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Quotations from John Taylor Gatto's 'Dumbing Us Down' and a Few Others

Introduction

John Taylor Gatto (1935 -) is a now retired American school teacher and author of several books on education. Named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991, he is markedly critical of compulsory schooling.

When he announced his retirement, he wrote that he no longer wished to "hurt kids to make a living." Then he began a public speaking and writing career. He has received several awards, and promotes homeschooling among other things, holding that public schooling has very severe, nasty influences on children and young ones. Making children inherently confused is one of them. [Wikipedia, s.v. "John Taylor Gatto"]

Twig

Dumbing Us Down

Does the mad and often brutally competitive scramble for resources – for more pay for teachers, for more equipment, for more money for schools – teach our children about us? [Fragment from David H. Albert's Publisher's Note]

Biographical Note

I've worked as a New York City schoolteacher for the past twenty-six years. [p. ix]

From my grandfather and his independent German ways I learned a great deal. [p. x-xi]

Living in Manhattan has been for me in many ways like living on the moon . . . During that time, I've come to believe that genius is an exceedingly common human quality. [p. xi]

I began to wonder, reluctantly, whether it was possible that being in school itself was what was dumbing . . . Was it possible I had been hired not to enlarge children's power, but to diminish it? That seemed crazy . . . but slowly I began to realize that the [school] bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior. [p. xii]

I dropped the idea that I was an expert, whose job it was to fill the little heads with my expertise, and began to explore how I could remove those obstacles that prevented the inherent genius of children from gathering itself. [p. xii]

I get out of kids' way, I give them space and time and respect. [p. xiv]

The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher

Teaching means different things in different places. [p. 1 ]

Self-evaluation, the staple of every major philosophical system that ever appeared on the planet, is never considered a factor. The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents but should instead rely on the evaluation of certified officials. [p. 10-11]

The society that has come increasingly under central control . . . shows itself in the lives we lead, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the green highway signs we drive by from coast to coast, all of which are the products of this control. [p. 14]

School . . . in fact it destroys communities by relegating the training of children to the hands of certified experts and by doing so it ensures our children cannot grow up fully human. [p. 14]

The seven lessons of school-teaching – confusion, class position, indifference, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, surveillance – all of these lessons are prime training for permanent underclasses. [p. 17-18 ]

It is time that we squarely face the fact that institutional schoolteaching is destructive to children. Nobody survives the seven-lesson curriculum completely unscathed, not even the instructors. [p. 19]

Self-education . . . didn't hurt Benjamin Franklin that I can see. [p. 20]

The Psychopathic School

A Teacher of the Year is not the best teacher around. [p. 23]

Our nation ranks at the bottom of nineteen industrial nations in reading, writing, and arithmetic. [31 January 1990] [p. 23]

The children I teach have almost no curiosity, and what little they do have is transitory. They are uneasy with intimacy. They are materialistic, dependent, passive. [A selection] [31-32]

More money and more people pumped into this sick institution will only make it sicker. [p. 33]

At the core of . . . [very old] elite . . . education is the belief that self-knowledge is the only basis of true knowledge. [p. 34]

We need to invent curricula where each kid has a chance to develop private uniqueness and self-reliance. [p. 34]

A restructured school system . . . needs to stop being a parasite. [p. 36]

We Need Less School, Not More

[I disagree with the view that] replacing a bad network with a good one is the right way to go. [Cf. 51]

The "caring" in networks is in some important way feigned. [p. 55]

Networks like schools are not communities . . . No one survives these places with their humanity intact. [p. 56]

A vampire network like a school, which tears off huge chunks of time and energy needed for building community and family – and always asks for more – needs to have a stake driven through its heart and be nailed into its coffin . . . I say we need less school, not more. [p. 57]

Networks divide people, first from themselves and then from each other . . . Networks make people lonely. [p. 58]

Networks do great harm by appearing enough like real communities to create expectations that they can manage human social and psychological needs. The reality is they cannot. [p. 58]

[In] the world of mass-schooling, large cities have great difficulty supporting healthy community life. [Cf p. 62]

Over ninety percent of the United States' population now lives inside fifty urban aggregations. [p. 63]

Institutions . . . exist after management has been completely replaced. They are ideas come to life . . . The deepest purposes of these gigantic networks is to regulate and to make uniform . . . they cause much damage. [p. 64]

