Saturday, June 25, 2011

Class Position: Lesson 2 from John Taylor Gatto

Last week I wrote about confusion as being the first lesson that is taught in schools in America, according to John Taylor Gatto. I am thinking about how these lessons relate to my experience in Australia.

I have been reflecting on his second lesson, Class Position.

Gatto writes:
I teach that students must stay in the class where they belong. I don't know who decides they belong there, but that's not my business. The children are numbered so that if they get away they can be returned to the right class.
Students are encouraged to do better in tests... but they have a 1% chance of moving to a higher class.

Students are told that an employer will hire them based on their grades...

Students are taught fear and envy the upper classes and contempt for the "dumb" classes.

Students are taught their place.

My experience? I can only tell it in terms of class position.

1. My first lesson was in English. I languished for the first year of high school in the lowest class of English because I had done badly in the school entrance exams. My teacher looked at me sympathetically when he saw that I was bored out of my brains, but for a whole year I was not moved. What a waste.

2. I was a slightly above average student in all subjects except in maths where I lived on the far left side of the bell curve. For my last years of school, I could have chosen to do the medium level maths, but would have been at the bottom of the class. I didn't want to risk a low HSC* score and be jobless, so I chose the much safer "maths in space" (for those of use who had vacuums in our heads?). It was humiliating for a while, but the score was the main thing.

3. In year 10, I miraculously topped a physics exam for the year and my physics teacher tried to encourage me to take physics for the HSC. Knowing that I was a dunce at maths, I didn't want to risk a low score by doing more challenging physics, so 'bang' I never studied physics again.

In these three instances, because of the reinforcement of "class position" in schools, I:

a) wasted a year being stuck in a class way below my capabilities
b) didn't challenge myself at maths and continued to think that I was a dunce at it.
c) missed an opportunity to extend my knowledge for fear of not doing well.

Now you might say that the above three points arise out of my faults and anxieties, but let's think about it in terms of homeschooling.

If I was homeschooled I would have:

a) never been in the position of working below my capabilities in English, as I would have worked at my own pace with virtually 100% attention from my teacher who was not constrained by the need to number her students.
b) addressed my difficulties with maths through one-on-one tuition that I never received at school.
c) possibly taken on the challenge of physics as I would not have been constrained by a fear of failure that school teaches.

d) or I might have done none of the above and undertaken a whole different approach to learning by studying one subject in depth, being involved with the local community, running a small business... you get the idea.

So, yes, I agree with John Taylor Gatto that school teaches class position. Do you?

* For readers not in the know, the Higher School Certificate (HSC) was the leaving exam for high school in NSW when I was at school. Your score determined what course you could do at university.

Read about Lesson 1: Confusion here

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My sister has posted!

My homeschooled sister Bridget has posted on her blog A Maiden Upstairs about her adventures at Supanova on the weekend. We want to see more pictures, Bridget!

This is her about to have a bit of a row in a dam on our recent holiday.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Devout Assistance at Mass

Genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament, making the Sign of the Cross, bowing the head and other such actions: they should be the most basic acts of devotion shouldn't they?

Having grown up in the New Order of the Mass, genuflecting and the sign of the cross were mostly what I knew to be right. As I entered my adult years I watched my mum bowing her head at the raising of the Eucharist and I understood that she was glorifying the Good Lord. This beautiful but simple movement was all the more significant because she was usually the only one in the church who did it.

I have often felt a strong desire to use gestures in the Mass as a means of participating in the Holy Sacrifice. I always want to copy the priest when he makes the sign of the cross, but I never do so because of embarrassment and not wanting to appear too pious.

I once saw a priest beating his breast at the Confeitor and I would love to do this too, but are we meant to?

During lent I read a book called The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Explained. This little treasure was written in the 1600s by Rev. Martinus Von Cochem and has a fantastic chapter on how to assist devoutly at Mass. He shows how gestures in Mass move one's thoughts in the right direction towards God:
At the "Lord Have Mercy" strike your breast three times to awaken contrition and sorrow for sin as far as you can. Consider how Christ lay prostrate on his face in the Garden of Olives expiating your sins with bitter tears and sweat of Blood.

