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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2002
John Taylor Gatto is a man that every public school superintendent would fear (and hopefully listen to attentively). He has 30 years experience teaching in the best and worst schools in New York City. Gatto succinctly describes the history of public education in the United States and the motives of the "powers-that-were" to create public education (hint: they weren't out of social benevolence!). I read Gatto's "Dumbing Us Down" first, before I read this, and I was so enrapt with his writings and message that I ran out and bought this book and read it two days after finishing Dumbing Us Down. I keep these books close by and have recommended them to a number of teachers I work with (yes, I am a 10 year public school teacher). Here are a few of the jewels I picked up from Gatto and I think you might be interested in reading and knowing: First, he points out that from every town/ city's educational budget, only about 25 % of it actually goes toward purchasing student supplies. The other 75 % is mostly administrative costs. He claims our education system "schools" students, it shows them how to pass tests that we prepare them for, but it doesn't educate them. OK, if you're a college graduate what talents and skills do you have? Can you grow food? build your own house? This is what Gatto means is the difference between "schooling" students and "educating" them. (He mentions the conference where he was speaking and a 25 y/o man said he had 2 college degrees and was very well "educated" by American standards but didn't know how to fix a broken fan belt on his car.i.e.--too much useless information in curriculums, but no practical knowledge or trade work taught to kids that would be useful to them in the world they will graduate into.) Gatto points out the number of millionaires who graduated from college is remarakably low, compared to dropouts and those who don't attend college--if we want to consider one's earnings as a measure of the educated person. Are you aware that as a nation, our literacy rate has dropped since the advent of public education? Gatto describes the old ways of schooling where kids went out into the community and apprenticed in a craft or field that they liked and that they felt a great interest or a passion for and also performed community service for others; where they were connected and well-adjusted to working with older people and the very young. This gave them a sense of appreciation and respect for working with those from the different age groups in society and made them connected and feel that they were really participating memebers of society. This gave them responsibility, duty, as well as well-earned pride and the "self-esteem" that young people need today. Gatto has a well-researched repertoire of arguments against the state-run public education system (the big business of school or also the "school ring" as he calls it) that are logical, well-researched and easy to follow. He's not an angry, "blame it on them" writer, or a "know it all", he's a true scholar with abundant intellectual curiosity as witnessed by the depth of research he made to make his points in his books. He's a man that seeks change and solution to the myriad of problems in public education. If you're a teacher or if you're interested in education as a parent or as a school board member or that fact just curious about public education, read this book. It's a quick read and very well worth it. It may change the way you view school and education.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2001
For those who cling to the idea that our public school system can be "fixed," this book may be a path to intellectual enlightenment. What Mr. Gatto so effectively describes is the kind of paradigm building our public school industry excels at and calls an education. It has become so successful at achieving its goal of "preparing our young people for the adult world" that they become the unwitting (read: unthinking) parents for succeeding generations of public school mentality consumers.
The book wasn't written to condemn or indict teachers and administrators who work within the system; it was written to expose the problems which perpetuate an institution that, by any meaningful measure, fails so miserably to prepare children for the wonderful challenges and opportunities to be found in life after adolescence.
One theme that Gatto convincingly explores is the damage inflicted on the human psyche through the many years of compulsory schooling. For the reader to reflect on how this instills a conditioning of the mind, not to think but to simply learn and accept what it's told, is a solid beginning for understanding how the vast majority of people in this country continue to so willingly accept the idea of public schools as a good thing.
The simple fact is we can do much, much better in providing education for our children. In helping us all to better understand why public schooling "is broke," Gatto's contribution is a gem. (The five stars I gave it are not enough.) It's a wonderful read for everyone, whether pro or con on public schools, for the simple reason that it makes you think.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
John Taylor Gatto is a veteran of the modern public school system, and big industry before it, and is thus in a prime position to explain why our kids come out of their school days uneducated, maladjusted, and dependent. And this collection of essays written in the years since Gatto stopped teaching explains his point of view, his historical perspective, and his ideas for what comes next.

