Wee Frill


The fourth lesson I teach is emotional dependency. By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors, and disgraces, I teach kids to surrender their will to the predestinated chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld by any authority without appeal, because rights do not exist inside a school – not even the right of free speech, as the Supreme Court has ruled – unless school authorities say they do. As a schoolteacher, I intervene in many personal decisions, issuing a pass for those I deem legitimate and initiating a disciplinary confrontation for behavior that threatens my control. Individuality is constantly trying to assert itself among children and teenagers, so my judgments come thick and fast. Individuality is a contradiction of class theory, a curse to all systems of classification.

Here are some common ways in which individuality shows up: children sneak away for a private moment in the toilet on the pretext of moving their bowels, or they steal a private instant in the hallway on the grounds they need water. I know they don’t, but I allow them to “deceive” me because this conditions them to depend on my favors. Sometimes free will appears right in front of me in pockets of children angry, depressed, or happy about things outside my ken; rights in such matters cannot be recognized by schoolteachers, only privileges that can be withdrawn, hostages to good behavior.

With Bells On

To answer Jeff’s question, I haven’t read the entire book, but I get the impression that Mr Gatto does offer some suggestions as to how to improve schooling. However, he emphasizes how difficult it will be because it has become part of the economic structure now, and making the drastic changes necessary will be met with a lot of resistance by very influental people.


The third lesson I teach in indifference. I teach children not to care too much about anything, even though they want to make it appear that they do. How I do this is very subtle. I do it by demanding that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. It’s heartwarming when they do that; it impresses everyone, even me. When I’m at my best I plan lessons very carefully in order to produce this show of enthusiasm. But when the bell rings I insist they drop whatever it is we have been doing and proceed quickly to the next work station. They must turn on and off like a light switch. Nothing important is ever finished in my class nor in any class I know of. Students never have a complete experience except on the installment plan.

Indeed, the lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Years of bells will condition all but the strongest to a world that can no longer offer important work to do. Bells are the secret logic of school time; their logic is inexorable. Bells destroy the past and future, rendering every interval the same as any other, as the abstraction of a map renders every living mountain and river the same, even though they are not. Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.

Class Room

Just as a point of context, I gather from the text that John Gatto mostly taught 7th grade students.


The second lesson I teach is class position. I teach that students must stay in the class where they belong. I don’t know who decides my kids belong there but that’s not my business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered by schools has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human beings plainly under the weight of numbers they carry. Numbering children is a big and very profitable undertaking, though what the strategy is designed to accomplish is elusive. I don’t even know why parents would, without a fight, allow it to be done to their kids.

In any case, again, that’s not my business. My job is to make them like it, being locked in together with children who bear numbers like their own. Or at the least to endure it like good sports. If I do my job well, the kids can’t even imagine themselves somewhere else, because I’ve shown them how to envy and fear the better classes and how to have contempt for the dumb classes. Under this efficient discipline the class mostly polices itself into good marching order. That’s the real lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to know your place.

In spite of the overall class blueprint, which assumes that ninety-nine percent of the kids are in their class to stay, I nevertheless make a public effort to exhort children to higher levels of test success, hinting at eventual transfer from the lower class as a reward. I frequently insinuate that the day will come when an employer will hire them on the basis of test scores and grades, even though my own experience is that employers are rightly indifferent to such things. I never lie outright, but I’ve come to see that truth and schoolteaching are, at bottom, incompatible just as Socrates said they were thousands of years ago. The lesson of numbered classes is that everyone has a proper place in the pyramid and that there is no way out of your class except by number magic. Failing that, you must stay where you are put.


Despite doing reasonably well in school (I never gave it my best, but came out with a B average) I hated it. I hated the structure, the antiseptic, impersonal approach of it, and the social environment. If I’m quoted for anything after I die, I hope it’s “the environment least suited for learning is public school.” What I learned in school is that individuality is punished by both authority and peers.

At work we have big cages, into which books that are to be destroyed are thrown. We destroy an alarming amount of Harry Potter and Lonely Planet books. Those books have their covers torn off. Other miscellaneous returns retain their cover. I don’t know why they destroy books. It seems a waste. Every day I make a point of rescuing as many books as I can carry home. Yesterday one of the books I grabbed was “Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.” It’s written by a fellow who was a schoolteacher for 30 years, and who won awards for it in New York City. When I got home from Marlo’s this morning I sat down on the couch with Kodos and started to read it, since it was right in front of me. I have to stop now to get some work done, but I want to share this with you, because I think it’s important.

