Category Archives: John Taylor Gatto

PyCon speech text version: Real life learning and design of Knowledge Engine

We have been calling for the coming of Knowledge Based Economy for years. But in my view, Knowledge Based Economy hasn’t really come yet. Among many reasons, one key reason is that we need a technology breakthrough here. The current way knowledge is represented, such as books, blogs, wikis, or other knowledge management systems, are all fundamentally document-based. With document-based representation of knowledge, it is hard to achieve continuous learning and knowledge management.

In the industrialization age, we invented engine to transform energy from gas into mechanical power, thus we can build airplanes, boats, cars or other products of the industrial age. In the Knowledge Based Economy age, we also need an engine, which I call Knowledge Engine, to transform people’s daily experiences and gathered important infos into well-structured knowledge, so we can build various products in the Knowledge Based Economy age, to help us better learn or do project management.

Talking about learning, the current mainstream learning is school learning. School learning is isolated from real life. One isolation is its learning “content”. The textbook in school is too outdated and cannot meet the rich needs of real life, which is in various aspects and on various levels. With Knowledge Engine, however, everyone becomes a knowledge explorer, and knowledge can be shared more timely. We will have more varieties of knowledge to be shared and they will be shared on a much more massive scale. Sharing by book publishing, blogs and so on is still too slow for knowledge propagation. Knowledge Engine will greatly lower the threshold of knowledge sharing. Through learning in a domain, the learner can accumulate his experiences in various aspects of this domain, important infos or facts, together with rich learning materials. He can work on his collections, form a good structure of knowledge and share with others while he is making progress in his learning. Actually, this is what we do in our real life learning. When we ask someone for his learning experiences in a domain, usually the knowledge sharer will list 1,2,3,4,5… key points quickly and give a brief explanation for each. In Knowledge Engine, we want to make that summarizing work happening on the go and can be done very quickly.

The second isolation of school learning from real life is that people who teach in the school have no learning experiences and thus true knowledge of the domain that they are teaching. With Knowledge Engine, however, learners collect and form a good structure of knowledge while they are learning and doing knowledge exploration. When the accumulation of knowledge is rich, complete and mature enough, the learner can try teaching it as a subject. So this way, excellent professionals in all walks can start teaching in their spare time, and become a high quality of resource of teachers. This will change the profession of teaching. Furthermore, students’ learning states can be well reflected by the Knowledge Engine, so the teachers can offer very effective instructions to the students. The teachers can build knowledge frames very timely according to the students’ learning needs.

The school learning mostly fills students with dry knowledge. People staying in school for more than 10 or 20 years still haven’t learned how to learn. With Knowledge Engine, however, the future learning will be chiefly learning by oneself. The teachers (or the early learners) have built up knowledge with good structure and accumulated rich learning material(books, blogs, videos, examples, projects, questions, and so on) through their own learning. So the students (or the future learners) can use these as their rich learning resources. With a good overview of all the knowledge to learn and with rich learning resources, the learner can decide for himself how to learn in the fastest and best way, as Knowledge Engine also helps the learner knows clearly his current knowledge structure. The essence of learning is self-learning. In the future, learners will learn mostly by themselves or through peer learning. The teacher only gives guidance to help learners learn, besides providing a good knowledge structure and learning materials.

Because of school, people have very misled concepts of learning and knowledge. But through Knowledge Engine, people will get to know quickly what is learning and what is knowledge. Only by editing operations and through some predefined workflows, the learners can learn quickly how to learn effectively. I think this is where the power of software is.

Last but not the least, students’ knowledge is visible in their exploration of knowledge. Also when they build up open space knowledge with their teachers together, they are participating in very meaningful social works, and their contribution is visible to the public. These will be an important part of their portfolios. (Just like what happened in open source software) Future employers will use these to pick competent candidates instead of relying too much on test scores, which can not really evaluate how much the person really understand the knowledge. Furthermore, through Knowledge Engine, the learner’s capability to learn and to explore knowledge can be demonstrated. Especially if the learner is able to open a course and teach others what he has learned, it certainly reflects that he has mastered the knowledge pretty well.

So the real life learning is not very difficult. We don’t need to be locked away from real life for more than 10 or 20 years to learn. Life is the primary. Learning is only secondary. Learning is to make out life better, instead of replacing it. Otherwise, there would be no learning, just like our current schools.

I hope the work of Knowledge Engine, can help make real life learning the mainstream learning of the future, and really start the Knowledge Based Economy.

