“As the twenty-first century begins its
second decade, mass schooling is much as it was in 1910, at
least for the poor and the ordinary. It is test-driven,
bell-driven, pedagogue-dominated, and thoroughly dumbed down.”
Let me give you an excerpt from a boys’ manual of
instructions on how to build things, published in 1937. It was sold on
newsstands as The Amateur Craftsman’s Cyclopedia of Things to Make
and was expressly intended, as it states in print, for ten to twelve
year old boys.
I’ve selected the project on building a model racing
schooner because I don’t want to shock you with the pages which teach
boys how to “cut a new entrance into a frame home” or build “a small
portable arc furnace” out of clay and bricks. So the modest schooner
project will have to make my point by itself.
Let’s begin with glue to hold the ship together. Our
ten-year-old will make that himself by melting toothbrush handles in
acetone. Got that? Then, after he cuts and planes hull and mainmast,
casts the keel in molten lead, masters diction like “jib-stay” and “peak
halyard,” and uses his sewing skills to sew the foresail, he tackles the
main assembly narrative:
“Spring the sides apart and slip the lower ribs in
place at their proper stations. Set the ribs in so the bevel begins at
edge of the side. Drive an escutcheon pin into each rib from each side.
Make the inside keel from ¼- inch square wood. Fit it inside the inside
stem in the notches of the lower ribs, and spring it over to, and inside
of, the stern, as shown.”
There’s more, but you’ve heard enough, I think.
Efficient Marketing = Stupid Customers
That was 1937. Such instructions for little people were
commonplace from Ben Franklin’s day until the end of WWII, but suddenly
a new standard seemed to appear after that war was over. In classrooms
in every big city at first, and soon everywhere, it looked like this:
a) Students were confined to chairs in quality-ranked
classrooms, for six hours a day, 185 days a year.
b) Each day they were set to copying notes off blackboards to memorize
and listening to lectures.
c) They were given regular paper/pencil tests to measure their obedience
in memorizing, and publicly humiliated if they fell short.
d) Casting ship keels in molten lead was forbidden.
e) They were sharply enjoined to remain silent.
f) Many other procedures, similar in spirit,
Pedagogy had arrived, big-time.
This wasn’t how education happened (or happens), of
course, and everybody seemed to know that. The solution to the mystery
of why it was done and continues to be done belongs to philosophy and
economics, and to dark secrets of human nature – secrets which used to
be actively studied in schools in the days before Literature, History,
and Economics gave way to Language Arts and Social Studies. Now, young
people began to emerge from classrooms into adulthood as ignorant of
these things as forest savages.
But they were pushovers for modern marketing techniques. They lived
to buy stuff; having grown older in school, but never having grown up.
A New World Order
By 1910, signs abounded that a massive project was underway to change
the nature of America from a place of independent livelihoods and
self-reliant, argumentative people into an administrative utopia, one
inspired by Prussian Germany, by Edward Bellamy’s prophetic utopia
Looking Backwards and by Frederick W. Taylor, inventor of “time and
motion studies” and the slip-on loafer.
According to philosopher John Dewey, America was being converted by
its most powerful people into a centrally managed village. In this new
world order, the marketplace of ideas would be monopolized by
corporations and institutions – individuals and local interests were now
quaint and irrelevant. Dewey thought this an advance in civilization
and, in any case, irreversible. He called this transformation, “the new
individualism” with not a trace of irony. School training must adapt.
More than a hundred years have passed since Dewey put the bell on
this cat. By 2000, common people were frozen out of policy debates,
treated as functions if considered at all, and public opinion,
so-called, was almost never spontaneous, but most often manufactured.
Get Your Filthy Fingers Off My Brain
The colonization of one’s private inner life by strangers is so
inherently pornographic an undertaking that no monarch or nation
historically was ever able to compel its entire people to accept it for
long – not, that is, until Prussia succeeded during the second decade of
the nineteenth century, justifying its system of universal schooling by
force by citing national necessity and the highly negative opinions of
ordinary people held by philosophers from Plato to Spinoza.
As the nineteenth century crossed its midpoint, even Science came to
agree. Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) spoke of “favored” and “ dis-favored”
races, and in his Descent of Man (1871), he pronounced the majority of
humankind biologically inferior, without hope of improvement, and a
clear and deadly menace to advanced evolutionary stock. Protective
barriers were required to preserve racial purity.
