Monday, July 19, 2010

Twitter Book Club - John Taylor Gatto's "Dumbing Us Down: The hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling"

I am starting what I intend on being a recurring theme on my blog, the Twitter Book Club. The idea is that I follow a lot of people on Twitter and a lot of people follow me there too, not to mention the people who might find my Tweets via search, referral, or other means. By law of averages, I ought to be able to find a group of people there that fit one or more of the following categories:
  1. Reading the same book as me;
  2. Have already read the book I am reading;
  3. Are familiar with the author who I am reading or the subject they are writing about;
  4. Interested in the subject the author is writing about.
The theory is, I don't need a "Book Club" to have a Book Club. With social media tools (In this case Twitter and this blog) I can simulate the advantage one would gain from social digestion of text people often get from PLCs and Book Clubs. I offer this as a suggestion as a way for students to get more out of the books they read both for academic and for recreational purposes.


This week I chose to read John Taylor Gatto's, "Dumbing Us Down: The hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling." This book has been lauded as one of the cornerstone texts in the homeschooling movement. Gatto, a retired NYC school teacher and former NYC teacher of the year, assembled this collection of five essays (many of which were derived from speeches he gave) after their texts had been passed around both formal education and homeschooling circles for quite some time. In these five essays he attempts to lay the case for why education and schooling are not the same thing and throws much of what we take for granted as necessary conditions for education under the bus. He argues for greater choice in schooling, greater connection to family and community, less time spent in formal schooling, and an elimination of the hierarchy that has turned our schools into corporate-like networks. He also goes into a lengthy contrast between the value of community and the value of networks arguing that we have lost community in our modern life and have replaced it with networks. While this was written before our modern concept of PLNs and social media I think his discussion of the relative value of network vs. community is worth anyone heavily involved in these activities to take a look at an wrestle with. What follows are my "Live Tweets" of my reading of this book over the last few days:


"Few tchers wd dare 2 teach the tools whereby dogmas of a school or a tcher could b criticized, since everything must b accepted" Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"I teach students how to accept confusion as their destiny. That's the first lesson I teach." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"The second lesson I teach is class position. I teach that students must stay in the class where they belong." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"3rd lesson I teach is indifference. I teach children not 2 care 2 much about anything, even though they want 2 make it appear they do."less than a minute ago via Twitterrific



RT @anderscj: "3rd lesson I teach is indifference. I teach children not 2 care 2 much about anything, even though they want 2 make it ...less than a minute ago via twitterfeed



"Indeed, the lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything?" Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



RT @anderscj: "Indeed, the lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything?" Gattoless than a minute ago via TweetDeck



"The fourth lesson I teach is emotional dependency. By stars, red checks, smiles, frowns, prizes, honors, and disgraces..." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



RT @anderscj "The fourth lesson I teach is emotional dependency. By stars, red checks, smiles, frowns, prizes, honors, and disgraces." Gattoless than a minute ago via TweetDeck



"The 5th lesson I teach is intellectual dependency. Good students wait for a teacher to tell them what to do." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"We've built a way of life that depends on people doing what they are told because they don't know how to tell themselves what to do" Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



RT @anderscj: "We've built a way of life that depends on people doing what they are told because they don't (cont) http://tl.gd/2hovfmless than a minute ago via Tweetie for Mac



"The sixth lesson I teach is provisional self-esteem...I teach that a kids self-respect should depend on expert opinion." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"The 7th lesson I teach is that one can't hide. I teach students that they are always watched, that each is under const. surveillance."Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"I assign a type of extended schooling called 'homework,' so that the effort of surveillance itself, travels into private households." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific


I find it hard to argue with this list of the seven lessons schools teach. At the very least teachers should be cognizant of these lessons and find every opportunity to rail against them. One thing we could certainly do something about tomorrow is getting rid of the Pavlovian bell system and the number of retweets around that idea is an indicator of this.


"Only a few lifetimes ago things were very different in the U.S. Originality and variety were common (cont) http://tl.gd/2hpagdless than a minute ago via Twittelator



"The continuing cry for 'basic skills' practice is a smokescreen behind which schools preempt the time of (cont) http://tl.gd/2hpfe3less than a minute ago via Twittelator


As an art teacher spending a LOT of time working with state standards for the visual arts I was constantly amazed at how what we asked of 12th graders taking an art class was not much more than what the standards asked of 3rd graders. I often totally disregarded the standards when planning lessons and units for my high school students burring the standards under lessons of greater relevance. Doesn't teaching a high school senior what a line, color, or shape is constitute an insult of their intelligence?

"No common school that actually dared to teach critical thinking tools--like the dialect, the heuristic, or (cont) http://tl.gd/2hpr95less than a minute ago via Twittelator


This seems to be a recurring theme in most movies about exceptional school teachers. I wish I could say that this is belongs only in the realm of fiction but I have seen too many teachers asked to leave or "let go" because their ability to awaken student curiosity and ability to engage in real critical thinking posed a challenge to the system.

"In our secular society, school has become the replacement for church, and like church it requires it's teachings must be taken on faith."less than a minute ago via Twittelator


I found this statement profound. What do you think? Are schools the new churches?

