by Vin Suprynowicz
Last week, we again delved into John Taylor Gatto’s invaluable text The Underground History of American Education, citing his summary of the career of George Washington.
The point of Mr. Gatto – a former New York city and state (government) Teacher of the Year – when he summarizes the careers of men like Washington, Franklin, David Farragut, Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie, is twofold. First, the careers of these men – by no means all child geniuses, by no means all the offspring of wealthy aristocrats – demonstrate that literacy, fame and high character have often been achieved in America without the benefit of more than a few years’ formal schooling. That is to say, the insistence of today’s educrats that anyone deprived of a full 12 years locked up in their compulsory propaganda camps is doomed to a lifetime as an illiterate loser is self-promoting nonsense from those anxious to perpetuate the largest make-work “jobs” program in history.
But Mr. Gatto then goes much further. He argues careers such as those of Washington and Edison and Carnegie would not have been possible – those great Americans would never have gained the life skills necessary – had they been locked away in a government school for a dozen years.
In response, we heard last week from one of our local government schoolmarms. “First, let it be said I too feel George Washington was the greatest president the country ever had,” the schoolmarm asserts, apparently seeking commonality. “Most notable were his leadership and negotiating skills.”
In fact, I never said Washington was our greatest president – an honor for which others including Jefferson and Van Buren remain in contention. (If the suggestion of Van Buren brings a chuckle of ridicule, you may have attended a government school. Today’s government propagandists define “greatness” as the willingness to trample the Constitution in a grab for dictatorial powers – i.e. Lincoln and Frank Roosevelt. Leaving aside his lamentable complicity in the “Indian removals,” Van Buren is considered negligible today precisely because he limited himself to competently executing his constitutional duties, during which time the country prospered with minimal federal “stimulus.”)
Rather, I said Washington “remains the greatest man of our age,” the strategist who won the Revolution by avoiding the one pitched battle we probably would have lost, the man who resigned when he could have been king.
Meantime, what’s this about Washington’s most notable attribute being his “negotiating skill”?
I’ve read many scholarly biographies; I can’t recall any biographer listing this as the greatest of Washington’s attributes. Yes, he showed forbearance with a Congress that played disastrous games with the vital supply system. But the most important “negotiating” was conducted by Franklin, who cemented the vital French alliance.
Next to whose statue should we place Washington in the Great Negotiator’s Hall of Fame – that of Neville Chamberlain?
Did Washington “negotiate” the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781? Sure he did. The way he “negotiated” it was to line up his cannon on the ridge and start blowing the houses occupied by the British officers and troops to smithereens.
How did he “negotiate” an end to the Whiskey Rebellion? By calling out the militia and marching on western Pennsylvania with an army of 12,000 men.
(Since this led to the stronger central government preferred by the Hamiltonians, I will reserve my praise. At least Washington let the tax protesters off with a stern warning, when others called for mass hangings.)
Showing up with 12,000 armed men may be my kind of “negotiation,” but I somehow doubt it’s the kind our friend the schoolmarm fantasizes about to her young charges.
I believe we are seeing revisionism in progress here, right before our eyes. Heaven forfend the children should be told Washington’s greatest skill was in gathering together a large group of men who believed the best way to “negotiate” our freedom was to take up unregistered firearms and use them to kill people, most especially the duly delegated officers of the established government.
One of the points Mr. Gatto makes about the skills George Washington managed to acquire without benefit of much formal schooling (he somehow fails to list “negotiator”) is that, “Years later he became his own architect for the magnificent estate of Mount Vernon.”
The schoolmarm replies – you knew this was coming, right? – “Let us not forget that George Washington did not do the work at Mount Vernon by himself. He had at least 100 employees also known as slaves.”
Mr. Gatto was speaking of Washington’s abilities as an amateur architect. (He rebuilt Mount Vernon twice beginning in 1757.) Do we dismiss the skills and talents of Frank Lloyd Wright or I.M. Pei because others do the actual excavation and carpentry? One of Mr. Pei’s most famous hotels was built in Red China in 1982. While the laborers on the project were not “slaves,” I have no idea what would have happened to them if they’d refused to work. Does this devalue Mr. Pei’s work?
Mr. Gatto was citing Washington’s skills not as a day laborer, but as an architect.
Did any of the slaves at Mount Vernon actually help design the new building? We await the schoolmarm’s documentation.
Failing that, what we have here is a classic argument from non sequitur – bringing in the old familiar argument that no example of American accomplishment from before 1863 can be relevant to a modern debate, “since they all owned slaves,” when it has nothing to do with the topic under discussion.
The great irony here, of course, is that the tried and true “slavery” red herring (Washington did at least include a provision in his will to free his slaves upon the death of his wife) is used here to try and distract us from Mr. Gatto’s point about our modern schooling practice, dragged across the trail in an effort to distract the hounds from a fresh analysis of a current institution which our descendents will regard with almost as much puzzlement, dismay and condemnation as those earlier versions of involuntary servitude, chattel slavery and “the press” – that being our current practice of locking our children away from the real world during their most vital and formative years, on penalty of law, ignoring the fact that no one can ever be forced to learn anything other than subservience and toadyism, in the prison-like boredom of our increasingly violent and dysfunctional mandatory government youth propaganda camps.
Last 15 posts in Teaching and Learning
- Think Your Kid's Gifted? You're Probably Wrong - August 29th, 2008
- When America Counts - May 5th, 2008
- Helping Your Older Child With Homework - March 26th, 2008
- Teach Your Child How To Spell - March 2nd, 2008
- Feminism and the English Language - February 26th, 2008
- Turn Off TV To Teach Toddlers New Words - January 31st, 2008
- Teach Your Child Using Educational Toys - January 4th, 2008
- The Truth About Music Lessons - December 27th, 2007
- Teach kids to enjoy sharing - December 24th, 2007
- How to Teach a Child Spanish - December 17th, 2007
- Trick them into learning - December 13th, 2007
- Fuzzy Math - Fuzzy Minds - December 8th, 2007
- Learning English Grammar - December 3rd, 2007
- Teaching Math Using Exercise - November 30th, 2007
- It's your child's education, not yours - November 24th, 2007