Horace Mann’s own writings partially overlap Darwin’s and hint at
darker aspects of the school project. Merle Curti, the historian, tells
us in Social Ideas of American Educators that Mann sold
compulsion schooling to his wealthy backers as “the best police” they
could buy, a much different message than ordinary householders heard.
Mann’s biographer, Jonathan Messerli, remarks than Mann once jotted a
revealing note to himself while watching a workingman’s parade in Boston
during the early 1840s. The note read: “We must find a way to break the
bonds of association among the working classes.”
His high praise of Prussian schooling, which he claimed eye-witness
experience with, played an important part in bringing the compulsion
system to Massachusetts, but the claim of first-hand knowledge was a
lie. Nor was it Mann’s only lie. Forced schooling turned out from the
first to be a breeding ground for crime and public outrage, not the
“best police” as promised.
As a philosophical notion, mass child indoctrination by force keeps
popping up through history, yet as I told you before, nobody could make
it work. But the groundwork for profound change in school fortunes was
laid during the British takeover of India in the late eighteenth
century. During that time, the secrets of institutional school
management were disclosed through examination of eight constituents
employed by the Hindu aristocracy to manage its common population
through a voluntary form of mass schooling. The eight secrets looked
1) In place of skills training, rote memory drills.
2) In place of exercise to develop independent judgment, habit and
3) Strict limits on student questioning.
4) Strict limits on student-to-student association.
5) Silent testing of material previously assigned for memorization,
followed by publicly announced rankings of student test results. This
6) Denial of student rights to initiate curriculum based on personal
7) Long-term confinement in conditions of near-immobility and enforced
silence, extended over a term of years.
8) Removal of students from familiar surroundings, routines, and people;
placement under direction of strangers who discourage attempts to build
personal student-teacher relationships.
This recipe was written down by a British military chaplain,
Alexander Bell, who published a version of it in London in 1797 as the
methodology in use by Hindu elites to manage their huge population. He
thought such a discipline might prove useful to Britain’s own
class-driven social order. Seldom has a single short essay had such
lasting influence on world history. In a short time, Bell’s words were
being read in governing circles across the world.
Lancaster Versus the Anglicans
Upon reading Bell, a twenty-year-old Quaker, Joseph Lancaster, took
his suggestions to heart and began training a thousand poor children to
read – virtually all by himself – in an alley next to his London home.
The Hindu method allowed a single teacher to instruct a great many
pupils by dividing the total group into student-led teams. The leaders
were known as “monitors,” and the world was to learn of this fashion in
teaching as “the monitorial method.”
Except for the breathtaking student-teacher ratio, it was a fairly
close cousin to the system at work in one-room schools in North America.
But that vast scale difference, and its mind-deadening formula, by
extending the gulf between student subjects and authority in the form of
official teachers, made mental colonization almost a certainty.
As Hindus employed it, the monitorial system created reliable
subordinates, psychologically and behaviorally conditioned to remain
subordinate. Argumentation was non-existent. The active literacies of
persuasive speech and writing were rigorously avoided. Napoleon’s ideal
that every common soldier should be able to think like a field marshal
was antithetical to the purposes of monitorial schooling.
Youthful Mr. Lancaster knew nothing of these ulterior motives; driven
by desire to do good while winning fame and fortune, he concentrated on
the pure mechanics of reading well, rather than memorization; he
personalized training as much as circumstances allowed. Because he did
these things, his rapidly spreading system threatened for a time to
upset the applecart of state-sponsored mass training, which always aims
at ordering society through an elaborate scheme of divide-and-conquer
Something had to be done, and the official state church of Britain
did it. In response to Lancaster’s do-goodism, the Anglicans opened a
competing chain of Hindu schools – schools which aimed to indoctrinate,
not educate, just like the Hindu originals. Their prestige drove
Lancaster’s rough-edged competition from the field, to the point where
he fled to America in 1818. There, under the patronage of powerful men
like DeWitt Clinton, he opened Lancaster schools in virtually every
large city east of the Mississippi.
But under the stewardship of pragmatic entrepreneurs who were of
necessity heavily influenced by local elites, American monitorials
regressed to the mean very quickly. They adopted the original Hindu
control design because that pleased local families of substance much
more than the alternative – actually teaching common children to acquire
One important by-product of the Lancaster phenomenon was that it
offered practical evidence that mass indoctrination of the young through
school schemes could work. The first nation to follow this promising
trail to its end was the military state of Prussia. By 1820, Prussia had
an institutionalized, universal forced schooling system up and running.
