John Taylor Gatto

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John Taylor Gatto
John Taylor Gatto.jpg
Gatto in 2009
Born(1935-12-15)December 15, 1935
DiedOctober 25, 2018(2018-10-25) (aged 82)
Other namesJohn Gatto
EducationCornell University[citation needed]
University of Pittsburgh[citation needed]
Yeshiva University[citation needed]
Hunter College[citation needed]
Reed College[citation needed]
University of California, Berkeley[citation needed]
  • Author
  • Speaker
  • Teacher
Known for
  • Educational activist
  • Scholar
  • New York State Teacher of the Year
SpouseJanet Gatto[2]

John Taylor Gatto (December 15, 1935[3] – October 25, 2018[4]) was an American author and school teacher. After teaching for nearly 30 years he authored several books on modern education, criticizing its ideology, history, and consequences. He is best known for his books Dumbing Us Down: the Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, and The Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling.


Gatto was born to Andrew Michael Mario and Frances Virginia (née Zimmer) Gatto in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, a steel town near Pittsburgh. In his youth he attended public schools throughout the Pittsburgh Metro Area including Swissvale, Monongahela, and Uniontown as well as a Catholic boarding school in Latrobe. He did undergraduate work at Cornell, the University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia, then served in the U.S. Army medical corps at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Following army service he did graduate work at the City University of New York, Hunter College, Yeshiva University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornell.[citation needed]

By the late 1950's he worked as a copywriter scripting commercials in New York City. In the spring of 1960, he borrowed his roommate's teaching license, went into Harlem to work as a substitute teacher. Gatto earned his teaching certificate in the summer of 1960. In 1963, he was hired as a fulltime 8th grade English teacher at Intermediate School 44 on New York City's Upper West Side. Gatto moved on to Lincoln Academy (now Horizons Middle School) in 1981, which was considered a dumping ground for kids with behavior problems. Eventually Gatto found a position teaching predominantly poor, at-risk kids 8th grade students at Booker T. Washington Junior High in Spanish Harlem.[2]

Gatto also ran for the New York State Senate, 29th District in 1985 and 1988 as a member of the Conservative Party of New York against incumbent David Paterson.[5] He was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991[4][6][7][8] and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991.[9] In 1991, he wrote a letter announcing his retirement, titled I Quit, I Think, to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, saying that he no longer wished to "hurt kids to make a living."[10] He then began a public speaking and writing career, and has received awards from libertarian organizations, including the Alexis de Tocqueville 1997 Award for Excellence in Advancement of Educational Freedom.[11]

Gatto promoted homeschooling, and specifically unschooling and open source learning. Wade A. Carpenter, associate professor of education at Berry College, has called his books "scathing" and "one-sided and hyperbolic, [but] not inaccurate"[12] and describes himself as in agreement with Gatto.[13] Ron Paul strongly endorsed Gatto's work, calling him a "legendary teacher" who helped shape his own thinking and homeschooling curriculum. [14]

Gatto was featured in the 2011 documentary film, IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America.[15][16][17]

In 2011, Gatto had two major strokes[citation needed] which occurred after he completed the filming of The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto which was released in early 2012 by Tragedy and Hope Communications.[18][19]

Personal Life[edit]

Gatto was married to Janet (Gatto) with whom he spent half the year in New York City and the other half of the year at their farmhouse in upstate New York.[2]

Main thesis[edit]

Gatto asserts the following regarding what school does to children in Dumbing Us Down:

  1. It confuses the students. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials, this programming is similar to the television; it fills almost all the "free" time of children. One sees and hears something, only to forget it again.
  2. It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.
  3. It makes them indifferent.
  4. It makes them emotionally dependent.
  5. It makes them intellectually dependent.
  6. It teaches them a kind of self-confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
  7. It makes it clear to them that they cannot hide, because they are always supervised.[4][20]

He also draws a contrast between communities and “networks,” with the former being healthy, and schools being examples of the latter. He says networks have become an unhealthy substitute for community in the United States.[21]

