Liberty Classroom

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Tom Woods is one of my favorite speakers (and authors). He’s a libertarian historian with a PhD from Columbia (undergrad at Harvard) if that’s possible to believe. He has an interest in economics and is especially good at explaining the implications of economics on historical events. He is very entertaining. If you’re only going to listen to one of his speeches, the one embedded below is the one (just because of the first two stories).

Download: Tom Woods 33 Questions Speech

If you like what you hear, then I’d suggest listening to all of his speeches on (free RSS feed). Once you’ve exhausted those, you should consider signing up for his Liberty Classroom where you can here additional lectures series by him and other like minded professionals.

Profit is not a dirty word

Another reason not to send your child to school.

The primary purpose of school is conformity. Children who do not conform are labeled slow, dumb, troublemakers. One of the major themes of indoctrination is that of selfless cooperation, volunteerism, altruism. They are taught that profits are selfish, crass, even immoral. Students displaying entrepreneurial bent are especially singled out for conformity training and medication. In reality, most of the good in the world is not the work of selfless volunteers, but the work of profit seeking entrepreneurs. These heroes seek out humanity’s unmet needs and find innovative ways to meet them, improving the lives of billions of people, thus fulfilling the words of Jesus, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” – Mark 9:35

In this video, Cameron Herold tells his story and gives tips for encouraging your child’s inner entrepreneur.

My favorite tip:

Don’t give your child an allowance or even pay him to do chores. That simply teaches him to be dependent. Instead, allow him to find things that need to be done and come to you with them and negotiate a fee for their completion. This teaches him to be observant, proactive, and incentivizes performance.

Sympathy Deformed

Sympathy Deformed

Theodore Dalrymple

Misguided compassion hurts the poor.

To sympathize with those who are less fortunate is honorable and decent. A man able to commiserate only with himself would surely be neither admirable nor attractive. But every virtue can become deformed by excess, insincerity, or loose thinking into an opposing vice. Sympathy, when excessive, moves toward sentimental condescension and eventually disdain; when insincere, it becomes unctuously hypocritical; and when associated with loose thinking, it is a bad guide to policy and frequently has disastrous results. It is possible, of course, to combine all three errors.

No subject provokes the deformations of sympathy more than poverty. I recalled this recently when asked to speak on a panel about child poverty in Britain in the wake of the economic and financial crisis. I said that the crisis had not affected the problem of child poverty in any fundamental way. Britain remained what it had long been—one of the worst countries in the Western world in which to grow up. This was not the consequence of poverty in any raw economic sense; it resulted from the various kinds of squalor—moral, familial, psychological, social, educational, and cultural—that were particularly prevalent in the country (see “Childhood’s End,” Summer 2008).

My remarks were poorly received by the audience, which consisted of professional alleviators of the effects of social pathology, such as social workers and child psychologists. One fellow panelist was the chief of a charity devoted to the abolition of child poverty (whose largest source of funds, like that of most important charities in Britain’s increasingly corporatist society, was the government). She dismissed my comments as nonsense. For her, poverty was simply the “maldistribution of resources”; we could thus distribute it away. And in her own terms, she was right, for her charity stipulated that one was poor if one had an income of less than 60 percent of the median national income.

This definition, of course, has odd logical consequences: for example, that in a society of billionaires, multimillionaires would be poor. A society in which every single person grew richer could also be one in which poverty became more widespread than before; and one in which everybody grew poorer might be one in which there was less poverty than before. More important, however, is that the redistributionist way of thinking denies agency to the poor. By destroying people’s self-reliance, it encourages dependency and corruption—not only in Britain, but everywhere in the world where it is held.

I first started thinking about poverty when I worked as a doctor during the early eighties in the Gilbert Islands, a group of low coral atolls in an immensity of the Central Pacific. Much of the population still lived outside the money economy, and the per-capita GDP was therefore extremely low. It did not seem to me, however, that the people were very poor. Their traditional way of life afforded them what anthropologists call a generous subsistence; their coconuts, fish, and taros gave them an adequate—and, in some respects, elegant—living. They lived in an almost invariant climate, with the temperature rarely departing more than a few degrees from 85. Their problems were illness and boredom, which left them avid for new possibilities when they came into contact with the outside world.

