From the underground

You can read John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education (2000) for free online.

A former teacher and long-time critic of the system, Gatto is the author of Dumbing Us Down, A Different Kind of Teacher, The Exhausted School and Educating Your Child in Modern Times: Raising an Intelligent, Sovereign, & Ethical Human Being.

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Comments

  1. So, do you like it?

  2. Wow, this must be the worst, most hopelessly distorted report on what public education is that I have ever read. And boy, that is saying something. I went to the link and clicked in and read the prolog. I read on and on, thinking I would find one sentence that I could say, “this is a true thing.” I failed to find one, though the first couple of paragraphs probably had me so nonplused that I may have missed one or two.

    Let me start with that bit I first read:

    “Our problem in understanding forced schooling stems from an inconvenient fact: that the wrong it does from a human perspective is right from a systems perspective. You can see this in the case of six-year-old Bianca, who came to my attention because an assistant principal screamed at her in front of an assembly, “BIANCA, YOU ANIMAL, SHUT UP!” Like the wail of a banshee, this sang the school doom of Bianca. Even though her body continued to shuffle around, the voodoo had poisoned her.

    Do I make too much of this simple act of putting a little girl in her place? It must happen thousands of times every day in schools all over.”

    Ok, now I have taught for 42 years in four states and overseas. Never in my whole career have I ever heard even once a school teacher or official speak to a child in such a manner. If so, that person would have been fired within the hour. To say that something like that happens thousands of times every day is just absurd.

    The rest of the prologue is about the same, waving frantically the bloody shirt and making completely off the wall highly charged generalizations that don’t stand a moment’s introspection.

    It just left me sad that people would read this tripe and think that is what happens in schools.
    atlas

  3. carol m says:

    I’m thinking, tho I could be wrong, that a number of years ago I tried reading a book of his about educ. and it was pretty much as described above……needless to say I didn’t get thru much of it before I gave it up.

  4. Fleming says:

    This is a fascinating book. A very interesting look at the history of schooling.

    I couldn’t help but compare the “taming” effect of public schools with the domestication of the dog from the wolf. Domestic dogs have much smaller brains, and a much narrower range of cognitive skills to choose from, than a wolf.

    We may be creating the human equivalent using the domesticating effect of public schools.

  5. Atlas, I believe you when you say you haven’t witnessed this, and I hope it’s rare. But there was a short series of articles in the local paper some time back about a 2nd grade teacher who called the kids “monkeys” and used abusive language. The parents complained bitterly but the principal said she had tenure and nothing could be done. Actually, she probably could be disciplined and/or fired, but it would be a lot of trouble.

  6. Yes, Laura, of course this person could and certainly should be fired. Just because it would be a lot of trouble is no excuse. That principal has no trouble cashing that paycheck and should be willing to do the distasteful thing and document the behavior and get the process going. That is what accepting that paycheck requires after all.

    Everybody can be fired in education. Nobody likes to do it. That isn’t what we went to college to do. Due process must be followed of course, but it certainly can be done.
    atlas

  7. Nicksmama says:

    I had a 2nd grade teacher who seemed to enjoy slapping our palms with a metal-tipped yardstick for even the most minor infraction.

    In high school, I had a geometry teacher who would refer to you by your grade-level when she called on you to solve a problem that she had written on the board. She would say “let’s see if Jane, the Junior, can you solve this one.” Then, if you gave an incorrect answer, she would yell “liar!” and “now let’s see if Gina, the sophmore, can give us the correct answer.” Looking back, I am sure she had some sort of mental illness. But as I understand it, she was still teaching 15 years later.

    I still wonder why I didn’t feel empowered enough to share this with anyone in a higher position. I guess early on I knew my place in the heirarchy of the school system.

  8. Mama, the higher ups knew all about it and were just too craven to do anything about it. As you can tell from my above posts, administrators that let things like that slide are my peave.

    We have to keep things in perspective if we can. For every loser teacher there are dozens that show up and do a good job. what profession is that not true of?
    atlas

  9. Gatto does a marvelous job of showing that even teachers who do a “good job” are committing injustices against our children. The system allows only injustice, in the name of “education.”

    For those of you with an open mind (rare in people above 30), read the entire book, the whole sad history of public education. Forget about the apologists for the system, the lackeys. Think for yourself.

  10. Gatto is the Michael Moore of the anti public school crowd.

  11. superdestroyer says:

    I wonder if Mr Gatto sees a homeschooled, self-trained physician about his medical problems. Or does some how medical school get it right whereas high school fail?

  12. Public schools in the US are a disgrace. Only the brave will admit that. Most are conformists, who go along to get along, working for that pension.

  13. “For those of you with an open mind (rare in people above 30)”

    What happened to all those free-spirited hippies?

  14. Mark Odell says:

    SuzieQ wrote: Gatto is the Michael Moore of the anti public school crowd.

    Well, depending on your viewpoint, that could be either good or bad.

    superdestroyer wrote: I wonder if Mr Gatto sees a homeschooled, self-trained physician about his medical problems. Or does some how medical school get it right whereas high school fail?

    What’s your point?

  15. superdestroyer says:

    Mr. Odell,

    My point is that many people who complain about the why schools operate still depend upon them to produce well trained physician, attorney’s, and engineers. Yet, if you follow Mr. Gatto’s logic, physician would be better off training themselves and tutoring with one other physician.

  16. I agree with Superdestroyer. The other thing that struck me was that Gatto comes off sounding like a conspiracy theorist in that his comments seem to indicate that the whole school system is based on the Rockefellers plan for the nation and that the plan was to make it so that certain jobs would be based on education level. How ludicrous is that? You know, I’m sure that all corporations got together and said, “You know what? We don’t want to spend time and money training our employees anymore, so let’s make the school system do it for us!”

    Sorry, but I have a real hard time believing that the PLAN was to make certain jobs based on education, as opposed to needing gov’t certification to establish a credential for having already received that learning.

    I’m still trying to work through it, but it seems that he is awfully biased and jaded against the system and his ‘historical’ viewpoint of it is tainted as a result.

  17. Gatto seems to have earned his attitude toward the public school system honestly. Gatto was smart to get out when he did. Things have only gone downhill since he was NY State Teacher of the Year.

    It seems public schools may have been created with the intent to domesticate children. To tame them, dumb them down to the level of a conformist society. Teacher’s unions are ideal for making sure teachers conform to the overall program. Being in bed with the democratic party gives teacher’s unions the clout to ride roughshod over any would be reformers.

  18. pragmatist says:

    Actually I think what Gatto has described is
    a sanitized version of the Public School System.

    If a child shows any difference what-so-ever
    from ‘the norm’, s/he is pounced on by the
    administration or the teachers or her/his
    fellow students.

    I had the good sense to tell my child to
    act ‘politically correct’ no matter what
    the provocation. He survived K-12 by
    dumbing himself down.

    Unfortunately not enough parents are able
    to get their child to ‘act’ properly. Which
    means their children are literally ‘marked’
    for life as “stupid” or “uncooperative” or
    “anti-social”.

    But technology has come to the aid of parents.
    In a few short years the huge waste, inefficiency,
    terror and abuse of ‘public schooling’ will be
    only a memory.

    Not soon enough to save millions of children but
    at least the madness will soon end.

    Frankly the most normal and well-adjusted children
    I’ve ever met were ALL home schooled.

  19. Mark Odell says:

    superdestroyer wrote: My point is that many people who complain about the why schools operate still depend upon them to produce well trained physician, attorney’s, and engineers.

    Do they? If so, what then? Does this mean you think the system of dependency you describe (as opposed to, say, a system in which no one is forced to give to or take from in the name of “education”) is A Good Thing[tm]? Is it your opinion that being helplessly-dependent on government schools in the (supposed) absence of anything else better is “the way things ought to be”?

    The mere existence of a monopoly-by-force is not proof of its necessity.

    I believe Mr. Gatto’s point is that if government schools accomplish the said production, then that is a happy accident — as well as conveniently enhancing the credibility (as distinct from truth) of their “cover story”; but that is not the true underlying purpose of their designers, and so such dependence on government schools as if it was just might be a mistake.

    Yet, if you follow Mr. Gatto’s logic, physician would be better off training themselves and tutoring with one other physician.

    Sounds like a non sequitur to me, in that you seem to be assuming that government schooling and self-schooling are the only two conceivable/permissible choices. Would you care to elucidate?

    WilliamMoon wrote: The other thing that struck me was that Gatto comes off sounding like a conspiracy theorist

    “A “conspiracy theory” can unsettle the system by causing the public to doubt the State’s ideological propaganda.”

    in that his comments seem to indicate that the whole school system is based on the Rockefellers plan for the nation and that the plan was to make it so that certain jobs would be based on education level. How ludicrous is that?

    Is that a rhetorical question, or did you really want an answer?

    You know, I’m sure that all corporations got together and said, “You know what? We don’t want to spend time and money training our employees anymore, so let’s make the school system do it for us!”

    My, that’s a big straw man you’ve got there….

    Sorry, but I have a real hard time believing that the PLAN was to make certain jobs based on education, as opposed to needing gov’t certification to establish a credential for having already received that learning.

    If you choose to disbelieve the evidence and the logical implications thereof, that’s up to you (no patronizing tone intended, I mean that seriously).

  20. Mike in Texas says:

    I didn’t have to read past the first page of the prologue to find an inaccuracy. The author claims parents have no right to choose their child’s teacher when in fact you have every right to do so, at least here in Texas. In fact, I find the parents of the kids who take the time to learn about teachers and select the best fit for their child are the ones whose children are successful. Of course, you can always take the easiest route and find out which teachers have the other teachers’ children in their rooms and place your child there.

  21. Ditto here, Mike. My principal takes parent requests for teachers seriously.

    Gatto’s just ranting.

  22. I find Gatto to be superb in his exposure of the public school system.

    Like some of the above posters, I despise teachers who conform for the sake of a pension, while dooming the children to failure.

    But that’s just human nature.

  23. J Thomason says:

    I haven’t read any of this book, but I have read other things by Gatto. I think that he sometimes goes over the top, but he does make valid points.

    I have to notice that Atlas goes from saying that the person Gatto describes would have been “fired within the hour”, to saying that a similar person COULD be fired (while noting that due process would have to take it’s course), to finally admitting that yet another similar individual has gotten (and will likely continue to get) away with abusive behavior without any repercussions whatsoever. Which is it?

  24. I will happily overlook Mr. Gatto’s occasional excesses for the sake of the sumptious feast of historical ideas he lays on. Conrad, you may be too hard on some teachers. A lot of them are dead inside, and that pension is the only thing that keeps them going. Part zombie part human, but the zombie part is winning.

    More choice in education may just set some of these folks free to pursue their true dreams. Unless those have died too.