Quote of the Day – John Taylor Gatto

From his Underground History of American Education, which I will be quoting from for the next several days, I think:

The word pedagogue is Latin for a specialzed class of slave assigned to walk a student to the schoomaster.  Over time the slave was given additional duties, his role was enlarged to that of drill master, a procedure memorialized in Varro’s instituit pedagogus, docet magister:  in my rusty altar-boy Latin, The Master creates instruction, the slave pounds it in.  A key to modern schooling is this:  free men were never pedagogues.  And yet we often refer to the science of modern schooling as pedagogy.  The unenlightened parent who innocently brings matters of concern to the pedagogue, whether that poor soul is called schoolteacher, principal, or superintendent, is usually beginning a game of frustration which will end in no fundamental change.  A case of barking up the wrong tree in a dark wood where the right tree is far away and obscure.

Pedagogy is social technology for winning attention and cooperation (or obedience) while strings are attached to the mind and placed in the hands of an unseen master.  This may be done holistically, with smiles, music, and light-duty simulations of intellection, or it can be done harshly with rigorous drills and competitive tests.  The quality of self-doubt aimed for in either case is similar. 

Pedagogy is a useful concept to help us unthread some of the mysteries of modern schooling.  That it is  increasingly vital to the social order is evinced by the quiet teacher-pay revolution that has occurred since the 1960’s.  As with police work (to which pedagogy bears important similarities), school pay has become relatively good, its hours of labor short, its job security first rate.  Contrast this with the golden years of one-room schooling where pay was subsistence only and teachers were compelled to board around to keep body and soul together.  Yet there was no shortage then of applicants and many sons of prominent Americans began their adult lives as schoolteachers.

With the relative opulence of today, it would be simple to fill teaching slots with accomplished men and women if that were a goal.  A little adjustment in what are rationally indefensible licensing requirements would make talented people, many performance-tested adults in their fifties and sixties, available to teach.  That there is not such fluid access is a good sign the purpose of schooling is more than it appears.  The year-in, year-out consistency of mediocre teacher candidates demonstrates clearly that the school institution actively seeks, nurtures, hires, and promotes the caliber of personnel it needs.

And I quote this as the brother of a woman who has been teaching in the public education sector since 1980. Her work hours are not short, and her pay is not exhorbitant, but the same cannot be said of many of her coworkers or administrators. Nor, I would add, would this have been true of the author prior to his resignation from the NYC public school system, exceptions proving the rule.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.