This is a conference of Python. Starting from 2002, Python has been my favorite programming language. But I only got chances to write Python scrips for years. Finally in my job, my boss allowed me to prototype in Python, but required me to translating into Java after each iteration. That was a very painful experience. Finally in the research work on Knowledge Engine, I am able to do this exploratory work with Python. When Guido was designing Python, there was a clear goal in his mind: to make everyone being able to program, to express their ideas through programming and to do exploratory works. I cannot imagine how I can do the mast work on Knowledge Engine without Python. It would be hard to imagine with Java. So this is the first huge contribution that Python makes to this project.

The second comes from the idea of Pythonic. For me, it can be simplified as Principle of Playing. The design of Python has greatly inspired me in software design and my understanding of learning. This is the second huge contribution of Python to this project.

This experimental work of Knowledge Engine has passed two stages of experimentation. The first stage is me using the software to help myself learn, to see if it can be really helpful for my own learning. It turns out an incredible tool for my daily learning, and I need to use it daily for my learning. The second stage of experiment is to have a few other people use it to see if it can help other people as well. The result of this has been quite satisfactory to me. People who have no skills of reflection earlier can learn how to reflect quickly and thus open up the space of real life learning. The result proved my hypothesis when starting this project, and made me more confident on this project. Now I want to expand the experiment to a broader group of people, but still focus on people who already are strong self-learners, and are already using various internet tools for their learning. I hope to explore and find a mature practice of learning with this Knowledge Engine. Thus we can demonstrate to the world the possibilities and the power of real life learning.

For projects similar to this internationally, I found the following: wisdomclouds. The founder of wisdomclouds shares similar or exactly the same understanding of this kind of things. He didn’t use the word Knowledge Engine. But he used this phrase “All problems, one solution”. His software is used for project management only.

Trello, Joel claims that it will be able to manage all human consciousness. This means he already sees the potential of this kind of things. Trello is also used for project management currently.

Bagtheweb, is mainly for content curation.

This is a quite new field. I hope more people can join the work.

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John Taylor Gatto’s videos on YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ogCc8ObiwQ

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=John+Taylor+Gatto+&search=Search

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Some minor disagreement with Mr. Gatto

Mr. Gatto’s books are indeed very profound. I learned tremendously from his books. Here is just some minor disagreement I have with him. Some of them, if not corrected, can be very misleading. Since I recommend everyone to read Mr. Gatto’s books, I certainly also need to point out these flaws.

Below are just some notes I made along my reading. I probably should work on my writing a little bit. (TODO)

1. About western spirituality and religion, also his misunderstanding of Dalai Lama. (http://johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/14h.htm):

After rereading these paragraphs, it seems that Gatto endorses christianity a little more than Buddhism in a very subtle way based on Dalai Lama’s talk about happiness. Gatto misunderstood a little what Dalai Lama was trying to address. Dalai Lama certainly didn’t mean that Buddhism is a utility to gain happiness. I would guess Dalai Lama will also say that happiness and suffering are the same thing under another condition. Furthermore, spirituality doesn’t have to come from religion. Religion is still an outside object imposed externally.

Another page: http://johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/14j.htm

Certainly Mr. Gatto misunderstands Buddhism. Thus he endorses the western spirituality.

Although hardship is needed, it is stupid to seek for hardship in life. A person with free will is of course seeking happiness. In that process, s/he is willing to endure any pain because s/he can only grow after that. As Roshi said, plus always starts first, and the minus will follow immediately.

As Gatto talked about the need of suffering in order to achieve good, full life, inner peace, isn’t that to seek happiness? So first of all, self arises. Plus arise. The free will is to seek happiness. But in the process of seeking happiness, you have to go through endurance of suffering. To endure the suffering is the minus. Plus and Minus cancel out each other. Thus emptiness.

This is another paragraph on the same page of Mr. Gatto’s book: “I heard second hand, recently, about a woman who said to her mother about an affair she was conducting openly, despite the protest of her husband and in full knowledge of her six-year-old daughter, “It’s no big deal.” That’s what she said to her mother. But if infidelity, divorce, and the shattering of innocence in a child isn’t a big deal, then what could ever be? By intensifying our moral sense, we constantly feel the exhilaration of being alive in a universe where everything is a big deal.”

Mr. Gatto doesn’t have to fall back on moral (e.g. the concept of good and evil). Just be fully aware of your existence, and be fully aware of other individuals’ existence. That is the essence of individualism.

