It sounds overly dramatic, I know, but I truly feel that John Taylor Gatto has liberated my soul by writing DUMBING US DOWN. But that is exactly what he has done. John Taylor Gatto confirms everything I had always believed about schools: that they are simply cruel prisons where spirits are destroyed and minds are conquered. Easy for me to say, though, seeing as how I myself never did too well in school. John Taylor Gatto, on the other hand, has been named Teacher of the Year several years running by both New York City and State. Here is someone accepted by the teaching establishment, honored by the teaching establishment. He speaks for me and thousands of others who've been tortured in these horrible institutions.
John Taylor Gatto reveals many fascinating, and frightening, things. For example, literacy went down in the US after the advent of compulsory schooling. Yes, more people could read and write before schooling was mandatory. Gatto says this is because reading, writing, and arithmetic only take about 100 hours to transmit, but schools purposefully distort the learning process and intentionally slow down the students' learning so as to justify robbing them of 12 years of their lives while they teach what Gatto refers to as the seven lessons schools really teach:
2. Class position
4. Emotional dependency
5. Intellectual dependency
6. Provisional self-esteem
7. One can't hide
It was Adam Robinson's WHAT SMART STUDENTS KNOW that first introduced me to the fact that school distorts the learning process and that if you want to be a good student you basically have to unlearn everything school teaches you about learning. It is Gatto's DUMBING US DOWN that explains *why* school distorts the learning process. The bitter truth, according to Gatto, is that mandatory schooling was invented by industry barons so as to ensure that the poor would not have a revolution, as well as to prepare their children for a transition into the industrial age. Another purpose was to shield the population from the "contamination" of the new Latin immigrants from Europe, as well as from the movement of African Americans through the country in the wake of the civil war. But Gatto doesn't stop there. He also holds compulsory schooling accountable for the breakdown of the family (he says we no longer have communities, but live in "networks"), the materialism of our society (because the only way to get any attention in a network is to buy it), and the drug use and suicide rate among our children and teens (because, Gatto says, it is absurd and anti-life to take children away from their families, trap children in a room eight hours a day, and allow them to interact only with those of the same age and social class).
The most startling point Gatto makes in this book, for me at least, is that industry barons purposefully encouraged schools to implant in students the idea that success in school is mandatory for financial success. Gatto argues that it is absurd to instill in children the idea that learning is only important if you are being graded, grades which one would want to be high so as to convert into high incomes. According to the author, rich children commit suicide at a higher rate than the poor or middle class (he suggests this is because the rich are often schooled more than the rest of us). Why try to drive home to children the idea that wealth is the key to happiness when it is common knowledge that it is not?
I myself struggled with suicidal thoughts as a child and a teen. It is directly related to the nightmare and torture of schooling. I thank John Taylor Gatto for exposing this compulsory prison for what it is, and I encourage any reader of DUMBING US DOWN to also search out Gatto's most recent book THE UNDERGROUND HISTORY OF AMERICAN EDUCATION.