John Taylor Gatto may be one of the most fascinating educators I have ever read or heard of, even if I question some of his solutions to problems associated with teaching and learning. I have to add that I was introduced to Gatto by his interviews with Richard Grove at the “Tragedy And Hope” website, a source for many, many interesting interviews. Gatto has a lengthy 5-hour interview at this link:
The above interview fills in a ton of information not available in his first book, “Dumbing Us Down – The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling”. Much of the rest can be found in a following book; “The Underground History of American Education”, which I intend to get a copy of also. Gatto was a three-time New York City teacher of the year, and later New York State teacher of the year. It’s pretty significant for a libertarian-oriented educator to receive these awards in such a reportedly liberal area. Gatto really bucked the system, he regularly sent his grade school students off on missions to explore, report, and conduct volunteer work rather than stifle away in a classroom. His basic theory for what’s wrong with education is summed up in this paragraph from Gatto’s Wikipedia page:
“What does the school do to children? Gatto asserts the following in “Dumbing Us Down”:
1.It confuses the students. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials, this programming is similar to the television; it fills almost all the “free” time of children. One sees and hears something, only to forget it again.
2.It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.
3.It makes them indifferent.
4.It makes them emotionally dependent.
5.It makes them intellectually dependent.
6.It teaches them a kind of self-confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
7.It makes it clear to them that they cannot hide, because they are always supervised.”
Gatto’s research into American education places a large amount of blame on the fact the teaching method is borrowed from the 1800’s-era Prussian education method. After suffering severe defeats by Napoleon, the Prussians introduced a very regimented program to prepare students to answer to their superiors, respond to bells like Pavlov’s dogs, and learn just enough to pull the levers of factory, farm and cannon. While “Dumbing Us Down” doesn’t tell that part of the story, you can find it in the video at the Tragedy And Hope link above, or in podcast format as I listened to it, or in his next book “The Underground History of American Education. Gatto also became quite an expert on Carroll Quigley’s famous book “Tragedy And Hope”, which Richard Grove’s website is named after. I highly recommend hearing this information from Gatto himself, which I did by listening to a podcast over several days while working.
The problem I was forced to confront in “Dumbing Us Down” was Gatto’s strong libertarian streak. While Gatto clearly identifies problems with education, one of his suggested solutions is to not require certification for teachers, and basically allow anyone who wants to teach whatever they see fit. Undoubtedly, this is how American education was conducted on the frontier, but seems like a very dangerous prospect in the politically divided country we have today. Additionally, Gatto’s experiences may have been relevant in New York City, but other teachers in rural areas may conduct business very differently.
Gatto really, really makes you think though, and I believe that he is correct in his belief that children are kept in a prolonged state of adolescence far too long, without the benefit of exploring what it means to become an adult. I intend to get a copy of “The Underground History of American Education” and will provide a review on that in the future.
In the mean time, take a look at the Gatto interview embedded below, or if you would like to listen to the podcast go to the “Tragedy And Hope” site linked above and look for it in the “Peace Revolution” podcasts. It will change the way you think about the learning process.