John Taylor Gatto: Why Public Education Cripples Our Kids   7 comments

This is going to be short.  I’m in a rush.  But I really want to share it.


John Taylor Gatto was a veteran teacher (an award-winning teacher) before he became an author and lecturer.  I can’t believe I never heard of him in all my years as a teacher. But I’m reading him now.

In John Taylor Gatto’s “Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why,” he calls schools “virtual factories of childishness” –places where children are taught to be immature, passive, bored, boring and unintellectual.  Gatto quotes H.L. Mencken, who said that the aim of public schools was not “to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. . . . Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim.. . is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.

Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why” brings up important historical, controversial, philosophical issues; I wonder (rhetorically) :  why didn’t anyone introduce me to the writings of Gatto when I was in my teacher education program?


Gatto cites the (mostly horrifying) writings and doings of James Bryant Conant, Alexander Inglis, and others who promoted the changes to U.S. education many, many years ago and who helped give birth to what we have today: “not only a harmless electorate and a servile labor force but also a virtual herd of mindless consumers… a  great number of industrial titans came to recognize the enormous profits to be had by cultivating and tending just such a herd via public education,” –the notion that it’s in the best interests of big business as well as big government to keep the masses uniform, unintellectual, and dependent.

Doesn’t that immediately bring to your mind the  more recent speech of Common Core-financier Bill Gates, in which Gates refers to schools, students, and taxpayers as the “uniform customer base”?  Watch that one minute clip.

In his conclusion, Gatto writes:

“Now for the good news… School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology – all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don’t let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a preteen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there’s no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.”

Read the rest here.


7 responses to “John Taylor Gatto: Why Public Education Cripples Our Kids

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  1. ***************** hear ye! hear ye! an article by Robert Pondiscio
    I just needed to get this out there. I can’t believe what I am reading. After the huge, huge, huge amonts of time and money put into Common Core Standards and PARCC testing….. is this article saying that Jason Zimba, the original architect of the Math Common Core standards, the friend of David Coleman who is a professor at Bennington College (a college in Vermont of less than 1000 students) where David Coleman’s mother was President for a number of years, is having second thoughts? so much so that he supplements the standards for his children at home?

    excerpt from the article above:
    “You may have missed it over the holidays, but NPR ran a fascinating profile of Jason Zimba, one of the primary architects of the Common Core math standards. The piece, by the Hechinger Report’s Sarah Garland, an exceptionally thoughtful education reporter, traces Zimba’s career from Rhodes scholar and David Coleman’s business partner to “obscure physics professor at Bennington College” and unlikely standards bearer for the math standards that he had so much to do with creating.

    Garland makes much of the fact that Zimba spends Saturday mornings tutoring his two young daughters in math. We’re told he feels the math his kids are getting at their local Manhattan public school is subpar, and that’s even after the school began implementing Common Core. “Zimba, a mathematician by training, is not just any disgruntled parent,” Garland notes. “He’s one of the guys who wrote the Common Core.”

    Some will surely see irony in Zimba feeling compelled to supplement what his kids learn in school with breakfast-table math lessons—more schadenfreude for Common Core critics—but there is no irony. As my Fordham colleague Kathleen Porter-Magee noted in another great piece you might have missed, even the best standards don’t help teachers ensure that all students master the content and skills set forth in those standards. That’s what a good curriculum does—a point pressed by Zimba in the NPR segment. “I used to think if you got the assessments right, it would virtually be enough,” he tells Garland. “Now I think it’s curriculum.”

    This insight is no surprise to those of us who have long championed curriculum and rich academic content as ed reform’s great un-pulled lever—or who support Common Core simply because it puts curriculum onto the reform agenda……………………..”

    I don’t know all of the answers but it deeply pains me that Federal and State elected officials are so willing to treat our community public schools, a if not the backbone of democracy in my opinion, as some kind of huge political playground. The money and time and effort wasted on things that do not help children in schools, and especially hurt disadvantaged children whose parents are not able to compensate for harmful policies and who need good schools the most….. shame on these kinds of elected officials, shame on them.

    Now we have nothing but a big mess to clean up and a lot of wasted time and money that could have been used to really solve the problem.

    PTA Mom from Maryland
  2. Sorry, I’m not buying this. ??? School trains children to be employees and consumers ??? Not in my experience. I came through Public schools and they said the same fearful things back then. I turned out a leader and adventurer. So did almost everyone at my last high school reunion. That is such a sweeping generalization, I have to beg:. How does one know this? Did you talk to every student? Did you at least talk to a handful of students from every state? If not, did you talk to students across your entire state? If not, did you talk to the wide variety of students across your city… If not, did you talk at least to a lot of students in one school? Where is your basis for that sweeping generalization which without a herculean effort, no one could ever prove at all?

