January 29th, 2007

Dumbing Us Down

A couple days ago I finished reading Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto. Some of you may recognize his name from the Your Child Left Behind post where I linked to an article he wrote titled The Tyranny of Compulsory Schooling.

Dumbing Us Down is a short book comprised of a few speeches Gatto has given on the subject of public education (or, has he correctly terms it, “compulsory schooling”.

Describing how he came to formulate the opinions he now has, Gatto writes:

…I began to wonder, reluctantly, whether it was possible that being in school itself was what was dumbing [the children] 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 the 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. (Dumbing Us Down, p. xxxiv)

That’s quite the bold statement, and Gatto backs it up throughout his book with other bold statements, examples, and scathing assessments. Gatto is clear to make the distinction between education and schooling, something that makes perfect sense to me as one who has recently completed a college education. For example, he writes:

I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: 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.

…we need to realize that the school institution “schools” very well, though it does not “educate” — that’s inherent in the design of the thing. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent. It’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing. (Dumbing Us Down, p. 21, 23)

Personally, I don’t remember anything I learned in high school or earlier. And even in college, I don’t recall the slightest thing about the general education I was forced to take (more “compulsory schooling”). You couldn’t get me to recite the various forms of mitochondria, the names or beliefs of the more prominent philosophers, or how to perform a double integral.

This is the plague of compulsory schooling. Instead of being inspired to seek education and learning, children are pitted one against another in order to beat the bell curve and get a good grade. Students, therefore, study hard, memorize the necessary terms, and regurgitate the information onto the mandated test. Two days later, good luck having them repeat that same knowledge to you that they so laboriously learned.

I think it’s a given, as Gatto stated, that most learning takes place in the laboratory of life. Schools don’t do much in the way of education, but they do indeed school very well. Are you beginning to see the contrast? They are not the same thing.

When I graduated from college last year, I was amazed at how much free time I had. I was free from the minutia of assignments, projects, quizzes and tests, and instead had ample time to read and learn what I wanted to learn. Free from compulsory schooling, I was able to educate myself. I can honestly say that I have learned more in the past year than I did in my four years of college education. Why? Because I have been free to choose what I want to learn. I have time to pursue the education that I have chosen for myself. Whatever interests me becomes my study topic for the day, rather than being compelled to study (not learn) something a teacher requires.

Gatto is a proponent of open education, as I am. He favors situations and programs where children can learn from anybody, young and old, rather than a “licensed” teacher hired for the job. Along these lines, he opines:

It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a 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 teh 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.

This was once a land where every sane person knew how to build a shelter, grow food, and entertain one another. Now we have been rendered permanent children. (Dumbing Us Down, p. 24, 100)

This is an idea that has been floating in my head for some time, and not until I read this book was I able to formulate that idea into words so concrete: we have been rendered permanent children. I know how to do very little. Luckily, my mother had a plan in raising my brothers and I, and I was able to depart from childhood with a toolkit filled with several resources and abilities. Many children whose parents delegate their upbringing and skill development to “experts” (or drop the ball and don’t take any active role) are not so fortunate.

Think about it. It was not so long ago that Americans were resourceful human beings who had a plenitude of solid, general knowledge. They knew how to build and fix things, how their government operated, how to cook, clean, sew, and produce what was needed to sustain their own lives. Such skills have become obsolete as we’ve become a market where one earns a living by specializing in one or two things. I am a web designer. How valuable will my skills be if/when the economy changes, technology rapidly advances, or I lose my eyesight? What will I have to fall back on? Through my schooling, I have been rendered a permanent child, dependent on so many other companies and individuals for my meals, shelter, warmth, and basic personal needs. I find that idea disheartening.

What is a possible solution, you might ask? Gatto suggests:

Encourage and underwrite experimentation; trust children and families to know what’s best for themselves; stop the segregation of children and the aged in walled compounds; involve everyone in every community in the education of the young: businesses, institutions, old people, whole families; look for local solutions and always accept a personal solution in place of a corporate one. (Dumbing Us Down, p. 93)

We have been commanded to bring up our children in light and truth. Can we best do so by delegating their secular education to organizations and individuals whose self-serving interest for economic security and growth undermine their alleged altruism? Gatto expounds in detail why schools (and the committees, organizations, and legislation that support them) are detrimental to the education of our children. For the sake of brevity I can’t enumerate them all, but his book is very much worth reading (I gave it an A+) to gain insightful perspective on the history, purpose, and methods of compulsory schooling.

Needless to say, Gatto provides countless other reasons in his book that affirm my personal desire to seek alternative education methods for my children.

Read quotes from Dumbing Us Down on Quoty

33 Responses to “Dumbing Us Down”

  1. Steve M
    January 29, 2007 at 2:10 pm #

    I guess it’s about time BYU closed its school of education.

    Public education has its problems, but I don’t think it’s an enterprise worth abandoning. I think the net social benefits of a public education are extremely positive.

    I don’t remember a whole lot about calculus or Newton’s laws or which French verbs are put in the past tense with etre as opposed to aller, but these high school classes taught me to think critically and analytically. They helped me develop skills that have helped me succeed in real-world situations and interests that drive my personal knowledge-seeking.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of problems with the public education system. But I think there’s a lot of value there as well. I personally believe it’s worth our efforts to improve the system rather than abandon it altogether.

    But then, maybe I’m biased. My wife teaches third grade.

