Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Part 2 of The Crisis of American Schooling, According to Gatto

Here are points 12-21 of Gatto's reasons why the public school system has gone wrong and needs to change. Quotes are directly from his writing.

12. "Unknown to the public, virtually all famous remedial programs have failed. Programs like Title I/Chapter I survive by the goodwill of political allies, not by results."

I don't know enough about this to have an opinion. I also didn't try to write this point or the next two points in my own words because in Gatto's article this was all he'd written. 

13. "There is no credible evidence that racial mixing has any positive effect on student performance, but a large body of suggestive data is emerging that confining one group of children with children of a dominant culture does harm to the smaller group." 

I don't know enough about this to agree or disagree.

14. "Forced busing has accelerated the disintegration of minority neighborhoods without any visible academic benefit as trade-off."

Again, I don't know. It's certainly a point worth looking into further.

15. The continued emphasis on machines in the school system has not brought any significant positive changes in student performance; instead, reliance on machines brings passivity and apathy. 

I agree and disagree. Copy machines are some of the most useful, time saving appliances that can be found in a school. Telephones/cell phones and computers are a mixed blessing. The computer is beneficial for research, projects, and communication, but it should not be used as a complete substitute for books, hand-writing, studying, or physical and verbal contact with the rest of the world. Everything in moderation. Machines cause more separation between people, in my opinion, so "less is more" usually. Overuse of machines does create laziness as people rely on their own brains and hands less and less, too. 

16. The average elementary student is fully capable of learning any knowledge base they are interested in regardless of "sequences of development" mandated by government agencies.

Agree. Being home-schooled all my life, I witnessed many of my friends learn various subjects very quickly simply because they were interested, even in areas considered too "difficult" for them to maneuver or comprehend. But children are far, far more capable of acquiring skills than they are given credit for by adults. A seven year old boy, Riley, son of a cattle rancher I knew in Idaho, showed me how to saddle and ride a horse, feed calves from a bottle, operate a four-wheeler, and understand what a cow's different calls meant... all by himself. A five year old boy I know loved numbers so much that he began to do sudoku and beginning level algebra problems for fun. Children have different talents and different interests, which become evident if you listen and get to know them. 

Just read the series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder for many examples of children who didn't let their age stand in the way of their ability to do what they wanted in life. 

17. "Delinquent behavior is a direct reaction to the structure of schooling."

I don't know enough about this to agree or disagree completely. I do know that if a child is bored in half their classes because they are too easy and frustrated in the other half of their classes because they are too hard or confusing, then there is a much greater chance of them acting out. Also, dealing with the social maze of school with its cliques, teachers, and bullies is stressful. I do think that there are far more reasons for delinquent behavior in American youth than can be blamed on the schools, though.

18. The school system's emphasis on uniformity (conformity) detracts from the mind's natural resilience and versatility.

Mostly agree. Not all schools emphasize homogenization of the student population, especially due to the intervention of good teachers, which is encouraging. But one of the main rules of school seems to be "don't try to do anything that rocks the boat". This presents a barrier to a person who has a different idea of what they wish to pursue in their education. 

19. Teacher-training courses give little assistance to solving the problems faced by teachers.

I don't know enough about this to agree or disagree.

20. Schools wrongly insist on separating children by supposed differences, both subtly and intentionally, such as lower, middle, and upper "social class" and age.

Mostly agree. If children are going to be divided into groups, they should be divided according to actual ability of a subject and/or interest. If a child struggles with reading but does well with math-related work, they should be allowed to be in an appropriate reading level which lets them advance at their own pace, and they should also be allowed to enter a more challenging level of math. Every child will have different strengths and weaknesses. I like what I've read about Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, because it shows that not all intelligence is analytical (which is what is usually valued the most in schools).

For example, a little boy I know has a very difficult time in school. He is constantly reprimanded for being too loud, too talkative, too unfocused, too forgetful. But talk to him about reptiles, and he immediately lights up. In the outdoors, he becomes alert, concentrating on his surroundings, eager to discover the slightest movement or sign of animals or bugs. He will pick up a four foot long black snake without a moment's hesitation, cooly examining it and speaking about its habits like a trained expert. Nobody could doubt, after seeing this boy in his element, that he is an intelligent person with interests and goals in life. But when intelligence is seemingly only something that is measured by standardized testing and IQ level, society would label this child as "stupid" or "slow". 

As far as social class goes, I've seen teachers instruct, talk to, talk about, reprimand, and reward children differently based on which socio-economic class the children are from. Most teachers don't seem to do this consciously, but it happens anyway. 

I guess all this goes to say that separating a child into "grades" by age or social class is not the best method. And that a person can be very intelligent yet struggle with school-related areas. Groups of children with mixed levels of abilities can be beneficial, also, as they work and learn from each other.