Also Mr. Gatto doesn’t have to fall back on religion just because the current science is not complete.

Again, Gatto doesn’t have to think everything in the western spirituality is right, although western spirituality should be the place he starts.

Furthermore, western spirituality is very different before and after Christianity. Gatto shouldn’t mix the Greek traditions with the Christianity religious tradition.

“I have the greatest respect for every other religious tradition in the world, but not one of them has ever done this or attempted to do this. Western religion correctly identified problems no one can escape, problems for which there are no material solutions, problems you can’t elude with money, intellect, charm, politics, or powerful connections.”

Well, that is why Buddha left his palace and all the money, women, power, politics… and went through very tough training (the traditional meditation in ancient India is very hard. Practitioners ate only two or three grains of rice for days.) He finally put down everything, including all the intellect means, sat down under a tree for 7 days until his enlightenment. In his sutra, he said you should not be attached to any form of thoughts or material means. Buddha started his practice because he saw problems that no one could escape, for example death. Thus he was determined to put everything down, to go through any kind of suffering to look for the answer. So this is certainly not just a western religion thing.

“But none of those things has any particular meaning until you see what they lead up to, finally being in full command of the spectacular gift of free will: a force completely beyond the power of science to understand.”

Well, not the current science.

The above, if not corrected, can be very misleading. For a great book like this, this flaw should be pointed out.

2. About Chinese part: the case of Dewy’s influence on Mao; the case of Chinese simplified characters.

About John Dewey, his student Hu Shi, and Mao, it is a complicated story. I am not sure John Dewey has direct influence on Mao. Probably they were just influenced by the same popular thinking around that time.

“Turkish experimentation is echoed today in mainland China where a fifth of the population of the planet is cut off from the long past of Chinese literature and philosophy, one of the very few significant bodies of thought on the human record. The method being used is a radical simplification of the characters of the language which will have, in the fullness of time, the same effect as burning books, putting them effectively out of reach. Lord Lindsay of Birker, a professor at Yenching University outside Beijing where I recently went to see for myself the effects of Westernization on the young Chinese elite, says the generation educated entirely in simplified characters will have difficulty reading anything published in China before the late 1950s.”

From what I know, the simplified Chinese was adopted by the CP for the purpose of improving people’s literacy (sure, I might be wrong. But I feel this is probably true.). Before that, simplified Chinese had been used widely as a convenient way in communication and efforts to start using simplified Chinese was started by the other party before CP took power. I am not sure if the other purpose claimed by Gatto existed. I am not sure I can read all ancient classical Chinese literature. But I have no problem in reading the traditional Chinese from Hongkong and Taiwan. And I know many of my friends in mainland China have no problem in reading traditional Chinese. It is very easy to guess the traditional Chinese characters since they are like pictures of the meaning. The opposite is not true. It is more difficult for people growing up with traditional Chinese to guess simplified Chinese. But many of my friends are able to do that after some efforts.

This, if a mistake, is a quite minor one. Westerners often make very basic mistakes about China. I watched a program on the History channel about Chinese Great Wall. It talked about the first emperor of China building the Great Wall. Then the program showed some pictures of the first Chinese emperor, Qin. And it also showed pictures of Chinese during that time. The pictures shocked me! The emperor Qin and those Chinese shown all have the pig tails. That is not what Chinese 2000 years ago look like. That is only what Chinese in the last dynasty (the Dynasty Qing, which sounds like Qin but is totally a different Chinese character. Dynasty Qing started 1640. So history experts in the history channel made a laughable mistake.) looks like. The pig tail was forced upon Chinese Han people by the invading Manchurian. I was surprised that a channel like the History channel will make such a mistake. Why didn’t they just ask any Chinese to review the program before they air it? Any Chinese can spot this mistake immediately. I don’t know how much I can trust the History channel on history of the east anymore.

This is just a minor mistake. Although dumbing its people down has been carried out by every dynasty in Chinese history through various means, simplifying Chinese is probably not one of them. However, I don’t know if most Chinese in mainland won’t have problem reading traditional Chinese (I do feel that most of Chinese, capable of reading simplified Chinese, shouldn’t have any problem reading traditional Chinese). Ancient Chinese too many years (such as 2000 years ago, before China was united, each small country have many different ways of writing the same character. It is emperor Qin (the one who united China) that united Chinese characters. That makes a big difference between Qin and Alexander, and thus the future geopolitics in China and in Europe. But that is another story.) I might be wrong on this.

