According to former public school teacher turned radical unschooler John Taylor Gatto, we have developed a de facto three-tiered education system in the United States as follows…
Tier One – The elite private schools for the kids of our economic elite (the so called “One Percent”), where they have the opportunity to develop skills of leadership, entrepreneurship, and creative outside-the-box thinking and develop the necessary connections to people in power to become the next generation of corporate and political leaders.
Tier Two – The “good” public schools (and comparable religious and secular private schools) that train the kids of middle-class families to become part of the what Gatto calls the “professional proletariat” – the doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, and other “knowledge workers” – that staff the corporate enterprises financed, launched and led by the kids from the tier one schools.
Tier Three – The “bad” or “failed” public schools for the economically disadvantage communities, which according to Gatto and other radical education activists are designed to “fail” and maintain an underclass of “them” to anchor the hierarchical pyramid of a country that continues to be comfortable with being economically stratified. These schools basically warehouse the kids of the poorest among us who, if they can find jobs at all, are hopefully grateful to take the service and other menial jobs along with filling the ranks of our large volunteer military.
To be perfectly and uncomfortably honest, my own continuing analysis of American society is moving me towards agreeing with Gatto on the above. This is not a matter of just failing to apply the needed money and effort to “fix” the “bad” schools, but more of an underlying problem, endemic when any elite conceives of a new societal institution as a tool for normalizing their privilege and control. I am concerned that our public school system, as originally envisioned by Horace Mann and other reformers suffers from this endemic problem and may be unredeemable unless completely transformed. Transformed to the extent that the states are no longer controlling the public education process, and schools are created and run by teachers, parents get to decide whether to send their kids to school, and young people are in charge of directing their own education.
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I love the narratives of human history, especially when compelling threads can be drawn out (hopefully real and not just imagined) connecting events, choices and consequences over the scope of centuries. I am particularly drawn to contemplating how a particular event, and how people chose to react to that event, can impact events centuries later. For example, the cynical machismo of Western leaders (along with their countries’ intellectuals and artists) driving choices that lead to World War I. One could argue that this power struggle at the expense of cultural suicide destroyed the “immune system” of Western culture and led to the “cancers” that followed: economic depression; the growth of totalitarian states driven by fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism; and the wars (hot and cold) and other holocausts that they perpetrated on their fellow humans throughout the century.
In a less apocalyptic vein, I have been contemplating these past few days another historical narrative thread that links Napoleon Bonaparte and particularly his victory over the Prussians at the 1806 battle of Jena with the development of the public school system in America and the continuing educational controversies, dysfunction and dilemma that we have in that area today. I was inspired by a comment made by a reader of my blog piece “Schooled to Accept Economic Inequity”, regarding my reference to the Prussian influence in the development of the U.S. public school system.
I first read about that Prussian connection in John Taylor Gatto‘s book, The Underground History of American Education, a book which has shaken and reshaped my whole conception of education as much as Riane Eisler‘s book, The Chalice and the Blade, has reshaped my understanding of human history and the challenge of that history today. It is Gatto’s insight which I then try to put into Eisler’s framework of a continuing cultural thread of patriarchal top-down control.
From Chapter Seven of Gatto’s book, focused on the U.S. education system’s Prussian connection…
The particular utopia American believers chose to bring to the schoolhouse was Prussian. The seed that became American schooling, twentieth-century style, was planted in 1806 when Napoleon’s amateur soldiers bested the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle of Jena. When your business is renting soldiers and employing diplomatic extortion under threat of your soldiery, losing a battle like that is pretty serious. Something had to be done. (Gatto page 131)
You may think it a stretch, but I think it is at least a good story with truth to it. A narrative thread of how the patriarchal control paradigm perpetuates itself within a larger context of human civilization’s transition from hierarchies of power and control towards a circle of equals. So here goes… Continue reading →