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October 26, 2003

People Factories

A Teacher's Take On The Educational System

Regarding the quest to achieve Artificial Intelligence, I've often wondered why we put so much time and effort into trying make machines and robots think like people, when we're still educating and training people to act like robots.

John Taylor Gatto, a former New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year and the author of Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, gives an insider's account of what state schooling is really designed to accomplish in a Harper's article "Against School," available online.

According to Gatto, it's no accident that crushing boredom is the normal condition of pupils and staff alike. From its roots among the social planners of the 19th century, inspired by the Prussian model, the purpose of the system, apart from a select elite earmarked to be caretakers for the rest, is not to impart knowledge to the young and awaken their intelligence, but to mass-produce a standardized, manageable citizenry and to put down originality and dissent. Its stated goals include: establishing fixed habits of reaction to authority; instilling conformity -- and hence predictability; determining proper social roles; providing the minimum preparation necessary for the role assigned. The result is consignment of the majority to a state of permanent unquestioning childhood that readily succumbs to regimentation and the lures of consumerist society -- much more profitable for the few than those pesky individualists who thought for themselves, bought what they needed, and competently ran families at the age of 15 a century ago.

Gatto ends: After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

Splendid!

 
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