Its purpose: to render the young into “human resources,” useful to
important interests. Powers of expression were suppressed through
schooling, information needed to think in contexts was denied, the time
and associations of common children were closely controlled, and the
young were forced daily to compete with one another for status and
This was the system which Horace Mann asked America to imitate.
School as a Civil Religion
And imitate it we did, although not with the same zeal for another
half-century. Whig movers and shakers like Mann and his influential
Unitarian backers, were able to impose their will on only two states –
Massachusetts and New York in the 1850s. To that short list, however, a
fatal third jurisdiction must be added: the national government center,
Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia. Washington was the straw
which broke the camel’s back.
It is certain the school institution we finally got would look much
different were it not for Washington offering “incentives” behind the
scenes to convince individual state decision-makers to play ball. It’s
fairly easy to demonstrate that centralized compulsion schooling was
never part of the democratic American Dream (or, for that matter, its
republican counterpart). Not a word to that end appears in the
Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration, or in any of the
Jefferson had heard of a movement to do this in Europe, a movement
which drew its inspiration from Spinoza’s Tractatus
Religico-Politicus of l690, which denounced ordinary people as
murderously irrational and sought to establish forced schooling in order
to replace faith-based religion, which he despised. But Jefferson
rejected this idea to bamboozle common men and women as “a mere civil
religion,” – precisely the expression Spinoza had employed.
Nor was there popular clamor for institutional schooling after the
Revolution. It took a full sixty-five years before the first two states
fell, and another sixty-five before the last one did.
You’ve heard a few of the philosophical rationales to defend what
happened, but now it’s time to hear some hard-nosed economic ones. The
most obvious one is easy to understand: This novel institution offered a
rich new field of personal opportunity. As one of the largest hiring
agencies in history – and one which could bestow lucrative contracts –
it was a quietly spectacular economic engine from the start, a jobs
project with no civilian parallel.
And school performed subtler services as well. By offering a break
from motherhood, it allowed millions of women to be drawn into the labor
pool – an immense windfall for management because it cut the value of a
labor unit in half. In conjunction with a new requirement for
state-issued pedagogical licenses, it created a wholly new sub-industry
called “teacher- training,” and in many other ways, feathered collegiate
From the outset, this economic aspect of institutional schooling
became the tail that wagged the dog. It guaranteed that school training
of the young would be forever political. Nobody who benefits materially
from politicized education, whether left, right, or center, would be
crazy enough to allow schools to be de-politicized. The tidal flow of
money through school corridors – in good times and in bad – is in the
last analysis much more important than philosophy as an ultimate
determinant of school affairs.
Other economic reasons to push forced schooling exist, but they are
remote from general understanding. By a sort of gentleman’s agreement,
they aren’t discussed in places where the public is likely to be
listening. For example, institutional schooling provides a partial
remedy for two deadly diseases corporate capitalism is prone to
contract: overproduction and hyperdemocracy.
I’ll take overproduction first. The history of North America is one
in which families and individuals were taught to produce for themselves
to the greatest extent possible: to produce food, shelter, clothing,
medical care, entertainment, education, and more.
But under corporatized governance and economy, self-sufficiency, and
personal enterprise frustrate the will of companies and agencies to
provide for the whole population. It’s a tribute to the power of mass
schooling to misdirect attention that this clear truth isn’t recognized
by everyone. If schools taught us to connect the dots instead of
memorizing them, it would be. Independent minds are toxic to our social
order and no qualities are so poisonous to corporate health as
self-reliance and active imagination.
To understand this you need to see that imagination is a necessary
prerequisite for personal production – a condition which entrepreneurial
societies must encourage. Yet, when too many imaginative individuals
produce for the market – and are allowed to do so – excessive amounts of
goods and services become available. Prices collapse, banks take a
beating, and the lifeblood of high-stakes capitalism – concentrating
investment capital – becomes difficult because profits have been put at
As bizarre as it sounds, under corporate capitalism and governance,
ways must be found to make the general public less productive, less
self-reliant. The great financial panics of the nineteenth century grew
on the soil of overproduction, and the disruption of Asian economies in
the 1990s, a century and more later, stemmed from overproduction, too,
as Japanese banks, seeking to enlarge their own profits, stimulated too
Policy leaders have been privy to this daunting secret for centuries.
Early on, they erected defenses against overproduction: licensing laws,
subsidies to favored producers, sweetheart contracts, and so on.