Reprinted without permission:

The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher

This speech was given on the occasion of the author being named “New York State Teacher of the Year” for 1991.

Call me Mr. Gatto, please. Thirty years ago, having nothing better to do with myself at the time, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. The license I have certifies that I am an instructor of English language and English literature, but that isn’t what I do at all. I don’t teach English; I teach school – and I win awards doing it.

Teaching means different things in different places, but seven lessons are universally taught from Harlem to Hollywood Hills. They constitute a national curriculum you pay for in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what it is. You are at liberty, of course, to regard these lessons any way you like, but believe me when I say I intend no irony in this presentations. These are the things I teach; these are the things you pay me to teach. Make of them what you will.


A lady named Kathy wrote this to me from Dubois, Indiana, the other day:

What big ideas are important to little kids? Well, the biggest idea I think they need is that what they are learning isn’t idiosyncratic – that there is some system to it all and it’s not just raining down on them as they helplessly absorb. That’s the task, to understand, to make coherent.

Kathy has it wrong. The first lesson I teach is confusion. Everything I teach is out of context. I teach the un-relating of everything. I teach disconnections. I teach too much: the orbiting of planets, the law of large numbers, slavery, adjectives, architectural drawing, dance, gymnasium, choral singing, assemblies, surprise guests, fire drills, computer languages, parents’ nights, staff-development days, pull-out programs, guidance with strangers my students may never see again, standardized tests, age-segregation unlike anything seen in the outside world… What do any of these things have to do with each other?

Even in the best schools a close examination of curriculum and its sequences turns up a lack of coherence, a host of internal contradictions. Fortunately the children have no words to define the panic and anger they feel at constant violations of natural order and sequence fobbed off on them as quality in education. The logic of the school-mind is that it is better to leave school with a tool kit of superficial jargon derived from economics, sociology, natural science, and so on than with one genuine enthusiasm. But quality in education entails learning about something in depth. Confusion is thrust upon kids by too many strange adults, each working alone with only the thinnest relationship with each other,pretending, for the most part, to an expertise they do not possess.

Meaning, not disconnected facts is what sane human beings seek, and education is a set of codes for processing raw data into meaning. Behind the patchwork quilt of school sequences and the school obsession with facts and theories, the age old human search for meaning lies well concealed. This is harder to see in elementary school where the hierarchy of school experience seems to make better sense because the good-natured simple relationship between “let’s do this” and “let’s do that” is just assumed to mean something and the clientele has not yet consciously discerned how little substance is behind the play and pretense.

Think of the great natural sequences – like learning to walk and learning to talk; the progression of light from sunrise to sunset; the ancient procedures of a farmer, a smithy, or a shoemaker; or the preparation of a Thanksgiving feast. All of the parts are in perfect harmony with each other, each action justifying itself and illuminating the past and the future. School sequences aren’t like that, not inside a single class and not among the total menu of daily classes. School sequences are crazy. There is no particular reason for any of the, nothing that bears close scrutiny. Few teachers would dare to teach the tools whereby dogmas of a school or a teacher could be criticized, since everything must be accepted. School subjects are learned, if they can be learned, like children learn the catechism or memorize the Thirty-nine Articles of Anglicanism.

I teach the un-relating of everything, an infinite fragmentation the opposite of cohesion: what I do is more related to television programming than to making a scheme of order. In a world where home is only a ghost because both parents work, or because of too many moves or too many job changes or too much ambition, or because something else has left everybody too confused to maintain a family relation, I teach students how to accept confusion as their destiny. That’s the first lesson I teach.

Oh just a little update on life in general

OK let’s see….whipporwills, whipporwhills….
First off things have been going super with Marlo. We just hit the 5 month mark. My job still stinks, and no leads on anything better yet*. Drawing has been really slow for the past few weeks but I just got another assignment yesterday so that should pick up. Absolutely nothing has been happening with the band. Gaming group is going smoothly with our new player, Jeni, and I am still planning on starting a shorter, funnier campaign. I met a guy at the Weathertop convention last weekend (which was really fun – and yes it got almost 2 minutes of coverage on some show called “Express” on Shaw, which repeated like every 3 hours for 3 days and was quite amusing) who seems like an excellent addition to a new gaming group. He’s new in town. He’s unfortunately named Chris. Kodos is good. Stewie is good and in his new office so hopefully he’s getting some sleep. I spent a couple hours last night rearranging the apartment and trying to organize all of our crap. It’s an uphill battle but I secretly like cleaning up (you wouldn’t know it from looking). Marlo has become enamoured with strippers which suits me fine, so we’re going again tonight. Tomorrow is Janet’s birthday and it’s been too long since I’ve hugged her. We will partily heartily.

