john taylor gatto

john taylor gatto bw

Listen friends, if peasants can deconstruct steel mills, torch singers can revolutionize admissions at high-tech colleges, junior high dropouts can get 100 miles to the gallon, beach-bum surfers can map the human genome, tiny women can blast through the male monopoly of big-time auto racing, dyslexic fish peddlars can establish global merchandising empires, and lap dancers can win Oscars for script- writing, some vitally important piece is missing in the conventional way schools treat learning and accomplishment.”
Consider what society would look like if 65 million trapped schoolchildren learning to be consumers were suddenly set to actively imagining themselves in independent livelihoods, adding value to the rest of the community; imagining themselves as producers instead of bored consumers. Wouldn’t we soon be overrun with Buffets, Venters, Wassermans, Danica Patricks and Diablo Codys? Isn’t that exactly what America needs at this sorry, sterile juncture in our history, not more well-schooled zombies on whose backs the few can ride?

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(via Matt Hern‘s Everywhere All the Time: A New Deschooling Reader):

the money we’d save – via a global/nationwide social bill we keep supporting (health, et al):

via John Taylor Gatto – p. 53-60 –

I want you to consider the frightening possibility that we are spending far too much money on schooling, no too little. I want you to consider that we have too many people employed in interfering with the way children grow up – and that all this money and all these people, all the time we take out of children’s lives and away from their homes and families and neighborhoods and private explorations gets in the way of education.

I heard a VP of IBM tell an audience of people assembled to redesign the process of teacher certification that in his opinion this country become computer-literate by self-teaching, not through an action of schools. He said 45 million people were comfortable with computers who had learned through dozens of non-systematic strategies, none of them very formal; if schools had preempted the right to teach computers use we would be in a horrible mess right now instead of leading the world in this literacy.

The reason Swedes have wiped out what would be 1st and 2nd grades, is that they don’t want to pay the large social bill that quickly comes due when boys and girls are ripped away from their best teachers at home too early. It isn’t worth the price, say the Swedes, to provide jobs for teachers and therapists if the result is sick, incomplete kids who can’t be put back together again very easily. The entire Swedish school sequence isn’t 12 years, it’s  9. The direct savings of such a step in the U.S. would be $75-100 billion.

he writes much about history, but one piece in particular:

Prussia concocted a method based on complex fragmentations to ensure that its school products would fit the grand social design. Some of this method involved dividing whole ideas into school subjects, each further divisible, some of it involved short periods punctuated by a horn so that self-motivation in study would be muted by ceaseless interruptions. 

Schooling after the Prussian fashion removes the ability of the mind to think for itself. It teches people to wait for a teacher to tell them what to do and if what they have done is good or bad. Prussian teaching paralyses the moral will as well as the intellect. it’s true that sometimes well-schooled students sound smart, because they memorize many opinions of great thinkers, but they actually are badly damaged because their own ability to think is left rudimentary and undeveloped.

New York State, employs more school administrator than all of the European Economic community nations combined. Once you think that the control of conduct is what schools are about, the world”reform” takes on a very particular meaning. It means making adjustments to the machine so that young subjects will not twist and turn so, while their minds and bodies are being scientifically controlled. Helping kids to use their minds better is beside the point.

When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little,… There is no evidence that this has been a state purpose since the start of compulsion schooling. .. Kindergarten was created to be a way to break the influence of mothers on their children.

A movement as visibly destructive to individuality, family, and community as government-system schooling has been might be expected to collapse in the face of its dismal record, coupled with an increasingly aggressive shakedown of the taxpayer, but this has not happened. The explanation is largely found in the transformation of schooling from a simple service to families and towns to an enormous, centralized corporate enterprise.

While this development development has had a markedly adverse effect on people and on our democratic traditions, it has made schooling the single larges employer in the U.S. and the largest granter of contracts next to the Defense Department. Both of these low-visibility phenomena provide monopoly schooling with powerful political friends, publicists, advocates, and other useful allies. This is a large part of the explanation why no amount of failure ever changes things in schools, or changes them for very long. School people are in a position to outlast any storm and to keep short-attention-span public scrutiny thoroughly confused.

An overview of the short history of this institution reveals a pattern marked by intervals of public outrage, followed by enlargement of the monopoly in ever case.

Violence, narcotic addictions, divorce, alcoholism, loneliness – all these are but tangible measures of a poverty in education. Surely schools, as the institutions monopolizing the daytimes of childhood, can be called to account for this. In a democracy, the final judges cannot be experts, but only the people.

Trust the people, give them choices, and the school nightmare will vanish in a generation.

or perhaps less – if we use tech to hasten equity, to wake us up to our pluralistic ignorance.