Life in the islands taught me a lively disrespect for per-capita GDP as an accurate measure of poverty. I read recently in a prominent liberal newspaper that “the majority of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day.” This statement is clearly designed less to convey an economic truth than to provoke sympathy, evoke guilt, and drum up support for foreign aid in the West, where an income of less than $1 a day would not keep body and soul together for long; whereas it is frequently said that one of Nigeria’s problems is the rapid increase in its population.

As it happens, an island next door (in Pacific terms) to the Gilbert Islands was home to an experiment in the sudden, unearned attainment of wealth. Nauru, a speck in the ocean just ten miles around, for a time became the richest place on earth. The source of its sudden riches was phosphate rock. Australia had long administered the island, and the British Phosphate Commission had mined the phosphate on behalf of Australia, Britain, and New Zealand; but when Nauru became independent in 1968, the 4,000 or so Nauruans gained control of the phosphate, which made them wealthy. The money came as a gift. Most Nauruans made no contribution to the extraction of the rock, beyond selling their land. The expertise, the management, the labor, and the transportation arrived from outside. Within just a few years, the Nauruans went from active subsistence to being rentiers.

The outcome was instructive. The Nauruans became bored and listless. One of their chief joys became eating to excess. On average, they consumed 7,000 calories per day, mainly rice and canned beef, and they drank Fanta and Château d’Yquem by the caseload. They became the fattest people on earth, and, genetically predisposed already to the illness, 50 percent of them became diabetic. It was my experience of Nauru that first suggested to me the possibility that abruptly distributing wealth has psychological effects as well as economic ones.

I next spent a few years (1983 to 1986) in Tanzania, a country that presented another experiment in treating poverty as a matter of maldistribution. Julius Nyerere, the first—and, until then, the only—president, had been in charge for more than 20 years. His honorific, Mwalimu—Teacher—symbolized his relation to his country and his people. He had become a Fabian socialist at the University of Edinburgh, and a more red-blooded one (according to his former ally and foreign minister, Oscar Kambona, who fell out with him over the imposition of a one-party socialist state) after receiving a delirious, orchestrated reception in Mao’s China.

One can say a number of things in Nyerere’s favor, at least by the standards of postindependence African leaders. He was not a tribalist who awarded all the plum jobs to his own kind. He was not a particularly sanguinary dictator, though he did not hesitate to imprison his opponents. Nor was he spectacularly corrupt in the manner of, say, Bongo of Gabon or Moi of Kenya. He was outwardly charming and modest and must have been one of the only people to have had good personal relations with both Queen Elizabeth II and Kim Il-sung.

Nyerere wished the poor well; he was full of sympathy and good intentions. He thought that, being so uneducated, ignorant, and lacking in resources, the poor could not spare the time and energy—and were, in any case, unqualified—to make decisions for themselves. They were also lazy: Nyerere at one point complained about the millions of his fellow countrymen who spent half their time drinking, gossiping, and dancing (which suggested to me that their lives were not altogether intolerable).

But Nyerere knew what to do for them. In 1967, he issued his famous Arusha Declaration, named for the town where he made it, committing Tanzania to socialism and vowing to end the exploitation of man by man that made some people rich and others poor. On this view of things, the greater accumulation of wealth, either by some individuals or by some nations, could be explained only by exploitation, a morally illicit process. The explanation for poverty was simple: some people or nations appropriated the natural wealth of mankind for themselves. It was therefore a necessary condition of improvement, as well as a form of restitution, that they no longer be allowed to do so and that their wealth be redistributed. So Tanzania nationalized the banks, appropriated commercial farms, took over all major industry, controlled prices, and put all export trade under the control of paragovernmental organizations.

There followed the forced collectivization of the rural population—which is to say, the majority of the population—into Ujamaa villages. Ujamaa is Swahili for “extended family”; as Nyerere insisted, all men were brothers. By herding the people into collectivized villages, Nyerere thought, the government could provide services, such as schools and clinics. After all, rich countries had educated and healthy populations; was it not evident that if the Tanzanian people were educated and healthy, wealth would result? Besides, collectively the villagers could buy fertilizer, perhaps even tractors, which they never could have done as individuals (assuming, as Nyerere did, that without government action there would be no economic growth). Unfortunately, the people did not want to herd fraternally into villages; they wanted to stay put on their scattered ancestral lands. Several thousand were arrested and imprisoned.

