I ran across this the other day as I was looking through some old paperwork. It was my attempt to share John Gatto's ideas with people in a manner that wouldn't overwhelm them the way John's book had benumbed me. After re-reading it, I see that much of it is still apropos. After you finish it you might want to pick up John's book at his website (www.johntaylorgatto.com):
There was once a nation of people who dwelt on the shores of a vast ocean. Their survival depended on their ability to use the ocean's resources, so out of necessity they became extremely competent sailors. Because the spent so much time sailing, nearly all of the people were boat builders as well. The skills of boat building and sailing had been passed down from generation to generation, and the beach was lined with tiny craft.
Some people simply cruised the shallows and never ventured farther than it took to fulfill their daily needs. Others spent hours each day on the ocean for the sheer joy of sailing, and other ventured still further toward the far horizon in an attempt to see what was on the other side.
Of course no two boats were exactly alike. It was perfectly obvious to the people that the design of each boat was dictated by its intended use, by the ability of its owner, and by the amount of effort he or she wished to put into it. Most of the boats were built for individuals, but if enough people were interested in reaching the same destination, they would join together to build a boat to suit this purpose. On the surface, it all looked very chaotic, but in fact it provided each person with exactly what he or she needed - no more, no less. In fact, the system had worked so well that it had lasted unchanged for countless generations, and had turned out countless numbers of great sailors.
But one day a man arrived on the beach in a long, black frock coat and carrying a bundle of papers. Climbing on top of a large rock, he addressed the people.
"I have come from across the ocean where I have observed a marvelous vehicle in use by the people of that nation. With just one vehicle, they are able to transport the entire population across the waves towards their destination. I am here now to offer my services in designing and building such a vehicle for you."
To his surprise, his pronouncement was met with a great lack of enthusiasm from the crowd. They were perfectly happy with the system they had used for generations, and which met their needs so handily.
Nonplussed, the gentleman in the frock coat sought out the wealthy and influential among the people and showed them the plans he had obtained. The voyages of these few men had required the combined effort of many people to build and sail massive vessels. This was problematic. Since nearly all people were capable sailors and boat builders, as soon as their destination differed from that of the ship, they were able to construct their own boats and leave. This was a constant source of frustration for the owners of the large vessels who where often left shorthanded.
And so, to these men, the plans for one massive vehicle to keep the entire population headed in a single direction seemed like a fine idea, and these wealthy few threw their wealth and influence behind the project.
In short order a large, dark factory was constructed, and within the work began on the revolutionary vehicle. For weeks the air was filled with the noise of massive hammers, and sooty smoke plumed from the multiple chimneys. Those brave enough to venture up to the windows for a peek were quickly shooed away.
But the day came when two massive doors slid open and the vehicle within was dragged out to the shore of the ocean and carefully aligned with a point on the distant horizon. A rear door was opened, and the man in the frock coat beckoned to the parents, encouraging them to place their children in the rear seat.
Few parent complied. They had a several concerns with the contraption standing before them. The first was that it seemed to be aimed in a direction on one particularly cared to go. When asked about the destination of the journey, the men bankrolling the project replied, "It's a fine place. Trust us."
Secondly, no one could tell the parents exactly how long their children would be gone. "As long as it takes," was the best answer they could get.
Thirdly, the vehicle was a car, and as such seemed destined to go nowhere. Parents were repeatedly assured that the car was designed and run by experts who knew what they were doing. The man in the frock coat produced documents to prove his expertise. This failed to reassure anybody.
Nonetheless, through a series of threats and promises, the back seat of the vehicle was packed with children. A driver, trained specifically in the operation of the car, took his position behind the wheel. The engine turned with a cough and a sputter, then bellowed to life. Putting it in gear, the driver raced into the ocean and across the waves.
Well, two waves to be exact, before it stopped and sank.
The car was quickly hauled to shore and the children resuscitated, with some difficulty. The man in the frock coat wandered around the vehicle. He seemed pleased, though few parents could imagine any reason for that.
"An excellent first attempt," he declared. "Obviously only a few minor adjustments and additions are necessary before the car will simply fly across the waves." His great confidence was not contagious.
And so began an endless series of improvements that were remarkable only in their similarity, and an endless series of voyages remarkable only in their brevity. New tires were added. A fresh coat of paint applied. Fuzzy dice were suspended from the mirror. Costly engineers hired (but rarely fired). The results were always the same. A great sound and fury followed by splashing and gurgling, followed by head scratching and the assignment of blame. This was invariably followed by some new, unproven idea, and expensive modification to the car based on that idea. Finally there was a new voyage that came to the same abrupt ending as all the previous trips. This continued for several generations, until the only things people knew about the ocean came from their experiences in the car, and they believed that it had always been that way.
In the meantime, the children were suffering some very obvious effects from the repeated near drownings. Most were showing a growing reluctance to climb into the car each day. They would not sit quietly as the water covered them, but would claw and kick the doors the windows, and each other. Some would even strike out at the driver, since he was the only person visible to be blamed for what was happening to them.
