Against School

Against School, How public education cripples our kids and why
John Taylor Gatto
Harper's Magazine, September 2003 [not available online]

We live in tumultous times. The citizenry is not in open revolt, and we don't have guillotines in the streets, but take it from me, there's a revolution going on.

Consider: Intellectual capital is now worth more than plant and equipment. Industrial-age management no longer works. Networks are replacing hierarchy. Cycles are more frequent and more volatile. Cooperation edges out competition. Innovation trumps efficiency. Flexibility beats might. Everything's global.

The past no longer illuminates the future. Yesterday's solutions won't solve tomorrow's problems. We need fresh thinking. Zero-based philosophy. A new page. And that's why it is sensible to listen to dissidents.

John Taylor Gatto is an award-winning school teacher who decided that compulsory schooling is what's wrong with our nation's educational system. Tom Jefferson and Abe Lincoln did okay without it, as do millions of home-schoolers today.

Gatto has a marvellous, rabble-rousing website. Read his five-page lead essay in Harper's. You won't be able to resist going to his site for more.

    "Boredom was everywhere in my world, and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave the same answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers didn't seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren?t interested in learning more. And the kids were right: their teachers were every bit as bored as they were."

    "...the Prussian system was useful in creating not only a harmless electorate and a servile labor force but also a virtual herd of mindless consumers."

    Woodrow Wilson, in 1909, said, "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."

Cloister the children, strip them of responsibility and independence, and they will never grow up.

Use this failed model as the blueprint for training adults, and they will never learn.

Posted by Jay Cross at August 26, 2003 10:00 PM | TrackBack


The Fall '91 issue of the Whole Earth Review published The Six-Lesson School Teacher, a satire of conventional schoolteaching by John Taylor Gatto. May be of interest to you and your readers.


Posted by: Alex Gault at August 29, 2003 12:59 PM

Thanks, Alex. That's a good one. I have to use this URL to get there:

For those who aren't aware, Alex is the former editor of Whole Earth Review.

Posted by: Jay at August 30, 2003 12:06 AM

Jay: Once again Thanks! ... I had not heard about John Gatto's works until I stumbled across a review on itime ... I love it when someone articualtes and proves what I've always suspected. dg

Posted by: David Grebow at September 1, 2003 12:11 PM

John Gatto is a great wake-up call but not without his critics. Among the five-star reviews on Amazon is this pan:

    Misguided Hidden Agenda of an ANarchist, April 25, 2003

    Reviewer: A reader from Denville, NJ USA

    A browsing of the reviews of Mr. Gatto's latest tretise would make one think that this book is The Bible incarnate. The book is a favorite of Home Schoolers, hence the lavish reviews here. But Mr. Gatto, through his many writings an position in the Libertarian Party, dislikes and mistrusts capitalism, corporations, and government in general.
    Here's the scoop: yes, school systems can be better. But they are much better than they were when we were kids. AT least in the suburbs which Mr. Gatto has no clue. Mr. Gatto is against a national education system, but such a system would free kids frm the property-tax discrimination system now in place!

    Mr. Gatto makes you think that School is the cause of all the ills in urban society where he taught. As a native New Yroker myself, the problems are far deeper. These children come to school from broken homes, with little discipline, and poor parenting with no value for learning. Why do Asian immigrants do so much better in the same school system? "It's the culture, stupid!" Not the school.

    Mr. Gatto's solution (here an in his other writings) is to wax poetic about the pre-industrial world where folks lived simply in trademan jobs in small towns. Come to reality, Mr. Gatto! Those tradesmen did not elinamate the 1 in 5 kids who died before age five, or kept you alive to 90, or give you more time with your kids because of modern technological conveniences. Modern socieyt did all that. Everything has its tradeoffs.

    Mr. Gatto believes that no school is best. Home schooling (just a little) is preferred. Great if we all could afford that. And the family culture of inner city families makes this a pipe dream.A s a New Yorker, I cannot imagine the masses of students hanging out causing trouble all day as they "learn naturally."

    Apprentiships and providing trademen alternatives in school (not just college) is laudable, but Gatto's disdain for anything oganized makes this a well-disguised treatise of an Anarchist, plain and simple.

Posted by: Jay at September 1, 2003 10:10 PM

World are evolving into the patterns of living systems. The meta-level learning that we are all engaged in is learning to work with network principles. Decision making and knowledge creation are not rational processes, but social processes.

Posted by: Valerian at October 17, 2003 05:12 AM

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