Book Review: Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto

“The math standard focuses on investigative math, which has been shown to be a disaster…With the new math standard in the Common Core, there are no longer absolute truths. So 3 times 4 can equal 11 so long as a student can effectively explain how they reached that answer.”[1][Bold Emphasis added]

The Common Core emphasizes teaching students to think of what they learn as “evidence” that can be used into making “arguments” as opposed to “facts” that help the student discern how things are. For the most part, the Common Core steers away from giving students a concrete picture of the world.”[2][Bold Emphasis added]

Dumbing Us Down
BreakawayIndividual.com
Zy Marquiez
November 28, 2018

The late John Taylor Gatto was an award winning teacher that wasn’t afraid to buck the trend. And bucking the tumultuous trend of the declining education in America is exactly what Gatto sought to accomplish in his first book.

Dumbing Us Down – The Hidden Curriculum Of Compulsory Schooling was published in 1992, and is a masterly opening salvo and in-depth overview into how public schooling really works.

Sampling many of his best personal essays, Dumbing Us Down features the true reasons why education in our modern day system is failing: because it’s meant to be that way.

Gatto reinforces his main premise with a thorough examination of public schooling in America using source material he found throughout his research. Moreover, Gatto carries this out incisively with a no holds barred approach to the matter, and this is very refreshing.

While many others have tippy-toed their way around the issue, Gatto harpoons the heart of the matter:

“…schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet.  No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes.  The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders.”[3][Bold Emphasis Added]

Schools are intended to produce, through the application of formulas, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.”[4][Bold & Italics Emphasis Added]

It is absurd and anti-life to be part of the system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class.  That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety; indeed it cuts you off from your own past and future, sealing you in a continuous present much the same way television does.”[5][Bold & Italics Emphasis Added]

Such scathing statements leave no question to Gatto’s courageous stance, and help the reader understand the plight all individuals – and society itself – faces via public schooling.

Another notable components of this ongoing public schooling issue is how vital the community is, and more importantly, the family unit, in helping foster a healthier, more independent, more curious, and ultimately more self-sufficient individuals through proper education.  While this might seem obvious in hindsight, it isn’t being employed that much at all in our modern environs.

Continuously throughout the length of the book, Gatto fiercely touches upon the many different factors that have helped cause this growing dilemma.  Some of these include the overwhelming amount of television being watched by society in general, and more specifically by children, while other components have to deal with the inherent designs of schooling such as the fragmentation of education, the removal of the family from an individual’s education, the poor life tenets individuals are taught, and much more.

One of the zeniths of the book is what Gatto calls ‘The 7-Lesson School Teacher’. In this piece, Gatto shows what teachers are truly expected to inculcate into students.

For example, one of the 7 Lessons Gatto states teachers teach is Class Position. On this, Gatto notes that:

“[his] job is to make them like being locked together with children who bear numbers like their own…If I do my job well, the kids can’t even imagine themselves somewhere else because I’ve shown them how to envy and fear the better classes and how to have contempt for the dumb classes. Under this efficient discipline the class mostly polices itself into good marching order. That’s the real lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to know your place.”[6][Bold Emphasis Added. Italics Emphasis In Original]

Is it any wonder why society operates in the way it does, mirroring the very ideas that Gatto mentions?

In any case, The 7-Lesson School Teacher might seem facetious or downright ludicrous, but it really isn’t.  When one views what Gatto is stating with an open mind –  while keeping cognizance of the fact that he worked for over 3 decades for the public schooling system and knows exactly what he was talking about – then one completely comes to terms with why failure in schooling isn’t the exception, but the rule.

In fact, more specifically, Gatto gets at the heart of why public schooling is destined to fail:

Mass education cannot work to produce a fair society because its daily practice  is practice in rigged competition, suppression and intimidation.  The schools we’ve allowed to develop can’t work to teach nonmaterial values, the values which give meaning to everyone’s life, rich or poor, because the structure of schooling is held together by a Byzantine tapestry of reward and threat, of carrots and sticks.  Official favor, grades, and other trinkets of subordination have no connection with education; they are the paraphernalia of servitude, not of freedom.”[7][Bold Emphasis Added]

Gatto has unbounded a phenomenal book in the field of public schooling and more importantly, what true education should encompass.  Please keep in mind, schooling and education are not the same thing.  This differentiation, and what each set of terms mean are one of the main gems of this book.

Dumbing Us Down is a veritable fountain of information that is intense in precision and thought-provoking in its implications. These very implications filter into all aspects of our lives, and ultimately echo into the future and as such should be taken very seriously.  This is why it’s vitally important for individuals to become self-directed learners, also known as autodidacts.

Only through self-directed learning carried out at the grass roots level by individuals is the world going to change. If the world is to have a positive future of of critically thinking, inspired, creative, educated and inventive individuals, it starts now, in the present. It starts with you.

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Sources & References:

[1] Sandra Stotsky, Drilling Through The Core, pg. 48.
[2] Ibid., pg. 35.
[3] John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down – The Hidden Curriculum Of Compulsory Schooling, pg. 21.
[4] Ibid., pg. 23.
[5] Ibid., pg. 24.
[6] Ibid., pg. 5.
[7] Ibid., pg. 69.

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This article is free and open source. You are encouraged and have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Zy Marquiez
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About The Author:

Zy Marquiez is a Poker Player, CEO, Business Owner, Open-Minded Skeptic, Book Reviewer, Introvert, Researcher, Writer, Creativity Connoisseur, Yoga Dilettante & Carmel Macchiato Addict.