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When it comes to the traditional education, John Taylor Gatto’s “Against School” questions whether we really need the nine month, drawn out, traditional curriculum. Gatto goes on to name several successful people through history that were not products of a contemporary school system. When I think of Gatto’s theory of forced schooling, a friend of mine named John Smith who goes by the alias of Viper comes to mind. Viper is in his late 20’s, lives in South Philadelphia, and has worked as a Roofer for the past 10 years.
Viper went to a public school in South Philadelphia. Viper went to a school where said, “It wasn’t easy. I was scrawny and white and we were poorer than the jigs that went to school wit us, so we caught alota shit.” Viper’s school was extremely underfunded. “Some days there would be trash laid out by the trash cans cause nobody would change the trash bags, the food was shit, and the bathrooms…forget it.
” He would walk twelve blocks back to his house just to go to the bathroom. There were no extracurricular activities like book clubs and band and the school was rundown and decrepit.
Eventually he started to miss classes regularly. He felt that the teachers did not care. Classes were extremely boring to him. He was actually approached by his biology teacher and told he could cut class everyday as long as he turned in his work and he would receive a D at the end of the year.
He was not amused by the offer, he was not even interested in graduating anymore. “I expected to be a laborer for the rest of my life so I felt like education was unimportant.” Viper’s education started taking a back seat to work around his sophomore year of high school. He was the middle child in a family of four, all of whom have dropped out of high school and are laborers today. “My parents made me get a job when I was thirteen, that’s the way it was with all my brothers,” says Viper. Eventually he started to make a decent amount of money and admits to being extremely naïve, saying “Why the fuck was I gonna go ta school for eight more years if I was makin’ 25-30 thousand dollars a year.
Do the math, instead of spendin 100 thousand dollars in college and waste my time in school I coulda made 200 thousand dollars by the time I was 24.” One day Viper decided to make an appointment with a school counselor. He was hardly going to class, working every day when he was supposed to be in school, and partying every night and having fun. School was more of a social event. He was just going to school to see his friends and make plans for the weekend. When he told the school counselor that he was planning on dropping out the counselor stood up, looked him in the eye, extended his hand and said, “Good Luck!” “The guy didn’t even give a shit!” Viper said.
By the time December came around of his sophomore year, he was a high school dropout. He was working everyday by that time already so he was not stagnant. He was still living with his parents. The fact that he dropped out was ok with them because he could “contribute to the house,” as his father put it. Viper eventually saved enough money to get his own place and now lives with his wife of three years and their two children who are two and five years of age. He said, “I always thought I learned more out of school than in high school, but it’s not what my kids are gonna do”. He aspires to open his own roofing company one day. Although I do not agree with the path that Viper chose in life, he is happy and successful today. He is a great father and happily married. He does not drink anymore and devotes every second of his free time to his family. In a way he is almost a survivor to me. He is not well spoken or the brightest guy in the world, but he would do anything in his power to help any person in a bind.
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