Gatto’s “Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher”

Gatto, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite agitators, reflects on his career as a teacher and sums what he has been teaching all those years. This summary can be found in Chapter 1 of his book “Dumbing Us Down”. I’ve listed them here:

  1. Confusion
  2. Class position
  3. Indifference
  4. Emotional dependency
  5. Intellectual dependency
  6. Provisional self-esteem
  7. One can’t hide

You may read these and think they are bad things to teach. Well, yes! They are. And Gatto is unashamed about it. It’s what, in his own words, he is “paid to teach”. It’s what the school system demands and rewards.

In my job, I find myself teaching the same lessons.

I teach kids that confusion is normal. Things are not supposed to make sense. It’s okay that 30 minutes ago you were reading about the solar system and now you are practicing order of operations and later you will write about roman history. It’s ok really. That’s life. Things are not connected. Nobody cares about who you are and what you’re going through. Just take things as they come and don’t try to hard to figure out the natural order. There is none*.

I teach kids their class is where they belong. Class, here, is meant in the literal sense. They need to be put and stayed here with this group of strangers until someone else says otherwise. While they are in this class, they may become friends with some of the strangers if they wish. But that’s entirely optional. What’s important is that they don’t try to escape.

I teach kids that getting too excited about something is a bad thing. Like something just enough so that what are learning is palpable, but not too much that you spend time learning more than you need to know for the test. Learning how to dull your curiosity will take you very far in your future job, whatever that may be. Even the Prime Minister is expected to stay cool when dealing with topics like homelessness to genocide.

I teach kids to depend on external cues for happiness. 90, be very happy. 70, be happy. 50, be sad. Gold star, be happy. Two gold stars, be very happy.

I teach kids to depend on me for answers. There’s nothing you can figure out on your own. All the answers are hidden in the back of your textbook, or in my drawer, or on my computer. Don’t go looking for them. When I want you to know them, I’ll tell you.

I teach kids my assessment report is the single most important indicator of their worth as a person. Every few months, I’ll let you if you can be happy with yourself. And I’ll let your parents know if they should be proud of you too. Until then, keep working hard.

I teach kids they need to be tracked throughout the day. Myself, or someone else in an authority position, needs to know where they are and what they are doing. And god forbid, they be wasting their time. Life is short and there’s much to learn. “Free Time” and “Unsupervised” were things brought into this world by the devil. “Unsupervised free time” is his masterwork.

So there is it. The seven lessons I taught last year and the seven lessons I’ll be teaching next year. I hope my kids will enjoy the lessons as much as Gatto’s kids have.


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