Teaching with Gatto in mind

First week back and only three days with the students, but I notice my decision-making is different, each utterance and move I make tinged now with Gatto’s thinking.  Over the holidays I read his new “Weapons of Mass Instruction,” which pulls together all of his thinking since that fateful designation in 1991 as New York State’s “Teacher of the Year.”

Gatto’s  chapter on the “history of education”  presents damning evidence that compulsory education is a highly successful arm of a government determined to control its population for capitalist ends, to use schools to “dumb down the population” so that they will fit nicely into the category of obedient workers, robust consumers and docile citizens.

I have always believed that Montessori education was liberating, that it opened doors to self-actualization, that it paved the way for the natural genius of the child to flourish, that it protected the individual from indoctrination, that its reliance on intrinsic motivation flew in the face of traditional controls, external rewards, and all the other trappings of extrinsic motivators, among them getting high grades and test scores.

And yet within the public institution where I find myself charged with raising those scores, in a “Montessori way” of course, I have come to be part of the oppressor’s system, laying down a set of adult expectations that the students should aspire to meet, emphasizing work plans and balanced days of sustained effort that include “reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

Most will, of course.  They come to me with plenty of experience being bossed around, being told what to do, and many are happiest when I give out specific “things to do,” “assignments” that they can complete and then report that they have “finished their work.”

I have returned to school this second semester, however, remembering what I set out to do as a Montessori “directress.”  Not to teach, but to facilitate.  I am trying to remember the discipline of preparing the environment, making a few suggestions, and then opening up the space and time of the classroom for spontaneous activity.  And after two days of that, the weakest, most neglected and apparently incompetent child in the classroom, came to me with a report on cockroaches.  Not just a few lines—a report, complete with illustrations, a presentation board, and a request as to when he could present his research.

This is a reminder that it is “time to learn” that is needed, not “time to teach.”  Is it possible that we could reform schooling to make time for learning?

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