21. "Efforts to draw a child out of his culture or his social class has an immediate effect on his family relationships, friendships, and the stability of his self-image."

I don't really understand what Gatto was trying to say here; I wish he'd written more about this. So I don't know enough to agree or disagree.

There you have it. Here is a quote by John Taylor Gatto that is a good summary of what he thinks is the solution to the problem of America's educational system today:

"How are we all as a society going to get to a better place in schools than the one we've gotten to at the moment? The only way I can see after spending thirty-five years in and around the institution (fifty-three if I count my own time as a student) is to put full choice squarely back into the hands of parents, let the marketplace redefine schooling, and encourage the development of as many styles of schooling as there are human dreams. Let people, not bureaucrats, work out their own destinies. That's what made us a great country in the first place."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On Being an Innovator

Creativity is defined in the dictionary as "the use of imagination or original ideas". Where does creativity come from? Can a person gain more creativity? Can a person become less creative if their creative energies are not exercised? Here is an interesting theory as to what creativity is:

There is a view of creativity called the "messenger of God" theory, which proposes that finished works are implanted, whole, in the creator's mind. The messenger of God theory points to people like Mozart, who claimed to hear completed symphonies in his head that he had only to write down. 
Another view of creativity, consistent with the experience of numerous people, says that instead of being suddenly inspired geniuses, individuals who are called creative are really more like a dog with a bone. They refuse to let go of an idea. They stick with it for a long time. They mull over the problem at their workbench as well as in the most mundane places. They chew on it just as a dog chews on the same old bone for hours... creative people find no challenge in problems whose answers come easily, preferring to sink their teeth into something meatier.
The true marks of creativity are: (1) an ability to sense which problems are likely to yield results and so are worth tackling, (2) confidence that you can solve the problems you single out for solution, and (3) a dogged persistence that keeps you going when others would give up. 

- From "The Man Who Tasted Shapes", by Richard E. Cytowic, M.D.

Thanks goes to lovely Patricia who lent me this book.

The Crisis of American Schooling, according to Gatto

I have been reading a book by John Taylor Gatto, called "A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling". It is... thought-provoking, at the very least. Gatto's writing extends beyond the public school system into the areas of social commentary, philosophy, and ultimately the purpose of education as it relates to the meaning of life.  

The book consists of sixteen of his public speeches and articles. In one piece, he states twenty-one facts about what the schools are doing wrong. Here are his points, summarized in my own words, and then my thoughts after each as I try to muse on his ideas. It's not that I think I'm a better writer than Gatto, but his article was five pages long, so I'm condensing his facts into a sentence or two. Anything in quotes is Gatto's original comment.

1. Large amounts of money spent on schooling by the state does not guarantee "good" results from schools, such as high test scores or parental and student satisfaction. 

I agree. Just because money is said to be spent on "the schools" does not mean that it is actually being put to good use. Often times a good deal of the money ends up going to administration, or is unevenly distributed through the school system. Why is it that many school's sports programs have better funding than their music or art programs? Hmmm. More money also does not ensure that a school will have better teachers, better teacher-student ratios, or better methods of teaching children how to read or do math. 

2. Longer school years do not guarantee greater positive accomplishment by students, as proven by other countries with high performance scores and shorter school years. 

I did some research on this, and it does appear that most countries who rank highest on academic test scores still give their students a good amount of break time. Many have several vacation periods based on the country's cultural or religious holidays. These students are not in school every day of every month, yet they seem to be doing just fine. So why do education executives in America want to erase the precious summer weeks that children have free, extending the school period year round? 

3. The relationship between test scores and student abilities/future job performance is relatively low. "Is there anybody out there who really believes that grades and test scores are the mark of the man?"

Here are just a few people who did poorly in school, and dropped out before graduating high school (and some of them didn't even get past grade school): Benjamin Franklin, Coke Stevenson, Andrew Carnegie, Peter Jennings, Quentin Tarantino, Johnny Depp, Walt Disney, Charlie Chaplin, Buffalo Bill Cody, Charles Dickens, Thomas Edison, Claude Monet, John Philip Sousa, Mark Twain.

Here are more people who never made it to college: Grover Cleveland, Aaron Copeland, Amelia Earhart, Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, Abraham Lincoln, John Rockefeller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry S.Truman, George Washington, George Gershwin, Jack London, Frank Sinatra, Orville and Wilbur Wright.

4. On-the-job training is much more applicable, beneficial, and higher quality than forced training in a school.

Maybe. I do see that people of all ages learn much more efficiently and thoroughly when they are interested in something and know that what they are learning will be completely relevant to their pursuits. I also see, however, that people can learn well in school, even when they aren't particularly enthralled with what is being taught. So, this point seems to boil down to the individual.

