Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto

What a great read. I enjoyed this book so much. Having already read “School is dead” by Everett Reimer, “Hvis Skolen Ikke Fantes”, Nils Christie and “Deschooling Society”, Ivan Illich, all books from around 1970, it was interesting to read “Dumbing Us Down” by John Taylor Gatto. A book published in 1992. He was just as John Holt, a school teacher, who became disillusioned with the American school system. While, John Holt only stayed a brief period of time in the school system, as a teacher, John Taylor Gatto stayed for 30 years. Mainly in the New York area. He taught both rich and poor students, but his experiences with the pupils in the school system were the same.

In 1991 John Taylor Gatto was named “New York State Teacher of the Year”. On that occasion, he gave a speech. This is where he for the first time put forward his “Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher” where he describes the function of at School Teacher. In real life. Not how we theoretically want a School Teachers function to be. But how his 30 years of experience in the system, had been.

Here we go:

  1. Confusion. A constant violation of natural order and sequence dismissed as quality in education.
  2. Class Position. You come to know your place.
  3. Indifference. When the bell rings, what you have learned, don’t matter anymore.
  4. Emotional Dependency. You have to surrender your own will to the predestinated chain of command.
  5. Intellectual Dependency. Good people wait for an expert to tell them what to do.
  6. Provisional Self-Esteem. People need to be told what they are worth.
  7. One Can’t hide. There are no private spaces for children, there is no private time.

He also makes a short summary of how new compulsory schooling is. In the USA it came about in the State of Massachusetts around 1850. 80% of Massachusetts population resisted, sometimes with guns, and did not surrender its children until the 1880s, when the area was seized by militia and the children marched to school under guard.

That Schools were designed to be instruments for the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce humans whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.

Two institutions at present control our childrens lives: Television and Schooling, in that order. Both of these reduce the real world of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice to a never-ending, nonstop abstraction. In the past our childrens lives would have been occupied by real work, real charity, real adventures, and the realistic search for mentors who might teach you what you really want to learn.

He makes a calculus of time the Children in School must deal with: Out of 168 hours a week children sleep 56. That leaves them 112 hours to fashion a self. Children watch 55 hours of television a week. That leaves them 57 hours to grow up. Children attend school 30 hours a week, use 8 hours to get ready and travelling to school, 7 hours on homework – a total of 45 hours. During that time they are under constant surveillance. they have no private time or private space. That leaves them 12 hours a week out of which to create a unique consciousness. Of course, the children eat too, that takes some time – but not much, as they have lost the tradition of family dining. So we allot 3 hours a week to eating, and that leaves a child with 9 hours of private time a week.

Gatto tells what effect this has on his pupils:

  1. They are indifferent to the adult world. Nobody want’s to grow up.
  2. They have no curiosity. They cannot concentrate for very long at a time.
  3. They have a poor sense of the future, of how tomorrow is inextricably linked to today.
  4. They become ahistorical. They have no idea about how the past has predestinated their own present.
  5. They are cruel to each other, lack compassion for misfortune, laugh at weakness.
  6. They are uneasy with intimacy. For their whole life they have hidden their inner self inside a larger outer personality made up of artificial bits and pieces of behavior borrowed from television or acquired to manipulate teachers.
  7. They are materialistic, grade everything as a School teacher and copy television mentors who offer everything in the world for sale.
  8. They are dependent and passive.

How can we turn this around? Gatto says it is not about pouring more money into a sinking ship. We have to rethink what it is we want our children to learn and why. Gatto is a fond believer in mentors. Including all groups of the community into the community again. Not separating the population into groups of parasites and putting working people on a pedestal. He did many programs for his pupils where they committed themselves to community service. Many of those pupils came back many years later and told him how that experience had changed their lives. How it had helped them rethink goals and values.

Gatto says that it is time for a return to democracy, individuality and family.

Gatto makes a sharp distinction between Networks and Communities. He believes that todays schools are called communities, but are really networks. There is nothing wrong with networks, but if we believe they have the values of communities, we are left betrayed and lonely.

To sum up the book, it is a great critical view on our current education system. We need to review how we think and understand learning. Education does not equal learning. A good life does not equal a constant march towards achieving material goods and distinctions.

A typical day/week in our Home School

People often ask us to tell about a typical home school day. So here we go. The main thing about home schooling, is that there is no such thing, as a typical day/week. You have the freedom to have a new plan everyday. But for us, there is a need to have a plan and the security of repetition.

Many years ago our oldest daughter asked to have a weekly schedule put up on the wall every week, so she would know what our plans were. So every week I make a new schedule and put up Sunday evening. Some things will continue to be on the schedule for a long time and others, are only one of events.

