Educating your child in modern times

Transcript Details

Event Name: Educating your child in modern times
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 5/9/2019
Transcript Version: 1

Transcript Text

this may not honor him want to welcome

everybody here and particularly john

taylor gatto coming all this way to

speak on a topic that Ralph Waldo

Emerson said almost first a yawn on us

which is education Dorothy Sayers says

the reason that all of us in a sense

have a right to speak about education is

because we have all gone through some

process of education and in a sense Mis

education and she says that the people

that didn't learn anything in that

process should be the ones we should

perhaps listen to most because they have

something to tell us about it and on the

way here as I was driving I was thinking

about my own educational experience and

in some ways it's probably not

dissimilar to a lot of people in this

room who have been through American

educational institutions I went to

school here in California I also went to

school in the East Coast and I was

thinking on the way I was thinking about

my teachers because teachers are such

interesting figures in our lives and I

was thinking about my first grade

teacher mrs. Gilmore I remember her name

I can see her black hair he's very tall

thin lady and she was almost a classic

school marm the beginning of my problems

was in that classroom and then I

remember my second grade teacher but

particular I remember my third grade

teacher Miss Williams because there was

an event that happened in third grade

that had a very deep impact on me and

that was I was falsely accused of

something and I remember the mortified

state that I was in when somebody came

into the classroom and whispered into

her ear and they both looked at me in

front of all these small children and

then the teacher said oh we don't like

boys that do that and I was completely

nonplussed I didn't know what they were

talking about and I was taken to the

principal's office and whacked with a

paddle and this was a complete case of

false testimony by

one of my arch enemies in the playground

that was my first real taste of

injustice that I was the arbitrary

victim of false testimony and I suffered

the consequences and that taught me

something about the nature of justice

and injustice and the sense that people

feel when they're wrong when there's an

injury which is a beautiful word coming

from the Latin injuria unjust then I

remember going into fourth grade mr.

foot and then in fifth grade things

began to change radically I had a

teacher called Dennis HOF slinger and

this was the beginning of summer he'll

he'd read this and this was the 1960s

and a lot of experimentation and we

moved into a whole other realm of

teaching so I went from these very old

school school mARMS to a very radical

young man who was dedicated on undoing

that damage that had been done and he

did his own damage unintentionally

obviously and then sixth grade mrs.

