What Are America

’s Schools Actually Teaching Their Essay, Research Paper

What Are America s Schools Actually Teaching Their Students? Mike Rose s short-story I Just Wanna Be Average supports the seven theoremsJohn Taylor Gatto proposes in his cynical commentary on American schooling TheSeven-Lesson School Teacher. In the end of the two articles, the reader takes away asmall glimmer of hope for public education that lies in the devotion of its top teachersand their willingness to make and accept change. The two works can be tied together bylinking Gatto s sarcastic premises of public education to Rose s tribulations in theclassroom.In his discussion of confusion as a learning tool, Gatto points out that, the logic ofthe school-mind is that it is better to leave school with a tool-kit of superficialjargon…(rather) than with one genuine enthusiasm (for learning) (RA 167). Hiscontention is that student s minds are cluttered with so many different facts and figuresthat to coherently integrate all of their knowledge into everyday life would seem to beimpossible. Is it any wonder then, that in his formative years under this same pretext,Rose became a mediocre student and a somnambulant problem solver, one that got byusing only half a mind? His ambivalence towards learning can be traced to, amongother things, the fact that as he became confused in a subject he developed a defensivetuning mechanism that allowed his attention to wander as he became bored or frustratedwith a subject (RA 177). Gatto s gibe that he teaches acceptance of confusion as destiny, Dow 2 is evidenced today as even college students can be observed with wandering mind asteachers discuss less interesting topics of learning.The attention deficit phenomenon could also be chalked up to another of Gatto sseven lessons, indifference. On the installment plan form of learning, students turn onand off like a light switch at the ringing of a bell. He postulates that, the lessons ofbells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care to deeply about anything (RA 169)? The notion of equating American students to Pavlonian-conditioned rats is a disturbingone but demands consideration. Instead of reading and processing a question and thensynthesizing its answer into a logical essay, most public school students will learn tocheck boxes, true, false, A, B, C, or D, at the recognition of a correct fact. When they redone their teachers feed the answers into a machine, a light comes on, and the student isgiven their prize, in this instance a grade. Mike Rose s discussion of being placed in acurriculum that isn t designed to liberate you, but to occupy you, becomes relevant here. He contends, and it is hard to argue, that the only defense to this sort of banality is tobecome ultra-average. By refusing the inborn tendency of thought, an underachieving orundermotivated student can convert boredom from a malady into a way of confrontingthe world (RA 179). By using boredom to combat the rigors of schoolwork, not only dochildren lose their capacity for independent thought, but under Gatto s model of

Intellectual Dependency they will also become what he musingly terms a successful student: Ones that will put a minimal amount of effort into questioning an assignmentand be rewarded with a high grade for their capacity to follow simple directions and notstrain the teacher with their excessive independent thought. Dow 3 Rose s transfer to the upper-division courses in his high school becomes a mixedblessing in light of this circumstance. This is one of the few instances in which Gatto s theories go far awry from Rose sexperience. Where a seven-lesson school teacher would have already numbered andwritten off Mike Rose, Brother Clint recognizes the young man s potential in the Biologyclassroom and has him moved to a college-preparatory curriculum. The points diverge at Gatto s statement that students come to know their place (Gatto 168). Despite his obvious intellect, Rose struggles in some of his new classes notbecause he is resigned to remaining at the remedial level but simply because he neveracquired the knowledge to carry out some of the new tasks he is to deal with in his newendeavors. Maybe this is an unfortunate example of a school trying to force someoneinto a predestined mold, but it in no way demonstrates complacency or resignation on thepart of the student. Furthermore, it is one of the few parts in either of the two works thatinspires a sense of optimism in the school system as a teacher goes out on a limb to savea student that was otherwise damned to a less than adequate education.Jack MacFarland is a shining but (according to Gatto s theories) twisted model of whatdifference a good teacher can make in a student s life. Rose, by his own admission, had logged up too many years of scholastic indifference when MacFarland arrives on thescene (RA 181). Ironically, he comes to symbolize the sardonic presumption Gattomakes in his discussion of Provisional Self-Esteem that, a kid s self-respect shoulddepend on expert opinion (RA 170). Where this is certainly not the optimal method ofpersonal evaluation, it becomes a positive at this point in Rose s life as he revels in thegood grades he Dow 4 receives on his English essays. While a positive step in Rose s scholastic career, Gattowould be quick to point out that it was this same type of markings on the Stanford-BinetIntelligence Quotient Test that landed him in the vocational track in the first place.What if America s schools are actually only a microcosm of a depressed social modelthat serves to inoculate our citizenship to complacency and subordination? This is thequestion that The Seven-Lesson School Teacher begs answerered. Gatto addresses it inhis thesis stating that, the great triumph of compulsory government mass-schoolingisthat among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best of my students parents, only a small number can imagine a different way to do things (RA171). Whilehis writings could otherwise easily be dismissed as far-fetched political rantings, MikeRose s tale inadvertently brings the reader back to the realization that these problemsactually do exist and beg our attention.


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