  2. Michelle
    January 29, 2007 at 10:45 pm #

    I tend to agree with a lot of what Steve says. I actually am one who thoroughly enjoyed general ed classes in college, who studied not only to get good grades but because I love to learn, and who feels that public schools get a bit too much of a bad rap. They have problems, to be sure, but I am not convinced that self-directed education or other options wouldn’t have their own significant problems when really put side-by-side with public school. I, too, would like to see us improve our system, not abandon it.

    Connor, I keep wondering what will happen if you fall in love with a girl who really doesn’t want to do alternative schooling…. ;) (It happened to my hubby…..) [not that I’m against it, but that hasn’t been what we feel compelled to do, and I have never really felt that was the direction I wanted to choose…although that might be different if we lived somewhere like CA]….

  3. James Carroll
    January 30, 2007 at 7:28 am #

    Fascinating. I don’t like to cite unreliable sources, but I was once told that, in America, the literacy rate was vastly higher before public education was instituted.

    Do you feel that the education system should be privatized? Which are better, private or public universities? What if we had as many private high schools as private universities? Would it be better? Why?

  4. Steve M
    January 30, 2007 at 9:57 am #

    To add to my previous comment, I don’t think there are a lot of other options besides public education. In fact, I think that working to improve our public education system is one of the best things we can do for the children of this country.

  5. fontor
    January 30, 2007 at 12:02 pm #

    Connor: I know you’re a smart guy with some good analytical skills, and I can tell you’re a savvy developer — you’re a Mac guy, so already I know you’re smarter than average. :)

    But this post doesn’t do you any favours. I get the same feeling reading it as when I hear my undergrads saying ‘Do we have to know all this?’ Which hardly ever happens because my courses are so stimulating and relevant.

    To the point: Just because you can’t remember general ed classes doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Perhaps it just wasn’t something you were interested in, or you weren’t paying attention or weren’t very curious about it. Your memory lapse does not reflect a failure on the part of the educational system. And it certainly doesn’t constitute an argument for dismantling the public school system.

    Giving everyone an opportunity to be educated is absolutely essential for a free people. My concern about homeschooling is that parents or caregivers will omit topics that don’t fit with their religious ideology, but which are nonetheless scientifically valid and essential in the curriculum. For example, not teaching Darwinian evolution to a kid will cripple them if they want to continue in biology. There’s a body of scientific knowledge that students need to get, even if they don’t ‘like it’ or ‘agree with it.’ A public educational system with high standards is a much better way to accomplish this.

    Unfortunately, governments underfund schooling at all levels.

  6. Connor
    January 30, 2007 at 12:28 pm #

    Just because you can’t remember general ed classes doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Perhaps it just wasn’t something you were interested in, or you weren’t paying attention or weren’t very curious about it. Your memory lapse does not reflect a failure on the part of the educational system.

    I think you are missing the point. Schools aren’t failing—they are doing exactly what they were set up to do. They school. They corral students from class to class, giving them byte size chunks of knowledge, shortening attention spans by deferring any real study and in-depth learning to after-school homework assignments and projects, thus creating far too much busy work, diminishing free time for families to spend together and develop other characteristics and necessary skills.

    [/end run-on sentence]

    The point is that general (forced) education doesn’t do much at all in the way of educating a student. Any true learning comes from an internal, innate desire to learn and understand something. Some children may react just fine in a compulsory schooling environment since they have already fostered this internal desire and are thus excited to learn about biology, history, and all other “core” classes, but some might prefer spending all day learning how to play musical instruments, exploring calculus, or learning languages. Who is the government to mandate what each child should “learn”?

    Again, the schools are successful in doing what they intend to do, and that’s part of the problem.

    Giving everyone an opportunity to be educated is absolutely essential for a free people.

    Bingo! Are students in school free to spend their time pursuing an academic career of their choosing? Are they free to dedicate themselves in full time study to a profession of their choosing? No, they are instead forced to begrudgingly enroll in and suffer through general ed classes that are of little to no relevance to them. A free people should be able to choose their own path of education.

    My concern about homeschooling is that parents or caregivers will omit topics that don’t fit with their religious ideology, but which are nonetheless scientifically valid and essential in the curriculum.

    Who are you to tell a parent what his/her child should learn? Is it not the parents’ responsibility and privilege to train their children as they see fit? Who determines what is “essential” in any curriculum?

    A public educational system with high standards is a much better way to accomplish this.

    High standards like the ones mentioned in this video?

  7. John David Anderson
    January 30, 2007 at 1:15 pm #

    I think you are missing the point. Schools aren’t failing—they are doing exactly what they were set up to do. They school. They corral students from class to class, giving them byte size chunks of knowledge, shortening attention spans by deferring any real study and in-depth learning to after-school homework assignments and projects, thus creating far too much busy work, diminishing free time for families to spend together and develop other characteristics and necessary skills.

    That hasn’t been my experience, and I think that sort of generalization isn’t representative. If anything, class time was reserved for discussion and questions and homework was done… at home.

    The point is that general (forced) education doesn’t do much at all in the way of educating a student. Any true learning comes from an internal, innate desire to learn and understand something

    So what exactly is the alternative? Only teach children when they ask? What are you saying, exactly?

    The most worthwhile things in life are hard to do.

    Who is the government to mandate what each child should “learn”?

    Are they asking you to study anything you don’t want your children to learn?

    This idealist view is impossible and unnatural. Allowing people to take the path of least resistance, only knowing what they personally deem to be important, and expecting them to be more happy and productive in society is ludicrous.

    I personally can’t imagine the havoc some sort of learn-whatever-you-want plan would have on the nation’s culture and economy. The few who have dared to delve into the difficult (*gasp*) realms of knowledge would scream for reform, while the apathetic, uneducated masses continue to fall into the same pitfall their grandfathers did.

