Underground History of American Education

David from third world county has been posting far and wide about John Taylor Gatto’s, The Underground History of American Education. Or at least he’s posted about it at his site and this one and seems to think it’s a very important work.

Having begun reading it online, with all the danger of eyestrain that poses, I tend to agree. It is polemical but important. Sometimes polemic is simply the most rational reaction to truly awful circumstances. Who wants to hear a legalistic defense of a system that is victimizing all American children? Not I says the parent.

It reminds me of another piece that lots of people have read online. Dorothy Sayers’ essay titled The Lost Tools of Learning, is all about the Trivium, an ancient structure for learning that takes into account the natural aptitude of children for memorizing vast amounts of material up until the age of ten or so, their aptitude for argumentation and dispute following that, and their desire to eventually grow up and learn to function in the adult world after that.

In fact, the Sayers piece is so inspiring it has supplied much of the inspiration for the most rigorous part of the homeschooling movement: the Classical homeschooling method. Children learn latin vocabulary, conjugations, grammar, and poetry when they are young. They memorize poems, dates, geography, history, arithmetic, read great stories including the Bible and the ancient pagan myths and legends, are exposed to fine arts and art history, practice their handwriting, learn sentence diagramming and the parts of speech, memorize scientific facts, learn manners, receive some religious and moral instruction, and basically fill up their heads with facts as quickly as they can. This is fun for most kids, who are vacuum cleaners for information, ravenous learners if you only give them the chance to learn enough to satisfy them. Charlotte Mason’s Trivium Academy is one such example of classical homeschooling. The Well Trained Mind is another. Seton is another, named for the founder of the first free Catholic schools in America who became the first native-born American saint.


Trackposted to Is It Just Me?, Faultline USA, third world county, Right Truth, The World According to Carl, Shadowscope, Pirate’s Cove, A Newt One, and Right Voices, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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3 thoughts on “Underground History of American Education

  1. Dorothy Sayers is an important voice on more than one subject. Her views on literature, and particularly on the writing of fiction, for example, are as worth pondering as her fiction is to read.

    [re: Learning challenging materisl] “This is fun for most kids, who are vacuum cleaners for information, ravenous learners if you only give them the chance to learn enough to satisfy them.”


    Here’s an earlier rant (ramble, bloviation? whatever ;-)) of mine that touches on this issue, as well.

  2. Oh, Dorothy Sayers mixing metaphors elegantly:

    “A society in which consumption must be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.”

    Akso, see Flannery O’Connor for more on reading, writing and storytelling–all important parts of the educational process and all sadly neglected today. The historical and cultural illiteracy rampant today is results in a lack of rich memes for communicating cultural values. Oh, the memes are there, just neglected in the face of mass media memes or butchered and neutered by mass media misuse. What use the once powerful, “There is a tide in the affairs of men…” when the words of the Bard are forgotten and the historical circumstances his well-measured words illustrate are unknown, for example? It’s much, much more powerful, rich and evocative of a wealth of concepts than the lame, “Go with the flow” that contemporary society has replaced it with, but in the paucity of ideas and even simply memes to evoke ideas that is conversation nowadays, “Go with the flow” is about all we have left.


    One of literally thousands of examples in a society where one in five people think the Sun revolves around the Earth. (Yes, America the [willfully and lazily] Stupid.)

    Oh, had I not been an inveterate quoter of The Bard and literally placed collections of Shakespeare in their hands, my children would never have read his work, because in high school (and sadly, even college), reading Shakespeare was not required. Nor, for that matter, were many other great writers required reading. No, instead, they read about them foir classes, watched videos of redacted plays or other works, etc.

    Oh, heck, I’ll admit that my high school days 40-*mumble* years ago were saturated with (then) “contemporary” literature of indifferent value, at best. Glad I had a better library at home that far surpassed the reading materials required of me in school.

    And that is a key: parents who read, who read material that challenges them and model voracious reading to their children, talk about what they’ve read with their children and talk with their children about what the children are reading.

    [cutting the rant, now *heh*]

    Gee, I ought to get my own blog and post about this stuff, huh?

    Thanks for the links, and thanks for reading. Y’all come back now, y’hear?


    (“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.” Julius Caesar, Act 4, scene 3–Brutus)

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