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The Awful Fate of Being Nobody; How To Avoid It

A Commencement Address for Homeschoolers

by John Taylor Gatto (Copyright, 2005 by John Taylor Gatto. All rights reserved.)

1. Modern institutional schooling by force is a deliberate project of social engineering, one brought about for purposes seldom discussed. The inspiration for bulk-process schooling by force came from utopian writings like Edward Bellamyís Looking Backwards and other philosophical musings about the creation of a better society by the deliberate extension of a childlike state in the general population. About the year 1975 I began to call this process "the artificial extension of childhood" and changed the way I taught to combat it, but for a long time I was baffled: How had this idea of keeping children childish long into adulthood stepped out of the pages of utopian writing and become serious policy? The answer is perfectly logical, as Mr. Spock would say.

This radical contention so perfectly dove-tailed with the needs of corporate industry to find some way to revoke the self-reliant, libertarian charter of American history in order to thrive, that the utopian school project, the great socialist ideal, was underwritten, promoted and guided by industrialists and other capitalists from the start. Surely, this is one of the colossal ironies on the human record.

You homeschoolers have avoided most of the pernicious effects of this deadly conjunction, but since you are fated to live in a society of well-schooled men and women, people made incomplete by the institutional schools they trusted to help them, I thought it might be useful to you, on graduation day, to explore some of these ideas.

To a very important extent, modern schooling exists to trick us into surrendering our critical intellects and becoming nobodies. Being a nobody, in the sense Iím using the term, means being extremely dependent on the good opinion, and on the instruction, of strangers. As a nobody, your opinion, your income, your status, your peace of mind, the way you regard your family is decided by strangers. This is the very opposite of self-reliance. The homeschooling youíve done is a living contradiction of the mission of official schooling, which seeks to extend childhood dependencies lifelong, to create a beehive or an anthill society.

Itís important you understand that this school project wasnít inflicted on the world out of malice or out of a wish to oppress the common population, but out of very real needs of a mass production economy to prevent excessive production of independent intellects and of too many people grounded in strong families, since family life profoundly undercuts reliance on authority outside the family.

Independent, self-reliant, family-grounded young people, who can speak and write well, are so inherently destabilizing to the needs of corporate management, both as employees and as customers, that back in the time just after the Civil War, when this project was gathering steam, people of wealth and power were prepared to contemplate a radical blue-print as old as Plato, a plan to confine the entire youth population for a long period of years, to be passed from one strangerís hands to anotherís, in a great system of forced schooling. A system designed to tailor its inmates to the needs of a corporate economy and of a centralized government.

Youíll be disappointed if you try to locate a political bias to explain what Iíve just said. Both the so-called "left" and the so-called "right" were solidly behind this project of liberty destruction. They remain so to this day.

What youíve just heard is the essence of rationality at work, not politics. Think of it as a project in scientific management. Nobodies, even rich nobodies, are considerably more easy to manage than somebodies who think for themselves and can always take solace and inspiration in the bosom of their families.

As long as you can herd millions of kids together into compounds, ring bells in their ears all day as if they were laboratory rats, direct them to memorize disconnected bits of information which must be retrieved upon command in order to earn privileged treatment and status... As long as you can do these things, the net result will be an artificial extension of childhood across entire lifetimes, putting to death the adult-in-embryo which lives within each one of us. In this way school completes its mission of producing manageable nobodies. Whether they graduate from Harvard or go into the coal mines makes little difference. They will remain nobodies lifelong, incomplete people sentenced to wander through life like light-duty zombies, waiting for the next command from a somebody.

You homeschool graduates have beaten this game already. Youíve been trained in self-reliance, in self-sufficiency, in generating your own work, in taking risks, in preparing to have tough independent minds trained in critical thought, and in cherishing your families -- with those assets, itís impossible to be a nobody -- even if you decide to live on a desert island as a hermit.