The predictable result of these efforts at preventing the exploitation of man by man was the collapse of production, pauperizing an already poor country. Tanzania went from being a significant exporter of agricultural produce to being utterly dependent on food imports, even for subsistence, in just a few years. Peasants who had once grown coffee and sold it to Indian merchants for soap, salt, and other goods uprooted their bushes and started growing meager amounts of corn for their own consumption. No reason existed for doing anything else because growers now had to sell their produce to paragovernmental procurement agencies, which paid them later, if at all, at derisory prices in a worthless currency that peasants called “pictures of Nyerere.”

Nyerere blamed shortages of such commonplaces as soap and salt on speculators and exploiters, rather than on his own economic policies. He made the shortages the pretext for so-called crackdowns, often directed at Indian traders, which eventually drove them from the country. Nyerere’s policies were no more soundly based than those of Idi Amin, who drove out the Indians more brutally. Anti-Semitism, it has often been said, is the socialism of fools. I would put things another way: socialism is the anti-Semitism of intellectuals.

With foreign exchange exhausted, only the funds that the honey-tongued Nyerere continued to obtain from the World Bank and foreign donors enabled the country to avoid mass starvation. By the time I reached Tanzania, the country had become completely dependent on handouts. Aid represented two-thirds of Tanzania’s foreign-exchange earnings; one might say that its largest export was requests for such aid. In the rural area where I lived, the people dressed in hand-me-downs sent by European charities. A single egg was a luxury. One of the goals that had induced Nyerere to move to socialism, ironically, was national “self-reliance.”

The foreign aid that allowed Nyerere’s policies to continue well after the economic disaster was evident had precisely the baleful effects that Peter Bauer, the development economist who contradicted the professional orthodoxies of his time, predicted. The aid immensely increased the power of the sole political party by giving its officials control over scarce goods. When I was in Tanzania, you needed political connections to buy even a bottle of beer—the famous local monopoly brand, Safari, which, the saying went, caused you to pass directly from sobriety to hangover without passing through drunkenness. The regime provided ample opportunities for corruption. Most Tanzanians were slender; you could recognize a party man by his girth.

Thanks to foreign aid, a large bureaucracy grew up in Tanzania whose power, influence, and relative prosperity depended on its keeping the economy a genuine zero-sum game. A vicious circle had been created: the more impoverished the country, the greater the need for foreign aid; the greater the foreign aid, the more privileged the elite; the more privileged the elite, the greater the adherence to policies that resulted in poverty. Nyerere himself made the connection between privilege and ruinous policies perfectly clear after the International Monetary Fund suggested that Tanzania float its currency, the Tanzanian shilling, rather than maintain it at a ridiculously overvalued rate. “There would be rioting in the streets, and I would lose everything I have,” Nyerere said.

Long years of living under this perverse regime encouraged economically destructive attitudes among the general population. While I was impressed by the sacrifices that Tanzanian parents were willing to make to educate their children (for a child to attain a certain stage of education, for example, a party official had to certify the parents’ political reliability), it alarmed me to discover that the only goal of education was a government job, from which a child could then extort a living from people like his parents—though not actually from his parents, for he would share his good fortune with them. In Tanzania, producing anything, despite the prevailing scarcity of almost everything, became foolish, for it brought no reward.

When I returned to practice among the poor in England, I found my Tanzanian experiences illuminating. The situation was not so extreme in England, of course, where the poor enjoyed luxuries that in Tanzania were available only to the elite. But the arguments for the expansive British welfare state had much in common with those that Nyerere had used to bring about his economic disaster. The poor, helpless victims of economic and social forces, were, like Ophelia in the river, “incapable of their own distress.” Therefore, they needed outside assistance in the form of subsidies and state-directed organizations, paid for with the income of the rich. One could not expect them to make serious decisions for themselves.

This attitude has worked destruction in Britain as surely as it has in Tanzania. The British state is today as much a monopoly provider of education to the population as it is of health care. The monopoly is maintained because the government and the bureaucratic caste believe, first, that parents would otherwise be too feckless or impoverished to educate their children from their own means; and second, that public education equalizes the chances of children in an otherwise unequal society and is thus a means of engineering social justice.

The state started to take over education in 1870, largely because the government saw a national competitor, Prussia, employing state power to educate its children. But practically all British children went to school already: according to the calculations of economist and historian E. G. West, 93 percent of the population was by then literate. It is true that the British state had started providing support to schools long before, but in 1870, 67 percent of school income still came from the fees that parents paid.

