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Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, 10th Anniversary Edition Paperback – February 1, 2002
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With over 70,000 copies of the first edition in print, this radical treatise on public education has been a New Society Publishers’ bestseller for 10 years! Thirty years in New York City’s public schools led John Gatto to the sad conclusion that compulsory schooling does little but teach young people to follow orders like cogs in an industrial machine. This second edition describes the wide-spread impact of the book and Gatto’s "guerrilla teaching."
John Gatto has been a teacher for 30 years and is a recipient of the New York State Teacher of the Year award. His other titles include A Different Kind of Teacher (Berkeley Hills Books, 2001) and The Underground History of American Education (Oxford Village Press, 2000).
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Dumbing Us Down – The Hidden Curriculum Of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto is a masterly an in-depth view into how public schooling really works.
Sampling many of his best personal essays, Dumbing Us Down features the true reasons why education in our modern day system is failing: because it’s meant to be that way.
Gatto reinforces his main premise with a thorough examination of public schooling in America. He carries this out rather incisively given his no holds barred approach to the matter, and this is very refreshing.
While many others have tippy toed their way around the issue, Gatto harpoons the heart of the matter with statements such as:
“…schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders.”[Bold Emphasis Added]
“Schools are intended to produce, through the application of formulas, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.”[Bold Emphasis Added]
“It is absurd and anti-life to be part of the system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety; indeed it cuts you off from your own past and future, sealing you in a continuous present much the same way television does.”[Bold Emphasis Added]
Such scathing statements leave no question to Gatto’s courageous stance, and helps the reader understand the plight we face rather cogently.
Another component of this ongoing public schooling issue is how vital the community is, and more importantly, the family unit, in helping foster a healthier, more independent, more curious, and ultimately more self-sufficient individuals through proper education. While this might seem obvious in hindsight, it isn’t being employed that much at all in our modern environs.
Throughout the length of the book, Gatto fiercely touches upon the many different factors that have helped cause this growing dilemma. Some of these include the overwhelming amount of television being watched by society in general, and more specifically by children, while other components have to deal with the inherent designs of schooling such as the fragmentation of education, the removal of the family from an individual’s education, the poor life tenets individuals are taught, and much more.
One of the best parts of the book is what Gatto calls ‘The 7-Lesson School Teacher’, where the author shows what teachers are truly expected to inculcate into students. Once read, this particular lesson to the reader might seem facetious, but it’s really not. When one views what Gatto is stating with an open mind – while keeping cognizance of the fact that he worked decades for the system – then one completely gets to be aware of why failure in schooling isn’t the exception, but the rule.
In fact, more specifically, Gatto gets at the heart of why public schooling is destined to fail:
“Mass education cannot work to produce a fair society because its daily practice is practice in rigged competition, suppression and intimidation. The schools we’ve allowed to develop can’t work to teach nonmaterial values, the values which give meaning to everyone’s life, rich or poor, because the structure of schooling is held together by a Byzantine tapestry of reward and threat, of carrots and sticks. Official favor, grades, and other trinkets of subordination have no connection with education; they are the paraphernalia of servitude, not of freedom.”[Bold Emphasis Added]
Gatto has unbounded a phenomenal book in the field of public schooling and more importantly, what true education should encompass. Please keep in mind, schooling and education are not the same thing. Particularly, this differentiation and what each means is one of the main gems of this book.
To finalize, this book is a veritable fountain of information that is intense in precision and thought-provoking in its implications given that they filter into all aspects of our lives, and ultimately seep into the future. This is why it’s vitally important for individuals to become autodidacts, and help others become so through our interactions with our families and communities. Self-teaching is more important now than ever, especially with the deteriorating effects of public schooling.
Because of all the reasons mentioned above, and myriad more, this book is definitely a must read for everyone.
As the author saliently notes:
“Aristotle saw, a long time ago, that fully participating in a complex range of human affairs was the only way to become fully human…”[Bold Emphasis Added]
Sources & References:
 John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down – The Hidden Curriculum Of Compulsory Schooling, pg. 21.
 Ibid., pg. 23.
 Ibid., pg. 24.
 Ibid., pg. 69.
 Ibid., pg. 47.
Suggested resources reviewed below for those seeking ideas to self-teach and become autodidacts:
Socratic Logic V3.1 by Peter Kreeft Ph.D.
The Trivium – The Liberal Arts Of Grammar & Rhetoric by Sister Miriam Joseph Ph.D.
How To Read A Book – The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren
Philosophy 101 – An Introduction To Philosophy Via Plato’s Apology by Peter Kreeft Ph.D.
The Complete Workbook For Arguments – A Complete Course In Critical Thinking [2nd Ed.] by David R. Morrow & Anthony Weston
The Imaginative Argument – A Practical Manifesto For Writers by Frank L. Cioffi
The following books reviewed below cover the disturbing issues within the public schooling system:
Rotten To The Common Core by Dr. Joseph P. Farrell Ph.D.& Gary Lawrence
A Different Kind Of Teacher – Solving The Crisis Of American Schooling by John Taylor Gatto
Weapons Of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto
Drilling Through The Core, by Sandra Stotsky & Contributors
The Underground History Of American Education by John Taylor Gatto
Education is a political football, moved up and down a muddy field, kicked about for sport while a few get rich and many, including students and tax payers, get less and less value out of it. Much like our tax code, the system has become the problem. No amount of tinkering with it or throwing money at it will fix it. Schooling must change fundamentally. Between this book and "Deschooling Society" by Ivan Illich we can begin to understand both why and how to replace the mess that we have created with more natural, less costly and less stressful alternatives.