So Iím nervous to be up here on stage lecturing you. As a public school teacher for 30 years, being around nobodies-in-the-making puts me at ease. My own specialty was teaching a few of my nobodies to be somebodies, but in the nature of the business, I couldnít help many. So, Iím nervous with all you somebodies out there listening to my argument. Homeschoolers constitute a peculiar graduating class because they arenít a class at all, but each a fire-breathing individual.

While attempting to come up with advice for graduating homeschool kids, that fact made me sweat a little. You couldnít know, of course, that youíve provided the major inspiration in my life for the past 20 years, which only makes it worse -- I should be down there in the audience and all of you behind this microphone!

Isnít it ironic that the people we all call "classy" -- like the homeschoolers in front of me -- are always one-of-a-kind individuals, while cookie-cutter people, we never give a second look to are always easily classified?

Anthropologists call these graduation things "rites of passage", an academicís way of identifying important ceremonies like graduation as boundary markers between the regions of your life. The earlier zone gives way to its successor in a one-directional transit from which there is no escape, no return. I hope that sends a chill up your spine.

I was informally denied admission to my own high school graduation 52 years ago, in the green mountains of western Pennsylvania because I owed $32 in library fines, an enormous sum equivalent to $344.40 today. And although I mowed lawns like a madman, I couldnít raise it in time. Miss Neill, the director of ceremonies and my own English teacher, for whom I worked long and hard in menial labor at her home for $.10 an hour, let me know that if I showed my face at graduation I would receive a blank diploma and everyone would mock me. So I was intimidated into not attending. My crime was reading too many books for too long a time. A striking memorial of what school was from the beginning for me: A theater of endless humiliations.

Where were my parents in all this? Alienated from one another, living fifty miles apart from one another, too busy to have energy left for graduations. I donít blame them; they were doing their bit, unknowingly, for the industrial economy by enlisting our family in the great army of proletariat demanded by mass production for its success. People who define success by relationships are pretty much outlaws to our way of life which depends upon shopping and discarding to stay healthy. Take a test, throw it away; take a test, throw it away; take a class, ring a bell, forget that class, take another, ring a bell, take a test, you get the picture, I know. Itís a form of Pavlovian conditioning, which depends crucially on various forms of alienation to work right.

2. But that was my graduation; this is yours. Unlike mine, you showed up. Amazing. Donít you owe library fines?

Here you are then, having crossed over the Great Divide and entered the zone of Legal Responsibility. You must be saying to yourselves, "Whatís next?" "Will I do okay against real high school graduates?"

Youíll do just fine. In the past 950-odd years only one member of the British Royal family wasnít educated at home, and heís often wished aloud in print that he had been.

Since Iím compelled to give you advice and youíre compelled to listen, Iím going to tell you things I wish I had told my own children, Briseis and Raven, before they graduated -- each with high honors, but each knowing very little, as I think theyíd acknowledge. Iíll take full blame for both and for the circumstances in which they missed my lecture. But youíre stuck with it.

Itís also my obligation to keep this short. There are exactly 187 sentences in this speech and youíve already heard 32 of them. I know Iíll get mail with a different count, but what the hey?

Letís start with this: Never overlook the army of ghosts watching you closely every minute. Donít believe that youíre alone, even when you seem to be. Youíre the strong forward link in an ancient family chain stretching backwards to the beginning of time. Itís your ancestors who are watching. Millions upon millions of family chains have been permanently terminated to this point in time, but not yours! Ay caramba! The evidence youíve won so far in the survival sweepstakes is your own existence. Pinch yourself, youíre real!

Your personal chain of ancestors runs backwards through mother and father into the swirling mists of the dawnless past. Even if huge hunks of history are gone from memory, all survive deep inside your cells. Seen that way, youíre a miracle even if you havenít bothered to notice; it doesnít matter a whit if your predecessors were nobility or rag-pickers, the miracle of the chain overwhelms trivia like that.