Not all British children received a good education before the state intervened: that was as vanishingly unlikely then as it is today. But it is clear that poor people—incomparably poorer than anyone in Britain today—were nonetheless capable of making sacrifices to carry out their highly responsible decisions. They did not need the state to tell them that their children should learn to read, write, and reckon. There is no reason to suppose that, left alone, the astonishing progress in the education of the population during the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century would not have continued. The “problem” that the state was solving in its destruction of the voluntary system was its own lack of power over the population.

As in Tanzania, the state-dominated system became self-reinforcing. Because of the high taxation necessary to run it, it reduced the capacity and inclination of people to pay for their own choices—and eventually the habit of making such choices. The British state now decides the important things for British citizens when it comes to education and much else. It is no coincidence that British advocates of the cradle-to-grave welfare state were great admirers of Julius Nyerere—who, incidentally, has been proposed for Roman Catholic canonization, thus bringing close to reality Bauer’s ironic reference to him as Saint Julius.

The only time I ever saw Nyerere in person was in Dodoma, the dusty town designated to become Tanzania’s new capital. He was expected to drive by, and by the side of the road sat a praise singer—a woman employed to sing the praises of important people. She was singing songs in praise of Nyerere, of which there were many, with words such as: “Father Nyerere, build and spread socialism throughout the country and eliminate all parasites.”

The great man drove past in a yellow Mercedes. The praise singer was covered in dust and started to cough.

Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His latest book is The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Video Introduction to Austrian Economics

An Introduction to Austrian Economics

by Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Jörg Guido Hülsmann

Mises and the Austrian School by Jörg Guido Hülsmann

Value, Utility and Price by Jörg Guido Hülsmann

Division of Labor and Money by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

The Theory of Banking by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Capital and Interest by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Praxeology: The Austrian Method, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Business Cycle Theory, by Jörg Guido Hülsmann

The Economics of Deflation, by Jörg Guido Hülsmann

Theory and History, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

The Foundations of Welfare Economics, by Jörg Guido Hülsmann

Law and Economics, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Hans-Hermann Hoppe [send him mail] is distinguished fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and founder and president of the Property and Freedom Society. His books include Democracy: The God That Failed. Visit his website. Jörg Guido Hülsmann [send him mail] is senior fellow of the Mises Institute and author of Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism. He teaches in France, at Université d’Angers. See his website. See his Mises archive.

Six Essential School Lessons

The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher

by John Taylor Gatto

Call me Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to do, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. My license certifies me as an instructor of English language and literature, but that isn’t what I do at all. What I teach is school, and I win awards doing it.

Teaching means many different things, but six lessons are common to schoolteaching from Harlem to Hollywood. You pay for these lessons in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what they are:

The first lesson I teach is: “Stay in the class where you belong.” I don’t know who decides that my kids belong there but that’s not my business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human being under the burden of the numbers each carries. Numbering children is a big and very profitable business, though what the business is designed to accomplish is elusive.

In any case, again, that’s not my business. My job is to make the kids like it – being locked in together, I mean – or at the minimum, endure it. If things go well, the kids can’t imagine themselves anywhere else; they envy and fear the better classes and have contempt for the dumber classes. So the class mostly keeps itself in good marching order. That’s the real lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to know your place.

Nevertheless, in spite of the overall blueprint, I make an effort to urge children to higher levels of test success, promising eventual transfer from the lower-level class as a reward. I insinuate that the day will come when an employer will hire them on the basis of test scores, even though my own experience is that employers are (rightly) indifferent to such things. I never lie outright, but I’ve come to see that truth and [school]teaching are incompatible.

The lesson of numbered classes is that there is no way out of your class except by magic. Until that happens you must stay where you are put.

The second lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light switch. I demand that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. But when the bell rings I insist that they drop the work at once and proceed quickly to the next work station. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of.

The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Bells are the secret logic of schooltime; their argument is inexorable; bells destroy past and future, converting every interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes every living mountain and river the same even though they are not. Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.

The third lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by authority, without appeal. As a schoolteacher I intervene in many personal decisions, issuing a Pass for those I deem legitimate, or initiating a disciplinary confrontation for behavior that threatens my control. My judgments come thick and fast, because individuality is trying constantly to assert itself in my classroom. Individuality is a curse to all systems of classification, a contradiction of class theory.

Here are some common ways it shows up: children sneak away for a private moment in the toilet on the pretext of moving their bowels; they trick me out of a private instant in the hallway on the grounds that they need water. Sometimes free will appears right in front of me in children angry, depressed or exhilarated by things outside my ken. Rights in such things cannot exist for schoolteachers; only privileges, which can be withdrawn, exist.