The subjects on the schedule is a mix of adult and child wishes. I have chosen that they do general subjects that keep their learning above public school level, so it would be easy academically to enter a public school, if we no longer are able to home school. But also to prepare them for high school or other later education of their choice. Then the children have chosen to have additional subjects, like Spanish, Latin and Chinese. Subjects and how often we have them can vary on our schedule. We can also have weeks where we do project work intensively.

Well, back to a typical day. Let’s start with today. Today we had a day at home. We try to ballance days out of the house and days at home. We often get to plan too much, especially trips and activities out of the house. That often leaves us exhausted and longing for a day at home to get back our energy and catch up on basic stuff. We also really like to get good food and to have time to eat. As a general rule, we try to stay at home in the daytime every second day.

We usually get up at around 7 am-8 am. Then we all do our chores, do our exercises and positive confirmations. The kids empty the dishwasher, they put away any clean dry laundry, they open the windows and air out the house to start of with a fresh oxygen filled house. In the evening I have put their books ready on the table, so they can start working when they are dressed and have done their personal hygiene. I hang up any wet laundry to dry and put on the washing machine with a new load. Then I do my exercises, while the kids do their individual schoolwork like math, Danish, English and German. I go to and from my exercises to help them when they get stuck and so goes the time until around 9 am-9:30. Then I usually get time to get dressed and get ready. I make breakfast, alone or with a kid who needs a break from school work. Then we sit down together and eat.

The smallest child pealed the bananas for the smoothie and went to the cellar to get frozen fruit from the freezer. He also chose who should have which glass.

We usually then do our common school work. That is the rest of the subjects, mentioned above. Today we did biology, Latin and biology project.

Biology is a common subject in our home school. On the picture we are using the book from Pirana and Politikens book Menneskekroppen. Today we were examining the function of the human organs.

For Latin we are currently using https://www.clc.cambridgescp.com/sites/www.cambridgescpcom/files/legacy_root_files/clc/webbooks/book1/index.html?p=1

I prepared bread in the kitchen while they worked on the Latin exercises, and then corrected them together with them.

Then the children worked on a movie for their youtube channel, while I prepared lunch together with the smallest child in the kitchen.

Test shot for biology movie.
Getting lunch ready.

Then we watched their work on the computer while eating, and decided on redoing it after eating. So we shot another section of the movie, until we were happy with the result.

Then the youngest child and I made a beetroot chocolate cake in the kitchen, while the oldest child edited the movie together and worked on her musical as well. The two middle children sewed on their costumes for a dance show they are planning.

Then we were expecting two good friends to come over for a sleepover, but unfortunately they had gotten the flu, so we had to eat the cake on our own. Don’t worry friends, if you read this, we will make a new one for you.

Gluten free beetroot cake.
Hot oat milk with cocoa powder and gluten free beetroot cake.

The at 3 pm we have quiet time until 4 pm. At that time you can do what you want to do – play on the computer, watch movies, talk to your friends on the phone, read, play outside or go where your imagination takes you. I meditate and drink tea.

Our oldest daughter did this lego project in quiet time. A Find Wally house.

Today we have a quiet evening. No spare time activities or work. We all enjoy having our meals together and being able to talk and relax in the evening with a movie or game together. The kids often work on creative projects in the evening, writing, sewing, knitting or drawing. They often also just play and make lots of noise and play music and dance.

We have a huge pile of second hand stuff for the kids to use in the living room and it brings about a lot of creativity.

So how does a typical week look?

A general example of our weekly schedule could look like this:

Weekly schedule february 2019.

The subjects at the bottom has stayed the same for a while, because it work well. We have a language a day, as the kids like languages. We have math and danish three days a week, because they got fed up with having it every day. We finish our books already in april every year anyway, so we manage to do enough work anyway, to be ahead of general curriculum. My work is on the schedule, so the kids know when I am not at home in the evening or daytime. The childrens newspaper route is also on the schedule, so we are able to make everything work out with the time we have available. Creative subjects are not on the schedule, as they are present in most things we do, and they infiltrate most other subjects. Project on thursday and friday is a new thing we are trying after the kids started a knowledge based youtube channel called : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2ECOh462jxQraolPZ53evw

At the middle of the schedule you see events that vary from week to week, like playdates, trips, hobbies, meetings and so on. The kids attend different sparetime activities outside the house like physics and chemistry, drama and ballet. They figure on the schedule on and off, when they have their seasons.

The weekend is also included, as we often go on educational trips together as a family in the weekend or visit friends and family.

Next week will be the winter holiday. Originally, when starting out home schooling, we did not separate school and spare time, but we have found that we have a need to do this. So we now have the same holidays as schools. The difference is just that we do not do the usual subjects, but mostly do trips and project work. This winter holiday we will work intensively on costumes, painting the barrel and go pick branches for our fastelavn celebrations. We are so looking forward!