One day soon youíll be called upon to make a choice: To help build a bridge between the ancestral past and future by contributing children of your own, or refuse the call. In the time ahead, make yourself ready for this moment when it arrives, even if "No" is your answer. It should be thoughtful, your reply, not thoughtless.

3. To comprehend the magnificence of your family in its ancient struggle to live on, youíll need to have done your homework. Itís worth it, believe me, but the payoff of family, even of family that exists only in memory, isnít given to those who just go through the motions. You have to work for it and it isnít easy to achieve because it demands a lot of time and effort. There are no shortcuts.

Thatís one great beauty of homeschooling: It provides opportunity to do real homework. Phony school drills like staying in seats, memorizing what youíre told to memorize, competing for grades -- these things make it impossible to understand what real homework is. Pity the lost legion of well-schooled children.

How can they understand that no stranger, however loving, can substitute for a family lost? With family, even a bad one, you canít be insignificant. Thereís always an important role for you to play as long as you realize there will be times when your parents arenít able to be leaders of family and the young have to assume the burden of leadership.

A family has to acknowledge you one way or another, real families donít have the option of turning you away when youíre in trouble; of course, many families arenít real, they just fake it, but if you find yourself frozen out, at least these fake families are compelled to see themselves as phonies. And perhaps in time if you donít turn away from them, they will actually change for the better. One thingís certain, you have to keep your hand extended, you have to provide the opportunity for the others to finally reach for their best.

4. Homeschoolers have a big head start in good family relations, without which a body is doomed to the awful fate of being nobody, but everybody can grab the brass ring, even those poor souls whoíve been cheated out of family relations up till now. As Iíve gotten old, Iíve learned that by intense acts of imagination and homage, achieved more in solitary wrestling with yourself than any other way, deep family currents can be tapped into even without the factual reality of the clan. Be careful that all this talk about strong family isnít taken as a slight on the independent self, the sovereign you; it needs to exist too, apart from, but paradoxically in dynamic partnership with, the family side. Itís likely youíll use your family talents and background in much different ways than your parents and thatís fine, but try to understand the laboratory of different (possible) youís that a family tree models (if youíre lucky enough to have one).

Even when you leave the family room for good, cherish your people; even as you go a-roving, take your people with you in your heart. For thousands of years utopians have tried to do away with family, offering synthetic substitutes and systems in its place. It doesnít work; itís never worked; it never will work. Be wary of the snake-oil salesmen who tell you that you are different, that you will be the exception. Be wary of yourself as that snake-oil vendor.

5. School kids often confided in me that they hated their parents, denouncing them bitterly, not always without justice. I listened. In all my school years, however, I never met a single kid who understood that this was exactly the way the modern world wanted them to feel; to many of its managers, family is, in Senator Clintonís words, "a retrograde institution" standing in the way of progress.

In a slim volume published in 1906, our first national superintendent of education, William Torrey Harris, stated bluntly that a principal purpose of forced schooling was to deliberately teach alienation! Following Plato and Hegel, Harris thought school should do its best to wipe the slate clean so that social engineers would have a blank slate to write upon in building a better society.

Only as isolani would graduates become sufficiently malleable and suggestible to fulfill their assigned functions in corporate government and corporate economy.

My advice to the family-hating kids who came to me was this: If you poison your family, however much it seems they deserve it, youíll be weakened considerably; if you hate your mother and father, youíll inevitably end up hating yourself, since that pair is mixed in every single cell inside you.

And in terms of the rest of society, youíll be marginalized without understanding that the best parents warn their own children away from family-less friends and romantic partners. Teaching that the best way to understand the hidden depths of character is by watching closely what a prospective husband, friend or business party does with family is ancient wisdom, ignored at peril.

Havenít you wondered why family presentation plays such an important part in presidential elections? Now you know. To my angry kids Iíd shout, "If your parents canít parent you, step up to the plate and parent them. But run away from this challenge only if you want to be crippled for life.

