Find Joy. Seek Truth. Be Kind.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

John Gatto, Live!

Last night my husband and I got to attend a lecture at UNC by John Gatto. We braved blustery April snow to get there and I thought it was well worth it.
He spoke very much like how Underground History reads.  That is, brilliant concepts backed up by evidence and facts, but windy and not necessarily well organized.  He had many interesting digressions, but it wasn't always clear where he was going with his meandering.   I thought Dumbing Us Down was more concise and better edited than An Underground History of American Education.  I had hopes that Weapons of Mass Instruction would get a ruthless editor, but if last night was chapt. 2, then probably not.  If his message were refined, it could get a broader audience.  

As it is, I worry that he comes off as a crack pot conspiracy theorist, impressed with his own verbiage. The truth of his message is lost due to it's presentation. Still, while I didn't hear anything new and thought my husband would have wanted to leave at intermission, not having read Gattos' stuff, he wanted to stay and hear more.

Here are a few highlights of the talk that I picked up on. I wish I had brought paper and taken notes. (What was I thinking?)

I liked the description of "Open Source Learning" (or Open Source Education) - taking learning from everything and everyone. (like "Learning all the time" by John Holt)

His take on creating a consumer culture vs the producer culture that we started out as back when America was just colonists rang true.

His ideas on independence and "adding value" to your life and the lives and world around you as a way to success inspired some ideas I'd like to include in our homeschooling.

He saw a change in the perception of the teen years as an extended childhood in modern culture as compared to young adulthood (in the past).

He accurately described testing and grading as a social construct that encourages comparisons and competition between people, as well as creating the idea that people can/should be valued by their scores - and the damage it does to people who actually believe their value is determined by tests and ranking.

He exposed the false promises of schooling - that you will learn what you need to know to be successful in your life in a classroom. I was told that if a certain level of education was reached, employment was virtually guaranteed, yet I know so many un- or under-employed people with advanced degrees. In reality what makes a person successful is rarely a piece of paper (degree or test scores).

He did define success, rather exclusively, as financial or social prominence. I think because those are measurements of success that we can all understand, where as other measurements of success might be harder to define and see. Also, truth be told, financial independence allows one to do as one chooses, and gives one power/freedom in modern society, both of which are things most people would choose for themselves and their children.

More troubling he pointed out a connection with UU's revered David Starr Jordan. I'll need to do some research to see if I agree with his take on this, but so far, I'm afraid Gatto might have it right again (Jordan was a supporter of eugenics). People are products of their times, both good and bad.


Sue and Steve said...

Ahh, so Starr Jordan was affiliated with Unitarianism as well! If Darwin can get that far off base with his eugenics views, then why not Jordan too. Human falliability and all...

Love your book list -- can you really get all those read in a month? Hmmm, maybe I *should* stop playing computer games...

I agree that he needs an editor, but there's a irascibleness that can come with wise old age that probably fights any attempts to edit...

April said...

Yes, even UU's can be wrong. Good to remember that all of us have potential for good and evil. And that logic can be twisted and used for ill.

I got the same idea, Sue, that editing Gatto would be a loosing endeavor.:-) Worth it tho', if it helped his knowledge reach a broader audience.

I actually read more than what's on the list in a month. In general I don't include all the books (picture and chapter) that I read with the kids. Nor do I include magazines, or books that I only skim and decide aren't worth more time. Thank goodness for libraries! They supply my habit.