In the video embedded below, John Taylor Gatto discusses the principles your child is missing in his/her public education. Principles missing as compared to those standards and objectives incorporated into private, elite boarding schools curriculum.
Serving as a school teacher myself I found his formulated thoughts and ideas accurate. Also, they are somewhat agreeable with my own point of view and experiences in educating children.
Although most of the principles discussed below are more applicable to junior high and high school-aged students, many can be incorporated–to a smaller degree–at the elementary school level. I have made notes and am going to start integrating some of these principles into my classroom pedagogy.
The 14 principles of an elite boarding school curriculum, as identified and discussed by John Gatto, are as follows:
- A theory of human nature
- Strong experience with the active literacies
- An insight into the major institutional forms
- A repeated exercise in the forms of good manners and politeness
- Independent work
- Energetic physical sports to confer grace on the human presence
- A complete theory of access to any workplace or any person
- Responsibility and leadership
- A personal code of standards
- Familiarity with the master creations in the arts
- The power of accurate observation & recording
- The ability to deal with challenges of all sorts
- A habit of caution in reasoning to conclusions
- The constant development of testing and judgment
A transcript of the video is provided below:
Transcript of John Taylor Gatto’s The 14 Principles of an Elite Boarding School Curriculum:
“Hello, I’m John Gatto. I’d like to share with you the fourteen principles that I discovered that are universal among these schools [elite private boarding schools]. Even though each is quite a different animal than the next, they all concentrate on these fourteen themes.
Theory of Human Nature
“The first of these themes is that no kid should graduate without a theory of human nature; what makes people tick, what buttons do you press to get the results from your fellow man and woman that you want. And where does the fund of lore come from? Not from psychology, not even in a small way. The fund of lore, by human nature, comes from history, philosophy, theology – that’s a curse word isn’t it in public schooling–literature, and law. These five mighty agencies of human history and the human mind have a wealth of information about what human beings are like now, have been like, and probably always will be like. And every kid should have a degree of expertise drawn from these sources. I guess I should say these databases.
“The second requirement of these schools is that every graduate has a strong experience with the active literacies. Now we are all familiar with literacy as some exercise in reading. But, the active literacies are writing and public speaking. No matter how well-developed your mind becomes on strong texts, it’s useless to convince anyone else of your point of view unless you can write well and you can speak well. I think we’ve come to this juncture in history believing that that’s some God-given gift that only a few people have. I can guarantee you, as a school teacher for thirty years, that both of those skills are extremely easy to teach.
“To teach public speaking, you simply have to offer regular opportunities to speak before a group of strangers. That could be a group as small as one, two, or three, or it could be an auditorium of strangers. But, the fact that they are people you feel uncomfortable with, I think is essential. To write well requires nothing more than that you write constantly and regularly every day, preferably. The improvement will occur quite naturally. At that point, you might be able to profitably use some expert interventions. But, in the process of reaching competency, intervention is the worst possible thing; simply the practice of doing it. So now we have a theory of human nature and skills in the active literacies.
“Number three, among the curricular themes that unite these elite private boarding schools, is an insight into the major institutional forms. Institutions like our courts, or our corporations, or our military; including details of the ideas which drive them. I want to give you one sample of this so you can see how seriously government schools fall short of the mark in offering insights into these institutions. We have all heard, endlessly in schools, of separation of powers. The government of the United States is divided into at least three compartments. One, an executive compartment. One, a legislative compartment; that is further divided into two compartments of its own. And finally, a judicial compartment.
“Now a little bit of reflection should show you what the purpose of that is. Not that we all live in harmony and agree in times of trouble, with what to say and do, but exactly the opposite of that. The only possible way to arrive at an approximation of the truth is through argument. The more skillful argument on all sides will be better for the ultimate resolution of truth. So that people, who appear before you in the media and say in this time of trouble, dissent is not wanted, are truly un-American. Because this country was the world’s first laboratory of dissent on the part of everybody. That’s really what the American dream is largely composed of.
Good Manners and Politeness
“The fourth thing that private schools do, or elite private boarding schools do that public schools hardly touch, are the repeated exercises in the forms of good manners and politeness. Based on the utter truth, politeness and civility are the foundations of all future relationships, all future alliances, and access to places that you may want to go. Now don’t tell me that that’s just common sense because any public school I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in hundreds, is the laboratory of rudeness, cruelty, sloppiness, and coarseness.