I know all this flies in the face of social-work wisdom or old-fashioned pragmatism, but 30 years in a public school classroom showed me that no family was so bad that family alienation was the answer. You have to stay caring -- for your own good.

And then one fine day I realized that alienation canít happen without the cooperation of two parties, one alienated individual canít pull it off without cooperation from the person reviled!

From that moment to this, I made up my mind never to be alienated again. Should "they" refuse to speak to me I would yet speak to them; if they refused to answer letters, I would continue writing letters, to the grave if need be. Even in serious matters like theft and slander, I vowed to do my best never to return treachery for treachery.

This strategy marked a great turning point in my life for the better; this understanding that turning the other cheek is a practical strategy of power, not weakness, and it isnít merely an abstract religious injunction. The returns in personal power from this prescription are truly incredible ones. Seen correctly, this is one aspect of Marcus Aureliusí stoicism, a deliberate philosophy which frees its acolytes from material dependence; only the stoical spirit is ever truly free.

So always think sympathetically about those you contend with and keep your heart open for them, too, in case they change their minds, however long that may take. Donít impose deadlines or the payoff in personal strength wonít happen.

6. More advice: Each of you is a story being written, up to now by other people in good measure, but beginning tomorrow principally by yourself (anyway I hope so). You must become the storyteller of your life or youíre guaranteed not to like the story authorities write you into as one of their minor characters.

You arenít a stupid collections of facts. You werenít hatched from an egg as a blank slate, but grown inside a mother, emerging with a set of fairly specific agendas written in your genes; and your mother was grown inside her mother, likewise engendered. And all the mothers in your chain wrote stories which caused them to meet prospective fathers with whom they commingled their lives.

You have to learn some of these stories if you donít want to become shallow, superficial, weightless, inconsequential, because your indifferent commitment trivialized the sequence. And isnít it astonishing that we have a word, "inconsequential," to warn us about the importance of sequence in our lives and the serious punishment for ignoring this?

One day youíll need these stories at your fingertips, the myths, jokes, histories, cautionary tales as well, so that the horrible fate of inconsequentiality isnít visited upon your daughter or son as a legacy of your own foolishness.

Having family lore active in your imagination at all times will help you to become solid and deep. Even if itís all bad, thatís still true. Examining yourself this way will help you evaluate others. As my grandmother told my mother: "His mouth may lie, but his relationships always tell the truth." You know a man by the company he keeps. See that you memorize this.

7. Success . . . some advice about same: Schools and media have already barraged you with well-crafted lies about the meaning of success, I know, yet success has nothing at all to do with being listed in Whoís Who. Itís true and I should know, since Iím listed there. Success has nothing to do with winning competitions, getting good grades or keeping up with the neighbors. You can make money and stay out of trouble by listening to bosses or gurus, but you canít be successful without knowing yourself, and that isnít easy. If you ever drank the whole six-pack or ate the whole pizza you donít know yourself; if you ever followed instructions you knew to be wrong just to stay in the good graces of someone who could hurt you, you donít know yourself; if you hang around with friends who waste your time, then you donít have a clue to the person you are.

But donít worry inordinately, it takes years of rigorous self-inspection to accomplish, itís the quest of all quests, without which none of us amount to anything real.

Incidentally, thereís a lot of bad information circulated at graduations by authorities such as myself, so you want to be wary of everything you hear, roll it around in your mind and test it before swallowing anything hook, line and sinker. If you want some evidence of that, look at the line count I gave you up front about this speech.

Hereís a better example: Speaking at another college graduation, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day OíConnor once said, "As students, your challenge will come not so much in breaking new paths, but in deciding to choose among the many paths now open to you, and in knowing how you should travel among them"

Really? From my perspective, fitting into the world you inherit is brainwashing for slaves. Listen to Tom Jefferson cross swords with Justice OíConnor. Hereís Jefferson on the same idea: "Good citizens," said Jefferson, "make the society they live in; bad citizens train themselves to fit the world they are given by their masters."

