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Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of…

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (1992)

by John Taylor Gatto

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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. ( )
  ZyPhReX | Jan 23, 2017 |
3.5 stars. 4 is too generous while 3 is unfair. The book brought up some interesting points, but nothing to write home about. ( )
  katcoviello | Sep 21, 2016 |
‘Dumbing us down’ is subtitled, ‘The hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling’, and consists of the text of five speeches that the author has made. One of them, was somewhat ironically his acceptance speech after being given an award by his state for being ‘teacher of the year’. Thsi book is considered a classic in home educating circles.

The first chapter, ‘The seven-lesson school teacher’, outlines what the author perceives as the ‘lessons’ taught across the United States, no matter what the subject. The first lesson he mentions is ‘confusion’ - the non-connectedness of everything, something which often seems to be the case in standard schooling.

On the other hand, the second lesson, ‘Class position’, is something I didn’t relate to. Until secondary school, I don’t remember having grades at all; perhaps the UK has not yet gone so far down the 'dumbing' path as the US. Still, there's plenty to think about. Gatto argues that there are serious problems with the lack of privacy in schools and the need to learn what teachers decide rather than according to the student’s interests.

This book isn’t to attack education or classrooms as such; Gatto is, after all, a teacher himself. He merely wants to demonstrate the difficulties that can arise with the principle of classroom schooling as we know it, where the student has little say in what he learns. Obviously some schools are a great deal better than others.

Much of the book ties in with other books I’ve been reading on different topics, and issues in everyday life. I found myself several times seeing schooling as a metaphor for other aspects of human existence.

Highly recommended to anyone interested in education, whether at school or at home, and indeed to anyone interested in seeing how government restrictions can cause us to accept something that makes no sense at all when we think about it rationally. ( )
  SueinCyprus | Mar 23, 2016 |
Fore pretty much everything this book has to offer and more I suggest his later work "Weapons of Mass Instruction." ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
I was a good student, this is what I learned in school.
Confusion, Class Position, Indifference, Emotional Dependency, Intellectual Dependency, Provisional Self-Esteem, One Can't Hide
( )
  ChrisPisarczyk | Mar 17, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0865714487, Paperback)

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).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:05 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"New 10th anniverary edition."--Cover.

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