I teach how to fit into a world I don’t want to live in.
I just can’t do it anymore.
– John Taylor Gatto
Shortly after I posted my seven questions for Leonardo I learned of the death of educator and writer John Taylor Gatto. My questions for Leonardo were intended to shine a light on the way people with a passionate interest in the visual arts are often schooled to produce a production-line version of “fine art” that will succeed in the mainstream market, rather than dive deep into their own authentic creativity regardless of commercial outcomes. But the wider educational field suffers from the same malaise, and Gatto wrote about it extensively. So, what is the difference between schooling and educating, and why does it matter? In what way is it relevant to this site – The Awakened Eye?
In the introduction to the website – art and the intimate unknowable – I wrote,
The Awakened Eye is the eye that perceives without labelling; we could also call it the innocent eye or the eye of beginner’s mind. Simply put, “schooling” tends to be an exercise in labelling, defining and separating in the service of acquiring knowledge. In other words, it’s a form of training. It has its uses, but seeing without shadows is not one of them. On the other hand, education (the root, educare, means to ‘draw out’) will endeavour to help uncover and foster the student’s innate and unique genius. John Taylor Gatto had a lot to say about schooling; he was outspoken and ruthless in his criticism of the state school system, and he was in a position to know what he was talking about.
Fifty years ago I was venting the same sentiments about my experience as a young teacher in the state school system in New Zealand. I had started to have nightmares about the psychological harm my students might be experiencing in my classroom as a result of competition and comparison. If I’d read Gatto’s 1991 confession in the New York Times – “I can’t teach this way any longer. If you hear of a job where I don’t have to hurt kids to make a living, let me know.” – I’d have been hugely comforted to know I wasn’t the only one.
But I didn’t know about him then; he inhabited the mists of my future. Life conspired instead to introduce me to the thoughts of Jiddu Krishnamurti, and the highlights of my teaching career occurred in the schools he founded worldwide.
… if we really love our children and are therefore deeply concerned about education, we will contrive from the very beginning to bring about an atmosphere which will encourage them to be free.
– Jiddu Krishnamurti
Please read the full (short) article here: the taming of innate genius
Cartoon by Bill Watterson, the creative genius behind the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.