What Went Wrong?

An excerpt from How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci, by Michael J. Gelb:

Think back to your schools days. We all remember what curiosity did to the cat. But what happened to kids who asked too many questions? A common refrain from over-worked, beleaguered teachers was "We don't have time for all these questions; we've got to get through the curriculum." Now persistent question askers are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or "hyperactivity" and treated with Ritalin and other drugs. If young Leonardo were alive today and attending grade school, he would probably be on medication.

Although we all started life with a Da Vinci-like insatiable curiosity, most of us learned, once we got to school, that answers were more important than questions. In most cases, schooling does not develop curiosity, delight in ambiguity, and question asking skill. Rather, the thinking skill that is rewarded is figuring out the "right answer"--that is, the answer held by the person in authority, the teacher. This pattern holds throughout university and postgraduate education, especially in a class where the professor wrote the text. (In a classic study at a top university, summa cum laude graduates were given their same final exams one month after graduation, and they all failed. Researcher Leslie Hart summarized the results: "Final exams are final indeed!") The authority-pleasing, question-suppressing, rule-following approach to education may have served to provide society with assembly-line workers and bureaucrats, but it does not do much to prepare us for a new Renaissance.

A different path?

The following are excerpts from Dumbing Us Down, The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, writing by New York State teacher of the year, John Taylor Gatto.

It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from your own past and future, sealing you in a continuous present much the same way television does.

It is absurd and anti-life to move from cell to cell at the sound of a gong for every day of your natural youth in an institution that allows you no privacy and even follows you into the sanctuary of your home demanding that you do its "homework."

Whatever education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who enjoys whatever they are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.

What's gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is one right way to proceed with growing up. That's an ancient Egyptian idea symbolized by the pyramid with an eye on top that's on the other side of George Washington on our one-dollar bill. Everyone is a stone defined by position on the pyramid. This theory has been presented in many different ways, but at the bottom it signals the worldview of minds obsessed that control of other minds, obsessed by dominance and strategies of intervention to maintain that dominance.

Mass-education cannot work to produce a fair society because its daily practice is practice in rigged competition, suppression, and intimidation. The schools we've allowed to develop can't work to teach nonmaterial values, the values which give meaning to everyone's life, rich or poor, because the structure of schooling is held together by Byzantine tapestry of reward and favor, grades, other trinkets of subordination; these have no connection with education-- they are paraphernalia of servitude, not freedom.

Turn your back on national solutions and toward communities of families as successful laboratories. Let us turn inward until we master the first directive of any philosophy worth of a name, "Know Thyself." Encourage and underwrite experimentation; trust children and families to know what is best for themselves; stop the segregation of children and the aged in walled compounds; involve everyone in the community in the education of the young: businesses, institutions, old people, whole families; look for local solutions in place of a corporate one. You need not fear educational consequences: reading, writing, and arithmetic aren't very hard to teach if you take pains to see that compulsion and the school agenda don't short circuit each individual's private appointment with themselves to learn these things. There is abundant evidence that less than a hundred hours is sufficient for a person to become totally literate and a self-teacher. Don't be panicked by scare tactics into surrendering your children to experts.

Teaching must, I think, be decertified as quickly as possible. That certified teaching experts like myself are deemed necessary to make learning happen is a fraud and a scam. Look around you: the results of teacher-college are in the schools you see. Let anybody who wants to, teach; give families back their tax money to pick and choose-- who could possibly be a better shopper if the means for comparison were made available? Restore the congregation system by encouraging competition after a truly unmanipulated free-market model-- in that way the social dialectic can come back to life. Trust in families and neighborhoods and individuals to make sense of the important question, What is education for?" If some of them answer differently than you might prefer, that's really not your business, and shouldn't be your problem. Our type of schooling has deliberately concealed that such a question must be framed and not taken for granted if anything beyond a mockery of democracy is to be nurtured. It is illegitimate to have an expert answer that question for you.