Here I talk about a story John Taylor Gatto tells about a little lesson he learned in 3rd grade, back in the 1930s. Not sure if my high school kids would get it. Here’s another approach:
You all are taking drawing, and this is a very good thing, but maybe not for the reasons you think. When you ask a little kid to draw Mommy, what the little kid does is draw a circle for the face, add a couple little circles for eyes, a red curve for smiling lips, and some squiggles for hair.
The kid is happy and satisfied. Mommy sees the drawing, is informed that it’s her, and is also happy.
So it is a picture of mommy. But what did the little kid actually draw? The mommy in front of him? Or rather, his idea of his mommy?
All of you, taking drawing lessons now, and no longer little kids, would not draw mommy this. No, you’ve learned not to simply draw your idea of your mom, but rather to look carefully at you mom (or whatever you are drawing).
Rather than simply drawing something you ‘know’ inside, you want to look at the world outside and try to draw what’s actually there.
It’s a lot more work than just drawing what you think. You have to be prepared to study and absorb the lines, shading, and colors of real physical objects, and then work hard and practice to render those elements into a beautiful drawing.
It’s worth it, I hope. Some of you already draw fairly well, and all of you are already better than when you started a few short weeks ago. If you just stop at your idea of mommy or a horse or whatever, you’re stuck in your own head. The real world is unable to get through.
Now let’s look at an expression in English: to draw a conclusion. I propose that drawing a conclusion is very much like drawing your mommy. It’s easy, and childish, to simply reach a conclusion based on what’s already in your own head. Such conclusions might be satisfying to you; maybe even make your mommy happy – but they’re lazy and immature. You can do better. It is the business of this school to help you do better.
It’s a lot of work to try to understand an argument from outside your own head. You have to listen, puzzle it out, ask questions, think some more, maybe run a few ideas past your friends and family to see how others think. It might take a long time; sometimes, you may never reach a very firm conclusion at all! But the process of trying to understand, of exercising your mind, is how you grow outside your own head.
Here’s the big question: how do those ideas inside your own head, the ones we all tend to use to answer almost every question we face, get there in the first place? Magic? A miracle? Or something else? How do you know these ideas are true?
And here’s the hard lesson:
There are many reasons to lie to children, the Jesuit said, and these seem to be good reasons to older men. Some truth you will know by divine intuition, he told us, but for the rest you must learn what tests to apply. Even then be cautious. It is not hard to fool human intelligence.John Taylor Gatto
Some people lie; many more people, for many different reasons, repeat lies without consciously lying themselves. And you – young people who naturally trust your friends and teachers – are the target of a LOT of lies.
The world is full of peoples who do not love you, but certainly want to use you for their own purposes. They know how to tell a lie such that children, whose defenses have not yet fully developed, are likely to absorb it without even being aware of having come to believe. The easiest way: get other children to parrot the lies, and then level criticism at anyone who dares say anything against it. You don’t believe X? Then you’re a hater, a bigot, a Nazi! And worse!
Nobody wants to be called names by their friends! So we take the easy way out, and just follow along. Pretty soon, we’re the ones calling our friends and family foul names – names we’re unlikely to even understand! We’re the ones parroting ideas we don’t understand. This is not an accident. A lot of evil intelligence has been devoted to convincing kids they believe things that they don’t even understand. Then those kids grow up to be adults who have never learned how to really work at thinking, and parrot the lie to yet more children.
This is the source of a lot of the misery in the modern world: lies told to children, who grow up into mobs willing to shout down, insult, and ostracize any who dare disagree. All over ideas they don’t really understand.
It is critically important for you, our beloved students, to learn how to examine ideas on your own. We are going to teach you how. Do not just accept what you are told, even from me! I will do my best not to tell lies, but even I – especially I! – am easy to fool!