hear it argued, would make better sense and be better value as nine-to-five
operations or even nine-to-nine ones, working year-round. We’re not a farming community anymore, I
hear, that we need to give kids time off to tend the crops. This new-world-order schooling would serve
dinner, provide evening recreation, offer therapy, medical attention, and a
whole range of other services, which would convert the institution into a true
synthetic family for children, better than the original one for many poor kids,
it is saidand this would level the playing field for the sons and daughters of
appears to me as a schoolteacher that schools are already a major cause of weak
families and weak communities. They
separate parents and children from vital interaction with each other and from
true curiosity about each other’s lives.
Schools stifle family originality by appropriating the critical time
needed for any sound idea of family to developthen they blame the family for
its failure to be a family.” (John
Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden
Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling)
One day it
struck John Taylor Gatto, Teacher of the Year for New York State in 1991 (and
therefore, inevitably, disliked by his administrators), that our schools were not failing. Rather, they were succeeding fabulously at
what they were constructed to do: to produce dull and compliant workers in a
technocratic economy. School, he argued,
instills in us a perpetual childish neediness.
We need to toady for grades, because we need to get into the “best”
schools, because we need to have a prestigious and well-remunerated job,
because we need to buy a lot of stuff to
pretend to fill the emptiness of our lives.
Among that stuff will be the odd child or two, who will also need to
toady for grades, to get into the “best” schools, and so on, world without end,
The Vampire State naturally requires a
Vampire School. Recall the two things
everybody needs to know about vampires.
Vampires need blooda lot of it; and vampires endow their victims with a
shadow-life, a kind of immortal death, always dependent upon the vampire. The Vampire School uses words like
“community” and “family” the same way a vampire talks about life, as from a
vast distance, with only a vague and twisted memory of the reality of such a thing,
Is that too
harsh a verdict?
knocks at your door. “Hello,” says the
fellow, flashing his card. “My name is
John Smith. I hear you have a twelve-year-old
“Yes, my son
Bobby. Has he gotten into any trouble?”
“Oh no, sir,
not yet. I am simply here to talk to him
“Yes, I am
licensed by the state and the school district,” he says, flashing another card,
“to talk to Bobby about sex. He is here,
perhaps?” The man elbows his way into
the living room, glancing at the titles of the books in your bookcase.
“As a matter
of fact, he isn’t. He’s down by the pond
fishing with his little brother.”
fishing,” says the man, writing on a notepad.
“Unsupervised fishing at a pond.
Very well. When may I see him? My appointments are rapidly filling up.”
first know something about you?” you ask, naively. “Suppose you don’t believe the same things I
sir,” says the man, arching an eyebrow, and smiling ever so slightly, “it is
not your place to know anything about me. If there’s any knowing going on, it will be I who must find things out about you. But
really,” he continues, assuming an academic air, “the subject of sex is as
scientific and precise as physics or mathematics, so that what you happen to believe about it is of no more import
than what you believe about the composition of the moon, or the area of a
circle. It is a part of my work”here he
lowers his voice to something between a purr and a growl“to disabuse young
people of the prejudices their
parents bring to sex. Now then, when
will your son be available?”
hesitate. More writing on the notepad.
tomorrow at noon be all right?”
You begin to
close the door. “Not so fast,” says Mr.
Smith. “There’s the little matter of the
you are going to charge me money for this?”
sir,” he beams, “recall, I am an expert. You wouldn’t want to do your own
plumbing, would you? No, of course
not. Or prepare your own meals, except
under duress? Or provide your own
entertainment? Play your own musical
instruments? Invent your own
sports? Get together with your own
neighbors to play cards? Build your own
garage? Farm your own land? Read your own old and musty books, and think
about them by yourself? Make love to
your own wife without the aid of expert tips from magazines and pornographic
videos? Worship God with your fellow
wrong with that?” you stammer, but he snaps the notebook shut. “I haven’t all day. Here is my bill. I make $50 an hour. Sixty hours with Bobby should about do
it. If he fails, my colleague Ms. Jones
will be available for remedial lessons.
And you give
not. There are some peoplehomeschoolers
most notable among themwho have tried to elude the Vampire altogether, with
greater and lesser degrees of success.
But there are others, whose number is Legion, who have been bitten too
deeply, and who have come to depend upon the Vampire School.
secretly look forward to the nine-to-five or nine-to-nine school whose prospect
fills Gatto with horror. They do not want more time with their
children. They hardly know what to do
with the time they do have. They pay,
handsomely, for time-consuming activities that relieve them of the
responsibility of a real life. They have
been trained to consider all things done with simple independence as beneath an
intelligent person’s notice. “Slavery is
freedom,” says Big Brother, who is now also Big Sister. So a woman will pay to rid herself of her
children for certain hours during the day, so that she may work, let us say, as
a cook in a local restaurant, to pay for the Vampire and its minions, and for
prepared meals from the Vampire Market.
In Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School, Daniel
Greenberg reveals to us not only that the Vampire is a Vampire, but that he is
a naked Vampire to boot. For the
Vampire, lending his victims the simulacrum of life, delivers the simulacrum of
education, but paradoxically must be seen to “fail” frequently, so as to
justify the transfusion of greater and greater quantities of blood. He can do so only by persuading people that
learning how to read and cipher and so forth is so tremendously difficult and unnatural that many children,
especially those from poor homeshere he dabs a dry eye with his handkerchiefwill
never manage it, unless they submit to ever more (and more intrusive)
ministrations from the Vampire, who alone knows how to teach, being the expert
and all that.
Greenberg laughs the Vampire’s pretenses away.
When children are ready to learn a subject, they will learn it. He tells of a group of his school’s nine-year-olds
and twelve-year-olds, who suddenly announced that they wanted to learn
arithmeticall of it. So he dug up a
textbook from 1898, full of examples and exercises, and gave it to them. Addition took two classes, he says, and
subtraction another two. The children
memorized the multiplication tables, then tackled the exercises. “They were high, all of them,” he says,
“sailing along, mastering all the techniques and algorithms.” Then they went on to long division,
fractions, decimals, percentages, and square roots. “In twenty weeks, after twenty contact hours,
they had covered it all,” writes Greenberg, “six years’ worth.”
there is reading. Consider that a little
child learns the most complex thing that most people will ever learnhuman
language. He learns it naturally,
because he has a hunger to learn it, and he learns it without training by
experts, and at no expense at all. When
speaking has been mastered, reading is not all so hard, if the child has things
to read. These days, it is almost impossible
to avoid things to read. Most of it is
junk, but then, so is most of what is assigned as reading in school. So what are we paying all that money
for? To ensure, perhaps, that children
associate reading with drudgery?
Can a vampire be reformed? In a manner of speaking, yes: with a stake.