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The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America

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Dumbing Us Down:
The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
By John Taylor Gatto


Reviewed by Samuel L. Blumenfeld

No one in America today is better qualified to report on the true condition of our government education system than John Taylor Gatto, the now-famous educator who spent 26 years teaching in six different schools in New York City and quit because he could no longer take part in a system that destroys lives by destroying minds

In 1990 the New York “Senate named Mr. Gatto New York City Teacher of the Year. The speech he gave at that occasion, “The Psychopathic School,” amounted to a devastating indictment of public education (reprinted in BEL, May 1991, under the title “Why Schools Don’t Educate”). In 1991 Mr. Gatto was named New York State Teacher of the Year, at which occasion he gave a speech, “The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher,” so insightful of the wrong-headedness of public education that it will probably become a classic in educational literature

These two remarkable speeches, plus several others, including one entitled “We Need Less School, Not More,” were published in book form last year.  And what a powerful book it is, only 104 pages long, readable in one or two sittings.  With Outcome-Based Education being imposed on schools across America, we will get much more school, not less, and the content of that schooling will produce far more confusion than we already have

Gatto was born in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, an industrial river town forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  He writes: “It was a place where independence, toughness, and self-reliance were honored, a place where pride in ethnic and local culture was very intense.   It was an altogether wonderful place to grow up, even to grow up poor.”  Gatto’s grandfather was the town printer and for a time, the publisher of the town newspaper, The Daily Republican, a source of independent thinking in a stronghold of the Democratic party

The move from Monongahela to Manhattan was quite a jolt for Gatto.  The difference in society and values turned Gatto into an anthropologist and in the next twenty-six years he used his classes “as a laboratory where I could learn a broader range of what human possibility is…and also as a place where I could study what releases and what inhibits human power.

Like so many university students, Gatto was taught by his professors that intelligence and talent were distributed throughout the population in bell curve predictability.  But his experience as a teacher taught him differently.  He writes:

    The trouble was that the unlikeliest kids kept demonstrating to me at random moments so many of the hallmarks of human excellence—insight, wisdom, justice, resourcefulness, courage, originality—that I became confused.  They didn’t do this often enough to make my teaching easy, but they did it often enough that I began to wonder, reluctantly, whether it was possible that being in school itself, was what was dumbing them down.  Was it possible I had been hired not to enlarge children’s power, but to diminish it?  That seemed crazy on the face of it, but slowly I began to realize that the bells and confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think, and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior.

Entire review here

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