This philistine potential – that teaching the young for pay would inevitably expand into an institution for the protection of teachers, not students . . . made Socrates condemn the Sophists so strongly long ago in ancient Greece. [p. 65]

Grades and "classes" . . . a homelife and community exist . . . as antidote to the poison. [p. 66]

Good education = good job, good money, good things . . . This prescription makes both parent and student easier to regulate and intimidate. [p. 66]

Why . . . are we locking these kids up in an involuntary network with strangers for twelve years? [p. 67]

A pseudo community is just a different kind of network – its . . . most commonly shared dream is to get out to a better place. [p. 69]

Whistle-blowing against institutional malpractice is . . . a good way to get canned or relentlessly persecuted. [p. 71]

We should begin thinking about school reform by stopping these places from functioning like cysts . . . that take our money, our children, and our time and give nothing back. Do we really want more of it? [p. 73]

Schools are already a major cause of weak families and weak communities. [p. 74]

A Massachusetts Senator [Ted Kennedy] said a while ago that his state had a higher literacy rate before it adopted compulsory schooling than after. [p. 74]

Mass-education cannot work to produce a fair society because its daily practice is practice in rigged competition, suppression, and intimidation. [p. 77]

Working for official favor, grades, or other trinkets of subordination; these have no connection with education – they are the paraphernalia of servitude, not freedom. [p. 77]

According to [Bertrand] Russell, mass-schooling produced a recognizably American student: anti-intellectual, superstitious, lacking self-confidence, and with less of what Russell called "inner freedom" than his or her counterpart in any other nation he knew of, past or present. These schooled children became . . . inadequate. [p. 78]

"Good fences make good neighbors," said Robert Frost. The natural solution to learning to live together in a community is first to learn to live apart as individuals and as families. [p. 79]

Young people . . . don't have anything to work for now except money. [p. 79]

Two More Critics of State-governed Education

Not all are thrilled with a conformist-making education through public schooling. Here are two more voices that stand out in that choir.

Kvist

Harold Gorst from Well over a Hundred Years Ago

I believe to be a fact . . . that the foundations of all existing education systems are absolutely false in principle; and that teaching itself, as opposed to natural development and self-culture, is the greatest obstacle to human progress that social evolution has ever had to encounter. [Harold Gorst, prefatory note]

The average educated man possesses no real individuality. He is simply a manufactured article bearing the stamp of the maker. [Gorst, 1]

The officials themselves . . . are the victims of the stupid system which has placed them in the position they occupy. The education they have received has, in the first case, unfitted them for the performance of any but mechanical and routine work; and the strain of a competitive examination, involving the most unintellectual and brain-paralyzing process of cram. [Gorst, 5]

As long as education is synonymous with cramming on an organized plan, it will continue to produce mediocrity. [Gorst, 5]

We have seen that between the stupidity of the parent and the inflexibility of the school system children have little chance of developing their natural propensities. The results surround us everywhere. [Gorst, 15]

The Voice of Frank Furedi

Frank Furedi, a sociologist and parent, wrote Wasted: Why Education Isn't Educating. in 2009. Here are some lines to chew on from his book:

Kvist

The central focus of Wasted is what I consider to be the paradox of education: that the more society invests and expects of education, the less that schools and universities demand of students. [ix]

Education has become a battlefield on which often-pointless conflicts are fought. Such conflicts are not confined to any one country. They assume a particularly intense form in Anglo-American societies. [1-2

The expansion of the institution of education invariably produces meagre results. [195]

Current policies rarely address the fundamental problems, and resources are often wasted on limiting the damage caused by evading them. As a result, a significant proportion of people employed in education does very little educating. [195]

The ethos of target-setting and measuring achievement fosters a culture of self-deception throughout the institution of education. From primary to higher education, teachers spend far too much time filling in forms and ticking boxes. This is not simply a waste of time: it breeds institutional cynicism. [205]

Precisely because educational achievement is used to rank people by employers, public institutions, and the community at large, parents tend to take the schooling of their children very seriously. [207]

It is now common for parents to spend significant amounts of money for private tutors to help their children improve their examination results. Not surprisingly, the number of children entering private education has grown during the past decade. [208]

Once homework becomes an informal instrument for assessing parental behaviour, anxious fathers and mothers find it difficult to draw the line between helping and cheating. [209]

Naturally parents and children will seek to use education to pursue their private interests. . . . But education [also] requires a . . . cultural affirmation for the exercise of adult solidarity and authority. [210-11, abr.]

