“never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”

In a nearby school classroom is a sign that states, “for whom the bell tolls” and the teacher says to the students that “it tolls for me, not you”. This reminded me of John Taylor Gatto’s teacher of the year acceptance speech in 1992, as he described the seven lessons that are taught universally in western education.

The third lesson I teach kids is indifference. I teach children not to care about anything too much, even though they want to make it appear that they do. How I do this is very subtle. I do it by demanding that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. It’s heartwarming when they do that, it impresses everyone, even me. When I’m at my best I plan lessons very carefully in order to produce this show of enthusiasm. But when the bell rings I insist that they stop whatever it is that we’ve been working on and proceed quickly to the next work station. They must turn on and off like a light switch. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of. Students never have a complete experience except on the installment plan.

Indeed, the lesson of the bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Years of bells will condition all but the strongest to a world that can no longer offer important work to do. Bells are the secret logic of schooltime; their argument is inexorable. Bells destroy the past and future, converting every interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes every living mountain and river the same even though they are not. Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.

Want to improve learning? Get rid of those damn bells.

3 Responses to ““never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee””

  1. Karyn Romeis

    Do you know – I never even thought of this. I was at school such a long time ago, and have mercifully blanked out many of the details, and I have never taught school myself. I have suddenly developed a severe case of retrospective appreciation for the fact that I had control over the amount of time spent on each learning point in the years I spent as a trainer. The flexibility of being able to focus on what was necessary for each particular group, and the capacity to fit breaks in with what was going on in the classroom were things I took far too much for granted. My respect for teachers has just increased… again!

  2. Bud Hunt

    We don’t have bells — but we’ve still got periods chunked into specific lengths — so maybe it’s not the bell itself — but the way that we make things “happen” in specific periods of time that’s the real issue.
    Of course, I suspect that you already know that.


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