The only way you can stop a child from learning to read and liking it is to teach it the way we teach it.  – JG


Published on Apr 24, 2012

This speech was delivered at Pat Farenga‘s Learning In Our Own Way Conference in Woburn, MA, August 2005. John Gatto said it was the debut of this speech, which was later turned into a book by the same name.

Weapons of Mass Instruction


via –

John Taylor Gatto proposed a radical solution that would be in alignment with nature, humane treatment of children and a democratic society: Abolish forced public schooling as it is now and establish the entire community as a community learning experience for people of all ages. Children would lead their own learning in a non-compulsory manner. Everyone, from the youngest child to the seniors in nursing homes would be welcomed to facilitate classes, and children and adults can attend – or opt out- at their choosing. Public dollars would be used to fund the necessary supplies and assist mentors of any age or specialty.

If the entire city or town were set up as a learning community for children to explore, apprentice, find resources, collect mentors and to be free to teach, attend or not attend classes, this would be the “educational reform” that would truly heal children and our culture. In open learning communities, children would have all of their bodily, developmental, emotional, social, intellectual and creative needs met. Art galleries, libraries, historical centers, community centers and cafes would all be hubs. Hopefully, diverse businesses would open their doors to be part of the process as well. The now abandoned school buildings would be used as resources and spaces, not as prisons. Anyone would be free to facilitate or attend classes, play in the gym, use the equipment, cook meals, hold meetings, clubs, groups, shows, etc.

city as school


during altedfilmfestival week – watched John’s 5 part interview:


interviewer – Richard Grove – july 2011

part 1:

i think by writing what i think i think/believe and then arguing with that

yale/harvard/princeton’s admissions… don’t look at gpa and test scores… they look at hobbies – window into the person – because that’s what they choose when no one is telling them what to do

bush ran for president against another c student – and fraternity bro – from yale

… no way to heal the disobedience gene for people who thought for themselves…

part 2:

1871 – population dangerous if allowed to think and its imagination remains in tact –

francis galton – darwin’s mentor (and 1st cousin) said – 95% of people have menace in them – school will help tame that (spinoza, plato, calvin, .. all into it… just different angles)

then prussian physicist – vunt – prussian ideas spread like wildflower via klout

domination of ideas – ie: 1868 – japan scraps constitution and replaces it with prussias

17 min – financial penalty is enough to control the way we all think (ie: not enough to get tenure)

20 min – social order would be destroyed if people thought their intelligence was in tact.. playfair

28 min – behind the street idiom was this fresh intellect.. that had just been disrespected.. so i decided to huge the fresh eyes of the “hopeless ghetto kids” –  i started taking what they wanted to do seriously. ie: draw comic books – he would tell them they’re doing it wrong and send them to the city for a week to learn how to do it right; swim – visit all 150 pools in nyc – set up rating for them – as your school – produce info reference – her life was transformed because i treated her with respect.

34 min – friend who flunked out from cornell – and became an expert assassination writer – talked columbia prof into phd from writing a book – inquest – led to all expenses phd at harvard.. etc

36 min – all of the anomalies finally shook my belief in what i had been taught. i could begin to see around me all the narratives that were disconnected from reality.. they were all weapons of mass destruction narratives…

we were creating (in school) the hideous discipline problems that we then said we must have money to relieve.. all these horrible kids were perfectly able to rise into valuable contributors.. and it wasn’t much of a distance to go

39 min – then i was given a “difficult class” because they wanted to get rid of me. so i decided to start in with most difficult shakespeare.. once they mastered that – i would set them free the rest of the year

pilot math ness

we invent the problems we have to solve

41 min – individuals have an innate individual potential. if you’re around someone who does something well – you watch it.. so you can do it. we’re biologically programmed to imitate – once our mind kicks in – we have a selection element. but school blocks all that. ie: richard branson – his mother 1946 airline stewardess… when he was 4 yrs old, she drove him miles from london home and asked if he thought he could find his way home from there.. and he did. 8-9 yrs later when he found his way home – nothing else seemed difficult. dropped out of hs. never went to college. what would our society be if we put millions of people through the same experience.

45 min – what happened ..?  – finance became the fast track

48 min – the bad things done in school have been intellectually justified – and you’re not going to change those minds.. all the energy you take to change system of schooling is a waste – because now a majority of the people in the country make their living from that – no one has a critical mind… if gains rely on overcoming sales resistance.. but now we’re pliable (and asleep) – no problem

the dollar is paper.. give us our money back

50 min – carnegie (atheist) donated an organ to every church.. you accept the organ.. you thank carnegie for his organ.. so rockefeller and carnegie then set up pension systems… you could compete for pensions if you followed the carnegie credit system. how could you not participate in this..

52 min – this whole religion of leverage is utterly unknown except to seminar courses at the most elite colleges… the best leverage available wasn’t the newspapers.. it was the pulpits..