Today is Yvonne’s birthday and repeat hugging sentiment but in decidedly no less sincere way. I spent weeks at work looking for a book that I thought she might like (as a belated Christmas present) but none of them seemed good enough. So I came up with something else which I hope will go over well. Happy birthday you crazy kids – I’m so glad I met both of you and I take pride in the fact that in some way I was responsible for you meeting eachanother.

* I had this idea, which I think is super good but I can’t do it myself. I want to open a laundromat. I could totally sit in the laundromat all day and read and write and draw and watch movies while handing out change. And at night we could play games in the laundromat. Where’s a good place to open a laundromat? Anybody want to go into business with me? I have no credit rating to speak of, but boy…can I ever hand out change to people who want clean underwear.

I am actually seriously considering this. Maybe I need to go to Taiwan/Japan and make some money first.

Canadians are More Important

You know what really bugs me? Headlines like:

3 Canadians among victims of tsunami

I think that’s incredibly crass. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives in that disaster. I don’t get why the media has to play up the local angle of a tragedy like that. Doing that makes it sound like some peoples’ lives – the people who live in this particular plot of land – are somehow worth more than all the others, and that’s pretty sick.

MC Cynic is in the hizouse

Marlo & I were talking about the “MC” in the rap world last night.

Now, in my experience, MC, or emcee, means “master of ceremonies” which is, by definition, “a person who acts as host at formal occasions (makes an introductory speech and introduces other speakers)”, but obviously it is not the same in the pop culture/rap world. I didn’t really know what it meant. Marlo said that, opposed to the DJ, who spins the records, the MC raps. And never the twain shall meet.

Marlo says that the term “MC” as part of a rapper’s name has been in the vernacular for 20 years so I should accept it. But I think it’s overused and that any old slob with a boombox on a street corner can call himself MC Skillless and nobody will kick up a fuss. Well I’m here to fuss. I mean I know you don’t need 7 years of rhyming school and a diploma to be an MC, but it bothers me in the same way that Captain Caveman bugs me. Friend, you’re a lot of things – but you’re not a captain. Of course this comes from a guy who for the most part despises rap (& hiphop moreso). I guess it’s just the fact that it has always bothered me that, unlike playing the tuba or the drums or even singing, anyone can rap as well as the next palooka (no offense to the mute), and so by extension, anyone can be called MC.

The tighter you grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers

Last night there was a discussion between Chris (Woods) and Marlo (Carpenter) over sushi about…well about a lot of things but partly about how unbelievable it is that people let their governments walk all over them. I really didn’t contribute anything to the conversation, I mostly listened. I don’t think that people are any more dumb than they used to be. I think if anything people are generally smarter. I think one of the problems is that as there are more people and there is more technology and more bureaucracy, human beings become more dissociated with their environment. We’re given this oversize, clunky, labyrinthine system that we’re expected to fit into but we’re not given a manual to interpret it or the tools to tinker with it – not realistically; not in any manageable way. When a storm comes and knocks a big bough off of the oak tree in your yard and it wrecks your fence, you fix it by going out into your yard with tools and elbow grease. When you’re told that your country has to go to war to prevent destruction and that your quality of life has to suffer to avoid further disaster and so on – how do you fix that ?

The irony is that in recent times the people are much more in a position to control their own destiny than in previous eras of history, but now in the 21st Century we are waylaid by the barrage of impersonal, conflicting messages from an infinite amount of competing hucksters. We’re not interacting with voices, body language, and faces the way that the human being is designed to do, so we have no idea who or what we can trust, so we just shrug our shoulders and resign ourselves to hoping it will all work out while we enjoy our beer, hockey, video games and Star Trek.

Technology especially has made people languid. In the western world, most people’s connection with the things that are going on around them is through television. The ‘idiot box’ is actually a font of information, but it is a different format than a book or the internet. Generally information is available – but it is at best presented in tiny snippets that lack direction, focus and applicability. It is generally information that cannot be applied in any useful way.

