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on March 9, 2017
John Taylor Gatto is an award winning teacher that isn’t afraid to buck the trend.

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.”[1][Bold Emphasis Added]

“Schools are intended to produce, through the application of formulas, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.”[2][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.”[3][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.”[69][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…”[47][Bold Emphasis Added]

Sources & References:

[1] John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down – The Hidden Curriculum Of Compulsory Schooling, pg. 21.
[2] Ibid., pg. 23.
[3] Ibid., pg. 24.
[4] Ibid., pg. 69.
[5] 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
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on February 20, 2014
I've been a homeschooler for 3 years and I've just now gotten around to reading this book. Mr. Gatto echoes a lot of my feelings about the American school system that I've felt for years. I feel some pain at thinking of everything that was taken away from me being educated in various public schools across the country. I'm so glad that before my children even came along I was convinced I'd be homeschooling them and Mr. Gatto confirms for me, as well as others, I'm doing the right thing for my children. I only wish others were as lucky as us as I know not everyone can homeschool their children.
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on April 8, 2012
Why has schooling become such a big, factory process? Why is conformity such a high priority? Why do so many graduates find themselves unfulfilled by their chosen career path? These are just a few of the important questions that Gatto tackles in this series of essays and speeches. I find it amazing that he was delivering these ideas from the same podium where he was receiving awards for teaching in NYC public schools, yet nobody was getting the message. If your "Teacher of the Year" is telling you that the system is broken then why are you ignoring the warnings?

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.
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on May 15, 2017
I breezed through this book saying "yep...yep...YES EXACTLY!" the whole time. I had to stop underlining because the entire book is a series of key points, the whole thing was going to be underlined. This book should be mandatory reading for parents before handing their kids over to the school system. Everyone should be fully aware of what is going on and what they're at risk for losing.
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on June 25, 2015
I have already removed my children from the government institutional schools many years prior to reading this book, so I didn't think I'd find much of Gatto's editorializing shocking. However, I did. John Taylor Gatto will likely not get the full respect he deserves for his musings and experience until a revolutionary end to compulsory schooling has taken place. If you've witness enough of the school system, and are on the fence about leaving it for the greener pastures of educational freedom, I highly recommend this book.
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on May 28, 2008
John Taylor Gatto taught in New York City public schools for 30 years. He is now a writer and a lecturer. He was named New York City Teacher of the Year and New York State Teacher of the Year.

"The Seven Lesson School Teacher" is the first chapter of his book. It is the speech he gave after he was named New York State teacher of the year in 1991.

I've summarized the first chapter (which I taught to my high school sophomores and juniors).

Mr. Gatto said that he teaches 7 things. They are as follows:

1)confusion - lessons are out of context & out of sequence; random instruction; standardized tests; too many subjects; assemblies; fire drills; staff development days; age segregation; no depth in subjects; most teachers are not experts

2)class position - kids assigned numbers; stay in classes; stay in classrooms; envy and fear of the better classes; contempt for the lower classes

3)indifference - forced enthusiasm; bell rings, students must stop doing stuff (in class or change classes)

4)emotional dependency - individuality is discouraged; students lack rights; teachers & administrators manipulate and control the students

5)intellectual dependency - lesson chosen by teachers, administration or school board; students told to wait before working; wait for the expert to tell you what to do; helpless people are good for the economy (food service, law, medicine, teaching, tv, entertainment)

6)provisional self-esteem - confident people are problems; you are to be evaluated & judged; most grades have very little work in them; self-evaluation is rarely done; people must rely on experts to see their value

7)one can't hide - control and surveillance; no private spaces or private time; little time between classes; people trained to tell on each other; homework keeps them busy and away from other learning

"Schools are an essential support system for social engineering that condemns most to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that narrows as it ascends to a terminal of control" pg. 13 (this reminds me of Huxley's Brave New World)

Mr. Gatto makes a few other points in his speech as well. I've listed them in bullet format for you.

