Friday, November 18, 2005

The Underground History of American Education - Discussion #1

So I just finished the prologue and first two chapters of Gatto's book, The Underground History of American Education, and it's been quite a ride. I honestly didn't expect this much jam-packed into one book. But it's good information, with well-told stories. And the book is also challenging you to really wonder about how education ought to be--occasionally I'm having flashbacks to Plato's Republic (a famous philosophical work that also deals with the question of education).

Anyways, I'll try to get this discussion going by sharing some of the important things that stood out to me early on...

First of all, since chapters 1 and 2 are primarily historical analyses--though there are plenty of juicy tidbits, quotes, and ideas contained in them--I'm going to limit this discussion "starter" to the prologue. I do this particularly because I think it provides some good general information that should actually lead into chapters 1 and 2 during our discussion here, and also because I'm going to be making a long enough blog post as it is!

That being said, before getting into Gatto's criticisms and history of education, I think it's important to point out his assessment of the present situation in schools:
It’s not so much that anyone there sets out to hurt children; more that all of us associated with the institution are stuck like flies in the same great web your kids are. We buzz frantically to cover our own panic but have little power to help smaller flies.
Yes, he sees problems in the system, but he's clearly not necessarily pointing fingers at individual people. I thought that worth pointing out. On a related note, I appreciated his honesty and humility in admitting this work to be just what he's personally come to uncover in research, basically implying that it is up to us (and the scholars) to test its veracity:
By now I’ve invested the better part of a decade looking for answers. If you want a conventional history of schooling, or education as it is carelessly called, you’d better stop reading now. Although years of research in the most arcane sources are reflected here, throughout it’s mainly intuition that drives my synthesis.
Whether his ideas will survive passing through the fire, we must wait to see. I for one am looking forward to the test though.

[By the way, before moving on, since he mentions it in passing here, and we'll probably be getting into it soon enough, did everyone catch his distinction between "education" and "schooling" in history?]

Now, I'm honestly not too sure how to faciliate or get one of these discussions going, so I'll simply end with two prologue excerpts (the first a bit lengthy, the second very short) that each delve into a lot of what the first two chapters covered:
Somehow out of the industrial confusion which followed the Civil War, powerful men and dreamers became certain what kind of social order America needed, one very like the British system we had escaped a hundred years earlier. This realization didn’t arise as a product of public debate as it should have in a democracy, but as a distillation of private discussion. Their ideas contradicted the original American charter but that didn’t disturb them. They had a stupendous goal in mind. The end of unpredictable history; its transformation into dependable order.

From mid-century onwards certain utopian schemes to retard maturity in the interests of a greater good were put into play, following roughly the blueprint Rousseau laid down in the book Emile. At least rhetorically. The first goal, to be reached in stages, was an orderly, scientifically managed society, one in which the best people would make the decisions, unhampered by democratic tradition. After that, human breeding, the evolutionary destiny of the species, would be in reach. Universal institutionalized formal forced schooling was the prescription, extending the dependency of the young well into what had traditionally been early adult life. Individuals would be prevented from taking up important work until a relatively advanced age. Maturity was to be retarded.

During the post-Civil War period, childhood was extended about four years. Later, a special label was created to describe very old children. It was called adolescence, a phenomenon hitherto unknown to the human race...
And a great one to finish this start to discussion:
The shocking possibility that dumb people don’t exist in sufficient numbers to warrant the careers devoted to tending to them will seem incredible to you. Yet that is my proposition: Mass dumbness first had to be imagined; it isn’t real.

Alas, the Triwizard Challenge is here!

This is by far my favorite book of the series, so hopefully I'll feel the same about the movie. My plan is to see it sometime this weekend, probably Saturday or Sunday, but I'd love to talk about it afterwards with any other "Potter" moviegoers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Bowling Green Routs Miami, 42-14, To Claim First Place In East Division

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Who Is Lying About Iraq?

Interesting essay by Norman Podhoretz titled "Who Is Lying About Iraq?". Podhoretz basically confirms how I've felt for a long time when it comes to whether Bush purposely lied or not about WMD.

Yes, it's true I wasn't too keen about war with Iraq when it began. Nonetheless, no matter how hard I try to convince myself, I still don't think any evidence gives me reason to seriously think that the Bush Administration was involved in some mass conspiracy, lying to our Democrat leaders, the public, and the entire world about WPDs in Iraq.