Now you pick one of the above. All around you the schools of America are indoctrinating more than 50 million young people, of whom 5 million graduate from secondary school each year, indoctrinating them to fit an economy which traffics in toys, weapons, dangerous foods and other forms of trash; an economy built on illusion to the degree it might have been designed by P.T. Barnum, the great flim-flam artist.

Our classrooms and tracking echo a society poisoned by rigid class divisions disguised by a non-stop mechanism of mass entertainment which conceals these divisions; our curriculum conceals the degree to which our nation is portrayed as an outlaw nation in many parts of the world: Military outlaws, financial outlaws, commercial outlaws, ecological outlaws. You need to travel extensively, as I do, to feel the brunt of the worldís scorn; you need to read foreign newspapers to find out whatís happening in America.

Perhaps all these voices are wrong about us; certainly reality is too complex to be understood through journalism, but nobody should want to "fit in" to our national agenda without questioning first what might be wrong with it. Unfortunately, public school graduates hardly ever question, theyíve been subjected to 12 years of laboratory conditioning in which the questioning kids are sharply marginalized. You homeschoolers are different. Weíre going to need your leadership in the future to break out of this trap of fitting in. Please start with an all-out assault on fitting into the mainstream definition of success.

Here is my own partial contribution to redefining success: If you canít take constructive criticism from those who love you or like you, you are a huge failure already, and likely to remain so. Examine your own frail ego before it ruins you.

Learn to apologize: If you canít say to those youíve insulted, slandered, humiliated, ignored and abused, "I was wrong. I was way out of line. Iím sorry. Forgive me," then youíre such a failure, decent people should avoid you as toxic.

On the other hand, if you can face setbacks and horrible defeats with courage; if you donít quit on life because itís wounded you, but always come off the floor and try again, youíre already a successful human being.

If you can say, "Sorry, I prefer not to" to anyone, even the powerful, youíre a trophy winner for sure. Keep in mind that we are defined by our denials just as much as by our affirmations.

If you can stay married for 40 years to the same person and still remain full of love and admiration in spite of everything, youíre one for the ages and anybody but a damn fool can learn things from you.

Go after real success, graduates, follow your heart, take all professional counsel with a big grain of salt -- itís so often tainted with self-interest, and you arenít the self itís interested in. Self-help manuals deal in categorical people and you arenít a category, hence the bad fit between people and the entire genre of self-help.

8. Even official advice should be closely examined since it, too, deals in categories and can only regard you as a fit for column "a" or column "b", whether you fit or not.

Talk about Procrustesí bed, official voices built it. As my daughter was graduating from MIT in the 1980s, authorities had convinced the great majority of MIT students to become computer majors (not her, but most). None of the official voices, of course, had the slightest idea whether the computer field could absorb an army of new graduates year after year, but then the bread of university officialdom has never been buttered by looking out for student interests, but instead by doing the bidding of government agencies, corporations and media moguls who in turn, take care of them. It has many of the characteristics of a closed system, this academic Cosa Nostra, and naturally enough, itís in no-oneís interests to take the student body in on the game.

Now, a quarter century after my daughter graduated, a respectable number of those obedient MIT computer nerds have been unemployed for some time, and even more under-employedó a bleak picture which threatens to become much worse as the 21st century unfolds.

My daughterís classmates, now in their forties, are discovering that nobody wants forty-year-old computer people if they can get their hands on twenty-year-olds who work cheaper (and in the gruesome Darwinism of all tech businesses, better) than old hands. Past 50, most of her classmates, those who havenít developed businesses of their own, will be as the dead.