At the "Holy, Holy, Holy" bow down and adore the Holy Trinity in all humility.

At the Canon, keep silence and tremble with awe and and withdraw thoughts from earthly things, for the King of Kings, Lord of Lords is about to come.
I might start doing these simple things in Mass. Well ok, with the last one I promise not to start trembling all over during the Canon to remind me that the Lord of Lords is coming...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lesson 1 of John Taylor Gatto's Seven Lessons

I intend to homeschool my children...

I'm not anti school and my husband and I certainly will send my children to school if homeschooling is not working out for us or them. But I'm going to try my best to teach them at home.


The decision to homeschool is based on personal experience of school, observation of my younger siblings who were and are being homeschooled, observation of other homeschooled children, and a desire to raise happy, confident children to will continue to practise their Catholic faith as adults.

So it was with interest that I read John Taylor Gatto's 1992 book Dumbing Us Down. When Gatto stood up to accept the New York State Teacher of the Year award for 1991, without a hint of irony, he listed the seven main lessons that school teaches. They were:
  1. Confusion
  2. Class Position
  3. Indifference
  4. Emotional Dependency
  5. Intellectual Dependency
  6. Provisional Self Esteem
  7. One Can't hide
It's a harsh critique of the American school system and it made me think whether these seven lessons relate to me and my experiences in Australia. So here we go.


Gatto writes
The first lesson I teach is confusion. Everything I teach is out of context. I teach the unrelating of everything... Even in the best schools a close examination of curriculum and its sequences turns up a lack of coherence, full of internal contradictions... The logic of the school mind is that it is better to leave school with a took kit of superficial jargon derived from economics, sociology, natural science and so on, than with one genuine enthusiasm.
So, did I experience this confusion as school? I didn't think so at the time, as school was just something that you do because you have to. What was to question?

I do remember desperately wanting to know how all the different history lessons connected together and how did they connect to what I was learning in English. Where did Keats fit into the timeline with Shakespeare or with Medieval history? What was happening elsewhere in the world throughout all the dynasties of China? In that sense all the subjects I learned were tiny isolated islands of facts and figures which did not clearly relate to other subjects or even other topics within the one subject.

And what do I remember of these subjects? Not much, except random things like what is osmosis and who wrote Waiting for Godot. I remember more experiences unrelated to formal lessons such as running out of a religion class after a fight with the feminist teacher, and singing with the choir at an old people's home or being called "Crrrretons!" by our music teacher.

Gatto suggests that genuine learning is not meaningless: it is interconnected. As with the sequences of learning to walk or talk, "every action justifies itself and illuminates the past and the future". So I guess he is talking more about learning through living. Sounds a bit like unschooling to me.

School was not a place I attended  to learn anything I really wanted to: that's what holidays were for. In holidays I read what I wanted, despite the difficulties (oh, the simultaneous pain and joy of skim-reading Gone With the Wind in one day!) and had leisure to sit in the sun and think (happy memories!). As a family we laughed and fought and explored rock pools by the beach. All worthwhile and memorable lessons.

Only as an adult have I been able to explore the interrelatedness of all the random things I was taught at school. Only now have I had the space to explore what I really wanted to explore without the pressure of examinations crowding out substance with assorted facts.

So yes, I can understand what Gatto means when he says the first lesson of school is confusion.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nine months later...

I do believe it's been nine months since my last post... The reason? Pregnancy equals illness for me and while this time round it has not been as bad, I had no energy to do anything but the bare minimum. I am not one of those ladies who glows!

So our gorgeous little boy number 2 (aka Sailor Boy) was born on the 8th of Feb 2011 in a fantastic speedy delivery of 30 minutes. No time even to get to the gas! Two days later I was struck down with Bell's Palsy and rushed off to hospital after dinner with a numb left side of face and an uneasy feeling that I had suffered a stroke.

More on all this another day, but suffice to say that after three weeks of looking creepily like I'd had a botox job gone wrong, with a permanently open left eye, I slowly began to get some movement back, Thank God my face is now back to normal.

Our little bubba is now four months old and despite being a very refluxy baby is starting to settle down

Now, I can start to think about blogging and crafting and reading!