Dumbing Us Down

What passes for public education in America is, quite frankly, a sick joke. Instead of teaching children literacy and critical thinking, government schools ram indoctrination programs down their little throats. Suffocating as it is, it is the first real interpersonal contact Americans have at an early age with the tax plantation that has usurped their country and denigrated their nation down to the level of a glitzy prison camp.



The author begins by listing the seven lessons he really taught his students; namely, confusion, class position, indifference, provisional self-esteem, constant surveillance, and emotional and intellectual dependency. As a result, Gatto describes the products of government schooling:


“The children I teach are indifferent to the adult world…[they] have almost no curiosity, and what little they do have is transitory…[they] have a poor sense of the future, of how tomorrow is inextricably linked to today…[they] are ahistorical; they have no sense of how the past has predestinated their own present, limiting their choices, shaping their values and lives…[they] are cruel to each other; they lack compassion for misfortune; they laugh at weakness; they have contempt for people whose need for help shows too plainly…[they] are uneasy with intimacy or candor…[they] are materialistic, following the lead of schoolteachers who materialistically ‘grade everything’ and television mentors who offer everything in the world for sale…[and they] are dependent, passive, and timid in the presence of new challenges.”


Definitely not the types of folks I’d like to form a security team with, that’s for sure (if anything, they’d be amongst the most likely types to snitch on me). Is there anyway to somehow fix those who have already been tenderized by the system? Possibly:


“But keep in mind that in the United States almost nobody who reads, writes, or does arithmetic gets much respect. We are a land of talkers; we pay talkers the most and admire talkers the most and so our children talk constantly, following the public models of television and schoolteachers. It is very difficult to teach the ‘basics’ anymore because they really aren’t basic to the society we’ve made.”


Sounds like we already live in the world of Fahrenheit 451, doesn’t it? Most Americans don’t read anymore, so no wonder when anyone discusses facts that were already revealed more than twenty years ago, it seems “new” and “shocking” to only those relatively few who were willing to listen in the first place, even though they were more than capable of discovering the exact same things for themselves if they had just bothered to crack open a book, instead of waiting for some random dissident to edit together a glitzy online video for them to watch (yet, they still consider themselves “awakened,” whatever the hell that means). You and I now live in The Society of the Spectacle, writ large:


“Monopoly schooling has been the chief training institution of the hive society. It certifies permanent experts who enjoy privileges of status unwarranted by the results they produce. Because these privileges, once achieved, will not willingly be given over, whole apparatuses of privilege have been fashioned that are impregnable to change.”


Well, that certainly does explain the genesis of the office drone. What I’d like to know is, who is the queen bee? I have a feeling it’s not the Illuminati, the Freemasons, the Jesuits, the extraterrestrial reptilians, or even the Jews (oh, well…so much for these Saturday morning cartoon villains).

In light of the government centralized monopolization of schooling, I fear what the ramifications have been for families and interpersonal relationships, both platonic and romantic. Gatto thinks that:


“This great crisis which we witness in our schools is interlinked with a greater social crisis in the community. We seem to have lost our identity. Children and old people are penned up and locked away from the business of the world to a degree without precedent; 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. In fact the name ‘community’ hardly applies to the way we interact with each other. We live in networks, not communities, and everyone I know is lonely because of that.”


Sounds like communities are just as ahistorical as the children who are being pumped out by the government schools, but what are networks and how do they work? Gatto explains that:


“Networks, however, don’t require the whole person, but only a narrow piece. If you function in a network it asks you to suppress all the parts of yourself except the network-interest part – a highly unnatural act although one you can get used to. In exchange, the network will deliver efficiency in the pursuit of some limited aim. This is in fact a devil’s bargain, since on the promise of some future gain one must surrender the wholeness of one’s present humanity. If you enter into too many of these bargains you will split yourself into many specialized pieces, none of them completely human. This, ironically, is the destiny of many successful networkers and doubtless generates much business for divorce courts and therapists of a variety of persuasions. The fragmentation caused by excessive networking creates diminished humanity, a sense our lives are out of control because they are.”