55 min – school teachers are all innocent.. drawn out of pool of college grads (nytimes) lower scores on standardized exams.. except for school admin.. are 50 pts below the teacher group…  so admin listen to richest parents.. do what they want – then when they’re gone in 3 or so yrs – go back to what you were doing before

58  min – foundations using leverage to mandate curriculums et al

1:01 – the mechanics of how it’s done is what would surprise people – it’s not a bunch of people.. it’s just a couple

part 3:

4:40 – charles s pierce – created the pragmatic philosophy – your key man (even over dewey?)

10 min – 1690ish – virtually everyone literate

12 min – payne –  not literate but could communicate to common man – but that would hand weapons to people you don’t want to be able to be heard

15 min – active literacies (writing & speaking) were illegal to teach common people.. but they were to be able to read – so they could read their directives

39 min – Richard says – almost like people need a reignite curiosity – but then giving them a methodology to reignite learning.. and then they can go again (paraphrase)

part 4:

8:25 – it’s not a significant determinant (tests) – they (ivy league/unis) just don’t want to rock the boat. the only way it will determine your future is if you decide it’s going to determine your future

10 min – the specific mechanism is an artificial extension of childhood – ie: render somebody harmless. see it in military and training of recruits, and in fraternities, .. brings up richard branson again at age 4. allowed to begin your productive life when you are ready – rather than prolonging it until after 18. ie: jefferson running a plantation at 12 or 13 of some 250 employees.. why have we marginalized youth. it’s because they are the most dangerous.

18 min – weaker force can overtake larger force – by separating/distributing/and being prepared

20 min – competition gets in the way of learning – the rank gets in the way

21 min – hot to talk about ideas – we couldn’t have that – how could we maintain people who are fully alive

how to manage a society that didn’t require managing

34 min – after 90 days – when kids started believing – kids started doing really well – and i get called in and called out on child abuse..

in colonial days – teaching active literacy to normal people was a crime

if you can speak well and write well – you can reach beyond and attain allies.. that’s a no no

strong competencies at the active literacies is the center of private/boarding schools

38 min – not after memorizing or a good story – but theory of human nature – something we don’t regard at all if we’re ordinary people

40 min – a lot of what we consider of racial or ethic prejudice – is simply that the disguise of these social forms is unknown to the person that is then discriminated against – then sent them all out in the city to gather data – ie: on human nature

42 min – then suddenly i saw – that the rules of access to the youth.. 1 teacher for every 5 students.. so he said to them – how do they know you’re not a teacher… they know because you chew gum.. fumble… etc.. why don’t we master what a uni student teacher might act like… let’s see if we can pick 5 people out of this class and penetrate security. we were never caught. bronx zoo. 1 per 15.

… so this artificial extension of childhood is a secret of crowd control – where people become their own prisoners by adopting the cultural signs…

47 min – reading – gives you, immerses you in, models.. so that you are ready for many different audiences – there’s an inner jazz at work.. so half the game – someone expose that secret to you .. the other half – you expose yourself to it

50 min – 13 yr old kids from harlem can master things as much as 20 yr olds from harvard. we are biologically equipped – unless someone intervenes…

part 5:

is there an easy way to learn…? all the graceful, easy ways of learning, comes from people who are comfortable in their own skin and have had a lot of early experience.

i set aside one full day a week where kids could follow own instincts anywhere in nyc they wanted to go. i took them on group projects.. that would end up with a tangible goal, ie: testing voting – random group of 120 13 yr olds had done more accurate data collection.. so why aren’t the 7 million youth in nyc involved in data gathering. they don’t hear about statistical sampling until college.

5 min – is it possible to train fleas before you break their wills

7 min – learning from 11 yr old – have to break fleas spirit – break the autonomy in the flea container.. after an hour.. all huddled… then take lid off. now you can oppose your will..

the minute i heard that 11 yr old – i knew that i had been hired as the lid on that container..

vunt building ed system – and he believes children have no soul

16 centuries ago – only subject was crowd control. has it become amazingly sophisticated. less and less people needed to maintain leverage

10 min – i think there’s some impulsion in everyone to have certainty.. to follow a list of rules/algorithms is emotionally satisfying. but doesn’t work unless everyone is doing it. and once everyone is doing it you can quit.

11 min – tipping pt in late 19th cent – rockefeller/carnegie/aster – found that – human ingenuity was a tremendous risk to capital formation.. to talk people out of their wealth. if too many people invent ways to do something better than your investment – your capital is destroyed. you have to use govt to control over production.

the killer app is to remove the ability to be inventive..

so c app as detox/repair/reclaim/wake-up

15 min – need to have training in reading between the lines, for ie: crisis of democracy

17 min – our economy cannot function w/o warfare – we need enemies, we have to have enemies

18:40 – what’s the role of curiosity – is it not the lever that produces invention.. the secrets of nature/society aren’t really very hard to penetrate as long as you remain curious


how do you destroy curiosity.. sit people in chairs, keep them quiet, threaten they need to succeed at tests..

