224 Deregulating Opportunity: The Underground History of Amercian Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org
When I finished, Mr. Rodgers briefly took me to task for having seemed to include in the indictment the high-tech group at Cypress. Later I learned that he had challenged Washington to stop government subsidies to the Valley on the grounds that such tampering destroyed the very principle that provided it withenergy — open competition and risk-taking. Thinking about his criticism on the road home, I accepted the justice of his complaint against me and, as penance, thought about the significance of what he had said.
A century ago mass production began to stifle the individualism which was the real American Dream. Big business, big government, and big labor couldn't deal with individuals but only with people in bulk. Now computers seem to be shifting the balance of power from collective entities like corporations back to people. The cult of individual effort is found all over Silicon Valley, standing in sharp contrast to leadership practices based on high SAT scores, elite college degrees, and sponsorship by prominent patrons.
The Valley judges people on their tangible contributions rather than on sex, seniority, old-school ties, club memberships, or family. About half the millionaires in my Cypress audience had been foreign-born, not rich at all just a few years earlier. Many new Internet firms are headed by people in their mid-twenties who never wear a suit except to costume parties. Six thousand high- tech firms exist there in a nonstop entrepreneurial environment, the world's best example of Adam Smith's competitive capitalism. Companies are mostly small, personal, and fast on their feet. Traditional organization men are nowhere to be seen; they are a luxury none can afford and still remain competitive. Company mortality is high but so is the startup rate for new firms; when unsuccessful companies die their people and resources are recycled somewhere else.
Information technology people seek to create an economy close to the model capitalism in Adam Smith's mind, a model which assumes the world to be composed not of childish and incompetent masses, but of individuals who can be trusted to pursue their own interests competently — if they are first given access to accurate information and then left relatively free of interference to make something of it. The Internet advances Smith's case dramatically 1 . Computerization is pushing political debate in a libertarian direction, linking markets to the necessary personal freedoms which markets need to work, threatening countries that fail to follow this course of streamlining government with disaster. At least this was true before the great tech-wreck of 2001-2002.
It can only be a matter of time before America rides on the back of the computer age into a new form of educational schooling once called for by Adam Smith, that and a general reincorporation of children back into the greater social body from which they were excised a century and more ago will cure the problem of modern schooling. We can't afford to waste the resources young lives represent much longer. Nobody's that rich. Nor is anybody smart enough to marshal those resources and use them most efficiently. Individuals have to do that for themselves.
On October 30, 1999, The Economist printed a warning that decision-making was being dispersed around global networks of individuals that fall beyond the control of national governments and nothing could be done about it. "Innovation is now so fast and furious that big organizations increasingly look like dinosaurs while wired individuals race past them." That critique encompasses the problem of modern schooling, which cannot educate for fear the social order will explode. Yet the Siliconizing of the industrial world is up-ending hierarchies based on a few knowing inside information and a mass knowing relatively less in descending layers, right on down to schoolchildren given propaganda and fairy tales in place of knowledge.
The full significance of what Adam Smith saw several centuries ago is hardly well understood today, even among those who claim to be his descendants. He saw that human potential, once educated, was beyond the reach of any system of analysis to comprehend or predict, or of any system of regulation to enhance. Fixed orders of social hierarchy and economic destiny are barricades put up to stem the surprising human inventiveness which would surely turn the world inside out if unleashed; they secure privilege by holding individuals in place.
Smith saw that over time wealth would follow the release of constraints on human inventiveness and imagination. The larger the group invited to play, the more spectacular the results. For all the ignorance and untrustworthiness in the world, he correctly perceived that the overwhelming majority of human beings could indeed be trusted to act in a way that over time is good for all. The only kind of education this system needs to be efficient is intellectual schooling for all, schooling to enlarge the imagination and strengthen the natural abilities to analyze, experiment, and communicate. Bringing the young up in somebody else's grand socialization scheme, or bringing them up to play a fixed role in the existing economy and society, and nothing more, is like setting fire to a fortune and burning it up because you don't understand money.
Smith would recognize our current public schools as the same kind of indoctrination project for the masses, albeit infinitely subtler, that the Hindus employed for centuries, a project whose attention is directed to the stability of the social order through constraint of opportunity. What a hideous waste! he might exclaim.
The great achievement of Wealth of Nations resides in its conviction and demonstration that people individually do best for everyone when they do best for themselves, when they aren't commanded too much or protected against the consequences of their own folly. As long as we have a free market and a free society, Smith trusts us to be able to manage any problems that appear. It's only when we vest authority and the problem- solving ability in a few that we become caught in a trap of our own making. The wild world of Silicon Valley mavericks and their outriggers is a hint of a dynamic America to come where responsibility, trust, and great expectations are once again given to the young as they were in Ben Franklin's day. That is how we will break out of the school trap. Ask yourself where and how these Silicon kids really learned what they know. The answer isn't found in memorizing a script.
1. 'i say this in the face of the technology disasters in global stock markets which have wiped out trillions of dollars of capital, pension funds, and peoples' savings. Promoters and manipulators of stock prices live in a world only tenuously connected to the dynamics of invention, a world whose attitude is drawn from the ruthless pragmatism of the Old Norse religion strained through the ethical vacuum of Darwinism. The tech bust should teach us something about the dark side of the human spirit, but it can say little about the positive aspects of flesh-and -blood technical enterprise or the innate democracy of the working societies it generates.