“Psychopathic. An overheated word to characterize successful, pragmatic solutions to the control of institutional chaos”
John Taylor Gatto, an award winning educator, wrote a book called The Underground History of American Education. I am a great admirer of Mr. Gatto, and the chapters of his book, with full content, can be found at http://lewrockwell.com/gatto/gatto-uhae-15.html
What Mr Gatto wrote, I learned from experience. My first grade teacher ruined any hope I would ever have for being successful in the corporate institution of public schooling, not because she was a bad teacher, but because she was a very good teacher, in a mold similar to Mr. Gatto.
By the time I was four years old, my mother and grandmother had already taught me how to read. My grandmother had ulterior motives for this, since she had cataracts, which weren’t so curable back in the early fifties, and she wanted someone to read the bible to her for comfort. Since her job was to watch me while my mother worked, she saw no reason why our relationship couldn’t be reciprocal. My learning to read was her payment for babysitting.
My father, trained as an engineer, taught me the multiplication table, since had discovered the world that was open to me as a result of reading. By the time I took my first grade placement test, I was familiar with words such as “Nebuchadnezzar”, and knew who he was, along with the exploits of King David, and had read the book of Proverbs often to my grandmother.
I could also add, subtract, multiply, and divide, thanks to my father.
On a nice summer day, my mother took me to school to take my placement test, in order to see what level of schooling I would begin. I left the test mostly blank, and was therefore placed with a class of students who still had trouble with potty training. The teacher whose job it was to try and bring these lagging students up to standards turned out to be both the greatest blessing and the greatest curse of my life. She was near retirement age, and was one of those few remaining in the mold of the frontier teachers who expected excellence and saw no reason why we shouldn’t do our best. I think she was born to teach.
“All large bureaucracies, public or private”, writes Mr. Gatto, “are psychopathic to the degree they are well managed”.
My first grade teacher was well managed herself, and quite well trained for the task before her, but the deep and terrible flaw in her philosophy was that she believed in finding out each student’s greatest desires, and allowing that student to blossom fully according to those desires. To the curse and blessing of my life, she promoted individuality, which is increasingly becoming a horrible crime in our society.
On my second day of school, we were all given a sheet of paper with two rows of circles. Over one row was written the word “red”, and over the other was the word “blue”.
“Color the first row red” said my teacher, “but don’t do anything to the second row until I tell you”.
This was the first lesson we were to receive in learning simply how to follow instructions. Several kids wildly colored the first row of circles red, and then proceeded to color the second row, using the same crayon. Many of them just colored the paper red to save time.
Since the first row had “red” over it, and the second row said “blue”, I simply concluded that I should color the second row blue, which I did.
The teacher then began wandering from desk to desk, pointing out that the children were to follow instructions and do only what they had been told to do. She hadn’t come around to my desk, and i was considering throwing the paper away, because i had n’t listened to instructions.
But I was rather proud of my accomplishment, since i had not only colored the two rows as written, but had carefully remained within the lines and colored each row evenly with the specified color.
Still, the teacher stopped at my desk, stared at my paper, and asked, “Why did you color that second row blue?”
While she was an excellent teacher, she greatly resembled the lady who had played the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”, and I was in fear she would release those dreadful winged monkeys on me.
I sat in fearful silence, and she repeated, “Why did you color the second row blue?” She then realized I was afraid to answer, so she smiled. It was a very nice smile. It disarmed me, so I said “The second row said blue, so I colored it blue”.
“You can read?”
I was taught to call women “ma’am” at a very young age, due to my grandmother, who was raised in a more respectful time.
“If you can read” she asked, “why did you do so poorly in your placement test?”
“They said the test was to see where I would be placed in school. I thought if I did bad, I wouldn’t have to go at all”.
She laughed. “How well can you read?”
“My grandma used to make me read the bible to her”.