Anybody who does think the Bush Administration had the gaul to do such a thing, seems to be reading much more into the circumstances and evidence than I'm able to. Perhaps I'm wrong though, so please share information if you disagree.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Curious as to why our school systems are so screwed up? Join my online book group!

"The shocking possibility that dumb people don't exist in sufficient numbers to warrant the millions of careers devoted to tending them will seem incredible to you. Yet that is my central proposition: the mass dumbness which justifies official schooling first had to be dreamed of; it isn't real."
Those are the some of the opening words of John Taylor Gatto's book, The Underground History of American Education. In 1991, shortly after he received both the New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year Awards, Gatto resigned to begin his new career as an education reform advocate. He's been doing that ever since.

I heard about this specific book and some of its ideas from another book I was reading. When I looked it up online, I found out that--though in its 3rd edition--it is being made available for free viewing on the Internet by The Odysseus Group.

Here's where you can read the book for free.

My plan is to read a 1-2 chapters a week and post blogs to foster discussion on them. If people want to join me, all the merrier. If not, too bad. I just thought this might be a fun new way to interact.

At least check out the website above, read the reviews, and consider whether it might be worth your while. Besides, I'm not concerned about this just because I have a degree in secondary education. I've been seriously concerned for a long time with how our school systems run, and I've had ideas about what some problems might be, but never a sense as to why it got to be how it is. Perhaps this book will give some answers, perhaps not, but it at least is worth looking into.

Afterall, the stakes are high. Think about all of the money we pour into education, yet so much is wasted. More importantly, think about the effects upon children and society that education has.

And if you're still not interested, here's a teaser of what we'll probably be reading about (based upon what the references this other book I just read made to Gatto's). Have you ever heard that mass compulsory education began primarily because industrialists in England were looking for a better way to draw people into working in large and hazardous factories? That it is based off of the educational system of the Indian caste-system? That Prussia adapted it in the 1800s to rebuild their army for military expansion? Basically, that the modern mass compulsory education system is limiting and coercive force against most children's real potential?

All of that and more is dealt with in this book. And supposedly, there's plenty of historical evidence to back it up. I'm excited about this history lesson, and hope that you'll join me! (seriously, it won't take up that much of your time!)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Immunity to Black Plague linked with HIV Immunity

"Researchers have recently found an interesting group of people that are either partially or completely immune to HIV. A gene mutation that has been passed down since the time of the Black Plague in the 1600s makes people now immune to the virus that causes AIDS."

I caught an fascinating episode of Secrets of the Dead on PBS last week dealing with the "Mystery of the Black Death". I find the Black Plague to be a very interesting (and tragic) historical subject in itself, but this episode shed some light on recent discoveries of a link between the plague and AIDS. Now, it's true that they're very different forms of disease; the Plague is a bacterial disease--either bubonic, pneumonic, or septicemic--whereas HIV is a viral disease.

Despite this difference, though, both infect and kill humans in a similar fashion uncommon to almost all (if not all) other bacteria and viruses: they attack the immune system itself. This makes it extremely difficult for the immune system to ever bolster the forces needed to destroy them, because the very cells that produce what is needed are under attack.

Scientists have discovered this link through the mutated form of the gene CCR5 (called "delta 32"), which is found both in patients known to be immune to HIV and a high percentage (for DNA standards) of the modern-day descendents of Plague survivors. This also sheds light (only partly) as to why Africa--much of which never experienced the Plague--is now struggling more than many other areas of the world.

I don't know what implications this will have in the overall fight against AIDS, but it still seems to be an interesting discovery in itself. Now let us hope that some greater good may come from it.

[Note: I apologize if I incorrectly stated anything...I'm no scientist.]
Update: Here's an article I just found that goes into a bit more detail:
"Biologists discover why 10% of Europeans are safe from HIV infection" (original story found here)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Explore Narnia

Kinda cool: an interactive map of the world of Narnia.

Higher education and porn

Did anybody here about this story from my undergrad college, BGSU?

"Porn Star Shocks: Sprinkle flashed breasts, reveals her past"

After you've read it, here's my question: should this be happening in a public institution of "higher learning"?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Way to go Jimmy!

My kind of democrat...

If only the rest had this much common sense, especially the "Catholic" ones.