Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Summary of Gatto's Methods

Over at Homeschooling Research Notes, the author reviews the latest work of Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction.  For those not in the know, Gatto is well-known in many homeschooling circles for his book, The Underground History of American Education.

What is of particular note, is the author's opening evaluation of Gatto's general methodology. It is striking how this also summarizes some home education leaders general approach as well:

"First, regarding methodology, it needs to be noted that Gatto has a very frustrating tendency to make claims, quote sources, refer to documents, and so on without ever providing citations that would allow the researcher to check up on him.  Sometimes in the body of the text he gives enough information for the assiduous student, with effort, to possibly find his source, but often not.  His Underground History suffers from the same flaw, though it does include a brief note at the end promising the reader that he has consulted “somewhat more than three thousand” documents."

I found that book online a year back.  I, too, found the paucity of references troubling while reading his Underground.

Another methodological concern also parallels the style of some contemporary leadership:

"A second methodological affliction, common among polemicists, is Gatto’s tendency to cherry pick anecdotes and facts that paint his opposition (public education) in its worst possible light and to do the reverse for his own side.  In Gatto’s world every child is infantalized, deformed, and dehumanized by schools, while all dropouts become self-made millionaires.  Gatto loves to tell stories of self-made men and women.  In every case the moral is that if one can escape the poison of compulsory schooling, a rich and fulfilling life awaits.  He also loves to tell horror stories of administrative incompetence, curricular foolishness, and bureaucratic pointlessness in public schools.  Nowhere in his prose is there any hint that a child could possibly find school enriching, fulfilling, life-changing.  One of the principles I try to teach all of my students is that when engaging an opponent in an argument you want to do your very best to represent the other side fairly."

This is a common advertisement trick. It is fairly common in our society overall.  And it (unfortunately) saturates Christian marketing as well.  Even the marketing of homeschooling.

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