Sabotaging Democracy For Cause
A second disease menacing corporate capitalism was dubbed “hyperdemocracy”
by the Trilateral Commission in 1975. In our hall of mirrors society, a
crisis occurs every time the collective will of the public seeks to
contradict the official will of the political state.
You need only remember the consternation in official circles when
street demonstrations by the young led to a premature end of American
military involvement in Vietnam. You need only revisit the disgust in
federal circles when a reckless outsider, Ross Perot, attempted a
political takeover of government through the ballot box. And nearly
succeeded in doing that in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Should a hyperdemocratic revolution ever come to pass, countless
comfortable arrangements would be profoundly disturbed. The new managers
would be unpredictable, owing no loyalty to the old order. But the
dangers of hyperdemocracy only become real in an environment when large
numbers of ordinary people like one another well enough, and trust one
another well enough, to be able to cooperate in a collective expression
of public will.
Now suppose, for the sake of argument, you wanted to prevent such trust
from ever forming? How would you go about doing that? Remember,
cooperation had been the norm in America’s one-room school period – they
couldn’t work without it.
But what if an institution could be fashioned where continuous
high-stakes competitions could be imposed on the confined, and where
some participants would be publicly honored by the results, some would
be labeled “mediocre,” and some would be humiliated? What if Thomas
Hobbes’ war of all against all was deliberately reenacted in classrooms
daily, with full approval of school authorities? Wouldn’t the
involuntary competitors eventually become incapable of productive
And what if you physically divided the young from one another: by
age, by social class, by neighborhood, by endless segregations into
groups of winners and losers? Wouldn’t all these do the trick of
discouraging a cooperative outlook, thus side-stepping the prospect of
Does this sound crazy to you? Would it sound so crazy if you
fervently believed what Charles Darwin wrote in Descent of Man
(1871), that ordinary people were evolutionarily retarded and posed a
threat to the “favored races” as he called them. Suppose you believed
such things – as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller did? If you
were a responsible civic leader, wouldn’t you move mountains to insure
protection for the best against the worst? Could institutional schooling
be that protection?
Winning As Everything
School conditions its subjects so thoroughly in games of winning and
losing that the deeper purpose of learning something becomes peripheral.
Winning is the point of the enterprise, not gaining enlightenment, not
developing skill, not gaining insight.
But winning in absence of any narrative context besides the prospect
of personal advantage over the people around you is a trivial,
ultimately meaningless achievement, like taking snuff in order to
sneeze. What’s that about? Under a regimen sorting boys and girls into
winners and losers, what you win never stays won; your victories must be
repeated over and over until you wear out and another winner takes your
place. Nor does it take into account that winners at school tests are
very frequently losers at life.
Saying these things isn’t intended to dismiss all forms of
competition. Indeed, one form of competition is an essential part of a
good life: competition against yourself. When you learn to love
competing against yourself, you learn to refuse your own mediocrity at
the same time. Your victories are permanent and progressive.
But attempting to win against faceless others inevitably leads to
gaming the system – a moral disease, which in time destroys your soul.
Why should students of winning follow Warren Buffet’s hard road to
wealth when Bernie Madoff’s is so much easier? Why strive to emulate
Babe Ruth when Barry Bonds chemical success is more reliable? The
classroom version of performance-enhancing drugs – cheating and sucking
up to the instructor – teaches you nothing. Just so, competing for
grades and praise forecloses long-lasting life-altering rewards, which
only learning for its own sake can bestow.
Competition was selected by the canniest Prussian school designers to
divide the young against one another. Divided people are easiest to
manage. Caesar’s Gallic Wars was once a standard secondary school
textbook which illustrated this principle, but although well-written and
very interesting to teenagers, and still a staple of elite private
schooling, it has vanished from public schools.
As A Vampire Fears Garlic, The Marketplace Fears Wisdom
Well-schooled populations are usually trained to pay lip-service to
democracy at the same time they are being conditioned to avoid the
attitudes and behaviors it requires. It’s a dilemma without an easy
answer because, while our national consciousness honors the idea of
democratic society, our national economy and government would wither and
die under anything less than a command and control reality.
Would you teach critical judgment and moral behavior to all? How
could an economy grounded in the global sale of war machinery,
industrially produced meat, fruit, and vegetables, financial trickery,
and the mass sale of cradle to grave schooling peddled as education
endure in a climate of critical intelligence and morality?