We teach positive thinking

Louise Hay has been a huge inspiration in my life. Her book “Heal your life” has helped and still helps me with dealing with past, present and future. I try to give this on to the children. We have gotten so far, with positive thinking, that the children will remind me about it, when I loose focus. They try to help me, and I try to help them to get a great magnificent life that they deserve.

Positive thinking is to us like physical exercise. You have to work hard and regularly at it, to keep the mind thinking positive. The mind really wan’t to go back to negative thoughts.

This exercise is to me much like commercial advertisements. If you keep sending your mind positive thoughts, they will reprogramme your mind. Slowly it will start changing your thought patterns.

Our favorite positive affirmations are these:

  1. All is well in my world.
  2. I love myself and I am lovable.
  3. I am safe and at peace.
  4. I enjoy the foods that are best for my body.
  5. I have plenty of time for all the things I have to do today.
  6. There is always more to learn.

Another great soul to listen to, is Ester Hicks for support to achieve your goals in life.

Homeschoolers we love on youtube

When we first started out home schooling our kids, on 1st of April 2009 (it was not an aprils fools joke, but for some strange reason, we started out on this date) there wasn’t many other home schoolers around in Denmark. So we searched the net for like-minded people, and found a few great inspirational people. This guys videos, we have often used if we needed a kick of energy and to be cheered up in all the criticism from the people around us, in our choice of how to bring up our children. I’ve chosen to show this video, as it is one of his first on youtube, but there are loads more about home schooling to find. Just make a cup of tea and enjoy!

This guy is really fun too. He has got a few more videos too, about homeschool if you search youtube.

This one is also great to show the ignorance displayed, when you try to explain learning.

Go watch and enjoy!

Learning does not equal schooling

Now I have finished the last book that the Danish politician Bertel Haarder recommended me to read, when we interviewed him last year about homeschooling (https://homeschool.dk/interview-med-bertel-haarder-om-hjemmeundervisning/) and will make my comments on it in this post. To make a summary, the books recommended were:

  1. School is Dead, Everett Reimer, 1971.

You can read my thoughts on this book here: https://homeschool.dk/school-is-dead-alternatives-in-education-by-everett-reimer/

2. Hvis Skolen Ikke Fantes, Nils Christie, 1971.

This book can be found online in a free text version here: https://archive.org/stream/Christie1971HvisSkolenIkkeFantes/Christie%20%281971%29%20Hvis%20skolen%20ikke%20fantes_djvu.txt

This book was the least catchy of the three. Maybe because I could only get hold of it in Norwegian. It was hard to read.

It reflected on the change of living from craftsmanships and in small communities, to a massproducing society, where most of the population live in large cities.

It gave examples of how this has effected family life and motivation for learning. Moving from learning by doing, to learning in theory.

3. Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich, 1971.

This was my christmas present this year 🙂 I was so happy and have really enjoyed it. The author is a friend of Everett Reimer, who wrote “School is dead” and they agreed on many things regarding learning. They met in South America, where Ivan Illich worked as a vice rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico.

The book “Deschooling Society” is a critique of compulsory mass education. Ivan Illich argued that the oppressive structure of the school system, could not be reformed, but had to be dismantled in order to free humanity, from the crippling effects of lifelong institutionalization.

The book is more than a critique—it contains suggestions for a reinvention of learning throughout society and lifetime. Particularly striking is his call (in 1971) for the use of advanced technology to support “learning webs”.

While Illich never referred to himself as an anarchist in print, he was closely associated with major figures in left-anarchist circles, notably Paul Goodman and unschooling advocate John Holt.

If he had lived today, with the opportunities the internet gives us to find knowledge and peers, he would have been very disappointed, with how little the school systems around the world has changed.

He argues that institutionalization of values leads to a society with physical pollution, greater social equality and psychological impotence. How non-material needs is transformed into demands for consumer goods. When health, education, individual movement, welfare or psychological cure is defined as a result of public benefits or “treatments”.

School has become a religion. It is never questioned about it’s existence, and the acceptance of self-taught learning is very low. Expenses paid in most of the world to school education is growing, and when it isn’t working, more money is set in. We should concentrate on focused and self-motivated learning. The inequality between rich and poor is disproportionate, in how much schooling they receive from the state. And so many resources is wasted on pupils, that lack motivation.

If we could all have a kind of “resource bank” from where you could go when you were ready to learn something. Then everybody could have the access to a certain amount of learning. It could be learning from a person that had certain language skill, a neighbor in your area (Illich also talks about the move away from having local networks) or bringing a group of like minded people together, focused on a special area of learning.

This book seems like a follow up to “School is dead”. Where “School is dead” doesn’t really give any suggestions to other ways of organizing learning worldwide, but describes and talks about the faults of our present systems of learning, “Deschooling society” actually gives a number of ideas to how we could learn in a more constructive way.