21 min – when did the american dream become one of lifelong servitude and debt/slavery.. 1859 – american dream annunciated .. the american dream is to write your own script – to have an independent livelihood. it was liberty, freedom, personal sovereignty. it was unique. did it work? almost immediately propelled us into a paramount position. i’m not hostile to but i am a stranger to IT – book i read – i saw nature proving itself through IT. collectivism. allows anyone  (even non-experts) to make biggest discoveries.

25 min – creativity by berstein, it’s done in the form of a group discussion. how actual life/world changing discoveries are made. apparently by adding funds and assistance to a project diminishes chances at breakthough

28 min – berstein – intensive and narrow training will guarantee you won’t make a breakthough. most successful people in physics make it by going off by themselves and learning whatever they want. what they learn from mentors is how to deal with ambiguity.

as soon as you hear these things – they make so much sense

it isn’t the age – it’s the imprint that renders habits.. (so old or young – should keep at – the thing they can’t not do)

habit is the enormous flywheel of society. it alone saves the children of fortune from the envious uprising of the poor  (?) it keeps social strata from mixing..

32 min – how often – break through not made by expert in that field.. but someone with fresh eyes. freedom and flexibility much more valuable than planning – berstein

it’s not that we’re discovering great truths.. we’re taking them out of their burial grounds. we’re waking up

34 min – 1917 – 6 purposes of schooling.. principles of secondary ed – inglis – dry, not a great writer, the golden beans hidden in middle of book – unmarked:

1) adjustive function – fixed action of reaction to authority (only way to measure this is to give stupid orders… if sane orders.. no proof)

2) integrating/conformity function – make children as alike as possible (stats only work from that)

3) directive function – school diagnose your proper role on pyramid so future people can keep you there

4) differentiating function – ie: only teach within mandated age level

5) selective function – what darwin meant by natural selection – the favored races. assessing breeding quality. trying to use ways to prevent the poor stuff from breeding.. hanging humiliating labels around neck, etc. tag the unfit with their inferiority with poor grades, humiliation so that their peers will accept them as inferior

6) propidudic function – to continue a social form requires some people to be the custodians – so set up to accept being run by a few

45 min – enough hoops that most people wouldn’t get hands on inglis lectures (at harvard et al)

46 min – cutting out middle man in learning

52 min – yoko story – well i don’t know yoko – they’re going to miss a lot.. strawberry fields

57 min – pizza palace

58 min – he kept giving kids time off from school

58 min – hampshire college – write your own curriculum and then negotiate with the college

59 min – when asked what he would want all to hear:

…sensible children do not wish to be incomplete human beings.. so when you do so – you are torturing them

1:04 – if you can stick to something – nothing is difficult to learn

stick to it ive ness


on purpose of school – (posted on fb via Manish)

school was to be a surgical incision into which the class based management system of england would be inserted

infiltration into minds children out of sight of their parents… no responsibility except obedience..

young people would grow older.. but never grow up.. and great enduring problem of supervision would be solved..

6 purposes of modern schooling from dr englis’s (honor lecture at harvard named after him) book

1\ adjustive – to fixed habits of reaction to authority (obedience to stupid orders more reflexive than sensible ones, ie: don’t know if obedient till will go off the cliff)

2\ diagnostic – algorithmically put in social classes and kept on record

3\ sorting – by training individuals only so far as likely destination in social machine…

4\ conformity – so that future behavior mathematically predictable in service to market/govt research

5\ hygienic – nothing to do w/individual health… lots to do with health of race… accelerating natural selection.. by tagging the unfit so clearly.. (that’s what all those early humiliations were about) that the unfit will drop from the reproduction sweepstakes.. either in despair, or accepting school’s judgment of them as inferior

6\ small fraction taught how to take over management of continuing project..


Austin Kleon on Gatto’s dumbing us down


Long blog post w/ my notes on Gatto’s DUMBING US DOWN:…

We lock away children and old people from everyday life, either in schools or nursing homes

nobody talks to them anymore, and without children and old people mixing in daily life, a community has no future and no past, only a continuous present.

A real community allows you to be a whole person:

“the only ones I consider completely safe are the ones that reject their communal facade, acknowledge their limits, and concentrate solely on helping me do a specific and necessary task.”

Gatto sees compulsory school as an “involuntary network with strangers.”

Gatto sums it up: “Children learn what they live.

rev of everyday life.. for all of us..

a nother way.. ie: hosting life bits.. via self-talk as data..

as the day