When I was growing up during WWII in a coal-mining town near
Pittsburgh, the general ability to debate abstract concepts such as
overproduction, hyperdemocracy, and divide and conquer politics was much
more widespread among ordinary people than it is today.
A vivid memory I carry from sixty-five years ago is of the band of
ragamuffin poor kids I ran with huddling near the open doors of the town
saloon so we could overhear conversations of miners and mill workers
drinking at the bar. Their discussions, sometimes shouting matches, were
richly laced with ideas in conflict. Just as they were on the bocce
courts at the Italian Club, or in the bowling alley where I set pins for
a dime a game.
That might fall as hyperbole on modern ears, so your first assignment
is to read E.P. Thompson’s classic account of working class men and
women in nineteenth century Britain passionately striving for a life of
the mind, and for the tools necessary to express ideas. An appetite, I
should add, which the better classes took vigorous steps to shut down.
The book is entitled The Making of the English Working Class
Remember those ten-year-old boys building racing yachts and cutting
new entrances for their homes? I never did those things, but I did make
several soapbox racers from similar plans in 1945. And a rubber-band
driven P-51 Mustang that could fly four city blocks at respectable
altitudes. Every ten-year-old I knew did things like that in
working-class Monongahela, Pennsylvania before modern pedagogical
principles were applied to its schools.
At Xavier Academy, the Jesuit boarding school where I was sequestered
for a year in 1943/1944, we learned fundamental algebra in third grade,
studied dialectic in fourth. Then, returning to public school, I read
Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, John Milton, and Shakespeare in a common
seventh grade class, and had an option in ninth to read the Latin
writers in Latin.
Today, all that stuff, including the building projects, would be
looked upon a child abuse — but no working class kid I knew would have
agreed. It was so exciting to grow a powerful mind that nobody had to
browbeat us much to do it.
If this sounds too radical for you to swallow, I prescribe two
autobiographies to cure your skepticism: the Autobiography of John
Stuart Mill and the Autobiography of Norbert Weiner. Weiner is regarded
as the grandfather of the computer revolution and Mill, I hope, needs no
introduction. At birth, their fathers deliberately set out to make their
sons geniuses – without benefit of school instruction. Both succeeded.
Precise details and blueprints are in the books.
The ancient Chinese Imperial strategy known as “The Policy of Keeping
the People Dumb” was adopted by Hindu India and Prussia, and from there
spread far and wide, eventually reaching North America. In 1922, the
then nationally famous New York City mayor John Hylan said in a speech
that the schools of his city had been seized “as an octopus would seize
its prey.” The schools were wrapped in the “tentacles” of an invisible
creature acting through the great private foundations of Carnegie and
You could still say things like that in 1922 but, by the end of WWII,
nobody who worried about a career would dare say a word seriously
critical of the powers who manage institutional schooling. Dumping on
politicians and school administrators was always allowed – they were,
after all, only flunkies, front men in the school game – but woe betide
any reckless traitor who invited the public behind the scenery to see
how the school illusion was being manufactured.
Subjects, Not Skills
Early schooling in colonial America aimed at creating desirable
skills like concentration, imagination, cooperation, good manners, the
potent active literacies of persuasive speaking and writing. The
descendant form, however, stressed memorizing detached bits of
information said to be necessary to learn abstract categories of
intellect called “subjects.” What subjects were actually for, few
teachers ever even tried to explain. Subjects are what schools “teach,”
Notice that skills-training can only be evaluated by requiring
performance demonstrations, but subject-training demands passive tests
of memory. Whether these memories can be applied to something useful in
a utilitarian sense is never an issue that matters to schools.
Nobody with an ounce of commonsense asks for, or makes use of, test
scores when hiring. You don’t ask your barber, your grass cutter, or
your babysitter, doctor, or architect for their own test numbers
because, on some level, you know the data is worthless, however many
tens of billions of dollars it took to produce.
The Great Dis-connector
As the twenty-first century begins its second decade, mass schooling
is much as it was in 1910, at least for the poor and the ordinary. It is
test-driven, bell-driven, pedagogue-dominated, and thoroughly dumbed
down. The terms “pedagogue/pedagogy” are labels borrowed from the
ancient Mediterranean world where they designated a specialized form of
slave and slavery respectively. Do you find these survivals curious? Do
you think they endure by accident?
