Through my years of teaching, it has been interesting to observe which administrators have liked me, and admired my skills, ideas, self-motivation, and desire to advocate for children; which administrators have disliked me and resented my skills, ideas, self-motivation, and desire to advocate for children. It has been quite obvious that the supervisors who held me in esteem were those who put children first, before official policy and before the demands of Washington.
I ‘give my all’ to my students during the day, then spend evenings, weekends, summers, (and my own money), for classes, research, books, materials, training. Traditional, self-confident principals notice my efforts and choose to encourage, support, my commitment. Progressive, ‘agenda’ principals tend to feel angry, offended, even intimidated, by my uncompromising professionalism; to actively countermand and undercut my efforts and achievements; to discourage and dishearten me, in hopes that I might resign.
I had never understood the dichotomy of these reactions towards me and to my teaching. Those who mistreated me, left me confused, and upset, often ill and needing to miss work, even as the classroom was exactly where I preferred to be. I could never understand why all teachers were not striving to provide excellent educations, supports and services for children. I tried to find some humor in one of my evaluations that included, as a Negative Comment, “Linda is even willing to fight in order to improve services for deaf children.”
It was incomprehensible, for I thought that educators were expected to improve services to children. What a fool I was and what unhappiness and suffering my lack of understanding caused during those years. I sacrificed my emotions, my finances, my private life — because of a misunderstanding; because of the mistaken belief that ‘if only’ I worked harder, explained better, demonstrated more efficiently — the ‘unknowing’ would come to understand and join me in actually educating children. Each year found me within an ever-shrinking group of knowledgeable and committed educators. Each year found public education continuing its downward spiral, which caused me immense grief and stress.
After twenty years of that, I stumbled upon the books of John Taylor Gatto. As I read Gatto’s carefully researched conclusions, and clear explanations, especially in The Underground History of American Education, I woke as from a nightmare, and saw that I had spent my entire teaching career trying to fight something so much bigger than myself; something that had set me up to fail, even before I, myself, was enrolled in kindergarten. I understood why I had spent those years frustrated, ill, fighting suspicions of the inevitability of defeat.
Gatto points to three important milestones in the transformation of schools: Designing Education for the Future, the Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project, and Blooms’ Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. (History, Pre-Publication Edition, pgs 40—43) He explains how education was redefined after the Prussian fashion; “State education agencies would henceforth act as on-site federal enforcers, ensuring the compliance of local schools with central directives. Each state education department was assigned the task of becoming ‘an agent of change’ and advised to ‘lose its independent identity as well as its authority’ in order to ‘form a partnership with the federal government’.”
Gatto explained that The Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project "identified the future as one ‘in which a small elite’ will control all important matters, one where participatory democracy will largely disappear. Children are made to see, through school experiences, that their classmates are so cruel and irresponsible, so inadequate to the task of self-discipline, and so ignorant they need to be controlled and regulated for society’s good. Under such a logical regime, school terror can only be regarded as good advertising. It is sobering to think of mass schooling as a vast demonstration project of human inadequacy, but that is at least one of its functions."
Bloom’s Taxonomy, “Using methods of behavioral psychology, children would learn proper thoughts, feelings, actions, and have their improper attitudes brought from home ‘remediated’…Bloom’s epic spawned important descendent forms: Mastery Learning, Outcomes-Based Education, and School to Work government-business collaborations. Each classified individuals for the convenience of social managers and businesses, each offered data useful in controlling the mind and movements of the young, mapping the next adult generation.”
Labeling schooling as “An Enclosure Movement For Children,” Gatto says that “The secret of American schooling is that it doesn’t teach the way children learn, and it isn’t supposed to. School was engineered to serve a concealed command economy and an increasingly layered social order; it wasn’t made for the benefit of kids and families as those people would define their own needs… dynamics which make forced schooling poisonous to healthy human development…Work in classrooms isn’t significant work; it fails to satisfy real needs pressing on the individual; it doesn’t answer real questions experience raises in the young mind; it doesn’t contribute to solving any problem encountered in actual life. The net effect of making all schoolwork external to individual longings, experience, questions, and problems is to render the victim listless…Growth and mastery come only to those who vigorously self-direct. Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, enjoying privacy — these are precisely what the structures of schooling are set up to prevent, on one pretext or another.”