The failure of adult society to contain the behaviour of the young is overlooked. [211]

A great emphasis [is now] placed on the regrettable consequences of the erosion of adult authority. The failure to acknowledge this issue is the fundamental issue facing education, to which almost every problem facing schools is either directly or indirectly linked. [213]

Little of the lessons and insights that people need to learn – how to conduct relationships, communicate their problems, deal with challenges – are taught in public schools. [Toned down from p. 215]

Instead of wasting precious resources on trying to teach what cannot be taught, schools need to be orientated towards the task of providing subject-based knowledge to children. [215]

Central government has a legitimate role in outlining a basic common curriculum through which children gain access to their rightful intellectual inheritance. [217]

The Story of John Holt in Brief

John Caldwell Holt (1923-85) was an American educator and author. He became a spokesperson of homeschooling or unschooling, and also a pioneer in youth rights theory.

Holt became a fifth grade teacher who spent much time with the babies and young children of his sisters and friends and was struck by the difference between the 10-year-olds (whom he liked) and the 1- and 2-year-olds: The children in the classroom, despite their rich backgrounds and high IQs, were with few exceptions frightened, timid, evasive, and self-protecting; whereas the infants at home were bold adventurers.

He held that the primary reason children did not learn in schools was fear: fear of getting the wrong answers, fear of being ridiculed by the teacher and classmates, fear of not being good enough. He maintained that this was made worse by children being forced to study things that they were not necessarily interested in.

In 1964, Holt published his first book, How Children Fail, asserting that the academic failure of schoolchildren was not despite the efforts of the schools but actually because of the schools. The book caused a raging controversy.

In his follow-up work, How Children Learn, published in 1967, Holt tried to make clear sides to the learning process of children and why he believed school short circuits that process.

Holt then became a supporter of school reform for some years, and during this period he was a visiting teacher for the education departments at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley. Up to this time he had put hope in causing schools to be friendlier for children. But as the years passed, he became convinced that the way schools were, was what society wanted, basically. Disillusioned with the schools system, Holt ended his teaching career in order to publicise his ideas about education full-time, and became very dedicated to homeschooling, home education.

In 1980, Holt expressed the view he had found: For exploring the world, a process which includes education, home would be the best base no matter how good the schools are. Holt was now convinced that reform of the school system was not possible because it was fundamentally flawed: He believed that children did not need to be coerced into learning; they would do so naturally if given well assorted resources. In addition to home schooling, Holt also came to espouse many youth rights.

Holt's sole book on homeschooling, Teach Your Own, was published in 1981. It quickly became the "Bible" of the early homeschooling movement. It was revised by his colleague Patrick Farenga and republished in 2003 by Perseus Books.

Holt wrote a number of books that have influenced the unschooling, that is, far more free-ranging movements of individuals and organizations. Below is a large part of Holt's books.

Collection

John Taylor Gatto Quotes and Abstracts, Literature  

Furedi, Frank. Wasted: Why Education Isn't Educating. London: Continuum International Publishing, 2009.

Gatto, John Taylor. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Philadelphia, PA: New Society, 1992 (The first edition).

Gatto, John Taylor. The Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteacher's Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern Schooling. New York. The Oxford Village Press, 2003.

Gorst, Harold Edward. The Curse of Education. 3rd ed. London: Grant Richards. 1901.

Faranga, Patrick, and and Carlo Ricci, eds. The Legacy of John Holt: A Man Who Genuinely Understood, Trusted, and Respected Children. Smashwords ed. Medford, MA: HoltGWS LLC, 2014.

Holt, John. Escape From Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children.

Holt, John. Freedom and Beyond. Penguin Books, 1973

Holt, John. How Children Fail. Rev. ed. Penguin, 1984.

Holt, John. How Children Learn. Rev. ed. Penguin, 1984.

Holt, John. Learning all the Time. New ed. Da Capo Press, 1990

Holt, John. What Do I Do Monday? Dutton, 1970.

Holt, John. The Underachieving School. Penguin Books, 1971.

Holt, John, and Patrick Farenga. Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2003.

Rothbard, Murray N. Education: Free and Compulsory. Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999

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