Education & the Discipline of Love

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Boy reading a book under a tree

There are people who come into our lives and illuminate our thinking, inspire us to create and lift us up to our own potential. John Taylor Gatto was one of those human beings and a personal mentor of mine, yet whom I never met. I never met any of my most powerful mentors, excepting one and that is the power of books and, now, digital media. 

There seems to be a common theme amongst those mentors of mine: the admirable traits of love and discipline. And if you educate yourself about them and you nurture these traits in yourself, your rewards will be manifest—many and priceless.

“it is also vitally important that we actively engage and support what we find to be beneficial, noble, and worthy of our time”


Still, it is not enough to educate ourselves and oppose that which we determine to be detrimental and unhealthy for ourselves, our families and our communities; it is also vitally important that we actively engage and support what we find to be beneficial, noble, and worthy of our time, effort and wealth. Here we can look to the wise words of one the great American thinkers of the last century, John Taylor Gatto who left us too soon (transcribed from a talk on homeschooling):

The most famous discipline in western tradition is that of Jesus Christ. That’s true today and it was true fifteen hundred years ago; and the most famous disciples are his twelve apostles. What did Christ’s model of educational discipline look like? Well, attendance wasn’t mandatory for one thing. Christ didn’t set up the Judaeo-compulsory school system. He issued an invitation, “Follow me”; and some did and some didn’t, and Christ didn’t send the truant officer after those who didn’t.

The first characteristic of this model is a calling. Those who pursued Christ’s discipline did so out of desire. It was their own choice. They were called to it by an inner voice, a voice we never give students enough time alone to possibly hear. And that’s more true of the good schools than it is of the bad ones.

The second characteristic of Christ’s discipline was commitment. Following Jesus was not easy. You had to drop everything else and there was zero chance you could get rich doing it. You had to love what you were doing. Only love could induce you to walk across deserts, sleep in the wilderness, hang out with riffraff and suffer scorn from all the established folks you encountered. Our present system of schooling alienates us so sharply from our inner genius, most of us are barred from being able ever to hear our calling. Calling in most of us shrivels to fantasy and daydreams as a remnant of what might have been.

The third characteristic of Christ’s model of discipleship was self-awareness and independence. Christ’s disciples were not stooges. They had to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions from the shared experience. Christ didn’t give lectures or handouts. He taught by example, by his own practice and through parables which were open to interpretation. Aron, my coach personally doubts that Christ ever intended to start a school or an institutional religion. For institutions invariably corrupt ideas unless they are kept small. They regiment thinking and they tend toward military forms of discipline. Christ’s followers started the church, not Christ.

And finally, Christ’s model of discipline requires a master to follow who has himself or herself submitted to discipline and still practices it. Christ didn’t say “You guys stay here in the desert and fast for a month. I’ll be over at the Ramada. You can find me in the bar if you need help.” He did not begin his own public life until he was himself a Rabbi. One fully versed in his tradition.

One way out of the fix we’re in with schools would be a return to discipleship in education. During early adolescence students without a clear sense of calling might have a series of apprenticeships and mentorships which mostly involve self-education. Our students have pressing needs to be alone with themselves on quests to test themselves against obstacles. Both the internal ones, the personal demons and the external barricades to self-direction. As it is we currently drown students in low level busy work, shove them together in forced associations which teach them to hate other people, not to love them. We subject them to the filthiest, most pornographic regimen of constant surveillance and ranking, so they never experience the solitude and reflection necessary to become a whole man or woman.

You are perfectly at liberty to believe these foolish practices evolved accidentally or through bad judgement, and I will defend your right to believe that right up to the minute the men with nets come to take you away.

And now the challenge of original sin. The net effect of holding a child in confinement for twelve years and longer without any honour paid to the spirit, is an extended demonstration of the fact that the state considers the western god tradition to be dangerous. And of course, it is. Schooling is about creating loyalty to an abstract central authority; and no serious rival can be welcome in a school. That includes mother and father, tradition, local custom, self-management or God.

-John Taylor Gatto

John was an amazing man, a Christian man, and a renaissance man in the truest sense of the word. His scholarly research into schooling and his subsequent books and talks can be found at www.johntaylorgatto.com. His 5 hour interview “Underground History Lesson With John Taylor Gatto” can be found on YouTube and on the interviewers website Richard Grove at www.tragedyandhope.com. This interview is a must see for homeschoolers.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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