Dumbing Us Down:
The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
 
dumbing.gif
by John Taylor Gatto
Published by New Society Publishers
(4527 Springfield Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143)
1992: 104 pages, $9.95 paper
jtgclass.gif
John in class with his kids
 
From the back cover:
 
John Taylor Gatto has just resigned [1992] after 26 years of award-winning teaching in Manhattan's public schools. He will continue practicing his unique guerrilla curriculum with the Albany Free School, while travelling around the country to promote a radical transformation of state schooling.
 
Dumbing Us Down reveals the deadening heart of compulsory state schooling: assumptions and structures that stamp out the selfknowledge, curiosity, concentration and solitude essential to learning. Between schooling and television, our children have precious little time to learn for themselves about the community they live in, or the lives they might lead. Instead, they are schooled to merely obey orders and become smoothly functioning cogs in the industrial machine.

In his 26 years of teaching, John Taylor Gatto has found that independent study, community service, large doses of solitude and a thousand different apprenticeships with adults of all walks of life are the keys to helping children break the thrall of our conforming society. For the sake of our children and our communities, John Taylor Gatto urges all of us to get schools out of the way and find ways to re-engage children and families in actively controlling our culture, economy and society.

 
"John Gatto's splendid writings say exactly what needs to be said. I just hope people are listening."

- Christopher Lasch, author, The True and Only Heaven

 
"These are moving and powerful pieces. I shall reread them many times."

- Deborah W. Meier, Founder, Central Park East Secondary School, East Harlem

 

 
Advance Praise for Dumbing Us Down:
 
Ever since winning notice as the New York State Teacher of the Year, John Taylor Gatto has been offered opportunities to share his critique of compulsory education. People from all across North America responded so strongly to his talks and occasional articles, that we asked him to write the longer pieces collected here in Dumbing Us DowrL Here's some of what people are saying about John's work
 
"Your words hit the nail on the head. Our schools leave no time for kids to be with parents and the community. The seeds of your ideas are here ready to sprout."
 

- Bonni McKeown, Capon Springs, WV

 
"I heard you speak on the McNeill/Lehrer News Hour and am in complete agreement with you. When I first started teaching here, I was amazed to find everything the same as in New York City~the same insane assumptions, the same insane beliefs, the same insane way of doing things, the same lack of education."
 

- Ed Rauchut, NEH Teacher/Scholar for Nebraska, Omaha, NE

 
"Your words very concisely captured all my frustrations and concerns of wanting to be an 'educator' in a society that schools well but fails to educate. Amen, Amen, Amen! is my response."
 

- Kathleen Trumbull, Teacher, Silver Bay, MN

 
"I am not an educator, nor a parent, nor a concerned citizen. I am a product of the problems you describe. Although I had a passionate desire to learn, some excellent teachers and a diploma, I realized very soon how almost useless the whole experience had been for me. Parents, students, especially the students, need to know the things you talk about."

- Praya Desai, Philadelphia, PA

 

"Anyone like John Gatto, with the courage and tenacity to go against the bureaucratic hierarchy, is looked upon as a troublemaker. But the principles that John espouses are really not new or radical, but fundamental to learning anything. The fact that that they seem controversial to current administrators shows how far they have strayed from the real purpose of their employment."

- Ron Hitchon, Intermodal East, Secaucus, NJ

 
"Your analysis of the crisis in schooling, its difference from real education and the relation between schooling/television and the apathetic blindered world view so prevalent among Americans really gets to the root of our disintegrated society. "
 

- David Werner, The Hesperian Foundation, Palo Alto, CA

 
"What you say is really happening on my island. It is very true that schooling is made for those people who are intended to be controlled and their lives predicted."

- Alfred T. Apatang, Rota, M.P.

 
"You have enlightened as well as frightened me. I win think carefully about many many things but ever so carefully about bringing the human spirit back into my classroom to help my children see and feel the wholeness of their lives."

- Ruth Schmitt, Tuba City, AZ

 

Publisher's Note
 
The social philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote that, "The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any. "*
 
If one were to poll our nation's leading educators about what the goal of our educational systems should be, I suspect one would come up with as many goals as educators. But I also imagine that the capacity to form one's own convictions independent of what was being taught in the classroom, the ability to think critically based upon one's own experience, would not rank high on many lists. In fact, the idea that the goal of education might have little to do with what goes on in the classroom would likely strike most educators, of whatever political stripe, as heresy.
 
In the context of our culture, it is easy to see that critical thinking is a threat. As parents, we all want what is "best" for our children. Yet, by our own actions and lifestyles, and through the demands that we place on our educational institutions, it is clear that by "best" we all-too-often mean . most." This shift from the qualitative to the quantitative, fi7om thinking about what is best for the holistic development of the individual human being to thinking about which resources should be available to serni-monopoly governmental educational institutions certainly does not bear close scrutiny.
 
Shouldn't we also ask ourselves what the consequences are of scrambling to provide the "most" of everything to our children in a world of fast-dwindling resources? What 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? More crucially, what message does this mad scramble send to those children who, through no fault of their own, lose out in the competition? And what would be the cost to the social fabric if our children's convictions were based on their experience? (Perhaps we are already paying the cost of the development of such convictions, however poorly articulated, in the forms of violence, chemical dependency, teenage pregnancy, and a host of other social fils affecting today's young people?)
 
Eclectic, engaging, and not readily pigeon-holed, John Taylor Gatto's thinking forces us to re-examine some of our most cherished assumptions in the light of his and his students'day-to-day experience. He provides few ready made solutions or optimistic answers for the future of our schools. What he does provide through the example of his twenty-six years of teaching is first a commitment to providing quality options to the poor and disadvantaged, who are most in need of them, and second conscienticization so that at least his students come to some critical understanding of what is being done to them in the name of "schooling."
 
Gatto's vision of our social order may be bleak, but It also provides at least a ray of hope in the example and idea that free-thinking and critically aware indviduals, freely united in newly reconstructed communities can correct social Ills and lead us toward a future truly worth living in. Because we share the conviction that this is both desirable and possible, we at New Society Publishers are proud to publish Dumbing Us DowrL
 

- David H. Albert for New Society Publishers 13 June 1991

 
*Hanna Arendt, Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), p168.
 
Click here to read a chapter from the book.
Back to the Review page
Back to Gatto page