I'm going to warn you right off the bat that if you are a big fan, or defender, of institutional schooling you might want to skip this post. Or, better yet, you need to read it, be offended, and then read the book.
I've been reading Weapons of Mass Instruction by former New York State Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto. His book Dumbing Us Down helped shore up my courage when we started homeschooling, by aiding me in articulating some of the things that bothered me about the way that we school children. This book is reminding me again, and giving me reasons for much of what I see going on around me.
Gatto's books take a good hard look at the dichotomy between what we suppose that schools are for--to produce an educated citizenry--and what they were really designed to do, and do well. That is, to provide a trained, more homogenized workforce that does not question that the experts know best and that recognizes that some animals are more equal than others.
This is why in spite of 12-13 years of mandated schooling, with many of us adding a year or two on the front end, and more on the back end, we get statistics like this one:
"Only 31% of college educated Americans can fully comprehend a newspaper story, down from 40% a decade ago." (National Commission on the Future of Higher Education, 2006)
Statistics like this explain why, when I'm discussing the news or world events with people, or am involved in an online discussion, I ask myself again and again, "Can't these people READ?" Unfortunately, that answer is likely to be no, since reading proficiency is even lower among those who are not college grads.
For years we have seen study after study that show that our schools don't do what we think they should. The antidote suggested is always more money and more time. What we generally don't recognize is that schools are doing exactly what they were designed to do.
At some deeper level, I think many people know this. It is the reason why the main question homeschoolers get is, "What about socialization?" People worry that our children won't know how to wait in lines and get up to an alarm. Homeschoolers are criticized when their children don't fit in seamleesly with a group of others their age. Pepople don't worry that our children won't be able to read, write, and think. They worry that they'll make other people uncomfortable by being different.
Consider this, "We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." This is Woodrow Wilson, speaking to businessmen about the purpose of mandatory public education. Quotes like this and ideas like this are not the exception in the shaping of our schools. They are the norm. For an even more in-depth look, Gatto's Underground History of American Education is available online.
Reading Gatto's books makes me realize what a subversive activity homeschooling is. It helps me to understand why, since we began this adventure 13 years ago, my outlook on so many things has changed. I question more. And I have taught my kids to do the same.
There will be more posts stemming from this book in coming days. It bears many markings and dog-earred pages, each of them a potential post. Read the book. Even if you're sure you disagree.