  8. Brooke
    January 30, 2007 at 9:24 pm #

    The public school system is in a sad state and it’s largely because it’s a monopoly. What say we give the market system a chance, allow parents and students to make some choices, and see how things work out? The invisible hand seems to have done some good elsewhere–why not in education? That way, both Connor and fontor can be happy, each able to choose how they gain knowledge.

    And, Connor’s completely right to question the government’s role in choosing what children should learn. Since when does the state know better than I do what’s good for my child? No thank you. I prefer that my children learn actual math rather than ways to ‘investigate’ it.

  9. Connor
    January 31, 2007 at 12:04 am #

    What say we give the market system a chance, allow parents and students to make some choices, and see how things work out?

    Government should make it far more easy (i.e. give back the tax revenue) for parents to homeschool, put their kids in private school, or anything of the sort, rather than subsiding the education of other kids while having to foot the bill for the kids’ education as well.

  10. jeff
    January 31, 2007 at 12:48 am #

    Government should make it far more easy (i.e. give back the tax revenue) for parents to homeschool, put their kids in private school, or anything of the sort, rather than subsiding the education of other kids while having to foot the bill for the kids’ education as well.

    Might I suggest that in so doing, you would dump many, if not all, of public school’s problems on private and home schools, making them failures like the public school. Private schools that don’t have open enrollment are definitely going to do better than public schools that do. Force private schools to take everyone by making everyone able to pay and you have public school again.

    Yes, students should have more choices; however, they still should be required to learn the basics. Otherwise, how are they ever going to decide what choices to make. For instance, I hated English in high school. When I got to college, I was “forced” to take two English classes for my general ed credit. I fell in love with it and made it my career. If it wasn’t for general education that you criticize so badly, I wouldn’t be where I am now. How is a 12-year-old supposed to be able to choose what he/she will learn? How are his/her parents supposed to make that decision?

    As to Brooke’s comment (and others who have expressed the same sentiment), how do you know what’s good for your child? Yes, you are your child’s parent, and yes, you have a huge responsibility for his/her learning, but you also need to allow your children to branch out and learn. If we shelter them from such things as evolution, we will hamstring them for their entire academic career. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t have more control than the government; you should. However, “forcing” students to learn science, math, language arts, and history isn’t exactly hurting them. Furthermore, if they learn something uncomfortable at school, it should serve as a teaching moment at home.

    I’m not sure that all made sense, but the point is that we are better off fixing public ed than getting rid of it. It’s naive to think that the private sector or homeschooling can do a better job for all children. It’s also naive to take a 100% capitalist approach to it since students aren’t “products” to be manufactured.

  11. Connor
    January 31, 2007 at 12:56 am #

    Might I suggest that in so doing, you would dump many, if not all, of public school’s problems on private and home schools, making them failures like the public school.

    I disagree. Private schools can by nature be selective in their admission, not just allowing anybody with sufficient funds to attend. In addition, local and creative solutions to educational dilemmas would, in my mind, be far superior to standardized tests and related mandates coming from stuffy white men in far-away offices with little to no concern for the individual child.

    It’s also naive to take a 100% capitalist approach to it since students aren’t “products” to be manufactured.

    Gatto would argue (and does, in his book) that the current system is doing exactly that – pumping out “products” like a well-oiled machine. Perhaps his experience with 30 years teaching in the poor areas of New York City contrast the education most of us received, thus shaping his view of how broken the system is and what kind of adults it is producing.

  12. jeff
    January 31, 2007 at 1:41 am #

    Private schools can by nature be selective in their admission, not just allowing anybody with sufficient funds to attend.

    So, what about those that can’t get in? If you eliminate public ed for other avenues, do you “select” kids that just don’t get an education? I don’t think that’s right. Everyone needs to have the opportunity to be educated. And, if that’s the case, then private schools will suffer like public schools do. Either you don’t educate everyone, or you deal with the problems that come from giving everyone a chance.

    local and creative solutions to educational dilemmas would, in my mind, be far superior to standardized tests and related mandates coming from stuffy white men in far-away offices with little to no concern for the individual child.

    I agree, which is why No Child Left Behind is so bad.

    Gatto would argue (and does, in his book) that the current system is doing exactly that – pumping out “products” like a well-oiled machine.

    I agree with this as well, but it is a system to be fixed, not gotten rid of. BTW, if you put schools in competition with one another as a voucher program would do, you will promote the same thing. Children will be products to be bought, fought for, and sold. That’s not the answer.

    Perhaps his experience with 30 years teaching in the poor areas of New York City contrast the education most of us received

    I teach in an extremely low-income school, probably in the bottom 5% in Utah, but I don’t have the numbers to prove it. 90% or more of our students are on free/reduced lunch, which is usually a pretty good indicator of income range. I would say that it’s the poor kids that the system fails for the most part. How would your idea of “alternative” education provide for their needs? How will they get the services they need? How do you deal with rural communities like mine with 300 people in the town? How do you give them school “choice”?

    It sounds like you and I agree on the problems in public ed for the most part; however, I don’t believe that abandoning public ed is the way to go. I do believe that it needs to be more localized. We have to fix the system. That’s one reason I became a teacher. I felt I would have more influence on the system from within. I might have been a little optimistic.

  13. Michelle
    January 31, 2007 at 2:10 am #

    Are students in school free to spend their time pursuing an academic career of their choosing? Are they free to dedicate themselves in full time study to a profession of their choosing?