5. Because the American economy requires workers with less skill, the school systems are responding by giving students less knowledge, so that critical thinking, resourcefulness, and independence are devalued. 

I agree, based on my own observations. Many generic jobs that I see today require little training and minimal thinking. Workers often look asleep at their job. 

6. Everything the school system uses to control and manage its students, such as drills, routines, busy work, etc. take away from a student's creative development.
I mostly agree. If children are told what to do for their entire waking hours, their self-reliance fades. Good habits are important to learn, as well as discipline, but only as much as is will be of benefit. I think that most children are micro-managed unnecessarily.

7. Teachers are supposed to be specialists in their fields, but few of them have actual real-world experience or well-established wisdom to fuel or validate their teaching.
I don't fully agree. In some cases, and for some ages of students, teachers are good because of their great inspiration and passion. Experience is so, so important to being a teacher, but does that mean young people cannot be teachers? I myself am a teacher. I've been teaching music since I was fifteen. Sure, I was an amateur, and I've made lots of mistakes during the past eight years. But I learn along the way, ask for help and evaluation, and constantly observe other teachers to add to my own skills. The best teachers I've known were those who had years of experience... but the only way they acquired that experience was by DOING it, actually teaching. So. 

Now, as to being specialists in a field, I do think that teachers need to continue to expand their own field of experience. English teachers should continue to hone their writing abilities. Music teachers should continue to become better musicians. Whether it is by hands-on, practical enhancement of their particular subject field, or ongoing research/augmenting of knowledge, a teacher should improve themselves, not stagnate in their proficiency.

8. Almost all major scientific discoveries are accomplished without the aid of formal school science classes.

I don't know enough about this to state a definitive agree or disagree opinion.

9. "...the quality of school which any student attends is a very bad predictor of later success, financial, social, or emotional. On the other hand the quality of family life is a very good predictor."

Agree. Going to a good school certainly helps a student in their endeavors, but there are countless stories of students who overcame daunting obstacles through sheer willpower and the support of a caring family or mentor.

10. Even though young children are very smart and capable of learning a great deal, the decision as to whether they should be given formal training in academic areas at such a young age is a decision best left up to the philosophical and cultural beliefs of their own family, not the government or an impersonal school system.

Agree. Seems like common sense to me.

11. Children who are heavily dosed with school-based teaching are more likely to detach themselves from reality in favor of retreating into their own fantasy world.

Agree. I've seen it happen many times. Whether children use books, video games, sports, online computer games, music, television, or a clique of friends, they are trying to distract themselves from what their real life entails. No, I'm not saying that any of those things are inherently bad in and of themselves (although I'm not a fan of some of them), but a child who watches several hours of t.v. after school, or plays several hours of computer or video games, cannot become a whole person if they are constantly trying to divert themselves away from the events of the day (i.e. school). This is carried over into later life when the adult tries to distract themselves from their difficulties by drinking, drugs, partying, or any number of diversions.

Okay... break time! Part two of this article will come later!

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I've recently become re-interested in poetry forms. The paradelle is a fixed form of poetry, invented by the French in the eleventh century. There are four six-line stanzas in which the first and second lines, and the third and fourth lines, of the first three stanzas must be identical. The fifth and sixth lines of each stanza must use all the words from the preceding lines in the stanza (and only those words). The fourth and final stanza must use every word from the fifth and sixth lines of all the preceding stanzas, and only those words. 

Working within a set frame adds another dimension to my thought process. So here's my second attempt at a paradelle. The first one was a love poem, and I'm not going to post that ; )

When I stare, you look away and ask "what?"
When I stare, you look away and ask "what?"
Tickle my feet until I shriek.
Tickle my feet until I shriek.
Shriek, and I tickle you. My feet. What look?
Ask, "until when"? I stare away. 

Your brother's smile beautiful on your face,
Your brother's smile beautiful on your face,
Voice lilts like a little bird singing.
Voice lilts like a little bird singing.
Little face, your beautiful. Smile lilts. Voice singing.
Your brother's like a bird: on.

Mind colors flutter, never still, yet you think and see all clear.
Mind colors flutter, never still, yet you think and see all clear.
Dark eyes of glory face the world, half-way grin.
Dark eyes of glory face the world, half-way grin.
Flutter, world. Mind you think! Glory never half-way still,
Grin and face dark yet clear. See the eyes of all colors.

You all tickle my world. See, stare, 
yet the colors never clear away.
When you smile, glory lilts, singing, a flutter feet glory grin.
Face on, face dark until I half-way shriek... look. 
Think still. And what?
I like your brother's eyes, the little bird voice, and your beautiful mind.