We live in a society that believes in mass production, as if it were a religion, and that you can streamline values. That people only can learn in a specific environment and be judged as if they were all alike. We are fooled into believing that we are all given the same opportunities in life, and that it is our own fault, if we don’t succeed. So we learn our place in society and accept the situation. School has become so accepted, as a part of life that we happily hand over our precious children, to be institutionalized and brainwashed when they turn 1 year old, at the latest, because we believe “it is the best for them”. We no longer feel able to bring up our own children. We are not properly qualified. Do not have the right diplomas and schooling.

In an ideal world, I don’t believe there is another way, than our current learning system, that is the right one, but the answer is that there are many right ways of learning. That there should be the freedom to choose different ways to learn. To take responsibility of your own life and your childrens learning, by not blindly accepting the schooling way, but bringing up many alternatives to learn. It would give a much broader knowledge base in the population.

Read the books if you are interested. I found them very challenging and inspiring.

Visiting the Jewish Synagogue in Copenhagen 2019-01-14

We got the chance to take part in a visit to the Jewish Synagogue today, together with other homeschoolers. We always like to be a fly on the wall, in areas of the world, that we usually don’t have any experience with. It is not easy to get acces there. There has been high security ever since the attack on Sundag the 15th of February 2015 where a man was killed and several wounded. Since that, there has been armed soldiers outside the synagogue, patrolling the area. This is a very sad turn in Denmarks history, as we for so many years have praised our country for being safe, tolerant and inclusive.

The front of the Jewish Synagogue in Denmark.

First we had to go through the security, where we were led into a barred section, where the doors locked and then another door opened in the other end, and let us out into the synagogues area. There were more police patrolling and let us into the building. There we met a lovely lady, who were to be our lecturer. She told us about being a jew.

Security at the door.
Lovely lady telling us about being Jewish.
We even found a copy of our favorite lexicon and our favorite book in the series “Emotions and good behavior” in Hebrew.
We were told the story of the oil for 2 days that lasted 8 days. A miracle. The story behind the 8-armed candleholder.

After the lesson in Jewish traditions, we were taken into the synagogue. There we were shown the Torah and allowed to ask questions.

The synagogue inside.

All the men and boys had to wear a skullcap. Our son was not happy about being treated differently from his sisters.

Our son was allowed to point at the text in the Torah.

Visit to the Ba Hai centre today 2018-11-30

We are doing a series of Religious visits and experiences at the moment. Most religions are very friendly, and invites us into their community, to tell about their beliefs. Today we were invited to visit the Ba Hai community in Hellerup, Denmark.

Ba Hai is a new religion and springs from the Muslim belief, but instead of believing that Mohammed is the prophet, they believe that there has been a new prophet 200 years ago called Bahá’u’lláh.

They believe that all the religions of the world actually is one religion and have one common god.

During our visit we were allowed to take part in a ceremony. Then we had a guided tour, where we talked about their beliefs and values. Then we had lunch together. In the end the children was given different texts, which they read together and then talked about.

Ba Hai has a large community in India and in Africa (Congo particularly). They have 4 large religious monuments in the world.

Annual Sikh day in Copenhagen 2018-08-04

Once a year you can go meet the Sikhs in Denmark on the main public square. They call it Turban Day. You can get free food, try getting tied a turban on your head, listen to music and ask in general about the religion.

We find that it is a great way to get hands on experience of the different religions practiced around the world. To go out and meet the people who live by the rules of different religions and are willing to tell about it.

To be a parent, means to be a role model for your children. Being the one to dare try new things, like going forward and trying on a turban, can be one of those things. But also being able to accept that the children find it quite enough just looking at you doing new silly things, is a parent job.

After life is always interesting to talk with the children about.

Religion often can be tied to different languages too. So language can also have a great influence on religions, which can be interesting to talk with the children about.

Where is the religion practiced geographically? Another area of learning, when you are dealing with religion.

Visit to the Jewish Museum 2018-11-29

Educational lecture on the Jews in Denmark, during the Second World War. This was our first visit to the Jewish Museum in Denmark. It was a pleasant experience with dedicated staff. They opened the museum just for us. The building was made to simulate the travels of the Jews and the persecution of the Jews through time. The floors was uneven to make you feel seasick, as most of the Jews in Denmark escaped the concentration camps, by being shipped to Sweden by little fisherman boats.

The Jews in Denmark was never made to wear the famous star, but it still was quite a sickening feeling to hold a real one in your hand.

99% of the Danish Jews managed to escape to Sweden or hide in Denmark. But the ones that got caught, was sent to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. It was a propaganda Concentration Camp where a part of it was a studio made to record how great life was in the Concentration Camps.

In the Concentration Camps they were paid monopoly money for their work. They had no real value.

The famous frontpage from when Denmark was freed from the Nazis 5th of May 1945.