    I have never been comfy with the whole student-led education thing. This, esp. in the early years, gives chidren a bit too much credit and power, IMO. As children are exposed to more options out there, then maybe we could introduce more choice along the way, but my limited view tells me that this philosophy, if implemented from square one, could really lead to trouble. Kids don’t know enough to know what they want to choose, and giving them too much freedom to do so too early seems counter-productive.

    So, what about those that can’t get in? If you eliminate public ed for other avenues, do you “select” kids that just don’t get an education?

    I’m extremely interested in the answer to this question. I also think that it’s dangerous to assume that people can homeschool if they can’t do public school. Homeschooling is a great option for the right situation, but can be a disaster waiting to happen in the wrong one.

  14. Brooke
    January 31, 2007 at 6:43 pm #

    As to Brooke’s comment (and others who have expressed the same sentiment), how do you know what’s good for your child? Yes, you are your child’s parent, and yes, you have a huge responsibility for his/her learning, but you also need to allow your children to branch out and learn. If we shelter them from such things as evolution, we will hamstring them for their entire academic career. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t have more control than the government; you should. However, “forcing” students to learn science, math, language arts, and history isn’t exactly hurting them. Furthermore, if they learn something uncomfortable at school, it should serve as a teaching moment at home.

    How do I know what’s good for my child? I’ve been through an extensive education myself and have experienced enough pitfalls to make better choices for the future. This doesn’t mean that I axe everything I don’t agree with from my child’s curriculum. It just means I teach it correctly (or, have someone else, like a private school whose philosophy I agree with). This way, I can make my children aware of the fact that evolution is a theory that exists, but it certainly isn’t the way that man was created.

    See, the problem is, students don’t always flag erroneous information as ‘uncomfortable’ and come home to talk about it at the dinner table. They accept what they’re taught, until they learn to think for themselves, logically and rationally. I’d rather the information was presented correctly the first time.

    That, among other reasons, is why I’m a proponent of more choice in education.

  15. Richard Hiltbrunn
    February 5, 2007 at 1:03 am #

    Obviously, most who read this site have not read much about public ed. Take a look at Gatto’s book “The Underground History of Education” It’s all online: http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/index.htm

    Also, see: The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America by Charlotte iserbyt.

    There is also much more you can read on the subject. But of course, most won’t.

    My biggest problem with public ed. is the secular, political, indoctination that goes on there. When you think about it for just a moment, by sending you child to the public school, or any school for that matter, you are, with out saying a word, sending a message to your child that they (the teachers) are the experts, they know better, and are more qualified to teach all subjects in the curriculum, including the politically correct stuff that teachers and text books promote. Unfortunately, many things that are taught in school today have nothing to do with the three r’s and everything to do with political correctness.

    In many cases, the teachers are better qualified to teach the 3 r’s, but in our case they were not. We moved to an area where the schools were way behind, voluntarily. We tried to talk to school teachers and officials. We were consistantly told that we were wrong in expecting more out of the teachers, and that we were not the professionals, therefore did not know what was best in the way of teaching our children to read, write or do math. We had recently moved from an area were we were perfectly happy with the ed. our kids were getting, and were not thinking of home schooling. Sorry, I’m letting this drag on. The point is that we were not wrong about what was happening in our schools. Others had noticed and expressed similar views to ours. It was only after the “No child left behind” thing came out, that the schools here decided to change thier approach to basic instruction. A little too late for our oldest kids (we were very reluctant to home school early on!). The thing that was the deciding factor for me was finding out that many of the teachers, and thier kids, were on ritalin and were suggesting parents do the same for thier kids (we live in a small town) It is a weird situation to say the least. Oh, just one more thing…the principal of our grade school had recenlty returned from finishing a masters in ed. She sent a summer news letter to us about the proposed time and class schedule. She was very proud to note that the first 15 to 30 minutes of every school day would be devoted to the “celebration of education”. Well that just sounded too kookie for me. Must have sounded that way to may others in town cause many complained. So, for us, home school for some of our kids has been the only way that seemed right.

  16. Carissa
    May 14, 2007 at 10:02 am #

    I am just finishing up this book today. There are a few points Gatto makes that really stand out to me:

    #1 Our tax-supported public school system with it’s compulsory attendance laws contrasts with a free democratic society. Think about this with an open mind — it is true.

    “For 140 years this nation has tried to impose objectives downward from a lofty command center made up of “experts,” a central elite of social engineers. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work. And it is a gross betrayal of the democratic promise that once made this nation a noble experiment. pg 29

    “The lesson of my teaching life is that both the theory and the structure of mass education are fatally flawed; they cannot work to support the democratic logic of our national idea because they are unfaithful to the democratic principle.” pg 69

    #2 The family unit is suffering, partially due to lack of time spent together. Compulsory schooling, along with required homework, adds to this problem because it diminishes personal choice of how time is spent and who the student can interact with during those hours.

    “… schools are already a major cause of weak families and weak communities. They separate parents and children from vital interaction with each other and from true curiosity about each other’s lives. Schools stifle family originality by appropriating the critical time needed for any sound idea of family to develop.” pg 67

    “… formal schooling has already wounded us seriously in our ability to form families and communities, by bleeding away time we need with our children and our children need with us.” pg 52

    “By preempting fifty percent of the total time of the young, by locking young people up with other young people exactly their own age, by ringing bells to start and stop work, by asking people to think the same thing at the same time in the same way, by grading people the way we grade vegetables — and in a dozen other vile and stupid ways — network schools steal the vitality of communities and replace it with an ugly mechanism.” pg 51

    If Gatto’s comments do not ring true to you in some way, I would urge you to read his book for yourself with an open mind. We are so used to the set-up we have now that it can be difficult to imagine any other way of doing things. It helps to realize, though, that our country started out with something much different; a system we could again return to where parents and students are empowered to choose for themselves what they will make of their lives. A “free market in schooling, exactly like the one the country had until the Civil War, one in which students volunteer for the kind of education that suits them even if that means self-education.” pg 18

  17. Aaron
    May 14, 2007 at 10:25 am #

    Carissa,
    While I don’t whole-heartedly support all that public education does, I don’t see it as the root of many problems. Rather, it exposes numerous problems that exist because of the degradation of the family.

