“Two institutions at present control our children’s lives: television and schooling, in that order. Both of these reduce the real world of wisdom, fortitude, temperance, and justice to a never-ending, nonstop abstraction. In centuries past, the time of childhood and adolescence would have been occupied in real work, real charity, real adventures, and the realistic search for mentors who might teach what you really wanted to learn. A great deal of time was spent in community pursuits, practicing affection, meeting and studying every level of the community, learning how to make a home, and dozens of other tasks necessary to becoming a whole man or woman.
But here is the calculus of time the children I teach must deal with:
Out of the 168 hours in each week my children sleep 56. That leaves them 112 hours a week out of which to fashion a self.
According to recent reports, children watch 55 hours of television a week. That then leaves them 57 hours a week in which to grow up.
My children attend school 30 hours a week, use about eight hours getting ready for and traveling to and from school, and spend an average of seven hours a week in homework- a total of 45 hours. During that time they are under constant surveillance. They have no private time or private space and are disciplined if they try to assert individuality in the use of time or space. That leaves them 12 hours a week out of which to create a unique consciousness. Of course my kids eat, too, and that takes some time- not much because they’ve lost the tradition of family dining- but if we allot three hours a week to evening meals, we arrive at a net amount of private time for each child of nine hours per week.
It’s not enough, is it? The richer the kid, of course, the less television he or she watches, but the rich kid’s time is just as narrowly prescribed by a somewhat broader catalogue of commercial entertainments and the inevitable assignment to a series of private lessons in areas seldom of his or her own choice.
But these activities are just a more cosmetic way to create dependent human beings, unable to fill their own hours, unable to initiate lines of meaning to give substance and pleasure to their existence. It’s a national disease, this dependency and aimlessness, and I think schooling and television and lessons have a lot to do with it.”
~ Excerpt from Dumbing Us Down, by John Taylor Gatto
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