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Where I grew up–a tribute to Gatto (1)

Mr. Gatto reflected on his childhood days in the coal mining town Monongahela. Everyone has to belong to a place. To find back the lost self, you have to go back to where you grew up.

Belonging to a place is like adding another dimension to your life, which greatly enriches your spirit. It fills meaning into everything and automatically offsets negative things in your life.

Mr. Gatto did his. I am going to do mine. I am going to recall where I grew up.

Where I grew up is a very beautiful place. If you have a big enough tourist guide for China, you should be able to find it. But when I was a child, it was not developed yet, and thus was very quiet and provided a lot of fun for my childhood.

There is a very beautiful river just behind my home. It goes through several different personalities along its short 2000 meters route through that area.

In the upper section is a big reservoir. The water is very deep (about 3 meters) and quiet, with very high cliff along one side and beautiful mountains on the other side. It is kind of a challenge for kids to swim there.

As the river flow out of the reservoir, it rushes down stairs, roaring very loudly. We used to sit on the stairs, trying not to be taken away by the river and at the same time roaring together with the river.

Immediately after the reservoir, the river comes to a bed full of rocks (I guess the rocks are left from building the dam). The river is very shallow, just flowing slowly across those small rocks. There are big meadows in the river. There are usually cows herded on the meadow. Sometimes we can see one or two beautiful white horses.. This is a very good place for catching fishes. My big brother is very good at catching fishes with hands. He just walked slowly upstream, putting his hands shaped like a bowl in the river. When he slides his hands under the fish (because he walked upstream, he didn’t disturb the water. So the fish wasn’t even aware of being swimming in his hand.) He then quickly took the fish out of water. We then will have delicious fish soup which we cooked on the meadow, together with some crabs and vegetables. My younger brother and me never learned to catch the fish with bare hands. But we can get the crabs. Sometimes crabs can be hard to get when you go after them in a fissure along the bank of the river. The fissure is usually very narrow, about one finger wide. You have to put your fingers in and use them as a kind of bait. The crab will then claw your finger. Then you endure the pain, pull the crab out of the fissure a little, and put your other fingers on the back of the crab and get your suffering bait finger released.

As the river flows down, it comes to a very beautiful section. This is where we usually swim. There is sand beach on one side of the bank. On the other side of the river is a slope cliff, covered with branches. There is a big cave on top of that, and the cold water flow down the cave. Thus we have a beautiful waterfall. The water under the waterfall is very cold. We used to have contests to see who can stay in that colder water longer. There is also a very small (5 meters in diameter) island right in the middle of the river. It stands out like a stage. We used it as a jumping platform, from which we jumped into the river with different postures.

Sometimes, we laid down on a rubber wheel and flow down the river for about 1000 meters. Then we come to a section where people usually fish there. The water is flowing faster there, with a lot of rocks harboring home for fishes.

Then the river becomes very wide, with many big meadows in between. Flocks of cows are herded on the meadows. This is a focal point of that area. With a very big mountain called Belly Mountain looking over the whole area. On the other side is a big forest. An ancient temple sits in front of the forest along the river. We often run over to the bridge to do morning exercise, and watch the sunrise. The subset there is very beautiful. I never saw the same beautiful subset anywhere else after I grow up. I guess it is because our sky is very low (we are on high mountains) and it is often cloudy. At the subset, we see half the sky filled with different colors and shapes of clouds. We were always fascinated by that.

There is a big grass field. People used to play soccer there. When we were kids, we liked to catch grasshoppers and dragonflies. Dragonfly is my favorite insect. There are many different kinds of dragonflies. We usually just catch those fly low on the grass and usually like to stop a while on the grass leaves. The yellow and red dragonflies (we call yellow pepper and red pepper) fly very high in the sky and they are very fast. Thus it is very difficult to catch them. It will be a thrill if you ever caught a yellow or red dragonfly. Yellow dragonflies usually fly in large groups. Red dragonflies, however, fly individually.

Along the river, the dragonflies are different. There are those very big ones with very big green eyes. They are very beautiful. It is a big reward if you spotted and caught that kind of dragonfly. There also another kind of dragonfly along the river. They are very thin, small, in black and green. They usually fly very low and thus easy to catch. You might be able to catch them just in the air.