    “… schools are already a major cause of weak families and weak communities. They separate parents and children from vital interaction with each other and from true curiosity about each other’s lives. Schools stifle family originality by appropriating the critical time needed for any sound idea of family to develop.” pg 67

    I can’t agree with the above statement. Schools do not cause weak families or weak communities. Weak parents cause weak families and communities.

    I am an educator of over ten years (in a private school, I must admit). I am a product of public schooling. I can and do agree with many criticisms of public schooling–but I don’t place the responsibility on the government to raise my children; therefore, I don’t place the blame on them if my children have problems.

    I think life is more about people and less about systems or organizations. Regardless of the shortfalls of public education (or any organization), my children have been fortunate to be taught by some great teachers who have loved them and supported them. Sure, I’ve disagreed with some stuff they’ve done, and my kids have a long way to go–there’ll be more conflict. In my case, my kids are better off when my energy goes towards one-on-one time with them as opposed to complaints for public school reform. If I don’t like public school as a parent, I know my options. To complain would be a waste of time.

  18. Carissa
    May 14, 2007 at 11:18 am #

    Aaron,

    In my case, my kids are better off when my energy goes towards one-on-one time with them as opposed to complaints for public school reform. If I don’t like public school as a parent, I know my options. To complain would be a waste of time.

    Agreed, which is why we homeschool. Therefore, I am not complaining. I simply find truth in what Gatto says and I believe it is worth discussion and debate, not at all a waste of time. Good ideas that can better society are never a waste of time. Gatto is full of good ideas and solutions. Have you read his book?

    Schools do not cause weak families or weak communities. Weak parents cause weak families and communities.

    Yes, weak parents can cause weak families and therefore, communities. I believe compulsory schooling only adds to the problem of weak families by taking time away from them — time they need to practice and develop into strong families. Gatto explains it this way:

    “It’s like a malicious person lifting a photograph from the developing chemicals too early, and then pronouncing the photographer incompetent.” (The photographer being the parents and the malicious person the school system) pg 67

    I completely understand that many families do fine by using the left-over hours from school/homework to work on family relationships, religious study, etc. That is good that they can (I came from such a family) and it is not impossible to do. That is not to say, however, things couldn’t be done in a better and more efficient way. It is not to say that some family relationships don’t need more time than what is left-over after school. Every family is different. So why not trust each one to do what is best?

    I also do not see public education as the “root” of all problems in society. Although… as I have studied the history of it and the influential people who were involved in shaping the philosophies behind the system, I can’t help but think it contributes to, magnifies, and even creates some of our societal problems. In saying this, however, I do not dismiss parental responsibility.

  19. Carissa
    May 14, 2007 at 12:39 pm #

    A couple of other thoughts…

    You may not believe that school interferes with your family time. But can you be sure that other families are not suffering from it?

    My husband’s usual work schedule is from 3pm to about midnight, often including weekends. If we were not homeschooling, it would be easy to add up the hours each week he would be able to spend with the children because there would not be many. Since we are able to make our own educational choices, though, we have all the family time together that we want and my husband can pursue opportunities that are best for his career. The children are thriving in their studies and I am fulfilled by being so involved in their education and their lives, so it has been a win-win solution for our family.

    Financially, it is a disadvantage because we pay taxes for schools in addition to our own curriculum and supplies. I don’t mind spending the money because I think it is very much worth it, but I know that a lot of people don’t homeschool because of the burden of paying for 2 types of education (or maybe just the idea). That is what keeps many people away from private schools as well. Why should we have to pay for 2 systems if we don’t want to use one of them?

    To me, it’s like if the government had it’s own grocery store chain monopoly like WalMart. It would be free for us to get groceries there because we would all be forced to support it through our taxes. The law would say, “you can buy your groceries somewhere else if you want, but you might need to have a permission slip signed first and you’ll have to pay for the cost yourself while still paying the same taxes”. Well, okay, so most of us just shop at the government’s WalMart because it’s free and easier. Well, what happens if they don’t sell what you want to buy, or their produce is soggy, or your local store isn’t kept very clean and the meat is sometimes contaminated, or the clerks are rude or the hours aren’t flexible… you just might want to shop at another store down the road that better suits you, or grow most of your own food in a garden at home. You are free to do so, but the government has made it harder. And, if your garden is not up to their standards, they could shut it down.

    Most Americans would not stand for government interference this way, and yet that is the system we have with education and most people don’t question it. If someone wants to shop at a government grocery store, fine. If someone wants to use a government school, fine. Why should the rest be disadvantaged for making a different choice?

  20. Aaron
    May 14, 2007 at 3:32 pm #

    Carissa,
    Some random thoughts in response to your comments. Great comments. I agree with most all of your general points.

    And I never intended to label you a complainer. I try to use the first person–my ideas work for me and I don’t try to paste my philosophy on others.

    No, I’ve never read the book, but perhaps I will.

    I agree that homeschooling is a great solution for many people. And for a number of children (and families), I would concede that it is the best solution.

    I agree that public schooling exacerbates existing problems with families.

