Book Review: Weapons of Mass Instruction

Dear Reader,

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.


9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Karen on October 24, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    I look forward to your next post on _Weapons of Mass Instruction_. I’m re-reading Gatto’s _Underground History of American Education_. I read it years ago and decided to re-read it.


  2. […] I recently reviewed John Taylor Gatto’s Weapons of Mass Instruction, but I wanted to touch again on some of the specifics of his argument. One idea he presents particularly intrigued me. […]


  3. […] written a couple of posts now on John Taylor Gatto’s book Weapons of Mass Instruction (see here and here), but I wanted to look specifically at the method of education which he describes in this […]


  4. […] really struck me here is how this is just what John Taylor Gatto talked about in the book I read recently by him, Weapons of Mass Instruction. His thesis there was that schools do just what they are supposed to […]


  5. […] this is my last post generated by John Taylor Gatto’s book Weapons of Mass Instruction (see this one, this one, and this one). Overall, I have liked Gatto’s book and would recommend that […]


  6. […] people who are both gullible consumers and obedient worker bees. In this he would agree with John Taylor Gatto. And, frankly, Gatto, who takes a more direct approach, does a lot better job of saying the same […]


  7. […] lot like what I have read in John Taylor Gatto’s books (see a couple of reviews here and here) — that is, our modern educational system was designed to make automatons to work in […]


  8. […] Gatto, the patron saint of unschooling, criticizes in his provocative books Dumbing Us Down and Weapons of Mass Instruction. It is a very industrial approach to education which sees the individual as part of a machine. The […]


  9. […] I have seen nothing thus far that has convinced me that there is a reason to take what the Scriptures clearly give to parents – the right and responsibility to educate their own children – and to give it to another. There is no doubt that parents can and even should get help in this task but the role that Jaarsma and others paint for the schools seems quite pervasive and I have yet to read anyone who favors schools as an institution who then outlines what the parents’ role is and where the one ends and the other begins or how a school may serve the parents without usurping their God-given responsibility. Jaarsma’s primary argument seems to be that parents are ill-equipped to fulfill their task God has assigned them and that this is a modern problem. That means that something, about 150 years ago, changed and that what parents were once able to do, they now no longer can. But, as the Preacher said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). If, as Jaarsma himself said, the goal of education is spiritual maturity (and I would not quite put it that way myself though I do think he is in the right ballpark), then it is hard to imagine what has changed so very recently that has rendered parents unqualified to educate their own children. Jaarsma seems to be biased towards a professional class of teachers, in part because he makes assumptions about how learning works. He also confuses a bit the cultural argument with the educational goals for the individual. Because the Scriptures establish various institutions and because they clearly and directly assign the task of educating children to their parents, I think the burden is on those who would take this responsibility from the parents and give it to another, non-biblical institution to justify this decision. I have yet to see an argument that convinces me of the necessity of the school as an institution. There are certainly people in various situations for whom a school serves a good purpose but I think the relationship between the school and the parents must always be clearly defined and I think we may also consider other ways of helping parents to educate their children. Above all, I think, as De Beer said, that we must use discernment when adopting an institution which Jaarsma himself acknowledges is both modern and cultural. Though he is not a Christian, if you would like an alternative view on how and why the modern schools developed and what their effect is, I recommend John Taylor Gatto’s books (see reviews here and here). […]


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