Gatto's book aimed to inspire education advocates and the inception of Praxis tests. This testing measured academic competence and knowledge of specific subjects required for teaching. Praxis tests are taken by potential educators as part of certification required by state and professional licensing entities.[22]

Gatto demystifies the apparent confusion and meaninglessness of public schooling system by exposing its real purpose and function. According to Gatto, the purpose of public education can be boiled down the six functions described by Alexander Inglis in his 1918 book Principles of Secondary Education:[23][24]

  1. The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are designed to establish fixed habits of response to authority.
  2. The integrating function. The purpose of this function is to make kids as alike as possible.
  3. The diagnostic and directive function. Schools determine each student's proper social role.
  4. The differentiating function. Students are trained no more than to meet the standards of determined social role.
  5. The selective function. Unadopted students are treated like inferiors in order to prevent their reproduction.
  6. The propaedeutic function. Small fraction of selected students is created in order to continue the schooling system.

After learning he was regularly confused with another teacher named John Gatto, he added Taylor to his pen name.[citation needed]

Selected bibliography[edit]

Articles and essays[edit]




See also[edit]

Other critics of public education:


  1. ^ "John Taylor Gatto". IMDb. Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  2. ^ a b c Ruenzel, David (March 1, 2001). "The World According To Gatto". Education Week. Retrieved August 8, 2022.
  3. ^ "Birthdatabase (.com)". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Kelley, Vincent (October 25, 2019). "John Taylor Gatto Challenged the Ideas Inherent in US Mass Schooling". Truthout. Archived from the original on April 13, 2022. Retrieved March 14, 2022.
  5. ^ "THE ELECTIONS; New York State Senate Archived 2009-03-01 at the Wayback Machine". New York Times. November 10, 1988.
  6. ^ Brown, Jerry (March 25, 1997). "John Taylor Gatto". We The People Radio. Retrieved 2022-06-12.
  7. ^ Glavin, Chris (2014-02-06). "John Taylor Gatto". K12 Academics. Retrieved 2022-06-12.
  8. ^ "John Taylor Gatto, Frank Furedi and John Holt - Quotations and Abstracts – The Gold Scales". Retrieved 2022-06-12.
  9. ^ New York's Teachers of the Year, New York State Education Department (accessed April 5, 2014). Archived February 18, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Gatto, John Taylor (1991-07-25). "I Quit, I Think". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  11. ^ "[1] Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine". Alexis de Tocqueville Award. April 5, 2014.
  12. ^ Wade A. Carpenter (2007). "For Those We Won't Reach: An Alternative" (PDF). Educational Horizons. 85 (3): 153n8. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 22, 2011.
  13. ^ Wade A. Carpenter. "Behind Every Silver Lining: The Other Side of No Child Left Behind" (PDF). Educational Horizons. 85 (1). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 21, 2011.
  14. ^ "John Taylor Gatto, R.I.P." October 30, 2018. Retrieved October 18, 2022.
  15. ^ Gunn, Colin; Fernandez, Joaquin, IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America, COMMISSIONED FILMS LLC, retrieved 2022-06-12
  16. ^ "IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in…". Chalcedon. Retrieved 2022-06-12.
  17. ^ "Indoctrination: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America (2011)". Joseph Smith Foundation. 2012-01-28. Retrieved 2022-06-12.
  18. ^ "The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto (Intro + Hour 1 of 5)". YouTube. January 1, 2012. Archived from the original on March 9, 2014. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
  19. ^ "The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto". February 3, 2012. Archived from the original on March 4, 2014. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
  20. ^ See John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down. The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, Iceland Gabriola: New Society Publishers, 2005, p. 2–11
  21. ^ John Taylor Gatto, "Why Schools Don't Educate", The Natural Child Project Archived 2018-09-01 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "Praxis". Archived from the original on June 18, 2009. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
  23. ^ Gatto, John Taylor (2009), Weapons of Mass Instruction, pp. xviii–xix
  24. ^ "Against School". wesjones. September 2003. Archived from the original on May 1, 2021. Retrieved May 31, 2020.
  25. ^ The Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteachers's Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling. Archived 2021-07-28 at the Wayback Machine WorldCat. OCLC 992978582.

External links[edit]