John Taylor Gatto, film director Roland Legiardi-Laura, and The Odysseus Group welcome you to their Web site, which will offer you a new way to look at institutional schooling. Scroll down to learn about their film, "The Fourth Purpose." But this page is really only a mnemonic device! Go directly to John's and Roland's actual page by clicking on the green URL above!
From the website:
A free ($8.00 value) cassette recording of one of John Gatto's famous speeches attacking the sinister structure of modern forced government schooling and a free original autograph plate are yours when you order a copy of his new book, The Underground History of American Education! On this Web site only.
But we hope you'll want to buy the book before that -- all profits from book sales go to one of the three major projects of The Odysseus Group, a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization dedicated to school reform.
The rationale, history, and dynamics of Fourth Purpose school procedure are carefully examined in The Underground History of American Education.  
We call ourselves "Odysseus" because of the central lesson taught more than 2700 years ago in Homer's Odyssey, the first real novel in a European language.  Odysseus was already strong, healthy, brilliant and famous, and he had a chance to be rich, immortal, and taken care of by noble ladies and demi-goddesses … but he chucked it all to go home to his wife and kid!
Odysseus knew something our modern form of schooling has forgotten, he knew what really matters.  The Odysseus group hopes to return schooling to the service of what really matters.  This Web site will be a work in progress toward that end.  Eventually it will have a chat room and a newsletter of interesting school developments, but that will take some time; right now Odysseus is concentrating on three major projects: publishing and disseminating Underground History, raising money to make the film, The Fourth Purpose, based on the insights of the book, and building a library and retreat center in rural Chenango County (upstate New York) to which people who want to engineer their own kind of school reform plans can repair to talk to one another, read, and think...
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THE FILM:............
The Fourth Purpose:
The Enigma of Public Schools - What is the Fourth Purpose?
Scroll down for an in-depth look at this exciting new enterprise!
The work of this film will not be to uncover some vast conspiracy at work for the past century and a half, consisting of industrialists, twisted utopians, and phrenologists. Much more to the point, we hope the viewer will be compelled to look at the evidence of the persistent dumbing down of our children and ask: Is it simply bureaucratic dysfunction that has caused this or have there been other dynamics, other forces, trends and tendencies that have produced these appalling results? If so, what might they have been? The urgency of our young utopian visionaries to create a more perfect and perfectible society? The needs of our juggernaut economy to absorb a docile and tractable workforce along with its complementary requirement of a vast army of compliant consumers?
What historical developments might have fueled the shaping of policy during those early years: Immigration? The Civil War? What intellectual megatrends might have informed the architects of compulsory schooling: Darwinian thought and its evil twin, Social Darwinism; Behavioral Psychology; Taylorism; Socialism?
What goals were set down for our country? And what price were we willing to pay in order to achieve them?
There will be no easy answers to this question of a fourth purpose. The anomalies of Part I, the historical clues provided in Part II, and the alternatives in Part III will form a trail for the audience. The viewers will be asked to do work as they watch this series. They will be asked to observe, think, evaluate, and draw their own conclusions. But if they do their work and we do ours, then the audience will be rewarded with a heightened awareness of the conditions of modern schooling. And if change, real change, is truly on the minds of our politicians, parents, and education experts, awareness is essential.
The Enigma of Public Schools - The Fourth Purpose
A Three-Episode, Six-Hour Documentary Series
The Fourth Purpose will be the first documentary to provide a context within which the nature of the American public school system may be examined.
Throughout history, schools have invariably offered their students guidance in achieving three key goals recognized as essential to living a meaningful existence:
* To be a good person
* To be a good citizen
* To live the life one chooses
At the dawn of this new millennium, in the richest and most powerful nation on earth, is it not troubling to note that the school system which purports to serve more than 50 million of its children is routinely unable to deliver on any of those three goals? What is the reason for this? How badly damaged are our children? What can be done? These will be the questions addressed in our documentary as we explore our central theme: What is the purpose of the American public schools?
A nation that believes that it can live long, free and ignorant, believes what never was and never will be...

