In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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John Taylor Gatto
John Gatto apparently has no problem with the fact that his protégé Hector fails every course he takes, threatens elementary-school children with a realistic-looking gun, and doesn’t obey rules unless they appeal to him. Gatto also says that, in thirty years of teaching, he “almost never met a learning-disabled child.”
Perhaps this is because he expressed his contempt for academics by simply not teaching his students. Sure, a child with learning disabilities can do a great job of running a food co-op or volunteering, and such activities are worthwhile. But they don’t obviate the need for teachers to hunker down to the hard, less-than-glamorous work of teaching children what parents want them to learn.
Learning disabilities aren’t real? Ask the parent of a child whose life was transformed when a learning disability was diagnosed and the child got expert tutoring, making it possible for him or her to learn things heretofore incomprehensible. No, Hector isn’t the problem. But neither is Gatto the answer.
Nine years ago, I cut John Taylor Gatto’s article “I Quit, I Think” out of the Wall Street Journal. At the time, I was studying education at the Rudolf Steiner College because I felt that the Waldorf schools offered the best possible alternative to the many educational limitations and lies I had experienced in my own schooling. I wanted to believe that I could make a difference somehow.
That short article stayed in my journal for nearly a decade, through two children and several new careers, continuing to remind me that there are alternatives even to the alternatives.
How lovely, then, to find it reprinted as part of Gatto’s “Hector Isn’t the Problem” [November 2000]. I thank him for discussing the real import of our deadly educational system, and for reminding me, as I start looking for yet another new life in this rootless country, that I can choose my destiny despite how my record defines me. His advice to Hector was all I needed to begin the hard climb back to the confidence I had before I was “mainstreamed” and “downsized.”
Mary Heiberger is right about one thing: I’m not the answer, and I should be shot if you ever catch me claiming that I am. Gurus are genuinely dangerous, particularly those official experts and specialists who use phony medical metaphors like “learning disability” to justify their service to the corporate state.
I knew an army of parents whose children were diagnosed with learning disabilities and expertly tutored, but nary a one who was transformed by the experience. I must have known 150 Ritalin junkies shot full of speed by school employees — for their own good, of course. And yet not even there could I discern a transformation, except a hellish one.
Heiberger did a lot of misreading, but her most egregious error is the accusation that Hector threatened schoolchildren with a realistic-looking gun. He threatened the school administrator. If it had been just some other kids, it wouldn’t have bothered the principal nearly as much.
To Leslie de Vries: Chin up and keep your powder dry. Spit on any official record that purports to define you. They are overwhelmingly political, not scientific. And I see you gave yourself the same advice; you didn’t need me to sign off on your good sense.