Sunday, September 5, 2010

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!

No comments:

Post a Comment