Dumbing Us Down – The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

A brilliant book by New York State teacher of the year: John Taylor Gatto

Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

“The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions, but to destroy the capacity to form any.”  –Hannah Arendt

In this rare and insightful book, Gatto  explains the seven lessons that are taught in most schools.  They constitute a damaging and costly national curriculum.  Here is a summary of those principles, as expressed by the author in the first-person voice:

1. Confusion: I teach too much, and everything that I teach is out of context. The orbiting of planets, the law of large numbers, slavery, adjectives, architectural drawing, dance, assemblies, etc.

Editors note: I have met countless college graduates whose heads are filled with volumes of academic jumble, but who cannot focus, live under constant stress, can’t make a decent income, and can’t maintain a stable relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

2.Class Position: I teach students that they must remain in the class into which they were born, the class where they belong. If I do my job well, my students will be unable to imagine themselves somewhere else. They will envy and fear the upper classes, and have contempt for the lower classes.

3. Indifference: I teach children not to care too much about anything, even though they may desire to do so. I demand that my students become completely involved in my lessons, vigorously competing with each other for my favor.

4.Emotional Dependency: By using stars and red checks; smiles and frowns; prizes and punishments; or honors and disgraces, I force children to become emotionally dependent upon my praise. This ensures my power over them. My students surrender their will to the predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld by any authority without appeal, because rights do not exist inside a school. Even the right to free speech – free thought as well – is suspended within the confines of the classroom. Individuality is a contradiction of class theory.

5. Intellectual Dependency: Good students wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson that is imparted to our children in school: We must wait for other people – better trained than ourselves – to direct us and give meaning to our lives.

6. Provisional Self-Esteem: I teach children that their self-respect should depend upon expert opinion. My student’s are constantly evaluated and judged. Report cards, grades, and tests all teach us that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but instead, should rely upon the expert evaluations of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth.
7. One Can’t Hide: I teach students they are always watched; that each individual is

under constant surveillance by either my colleagues or myself. This forces my students to behave appropriately, because they fear that someone is watching them, and will punish them if they behave wrongly. There is no private time. Furthermore, I assign a type of extended schooling called “homework,” which ensures that the effects of my classroom travel into private households. When students might otherwise use free time to learn something unauthorized from a parent, through exploration, or by apprenticing to some wise person in the neighborhood, they are kept occupied with homework.

Presently, few people can imagine a different educational system. When proponents of educational reform bring up the aforementioned flaws, they are met with traditional opposition: “Kids have to learn to follow orders, if they ever expect to keep a job.” or “They have to go to school so they can learn to read and write.”

Prior to around 1850, schooling – as it is understood in the traditional sense – was not considered very important anywhere. Schooling existed, but not to the extent that it presently does. Furthermore, students only attended the amount of school that they felt necessary. Even without rigid curriculum and mandatory attendance policies, people still learned to read, write, and do arithmetic. Recently, Senator Kennedy’s office released a paper stating that prior to compulsory education, the literacy rate was 98%. Following the implementation of compulsory education, the figure never exceeded 91%. Additionally, the skills of reading, writing, and performing arithmetic – when the pupil is eager and willing to learn – can be mastered much more quickly than our present school system leads people to believe. When an individual genuinely wants to learn something, the speed at which he is able to comprehend that subject matter is greatly increased.
Gatto’s book strikes at the heart of modern social dysfunction. It is a critical component of our understanding the problems – high rates of mental illness, family dysfunction, violence, crime, drug addiction, income inequity – that plague our society. See Mr. Gatto’s web site.