Fab Fridays 2: Educating > Schooling

The seven hidden lessons that are taught within the school system

Hey All!

Happy Friday and greetings from Panama.

Throughout the transformative online course I took last year, I connected with a fascinating and intellectually curious individual, Hannah Frankman (go check her out, you’ll want to be friends with her too).

Hannah and I had very different formative experiences— while I went through the K-12 Ed system and college, she grew up home-schooled, opted out of college, and did a phenomenal job self-educating. I found that Hannah and I share the same fueling passion for education reform and are obsessively drawn to the alternative education space. Naturally, we became friends and recently started a virtual book club.

Over the holiday break, we read Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto.

"I've come slowly to understand what it is I really teach: A curriculum of confusion, class position, arbitrary justice, vulgarity, rudeness, disrespect for privacy, indifference to quality and utter dependency. I teach how to fit into a world I don't want to live in."

After nearly 30 years teaching and winning the New York City Teacher of the Year award on three occasions, John Taylor Gatto left teaching claiming he no longer wanted to “hurt children” by being part of the system. I admire his audacity and the reasons why he quit resonate with mine (read mine here).

What follows is a summary of what he describes as the seven hidden lessons that are taught within the school system and my quick thoughts on each.

The seven hidden lessons

“The first lesson I teach is confusion. Everything I teach is out of context. I teach the un-relating of everything. I teach disconnections. I teach too much”

School sequences are crazy. Rather than following children’s interests and helping them build a coherent picture of the world, we shower them with facts that are often fragmented, unrelated, and useless. As a result, countless students graduate school with a volume of academic junk that doesn’t prepare them for their future.

“The second lesson I teach is class position. I teach that students must stay in the class where they belong. Everyone has a proper place in the pyramid and there is no way out of your class except by number magic.”

We teach children that they must stay where they are put, mature on the exact same schedule as the rest of the kids their age, and learn a specific set of skills from a one-size-fits-all curriculum at the same time as everyone else. What is natural about that?

“The third lesson I teach kids is indifference. I teach children not to care about anything too much. I do it by demanding that they become totally involved in my lessons, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. When the bell rings I insist that they stop whatever it is that we've been working on and proceed quickly to the next work station. They must turn on and off like a light switch.”

The goal of education should be to become self-directed, life-long learners. The system encourages exactly the opposite mindset for learning.

“The fourth lesson I teach is emotional dependency. By using stars and red checks; smiles and frowns; prizes and punishments; or honors and disgraces, I force children to become emotionally dependent upon my praise. Rights may be granted or withheld by any authority without appeal, because rights do not exist inside a school.”

There is little room for individuality in schools. Children need choices and responsibilities in order to develop accountability and a sense of purpose. 

“The fifth lesson I teach is intellectual dependency. Good students wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson of them all: we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives.”

Independence is a crucial trait of self-directed learners. How can children practice being independent if they are constantly being told what to do in school?

“The sixth lesson I teach is provisional self-esteem. I teach children that their self-respect should depend upon expert opinion. The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents but should instead rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth”

Students are constantly evaluated and judged in schools. The educational process should be a personal journey of discovery and realization, and that journey should be different for every person.

“The seventh lesson I teach is that one can’t hide. I teach students they are always watched; that each individual is under constant surveillance by either my colleagues or myself. There are no private spaces for children; there is no private time.”

Privacy is essential for creativity. How can students have original thoughts and ideas if they are constantly being monitored and watched? The surveillance even travels into the household through homework - compromising the little “free time” left for children to explore their interests.

In summary, today’s schools are effective at “schooling” children but fail at educating them. We need more educating and less schooling.


What I’m exploring

I found these interesting alternative school models that tackle some of the challenges presented above that I think are worth sharing:

For my current project, I’m brainstorming about ways to solve some of these issues that I think are detrimental to our children’s learning experience. I’m betting that online education could be part of the solution. 

If you know of or are involved with any of these alternative school models (or others) and are willing to share your thoughts, please let me know by replying to this e-mail. I would love to hear from you!

Until next week!

Ms. Fab