The spring time is our time to fly kites in the grass field. We usually buy a lot of threads and fly the kites very far away until it is just a very tiny point (smaller than the rice grain) in the distant sky. We can send telegraph to the sky (by putting a small piece of paper on the thread). We line up and lay down on the grass, watching our kites flying high in the sky with the white clouds. We can just lay down watching our kites for a long time. It is one of the most enjoyable things in my childhood. Even now I still have a habit of looking at the sky. I don’t know if it is because of that.

There are a lot of mountains in our area. We used to go hiking a lot in the summer. It is always a kind of adventure since we always choose places we haven’t been to and we usually took a full day and go very far. We once set out to look for the source of a small stream. Along the way, we went through many different places. Growing up in the mountains, in my later life I found the plain can be so boring since there is no change and no surprise. I think it is when I was 15 years old I decided to go hiking just by myself. I went very far into the high mountains. It is an experience of myself and challenging myself. As Mr. Gatto said, people need large dose of solitude to develop themselves. Of course, people also need a lot of interaction with other people to be a complete human being. You need both solitude and interaction to be complete. Life is indeed very interesting. After I came back from my adventure, people were surprised that I did that just by myself. Other kids were inspired and wanted to do that themselves.

It is a great experience to climb to the top of the mountains. I always enjoy the view from the top of a high mountain.

My parents work in a scientific institution. People there came from all parts of the country. We have our own school. So people in the school know each other very well. It is like a small community. Although there were still a lot of things that don’t make sense to me in the school, generally the teachers were caring and students are good friends. Our schoolwork is not ridiculous heavy as other parts of the country. Basically we can get the homework done in the afternoon. Then we play until 8pm or 9pm (in the summer) when it turns dark. When in primary school, we always had a lot of kids playing together. We played all kinds of games. We had a lot of fun together.

In the school, there are a lot of sports or arts activities. A lot of parents in the institution are very talented. Thus we had a chance to be exposed to different things. The institution had a very strong soccer team that my brothers and I benefited a lot from. My younger brother is especially very talented in soccer.

In the summer nights, adults always liked to gather under a tree, chatting or playing pokers. So although my parents generally don’t talk much of their stories, I still had the chance to listen to other adults’ stories. Of course, that was before TV taking control of most families’ night time.

(to be continued)

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Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto

Dumbing Us Down

Thinking after reading Dumbing us down.

No one can do a good job on education without reading Mr. Gatto’s books. Reading his book, you will have a feeling that education is the root of nearly all problems of our society. The education is to understand other social issues on a very deep level.

Brief recap of central points of his book:

  • the cost of learning is very low, almost free
  • genius is very common among us, everyone can be genius
  • without community life, one cannot be a full human being
  • family life is important in teaching love
  • local vs. global: any local community, if there is no external artificial disturbance, can be self-correcting, can grow,
  • you cannot love people you don’t know, act locally
  • community life is a connection between past, present, and future. Schooling, however, destroys the natural process
  • no one right way
  • what lessons children have to go through to be a fully human being
  • solitude is an important lesson, it gives the space and time necessary to develop the self
  • human being is not machine. Human beings are self-initiative and self-complete, while machine just follows command.
  • big dose of time is needed in learning

Very beautifully written book.

(To be continued…)

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Community VS. Network

Thinking after reading http://www.spinninglobe.net/lesschool.htm

Reading John Taylor Gatto’s speech “WE NEED LESS SCHOOL, NOT MORE”, it is a different feeling from reading his other essays in the past. When reading those essays, my reaction was usually: yes, right, I agree. But reading this essay, my response is: seriously, I need to think about this.

It is very good to be able to find a book that can challenge my assumptions, so I have to rely on my experience to rethink the whole thing and reshuffle the whole thinking.
From this speech, we can also see that education (a much better word is learning) is the deep root of our society. A thorough understanding of it will help us understand many other issues.

You should read Gatto’s speech. It is very well-written. And I am sure everyone will be provoked with a lot of different thinking. Here I just provide some comments I wrote along my way of reading, so you have a quick glimpse of his ideas. Original text from Mr. Gatto will be quoted. Comments will be in red and Italitc.

People who admire our school institution usually admire networking in general and have an easy time seeing its positive side, but they overlook its negative aspect – that networks, even good ones, take the vitality from communities and families. They make solutions to human problems mechanical, “by the numbers”, when a slow, organic process of self-awareness, self-discovery, and cooperation is what is required if any solution is to stick.”


