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

Gatto’s lesson six: Provisional self esteem

This lesson, provisional self-esteem, is probably my favourite. Gatto (1992, p. 9) states:

If you’ve ever tried to wrestle into line kids whose parents have convinced them to believe they’ll be loved in spite of anything, you know how impossible it is to make self-confident spirits conform. Our world wouldn’t survive a flood of confident people very long, so I teach that a kid’s self-respect should depend on expert opinion. My kids are constantly evaluated and judged.

The tools used, according to Gatto (1992) include report cards, judgements and evaluations. These tools

elicit approval, or mark exactly, down to a single percentage point, how dissatisfied with the child a parent should be … the cumulative weight of these objective seeming documents establishes a profile that compels children to arrive at certain decisions about themselves and their futures based on the casual judgement of others.

(Gatto, 1991, p. 10).

In one of his many works that examine the problems with education, and the need for children to be critically literate about everything, including the casual judgement of others Postman & Weingartner (1969) also argue against this provisional self-esteem established by the education system. Rather than add to the world, or learn much about it, students are required:

mostly, [to] sit and listen to the teacher. Mostly, they are required to believe in authorities, or at last pretend to such belief when they take tests … It is practically unheard of for students to play any role in determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of inquiry ought to be used. Examine the types of questions teachers ask in classrooms, and you will find that most of than are what might technically be called ‘convergent questions’, but which might more simply be called ‘Guess what I’m thinking’ questions.

If this is one of the goals people want schools to achieve, then we are doing very well. But, if we want children who can think, independently, creatively and furtively, then I’m afraid this is not really going to work towards that goal.

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