February 08, 2015

Public Education and the foundations of failure that are still being used.

This is an essay I wrote while attending  Philadelphia Community College. While I was proud to have received an A for this mid-term paper, my words and all I learned ended at that mark on a piece of paper.

I present it now in the hopes that someone else may gain some value from its existence.

Breaking away from the Mold
            In this modern world we are told we can grow to be whatever we want to be; through hard work, perseverance and a traditional education. This is almost the truth, and an almost truth is a lie. Without being fed an almost truth we can accomplish the goal of being whatever we want. The problem is that we are being told what we should be and the proper way of achieving that goal long without ever being given the chance or guidance to figure out ourselves first.
            The system that we are told serves us in our personal growth has been designed to mold us to be its servants; proud facets of the status quo . In “Against School” (John Taylor Gatto), we are shown the structure of compulsory education and the frustration felt with that system from a revered educators point of view. Gatto in his need to break away from a school system that was not living up to its own potential found that it was in purposely designed to hobble educational potential of his students found out just how hard it is to bring positive change from within this systematic tradition of class-ism in public education.
         This man who has been decorated as “Best Teacher of the Year” in New York City and awarded equivalent acclaim and awards from the state government as well refused to stand by and perpetuate this farce any longer. He tried to use his status and popularity earned by him giving the best education to every student to bring the much needed change. He stepped forward publicly to his peers, leaders and board committees; he spoke openly for reform of those ancient statuettes and  guidelines which were shamefully designed to actively supported a dogma of targeted oppression of students in those districts servicing lower income, and minority areas.
          He spoke openly of creative solutions to the issues at hand, that new and progressive curriculum was possible and needed. Mr. Gatto called for action and argued that educators have a moral and ethical duty to strive for the highest standards for all students. But then he started asking hard questions of those actively responsible for maintaining these old foundations and was met with angry silence and complete disregard. He brought forth the proof and looked towards his fellow teachers to help bring positive meaning to the cause they had dedicated their lives to; he met only resistance and contempt from his peers.
             The stress and anxiety caused to himself during his campaign for social and student justice caused his health to fail and a medical leave of absence was taken so he could recover.
Mr Gatto returned from absence ready to continue his life as a teacher only to find that every trace of his official status as a teacher, employment history and all documentation of his existence within the New York City School System had been entirely destroyed. They simply attempted to erase his existence. “ The empire struck back of course; childish adults regularly conflate opposition with disloyalty.” (Gatto Against School par.5)
          What hope does a child have against a century of structured molding based on class, ethnic and social background? A system designed to cull individuality and enforce obedience is not the island of personal growth we have been sold. This system was founded on the principals of the Prussian system of the 1820s; a carefully designed diagram for compulsory education with  defined guidelines on producing and controlling an entire population of workers. Gatto comments “ But what shocks is that we would so eagerly have adopted the worst aspects of Prussian culture: an educational system deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens- all in order to render the populace “manageable.”
            What has changed in the 2 centuries since we adopted this course of teaching? Personally, I have been a victim of many of its cruel policies and can bare witness to their continued existence. I broke free and educated myself mid-way through high school. Not everyone has the will, or self assurance to stand alone and find their own truth and the facts that make truth worth working for. Malcom X in his essay “Learning to Read” found his escape from the schools that had held him back, but at the cost of his freedom. It was in prison that Malcom found the time and the drive to self educate. “Many who today hear me somewhere in person, or on television, or those who read something I've said, they will think I went to school far beyond the eighth grade. This impression is due entirely to my prison studies.”(Malcom X)
The alternatives to compulsory education do exist but have been demonized by our society; home schooling being the most common faces its own challenges; just because a parent can be home to teach, does not mean that they know how to do so to the best benefit of their children. Charter schools lack unified over-site; employ curriculum that may have the best intentions but has not been openly peer reviewed or properly tested under controlled conditions.
So what do students today have to say about the system? In the online video “ A vision of Students Today” (Professor Mesch) we are given a taste of what it means to sit through a schooling system that does not inspire or even attempt to challenge the majority of its attendants; individuals who spoke about this had many things to say, “ I will read 8 books this year, 2800 web pages and over 1290 Facebook profiles.” A sign held up by one of the classmates embodies the feelings of apathy that have become the norm in many public community colleges.
Even with the alternatives to compulsory educational at a young age, young adults still face a huge struggle within our public community colleges. It could be said that it has taken 39 years to write this essay as an educated person, capable of articulating the problems and presenting positive solutions; yet had I placidly filled the roll I was told I to fill, I would never have had the strength of character nor the education to have written this paper. I walked away from a system that had marked me for belligerent medicority.  I stepped forward and made the effort to learn who I am, and what kind of person I want to be.  I fought the status quo and made damn sure that I was getting the best out of my education. Positivity and open communication are weapons of change that we all have in our possession, right now.
 Be strong, and speak kindly against the tides of ignorance. You will not win every battle; in fact all you can hope for is that just maybe, you can help someone stop and think for themselves. Knowledge and positivity share a common factor in the war against ignorance and negativity; each person effected, effects others and we can make a difference one person at a time.

Works Cited

Gatto, John Taylor. “Against School.” Rereading America. 8th Ed.
Gary Columbo, Robert Cullen, Bonnie Lisle. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010. 148-55. Print.

Malcom X. “Learning to Read.” Rereading America. 8th Ed.
Gary Columbo, Robert Cullen, Bonnie Lisle. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010. 210-18. Print.

Professor Wesch. Mediatedcultures.net, 2008. Internet Video. 09/28/12,

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