Iím saying this from the vantage point of being seventy: Never treat expert prophecies seriously -- every single one of them which sees the light of big-time publishing has been bought and paid for by foundation grants, government grants, university grants or corporations. You live in a world which has absolutely no place for independent scholarship, only sponsored scholarship. And sponsored scholarship, whatever else it may be, is always propaganda too. It is possible, from time to time, that a childish research team, one missing the signals, will kick their sponsors in the teeth inadvertently; what isnít possible is that those people will ever get a second chance to betray their betters.

Without a lot of public attention, as the 20th century dawned, the principal function which great universities assumed was to serve the corporate economy and the corporate government (which is for the most part a reciprocal of the economy), one hand washing the other.

The part assigned to universities, and for which university insiders are lavishly compensated, is to resonate the attitudes, opinions and goals of great corporations, along with the prevailing government agenda of the day, in concert with publishing and media. In this way the national imagination is trapped in a smothering net, unable to conceive of any alternatives, or get a hearing for objections to "what is." In the first decade of the 21st century, the prevailing mantra heard everywhere is, "Thatís just the way it is," an inarticulate recognition of the power of the trap we find ourselves in.

If you want to understand just how badly youíve been educated, read Francis Baconís famous fragment, The New Atlantis, written 400 years ago. Bacon had caught onto all the principal details of the great scam coming down the pipeline way back then; during the 19th century he was revered in realpolitik circles as a god, and today is still a fixture in high-level academic seminars at the power colleges. At least this will help you see the difference between schooling and education. And there isnít any law which prevents homeschooling post grads from assigning themselves Bacon. Not yet, at least.

9. You graduates want to always remember that some very important nasty customers pay the salaries of journalists, college presidents and school superintendents alike, and that these folks learned long ago that group behavior can be managed by tampering with information. Since they own the information stream, it might be well to maintain a healthy skepticism (not cynicism, skepticism) toward official information of all sorts.

Remember how you were told the people of Iraq would welcome us with open arms? Remember that the Enron Corporation, the countryís seventh largest business, was held to have discovered an entirely new way to get very rich making markets in energy resources, while at the same time, serving the public well, when what it really had done was to rediscover an ancient way to loot customers and stockholders alike by simply inventing information out of whole cloth and entering it in financial reports; and of course, this same critique applies to WorldCom and others as well.

I was fascinated to learn recently from high-powered financial sources, the kind ordinary people are not aware even exist, that General Motors hasnít been principally an automaker for years; about 15% of its business is cars, the other 85% is as a virtual hedge fund, a speculator in foreign currencies and variable mortgages -- stuff like that. Stuff like that is hidden by the common curriculum of forced schooling and if you think that isnít on purpose, then shame on you for ill-preparing yourself to face reality and wrestle with it.

In light of the fact that the two leading occupations in America today are fast food jockey at places like McDonaldís, a job which one American in six has held at one time or another, and clerk at Wal-Martís, a job which one American in eight has held: According to the Financial Times of London and many other sources, millions of well-trained tech workers, engineers and others from China and India are being released on the world labor market. These men and women are willing to work, and work very well, for a small fraction of what our own graduates demand.

Is this going to affect you? I donít see how it can help but. The entire middle-class basis of American society requires that something in excess of a living wage must be paid to a substantial chunk of people. But when virtually nothing these people do canít be done by people far off for one-sixth -- or even one-thirtieth -- of what is charged for labor here, then what is to be done?

Nobody whoís brought this reckoning on America can be trusted with the answer to that because, while a clear answer can be extracted from American history and even local practices around America, any commitment to a way out of this trap would deal a body blow to corporations.

The simple answer under our noses is that the philosophy of continuous consumption has no ability to protect you graduates from profound changes in the offing for America. Nor is there any way to prevent these changes because what looks like a tragedy to you is a blessing for those who will inherit your jobs.

The pied pipers who try to tell you the economic pie can be magically enlarged to accommodate everyone in an American middle-class lifestyle arenít just crazy, theyíre dangerously dishonest. Were the world -- or even just China and India, with their 2-1/2 billion people -- to insist on a consumption standard like ours, the planet would reel into an ecological disaster.