    You wrote:

    I believe compulsory schooling only adds to the problem of weak families by taking time away from them — time they need to practice and develop into strong families.

    It is very hard to know that my children experience teasing, cussing, etc. at school. I am aware that this is a conscious choice my wife and I make to expose them to this on a daily basis by way of public schools. Yet, I see this as the “practice” that you mention above. My wife and I are constantly talking about the children’s school experience; we look at the pressures and see what we can do to foster a safe haven at home. So, FOR US, right now, we’ve made the choice of public schools. This might change in the future; it might change for one of our children, or all five; or they might stay in public schooling through graduation. Like many decisions, I don’t see one right decision and many wrong ones–instead I see many good decisions and many bad ones. Looking at your choice from my perspective, It’s not a matter of homeschooling being “right” for your family. That’s not my decision to make. The point is–it’s your decision and you’ve made it. Therefore, it’s “right” for you.

    I shopped at Walmart this morning. The two ladies that helped me were very nice. Some employees were goofing off. I know they’ve driven many smaller stores out of business. I don’t think this makes them evil. Your analogy with Walmart is a great one. I just try to never be the victim. I hate being a victim. I look at things as “the way it is”, instead of “bad for me”.

    Now, I do think the federal government is way too big. They should not be running schools–this is unconstitutional.

    I admit that some of these random thoughts may appear to contradict one another. They do fit together nicely for me. Ha ha.

    Fun discussion. Great issues and many factors to consider as we debate the metaphysical monster that is publice education. Most importantly, this discussion has made me re-commit to be a better parent and to be kinder to my children. For that alone, this conversation has been positive.

  21. Carissa
    May 14, 2007 at 4:38 pm #

    Thanks for the conversation Aaron, I enjoyed it too. Everytime I think about these things I recommit myself also to doing better as a parent. I am glad we have options and choices for our children. There really is no “one right way” for everyone, and as you said, circumstances can change so it is good for us to be flexible and open-minded about all our options.

    P.S. I don’t think WalMart is “evil” either just because they are gaining a monopoly. They are so big because they provide what people want. That’s how a free society should work and people can choose everyday whether they want to shop there or not. I think that’s how education should be. The cost would go down, quality would increase with competition, educational issues would not be so politicized, and everyone could get what they wanted to the degree they were willing to work for it.

  22. Carissa
    May 14, 2007 at 6:31 pm #

    It is very hard to know that my children experience teasing, cussing, etc. at school. I am aware that this is a conscious choice my wife and I make to expose them to this on a daily basis by way of public schools. Yet, I see this as the “practice” that you mention above. My wife and I are constantly talking about the children’s school experience; we look at the pressures and see what we can do to foster a safe haven at home.

    Now this is a really interesting subject to me and something I think a lot about. Is it beneficial for children to regularly be exposed to teasing, cussing, bad examples, etc. from their peers? Does it provide them practice for life as an adult and help strengthen their testimonies of what they really believe? Or should childhood be a time for foundation building with as much good influence and least negative as possible? Should it be a refuge, a safe haven from the world, a time to enjoy life and learn without the pressure and worries of adulthood or sin?

    What an interesting and difficult dilemma for parents! The answer, I believe, is not so cut and dry. Children absolutely need to have both opposition and good in their lives for them to learn and choose and grow. Should each side receive equal time? I think most of us would agree that overall we want more good experiences for them than bad ones; more positive role models than negative. Parents aren’t exactly hearing counsel from our church leaders like “make sure your children have adequate exposure to sin in order to keep them strong.” But what should we do?

    Do I need to go through the experience of being offered drugs or using drugs in order to be strong in resisting temptation? Or is it enough for my parents to teach me correct principles and talk with me truthfully and openly about the real-life consequences of drug use? What about in the case of swearing, gossiping, morality, abuse, pornography, etc?

    One thing is sure, public schools are not the only settings where children will come across negative behavior and influences, especially in today’s world. I feel like, for us, there are plenty of opportunities already (among family, friends, neighbors). I do not wish to voluntarily add anymore to their lives at this point. Other families may have different situations and feel differently and that is their choice and privilege. Very interesting discussion though, I’m sure there are lots of different opinons out there about what childhood should be like.

    Gatto has his opinions. He believes children should be free to interact with the real world as part of their education; the community and the family (including the elderly who could teach them a lot) instead of being locked up all day for 12 years with people of their same age, being told exactly what to do. There is wisdom in what he says.

  23. Aaron
    May 15, 2007 at 9:23 am #

    Carissa,
    You wrote:

    Is it beneficial for children to regularly be exposed to teasing, cussing, bad examples, etc. from their peers? Does it provide them practice for life as an adult and help strengthen their testimonies of what they really believe? Or should childhood be a time for foundation building with as much good influence and least negative as possible? Should it be a refuge, a safe haven from the world, a time to enjoy life and learn without the pressure and worries of adulthood or sin?

    I don’t see it as a matter of being beneficial or not. The fact is, they experience opposition in the world. This is not because I’ve set up a particular “game board” or “scenario” for them, but because in a world of free agents, people are going to make poor decisions, and we will be exposed to the various consequences of those decisions. I think this is related to the role our Heavenly Father plays. Does he send us to earth (a rather harsh playground) because he thinks it is beneficial? Actually, yes. But he is not controlling the actions of those on the playground. . .

    Okay, the analogy is a bit flawed, I know. My point is that some often look at this situation in one of two ways: 1) protect and nurture, provide a safe haven, etc., or 2) expose the children to the world so they can strengthen their muscles. I don’t see it as an either/or situation. My children go to school (much as we were sent to earth), and I try to provide a safe haven at home.

    Do I need to go through the experience of being offered drugs or using drugs in order to be strong in resisting temptation? Or is it enough for my parents to teach me correct principles and talk with me truthfully and openly about the real-life consequences of drug use? What about in the case of swearing, gossiping, morality, abuse, pornography, etc?

    To answer the above question: No.
    However, I don’t see parents sending kids to public school as exactly the same thing. Any time kids get together there is a likelihood of swearing, gossiping, morality issues, teasing, pornography. School just happens to be a place with a lot of kids.

    As I re-read your comments, I realize that I am just re-stating what you wrote. I think we can agree that parents should be thoughful in all their decisions. We also agree that schools have a lot of problems because the federal government should probably not be in the business of running schools.

    I do agree with the importance of having kids in mixed aged groups, even across generations.

    I would love to move to a remote farm with all my extended family. Wouldn’t that be nice?. . .

  24. Carissa
    May 15, 2007 at 1:33 pm #

    Do I need to go through the experience of being offered drugs or using drugs in order to be strong in resisting temptation? Or is it enough for my parents to teach me correct principles and talk with me truthfully and openly about the real-life consequences of drug use? What about in the case of swearing, gossiping, morality, abuse, pornography, etc?

    To answer the above question: No.
    However, I don’t see parents sending kids to public school as exactly the same thing.

    I don’t see it as exactly the same thing either because different schools vary greatly from each other (and there can be a variety of experiences within each school). I have just heard some parents say they want their children to practice saying “no” etc. so they need to be around these things. Which I completely understand, but at the appropriate age… you know. Especially not before 8, I think, since they aren’t even accountable yet.

    In my opinion, kids do not need to come home from first grade wondering if it’s okay to have sex at school (My friend’s experience with her son the other day). The exact same thing could also happen outside of school, however. But parents do have much more control over a home/play type situation than a school one.

    My point is that some often look at this situation in one of two ways: 1) protect and nurture, provide a safe haven, etc., or 2) expose the children to the world so they can strengthen their muscles. I don’t see it as an either/or situation. My children go to school (much as we were sent to earth), and I try to provide a safe haven at home.

    I see what you are saying here, but many parents do have a choice of how and where their children will receive this “school experience” at least during the younger years. Thirty years ago, not as many choices, no. But earlier you said:

    I am aware that this is a conscious choice my wife and I make to expose them to this on a daily basis by way of public schools.

    How does God decide who is born into a righteous loving home vs. an abusive neglectful home? Into freedom or captivity? Wealth or extreme poverty? These are all vastly different experiences on this same earth. We obviously don’t know how that all works. What should we do if we have a choice is the thing I’m wondering? We have been told, by our prophet, what our homes should be like. We haven’t really been given any current specific counsel about school, however, just that gaining an education is very important.

  25. Aaron
    May 16, 2007 at 8:57 am #

    I knew you would bring up my apparent contradiction on that point. Nice catch. This goes to show that this is a tough issue, one that parents should be talking about frequently. Here are some more random thoughts on the matter:

    What should we do if we have a choice is the thing I’m wondering? We have been told, by our prophet, what our homes should be like. We haven’t really been given any current specific counsel about school, however, just that gaining an education is very important.

    This is a very important question. I just can’t imagine President Hinckley chastising a parent for sending their child to public school. How many parents never have this type of conversation and send their kids to school because school is where kids go? Most parents do. And I don’t think that they are in the wrong for doing so. I think instead he might be asking question like: Are you reading the Book of Mormon each day?, Are you saying personal and family prayers?, etc.

    And those of use who do have this conversation, and do make an (seemingly) more conscious decision in the matter are not “better” parents necessarily. We are approaching life the best way we know how, just as all parents are doing so. The Lord will bless us in our best efforts.

    To feel a need to control the minutiae of our children’s environment shows a lack of faith in the restored gospel. No matter how much we try, we do not have control over our children’s life; to think otherwise gives us an inaccurate perception of reality, and causes us to think, act, and react, based on a falsehood.

    This is not to say we can’t do all we can to support our children’s safety, assist them in decision-making, etc. And this in no way condones apathy. Rather, it points to an understanding that all is in the Lord’s hands. We marry our best efforts with an unshakeable faith in the Lord’s wisdom and mercy.

    To think that my child’s eternal happiness will be based on a decision I make about where they spend first grade? This doesn’t seem right. To think that my eternal happiness will hinge on the accumulation of my parents’ decisions with me? This is not congruent with gospel principles.

    My statements are not intended to belittle the efforts of the any parents; but it would be unfortunate if parents thought their children’s happiness depended upon their (the parents’) decisions in matters such as school, geographic location of residence, and other matters that are not related to following the Lord’s commands.

    Let me qualify that last paragraph. Of course the Holy Spirit will guide us as we live worthily. And if the Spirit directs our actions in any way, then that decision falls within the realm of “the Lord’s commands”. However, the Spirit will accompany ANY worthy efforts, and we can’t mistake His presence as a confirmation that our actions are the ONLY right ones in the situation.

    OOH. I like that last paragraph.

    Fun conversation. I await your response.

    We can transfer this conversation over to another place if we don’t want to continue it here. I am going to convert a large portion of my responses into a post on my blog. I’ve done more writing in the comments sections on this blog than in my own blog postings. It’s about time that I start beefing up my blog with my thoughts, instead of others’ blogs!

  26. Carissa
    May 16, 2007 at 11:54 am #

    How many parents never have this type of conversation and send their kids to school because school is where kids go? Most parents do. And I don’t think that they are in the wrong for doing so.