    The same is true with the exaggerated generalization that school teaches children to obey reflexively. Sorry, as a parent, I SOMETIMES WISH IT DID!!!! As an employer, I SOMETIMES WISH IT DID!! Truth is, perhaps there are suckers who do swallow the goop that drips from the spigot, but in my lifetime, I haven’t seen it… But then again, I and my classmates came from a public school that was far inferior to the teaching going on in public schools today, (qualified as to when teachers are allowed to teach and not hand out curriculum packets created out of thin AIR in Washington DC.)

    And the idea that you can politely reason with a teenager to spend time in solitude and GIVE UP HER PHONE ??? to read a good book about Attila The Hun, for example? Are you serious? Whipped kids, I’d say maybe, but that would be speculation since I don’t know whipped kids, but if they complied, I assume they would only acquiesce to ones demands in order to avoid the whipping which they would assume to follow,.. Every kid I know would put up their best fight to keep their phone, and put all the childrearing you’d worked so hard for, on the line over that one thing, forcing you to have to choose between either going nuclear or back down… No kid is going to give up their phone, It would ruin any social standing they had in their own world.

    With such untenible generalizations at end, ones that sound lofty and high-principled to only people who don’t undergo the real grind of raising children in the real world, I have to say I’m not to enthused to read any further… The pieces quoted don’t describe any real children that I know…

    • Have you been in the public schools or around children lately? When did you graduate? I think, you are a bit behind. I have 3 children “in the system” now. My oldest just started college. Within the last 10 years alone, education and technology have taken a turn for the worse. Even the adults. The consumerism and need to mindlessly acquire the latest technology is the goal in an effort to appear hip or cutting edge. Yet, they are simply consumers or users and have no clue about the underlying technology. The schools and teachers aid, encourage and enable this mindset. The large tech companies such as microsoft and Apple are so adept at manipulating the education system so as to set their corporations up nicely with an endless population of mindless consumers. Ironically, the silicon valley parent crowd do not even allow their children to have technology in the classroom. They want their children to use their brains and not some sort of software that someone else wrote. Teaching tools of choice: blocks! So, who is creating all of the programs and cool apps? Someone from the public education system? Hardly.

    • Of course. Public works are uniformly terrible. What they intend to do is far different from what actually happens. Which also means that the teachers are quite often unaware and don’t follow the script entirely. And you ask good questions. Generalizing is often a substitute for research. However, in Gatto’s case of being in the public school system for 30 years and being awarded NYS teacher of the year, I kinda think his research has been done.

  3. Dear kavips, interesting video.
    There’s nothing wrong with our education system.

  4. John Gatto is a constructivist right out of the 60’s mentality of rebelling against authority, trying to overthrow our society and form of government, etc. He has the same ends in mind as Bill Aires. It is his kind of teaching that says don’t teach them “low level facts.” Don’t teach them at all! Let them discover it all themselves and make up their own rules while they are at it. John Gatto has a Siren voice that appeals to those who have disagreements with what it happening, but he is speaking out to overthrow all that is good in doing so.

    Gatto is picking up on some things and making lots of suppositions that aren’t correct along with that which is correct. It is possible to get a good education within the system, and many do. He makes sweeping judgments about teachers and the system that are NOT correct. He is no more correct than the John Dewey’s, etc., spouting their own theories, however sincerely.

  5. So glad you found John’s materials. I read several of his books about 6 to 9 months ago. It was truly eye opening journey for me and I could see it at work today in Society.

    Our society has been dooped and fooled into thinking stuff and entertainment is paramount to happiness so we need to next new thing. There is no doubt about it. Just look at who is paid the most for the jobs they do…entertainers and professional athletes. As a whole individuals in neither of these professions model what I want my kids to aspire to be. Yet the financial reward system pays them better that those who do the real jobs. The proof is in the pudding as my grandmother would say.

    The answers are simple yet complicated. I’ve become active in the fight against the current wave of ed reform and definitely no longer believe what I’m told without questioning and investigating. We’re turning off TV and gaming and instead have family game nights and have our kids read meaningful and thought provoking books such as the Hiding Place. We are by no means there yet but we are becoming engaged in self-directed learning as John talks about and forgoing the mindless entertainment that is readily available.

    My prayer is that somehow through what is happening in schools today, parents will realize what is going on with the rise of corporate fascism and engage to fight it forever more. It will be a lifetime of fighting because it will never truly go away. After all the love of money and its related power is the root of all evil.

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