Book Discussion: The Underground History of American Education – Chapter 1

October 31st, 2010 by Mandi

This evening we took a drive and I read aloud from The Underground History of American Education.  The kids seemed to enjoy it, even if the concepts were far over their heads.  If nothing else, this submerses them in language and they find the cadence of my voice relaxing as I read aloud.

As promised, I have developed a few questions to spark discussion of Chapter 1.  These are just a jumping-off point.  If you have other questions to raise, we’d love to hear them.  Now, ready … set … discuss!

1. Gatto writes: “Something in the structure of schooling calls forth violence.” He gives modern-day examples of “slurs, aspersion, formal ranking, insult, and inference,” which he believes are “more deadly” than physical violence?  Does this match your experience with schooling?  Which do you believe is most detrimental: physical violence or emotional violence?

2. Throughout the chapter, Gatto uses the analogy of driving a car to illustrate attitudes about compulsory education.  He points out that very with few hours of training or experience, we allow practically anyone to operate a massive deadly weapon full of an explosive liquid.  Why, then, do governments require people to attend schools to learn skills such as reading and math?

3. In ancient Rome, a pedagogue was a slave trained as a drill master for young students.  Despite the negative connotations of its etymology, the word “pedagogy” is often used to describe modern school science.  Do the origins of the term reflect current educational practices?  If so, how?

4. Gatto argues that the public education system is based upon a Hindu model, which was used to keep the lower castes in place.  Andrew Bell, who is largely responsible for bringing this method to the West, called it an “impediment to learning writing and ciphering, an efficient control on reading development.”  Do you think that compulsory education has any effect on class relations today?  If so, what effects does it have and what are their causes?

5. Lincoln, Farragut, Edison, Franklin, Washington … Gatto lists self-educated people who did great things at a young age.  Today, some of these people would still be in middle school at the age when they accomplished their crowning acheivements.  Why does our society shelter children well into their teens or twenties?  What might be the effects of allowing teens more responsibility?

If you missed the first installment in this series, you can catch it here.

You can read the full text of Gatto’s book online.