But what if consumption were abandoned as a guiding philosophy, as Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, abandoned it for himself thousands of years ago? What if personal production, not consumption, came back as the center of American family life, just as it reigned in the colonial period and in the periods just before and just after the Civil War? Such a center lies at the heart of the prosperity of contemporaries like the Old Order Amish or the Mennonites.

The idea is that we stop defining success for ourselves by what we can consume, and redefine it by what we can personally produce. In this formula, schools would examine how individuals and small groups could produce some of their own food; build their own shelters and maintain them; administer their own health care, as is done spectacularly well in Cuba; cook most of their own meals; improvise most of their own entertainment, education and goals.

Not all at once, of course, but bit by happy bit. The Amish are a fantastic working laboratory of whatís available to all of us if we pinch ourselves hard enough to come awake. Iím not talking about utopia, but plain, ordinary, common sense. People who produce for themselves are many times happier than people who merely consume; they have better, stronger families, healthier lifestyles, genuine community life in place of the thin networks we call neighborhoods these days. They make better parents hands-down, over absentee parents, who watch T.V. with their kids... sometimes.

The truth is that most of the things that money can buy, worthwhile things, that is, can be had for virtually nothing. The reason this is hard to see is that itís been masked by corporations, media and government, to protect those whose interests would be damaged by a renaissance in old-fashioned American self-reliance. Nobody who produces his or her own staples can possibly be a nobody; all are individuals of substance; all make the ideals of democracy crackle with energy.

You graduates have been brainwashed so badly -- although homeschoolers, least of all -- that going down the new road will only be accomplished in part by a single generation; your kids (when they happen) will go further than you, and their kids further still. But weíll all be more optimistic and happier for having our feet back on a healthier, more solid road -- one which America pioneered long ago for the whole world.

Anyone who tells you that the current system isnít posed to collapse doesnít read the financial press, doesnít know how to interpret what it means when a powerful country spends its treasure, common citizens, and goodwill in an endless series of violent attacks on weaker places like Panama, Libya, Grenada, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, et al. Read Gibbonís Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and I promise you a hair-raising set of parallels to whatís currently afoot.

Anybody with awareness understands what it means that on the day I write this, if you want to buy a unit of European currency, youíll have to put up $1.41 of U.S. money (the official exchange is listed at $1.31, but as American Express explained to me, you canít actually get that rate, only the wealthy can); anyone who understands the details of the monumental trade deficit weíve amassed in peacetime, will see clearly that our national management is out of control and has mortgaged the future of common citizens already.

A new day is imminent whether we adopt a new philosophy to confront it or not. Iíve shown you one living alternative, proven to be successful. Is there a better one? Perhaps. Go ahead, show me. Iíll be delighted to concede the field.

10. Finally, graduates, itís high time to think about Time itself. Time is the real wealth, equally available to the favored and the disfavored alike. But be warned, itís a non-renewable resource. Guard it with your life; it is your life measured in durations. Time on your hands isnít boring, held in your hands and cherished, itís a tabula rasa for free will to write upon. Only in free time can we be said to make ourselves; in our enslaved time, others do the making.

Most time you think you have has been pledged in advance. A frightening thought, that one. Itís what Calvin meant by Predestination, the discovery that all your time has been claimed by obligations and appointments and accidents out of your control. A huge chunk of the remainder must be paid to your frailty as a human being in sleep. And much of the diminishing balance leaks away in phone calls, television, computer games, angers, revenges, lusts, fears, envy and bewilderments. In predestinated time, you are mostly a mechanism; only in the leftovers, the free will moments, have you a possibility of cooking the real turtle soup instead of the mock.