Why do we have a new study come out every four or five years indicating our students are the least academically qualified in the industrialized world? Each time this happens, Gatto points out, we have a flurry of activity, a reallocation of funds, a rededication to the purposes of schooling. Math and science are further stressed, to the point that we have the strictest hard science standards in history. And a few years later the exact same study comes out again. Gatto insists it's time to get off this track and go in a new and better direction.

Gatto insists that home and family, community, and meaningful work are the keys to educating youth in the skills they really need to survive. School inculcates notions of dependency that result in kids being reduced to a cog in the wheel. School strips kids of a connection to family and community values, individuality, and personal industry. Only when kids are free to teach themselves what they need and want to know, and are encouraged to do so, will education truly happen. As Gatto says, you can make up for a lack of schooling. You cannot make up for a lack of education.

The thesis of this work doesn't entirely hold up. Gatto lionizes how things used to be in the past, suggesting that kids were better off when Mom, Pop, and the Preacher gave them all the education they needed, and then Junior inherited the farm. There's some merit to this. But while Gatto is right to point out that literacy was at an unmatched high point in the days before compulsory schooling, so were racism and provincialism. A mere false nostalgia for how things used to be won't solve the needs of modern kids; we need to build a third way.

Still, the points are very valid: our children get to the end of their youth with no life experience, no idea who they are, and a rootless malaise that wage slaves and mechanical drones. And this doesn't happen in spite of school; it happens BECAUSE OF SCHOOL.

If you are a constructive reader and an active mind, this book can help you build a true, meaningful education for yourself or your children that will lead to a life worth living and experiences worth remembering.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2005
Amid the clutter of noise that surrounds American educational issues these days, John Taylor Gatto's voice comes through with clarity and depth in this set of collected essays.

Gatto is that rarest of birds - an original thinker with a knack for framing an argument in a way that is powerfully engaging. His words really do make you think about why schools are the way they are. While the title of this book may suggest that in its pages will be found a description of some sort of set of teaching ideals, in fact this is a much bigger - and far more radical - piece of work. The whole idea of compulsory education, Gatto argues, is terribly flawed right down to its roots. Schooling - not education, but schooling - has become an "insane" experiment in social engineering that we have inherited by way of John Dewey, Andrew Carnegie, and the Prussians.

It seems a little far-fetched at first blush, but Gatto's almost thirty years of teaching in New York City Public Schools, as well as his fresh and rounded view of history bring an authenticity to his analysis that is hard to dismiss. Occasionally Gatto does stretch things a bit in order to make a point. For example, when he argues that scientists are not "made" in schools, and that most science teaching in schools adds essentially not a heck of a lot to kids' abilities to actually do experiments - certainly an important and reasonable enough claim - he cites Robert Scott Root-Bernstein's book "Discovering" to back his assertion that "not one major scientific discovery of this century, including exotica like superconductivity, came from an academic laboratory, or a corporate or government laboratory, or a school laboratory."

Well, that's a lot of hooey. Penicillin, insulin, and the atomic bomb all came out of labs like that. Nevertheless, he is on target about scientists not having learned their crafts during their schooling, and about the irrelevance of too much science teaching.