School is the great dis-connector. It disconnects children from the
working community where a variety of styles and techniques are
constantly on display for study; it disconnects them from family
relationships and valuable neighborhood associations, disconnects them
from one another, and distances them from their own inner lives.
America’s first national commissioner of schooling, William Torrey
Harris, wrote in his Philosophy of Education, published in
1906, that school must give training in “selfalienation,” a task best
undertaken in “dark, airless corridors,” in preference to cheerful
Everything You Know Is Wrong
Standardized schooling by force isn’t even remotely about education;
it’s about the same things here — political and economic and
philosophical things — that it was about in ancient China, Hindu India,
and Prussia. The Germanized version of the instrument focuses on
converting individuals into a mass population for ease of management.
When we had an entrepreneurial culture, personal sovereignty was an
absolute blessing, but in our corporate culture it’s only a curse. The
corporate logic demands that the young be rendered radically incomplete,
to the end of converting them into human resources…converting them into
means, rather than seeing them as ends in themselves.
Nearly all work in our society has been centralized. To pull this
transformation off, children in bulk had to be taught to think of their
futures in terms of jobs, instead of independent livelihoods. Parents
had to be taught to accept lifelong subordination as a freedom from
burdensome responsibility, and to turn their children over to anonymous
agents of the political state as a further freedom from responsibility.
No wonder our nation is so profoundly childish
The new American economy built by Astor, Vanderbilt, Harriman,
Carnegie, and Rockefeller drenched America with pro-school propaganda.
These men bought every newspaper and journal of importance to assist in
colonizing the public mind. In short order, they convinced the public
that seat-time in school was equivalent to education. But their own
lives showed no commitment to school confinement at all; as young
people, some of the principal names behind the scenes preferred factory
work for themselves rather than school confinement. Today, we are
witnessing another expansion of the school empire and an energetic
propaganda campaign designed to impose universal college schooling on
The fact that Google and Twitter and Microsoft and Apple and Dell and
Oracle are the products of college dropouts or never-registereds, as
well as CNN, Avis Rent A Car, Whole Foods Markets, Ikea, and all the
fast food and entertainment empires, is an anomaly politicians and
pedagogues would rather not discuss.
There is another anomaly: All the top performing nations in
international math and science competitions send their kids to school
for far fewer hours than we do. In Singapore – often the best nation in
math – they attend for a full 247 hours less. The same is true of Japan,
Hong Kong, Taiwan, Finland, and others. An inconvenient truth concealed
by attending more days, but for many less hours.
“I Would Prefer Not To”
What a long century of forced schooling has done in a positive sense
for all of us is to expose the myth of expertise and the myth of
hierarchy as co-residents in our hall of mirrors. “A” students do not do
better at life than “c” students like George Bush, John Kerry, or Al
Gore, not unless the game is rigged. Your life is not ruined if school
pronounces you “hopeless” or “dyslexic” as it did Thomas Edison or
Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, who became a bicycle peddler of fish
when he dropped out. The “C” averages of FDR and JFK didn’t hurt their
To reform this business demands that it be rigorously
de-professionalized, its cozy guild system scrapped. Standardized
schooling cannot meet the challenges of our time. Promising solutions
lie in the direction of hyperdemocracy and the Internet; away from
professional expertise and toward the wisdom of the bazaar, not the
We need a revolt without guns. Polite individual refusals should be
our shield, not pointless further negotiations with the flunkies paid to
protect the status quo. The short declarative: “I would prefer not to”
should be our battle-standard. You might recognize Herman Melville’s
inspirational refusal, as he put it in the mouth of his immortal office
drudge, Bartleby, the Scrivener.
If they have to attend school, kids can write across the face of
standardized tests, “I would prefer not to take this test.” No curses or
defiant explanations, just that.
Make well-mannered refusings your common practice:
“I would prefer not to ask permission to use the toilet.”
“I would prefer not to memorize textbook explanations of historically
alleged truths as if they actually were truths at all.”
“I would prefer not to attend school.”
The only way out of this suffocating trap we find ourselves in – a
trap maintained by forced, standardized, institutional schooling – is by
throwing sand into the gears of the machine – just as the colonists
sabotaged the mighty British Empire, by the death of a thousand cuts.
Let us break the glass in our hall of mirrors and dispose of it once
and for all, shard by shard, before it cuts us up.
John Taylor Gatto was New York State Teacher
of the Year prior to resigning from teaching because he didn’t want to
do any more harm to children. He is the author of the best-selling Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, The
Underground History of American Education and Weapons of Mass