The fourth lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum you will study. (Rather, I enforce decisions transmitted by the people who pay me.) This power lets me separate good kids from bad kids instantly. Good kids do the tasks I appoint with a minimum of conflict and a decent show of enthusiasm. Of the millions of things of value to learn, I decide what few we have time for. The choices are mine. Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity.

Bad kids fight against this, of course, trying openly or covertly to make decisions for themselves about what they will learn. How can we allow that and survive as schoolteachers? Fortunately there are procedures to break the will of those who resist.

This is another way I teach the lesson of dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson of all, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that our entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned. Think of what would fall apart if kids weren’t trained in the dependency lesson: The social-service businesses could hardly survive, including the fast-growing counseling industry; commercial entertainment of all sorts, along with television, would wither if people remembered how to make their own fun; the food services, restaurants and prepared-food warehouses would shrink if people returned to making their own meals rather than depending on strangers to cook for them. Much of modern law, medicine, and engineering would go too – the clothing business as well – unless a guaranteed supply of helpless people poured out of our schools each year. We’ve built a way of life that depends on people doing what they are told because they don’t know any other way. For God’s sake, let’s not rock that boat!

In lesson five I teach that your self-respect should depend on an observer’s measure of your worth. My kids are constantly evaluated and judged. A monthly report, impressive in its precision, is sent into students’ homes to spread approval or to mark exactly – down to a single percentage point – how dissatisfied with their children parents should be. Although some people might be surprised how little time or reflection goes into making up these records, the cumulative weight of the objective-seeming documents establishes a profile of defect which compels a child to arrive at a certain decisions about himself and his future based on the casual judgment of strangers.

Self-evaluation – the staple of every major philosophical system that ever appeared on the planet – is never a factor in these things. The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but must rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth.

In lesson six I teach children that they are being watched. I keep each student under constant surveillance and so do my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children; there is no private time. Class change lasts 300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at low levels. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, even to tattle on their parents. Of course I encourage parents to file their own child’s waywardness, too.

I assign “homework” so that this surveillance extends into the household, where students might otherwise use the time to learn something unauthorized, perhaps from a father or mother, or by apprenticing to some wiser person in the neighborhood.

The lesson of constant surveillance is that no one can be trusted, that privacy is not legitimate. Surveillance is an ancient urgency among certain influential thinkers; it was a central prescription set down by Calvin in the Institutes, by Plato in the Republic, by Hobbes, by Comte, by Francis Bacon. All these childless men discovered the same thing: Children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society under central control.

It is the great triumph of schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best parents, there is only a small number who can imagine a different way to do things. Yet only a very few lifetimes ago things were different in the United States: originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social class boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do many things independently, to think for themselves. We were something, all by ourselves, as individuals.

It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for “basic skills” practice is a smokescreen behind which schools pre-empt the time of children for twelve years and teach them the six lessons I’ve just taught you.

We’ve had a society increasingly under central control in the United States since just before the Civil War: the lives we lead, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the green highway signs we drive by from coast to coast are the products of this central control. So, too, I think, are the epidemics of drugs, suicide, divorce, violence, cruelty, and the hardening of class into caste in the U.S., products of the dehumanization of our lives, the lessening of individual and family importance that central control imposes.

Without a fully active role in community life you cannot develop into a complete human being. Aristotle taught that. Surely he was right; look around you or look in the mirror: that is the demonstration.

“School” is an essential support system for a vision of social engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that narrows to a control point as it ascends. “School” is an artifice which makes such a pyramidal social order seem inevitable (although such a premise is a fundamental betrayal of the American Revolution). In colonial days and through the period of the early Republic we had no schools to speak of. And yet the promise of democracy was beginning to be realized. We turned our backs on this promise by bringing to life the ancient dream of Egypt: compulsory training in subordination for everybody. Compulsory schooling was the secret Plato reluctantly transmitted in the Republic when he laid down the plans for total state control of human life.

The current debate about whether we should have a national curriculum is phony; we already have one, locked up in the six lessons I’ve told you about and a few more I’ve spared you. This curriculum produces moral and intellectual paralysis, and no curriculum of content will be sufficient to reverse its bad effects. What is under discussion is a great irrelevancy.