Gatto's bleak portrayal of the day-to-day goings-on inside of public school buildings rings with truth, but it is his thinking on why the situation has evolved to crisis proportions that gives this book a strong and resonant voice.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2001
To start with, let me just say this is a great book, one I heartily recommend to teachers and students (and, deep down, I think we're all both teachers and students, or should be). If you care about the future of the world, and you want real answers (often in the form of questions) about the institution of education in America and what it's doing for us (or to us?), then you should read this book.
As a college English instructor, I share some of Gatto's writing with my freshmen. Their reactions differ, but the exciting thing for me is that they all do react (If a student says "uh, it was ok," then I know he or she didn't read the assignment). My students, who usually act like they've been trained to agree on everything, never agree on Gatto. They don't know how to react because they've never been allowed, let alone encouraged, to question any aspect of the twelve years of compulsory schooling they've just completed.
The debate that occurs each time one of my classes discusses Gatto is a debate we need to have, right now, on the local, state, and national level. Gatto's words may catch us off guard, but they give us an opportunity to ask questions and approach issues we would otherwise avoid or dismiss. After reading Gatto, debates over standardized testing, metal detectors, and the so-called national curriculum seem like shallow attempts to evade discussion over the real crisis inherent to what Gatto calls "government-monopoly compulsory education." Socrates said to question everything, and this book does exactly that.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2003
This book is one of the most fascinating reads I have had in a long time. This is, at least in the contemporary, new thinking. Gatto must have cared deeply about his students (their minds and hearts) to have thought so deeply (and then to follow up with research) about how the school system affects their natural curiosity and industry.
I particularly found interesting the comparison of real work with paper work. The idea that important (i.e., real) projects should be pursued in contrast to the model/abstract (i.e., illusion) projects. The concept here is that people (especially young, unadulterated children) thrive educationally on touching the real, important things in their lives. The children grow in character, ability and knowledge where they actually accomplish something of value in the real world. Compulsory school cannot accommodate an individual's curiosity and need to accomplish that which is real life. School can only teach in a classroom full of desks and books, where one is forced to learn what the school has deemed good (regardless of the individual's curiosity, aptitude and learning style). Thus, school can really only teach with paper and concepts. School, ironically, is not the real world and yet, it's the place most of us have chosen as a great starting place for our children. The irony is loudly ringing in my ears.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
This is a scathing expose of the truth about traditional schooling: It is a churning prison that steals the years, passions, ambitions and hours away from children. We live in a democracy, yet our children are locked up in totalitarian prisons for 13 years with adults controlling their every move, even depriving them of basic human needs such as the right to use the toilet! Every aspect of tradititional schooling runs contrary to children's learning, emotional, social, physiological and developmental needs- at all ages. Yet, children who cannot conform to the the confining, oppressive atmospheres are labled as "disabled" and are referred to be managed chemically. Many parents, bowing to the iconic school as if a God, comply with the school's demands and opinions of their children, allow their children's lives to be imposed upon with homework, punishments, detentions and rigid school rules and schedules. As a seasoned educator, John Taylor Gatto tells it like it is for the millions of apathetic children trapped in the decaying, outmoded institution known as traditional schooling. John Taylor Gatto candy-coats nothing as he challenges the system and demands that today's approach to education be revolutionized to reflect modern society, and the neglected educational needs of children. Before you become convinced that your school-hating, homework-boycotting child is "learning disabled", read this book and anything else by Gatto that you can get your hands on!!
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2001
I read the first few paragraphs of this book to my husband and he said "Bingo". Mr. Gatto eloquently expresses that which we have unconciously known about public compulsory schooling but were unwilling or unable to admit. He weaves his opinions through a series of essays with different angles on the subject from the history of our school system to the cost of schooling. He points out the ugly truth that no amount of money is going to fix a system that is beyond repair, something the politically motivated NEA can't seem to accept. We are all addicted to compulsory schooling and the cure will be very painful.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2001
While Gatto's Book will be an offense to some; the truth often is. Even if you send your children to private school or homeschool, our present day mindset for schooling has been set by the establishment of the public school system over the past 100+ years. This collection of speeches and essays by Gatto has woven through it the state of present day schooling as well as the history of the establishment of public schooling. It was an eye opener. We can put a band-aid on the problem (in the form of metal detectors) but it doesn't deal with the root problems. We are reaping what has been sown.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2003
The arguments and claims Gatto makes in "A Different Kind Of Teacher" are very provocative. As a college graduate and parent of a elementary school aged child, I've found his words to be all too true with regard to the US education system. It leaves you dependent on others for everything and with no time to explore and learn things that matter to you.
One of our child's grandparents also came across the book on our coffee table and started to read it. After reading it, he proclaimed that he would have home schooled all of his kids if he had read earlier in life. Thank you Gatto for helping us pickup another home school supporter within our family.
I really enjoyed this book for the perspective it gives on the education system and the alternatives it suggests. It has strengthened my commitment to home school.
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