What Gatto is describing here is compartamentalization taken to its logical conclusion. Then again, where is the harm here? He argues that:


“Networks do great harm by appearing enough like real communities to create expectations that they can manage human social and psychological needs. The reality is they cannot. Even associations as inherently harmless as bridge clubs, chess clubs, amateur acting groups, or groups of social activists will, if they maintain a pretense of whole friendship, ultimately produce that odd sensation familiar to all city dwellers of being lonely in the middle of a crowd. Which of us who frequently networks has not felt this sensation? Belonging to many networks does not add up to having a community, no matter how many you belong to or how often your telephone rings. With a network, what you get at the beginning is all you ever get. Networks don’t get better or worse; their limited purpose keeps them pretty much the same all the time, as there just isn’t much development possible. The pathological state which eventually develops out of these constant repetitions of thin human contact is a feeling that your ‘friends’ and ‘colleagues’ don’t really care about you beyond what you can do for them, that they have no curiosity about the way you manage your life, no curiosity about your hopes, fears, victories, defeats. The real truth is that the ‘friends’ falsely mourned for their indifference were never friends, only fellow networkers from whom in fairness little should be expected beyond attention to the common interest.”


Well, hell, that sounds like just about every Tom, Dick, and Harry association or club in existence! Not only that, but I could see this description being applicable to virtually all political dissident factions, including the Patriot Community (might it be more accurate to describe the patriot faction as the Patriot Network? Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?). If Gatto is correct here, then another implication I don’t think even he could’ve considered is that this might just explain why the patriots haven’t thrown out the tyrants and taken the country back already…their relationships with each other preclude any sort of desire to be willing to take risks by giving an absolute and total commitment to restoring the Republic (and that’s before considering the nasty effects that the secret police have had with their informants!).

Gatto seems to be suggesting throughout his book that we have lost our communities, and thus we have been greatly dehumanized because of it. If so, then what is our current situation, and what can be done to regain our communities (with the concurrent goal of saving the minds of our children)? Gatto elucidates that:


“An important difference between communities and institutions is that communities have natural limits; they stop growing or they die. There’s a good reason for this: in the best communities everyone is a special person who sooner or later impinges on everyone else’s consciousness. The effects of this constant attention make all, rich or poor, feel important, because the only way importance is perceived is by having other folks pay attention to you. You can buy attention, of course, but it’s not the same thing. Pseudo community life, where you live around others without noticing them, and where you are constantly being menaced in some way by strangers you find offensive, is exactly the opposite. In pseudo community life you are anonymous for the most part, and you want to be because of various dangers other people may present if they notice your existence. Almost the only way you can get attention in a pseudo community is to buy it, because the prevailing atmosphere is one of indifference. A pseudo community is just a different kind of network – its friendships and loyalties are transient; its problems are universally considered to be someone else’s problems (someone else who should be paid to solve them); its young and old are largely regarded as annoyances; and the most commonly shared dream is to get out to a better place, to ‘trade up’ endlessly.”


In other words, the surveillance police state apparatus was a fait accompli due to the loss of community, which would also explain why some individuals place a very high value upon privacy, because without that shield, people would be unacceptably vulnerable to the collective Borg of public school graduates (the very same ones Gatto earlier described as cruel and materialistic). In summation, the author postulates that:


“As we approach the twenty-first century it is correct to say that the United States has become a nation of institutions, whereas it used to be a nation of communities. Large cities have great difficulty supporting healthy community life, partly because of the coming and going of strangers, partly because of space constrictions, partly because of poisoned environments, but mostly because of the constant competition of institutions and networks for the custody of children and old people, for monopolizing the time of everyone else in between…[h]ere and there mutilated versions of community struggle to survive, as in places where cultural homogeneity has been fiercely protected… but in the main, ‘community’ in cities and suburbs is a thin illusion, confined to simulated events like street festivals. If you have moved from one neighborhood to another or from one suburb to another and have quickly forgotten the friends you left behind, then you will have experienced the phenomenon I refer to.”


In this regard, Gatto is presuming that urbanization is a key pillar in destroying genuine communities. Quite frankly, in differentiating between communities and networks, Gatto sounds an awful lot like Douglas Rushkoff, who railed incessantly about the evils of the corporatocracy. Unlike Rushkoff, I hope Gatto’s recommendation for what to do is actually productive:


“Now I want us to examine something that seems embarrassing in New England civil life; and yet, paradoxically, I think it hides a secret of great power, which the social engineers who built and maintain our government monopoly schools are forced to overlook. Each town was able to exclude people it didn’t like! People were able to choose whom they wanted to work with, to sort themselves into a living curriculum that worked for them…[t]hese New Englanders invented a system where people who wanted to live and work together could do so. Yet the whole region seemed to prosper in wonderful ways: materially, intellectually, and socially. It was almost as if by taking care of your business you succeeded in some magical fashion in taking care of the public business too.”