Johnson I remember these people so well

because I lived with them for a year of

my life and listened to them

eighth grade I went to an experimental

school in Marin County that had four

quads earth wind fire and air and each

one of these quads based on testing you

were put into a quad in order to enhance

your natural aptitudes so I was put into

sea school which was for people that

were gifted with language reading and

writing son school was for mathematics

and then they actually had wood school

which was for arts and crafts hand type

things and then they had a music school

and then something very radical happened

major disruption in my own education I

went to a prep school on the East Coast

and went into deep shock I had gone


eight years of California and suddenly I

was thrust into an institution on the

East Coast that was founded in 1789 and

was run by Jesuits it was a very very

difficult experience for me personally

and I remember just having a lot of

really difficulty there dealing with the

East Coast children that were very

different from the West Coast there was

a lot of bullying and I remember a novel

that really impacted me was a novel

called separate peace because I lived

that experience and that novel had a

major impact on me when I was in ninth

grade and the pain that was inflicted

you know this recent event of hazing I

think what was so troubling about that

not the hazing hazings been around in

this country for a long long time but

young girls were doing it I was like

Chris Rock said that you know that this

world upside down when the best rapper

is a white guy and the best golfers a

black guy the same case here we've got

young girls that are hazing brutally if

that's equality I'm you know deeply

worried about what we're doing to these

girls because I think that making girls

more like men is actually the wrong way

to go it's the other way around it's

actually the men need to learn how to be

more like those natural qualities that

women have mercy and compassion I mean

this is the humanization process we

don't call our schools alma mater z' for

nothing the nurturing mother I mean

that's what a school is supposed to be

it's supposed to give you your humanity

so in looking at my own education I

couldn't take two years of that on the

East Coast and then I went to a

Augustinian school on the west coast

which was much easier and that's the

difference probably between the Jesuits

and the Augustinians ones a militant

order and the other is less so after

that I was down in a junior college in

Southern California and I had a

conversion experience it was a very

powerful conversion experience and I was

I was uninterested in pursuing my

college anymore

and I dropped out and I went overseas

and I spent three and a half years with

a person who I really feel I got my real

education with this person like one of

the things that probably the greatest

American novelist Herman Melville said

that my college was not Yale or Harvard

my college was a whaling ship and that

really was the college that I went to

was with an individual who was an

extraordinary human being and it was

very difficult could be with this person

but at the same time it was incredibly

beneficial and he exposed me to a whole

range of thought I realized in thinking

back about my own educational experience

what I learned was rarely in school I

was fortunate to grow up in a house that

had a very large library and I remember

very clearly discovering when I was

probably about 13 G de Maupassant and my

mother had a very early edition of his

short stories and I read that from cover

to cover and I can really recall those

stories to this day the necklace I will

never forget that story and Oscar Wilde

my older brother was interested I read

voraciously the plays The Importance of

Being Earnest and his short stories the

Happy Prince and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

and I had a deep interest also in the

Civil War and I read Shelby Foote and an

interest in world war two which a lot of

young male Americans at least when I was

growing up had an interest in that

subject what I remember in school is

that I remember so little of it in terms

of just what I was taught I can

literally only remember one thing in my

entire seventh grade year I remember the

teacher mr. Smith who in the biology

class told us it was impossible for

Jesus to have been born a virgin birth

because men determined sex and Mary only

had a xx chromosome and that's literally

all I remember from seventh grade

somebody said gentlemen should have

least have forgotten Latin right so I

mean that's a problem in education that

you forget and some say education is

what remains after you've forgotten

everything else but when I spent this

three years with this person what

happened to me next was I got a

scholarship to the United Arab Emirates

and I went into an Arab school and I was

literally put in third grade and I was

now 20 I was 20 years old I was put in

third grade because I did not know

Arabic it was really interesting being

in this third grade because one I came

to really understand the whole problem

with the Arab world from that the

Arabians are not unlike the Americans

most of our problems are in the

educational system and I really do

believe that but the punitive measures

that were used in that school the

humiliation the just horrendous pedagogy

that was practiced by these teachers who

inherited the same styles from their

prior teachers and this is what happens

we meet a said we recreate ourselves we

just keep giving the next generation the

same problems that we too had but from

there what happened to me was a very

profound experience and that was I

discovered West Africans when I was in

the United Arab Emirates and from that

discovery it led to studying with them

and these were some of the most

extraordinary people that I've ever met

and I would contest that they are some

of the most extraordinary people left on

the planet they were all raised nomads

that they had extraordinary education

prodigious memories they absorbed

massive amounts of information when they

were young children and they mastered

what we used to call in this culture the

liberal arts

they focused very heavily on grammar on

rhetoric on logic and and it was very

odd to meet West Africans Bedouin nomads

who literally were learning traditional

logic these were people that lived in

tents and most of their books were

