Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Crippled Imagination and Its Cost

Well, well, well. A talk about the educational system never seems objective enough to me unless it is confined by proper geographical, cultural, and chronological parameters. And here comes a second book on the education in American public schools by John Gatto. Weapons of Mass Instruction metaphorically prepares the reader with its title about the statement Mr. Gatto is to make once again: "mechanisms of familiar schooling which cripple imagination, discourage critical thinking, and create a false view of learning as a by-product of role-memorization drills." It all sounds scary; the picture promises a dumb and handicapped generation. Wait, that's exactly part of the name of John Gatto's first book - Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (1992). Then, the popularity of his Underground History of American Education which is available for free online, makes a similar point.

I wonder how many books by Gatto will it take for people to really see some of the basic problems that the system has. Though not a product of the American public school system, I have a significant experience with its products. In fact, I, you, and everybody out there in this country gets to experience on daily basis encounters of that kind (I'd like to think that Spielberg was not having those in mind when he was thinking of the "third kind" encounters). Don't we all deal in one way or another with public school graduates? Oh yes, you'd say, but after their public school some of them became University graduates and therefore they won't identify any more with their basic public schooling. True, but how many of you get your burger flipped or your oil changed by this University graduate? And why has it become normal in this country to have the foundation of one's education worse than the building it supports? Doesn't a good foundation make for a more solid structure? Wrapped in this line of thinking, I do forget however that the education we are talking about is actually called public. Public is part of a binary opposites whose other end must be non-public, or paid, or for those who can afford to pay for it, or maybe I should use the Chomskyan, for the "privileged." Now that the working concepts have changed - public versus paid education, or education for free vs. a better one that is paid - I think it makes sense why a book or two or even three are not exactly going to make that change. We live in a world where the more money you pay the better product you get. And yes, the product of the public schools is "what you paid for." Ironic, in a time of economic crisis. But eye-opening for many who did not quite think about it before. Now, we have to perhaps worry about the public schools more than ever because it is likely that we will get more and more products at a lower cost since we won't be able to afford the higher price. More products with "crippled imagination" to deal with on daily basis; knock on wood they won't live in your homes.

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