"Nobody survives the seven-lesson curriculum completely unscathed, not even the instructors." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twittelator



"the massive rethinking that schools require would cost so much less than we are spending now that powerful (cont) http://tl.gd/2hpueoless than a minute ago via Twittelator



"We live in networks, not communities, and everyone I know is lonely because of that." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific


This statement struck me and he goes on to expand on this topic to great deal in this book. I have had many similar thoughts but the type of network he speaks of is the corporate type that is organized in a top-down fashion. I do wonder if our self-selected social networks and PLNs are really more like the communities Gatto feels we have lost. Have we begun to find community through our self-created networks? I guess only time will tell.

@anderscj Jut reread Gatto's Dumbing Us Down myself a few weeks ago.less than a minute ago via web



@ProfessorMeier any insight, interpretation, perspective, lingering thoughts?less than a minute ago via Twitterrific


Still waiting to hear more from Professor Meier.

"we appear to be on the way to creating a caste system, complete with untouchables who wander through the (cont) http://tl.gd/2hr1i2less than a minute ago via Twittelator



"we need to realize that the school institution 'schools' very well, though it does not 'educate'...It's (cont) http://tl.gd/2hr467less than a minute ago via Twittelator



"It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of (cont) http://tl.gd/2hr6rbless than a minute ago via Twittelator



"We need a ferocious debate...We need to scream & argue about this school thing until it is fixed or broken beyond repair" Gattoless than a minute ago via Twittelator


If there is one statement in this book that I agree most with it is this one. Amen brother!

"I am confident that as they gain self-knowledge they'll also become self-teachers--& only self-teaching has any lasting value." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twittelator



"Experts in education have never been right; their 'solutions' are expensive and self-serving and always involve further centralization."less than a minute ago via Twittelator


"Networks of urban reformers will consider the problems of homeless vagrants, but a community will think of (cont) http://tl.gd/2ifcboless than a minute ago via Twittelator



"Belonging to many networks does not add up to having a community, no matter how many you belong to or how often your phone rings." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twittelator


Gatto's lengthy rail against networks inspired me to ask this question about our PLNs [PC refers to a suggestion in the edublogosphere to rename PLNs Professional Colleagues (PC)]:

Do members of your (or my) PLN or PC network care about you (or me) beyond what you (or I) can do for them? Gatto thinks not.less than a minute ago via Twittelator



@anderscj re: PLN- I think that's a very cynical take. Should be a reciprocal relationship.less than a minute ago via Echofon



@mollybob in other words we care for what we can do for each other. I can live with that.less than a minute ago via Twitterrific



@anderscj that's it. There's something to be gained by the PLN owner who gives back- more credibility, more engagement, pln growth (?)less than a minute ago via Echofon



@mollybob I've often wondered though, if a member died, would my PLN notice? Would the PLN mourn?less than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"It was...that teaching for pay would inevitably expand into an institution for the protection of teachers, (cont) http://tl.gd/2ig833less than a minute ago via Twittelator



"Whistle-blowing against institutional malpractice is always a good way to get canned or relentlessly persecuted." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"what's gotten in the way of education in the U.S. Is a theory of social engineering that says there is 1 right way to proceed." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"One of the surest ways to recognize real education is it doesn't cost very much, doesn't depend on expensive toys or gadgets." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"For the last 110 years the 'one right way' crowd has been trying to figure out what to do with the children, and they still don't know."less than a minute ago via Twitterrific


This "One Right Way" vs pluralistic reality is of great interest to me right now.

"the U.S. was the only major country that deliberately avoided teaching children to think dialectically." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"The Greeks had a story about a man (Procustes)...[who] cut or stretched travelers to fit his guest bed. System worked perfectly." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"Only when...a central orthodoxy can arise, like a pyramid, is there real danger that some central poison can poison us all." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"Is it possible that compelling people to do something guarantees they will do it poorly, with a bad will, or indifferently?" Gattoless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



"By preventing a free market in education, a handful of social engineers, backed by the industries that (cont) http://tl.gd/2j7025less than a minute ago via Twittelator



"we have time and again missed the lesson of the Congregational principle: people are less than whole (cont) http://tl.gd/2j792oless than a minute ago via Twittelator



"That has always been the dark side of the American dream, the search for an easy way out, a belief in magic." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twittelator



"If people are machines, then school can only be a way to make those machines more reliable; the logic of mac (cont) http://tl.gd/2j7dn6less than a minute ago via Twittelator



"American education teaches by it's methodology that people are machines. Bells ring, circuits open and (cont) http://tl.gd/2j7ftuless than a minute ago via Twittelator



"reading, writing, & arithmetic aren't very hard to teach if you take pains to see that compulsion and (cont) http://tl.gd/2j7sedless than a minute ago via Twittelator



"Trust in families & neighborhoods & individuals to make sense of the important question, 'What is education for?'" Gattoless than a minute ago via Twittelator



"If some of them answer different than what you might prefer, that's really not your business, and it shouldn't be your problem." Gattoless than a minute ago via Twittelator



This concludes my live Tweeting of my reading of Gatto's Dumbing us Down. Later this week I will pull all these Tweets into a blog post...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific



@shareski @jonbecker after reading Gatto's Dumbing us Down I am thinking PLN/PC should be OPLC - Online Personal Learning Communityless than a minute ago via Twitterrific



In my queue (whenever Amazon delivers them) for the next Twitter Book Club:


The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future by S. Craig Watkins


The Children's Machine: Rethinking School In The Age Of The Computer by Seymour Papert



2 comments:

Mrs. Tenkely said...

Great idea! After reading your tweets over the past few days I have added Dumbing us Down to my summer reading. Thanks!

yayitake said...

Great post! I wish you could follow up on this topic!

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