Aristotle saw, a long time ago, that fully participating in a complex range of human affairs was the only way to become fully human; in that he differed from Plato.
network schools steal the vitality of communities and replace it with an ugly piece of mechanism.”

It is a fact generally ignored when considering the communal nature of institutional families like schools, large corporations, colleges, armies, hospitals and government agencies that they are not real communities at all, but networks. Unlike communities, networks – as I reminded you – have a very narrow way of allowing people to associate,

Another instance might clarify this. Networks of urban reformers will convene to consider the problems of homeless vagrants, but a community will think of its vagrants as real people, not abstractions. “Ron,” “Dave” or “Marty” – a community will call its bums by their names. It makes a difference. People interact on thousands of invisible pathways in a community and the emotional payoff is correspondingly rich and complex. But networks can only manage a cartoon simulation of community and a very limited payoff.

One thing I do know, most of us who’ve had a taste of loving families, even a little taste, want our kids to be part of one. One other thing I know is that eventually you have to come to be part of a place, part of its hills and streets and waters and people – or you will live a very, very sorry life as an exile forever. Discovering meaning for yourself, and discovering satisfying purpose for yourself is a big part of what education is. How this can be done by locking children away from the world is beyond me.”
Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values that will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves wherever he is, whoever he is with, whatever he is doing; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.
This reminds me of my 5 years of undergraduate college life. My roommates and me, 8 people, lived together in a very small school dorm for 5 years. We didn’t have a choice who we wanted to be roommates. The school had arrangement of nearly everything of our lives. So we were just put together by the school. Of course, there were a lot of conflicts between us through those 5 years (but much better than the girls, who seemed constantly in a war time). But we live very closely. Most of us come from very far away, 1000 miles or 2000 miles away. Only during the winter or summer holidays, could we be separate. Furthermore, different from American universities, in Chinese university, there is a very clear concept of Class (Class as in Classroom, instead of Social Class). So for our grade year, we, around 50 students in this major, were split into 2 classes. We took around 90% of our courses together. There is a teacher from the department serving as class dean of us. Such kind of class is of course for easy social control. So we function as a unit of the school, which function as a unit of society. In a summary, we live very closely and have to interact with each other in numerous ways through out our daily lives for 5 years. Every night, after the dorm turned off the electricity and we had to go to bed, and before we fell asleep, we discussed many many things. When we got familiar with each other, there were nothing we didn’t discuss. A lot of topics, of course, were about females. So I guess this is what Mr. Gatto calls Community. I always felt bad that we didn’t have the freedom to choose who we wanted to be roommate with. And throughout of my college life, I always tried to socialize/network with students from other majors or other schools, to expand the scope my human contacts. I felt school deliberately arranged so, thus dumbing us down. After 5 years living together, however, we developed a very deep mutual understanding and tolerance towards each other. We know each other way too well. I learned to have fun there, and always tried my best to improve the situation at every moment. I learned that I could not change a person. It is better to tolerate and have fun together. Indeed, each person is so unique, having a unique character. We had a lot of fun in our last year in school.

So I learned friendship in my undergraduate. I learned to treat strangers like my old friends. I also learned about love during that time. She is very pretty. The first sight of her shocked me very much: she is so otherworldly. More importantly her personality is flowing very freely. Later I learned that she has a very caring and happy father. She learned about love in her family. Thus all the beautiful things she does come out so naturally.

My teacher said that for plus and minus to unite, reasoning is needed for them to gain permission to enter each other. Reasoning is natural. During my undergraduate years, I learned to tell myself to be rational because only by being rational can I grow. My teacher also said that there is a natural way to achieve unity of plus and minus, which is through love. I guess through my roommates and her, I learned of love. At that time, I felt so free. A yawn after a nap, can be so free, feeling like home, a home I have never been to. When she asked me what kind of boy is a good boy. I said that a good boy shouldn’t just love her or girls, he should also love other people and the world. I loved wherever I was, whoever I was with (I learned this specifically from her), whatever I was doing. I finally know to stop reasoning, and to feel, to feel strongly and deeply. Without that, all reasoning is castle on the sand, without a strong base. Most often, I know what to do directly by feeling, not by reasoning. Finally I don’t need to think all the time anymore.
To Mr. Gatto, community and family are very vital parts of life that make an individual fully human.