By this time the process of repeated drownings in the car seemed perfectly reasonable. Since drowning was now considered "normal" it had to be the actions of the children that was "abnormal." Experts were hired to study the children, more to calm them as they drowned, and still more to teach them proper drowning behavior (which usually meant these children had to spend even more time in the sinking car. After all, practice makes perfect).
In order to encourage proper drowning behavior (which was to board the car cooperatively and drown with a smile) an elaborate reward system was established. The children who drowned without complaint were rewarded with shiny aluminum bracelets. Those who drowned fighting, or without smiling, were given lead bracelets.
Parents were in an almost constant state of alarm. Haunted by memories of their own near drownings, and upset at the condition in which their children were returned to them at the end of the day, they demanded proof of some progress toward the invisible goal sitting on the horizon.
In fact, many attempts had been made to measure the progress of the car, but the person holding the far end of the tape measure always ended up drowning too. It was finally decided that any real measure of the car's progress was going to be too difficult and too expensive to make. Another concern was that an honest measurement of the car's progress might demonstrate it was not making any.
Parents were still demanding proof though, so it was determined that a measure of the amount of noise the car produced would generate the necessary numbers. And so the decibel level of the car was taken during the course of one of its many short voyages. The car was dragged back to shore and a new, larger engine was installed. Once more it raced into the waves and once more it promptly sank. However, the larger engine had enabled the car to produce three percent more noise than on its previous trip. Progress had been made! At least that's what the parent were told.
The cycle continued. Larger engines followed each failed voyage, but each engine was louder than the one before, so those who managed the car were always able to produce numbers to show that progress was being made. The numbers also always seemed to show that more work was necessary and more money needed to be spent.
And more money was spent. Each new modification to the car seemed to require more managers, more drivers, more psychotherapists for the children, more engineers, more mechanics, additional testing equipment, and additional people to run the testing equipment. And it all cost money, great heaps it. That was fine though, because at this point the parents were kicking in a good deal of their own money to help float the car.
The car grew larger and more complex every day, as did its operation. After each sinking, the man in the frock coat would turn to the anguished parents and say, "See how difficult and complex crossing the ocean is? It's a good thing you have this vehicle here, along with all these experts to run it. This is no job for amateurs." And the people, who had long since forgotten that sailing and boat building had been the job of amateurs in the past, nodded in dubious agreement.
But still there were those who believed they could do a better job of crossing the ocean, and they continued to nag and pressure those in power for the chance to try. Eventually permission was granted under the following two conditions: 1) The vehicle used to attempt to cross the ocean had to be a car, and 2) it had to head towards the same destination as the original car.
Many individuals and groups immediately began pounding out cars in a variety of styles. The work was funded with the same sources of money as the original car. When these new, improved cars took to the waves, the results were disappointing. They all sank, just as the first car had. Parents and children felt a little better about these drownings though, since now they had a choice as to the type of car in which they would drown. Soon the waves along the shore were dotted with the bobbing roofs of sunken cars, and children were being drowned in many new and exciting ways.
Over the years more than a few enterprising drivers had discovered that if they rolled the windows down and the children in the back paddled furiously, the car actually made some progress. It was unorthodox, and the car did tend to veer off the designated path to some degree, but it did go farther than larger engines had managed. Of course, as soon as this behavior was observed by those who controlled the cars, it was banned on the grounds that it didn't generate enough noise. Instead, the drivers were instructed to keep the windows rolled up and have the children make motor noises with their lips. This indeed led to higher decibel readings and was therefor considered a ripping success.
After a child had endured a predetermined number of near drownings, he or she was presented with a small life jacket, and a piece of paper certifying them as competent sailors, ready to travel the ocean alone. Most of these competent new sailors strapped on their life jackets, walked to the shore, sat down facing the same spot the car had, and began making motor sounds with their lips as the waves washed over them.
Because people had, for the most part, forgotten how to build boats and how to sail, it became more and more difficult for them to perform the day-to-day tasks necessary for their survival. Oddly enough, they had also developed a very intense fear of the water. Few cared or dared to explore the vast expanses of ocean the cars never traveled. And few people had developed an in-depth knowledge of the small section of ocean the cars had crossed repeatedly because they had been somewhat distracted by the discomfort of drowning. It became easier, instead, to rely on the men who controlled the car to provide them with those things necessary for their survival (at a price, of course).
A few intrepid families did manage to sneak away with the intention of relearning the old arts of sailing and boat building. It was a struggle, and made more so by the restrictions put in place by those who controlled the car. These restrictions were similar to the ones placed on those who were building their own cars. Still, some ingenious families were able to get around these obstacles by building boats that looked like cars. These didn't work as well as boats that looked like boats, but were infinitely better than cars that looked like cars.
But for the vast majority of people the cycle of spend-modify-drown-spend-modify-drown continued at an ever more frenetic pace. Soon the ocean was filled with cars in the process of sinking noisily, and the beach was lined with soggy young people making motor sounds with their lips.
From a high window in the factory where the car had been built, the man in the black frock coat looked down on the noisy chaos below. He was an extremely old man, but as healthy as he had ever been and also enormously wealthy. With him were the men who had bankrolled the original car, and had also enjoyed long life and great wealth because of it.
After gazing on the scene below for some minutes, the man turned to those assembled in the room and uttered on word: