"You either write your own script, or you become an actor in somebody else's script." -- John Taylor Gatto

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Warning: If you are easily offended…DO NOT READ!

At great risk of upsetting all of my dear family and friends who are public school teachers, I discuss a book I recently read.  I just have to respect a guy who is willing to take a stand.   Today that someone is John Taylor Gatto, author of Dumbing us Down and Weapons of Mass Instruction, New York City Teacher of the Year, 30 year veteran of public school instruction.  He now has devoted his life to fighting for school reform.  His latest book, Weapons of Mass Instruction, was a real eye opener for me.

I’ll give you two reasons to read this book

1.  Most likely you have been to public school yourself or you have children or grandchildren in public school – and you ought to hear his ‘insider’ side of the story.

2It is highly entertaining.  More entertaining than anything you will watch on your flat screen tonight.  It is funny, violent, inspiring, full of intrigue and conspiracy and there is plenty of drama.  In fact, I am willing to bet that at some point it will make you cry.  Gatto is hoping it will make you mad.  Mad enough to want to act.

Everything you know about school is wrong.  That is the title of the first chapter.  This newest revelation in the schooling world is full of research, experience and stories to illustrate his strong opinion of what is happening and what should be done.  He doesn’t apologize for his stand, he doesn’t sugar coat his ideas.  If you pick up this book you will get some straight talkin’. 

Here are just a few of his points:
1.    Education is essential. 
2.    Schooling gets in the way of what is essential.
3.    Only you can educate yourself.
4.    Modern schooling was specifically designed for a purpose and it is fulfilling that purpose very well: creating consumers.

There is little point in arguing that we have an education problem in our country.  We do.  Some of the more recent school reforms have done nothing to help and have only tied the hands of dedicated teachers and further squelched the enthusiasm of students.  We have a problem and we need to man up and do something about it.  After reading Gatto’s books I feel absolutely certain we have the wrong people at the head of education in America.  Let’s replace Arne Duncan with John Taylor Gatto.  It won’t happen because I am positive Gatto won’t stand for Chicago politics messing with this nation’s children…even if their parents think it will bring hope and change .  Or why don’t we oust Kevin Jennings, czar of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, founder of GLSEN (What is GLSEN??? Click here: http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/about/history/index.html?state=about&type=about) and director while this recommended reading list for your publicly schooled children between grade 7 and 12 was compiled (Warning, some of the content is very explicit: http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/booklink/7-12.html).

But wait, I slip back into my box-like thinking.  One of Gatto’s points is that fixing things within the system isn’t going to work.  It’s the system itself that is getting in the way of true educational reform.  Why?  When you are at the top, you just don’t want to change things.   And the system and methods of American education are designed to promote the consumerism our society is convinced is necessary for survival.  Throwing 4.5 billion into a race to the top is really just the same spin over again to get the public thinking something is being done.  And it is.  Your money is being spent on a system that will help millions of children discover they really hate learning.

Have you read Gatto’s books?  What are some of your ideas for changing the face of American education? 


Merty said...

This is a GREAT book. I highly recommend it. I have listened to parts of it, and the writer is hilarious and very insightful. No doubt aided by knowing exactly what he is talking about!!

JoDean said...


You've inspired me yet again! I bought this book because of the author and catchy title though I have yet to read it. I'll put it on top of the "to read" stack.

Ann Agent said...

OH Boy, I have known this all along and have yet to read the book. Its on my long list of ones to read. Thanks for your perspective! I hope many more read it and understand what we are up against if we want to fix the problem.

Heather said...

I have read about GLSEN before. It blows my mind that it can be out there and people are not revolting in the streets. I have Gatto's book The Underground History of Education but I got it this past fall right when I was diving into several other things and haven't read it yet. I have read Dumbing Us Down.

My opinion is that schools should be run at the community level. Period. No feds. No state. It is about making school more than job training. Did you know that they are doing aptitude testing in 1st grade now so that kids can know what their good at so they can choose what to do? That is CRAZY! 1st grade . . .

I also think students need to be taught that they are responsible to learn. No one else can make them learn. It is really true now that teachers, parents, administrators, specialists all are told to teach but the student is never taught that it is their choice to take it in. They wait to learn because no one told them they could do it. I was amazed when my kids came out of public school how few decisions they could actually make on their own. They had been spoon-fed in school for so long that they couldn't even tell me what they wanted to learn about.

And lastly, I always love a good soapbox especially when it is about something important. I love books that tell the truth in no-nonsense. Gatto is great. Thanks for sharing it with me.

Deon said...

Heather - I didn't know about the aptitude testing in first grade. Whoever thought that up must not know much about children - or how people develop. Ann - I think you are already doing a lot to fix the problem. In fact, Gatto dedicated this book to you.

Merty said...

Yeah, really, Ann, this book is probably written with you in mind. Keep it up. :)