, in his tract The Education of Children (1451),  prescribes the reading and study of classical authors, geometry, and arithmetic "for  training the mind and assuring rapidity of conceptions." He included history and  geographyin his recommended curriculum, adding that "there is nothing in the world  more beautiful than enlightened intelligence." The sixteenth century is filled with theories  of education from men like Erasmus, Rabelais, and Montaigne. French schoolman  Gabriel Compayre, in his History of Pedagogy (1885), holds all three in the highest  regard: 

     Erasmus, Rabelais, and Montaigne. ..before pretending to surpass them, even at this day,  we should rather attempt to overtake them, and to equal them in their pedagogical  precepts.  

     Like most educated men and women, Erasmus was his own teacher. He assigned  politeness an important place in education:  

     The tender mind of the child should. ..love and learn the liberal arts. ..be taught tact in the  conduct of the social life. ..from the earliest be accustomed to good behavior based on  moral principles.  

     Montaigne, who actually attended school at Guienne from the age of six until he was  thirteen, bequeathed an image of late sixteenth-century schooling amazingly modern in  its particulars:   

      Tis the true house of correction of imprisoned youth. ..do but come when they are about  their lesson and you shall hear nothing but the outcries of boys under execution, with the  thundering noise of their Pedagogues, drunk with fury, to make up the consort. A pretty  way this to tempt these tender and timorous souls to love their book, with a furious  countenance and a rod in hand.  

     What Montaigne requires of a student seeking education is the development of sound  judgment: "If the judgment be not better settled, I would rather have him spend his time  at tennis." 

     Montaigne was preoccupied with the training of judgment. He would have history  learned so that facts have contexts and historical judgment a bearing on contemporary  affairs; he was intrigued by the possibilities of emulation 1 , as were all the classical  masters, and so informs us. He said we need to see the difference between teaching,  "where Marcellus died," which is unimportant and teaching "why it was unworthy of his  duty that he died there," which has great significance. For Montaigne, learning to judge  well and speak well is where education resides:  

     Whatever presents itself to our eyes serves as a sufficient book. The knavery of a page,  the blunder of a servant, a table witticism. ..conversation with men is wonderfully helpful,  so is a visit to foreign lands.. .to whet and sharpen our wits by rubbing them upon those of  others.  

     And in Gargantua the physician Rabelais set out a pedagogy quite in harmony with the  experience-based curriculum of John Locke. 

      When I started teaching, I was able to transfer principles of Montaigne to my classroom  without any difficulty. They proved as useful to me in 1962 as they must have been to  Montaigne in 1562, wisdom eternally sane, always cost-free. In contrast, the bloated lists  of "aims," "motivations," and "methods" the New York City Board of Education supplied  me with were worse than useless; many were dead wrong  

     One important bit of evidence that the informal attitude toward schooling was beginning  to break up in seventeenth-century New England is found in the Massachusetts School  Law of 1647, legislation attempting to establish a system of schools by government order  and providing means to enforce that order. Talk like this had been around for centuries,  but this was a significant enactment, coming from a theocratic Utopia on the frontier of  the known universe. 

      Yet for all the effort of New England Puritan leadership to make its citizenry uniform  through schooling and pulpit, one of history's grand ironies is that orderly Anglican  Virginia and the heirs of Puritan Massachusetts were the prime makers of a revolution  which successfully overthrew the regulated uniformity of Britain. And in neither the  startling Declaration of Independence, which set out the motives for this revolution, nor  in the even more startling Bill of Rights in which ordinary people claimed their reward  for courageous service, is either the word School or the word Education even mentioned.     At the nation's founding, nobody thought School a cause worth going to war for, nobody  thought it a right worth claiming. 

7.   Emulation or the imitation of notable models as an effective spring of learning; thus was the most ancient and effec- tive motivation to learn-  to become like someone admirable — put to death deliberately by institutional pedagogy.    

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