- Schools were created partly as a result of two "Red Scares" in 1848 and 1919. People in power were afraid of the industrial poor and wanted to reign in the culture of the new immigrants (Celtics, Slavs and Latins).
- Look at the seven lessons: they are "all prime training for permanent underclasses, people deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius." (16)
- These lessons and the problems in our schools have now seized the middle class as well
- Critical thinking is not taught
- Solutions: family schools, farm schools, small entrepreneurial schools, religious schools, craft schools
- Lessons not taught: self-reliance, self-motivation, perseverance, courage, dignity, love
- TV, sports/clubs, and jobs take up all the free time outside of school - learning and the feeling of community are stifled
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on June 29, 2017
Gatto writes from a position of authority having taught in government schools for 30 years and having won "teacher of the year" for New York City and New York state. Chapter One, the seven lesson schoolteacher explains how schooling produces boredom, dependency, class position and indifference plus and partly because schools exist to condition students to accept and propagate government values and a population of non-thinkers. All seven chapters offer much "food for thought" from a true expert and an ex-believer in government schooling.
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on April 3, 2013
Thirty years of John Taylor Gatto's life has been spent inside the corrupted school system and in his experiences, he has shown a new light on how society and education really impact a child. "Dumbing Us Down" gives a perspective through the eyes of an educator and his experience in the system. Gatto introduces the reader to seven different lessons, that are pertinent to the everyday schoolteacher. He discusses: confusion, class position, indifference, emotional dependency, intellectual dependency, provisional self-esteem, and one can't hide.
One of the most important aspects of educating a child is creating meaning, Gatto points out how students seem to be trained in a specific way, in order to move forward to the next step. "Meaning, not disconnected facts, is what sane human beings seek, and education is a set of codes for processing raw date into meaning" (Gatto, 2002, p.3). Gatto discusses the idea of creating, not necessarily a complete understanding for purpose, but rather establishing an acceptance of the confusion and meaning behind the school curriculum. He believes that in order to create purpose and meaning, students must accept their confusion. "I teach the un-relating of everything, an infinite fragmentation the opposite of cohesion; what I do is more related to television programming than to making a scheme of order" (Gatto, 2002, p.4). He points out that school curriculum encourages structure and regimentation, which places students in a pre-determined role within society. Gatto promotes his ideals of teaching, which follows the responsibility of all educators of establishing a connection between emotional and intellectual dependency.
Gatto discusses that school curriculum has no valuable objectives or purposes, but to press forward. He believes there is little purpose behind the "content" which is taught to students. "Originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social-class boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, incentive, and able to much for themselves independently, and to think for themselves" (Gatto, 2002, p. 11). Gatto discusses the idea of free-thought for students in school. The school system has become an orderly and specified regimented organization for students to absorb information, relay on a test and move forward to the next level. Gatto believes there is little independency or individualism. The students are not given an opportunity to be different, to embrace that which defines them, instead they are told one way to think and how to arrive at that thought, in their way. According to Gatto, "School, as it was built, is an essential support system for a model of social engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that narrows as it ascends to a terminal of control" (2002, p. 13). Gatto compares the school system to a pyramid and the students are expected to work together in a specified system to be up this pyramid, also known as the economy and to live by societal expectations. Interestingly enough Gatto has agreeable ideals of the school system, as what seems to be a "factory." Students do not seek purpose or value behind their education because they are following a certain curriculum which doesn't allow a lot of flexibility. Students are not given opportunities to embrace and interact with the world around them within the school system. It is essential that schools incorporate past connections in order to create an educational environment for which students can learn from the past and make an effort to avoid the same conflicts and work towards a progressive future.
So where do we go from here? How can we change the education system? Gatto believes that the system is based on a lot of corrupted ideals which consist of socioeconomic progression and conformity into society. He discusses progressing through the school system as a "talk show," "We are a land of talkers; we pay talkers the most and admire talkers the most and so our children talk constantly, following the public models of television and schoolteachers. It is very difficult to teach the "basics" anymore because they really aren't basics to the society we've made" (Gatto, 2002, p.24). Gatto makes a point has become a competition on talking. Teachers grade students based on social skills rather than other aspects. Teachers make an assumption: the less you talk, the less you know, this is not true. Intelligence and value in a classroom is based on the outspoken, rather than what can be said on paper. In a factory line, if just go along and never make a sound, you will not be noticed, regardless of your skills, but if you make a lot of noise and draw attention to yourself, you will be favored. Gatto reveals to the reader, the "psychopathic school," with which students are just pushed forward through grades, beyond their individual abilities and strengths. Students are no longer individuals. They are indifferent, rather than curious; they have a poor sense of the future and treat each other harshly. Students have very little opinion, according to Gatto, he taught classrooms full of what to be passive drones.
Gatto believes that the modern student lacks value and purpose; the student is not encouraged to be different. Gatto proposes that students are provided with a unique environment to grow and become progressive individuals. He discusses targeting the government and educational system; he believes that teachers and parents should embrace individuality. According to Gatto, "Lives can be controlled by machine education, but they will always fight back with weapons of social pathology: drugs, violence, self-destruction, indifference, and the symptoms I see in the children I teach" (2002, p.30). Regardless of societal standards, human beings are still unique individuals and no school curriculum can subdue that originality.
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on December 4, 2008
I highly recommend this book, whether you're interested in the education debate or not! After 30 years as a New York public schoolteacher, Gatto has incredible insights into our culture's obsession with consumerism, production and efficiency, the breakdown of the family, how "networking" has miserably failed to meet the need for true community, and the kind of culture our method of schooling produces.

Until we change our definition of "education" and leave the public school monopoly in the failed archives of history where it belongs, we will continue to see more of the same, as Gatto describes:

"Young people indifferent to the adult world and to the future; indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence? Rich or poor, schoolchildren cannot concentrate on anything for very long. They have a poor sense of time past and to come; they are mistrustful of intimacy (like the children of divorce they really are); they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction."
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on November 22, 2015
The late John Taylor Gatto pulls no punches in his scathing critique of modern 'education'. Actually, they teach you WHAT to think, not HOW to think, and that is where the problem lies. Gatto was Teacher of the Year in NY, so this guy is no slouch when it comes to pointing out the shortcomings in the current Public Indoctrination System. Anyone with kids in school needs to grab a copy of this book, or his other books and read about what the social scientists are doing to the minds of its victims.
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