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An American Affidavit

Monday, February 25, 2019

57. Hector Of The Feeble-Mind: The Underground HIstory of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

57. Hector Of The Feeble-Mind: The Underground HIstory of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Hector Of The Feeble-Mind

   See thirteen-year-old Hector Rodriguez 1 as I first saw him: slightly built, olive-skinned,  short, with huge black eyes, his body twisting acrobatically as he tried to slip under the  gated defenses of the skating rink on the northern
end of Central Park one cold November  day. Up to that time I had known Hector for several months but had never really seen     him, nor would I have seen him then but for the startling puzzle he presented by  gatecrashing with a fully paid admission ticket in his pocket. Was he nuts?  

     This particular skating rink sits in a valley requiring patrons to descend several flights of  concrete steps to reach the ice. When I counted bodies at the foot of the stairs, Hector was  missing. I went back up the stairs to find Hector wedged in the bars of the revolving  security gate. "You little imbecile," I screamed. "Why are you sneaking in? You have a  ticket!" No answer, but his expression told me his answer. It said, "Why shout? I know  what I'm doing, I have principles to uphold." He actually looked offended by my lack of  understanding.  

     Hector was solving a problem. Could the interlocking bars of the automatic turnstile be  defeated? What safer way to probe than with a paid ticket in hand in case he got caught.  Later as I searched school records for clues to understand this boy, I discovered in his  short transit on earth he had already left a long outlaw trail behind him. And yet, although  none of his crimes would have earned more than a good spanking a hundred years earlier,  now they helped support a social service empire. By substituting an excessive response  for an appropriate (minimal) reaction, behavior we sought to discourage has doubled and  redoubled. It is implicit in the structure of institutional logic that this happens. What's  bad for real people is the very guarantee of institutional amorality. 

      At the time of this incident, Hector attended one of the fifty- five public schools with the  lowest academic ratings in New York State, part of a select group threatened with  takeover by state custodians. Seven of the nine rapists of the Central Park jogger — a case  that made national headlines some years back — were graduates of the school. Of the  thirteen classes in Hector's grade, a full nine were of higher rank than the one he was in.  Hector might be seen at twelve as an exhausted salmon swimming upstream in a raging  current trying to sweep away his dignity. We had deliberately unleashed such a flood by  assigning about eleven hundred kids in all, to five strictly graduated categories:  

First Class was called "Gifted and Talented Honors."   Second Class was called "Gifted and Talented."   Third Class was called "Special Progress."   Fourth Class was called "Mainstream."   Fifth Class was called "Special Ed." These last kids had a cash value to the school three   times higher than the others, a genuine incentive to find fatal defects where none existed. 

      Hector was a specimen from the doomed category called Mainstream, itself further  divided into alphabetized subcategories — A, B, C, or D. Worst of the worst above Special  Ed would be Mainstream D where he reported. Since Special Ed was a life sentence of  ostracism and humiliation at the hands of the balance of the student body, we might even  call Hector "lucky" to be Mainstream, though as Mainstream D, he was suspended in that  thin layer of mercy just above the truly doomed. Hector's standardized test scores placed  him about three years behind the middle of the rat-pack. This, and his status as an  absolute cipher (where school activities, sports, volunteer work, and good behavior were     concerned) would have made it difficult enough for anyone prone to be his advocate, but  in Hector's case, he wasn't just behind an eight-ball, he was six feet under one.  

     Shortly after I found him breaking and entering (the skating rink), Hector was arrested in  a nearby elementary school with a gun. It was a fake gun but it looked pretty real to the  school secretaries and principal. I found out about this at my school faculty Christmas  party when the principal came bug-eyed over to the potato salad where I camped, crying,  GATTO, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME? His exact words. Hector had been  dismissed for holiday only that morning; he then hightailed it immediately to his old  elementary school, still in session, to turn the younger children loose, to free the pint-  sized slaves like a modern Spartacus. Come forward now one year in time: Hector in high  school, second report card. He failed every subject, and was absent enough to be cited for  truancy. But you could have guessed that before I told you because you read the same  sociology books I do.  

     Can you see the Hector trapped inside these implacable school records? Poor, small for  his age, part of a minority, not accounted much by people who matter, dumb, in a super-  dumb class, a bizarre gatecrasher, a gunslinger, a total failure in high school? Can you see  Hector? Certainly you think you do. How could you not? The system makes it so easy to  classify him and predict his future. 

      What is society to do with its Hectors? This is the boy, multiplied by millions, that school  people have been agonizing about in every decade of the twentieth century. This is the  boy who destroyed the academic mission of American public schooling, turning it into a  warehouse operation, a clinic for behavioral training and attitude adjustment. Hector's  principal said to the Christian Science Monitor when it made a documentary film about  my class and Hector's, "Sure the system stinks, but John [Gatto] has nothing to replace it.  And as bad as the system is, it's better than chaos." 

 But is the only alternative to a stifling system really chaos?     '

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