Waging War on God and Family
Eyeless In Gaza
by John Taylor Gatto
Chapter 3 of The Underground History of American Public Education
The deeds were monstrous, but the doer [Adolf Eichmann]…. was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous. There was no sign in him of firm ideological convictions or of specific evil motives, and the only notable characteristic one could detect in his past behavior as well as in his behavior during the trial…was something entirely negative; it was not stupidity but thoughtlessness…. Might not the problem of good and evil, our faculty for telling right from wrong, be connected with our faculty for thought?
~ Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind
The School Edition
I always knew schoolbooks and real books were different. Most kids do. But I remained vague on any particular grounds for my prejudice until one day, tired of the simple-minded junior high school English curriculum, I decided to teach Moby Dick to eighth-grade classes. A friendly assistant principal smuggled a school edition into the book purchases and we were able to weigh anchor the next fall.
What a book! Ishmael, the young seaman who relates Melville’s tale, is a half-orphan by decree of Fate, sentenced never to know a natural home again. But Ahab is no accidental victim. He has consciously willed his own exile from a young wife and child, from the fruits of his wealth, and from Earth itself in order to pursue his vocation of getting even. Revenge on the natural order is what drives him.
War against God and family. To me, it defines the essence of Americanness. It’s no accident that America’s three classic novels – Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and Huckleberry Finn – each deal with ambiguous families or that each emerges from a time not far from either side of the Civil War. America had been an inferno for families, as Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain all knew. Midway through our first full century as a nation, the nearly universal American experience of homelessness found its voice. Ishmael is a half-orphan, Ahab an absentee father and husband, the harpooners expatriate men of color; Pearl a bastard, Hester an adulteress, the Reverend Dimmesdale a sexual predator and runaway father; Huck Finn, de facto, an adoptee, Jim a twice-uprooted African slave. When we think what our schools became we need to recall what a great pile of us are homeless. We long for homes we can never have as long as we have institutions like school, television, corporation, and government in loco parentis.