Locking a nation into permanent childhood

A letter-writer recently objected that I used great libertarian Rose Wilder Lane as a “sole source” for the fact that American schooling was taken over, in the late 19th century, by statists enamored of the Prussian compulsion model, aiming to create a docile peasant class by crippling the American intellect — making reading seem real hard, for starters, by replacing the old system in which delighted kids learned to combine the sounds of the Roman letters, with a perverted “whole word” method better suited to decoding hieroglyphics.

In July 1991, John Taylor Gatto, New York’s Teacher of the Year, quit, saying he was tired of working for an institution that crippled the ability of children to learn. He explained why in an essay published that month in The Wall Street Journal.

Let’s look at that essay, and see if we can find our “second source”:

“Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history,” Mr. Gatto begins. “It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents.

“Socrates foresaw if teaching became a formal profession, something like this would happen. Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard; by subordinating the laity to the priesthood. School is too vital a jobs-project, contract giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be ‘re-formed.’ It has political allies to guard its marches, that’s why reforms come and go without changing much. …

“David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first — the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school I label Rachel ‘learning disabled’ and slow David down a bit, too. For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop. He won’t outgrow that dependency. I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, ‘special education’ fodder. She’ll be locked in her place forever.

“In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths. …”

These are not the words of some sour-grapes loser who “couldn’t make it” as a teacher. Testimonials from Gatto’s former students fill a whole book.

Citing the 1993 National Adult Literacy Survey, Gatto in his book “Underground History of American Education,” reports only 3.5 percent of Americans are literate enough today “to do traditional college study, a level 30 percent of all U.S. high school students reached in 1940, and which 30 percent of secondary students in other developed countries can reach today.”

This month, that majority is choosing our presidential candidates based on who looks better on TV.

“During the post-Civil War period, childhood was extended about four years,” Gatto’s research shows. “Later, a special label was created to describe very old children. It was called adolescence, a phenomenon hitherto unknown to the human race.” This “infantalization” continues, as “Child labor laws were extended to cover more and more kinds of work, the age of school leaving set higher and higher. …”

Gatto recounts how a woman once showed him a poem written by a high school senior in Alton, Ill., two weeks before he committed suicide:

” ‘He drew… the things inside that needed saying.

Beautiful pictures he kept under his pillow.

When he started school he brought them…

To have along like a friend.

It was funny about school, he sat at a square brown desk

Like all the other square brown desks … and his room

Was a square brown room like all the other rooms, tight

And close and stiff.

He hated to hold the pencil and chalk, his arms stiff

His feet flat on the floor, stiff, the teacher watching

And watching. She told him to wear a tie like

All the other boys, he said he didn’t like them.

She said it didn’t matter what he liked. After that the class drew.

He drew all yellow. It was the way he felt about Morning.

The Teacher came and smiled, “What’s this?

Why don’t you draw something like Ken’s drawing?”

After that his mother bought him a tie, and he always

Drew airplanes and rocketships like everyone else.

He was square inside and brown and his hands were stiff.

The things inside that needed saying didn’t need it

Anymore, they had stopped pushing… crushed, stiff

Like everything else.’ “

Perhaps you’ll say we’re better off without losers who can’t get with the program, anyway.

“After I spoke in Nashville, a mother named Debbie pressed a handwritten note on me which I read on the airplane to Binghamton, New York,” Gatto continues:

‘We started to see Brandon flounder in the first grade, hives, depression, he cried every night after he asked his father, “Is tomorrow school, too?” In second grade the physical stress became apparent. The teacher pronounced his problem Attention Deficit Syndrome. My happy, bouncy child was now looked at as a medical problem, by us as well as the school.

‘A doctor, a psychiatrist, and a school authority all determined he did have this affliction. Medication was stressed along with behavior modification. If it was suspected that Brandon had not been medicated he was sent home. My square peg needed a bit of whittling to fit their round hole. …

‘I cried as I watched my parenting choices stripped away. My ignorance of options allowed Brandon to be medicated through second grade. The tears and hives continued another full year until I couldn’t stand it. I began to homeschool Brandon. It was his salvation. No more pills, tears, or hives. He is thriving. He never cries now and does his work eagerly.’ “

You can read John Taylor Gatto’s entire “Underground History of American Education,” detailing just how Mann and Dewey and their gang imposed on us a Prussian system of coercive schooling, so ill-suited to a free people, at www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/.

What I wonder is: If you “care about the children,” why don’t you want to?

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal and author of the novel “The Black Arrow.” See www.VinSuprynowicz.com.

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