Friday February 23, 2007

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto, is a book I’ve wanted to read for several years.  On my birthday this year, my good friend Pam blessed me with this book (along with several others).  While I didn’t see eye to eye with Mr. Gatto on every point, the book did not disappoint.

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling is a series of speeches, talks and essays written by a man who has been honored as New York State Teacher of the Year, as well as being given other awards and honors for his excellence in teaching.  That said, he seems an unlikely man to author a book that so soundly criticizes compulsory public schooling.  However, who better than a man who has been entrenched in the classrooms of New York City, from Manhattan to Harlem, to give us a clear picture of what happens in the public school classroom.

Before I continue, I am aware that many of you have your children enrolled in the public schools.  While this is not the choice Copper and I would ever make for our children, I do honor and respect your choices in educating your own children.  However, I would encourage all parents, whether your children are homeschooled, enrolled in a private school, or enrolled in a public school, to read this book.  Mr. Gatto gives an insider’s view into the reasons why our schools are failing our children.  It is our responsibility, as parents and as tax payers, to know why our public school systems are not working.  Let’s not be so naive as to think that the schools in our area are the exception.  Mr. Gatto would tell you otherwise.

Mr. Gatto’s recurring theme throughout the various speeches, essays, etc. is that “schooling” and “education” are not the same thing.  In fact, Mr. Gatto cites statistics that indicate that a motivated child can learn to read and learn the basic concepts of mathematics in about 100 hours.  With these two skills accomplished, a child can then educate himself in whatever area or areas he requires to fulfill his own goals.  If this is truly the case, then why are our children compelled to be in school for twelve, or more, years?

The first speech in the book, “The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher”, is the speech Mr. Gatto delivered when he accepted his award as New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991.  The seven lessons here are not what you would expect.  Instead, Mr. Gatto reveals that the seven lessons he taught in his classroom were Confusion, Class Position, Indifference, Emotional Dependency, Intellectual Dependency, Provisional Self-Esteem and One Can’t Hide.  I do not want to dwell too long here on just the first essay.  However, looking back on my years in the public school system, I can see his point very well!  While my “schooling” took place in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, these same “lessons” were taught even then.  Mr. Gatto’s speech indicates that these same lessons are taught even more fully in today’s classrooms.

Dumbing Us Down also underscores the demise of the American family and how this has been brought about, in part, by the failures of our school system.  The more we, as parents, surrender our God-given responsibilities for our children over to the schools, the more control they will take.  The old adage, “if you give him an inch, he’ll take a mile” came to my mind several times while reading this book.  Our children need their families, and not just mom and dad.  They need the society of extended family (siblings, grandparents, etc.), along with close family friends, and relationships with various members of their community to grow up as well-rounded individuals. Instead, we lock them away for hours every day and, increasingly, for even more weeks of each and every year. Mr. Gatto says,

“They (the schools) separate parents and children from vital interaction with each other and from true curiosity about each other’s lives. Schools stifle family originality by appropriating the critical time needed for any sound idea of family to develop – then they blame the family for its failure to be a family.”


“By isolating young and old from the working life of places and by insulating the working population from the lives of young and old, institutions and networks have brought about a fundamental disconnection of generations. The griefs that arise from this have no synthetic remedy; no vibrant satisfying communities can come into being where young and old are locked away.” (Emphasis added)

Along with “The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher”, the speeches and essays shared are:  The Psychopathic School, The Green Monongahela (a look back at the author’s youth and the forces, both good and sinister, of his family and community that molded him), We Need Less School, Not More, and The Congregational Principle.

It was the final section, The Congregational Principle, that caused me to part ways with Mr. Gatto, at least temporarily.  Mr. Gatto uses the Congregationalists of Massachusetts Bay Colony as an example of how a small community, allowed to govern itself and make its own choices without interference of distant governing officials, can not only survive, but thrive.  While his illustrations of what the Congregationalists did and how they changed with time are noteworthy and make his point very well, Mr. Gatto “a Roman Catholic with a Scots Presbyterian wife“ was very critical, and at times disrespectful, of organized religion.

While I found his tone in the final talk somewhat disagreeable, I did, in the end, come to understand the point he was making.  A “free market” education would succeed because people (parents) would vote with their feet and remove their children from “bad” schools and enroll them in the better schools.  The schools that failed to educate would have to close their doors because of inadequate enrollment.  Conversely, the existing public schools,  “defying the lessons of the market, this psychopathic megalith has grown more and more powerful in spite of colossal failures to educate throughout its history.  It succeeds in surviving only because it employs police power of the State to fill its hollow classrooms.  It prohibits local choice and variety and, because of this prohibition, has had hideous effect on our national moral fabric.”

If you, whether as a parent or tax payer, are concerned about the public school system, this book will show you why more money, more certified teachers and/or more curriculum will not fix the problems.  Mr. Gatto does end this work with a few of his own ideas about what might be able to pull the system out of the mess it is in, but he is not hopeful.  In fact, I found it personally encouraging that this man, a veteran public school teacher, now is a proponent of homeschooling!   Dumbing Us Down is a book I will encourage every parent of a child enrolled in the public schools to read.
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Please remember the importance of reading! Pick up a book today, grab your reading tools, and READ!

God bless you as you look well to the ways of your households!
Proverbs 31:27

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3 comments to Friday February 23, 2007

  • This is an amzing book and everyone should read it. Clarice

  • This was the book that kept me going when I was suffering from home school burnout. Everyone should read this book.

  • I went to private Cristian Schools k-7 then entered California’s public school system 8-12… I learned more in those 5 years than I ever could have in private school but if I had not had that very “sheltered” beginning where I did learn to out read, out write, and frankly out think my peers I would have ended up just like them. Gatto explained exquisitely the system I learned to use and accelerated in throughout high school and how it is set up to dumb us down. I recommend this book to every parent in America. Maybe if we were all aware a change could begin?