“The fifth thing that private boarding schools emphasize is independent work. Think again about the possible reasons for that. In public schools, as we know them, the teacher is charged with about eighty to ninety percent of filling the time available; one way or another. And all the choices are the teachers. But, in independent private boarding education, that ratio is ideally reversed.
Grace via Physical Sports
“The sixth principle is that energetic physical sports aren’t a luxury or a way to blow off steam, but they’re absolutely the only way to confer grace on the human presence. And that grace translates into power and into money later on. Also, sports teaches you patience in handling pain and dealing with emergencies that occur regularly in sports.
“The seventh curricular them in elite private boarding schools is a complete theory of access to any workplace or any person. You’d be better off, than reading a civics textbook, to set a kid with the challenge of getting a private meeting with the mayor of Los Angeles and let him work, for a year, on constructing access to the mayor. Because that’s how… does that sound fanciful to you? My kids, from a very ordinary New York public school, got access not only to New York City’s mayor, but to New York State’s governor, and CEO’s beyond count; you can do this too. Teach your kids how to access places and people that he or she wants or needs.
Responsibility and Leadership
“Number eight is responsibility. As an utterly essential part of the curriculum. And yes, that includes things like washing dishes. An elite private boarding school will ask a kid to care for a horse, to take some important community service, to go for leadership in clubs; much easier to get than you think because if the club is actually doing anything, it’s a lot of hard work to be the leader and few people want that. Always grab for responsibility when it’s offered and to always deliver more than is asked for.
Code of Standards
“Number nine, and this is a long-range comprehensive thing that needs to be checked regularly, that you don’t ever quite get there. It’s an arrival at a personal code of standards. Standards in production, standards in behavior, and standards in morality.
Familiarity with the Arts
“Number ten is a familiarity with the master creations in music, in painting, in dance, in sculpture, in design and architecture, and literature, and drama; to be at ease with the arts. Because apart from religion, the arts are the only way that transcends the animal materiality of our lives… to get in touch with the bigger you.
Observation and Recording
“Number eleven is the power of accurate observation and recording. I’ll only give you one example of how you think this way, and if you push yourself, you will be able to supply much more power of accurate observation and recording examples. It used to be an axiom among British upper classes that if you could not draw what you saw with your eye you were in fact not seeing what was there. So drawing wasn’t a way to kill time, but a way to sharpen the perception.
Dealing with Challenges
“Number twelve was the ability to deal with challenges of all sorts. This one is my favorite because one person’s challenge is another person’s ho-hum. To know what will challenge your son or your daughter you have to know your son or daughter very, very well. If you have a kid who is painfully shy, obviously public presentations are the challenges the kid needs as a corrective, rather than live the rest of their lives. Also, if your child is a coward, that’s a harsh word, but many people are natural cowards–maybe all of us are natural cowards–until we come to see that physical challenges really aren’t so bad. In addition, if they hurt, they don’t hurt that much. Teach your kid if he gets knocked down always to stand back up. If he gets knocked down again, to always stand back up again. That would be a challenge.
“Number thirteen, we’re coming to the end of the curricular list, is a habit of caution in reasoning to conclusions. Should Iraq be invaded by the most technologically sophisticated military in the history of the planet and should hundreds of billions of dollars be allotted to that purpose? Well, maybe it should and maybe it shouldn’t. But listening to a few government propaganda hours about the similarities between the leader of Iraq and Adolf Hitler is not the way to come to the conclusion, even though it’s the way eighty or ninety percent of us do.
Testing and Judgement
“And finally, it’s the constant development and testing of judgment. You make judgments and discriminate value and then you follow-up; you keep an eye on your predictions to see how far skewed from what actually occurs… or how consistent with what transpires things are.
“I’m John Taylor Gatto, and this is what you’ve been missing.”
Images – Post and Rich Snippets image: “John Taylor Gatto at …” by Mark Finnern is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
Video, image and transcript – Gatto, J. (2012, September 28). John Taylor Gatto 14 Principles of an Elite Boarding School Curriculum Build a better you. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qArZMuqE4FY.