John Taylor Gatto: The Underground History of American Education

Learn The Underground History of American "Education"

Press PLAY to begin your journey. This video series is based on John Taylor Gatto's book, and arranged and edited by Brett Veinotte

Whether you're just now learning about John Taylor Gatto's work or well versed in it, this video series is a powerful and sharable resource. These videos consist of well-chosen excerpts from The Underground History of American Education, because they strike the root of the issues we see in American schools today.

The series includes eye opening accounts of Gatto's time as a school teacher, while elucidating the not-so-well-known history of modern schooling in America. Today's school critics and reformers stand on Gatto's shoulders, since it was Gatto who spent untold hours scouring through dry and bland writings of the architects of modern schooling to create this digestible and entertaining read. This is one of many books he wrote on the problems and history of compulsory schooling.

This playlist offers an ideal entry point into the work of John Taylor Gatto. It will also provide clarity for those already in the trenches of alternative education. This knowledge is of absolute necessity for anyone considering their own education or the education of their children.

Episode Guide: 15 Powerful Vignettes From John Taylor Gatto

Section One: Gatto's Arguments

1. Before You Send Your Child to Public School… Why school? The question almost no one asks. This episode examines the concealed aspects of modern schooling. Does the public school system really have anything of value to offer children that could not be gained elsewhere?

2. Teacher Resignation: "I Quit. I Think"  "There isn't a right way to become educated, there are as many ways as there are finger prints.” Gatto says. This episode is an excerpt from John Taylor Gatto's article published in the Wall Street Journal in 1991.

3. New Individualism Gatto explores how the US was once a highly individualized nation that has been steered into central management. School became a tool of the state, and the only voice that matters now is that of the collective.

4. The New Dumbness “The New Dumbness” examines the assumption that school is where kids go to become educated. However, Gatto asserts that modern school teaches dumbness. He also argues that school is geared towards creating a workforce that follows orders and not intelligent self-reliant individuals.

5. The Art of Driving  Gatto explores the notion that real learning happens quickly. He compares schooling to driving and how a small amount of training prepares someone to wield a dangerous vehicle. Why does it take 15,000 hours to educate a child in public school?

6. Schooling: Athens vs. Sparta This episode pulls from two sections comparing the free and voluntary education system of Athens to that of the centrally managed Sparta. Gatto explains how the US system much more closely resembles that of Sparta.

Section Two: The Scientific Management of Children

7. Extending Childhood "Extending Childhood” reveals the true purpose of modern schooling as a branch of industry, a means of bringing about central management. Gatto examines the very candid writings of the architects of schooling in that time period.

8. The Scientific Management of America, Part 1 What is the purpose of schooling? This section explores the world of leaders in science and industry of the early 1900's and their affect on schooling. The move from local education by the community and family to that of “experts.” Part 1

9. The Scientific Management of America, Part 2 A continuation of the previous episode. A further look into how public school was co-opted by big business and the lessons children truly learn in school.

10. A Dumbing Down of America Gatto explores the statistics of schooling from a macro perspective and the steady decline of overall competence in test scores. He examines what this means and what are its causes.

Section Three: The Dark Origins of Our Schooling

11. Land of Frankenstein - The Prussian Connection Part 1 This episode explores the origins of modern American schooling, a system that came out of Prussia. The Prussians designed their system to create a class of humans that would be predictable and order followers.

12. The Long Reach of the Teutonic Knights - The Prussian Connection Part 2 This video further explores the Prussian system of schooling and State governance. And it chronicles how its effects have traveled through time to our present system of schooling.

13. A Prussian Reform Movement - The Prussian Connection Part 3 Gatto continues to examine the Prussian Reform Movement and the three-tier system of education in order to educate three different classes of people. This includes an elite tier, a proletariat, and a working class.

14. The Technology of Subjection - The Prussian Connection Part 4 In conclusion, this episode examines the Prussian system as it was adopted in different countries across the world.

The Conclusion

15. Public School: A Conspiracy Against Ourselves Gatto examines the problem of schooling being structural and that it is unable to be reformed, because it has been built to serve a particular function. A function that at its core is anti-human.

Who is John Taylor Gatto? (The Educator)

There's a beautiful local television feature story on John from almost 30 years ago called "Classrooms of the Heart." The piece intersperses classroom and after-school footage between interviews with John and his students. In "I Quit, I Think," John suggested that the creation of the most meaningful educational experiences  often required his ignoring school rules and procedures. In this twenty-seven-minute video, you’ll see exactly what he meant.

The narrator informs us that this man is a teacher in a public school. Yet the events and conversations that follow don’t seem consistent with that setting. Middle school students are spoken to like self-respecting professionals, rather than like children. There are no tests. No traditional homework assignments. And no rows of desks. Most of John’s interactions with students don’t even take place in a classroom. Furthermore, he invites students to ponder what it means to be self-teachers and to question all that surrounds them. He even invites students to direct this questioning at school itself.

"I am really trying to hand them back their lives and make myself available to them as a resource," John explained in 1991. He built his revolutionary curriculum around independent study and out-of-school apprenticeships. He encouraged students to create real-life experiences where they could teach and test themselves. And he challenged these young people to discover unguided settings with novel problems to solve. Consequently, he fostered motivation, perseverance, courage and dignity.

Real education is intrinsically motivated, self-directed living and learning. “Classrooms of the Heart,” offers numerous examples of increasingly confident, self-reliant and self-directed young adults. And they all seemed eager to teach that lesson.

Gatto Distinguishes School (public education) From Real Education

Education: "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 roadmap through life." - Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

“I've noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don't really teach anything except how to obey orders." - Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education

Other John Taylor Gatto Books

Recommended reading with selected quotes from the book.
Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
"Slowly I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior."

The Underground History of American Education, Volume I: An Intimate Investigation Into the Prison of Modern Schooling
“Work in classrooms isn’t significant work. It fails to satisfy real needs pressing on the individual. It doesn’t answer real questions experience raises in the young mind...The net effect of making all schoolwork external to individual longings, experiences, questions, and problems is to render the victim listless.”

Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling
"I've 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.”

A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling
"I feel ashamed that so many of us cannot imagine a better way to do things than locking children up all day in cells instead of letting them grow up knowing their families, mingling with the world, assuming real obligations, striving to be independent and self-reliant and free."


Projecting The Underground History of American Education Further

A friend gave me a copy of this book in 2009, while I was gaining some recognition for School Sucks Podcast. Even after just a quick skim, I knew this was extremely important work. Therefore I prioritized spreading John's message to a new audience. Please check out our full John Taylor Gatto archives.

Fortunately I would not be alone in this continued pursuit.

Two years later, my friend and colleague Richard Grove featured John in a documentary called The Ultimate History Lesson. Along with this video series, Rich's documentary serves as a more accessible and immersive version of John's landmark book. The presentation stretches five hours - an absurdly long but also seemingly ideal length. It also features a series of clever questions that invite a stream-of-consciousness but highly educational dialog.

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