- Thomas Jefferson

[Administration] covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, guided; men are seldom restrained from acting, such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which government is the shepherd.

- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy In America

It would be a mistake to assume that the present-day educational system is unchanging. On the contrary, it is undergoing rapid change. But much of this change is no more than an attempt to refine the existent machinery, making it ever more efficient in pursuit of obsolete goals.

-Alvin Toffler

The Enigma of Public Schools:
The American school system is huge, costly, and in its present form unworkable. The debate as to how this, the second largest segment of our economy, happened to get this way and what to do about it goes on daily across the country. In corporate board rooms; government offices; university lecture halls; foundation-sponsored conferences; educational retreat; workshops and seminars; on television, radio, and the Internet; in books, newspapers, and magazines; and even in feature films, people debate and discuss what is, in the eyes of many, a national tragedy.
It's difficult for even an ace detective to follow the threads of this story. It is usually presented to us in a fragmented and abstract form. Without a context, without background, without a sense of the scope of the issue, we citizens quickly get lost, confused, or bored. But the story is an important one. It is a story we must understand.
The Fourth Purpose will be the first documentary series to examine this subject in detail. We will lay out the issues, follow the debates, challenge the experts, meet the children, teachers, and principals, and travel our vast country: past, present, and future in an effort to provide the viewer with the tools to enliven and empower a national conversation on schooling.
Bits and pieces of this conversation have been presented before. Brave documentarians like Frederick Wiseman in High School, extraordinary teachers like Jaime Escalante, Marva Collins, and John Taylor Gatto, and strong thinkers like Ivan Illich and John Holt have all raised their banners questioning the operating tenets of American schooling. But no one, except Gatto, has yet offered a comprehensive look at the system, from the inside out, and through its history. And no one has carefully examined the alternatives and presented a coherent set of possibilities for meaningful change. The Fourth Purpose will offer this overview. We will do it in a way that is compelling and catalytic.
The Episodes
I. Why?
-The Anomalies of Modern American Schooling -
The series will begin in the present. In an attempt to frame the debate in as graphic a manner as possible, we will present a series of anomalies: How is it that in a country as developed as the United States, reading scores have declined steadily since World War II? Math equally so? That 15 percent of public school children carry weapons to school each month? The incidence of sexual abuse of students by faculty as well as other students is on the rise? Testing has never been able to predict a child's success in later life? School texts are massively inaccurate? A disproportionate number of children, specifically minorities, are relegated to "special education" classes? In comparative tests with the children of other developed countries, ours regularly fall in the bottom 25 percent?
The evidence will be examined and debated by parents, students, teachers, school officials, and experts. A clip from Stand and Deliver, for example, will illustrate math teacher Jaime Escalante's method of teaching calculus to "underachieving" and underprivileged Chicano students.
Parents and teachers from affluent Littleton, Colorado, home of Columbine High School will talk with their peers from Chicago's South Side about the anguish and cause of school violence. And the question will be raised-Is there a fourth purpose of schooling that might explain many or even all of these phenomena?
II. How Did It Get This Way?
- A Brief History of Public Schooling -
 This episode will begin by drawing portraits of schooling in Classical Greece, Rome, medieval France, England, Germany, and Italy.
We will then focus on Colonial America and explore one of the main assertions of the series: that an economy reflects the visionary goals of a populace and determines the shape of schooling. And when those economic forces veer away in opposition to a culture's vision of itself, the society in question becomes dysfunctional.
We will then take a closer look at the historical imperatives that have shaped our schools, beginning with the Prussian discovery that simplifying childhood and removing its responsibilities lead to a docile, tractable workforce. We will move through the work of John Dewey, Horace Mann, and William Torrey Harris. And we will focus on the key moments in American schooling: the creation of the one-room school house; the invention of compulsory schooling; the start of the factory system and its cousin, the factory school; the building of the great teachers colleges; the advent of private prep schools and academies for the rich; the beginning of standardized testing; and the invention of textbooks.
We will finish with a look at what we have created-a sort of balance sheet-evaluating the human product that we produce in America today after a dozen years of our brand of schooling.
III. What Else Is Possible?
- Options Within and Without the System -
 The series will build to its climax by surveying the workable alternatives that have evolved here and abroad. Part III will begin with looks at the amazingly successful Amish system in Lancaster, Pa., and the Mondragon cooperative in the Basque region of Spain. We will look at the different theories of childhood as presented by the Harmony School in Bloomington, Ind., Rudolf Steiner's Waldorf System, the Montessori package, the explosively growing homeschool movement, traditional private schooling, viable private sector possibilities, and alternatives that have emerged within the public school system itself as expressed by the experiments of Escalante, Collins, and Gatto. We will again follow the lives of children as they learn how to become independent, self-sustaining individuals.
We will summarize the work ahead, make suggestions, exhort people to action, and ask one final question: How shall we prepare our children to live in America?

