Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Gatto’s lesson three: Indifference

In the previous posts, I’ve been outlining Gatto’s seven lessons of school. In this post, I want to explore the links between theory and the third lesson, that if indifference.

Gatto (1992) argues that schools teach you to hide indifference behind a thin veneer of caring. He states that, schools ask you to be totally engrossed and enthused in a lesson so that you can’t imagine being anywhere else, until the bell rings. Then, you are to drop everything and leave.

Indeed, the lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why are too deeply about anything? … Bells destroy the past and future, rendering every interval the same as any other, as the abstraction of the map renders every living mountain and river the same even though they are not.

(Gatto, 1992, p. 6)

The bell is part of the regulative discourse of a school. Bernstein (cf. 2000) argued that the regulative discourse of a school, which he argues is dominant in schools.

it is the moral discourse that creates the criteria which give rise to character, manner, conduct, posture etc. In school, it tells the children what to do, where they can go and so on. It is quite clear that regulative discourse creates the rules of the social order.

(Bernstein, 2000, p. 34)

Schools’ require children to know how to behave appropriately, including when and where they should care. The regulative discourse of bells also tell students when and where they should care about certain things. For example, it would be ridiculous to do Physics in an English class. The bell tells you that it’s time to stop thinking about Physics now and it’s time to do English, or History or Art or lunch or going home or whatever time it is. Kids learn not to bother to do Physics outside of physics class because the knowledge they’ve gained in Physics has no currency in another class.


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