Saturday, April 24, 2010

Week 17: Weapons of Mass Instruction & And Another Thing...


Weapons of Mass Instruction: a Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto

Gatto is well-known as a former teacher who now speaks on anti-school themes. He taught in New York City schools for 30 years and won awards like Teacher of the Year; then he quit and started speaking and writing about his perceptions of the public school system, which he believes is nearly completely evil, deliberately designed to stifle human beings into conformity and subservience, and far too profitable for anyone in power to truly change.

He's got some really good points. He'll make you think, and he's inspired many parents to homeschool their kids (Gatto is a major advocate of unschooling). He's just full of frightening statements from various influential people. Try this quotation, from Woodrow Wilson in 1909:

"We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."

At the same time, Gatto is a bit crazy. His assertions will drive you nuts at times. He's quite paranoid. I was particularly annoyed by his statement that the gulf between rich and poor in American is "the deepest such gulf on Planet Earth." (p.164) That's just ridiculous--what about India? Mexico? Certain African countries run by despots? And more?

On the whole, though, I recommend Gatto's writing to everyone; at the very least it will make you think a bit and question a bit. One piece of advice though--I happened to start reading this and listen to Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" on the same morning. That wasn't a really great idea.



And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer

I approached this one with great trepidation. I'm not entirely clear on how or why Colfer (author of the Artemis Fowl series) wound up writing a sequel to Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide series, but I wasn't thrilled at the news. However, morbid curiosity won the day, and I picked it up at the library. I thought I'd try a few pages, anyway.

It's not terrible.

Mind you, it is not a work of genius, and it's not Douglas Adams. Somehow the book manages to have a little too much plot and a little too much Guide elaboration at the same time, and it could be 50 pages shorter. But it's a decent homage and it won't destroy your dreams.

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