Skip to comments.John Taylor Gatto: Remembering America's Most Courageous Teacher (Homeschool Hero, and more)
Posted on 10/29/2018 3:27:58 PM PDT by Mrs. Don-o
It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the passing of a revolutionary educator, John Taylor Gatto. Gatto spent nearly 30 years as a teacher in the infamously rough New York City public school system. He was awarded New York City Teacher of the Year three consecutive years while also being recognized as New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991.
Gatto understood that his students were not mere underlings, but individuals with unique skills and talents.
Over the course of his career, Gatto was recognized by other educators for the rapport he had built with his students. While other teachers were spending much of their day on behavioral management issues, Gattos students were actively engaged in his lectures and genuinely excited about learning. When faculty members would come to him seeking advice, his prescription was simple: treat your students the same way you treat anyone else.
Above all, Gatto understood that his students were not mere underlings, but individuals with unique skills and talents to share with the rest of the world. They didnt want to be talked down to but longed to be treated with respect and dignity. He recognized that their worth was not determined by the neighborhoods where they lived, their parents annual salaries, or the scores they received on standardized tests. He concluded that genius, is as common as dirt. We suppress genius because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.
After three decades in the classroom, Gatto realized that the public school system was squashing individualism more than it was educating students and preparing them for the real world. To make matters worse, his later research would reveal that this dumbing down was not just by accident, but by design.
Gatto dedicated the rest of his life to repairing the damage done by the public education system.
Feeling the education system was beyond repair, Gatto could no longer in good conscience be an active participant. Rather than sending his letter of resignation to his superiors in his school district, he sent a copy of I Quit, I Think to the Wall Street Journal, where it was published as an op-ed on July 25, 1991.
In his biting resignation, he wrote:
Ive come slowly to understand what it is I really teach: A curriculum of confusion, class position, arbitrary justice, vulgarity, rudeness, disrespect for privacy, indifference to quality, and utter dependency. I teach how to fit into a world I dont want to live in.
I just cant do it anymore. I cant train children to wait to be told what to do; I cant train people to drop what they are doing when a bell sounds; I cant persuade children to feel some justice in their class placement when there isnt any, and I cant persuade children to believe teachers have valuable secrets they can acquire by becoming our disciples. That isnt true.
Gatto dedicated the rest of his life to repairing the damage done by the public education system. He wrote several books on his experience in the classroom including Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling and Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling. His book The Underground History of American Education is perhaps the most accurate and damning history of the American education system that has ever been written.
He believed that learning was actually inhibited by the classroom setting and that every single moment of life presented the opportunity to learn and grow.
Gatto encouraged parents to foster an environment where their children could follow their bliss rather than being stuck in a classroom, trained to be just another cog in the machine. He inspired teachers to reassess their reasons for becoming educators and to challenge the status quo.
He was also a firm believer in self-directed education, sometimes referred to as unschooling. He believed that learning was actually inhibited by the classroom setting and that every single moment of life presented the opportunity to learn and grow.
Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important or worth finishing; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even. The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly.
Author and ardent unschooling advocate Kerry McDonald had this to say of Gatto's legacy in this regard:
John Taylor Gattos writings inspired a generation of parents and educators to question deep-seated beliefs about compulsory mass schooling and pursue alternatives. For homeschoolers, in particular, Gatto affirmed the vital role of family and empowered parents to take back control of their childs education. His words will continue to have a lasting impact on education for years to come.
Zak Slayback, who authored The End of School and wrote the foreword to Gatto's newest edition of Dumbing Us Down, also had a few remarks on Gatto's legacy:
Gatto's writing, teaching, and approach to not just education but human flourishing in general inspired me to think critically about my own life and education. He's one of the most important thinkers in American historythat's becoming more obvious every day. He'll be missed dearly.
Slayback also said he carries a card in his wallet with this John Taylor Gatto quote:
You either learn your way towards writing your own script in life or you become an unwitting actor in somebody else's script.
On October 25th, after a long battle with health issues, Gatto departed this world at 82 years old. He is survived by his loving wife and two children. In addition to his family, he leaves behind a legacy that inspired thousands of people to challenge the premise on which our education system was built and to protect a childs right to a real education built on actual experience rather than government-sanctioned texts.
So as we honor the life of this great man, I leave you with a few of Gatto's most inspirational quotes.
School is a twelve-year jail sentence where bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.
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 the 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. It is absurd and anti-life to move from cell to cell at the sound of a gong for every day of your natural youth in an institution that allows you no privacy and even follows you into the sanctuary of your home, demanding that you do its homework. How will they learn to read? you ask, and my answer is Remember the lessons of Massachusetts. When children are given whole lives instead of age-graded ones in cellblocks they learn to read, write, and do arithmetic with ease, if those things make sense in the kind of life that unfolds around them.