A bigger community is the culture, the country I live in. Through all the learning about this culture and its history, I became more and more a part of that big community. Knowing their suffering and fights generation after generation, I cannot be free. I have to care about many things, and I have to do many things. At the same time, getting nutrition from the culture everyday and contributing back are of great fun.
When I came to US, what I felt was that a big burden was lifted off my shoulder. Finally I didn’t need to care about all those things I had been caring so much. It is kind of feeling free. But I am hardly a human being anymore. All left in my memory was abstraction. The concrete detailed local experiences were all left in China. I had to integrate my life into this history here in US to be a human being again. It was not easy. Even though I came to abstract conclusion through my own concrete experience, when that concrete experience was stripped away (for example, when living in a foreign culture), the abstraction was also in a dangerous position. I took a wrong self as my true self. So as you see, even my own conclusion, when separated from local specific experience, cannot stay. If so, how can anyone teaches abstraction? However, so many people in this world only teaches abstraction, trying to tell you how you should live your life.

Right now I live in Harlem. This is a very dirty place. Garbage everywhere. You can even see human shit on the street. In the subway station, you can see many metro cards thrown on the track. I just couldn’t understand why they threw the cards on the tracks since the trash cans were just nearby. I guess it is just bad habits. Having stayed in the mid-west, especially in a beautiful campus and small down for a long time, Harlem was really a horrible sight for me. Although it remotely reminded me scenes in China, I think the sights here are still much worse. So everyday, I just don’t want to look at those things. It basically shuts my mind off. When walking in my old campus or the downtown, I liked whatever I saw. The beautiful scenery and street stores stimulated my mind, evoking feelings and imaginations. As a software developer, I need those images to stimulate my creative mind. My imagination basically stopped after moving to Harlem. I felt horrible. So my mindset everyday is that I don’t belong here. I just live here for convenience. I am not part of all these things. That creates a separation. To put it in a way, I am not feeling at home. Mr. Gatto’s article about community reminds me my exact feelings when in China before I went abroad. I realize that I need to love whoever I am with. I am here, this is my community. So if this place is dirty, I am part of the problem. It is not just “their” problem. It is also my problem. I am part of it. Thinking that it is their problem and I am not part of it creates separation. I need to feel at home here. No matter how unpleasant things are, living in a community means to accept them. If I don’t like it, I bear the responsibility to improve it. Realizing this, it feels like there is a structure change in my brain. Suddenly things are all different.


No matter where I am, love the place and be part of it. Don’t complain. If not satisfied, try to make it better.

I already knew this when in China. But somehow I have to find it again here in US. Maybe it is a good thing.

An important difference between communities and institutions is that communities have natural limits, they stop growing or they die. There’s a good reason for that: in the best communities everyone is a special person who sooner or later impinges on everyone else’s consciousness. The effects of this constant attention makes all, rich or poor, feel important because the only way importance is perceived is by having other folks pay attention to you. You can buy attention, of course, but it’s not the same thing. Pseudo-community life, where you live around others without noticing them, and where you are constantly being menaced in some way by strangers you find offensive, is exactly the opposite. In pseudo-community life you are anonymous for the most part, and you want to be because of various dangers other people may represent if they notice your existence.

A pseudo-community is just a different kind of network – its friendships and loyalties are transient, its problems are universally considered to be someone else’s problems (someone else who should be paid to solve them);”

that until 30 odd years ago you could escape mass-schooling after school, hut that now it is much harder to escape because another form of mass schooling – television – has spread all over the place to blot up any time spared by School.
I still remember my TV free time. In the summer, we, kids and adults, gathered under light bulbs. Insects were making loud sounds. Adults were telling all kinds of stories and life experiences. Such kind of life is no more after TV dominated every household’s night time. There is of course still some information you can get from TV. TV can be of good use or harmful depending on how you use it. But the information from TV is in no comparison to the information gain from real people, not mention that TV is often used as a propaganda tool.

Who can deny that networks can get some jobs done? They do. But they lack any ability to nourish their members emotionally.

At our best we human beings are much, much grander things than rational, at our best we transcend rationality while incorporating its procedures on the lower levels of functioning. That is why computers will never replace people, computers are condemned to be rational, hence very limited. Networks divide people, first from themselves and then from each other, on the grounds that this is the efficient way to perform a task. It may well be, but it is a lousy way to feel good about being alive.

I agree. But is corporation a network? If it is, how can we make corporation like a community while still keeping a free market?


Even associations as inherently harmless as bridge clubs, chess clubs, amateur acting groups or groups of social activists will, if they maintain a pretense of whole friendship, ultimately produce that odd sensation familiar to all city dwellers of being lonely in the middle of a crowd. Who has not felt this sensation who frequently networks? Having many networks does not add up to having a community, no matter how many you have or how often your telephone rings.

