Good Education

Here are 14 educational principles that high quality schools recognize as components of a good education. John Taylor Gatto is a former teacher in the New York City public school system and these principles were articulated in a talk given by Mr. Gatto. With such a brief introduction, I’m doing a disservice to John Gatto’s very sensible teaching about learning. Nonetheless, the following 14 principles of a good education are worth our consideration:

1. Theory of human nature  To know “what human beings are like” through the study of the history, philosophy, theology, literature, and legal systems of mankind.

2. Active literacies By this he means writing and speaking — and if you get the feeling that our public schools often seem to place more priority on the passive literacies of reading and listening, you’d be right. The active literacies of speaking and writing are actually learned simply and naturally through a continual practice of these skills.

3. Insight into the major institutional forms such as the courts, the corporations, the military — learning through the study of the details of the ideas that drive these institutions. Knowledge gained into these things allows for a clarity of argument, which is prerequisite to effective participation in society.

4. Examples of good manners, politeness, and civility “Politeness and civility is the foundation of all future relationships”

5. Independent work One would do well to find motivation and direction from within rather than from the extrinsic rewards that can squash our inherent curiosity. This is fostered through a learning environment wherein the students are expected to do most of the work.

6. Energetic physical sports Gatto insightfully teaches us that these activities confer “grace on the human presence” as well as the ability to deal with pain and the various emergencies of sports — emergent conditions of various types.

7. Complete theory of access Gatto reckons that students learning approaches for gaining access to various leaders in the larger community is way better than the typical civics class. I agree.

8. Responsibility throughout schooling This comes in many forms but is obviously about students being responsible. In Japanese classrooms, and throughout the schools, the students are responsible for various duties: sweeping the classroom and hallways, leading clubs, and a bunch of other things that instruct students in being personally responsible.

9. Arrival at a personal code of standards in: production, behavior, and morality

10. Familiarity with master creations – that is, the arts: visual art, literature, music, architecture, dance, etc. Because, as Gatto puts it, “Apart from religion, the arts are the only way to transcend the animal materiality of our lives.”
“To get in touch with the bigger you.”

11. The power of accurate observation and recording “sharpen your perception

12. The ability to deal with challenges of all sortsTo know what will challenge your son or daughter, you have to know your son or daughter very very well” so you can — through awareness of the weak points — pursue corrective measures.

13. Habit of caution in reasoning to conclusions Better get it straight lest you come up with dubious reasons leading to misguided conclusions.

14. Constant development and testing of judgments Follow up on your notions and value judgments to see where you might have been right and where you were off track.

There you have it — a useful set of standards for what good teachers should teach.

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