Put another way, if polycentric libertarian communities were able to ostracize individuals, then everything would eventually be hunky-dory. This just might work if the nucleus of social capital (that is, trust) were already in place, so then the trick becomes how do you form that nucleus to begin with? At the risk of sounding a bit too radical for the tastes of even some American radicals, perhaps one element in forming such a cohesive social nucleus for a polycentric libertarian community would be a series of interlocking polyamorous romances (of course, it should not be overlooked that the primary danger of such a sociological phenomenon would be that of jealousy, which by itself could destabilize the community faster than anything else, even corporatization).

Ok, now that the issue of how to stabilize communities is “settled,” what about education itself? Gatto suggests:


“First, we need a ferocious national debate that doesn’t quit, day and day, year after year, the kind of continuous debate that journalism finds boring. We need to scream and argue about this school thing until it is fixed or broken beyond repair, one or the other. If we can fix it, fine; if we cannot, then the success of home-schooling shows a different road that has great promise. Pouring the money we now pour into schooling back into family education might cure two ailments with one medicine, repairing families as it repairs children. Genuine reform is possible but it shouldn’t cost anything.”


How is that even possible? If you pour money into family education, that is going to cost something. Am I misunderstanding something here? Besides the fact that debating does not work, is there anything else he recommends? Apparently so:


“Independent study, community service, adventures and experience, large doses of privacy and solitude, a thousand different apprenticeships, the one-day variety or longer – these are all powerful, cheap, and effective ways to start a real reform of schooling.”


That’s rather interesting…I wonder what he means by “adventures and experience.” More importantly, don’t the government schools place the kids into a plethora of “community service programs” already? Probably the only viable methods he suggests here are solitary independent study and apprenticeships. If anything, such study is easily accomplished by homeschooling, but apprenticeships are noticeably harder to come by for homeschoolers, even though I consider it the most important facet of all, for with those you gain not only invaluable work experience, but also referrals from employers, which can make the crucial difference between landing that coveted job and remaining unemployed. I should know, because I speak from very painful experience (that is, being homeschooled without apprenticeships).

Gatto also suggests that everything he recommends be done under what he calls the congregational principle:


“Look to Dedham, to Sudbury, to Marblehead, and to Provincetown, all different yet all capable of meeting their community’s needs. Turn your back on national solutions and toward communities of families as successful laboratories…[l]ook to the congregational principle for answers. Encourage and underwrite experimentation; trust children and families to know what is best for themselves; stop the segregation of children and the aged in walled compounds; involve everyone in every community in the education of the young: businesses, institutions, old people, whole families; look for local solutions and always accept a personal solution in place of a corporate one…[t]eaching must, I think, be decertified as quickly as possible.”


So what? Do everything locally and decertify teachers, that’s what he means by following “the congregational principle?” If parents and other locals are teaching children (with or without pay) outside the government schools, then the goal of decertifying teachers is moot, but then again, Gatto himself wants it both ways. Either that, or he is teetering on the edge, trying to decide whether he wants to fall away from reformism or not. On a more positive note, doing everything locally can actually work, as can be evidenced by the phenomenal growth of local home-schooling co-ops.

John Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling is an introductory look into the modern American government school system. It certainly does not emulate Jeffersonian public education, for that was managed by the locals, not by any sort of hierarchically centralized government bureaucracy. Other than as a shorter version of Life, Inc., Gatto’s book is virtually useless for any dissidents who are already homeschooling their children. It is aimed more at convincing those at the far left side of The Other (No So) Thin Line to move towards the right side a bit, but really nothing more than that. I say this because the supermajority of the book is a bitch fest about the Establishment. Gatto could have mentioned about the benefits of local home-schooling co-ops, or even emphasized the importance of apprenticeships for homeschoolers, but he neglected to do so because he still holds out hope for reform within the system (at least back in 1992, when this book was first published).

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One Response to Dumbing Us Down

  1. Paul Bonneau says:

    Gatto is one of my heroes. I highly recommend his “Underground History”, a book that is so powerful I’d call it life-changing. It’s available entirely online:

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