Putting Pedagogy To The Question

The Odysseus Group The Odysseus Group – John Taylor Gatto

More than anything else, this book is a work of intuition. The official story of why we school doesn’t add up today any more than it did yesterday. A few years before I quit, I began to try to piece together where this school project came from, why it took the shape it took, and why every attempt to change it has ended in abysmal failure.

By now I’ve invested the better part of a decade looking for answers. If you want a conventional history of schooling, or education as it is carelessly called, you’d better stop reading now. Although years of research in the most arcane sources are reflected here, throughout it’s mainly intuition that drives my synthesis.

This is in part a private narrative, the map of a schoolteacher’s mind as it tracked strands in the web in which it had been wrapped; in part a public narrative, an account of the latest chapter in an ancient war: the conflict between systems which offer physical safety and certainty at the cost of suppressing free will, and those which offer liberty at the price of constant risk. If you keep both plots in mind, no matter how far afield my book seems to range, you won’t wonder what a chapter on coal or one on private hereditary societies has to do with schoolchildren.

What I’m most determined to do is start a conversation among those who’ve been silent up until now, and that includes schoolteachers. We need to put sterile discussions of grading and testing, discipline, curriculum, multiculturalism and tracking aside as distractions, as mere symptoms of something larger, darker, and more intransigent than any problem a problem-solver could tackle next week. Talking endlessly about such things encourages the bureaucratic tactic of talking around the vital, messy stuff. In partial compensation for your effort, I promise you’ll discover what’s in the mind of a man who spent his life in a room with children.

Give an ear, then, to what follows. We shall cross-examine history together. We shall put pedagogy to the question. And if the judgment following this auto da fe is that only pain can make this monster relax its grip, let us pray together for the courage to inflict it.

Reading my essay will help you sort things out. It will give you a different topological map upon which to fix your own position. No doubt I’ve made some factual mistakes, but essays since Montaigne have been about locating truth, not about assembling facts. Truth and fact aren’t the same thing. My essay is meant to mark out crudely some ground for a scholarship of schooling, my intention is that you not continue to regard the official project of education through an older, traditional perspective, but to see it as a frightening chapter in the administrative organization of knowledge—a text we must vigorously repudiate as our ancestors once did. We live together, you and I, in a dark time when all official history is propaganda. If you want truth, you have to struggle for it. This is my struggle. Let me bear witness to what I have seen.

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