About literacy: “Reading, and the rigorous discussion of that reading in a way that obliges you to formulate a position and support it against objections, is an operational definition of education in its most fundamental civilized sense. No one can do this very well without learning ways of paying attention: from a knowledge of diction and syntax, figures of speech, etymology, and so on, to a sharp ability to separate the primary from the subordinate, understand allusion, master a range of modes of presentation, test truth, and penetrate beyond the obvious to the profound messages of text. Reading, analysis and discussion is the way we develop reliable judgment, the principle way we come to penetrate covert movements behind the façade of public appearances. Without the ability to read and argue, we’re just geese to be plucked.” (Pg. 56)
When Gatto quoted Harold Rugg, a writer of textbooks for teacher training colleges, “Education must be used to condition the people to accept social change. The chief function of schools is to plan the future of society,” the fog began to clear. It was no wonder that I had spent my career nursing horrific headaches brought about by bashing my head against the brick wall of government schooling. You see, my goal was to actually educate children and so build foundations upon which they could grow to become independent thinkers — exactly what the new-new schools DID NOT want teachers to accomplish. I was working at cross-purposes to the new intent of public schooling.
As I read Gatto’s book, I lost my navet and never again trusted public education. The blinders came off, and although my goals are still to educate children to be readers and independent thinkers, I understand that I am being set up to fail, and now concentrate on saving ‘one child at a time.’ I have finally faced the fact that government education cannot be reformed; cannot be saved. I recommend Gatto’s History to anyone strong enough to handle the shock — of learning that most of what we were taught in school were illusions, lies, and purposeful, pre-determined programming. Luckily some people, determined to self-educate or re-educate themselves, evaded the ‘kool-aide’. Hopefully, thousands of Americans are waking from the stupor, ready to undo the harm of the mind-numbing years. Hopefully they will soon be prepared to seek the truth behind all aspects of America and its progressive education movement; its ulterior plans for its people; and refuse to send their children for plucking.
Back at school, I became better at spotting and identifying the tricks of the charade, but working in that environment still proved to be unsettling and stressful. The progressive administrators had their standard methods for manipulation; attack; intimidation; punishment. For group control, they were trained to use The Delphi Technique, hoping to fool all the people, all the time, or at least to force consensus. For individual control, the attacks were often based on gossip and downright fabrication — Administration by Rumor: “Doesn’t it bother you that the other teachers don’t like you?” “Many teachers have been in my office to complain that you talk about them behind their backs.” “Some parents are requesting that their children NOT be placed in your room.” When all else failed, out would come administration’s most hurtful, demeaning dart: “You, Linda, are not a team player.”
It is nearly impossible to defend oneself against vague, unfair, inaccurate accusations. I reminded myself of the children who still needed to learn to read, and purchased my Iowa teaching credits so that I could retire years earlier than I had planned.
Soon after that, Bernard Goldberg and his book, Bias, appeared to help me gain further insights into administrative game playing. Thanks to Bernie, I better understood the dynamics involved and made plans to thwart all attempts to shame me! I borrowed his words, practiced them, and when next called to the office, I was ready.
The dressing-down began, as expected, with the usual insults, insinuations and accusations. When those failed to hit any mark, out came the poison arrow: “Linda, you are not seen as a team player around here.” I calmly replied, “I AM a team player, but just like Bernie Goldberg, ‘I play for the OTHER team!’ I play for the “Children and Parents” team, and I always will. I never will be, and never want to be, the kind of team player you seek, for to do so would violate my honor and cheat children.”
That day I finally felt at peace, for I clearly understood my role, my mission, and the depth of my convictions. I will forever remain loyal to my team, and I will always stand ready to fight to improve education for all students, especially when that means encouraging all parents to opt for; to demand; the best educational Choice for their children.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.