John Taylor Gatto is either famous or infamous amongst ‘educators’ of all sorts.
They’ll go nuts for what he’s saying; or they’ll consider him a nut. A dangerous, noxious nut that once ingested spreads poison in the victim. So wicked are his ideas that the police have been brought in to shut down his talk and clear an auditorium of high school students.
So threatening and frightening have been his messages that pre-planned lectures have been cancelled.
Supposedly what he has to say has been found by some to be ‘unfit’ for the tender ears of parents, who like children can’t form their own opinions and have to be told what to think.
Personally, I go nuts. When Carlo Ricci organized to have Gatto come to his Nipissing University class at the Brantford, Ontario campus to give a talk and extended the invitation to the public, I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to see in the flesh the person I’d interviewed (and who has the most downloads Randy tells me) a few years back.
The talk he gave was every bit as stirring; his entertaining style of delivering, his outrageous anecdotal stories, and his daring, always daring personality rock on. A bit of a rogue, I can’t help thinking of him as original Americana- the trail blazer adventurer, courageous pioneer, Wild West horseback- riding cowboy, shooting his gun off ‘like all get out.’
It’s ‘Truth Justice and the American way’ (to quote from Superman) for all people and for those who don’t like to hear it, that means kids too.
If I could sum up Gatto’s message of the day, it would be; Kids. Carpe Deum.
Take the day. Do the thing. The young are POWERFUL; they have the ability to do GREAT THINGS- I mean really GREAT THINGS.
(And Gatto supplies hefty examples of current kids –that have passed through his hands-and yesteryear kids such as Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Charlie Chaplin, Beatrix Potter, Louis Armstrong, to prove the point).
And they should not wait to do these GREAT THINGS. And we should not try to stop or divert them in artificially extended childhood.
Gatto himself has made it his purpose in life to be that helping catalyst “add value” to their lives and then get out of the way. (He’s been a teacher for over 30 years, and he won New York State best teacher award in 1991. And you know how he got into teaching? Gatto wasn’t embarrassed to tell us that he ‘borrowed’ his roommates teachers licence after his mate quit his one day teaching stint in disgust. Gatto never did say if he ever got his own licence in the end. Some how I doubt it).
In his own words, his work has got “easier and easier” as he becomes better and better at helping kids achieve their goal,"adding value to their lives." Not by testing, grading, cajoling, rewarding, bribing, threatening and all the other methods we think help create distinction in our kids, basically usurping their power- no not that way. But by being a mentor and by putting the power back where it belongs. In their hands.
Wow! I got home and with lots to mull over and my thoughts lead me to contribute this small observation; as adults what do our lives look like? If we don’t do, if we don’t pursue our interests with a passion, if our lives are timid and fearful and shallow, how can we hope to guide our children? Again to borrow from the Greeks then; Physician. Heal thyself.
Books by Gatto;
Dumbing us down
A different kind of teacher
The exhausted school
The Underground History of American Education