While I work with grassroots folks, I do feel belonging to a community. Maybe it is not just with grassroots people that make me feel belonging to a community. It might be because of my involvement in various aspects of local community that makes me feel belonging to a local community.

The pathological state which eventually develops out of these constant repetitions of thin human contact is a feeling that your “friends” and “colleagues” don’t really care about you beyond what you can do for them, that they have no curiosity about the way you manage your life, no curiosity about your hopes, fears, victories, defeats.
Might be largely true. But not totally true.

then a social machine has been constructed which, by attaching purpose and meaning to essentially meaningless and fantastic behavior, will certainly dehumanize the student, alienate him from his own human nature, and break the natural connection between him and his parents,
What else do you think the meaning is that only half our eligible citizens are registered to vote, and of that half, a bare 50 percent do vote? In two party jurisdictions a trifle over 1/8th of the citizenry is thus sufficient to elect public officials, assuming the vote splits 55-45.”

No matter how good the individuals are who manage an institution, institutions lack a conscience because they measure by accounting methods.

Unlike true communities, pseudo-communities and other comprehensive networks like schools expand indefinitely just as long as they can get away with it. “More” may not be “better” but more is always more profitable for the people who make a living out of networking. That is what is happening today behind the cry to expand schooling even further, a great many people are going to make a great deal of money if growth can be continued.

The quality-competition of businesses, when it happens, is generally a good thing for customers, it keeps everyone on his toes doing his best. The competition inside an institution like a school isn’t the same thing at all.

What’s gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is ONE RIGHT WAY to proceed with growing up.
What I dislike the most when living in the Chinese culture is that everyone is trying to tell you how to live your life. To them, there is only one right way to live the life. It is totally insane to me. I couldn’t understand why they think that way. To me, everyone is so different. Later I realize that way of thinking everyone should live the same kind of life is deeply rooted in the Confucius’ teaching. It is very suffocating to me. It kills individuality. In the Chinese culture, there is no boundary between individuals. Everyone wants to stick their nose into your business. Especially in a family environment, it is really a mess because it is carried out in the name of love. It is very hard to learn to be independent and self-reliant in the Chinese family. That is how come I like the western style, the way how the westerners handle family relations.

Living in traditional Chinese community can also be very suffocating since a very strict hierarchy is maintained. You have to respect/obey many man-made artificial rules. So that is why I like the modern society for its allowing individuals to opt out of a geographic based community and network with other people sharing the same interests. Individuals have to have this freedom. A local community can be totally evil, bloody, barbarian. One good thing of mass production is that such kind of communities will be exposed. Gatto mentioned this as well in his book Dumbing Us Down.

Although all of Mr. Gatto’s criticism of mass production is legitimate, I still think that mass production, viewed historically, is a big advancement in human history. It is a process where the plus starts first, but at the same time, the minus is initiated and gets bigger gradually. Maybe mass production should be guarded as a historic advancement. Since we, together as human being, don’t have much experience in this new development, we need to wait for a while. In other words, we have to stabilize our new learning for a while before we can move on. So we have to go through mass production for a while before we can address its problems. It is just like how a human being learns. So I would rather think this way: we human being discovered mass production, got too excited (maybe crazy) of the benefits it can reap, and after a while of experiencing with mass production we gradually realize all the problems with it, and thus started to address those problems, hopefully without totally denying the positive effects of mass production.

One of the surest ways to recognize education is that it doesn’t cost very much, it doesn’t depend on expensive toys or gadgets; the experiences that produce it and the self awareness that propels it are nearly free, in fact.

Well, this is a central point of Mr. Gatto perspectives on education: learning cost very little. Read Nine Assumptions of Schooling.


Sixty-five years ago Bertrand Russell, the greatest mathematician of this century, its greatest philosopher, and a close relation of the King of England to boot, saw that mass- schooling in the United States had a radically anti-democratic intent, that it was a scheme to artificially deliver national unity by eliminating human variation, and by eliminating the forge that produces variation: the Family.””Break up these institutional schools, decertify teaching, let anyone who has a mind to teach bid for customers, privatize this whole business – trust the free market system.”

Yes, Gatto calls for a free market based learning system

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Filed under Essay, John Taylor Gatto, Liberal Arts, unschooling, What is Learning