    Absolutely. I never used to think twice about where my kids would go to school. I went to public school, so would they. No reason to do anything different. And I don’t believe that would have been a bad choice for us, knowing what I knew (or didn’t know) then.

    Since I have come across new information, given new ideas some serious scrutiny, and studied and prayed intently about them, I feel like I would be held responsible if I did not act on the new information and feelings I have. Had I not gone through this process, it is not rational to believe I would have been accountable for what I did not know. Hopefully this is making sense. Therefore, I absolutely do not condemn others who are doing their best with the knowledge and abilities they have. I also believe that is how we will be judged. God is fair and just. He doesn’t expect us to follow a path we do not even know exists. I also realize that others may not even come to the same conclusion I did given the same knowledge.

    No matter how much we try, we do not have control over our children’s life; to think otherwise gives us an inaccurate perception of reality

    This is correct. I don’t even want the burden of trying to control every aspect of my children’s lives. But I do want to fufill my obligations as a parent in training them and teaching them as the spirit directs, especially while they are in their youth. Homeschooling is giving me the time that I feel like my husband and I need to right now to do this effectively. I’m sure there are other parents who are much more efficient and can work around school hours.

    Of course the Holy Spirit will guide us as we live worthily. And if the Spirit directs our actions in any way, then that decision falls within the realm of “the Lord’s commands”. However, the Spirit will accompany ANY worthy efforts, and we can’t mistake His presence as a confirmation that our actions are the ONLY right ones in the situation.

    Wow! I really like that paragraph too. That is very wise advice for all of us to keep in mind. When we feel “the Lord’s commands” for us, it is natural for us to want to share our feelings with others so they can experience the joy we feel and come to know what we have found out. Obviously, it doesn’t always come across well, though. Thanks for your insight.

  27. Carissa
    May 22, 2007 at 5:42 pm #

    At the end of Gatto’s book, he makes this comment (about local control of education) that really stood out to me:

    Trust in families and neighborhoods and individuals to make sense of the important question, “What is education for?” If some of them answer differently from what you might prefer, that’s really not your business, and it shouldn’t be your problem.

    Our society seems to have a hard time with this concept. We want to regulate, control, and standardize others so much when it comes to education. What’s wrong with letting each family decide what works best for them? I think Gatto has the right idea here. It seems to be more compatible with America’s foundational philosophy of individual liberty, and more in line with the gospel teachings of free agency and accountability.

  28. Aaron Kammerman
    May 25, 2007 at 8:16 am #

    Great quotation and amen to your comment.

  29. Connor
    November 14, 2007 at 2:47 pm #

    We want to regulate, control, and standardize others so much when it comes to education. What’s wrong with letting each family decide what works best for them?

    This really hit home w/ the recent Utah voucher debacle. Too many people think that government should exist to regulate society, making people conform to a pre-determined standard.

    As Ron Paul notes at the end of this funny video clip, this isn’t government’s role. And if we allow it in one sphere of life, what’s to prevent the intrusion in another?

    The Founders knew best when they brought power down to “We the People” inasmuch as possible. The exclusion of an oversight of education in the enumerated powers speaks volumes regarding who should be in charge of all things educational. Not the NEA, and certainly not the federal government.

  30. Don
    December 29, 2007 at 10:28 pm #

    I think Gatto would have a different message if he taught in high school. He might want to say what Einstein said to his students, “Those who want to learn what I am teaching may stay. Those who don’t may go home.”

    I’ve taught high school for 42 years. Forcing kids to go to school beyond grade seven is counter productive.

    Kids who don’t want to be in school don’t benefit much and they prevent others from learning. They make life miserable for the teacher. They discover that the school has no power over them. These kids want to come to school to be with their friends.

    The law makes it very difficult for a school to ask a student to leave.

    What’s worse than making a student go to school is forcing a teacher to cope with students who don’t want to conform.
    Society needs options for these kids.

    My hunch is that if these kids were allowed to be self directing, they would still come to school to hang out. They would also skip a lot, play video games a lot, and get into trouble with the law.

    Students who don’t want to do what the teacher asks, should be free to leave. Furthermore, teachers should not be required to keep students who don’t want to learn what the teacher is hired to teach.

  31. Richard
    December 31, 2007 at 1:32 pm #

    As my wife and I have tried, diligently, to have an impact on the education system, here in our town, we have been completely shut down, along with so may others who have tried. Now, as for the public schools doing good, show me where? Most of the time it is the parents, who are willing to take matters into their own hands, who have the most beneficial effect. Aren’t we told, all the time, that we need to spend more time with our kids, helping them? Where are the teachers? So…what do they do in class? After all, the teachers are the experts, aren’t they???? Yes there are a few kids who succeed but the vast majority, every where I’ve been, seem to do very poorly. Also, the public schools are a political battle ground, where teachers and others, seek to use what ever means they can, to influence our kids their way. I know, I can hear all the objections, but be honest. You can’t tell me that the teachers unions, etc., don’t have an agenda that focuses less on academics and more on socialization. Even Rickover saw that, way back in the 50’s. Come on people?! Oh, bye the way, in case you haven’t noticed, I am a lousy writer…a product of the great public school system, and the, “just push them along” era. Regards, Rich

  32. Richard
    December 31, 2007 at 1:41 pm #

    Oh yes, you should also read his bigger work, “The Underground History of American Education.” That book fleshes things out a bit more. Also, there is another on line book that has some very interesting documentation, although I don’t know if I agree with aall the conclusions. That is: “The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America”

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