Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling

by: Heather on 12/15/2008
Posted in: New Books

John Taylor Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction is the long-awaited, critically-acclaimed follow-up to the bestselling classic Dumbing Us Down. Just off press, this radical work argues that the real function of the modern educational system is to render the masses manageable and to train the next generation for subservience to the state.

Gatto has a long history of questioning the status quo of public education. During his 30th year of teaching, when he was the New York State Teacher of the Year, Gatto rose to national prominence when he quit his job and detailed his reasons for doing so in the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal. Excerpted from Weapons of Mass Instruction, here is his essay in its entirety.

Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents. The whole blueprint of school procedure is Egyptian, not Greek or Roman. It grows from the theological idea that human value is a scarce thing, represented symbolically by the narrow peak of a pyramid.

That idea passed into American history through the Puritans. It found its "scientific" presentation in the bell curve, along which talent supposedly apportions itself by some iron law of biology. It's a religious notion, and school is its church. I offer rituals to keep heresy at bay. I provide documentation to justify the heavenly pyramid.

Socrates foresaw that if teaching became a formal profession, something like this would happen. Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard; by subordinating the laity to the priesthood. School is too vital a jobs project, contract giver, and protector of the social order to allow itself to be "re-formed." It has political allies to guard its marches; that's why reforms come and go without altering much. Even reformers can't imagine school being much different.

David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are thirteen, you can't tell which one learned first -- the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school, I label Rachel "learning disabled" and slow David down a bit, too. For a paycheck, I teach David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop. He won't outgrow that dependency. I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, "special education" fodder. She'll be locked in her place forever.

In thirty years of teaching kids, rich and poor, I almost never met a learning-disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted-and-talented one, either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values that we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.

That's the secret behind short-answer tests, bells, uniform time blocks, age grading, standardization, and all the rest of the school religion punishing our nation. There isn't a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as there are fingerprints. We don't need state-certified teachers to make education happen -- certification probably guarantees it won't.

How much more evidence is necessary? Good schools don't need more money or a longer year; they need real freemarket choices, variety that speaks to every need and runs risks. We don't need a national curriculum or national testing either. Both initiatives arise from ignorance of how people learn or deliberate indifference to it. I can't teach this way any longer. If you hear of a job where I don't have to hurt kids to make a living, let me know. Come fall, I'll be looking for work.

To learn more about escaping the trap of compulsory schooling, check out Weapons of Mass Instruction. Do you have public education horror stories that you'd like to share? Leave your feedback in the comments below.

Weapons of Mass Instruction


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