My present age is sixty-nine years and one month, which seems to distance me from the graduates Iím addressing by more than fifty years, but thatís only an illusion. The fifty-year head start I seem to have on you isnít real -- most of it has been so automated and predestinated I wasnít really alive as those hours and years passed. If I count only the real time Iíve had to be myself and choose for myself, it canít amount to more than five years of the total.

Like you, graduates, I spent most of my time thoughtlessly. Nobody ever bothered to give me the advice Iím giving you. The people who loved me, and who I loved in return, and still do, were much too alienated from one another to consider how quickly we were losing the opportunity at family. And suddenly one day it was too late. I miss them all desperately, even with all the bad times we had, and I bring them back to life every day in imagination. I would gladly trade the Ivy League experience I received, mis-named "education," if I could retrieve my bad family and hug each one of them hard. And I count myself as bad as any because my schooling failed to show me what really matters. See to it, graduates, you donít fall into the same trap.

Donít glide hypnotically through the onrushing years, obeying the prompts of stupid formulas, or the "stages" of child-rearing stage-theory manuals. Every one of them is based upon statistical averages, so when you go to force your own children into those murderous boxes, you will mutilate them beyond repair, in service to another magical theory like those magical others which have ruined modern life. Throw away your self-help books, slap yourself awake, stick a pin in your arm . . . WAKE UP! You donít have a reverse gear. You can only go forward in time, not backwards.

11. The only thing serious you face at the moment, regardless of what youíve been told, is deciding what quests you will choose for yourself.

If it were me, Iíd look hard for love -- not sex, love. Without someone special to hug and grow old with, it seems to me youíll miss the best that time has to offer. I love my Janet, now old, fat and crippled, a great deal more than when she was so beautiful and lively. I wanted to cry out just looking at her. If this is so for me, itís the common experience of many others as well; it explains why, in a time of easy sex, that marriage is still where life is at. Not in the pages of Cosmopolitan, of course, but everywhere real people gather.

And if this is so, why does institutional schooling make no mention of Love. Itís forbidden to mention love in the classroom, you know. The Greek word for sin, amartia, explains the mystery as well as anything. It can tell you what official schooling does wrong. Amartia, sin, to the orthodox Greeks, means only this: That youíve missed the mark in Love. To sin is to be unable to love. The mark isnít high grades, money or fame, itís Love, without which the other things are hollow at the end of your time. Love is the only divine energy most of us will ever know; itís a movement toward others, ultimately a movement toward the other which canít be found in fancy cars, penthouses or trophy brides. If you want to know love, there isnít any other way but to leave pride and selfishness behind. No other way. No other way. No other way. Do you hear me?

If it were me graduating today, Iíd want to abandon smugness and certainty in a search for things I didnít know and wasnít comfortable with; Iíd want to understand the whole range of human possibility as itís been known across time; in that, books are your best friends. So for your own sake, read good ones even if the effort makes your head ache. Nobody has enough time to ignore the wonderful thoughts from every time and place preserved in print. The essence of those thoughts abstracted by Monarch Notes wonít do. You need the language of the original. Iím too tired here to explain why. Trust me.

Youíll want some portion of your clock devoted to just being. Youíre a human being, not a human doing. In this way, after many a long summer, youíll discover what is meant by saying that the best things in life are free. Itís true, but you canít think your way to understanding why.

Oh, thereís lots more to say, but Iím weary for the moment with my own words. One last thought: Stay away from institutions; even the word should make you sick at your stomach; above all else, donít let them institutionalize you.

12. Now I see itís really time for you to graduate. How time flies! My time is up; yours just beginning. Thatís it -- 187 sentences, 188 if you include this one. But a word to the wise: Count them for yourself, donít take my word on faith. -- J.T.G.

[John Taylor Gatto spent 30 years teaching in the public schools of New York City. He was named the city Teacher of the Year and state Teacher of the Year in different years. Since his retirement, Mr. Gatto has worked tirelessly to promote homeschooling as the only viable alternative to public schooling.]