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88 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book has liberated my soul!, September 16, 2003
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This review is from: Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, 10th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
It sounds overly dramatic, I know, but I truly feel that John Taylor Gatto has liberated my soul by writing DUMBING US DOWN. But that is exactly what he has done. John Taylor Gatto confirms everything I had always believed about schools: that they are simply cruel prisons where spirits are destroyed and minds are conquered. Easy for me to say, though, seeing as how I myself never did too well in school. John Taylor Gatto, on the other hand, has been named Teacher of the Year several years running by both New York City and State. Here is someone accepted by the teaching establishment, honored by the teaching establishment. He speaks for me and thousands of others who've been tortured in these horrible institutions.
John Taylor Gatto reveals many fascinating, and frightening, things. For example, literacy went down in the US after the advent of compulsory schooling. Yes, more people could read and write before schooling was mandatory. Gatto says this is because reading, writing, and arithmetic only take about 100 hours to transmit, but schools purposefully distort the learning process and intentionally slow down the students' learning so as to justify robbing them of 12 years of their lives while they teach what Gatto refers to as the seven lessons schools really teach:

1. Confusion
2. Class position
3. Indifference
4. Emotional dependency
5. Intellectual dependency
6. Provisional self-esteem
7. One can't hide
It was Adam Robinson's WHAT SMART STUDENTS KNOW that first introduced me to the fact that school distorts the learning process and that if you want to be a good student you basically have to unlearn everything school teaches you about learning. It is Gatto's DUMBING US DOWN that explains *why* school distorts the learning process. The bitter truth, according to Gatto, is that mandatory schooling was invented by industry barons so as to ensure that the poor would not have a revolution, as well as to prepare their children for a transition into the industrial age. Another purpose was to shield the population from the "contamination" of the new Latin immigrants from Europe, as well as from the movement of African Americans through the country in the wake of the civil war. But Gatto doesn't stop there. He also holds compulsory schooling accountable for the breakdown of the family (he says we no longer have communities, but live in "networks"), the materialism of our society (because the only way to get any attention in a network is to buy it), and the drug use and suicide rate among our children and teens (because, Gatto says, it is absurd and anti-life to take children away from their families, trap children in a room eight hours a day, and allow them to interact only with those of the same age and social class).
The most startling point Gatto makes in this book, for me at least, is that industry barons purposefully encouraged schools to implant in students the idea that success in school is mandatory for financial success. Gatto argues that it is absurd to instill in children the idea that learning is only important if you are being graded, grades which one would want to be high so as to convert into high incomes. According to the author, rich children commit suicide at a higher rate than the poor or middle class (he suggests this is because the rich are often schooled more than the rest of us). Why try to drive home to children the idea that wealth is the key to happiness when it is common knowledge that it is not?
I myself struggled with suicidal thoughts as a child and a teen. It is directly related to the nightmare and torture of schooling. I thank John Taylor Gatto for exposing this compulsory prison for what it is, and I encourage any reader of DUMBING US DOWN to also search out Gatto's most recent book THE UNDERGROUND HISTORY OF AMERICAN EDUCATION.
Andrew Parodi
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 23, 2013 8:26:36 AM PDT
I have substitute taught and I think the biggest problem is discipline. I was amazed at how addicted kids are to their smartphone and that they are often allowed to play with them instead of paying attention in class. I was called all kinds of names when I refused to let them engage in such silliness. I am sure I would have preferred to play on a smartphone when I was a kid but my teachers would not have allowed it. Making learning as interesting as possible is great but the bottom line is that just like everything you do at work is not fun, not everything in school is going to be fun.

For instance most kids hate math. Does that mean we don't make them learn it or learn it at a low level that does not prepare them for college or many careers? For kids that are not academically inclined, there should be a vocational track where kids can learn skills that lead to employment. Germany has had great success with such a program. Kids today are not prepared for careers either academically or in regards to discipline. That is the problem.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 18, 2013 5:01:09 PM PDT
Is it possible that kids aren't prepared for careers either academically or in regard to discipline because they aren't being taught correctly? One of the underlying themes of this book is that not everyone learns in the same way, but that schools tend to believe that everyone does, or should. It's not a matter of making learning "interesting," but of teaching students in a way that they actually are able to learn. I hated math in grade school and high school -- because I wasn't taught it well, I wasn't taught it in a way that could "reach" me. Now, I've found that way, and I find that I love math.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 11, 2013 1:36:31 PM PST
P. Delatorre says:
Good point....I taught first grade in the public school system for 11 years in three schools in two states and my experience as a teacher convinced me to homeschool my kids. I have had the freedom to teach my 6yr old math in what I feel is a developmentally appropriate way. I have always taught concepts concretely first using manipulatives and then moved on to more abstract paper and pencil work. I too was terrible in math because I never understood it. With my son I check for understanding, if he doesn't grasp a concept easily I teach it another way. There are tons of ideas online and on Montessori websites. Young children need to understand mathematical concepts via concrete hands on teaching ala Montessori for example and then move on to the paper and pencil drills. Unfortunately with 25 or so children in a first grade classroom and a lack of manipulatives how can even the best teacher accomplish that in a 1hr math time block and a thick math book that needs to be completed by April before the state standardized tests. Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs out there....I'm glad I left after my son was born. But I do feel for the children and the parents who don't have the privledge to homeschool or know what is really going on in their child's classroom. Also the idea of keeping 25 or so young kids in a small classroom for 8 hrs a day with a 30min lunch is absolutely mind boggling. I know that is not developmentally appropriate for 6 year olds!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2015 5:27:25 PM PST
rosie says:
So totally agree with you.
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