Perhaps the greatest of school's illusions is that the institution was launched by a group of kindly men and women who wanted to help the children of ordinary families -- To level the playing field so to speak.

... let's see what's really behind the curtain ...
The Makers of Modern Schooling

The real makers of modern schooling weren't at all who we think. Not Cotton Mather or Horace Mann or John Dewey. The real makers of modern schooling were leaders of the new American industrialist class, men like Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron... John D. Rockefeller, the duke of oil... Henry Ford, master of the assembly line which compounded steel and oil into a vehicular dynasty... and J.P. Morgan, the king of capitalist finance...

Men like these, and the brilliant efficiency expert Frederick W. Taylor, who inspired the entire "social efficiency" movement of the early twentieth century, along with providing the new Soviet Union its operating philosophy and doing the same job for Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany; men who dreamed bigger dreams than any had dreamed since Napoleon or Charlemagne, these were the makers of modern schooling.
The Business of Schooling
If modern schooling has a "Fourth Purpose," there must be an earlier three. Traditional forms of instruction in America, even before the Revolution, had three specific purposes:
1. To make good people
2. To make good citizens
3. And to make each student find some particular talents to develop to the maximum.
The new mass schooling which came about slowly but continuously after 1890, had a different purpose, a "fourth" purpose.
The fourth purpose steadily squeezed the traditional three to the margins of schooling; in the fourth purpose, school in America became like school in Germany, a servant of corporate and political management.
We should reveal the mechanism of mind control training, habits, and attitudes. Children were literally trained in bad habits and bad attitudes! Teachers and principals, "scientifically"certified in teachers college practices, were made unaware of the invisible curriculum they really taught.
The secret of commerce, that kids drive purchases, meant that schools had to become psychological laboratories where training in consumerism was the central pursuit.
Since bored people are the best consumers, school had to be a boring place, and since childish people are the easiest customers to convince, the manufacture of childishness, extended into adulthood, had to be the first priority of factory schools. Naturally, teachers and administrators weren't let in on this plan; they didn't need to be. If they didn't conform to instructions passed down from increasingly centralized school offices, they didn't last long.
In the new system, schools were gradually re-formed to meet the pressing need of big businesses to have standardized customers and employees, standardized because such people are predictable in certain crucial ways by mathematical formulae. Business (and government) can only be efficient if human beings are redesigned to meet simplified specifications. As the century wore on, school spaces themselves were opened bit by bit to commercialization.
These processes didn't advance evenly. Some localities resisted more than others, some decades were more propitious for the plan than others. Especially during and just after national emergencies like WWI, the Depression, WWII, and the Sputnik crisis, the scheme rocketed forward; in quieter moments it was becalmed or even forced to give up some ground.
But even in moments of greatest resistance, the institutions controlling the fourth purpose-great corporations, great universities, government bureaus with vast powers to reward or punish, and corporate journalism-increasingly centralized in fewer and fewer hands throughout the twentieth century, kept a steady hand on the tiller. They had ample resources to wear down and outwait the competition.
The prize was of inestimable value--control of the minds of the young.
School Becomes a Dangerous Place
After 1900 the new mass schooling arenas slowly became impersonal places where children were viewed as HUMAN RESOURCES. Whenever you hear this term, you are certain to be in the presence of employees of the fourth purpose, however unwitting. Human resource children are to be molded and shaped for something called "The Workplace," even though for most of American history American children were reared to expect to create their own workplaces.