Independent study, community service, adventures and experience, large doses of privacy and solitude, a thousand different apprenticeshipsthe one-day variety or longerthese are all powerful, cheap, and effective ways to start a real reform of schooling. But no large-scale reform is ever going to work to repair our damaged children and our damaged society until we force open the idea of school to include family as the main engine of education. If we use schooling to break children away from parentsand make no mistake, that has been the central function of schools since John Cotton announced it as the purpose of the Bay Colony schools in 1650 and Horace Mann announced it as the purpose of Massachusetts schools in 1850were going to continue to have the horror show we have right now.
Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.
I am not a fan of unschooling as I’ve seen it misused as an excuse for parents to not do much of anything with their kids.
Some courses demand structured learning to master the subject, to make sure you get everything that you need to know for the subject. I think especially of math where much of what you learn is built on the foundation of what you did before it.
Some sort of structured education or schooling has been part of human history for a long time and did so with great success.
That said, I could not agree more with his assessment of the public school system.
This ping list is for articles of interest to homeschoolers. I hold both the Homeschool Ping List and the Another Reason to Homeschool Ping List. Please freepmail me to let me know if you would like to be added or removed from either list, or both.
The keyword for the FREE REPUBLIC HOMESCHOOLERS FORUM is frhf.
I bought his book on the underground history of education in America. Amazing book.
I am so sorry to hear this.
He definitely informed my homeschooling years.
Anyone who cares about education in America simply MUST read things that Gatto wrote. I particularly recommend The Underground History of American Education.
I emailed Gatto with a question about something he wrote. (I no longer remember what it was.) He called me on the phone and we talked for a half hour or more about my question and other things too. What an honor for me.
After his oped was published I kept a copy around to show friends and relatives just why I felt homeschooling was superior to traditional schools. It's not the raw knowledge my kids learned as the independence and the desire to teach yourself.
Now to impart those ideals to the next generation.
We did a form of unschooling, although I prefer to call it laissez faire homeschool. All three of our children are now successful adults. Everyone has to find the path that is best for his family.
A real teacher. I suspect he would score as an NF.
Once in California, a Myers-Briggs survey of public school teachers indicated that almost 2/3 were Sensing-Judging [SJ], while almost 1/3 were iNtuitive-Feeling [NF], with a smattering of SPs (P.E., Shop and the like), and NTs (Science, Engineering, higher education).
Both SJs and NFs were disproportionately represented, especially the NFs, who are heavily outnumbered in the general population.
The other significant finding was that although SJs had a 2:1 edge in numbers, almost all excellence-in-teaching awards went to NFs.
NFs seek to build rapport, and tend to view each student as an individual. SJs tend to focus on rules and rote, and to treat all students as interchangeable.
We followed a kind of “unschooling” with the 2 youngest, once the basics were mastered and they had the desire & self-discipline to take charge of their own learning decisions. I think I called it “delight directed learning” or some such on my evaluation papers.
Kids who are, from the earliest age; read to, talked to, and treated as if they can understand even abstract constructs learn without even realizing they’re learning.
I know there are good teachers, and good schools. But the politics, the artificiality & strictness of the typical school experience often stifles those who have the brightest minds. (IMO)
I considered same-age schooling highly artificial, even as a boy. The old prairie-school mixed class I saw in movies seemed much more natural.
I belonged with older kids, but was not put ahead because I was small and shy, even though I was ahead of everyone else in mathematics and language.
Mixed aging would teach the older ones responsibility toward the younger, and teach the younger to accept guidance from the older. Each student would have his turn at both roles, as their aging progressed.
I have his book on the shelf. It’s absolutely fascinating! One of his points that I remember and teach is that a student doesn’t need to believe everything a teacher says. The teacher (adult) could be offering an opinion; he could be honestly misinformed, or he could be intentionally conveying incorrect information.
RIP. I had a few long, wonderful conversations with him. He changed a lot of perspective for me. He did us all a great service. I still see the horrors of institutional education and am still skulking around its edges while soaking up some of its benefits for good reason. After homeschooling for many years, its about time I get some of my tax bennies.
Human nature. Committees will always pretty much suck.
Unschooling has his moments and should be a part of even structured education. I think all those young people with their gap year before college get it. They have to take the sheeplike follower habit out of their souls.
My two oldest had some unschooling and some very classic homeschooling and some in between. It combined to make them both the most they that they could be. They are strong and individual. It took me a long time after my college degrees to wash the 20 years of being an obedient student out of my soul.
My two youngest are in the most unique public ( funded) schools around, absolutely great situations for each of them. But Im a homeschooling mom forever anyway. I did more years than most.
Sounds like him. He was so open and so available. I wonder if his huuuuuge tome (the Underground History) made it through my purge of my books 3 years ago. Id like to think I kept that one.
One of my sons did middle school at a hybrid school, which is half homeschooling but they meet once a week with their teacher for 2-3 hours and work on things with their small class. The kids had ages from 11-16. It was wonderful.
Wow, have heard of him. He sounds like he was amazing man & I am definitely going to read his books.
Which of his books should I read first? And thank you for this.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.