I recently finished reading Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Cumpulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto. With a title like that, it is hard to go wrong, huh? This is my second Gatto book. I had previously read Dumbing Us Down which I really liked though I found it a bit disjointed. This book was slightly better stylistically. Dumbing Us Down is series of speeches Gatto gave so while there is some progression there is not really one coherent argument being made. Weapons of Mass Instruction starts out seeming to build an argument, but at the end Gatto turns to letters he wrote which makes it again seem a bit disjointed.
One can tell, however, that he is passionate about his subject. Gatto is a man on a mission. More than once in Weapons he urges readers to sabotage the public schools in any way they can. Subversiveness became his approach while he was a disillusioned public school teacher and he exhorts others to follow his example.
Gatto begins the book by discussing how and why public schools in this country came to be. The picture he paints is not a pretty one. Basically, America’s business elite pushed for the schools and for them to be a particular way in order to create a dumb and yet wild to consume their products underclass. If I had not read Dumbing Us Down previously and had an introduction to Gatto’s ideas, I think I would have found the first chapters of this book too much to take. Even though my kids have never been to school, the evidence he presents is overwhelmingly depressing.
As the book goes on, however, Gatto begins to give specific cases of people who have been very successful without the aid of public schooling. These examples I found very heartening. Gatto also talks about his perfect approach to education (education, as he says repeatedly, being an entirely different thing than schooling). I would like to take another post to get into some of the specifics but the short version is that one must be self-educated and be able to pursue one’s own interests. All education must be individualized and there is no one right path to take. Gatto comes across as very pro-family which I like. He does make me feel like I am not doing enough to let my children pursue their own interests and to treat them like adults, as he says they should be pretty much after age 7.
Overall, I would definitely like to see all Americans, whether they have kids or not since all our tax dollars are at stake, read some of Gatto’s work. Weapons of Mass Instruction is not a bad choice. I am not sure if it is the best place to start. I imagine many people who just disbelieve him and abandon the book. I would also like to see a book (and Gatto has many so perhaps one is out there which I haven’t read yet) which makes a coherent argument from start to finish without all the speeches and letters thrown in.