She went to her desk and retrieved a small bible, which was still allowed in schools in those days, provided you didn’t advertise the fact. “Don’t ask, don’t tell”.
She opened it to the book of Genesis, and I read the first chapter to her. That very act led to my ruination in the corporate school system. She took me to the library, and let me read at my own pace. She taught me about the encyclopedia, and I began reading it just to see the things it wrote about. She let me proceed at my own pace, and then referred me to related ideas. I not only loved school, I was in love with school!
I loved my teacher, winged monkeys, warts and all.
In the second grade, however, my teacher told me that I had been placed in a group of equally gifted students, and i would proceed no faster or slower than the slowest members of my class, and even though they were “high second grade”, several were reallllly slow.
I was to be no better, no worse, no faster, no slower, no child. I was a statistic. Of course the word “statistic” also contains the root of the word “state”, and the job of the state was to reduce me to a statistic.
“Once a mission is defined with pure objectivity” writes Gatto, “psychopathic procedure makes perfect sense…The school institution has always had a strong shadow mission to refute the irrefutable fact that all kids want to learn to be their best and strongest selves”.
One of the problems with grouping a class of really intelligent kids is that each develops his/her own coping mechanism. I would learn in time that many who were quite intelligent in normal conversation were realllly slow because that was their way of keeping the teacher occupied with their own personal needs.
I saw this delay as opportunity make paper airplanes and sail them into the side of people’s heads. If I did that today, I would be analyzed as a kid with tendencies to fly airliners into the sides of buildings.
Our principal also had a daughter in my class, and since I was directly disruptive, rather than more subtly disruptive like those students who feigned stupidity for attention, the principal had a talk with my parents and asked if there were issues of abuse at home. Since my behavior had shifted so abruptly from first to second grade, perhaps I had witnessed too many arguments at home. No, said my father, the number of brawls and knockdowns had remained at the same relative level, and he was careful to be obedient to my mother’s demands. He then suggested it was the school’s fault, since they had stifled my natural urge to learn. The principal then asked him if he didn’t respect the degrees in education and learning received by the various teachers. My mother shushed him when he told the principal what to do with his degrees.
This, of course, allowed social workers to begin investigation of the abusive nature of my parents, which prompted my father to tell me that he would personally kick my butt all over the house if I didn’t start doing my work, and furthermore, if i told my teacher what he said, he would wait til I was asleep and kick my butt some more.
I did well enough to get by the third grade, but the older teachers were retiring and dying out, being replaced by younger teachers. I was fortunate to get a teacher only two years out of college, who taught my fourth grade class. She wasn’t just attractive. She was Miss America beautiful, and I was madly in love.
I wavered between strategies to get her attention. Should I do well? I tried that, and I was ignored in favor of the “stupid students” who got special attention to detail. I raised my hand and asked for special help, but had to compete with the other students who had become more skillful than myself.
I then simply forgot to do my homework one night, and she took me out into the hall, where she knelt close to me, and asked me if there were problems at home. Standing there, smelling her perfume, able to look down her blouse and see where her breasts neatly tucked into her bra, I realized I had stumbled onto the perfect strategy for special attention. Disruption. It would get me constant opportunity to stare down her blouse and smell her womanly scent, admire her perfect skin.
Unfortunately my regressive behavior was reported to my principal, who took me to his office and sat me down.
“I have better things to do that be your nursemaid. Your teacher has been telling me about your constant disruptions. You think I don’t know what you’re doing?”
“Well, I do, and I have to admit, I’d do it myself if I could get away with it. But my job is to see that you behave yourself, son. What do you think I should do?”
“I don’t know, sir”.
“Well, since you’ve given constant problems, I’m going to have to spank you”.
he then took off his belt and gave me five good licks while I bent over his desk. That had the general effect of pissing me off, since my father had already given me a really good “whupping”(see “Arm of God”) when I was four. The principal’s little escapade was merely a tease.
I left his office and walked home. (to be continued)