In the new workplace, most Americans were slated to work for large corporations or large government agencies, if they worked at all.
This revolution in the composition of the American dream produced some unpleasant byproducts. Since systematic forms of employment demand that employees specialize their efforts in one or another function of systematic production, then clear thinking warns us that incomplete people make the best corporate and government employees.
Earlier Americans like Madison and Jefferson were well aware of this paradox, which our own time has forgotten. And if that is so, mutilation in the interests of later social efficiency has to be one of the biggest tasks assigned to forced schooling.
Not only was the new form of institution spiritually dangerous as a matter of course, but school became a physically dangerous place as well.
What better way to habituate kids to abandoning trust in their peers (and themselves) than to create an atmosphere of constant low-level stress and danger, relief from which is only available by appeal to authority? And many times not even then!
Horace Mann had sold forced schooling to industrialists of the mid-nineteenth century as the best "police" to create moral children, but ironically, as it turned out in the twentieth century, big business and big government were best served by making schoolrooms antechambers to Hell,
School Becomes An Arena of Meaningless Pressure
As the twentieth century progressed, and particularly after WWII, schools evolved into behavioral training centers, laboratories of experimentation in the interests of corporations and the government. The original model for this development had been Prussian Germany, but few remembered.
School became jail-time to escape if you could, arenas of meaningless pressure as with the omnipresent "standardized" exams, which study after study concluded were measuring nothing real.
For instance, take the case of Bill Bradley. . . and George W. Bush, two of the four finalists in the 2000 presidential race. Bradley had a horrifying 480 on the verbal part of his own SATs, yet graduated from Princeton, won a Rhodes Scholarship, and became a senator; Bush graduated from Yale, became governor of Texas, and president of the United States - with a mediocre 550.
If you can become governor, senator, and president with mediocre SAT scores, what exactly do the tests measure?
Perhaps they sort out good scientists from bad? If so, how is it that both the scientists principally involved in the Human Genome Project have strange scholarly backgrounds to say the least!
Francis S. Collins, the head of the public portion, was homeschooled, never followed any type of formal curriculum, and is a born-again Christian.
Craig Venter was a very bad boy in high school, a surfing bum who nearly flunked out, and he didn't go to college after graduation, but into the U.S. Army as an enlisted man before being shipped off to Vietnam!
As you'll learn when you read The Underground History of American Education the new purpose of schooling -- to serve business and government -- could only be achieved efficiently by isolating children from the real world, with adults who themselves were isolated from the real world, and everyone in the confinement isolated from one another.
Only then could the necessary training in boredom and bewilderment begin. Such training is necessary to produce dependable consumers and dependent citizens who would always look for a teacher to tell them what to do in later life, even if that teacher was an ad man or television anchor.
You can e-mail John at
Editorial notes: I sell John's great book too, in my online bookstore, but you need to get it from him, because he gets more money per copy that way, and he needs every penny he can earn by it! But if they run out, I have them too.
Also, take a look at my John Taylor Gatto page, which will guide you to all of John's penetrating essays on education originally published in SKOLE, the Journal of Alternative Education over the 14 years of its publication, including a review of John's The Underground History of American Education (in its earlier incarnation asThe Empty Child, first published in Paths of Education, successor to SKOLE.).
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