The worst part about it is that very few people even think about it. They have had TV all their lives and it is, as Homer says: teacher; mother; secret lover. It manipulates. The entertainment and information available to you and me is pitched, designed, packaged, chopped up, polished (sexxed up), and presented, and we have the barest inkling how, or why, or by whom. The media constantly tells and shows us that there are many injustices in the world, but all it inspires us to improve is our griping skills, and of course to have nice hair, a nice lawn, a nice car and a better cell phone. It gives us plenty of options to drown our sorrows. It’s up to us to sober up for Monday morning.

It’s when people actually get together and talk that headway is made. I admire people who are interested in politics and I more admire people who are active in them. I myself don’t have the patience or the savvy to really dig my heels in. It’s enough of a challenge for me to figure out what the candidates stand for when an election comes up.

A List of Formal Grievances with Society

Pet peeves:

Not-ironic bastardization of language, to whit: ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ and hacker terminology – leetspeak or whatever it’s called.

Product packages that without close inspection seem to contain more product than they actually do, such as cream cheese containers with a concave bottom.

99% of advertisements, but especially ones that try to fraternize with me as if my weaknesses are kittens, babies, cool cars, or ‘slutty’ women.

Movies with stories that are not self-contained (Matrix 2, Kill Bill, and yes, on principle this includes Lord of the Rings – I would have preferred it released as one ten-hour movie with a bunch of intermissions. And think of it – it would be better for the cinema because they’d get more concession money).

All the usual – car horns, car alarms, cigarette smoke & smell, spam, and hockey season.

Scare Tactics

Function: adjective
Definition: frightening
Synonyms: alarming, bloodcurdling, chilling, creepy, hair-raising, hairy, horrendous, horrifying, intimidating, shocking, spine-chilling, spooky, terrifying, unnerving

Let’s agree on some ground terms as there are different types of horror films. I’ve split into four categories the techniques (tactics, if you prefer) commonly used in, and often defining, horror films.

The Gross-Factor: they pull out all the intestines and eye slashing stops; most zombie films I’ve seen rely on the gross-factor to get by.

The Creep-Factor: Ringu, Jacob’s Ladder and even Donnie Darko are great examples.

The Suspense Factor: this is my favourite – think of the part in Alien when Dallas was crawling through the ducts with a flame-thrower. Terminator, Jaws & The Shining had lots of it.

The “BOO!” factor: this is the one where your senses are assaulted by sudden flashes of visuals and audio – it’s all I remember about Event Horizon and it’s the cheapest kind of horror.

Now let’s look at a few really good horror films.

Alien. This came out when I was 9. I don’t remember when I saw it. Very little gross-factor, as far as I’m concerned. There’s the chest bursting scene and apart from a few short scenes of blood, that’s it. They’re all well done and I wouldn’t say they’re gratuitous. Oh, I guess the scene where Ash goes nuts is kind of gross, but still, I’m sticking with my low GF rating.

The Ring. High on the Creepy Factor. Disturbing and unsettling. I don’t remember any GF but there was definitely some Suspense Factor. If I recall correctly the BOO Factor was minimal to nonexistent.

King Kong (’76). I saw this when I was quite young, and it had an impact on me. Fighting with that snake had some GF but to me the most horrifying will always be the part when Kong was spinning that log to make the people fall down into the chasm. That was probably a bit too intense for me at my tender young age, so that’s stuck with me.

The Shining. Lots of creepiness, lots of suspense. No Gross-Factor to speak of. A real class-act.

John Carpenter’s The Thing. There was a fair amount of Gross-Factor in this – but it was divided between the blood ‘n’ gore kind of gross and the horrific-looking-slimy-shapechanging-alien kind of gross. Mostly it was suspense, with a touch of creepiness and a tiny smidgeon of BOO-factor at the end.

The Blair Witch Project. No Gore-Factor, no BOO-Factor. All SF and CF. I saw this in the theater and it actually had me shivering, but that could have been because the air-conditioning was up way too high. Also it played upon my fears of being in the woods at night (which comes down to bears, actually).

The Exorcist. Demon vomit definitely qualifies as gross, but I would say the main technique here is the Creepy-Factor.

Yvonne asked me if there were any movies that scared me. Well, if we’re talking about jumping in your seat because the scene went from quiet and serene to violently loud, then yes, Punch Drunk Love scared me when the semi came out of nowhere.

However, if you’re talking about a movie that leaves you with nightmares and noctiphobia, then the only movie that’s truly given me the heebie-jeebies in my adult life would have to be The Blair Witch Project. But they have yet to make a movie that is so scary that I wouldn’t watch it alone.