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

Gatto’s lesson five: Intellectual dependency

Gatto (1992, p. 7) states that, unlike good learners, good students “wait for a teacher to tell them what to do”. He states that

This is the most important lesson of them all: we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meaning of our lives. The expert makes all the important choices

(Gatto, 1992, p. 7)

Thus, students have to learn that they have little say in the classroom and that the important work is all done by teachers who determine what counts as knowledge. The knowledge that is transmitted is the knowledge of the ways of the world (cf. Bourdieu, 1977). He termed this doxa, which was used to denote truths and social orthodoxy which students are expected to understand as natural and legitimate (cf. Bourdieu, 1977). He called this misrecognition because the arbitrary nature of the knowledge promoted by the teacher, and valued by them, is not recognised as made up, as arbitrary and as a social division rather than a truth. However, this is not an individual’s accident, rather it is a systemic, strategic concept. Bourdieu (1977) uses gift giving to demonstrate this, he states that:

What is called the sense of honour is nothing other than the cultivated disposition, inscribed in the body schema and in the schemes of thought, which enables each agent to engender all the practices consistent with the logic of challenge and riposte, and only such practices, by means of countless inventions, which the stereotyped unfolding of a ritual would in no way demand

(Bourdieu, 1977, p. 15)

We defer to teachers’ authority, simply because we learn that is the order of things. We do not question, nor do we ever think to question, what it is that teachers know and do because they are experts. They tell us what is meaningful and how we must behave in deference to that meaningfulness.


4 Responses to “Gatto’s lesson five: Intellectual dependency”

      • thehomeschoolmomblog

        I think it leaves a lot unanswered. Who is the expert? Who gets to decide that their opinion is correct; after all, didn’t someone have to teach them too? What is the meaning in our lives and how can someone decide that for us, being fallible themselves?
        I suppose I would word it differently… I believe we should increase in knowledge from those who have more experience, but that our life’s direction should come from no one but God. It is He and He alone who has the right and the ability to direct our lives.
        I would also argue against his point on honor. I think it goes far beyond his mechanical explanation.

      • Rebecca English

        Indeed. It’s more of a secular approach. I think he’s questioning the ‘expertise’ of the ‘experts’. To illustrate, I think we hold a syllabus up as some kind of divinely inspired text and that’s problematic as deeply flawed, highly opinionated individuals (like me as I’ve been on a syllabus writing committee) write them.

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