handwritten that had been written down

and passed on through centuries I mean

really an amazing experience for me but

what struck me most about these people

was their presence it was not simply

what they knew but how that knowledge

permeated their experience of life and

how it translated into their behavior

and I ended up studying with them and

spent several years with this group of

people and even I went from the Emirates

after four years with them I went to

Mauritania and lived in the Sahara when

I got to the Sahara I was just so

overwhelmed by a people that basically

had no Ministry of Education so to speak

they had no school system they had no

salaried teachers and they had no

budgets for books nothing and yet these

extraordinary schools exist out there

and I think if you actually saw these

schools you would just marvel at their

existence and they have been there for

literally centuries and in studying with

them what I realized was that there are

certain techniques in education that

have been understood for millennia and

they have very profound impact on the

acquisition and the use of knowledge and

one of the things that these people

understood very clearly was the

difference between information and

between knowledge and they distinguish

between those two terms the idea of

people that have a lot of information

but don't know how to process that

information don't know how to make it

useful for them and they distinguish

between knowledge and between wisdom and

just as our language has different words

for these different ideas their language

also reflects that and I probably would

assume that most human languages do in

looking at their educational system and

how they taught and how they imparted

knowledge there were certain things that

I would like to share with you about

that in terms of looking at a classical


modern education and I'm using a West

African Arabian model but I believe that

this model could also be found in

traditional European and even in

traditional American society where I

think there's a big difference is that

in the traditional Arabian a sense of it

they really saw the Democratic nature of

Education there was an idea that

everybody was entitled to attempt to

learn and I once read a beautiful legal

opinion what's known as a fatwa which is

a non-binding legal opinion a beautiful

fatah from a Moroccan scholar one should

easy educational endowments came from

the Muslim world and they were

introduced into the west through the

Muslim world which has been very well

documented by George Makdissi

in his book the rise of colleges there

were beautiful endowments that were

established for students and at one

shitty she was asked by the head of a

school in Fez in Morocco what do we do

with a student who's been with us and is

not benefitting at all from the

educational process and yet he's on a

scholarship how long should we allow him

to stay before we kick him out and at

once Judy she's answer was give him ten

years and if he hasn't had an opening

from God yet teach him how to raise

sheep or to do something useful

and I just thought that that was

something struck me about that was very

profound the idea that don't just assume

people are uneducated don't just assume

that they're stupid give them actual

time because just as we have different

awakenings in our life our first

awakenings are often sensual awakenings

to touch to feel we have aesthetic


we obviously have sexual awakenings and

these are very profound experiences as

we grow some of us have spiritual

awakenings and some of us have

intellectual awakenings just to give you

an example of this I was fortunate

participating in a small group

discussion we studied a book called

reforming education which was written by

Mortimer Adler and Adler was

participating he was more of an honorary

head of this comp

but there was a young man there named

John all good and he told his story of

how he came to become interested in

learning and what happened to him he was

a bricklayer and one day a brick

literally fell on his head from somebody

who was working above him and he was

hospitalized he was comatose when he

came to somebody gave him a book called

how to read a book by Adler and Van

Doren and he'd always had a hard time in

school which is one of the reasons why

he became a bricklayer there was a

chapter that began you have a mind and

he said it was the first time anybody

had ever told him that and he had an

intellectual awakening and Malcolm X

mentions this when he was in the seventh

grade and he told his teacher when he

asked him what do you want to be Malcolm

he was the only black kid in this school

and Malcolm said I want to be a lawyer

and the man said that's not a good job

for a nigger you should be something

like a carpenter you'll never succeed at

that and in some ways it was a benefit

because he probably would have become a

brilliant lawyer so the fact that that

man deterred him from that I think is

probably one of the reasons why we got

Malcolm X who in Indian K's recent book

the 200 most important people in human

history they actually had him in there

because of his contribution to civil

rights which is one of the great events

of certainly Western civilization so we

have these extraordinary awakenings and

one of the things that I realized in

these schools is one they don't like to

start the intellectual awakening too

early in the traditional school systems

they did not begin the educational

process until the age of seven and this

is something that Rudolf Steiner

predicted that if you drop the age of

education from seven to five you will

see that the cycle of a woman will begin

earlier so he related

the biology taking place in a woman with

the time that you start her intellectual

development because if you begin it too

early you're setting in motion something

that has already been mapped out to

occur in a very organized and developed

pattern because there's an unfolding

that's taking place

you cannot hasten the unfolding of a

flower a flower knows when to bloom how

to bloom and what you need to do if

anything is just to provide the water if

it's a indoor flower and if its outdoor

it will take care of itself so this is

part of a deep wisdom that the ancients

had of knowing when to actually begin

the process of Education and there is an

extraordinary tradition from deeply wise

human being alia Bonavia thought it said

play with your children for seven years

and then teach them