Tag Archives: john taylor gatto

An Abundance of Genius

John Taylor Gatto was a teacher for nearly 30 years, including working with disadvantaged youth in urban New York City public schools. He was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. That was the same year he wrote a letter announcing his retirement, titled “I Quit, I Think”, published in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. In the letter he wrote that he no longer wished to “hurt kids to make a living”. He has since gone to a second career as a writer, speaker and advocate for unschooling, and I have read several of his books and heard him speak twice.

Maybe from years of being a talented teacher and trying to shock his students out of their classroom stupor, he has developed a rhetoric that is studiously and calculatedly provocative, including this statement…

I’ve come to believe that genius is an exceedingly common human quality, probably natural to most of us… I began to wonder, reluctantly, whether it was possible that being in school itself was what was dumbing them down. Was it possible I had been hired not to enlarge children’s power, but to diminish it? That seemed crazy on the face of it, but slowly I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior.

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Ayn Rand, Left-Libertarianism, Selfishness and Freedom

Just read Michael Gerson’s piece, “Ayn Rand’s adult-onset adolescence”, from the Washington Post opinion page. I am not familiar with Ayn Rand‘s work directly, but have read some discussion of it and her foundational status among some contemporary libertarians. Short of reading her book Atlas Shrugged, I’ll at least have to watch the movie version on Netflix. I’m intrigued how much her conflation of liberty with selfishness have perhaps demeaned the former in some progressives’ view.

Article author Michael Gerson writes…

Rand is something of a cultural phenomenon — the author of potboilers who became an ethical and political philosopher, a libertarian heroine. But Rand’s distinctive mix of expressive egotism, free love and free-market metallurgy does not hold up very well on the screen. The emotional center of the movie is the success of high-speed rail — oddly similar to a proposal in Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address. All of the characters are ideological puppets. Visionary, comely capitalists are assaulted by sniveling government planners, smirking lobbyists, nagging wives, rented scientists and cynical humanitarians.

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Starting to Imagine Non-Compulsory Schools

As I have mentioned before, I’ve been involved in an ongoing email “forum” over the past five years with fellow members of the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO). Topics revolve around youth, learning, and our societies educational institutions and possible alternatives to those institutions. Admittedly, we forum participants can be guilty of arguing perhaps from more of an ivory tower rather than from the trenches at times, but then again you have to be able to see the entire forest at times to best take care of all the trees.

One of the topics that keeps coming up and engenders a lot of impassioned prose on our forum is the reality of compulsory education for youth and the possibility of making it non-compulsory instead. The opinions on what would result from this change run the gamut, even among this self-selected group of alternative educators and other supporters (like me) of learning alternatives. Some of the forum participants (like me) take a more left-libertarian position and argue that our schools and the formal education process in general would be transformed for the better by shedding coercive elements of compulsion. Other list colleagues think that though in some ideal world this would be the way school should be, in our all too real and non-ideal world ending compulsory school attendance would be a disaster, and particularly for poor families that live in dangerous neighborhoods with little other infrastructure to offer youth.

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Jazz and Imagination… Not a Mass of Clerks

John Taylor Gatto
There was a reposting of a 2006 John Taylor Gatto blog piece, “The Richest Man in the World Has Some Advice for Us about College”, on “The Link”, a homeschooling blog. It caught the attention of a friend who is an artist and musician and happens to also be my daughter’s piano and art teacher, so this friend has a real stake in encouraging people’s innate creativity. She shared the link with all her friends.

Gatto (one of my alternative education “gurus”), is often outrageous and is always the provocateur. But underneath his shock talk (delivered in his signature measured tone), there are some really profound outside-the-box contrarian ideas that I don’t always agree with but I find ever worth consideration.

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Five Themes of American Conventional Wisdom Part 2: Scientism & the Culture of Professionalism

Following up on yesterday’s post, “Five Themes of American Conventional Wisdom”, I continue the thread by looking at my friend Ron Miller’s second theme (from his book, What Are Schools For?) which he labels as “Scientific Reductionism”. What intrigues me most in his text is his description of science as a belief system or “ism” (scientism) and the “culture of professionalism” that emerged in America from that belief system.

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The Internally Motivated Learner

Youth LearningSo what the heck does it mean to be an “internally motivated learner”? Is such an animal the exception or the rule? And can internal motivation drive even formal academic learning? In a culture where conventional wisdom seems to think that most of formal education needs to be mandated and externally motivated to be successfully undertaken, I think these are very important questions.

Certainly infants and toddlers learn most or all of what they learn for internal reasons. Infants don’t need to be motivated or instructed in how to walk, they are driven to do so and through practice, trial, and error they figure out how to do so. Toddlers learn to speak with a minimum of instruction, by listening to people speaking around them and learning to vocalize words and put them together into phrases and sentences. They learn a myriad of other skills involving coordination of their bodies with their brains on their own as well. Continue reading →

John Taylor Gatto on the Keys to an Elite Education

Responding to Evie Montoya’s comment about the John Taylor Gatto video…here is the YouTube video introducing the Gatto piece I mentioned and presenting the first three of the fourteen things that they teach kids in elite prep schools that are generally not taught in public schools….
It is an interesting list, including… Continue reading →