John Taylor Gatto – the anti-schooler

John Taylor Gatto is a well known critic of schooling. I stumbled onto his name and even found a source of lots of audio files where he explains his views. These can be found at a great site which hosts lots of audio files on different subjects, called . The Gatto material is here.

Having listened to him, I am of the opinion that while his criticism of schools is stimulating and based on 30 years of experience as a teacher, he does not offer up many useful suggestions on how to improve things. He seems convinced that there was some golden age in the past, before schooling, when people were happier, more independent, and better people. He makes a number of arbitrary statements about the purpose of education, and seems to feel that being an eloquent debater is the most important attribute of a citizen and should be the goal of education. He also complains that modern education only exists to train people to work in factories and consume and that this is a bad thing.

From my reading, in the good old days, people did not move around much because they couldn’t. They regularly died of starvation when there was a bad harvest, because crops could not move and could not be stored. Productivity of the land was low, since fields had to lie fallow for one out of two or three years.

People were at the mercy of the landlord, nobility or king. They were either conscripted into wars, or suffered the depredations of marauding soldiers regularly. Life expectancy was 30-40 years. The court and nobility were the only consumers of anything.

Most people today, at least in the developed world, and increasingly elsewhere, have jobs, produce a wide variety of increasingly sophisticated products. The average consumer enjoys luxuries that royalty could not have dreamed of. Life expectancy is over 70 years. We all can read. I would not want to have lived in the old days.

Some quotes from Gatto on education. These are more interesting than his wilder claims.

On the school system

“1. Makes the children confused. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize, to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials that programming is similar to the television, fills almost the whole, “free” time of the children. One sees and hears something, to forget it again.

2. It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.

3. It makes them indifferent.

4. It makes them emotionally dependent.

5. It teaches them a kind of self-confidence, which require constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).

6. It makes it clear to them that they can not hide, because they are always supervised.”

The cost in New York State for building a well-schooled child in the year 2000 is $200,000 per body when lost interest is calculated. That capital sum invested in the child’s name over the past twelve years would have delivered a million dollars to each kid as a nest egg to compensate for having no school. The original $200,000 is more than the average home in New York costs. You wouldn’t build a home without some idea what it would look like when finished, but you are compelled to let a corps of perfect strangers tinker with your child’s mind and personality without the foggiest idea what they want to do with it.

Law courts and legislatures have totally absolved school people from liability. You can sue a doctor for malpractice, not a schoolteacher. Every homebuilder is accountable to customers years after the home is built; not schoolteachers, though. You can’t sue a priest, minister, or rabbi either; that should be a clue.

“In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.


Socrates foresaw if teaching became a formal profession, something like this would happen. Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard; by subordinating the laity to the priesthood. School is too vital a jobs-project, contract giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be “re-formed.” It has political allies to guard its marches, that’s why reforms come and go without changing much. Even reformers can’t imagine school much different.”

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One Response to John Taylor Gatto – the anti-schooler

  1. Robert Dress says:

    These are all interesting points how ever no collage wants a home school kid.

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