We Need Experience More Than
We Need Algebra
The most profound structural change you must prepare for from conventional schooling to a guerrilla curriculum is the changeover from memory-driven classroom/blackboard instruction, the type customarily evaluated by grades and tests, into performance-driven instruction that can be evaluated concretely through practical demonstrations of skill.
Modern schooling is virtually experience-free. Its victims are widely known for their inability to do anything practical, or to possess even fundamental useful knowledge such as food production skills, or distances between major population centers, or the relation of principal nations to one another, or the history and nature of important institutions.
Experience-light individuals have been avoided throughout history for dangerous innocence and awful lack of self-insight; it appears impossible to comprehend large abstractions like “democracy” and “justice” without the feedback of actual experience with their counterparts in operation.
What we are as individuals – and the fascination we hold for other people as friends and even as employees – depends upon our stock of experiences. When you reflect on how much of our learning comes from emulation, from imitating people we watch, it’s easy to see how popular wisdom like “you are known by the company you keep” has developed. It also isn’t hard to see how limited opportunities for emulation are for the inexperienced. Google the locution “mirror neurons” to discover a possible physiological mechanism for its value.
Think about these parameters of education:
It’s easier to get to these places through action than by being lectured; indeed, the quest to do so can be exciting and rewarding, even creating some thrilling moments in your life, as it did in mine.
Here is a resource list of experiences that I required in my own guerrilla curriculum. Treat them as a real assignment. Do them in any order that suits – each has equal value as a vehicle for skill-learning. Trust your judgment in deciding which skills to use. They are action exercises as motivators as you measure progress toward traditional academic aims (which you shall achieve this way, don’t doubt it). Our over-reliance on experts for this in the past hasn’t helped much, has it?
The gulf, worldwide in all periods of history, between elite education for the children of important people and common schooling for ordinary kids hinges on the degree and quality of experience that is available. Elites have always built children’s upbringing around communicating practical skills and significant awarenesses instead of memorizing lists of data – a past we need to reclaim.
In light of a near-universal realization that this is so, the consistency with which experience is denied poor children approaches the shocking – to me it seems a type of class warfare! Global elites have generally scorned childishness for their own; the more important the family, usually, the more certain it will be to discover grown-up competencies and attitudes/interests among its young, while the touchstone among common clay is exactly the reverse. Be advised in your own interests.
So examine this partial list of action-curriculum with great care. Then do it! Do it all!
© John Taylor Gatto 2012. John Taylor Gatto was New York State Teacher of the Year prior to resigning from teaching because he didn’t want to do any more harm to children. He is the author of a number of books, including the best-selling “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling,” “The Underground History of American Education” and “Weapons of Mass Instruction.” This essay is part of his forthcoming book “The Guerrilla Curriculum: How to Take Education in Spite of Schooling.”