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An American Affidavit

Friday, December 27, 2019

124 The Greatest Fun Was Watching People Work: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

124 The Greatest Fun Was Watching People Work: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org
The Greatest Fun Was Watching People Work

I shouldn't say nobody had money in Monongahela, but it's accurate to say nothing was
expensive. Beer was the town passion, more a religion with the men, and a big glass cost
only a nickel, the same price as twelve ounces of
buttermilk or a candy bar three times
heavier than the modern sort. Bones to make soup were free. Beyond movies — twelve
cents for kids — commercial entertainment hardly existed. There were a few bowling
alleys at a nickel a frame, Redd's Beach (a pool at least ten miles away where swimming
was a dime), and a roller-skating rink I never went to.

Where society thrived was in hundreds of ethnic social clubs and fraternal organizations
up and down the Valley: the Moose, the Elks, the Oddfellows, Mystic Knights, Sons of
Slovenia, the Polish-American Society, the Russian-American Club. These were places
for men to drink and talk cheaply except on Saturday night when ladies could drink and
talk, too, alongside their men and have a dance. Sometimes with even a live band to give
snap to the joint.

No kid in Mon City reached for the "Events and Activities" page of the papers because
there wasn't one, nor were there any special kid places that people of all ages didn't
frequent. When the men weren't playing bocce at the Italian Club, kids were allowed,
passing first through a barroom reeking of unpasteurized stale beer. No special life was
arranged for kids. Yet there was always a full menu. Just spying on the adult world,
watching people work, and setting out on expeditions to explore filled whatever time you
wanted to spare. Until I got to Cornell, I can't recall anyone I ever knew saying "I'm
bored." And yet in New York City, when I moved there, hardly a day passed without
someone crying loud and long about ennui. Perhaps this indicates some important marker
we've missed in our modern search to make private worlds for children — the constituents
of meaning have been stripped away from these overspecialized places. Why a child
would want to associate exclusively with children in a narrow age or social class range
defies understanding, that adults would impose such a fate on kids strikes me as an act of

The greatest fun was watching work at construction sites, watching freight trains unload
or coal up, studying lumberyards at work, seeing gas pumped, hoods lifted, metal welded,
tires vulcanized, watching Johnny Nami cut hair, watching Vito fill chocolates. Best of
all was trailing Charlie Bigerton, the cop, on his rounds without his catching on. When
kids around town pooled data about Charlie, we could recreate the police patrol schedule
accurately enough that violating wartime curfew was like taking candy from a baby.

Sitting In The Dark

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