None of this is inevitable, you know. None of it is impregnable to change. We do have a choice in how we bring up young people; there is no right way. There is no “international competition” that compels our existence, difficult as it is to even think about in the face of a constant media barrage of myth to the contrary. In every important material respect our nation is self-sufficient. If we gained a non-material philosophy that found meaning where it is genuinely located – in families, friends, the passage of seasons, in nature, in simple ceremonies and rituals, in curiosity, generosity, compassion, and service to others, in a decent independence and privacy – then we would be truly self-sufficient.

How did these awful places, these “schools,” come about? As we know them, they are a product of the two “Red Scares” of 1848 and 1919, when powerful interests feared a revolution among our industrial poor, and partly they are the result of the revulsion with which old-line families regarded the waves of Celtic, Slavic, and Latin immigration – and the Catholic religion – after 1845. And certainly a third contributing cause can be found in the revulsion with which these same families regarded the free movement of Africans through the society after the Civil War.

Look again at the six lessons of school. This is training for permanent underclasses, people who are to be deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius. And it is training shaken loose from its original logic: to regulate the poor. Since the 1920s the growth of the well-articulated school bureaucracy, and the less visible growth of a horde of industries that profit from schooling exactly as it is, have enlarged schooling’s original grasp to seize the sons and daughters of the middle class.

Is it any wonder Socrates was outraged at the accusation that he took money to teach? Even then, philosophers saw clearly the inevitable direction the professionalization of teaching would take, pre-empting the teaching function that belongs to all in a healthy community; belongs, indeed, most clearly to yourself, since nobody else cares as much about your destiny. Professional teaching tends to another serious error. It makes things that are inherently easy to learn, like reading, writing, and arithmetic, difficult – by insisting they be taught by pedagogical procedures.

With lessons like the ones I teach day after day, is it any wonder we have the national crisis we face today? Young people indifferent to the adult world and to the future; indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence? Rich or poor, schoolchildren cannot concentrate on anything for very long. They have a poor sense of time past and to come; they are mistrustful of intimacy (like the children of divorce they really are); they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction.

All the peripheral tendencies of childhood are magnified to a grotesque extent by schooling, whose hidden curriculum prevents effective personality development. Indeed, without exploiting the fearfulness, selfishness, and inexperience of children our schools could not survive at all, nor could I as a certified schoolteacher.

“Critical thinking” is a term we hear frequently these days as a form of training which will herald a new day in mass schooling. It certainly will, if it ever happens. No common school that actually dared teach the use of dialectic, heuristic, and other tools of free minds could last a year without being torn to pieces.

Institutional schoolteachers are destructive to children’s development. Nobody survives the Six-Lesson Curriculum unscathed, not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it. In one of the great ironies of human affairs, the massive rethinking that schools require would cost so much less than we are spending now that it is not likely to happen. First and foremost, the business I am in is a jobs project and a contract-letting agency. We cannot afford to save money, not even to help children.

At the pass we’ve come to historically, and after 26 years of teaching, I must conclude that one of the only alternatives on the horizon for most families is to teach their own children at home. Small, de- institutionalized schools are another. Some form of free-market system for public schooling is the likeliest place to look for answers. But the near impossibility of these things for the shattered families of the poor, and for too many on the fringes of the economic middle class, foretell that the disaster of Six-Lesson Schools is likely to continue.

After an adult lifetime spent in teaching school I believe the method of schooling is the only real content it has. Don’t be fooled into thinking that good curricula or good equipment or good teachers are the critical determinants of your son and daughter’s schooltime. All the pathologies we’ve considered come about in large measure because the lessons of school prevent children from keeping important appointments with themselves and their families, to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity and love – and, of course, lessons in service to others, which are among the key lessons of home life.

Thirty years ago these things could still be learned in the time left after school. But television has eaten most of that time, and a combination of television and the stresses peculiar to two-income or single-parent families have swallowed up most of what used to be family time. Our kids have no time left to grow up fully human, and only thin-soil wastelands to do it in.

A future is rushing down upon our culture which will insist that all of us learn the wisdom of non-material experience; this future will demand, as the price of survival, that we follow a pace of natural life economical in material cost. These lessons cannot be learned in schools as they are. School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.

This originally appeared in the Fall 1991 issue of Whole Earth Review.

June 22, 2010

Taylor Gatto is the author of Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling, and Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. He was 1991 New York State Teacher of the Year.

Copyright © 2010 John Taylor Gatto