Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

John Taylor Gatto is an American retired school teacher of 29 years and 8 months experience in the classroom and author of several books on education. He is an activist critical of compulsory schooling, of the perceived divide between the teen years and adulthood, and of what he characterizes as the hegemonic nature of discourse on education and the education professions.


"Hegemon" is the political, economic, ideological or cultural power exerted by a dominant group over other groups. It requires the consent of the majority to keep the dominant group in power.


Gatto was born in the Pittsburgh-area steel town of Monongahela, Pennsylvania. 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, and Cornell.


He worked as a writer and held several odd jobs before borrowing his roommate's license to investigate teaching. 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. He was named New York City Teacher of the year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. 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." He then began a public speaking and writing career, and has received several awards from libertarian organizations, including the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Excellence in Advancement of Educational Freedom in 1997.


He promotes homeschooling, and specifically unschooling. One professor of education has called his books "scathing" and "one-sided and hyperbolic, but not inaccurate" but later agreed with him.

Gatto is currently working on a 3-part documentary about compulsory schooling, titled The Fourth Purpose. He says he was inspired by Ken Burns's Civil War.


What does the school do with the children? Gatto takes this in "Dumbing Us Down", the following propositions:

  1. It makes the children confused. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials that 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 teaches them a kind of self-confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
  6. It makes it clear to them that they cannot hide, because they are always supervised.

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (1992).

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@E. They (whoever they may be) have a need to justify to themselves why they take this money for doing what they do. It is a clever way to maintain sanity, so that one will not flip out.


Isn't it amazing how mathematical it all is? There are only so many jobs available and there are not nearly enough for the young people to fill, even if you factor in the low paying, bottom of the heap jobs. Why do people assume that the young people are not aware of this. Hell all they need do is look at how many older, not old, but older people are unemployed and how many have given up looking. Would not a sane person conclude," there is nothing here for me?" 


All the indoctrination that government school offers is not sufficient for most of them to improve their condition and instead of telling them that damn lie of a song, "I Believe I Can Fly", why not be honest with them and say, "This construct only has room for a few fliers and you are not the chosen ones."


Why not be truthful? I'll tell you why not. There will be hell to pay that's why not. Those young people might just rebel and because they came through this differently than many of us without the fears and predispositions they just might buck in most frightening ways. And of course no one, especially the Negro wants that to happen. But they have been bucking all along. Don't you think they see the hypocrisy of this construct, the cowardice of most so called black people? Hell they been telling us with their music and actions for years and we refuse hear it.

I have posted this here just to make sure that it can be found.


I've recently downloaded and begun reading this book and two others by Gatto.  Although I'm struggling to keep my children in private schools, it's still 'school', to some degree, as Gatto describes.  My son's preschool teacher has already warned me about teaching him so much at home.  "He'll be bored when he gets to Kindergarten."  I just roll my eyes and keep going.

I have many deja vu moments when reading the subject title by Gatto, as my mother, an educator, has expressed the same frustrations.  She's frequently "in trouble" because she bucks the system whenever possible in her great effort to teach her students how to THINK, instead of being robots.

Way to go Kimeli! It's the right time to start. Learning how to learn is not a teachable subject in many, if not most, schools!

@Ernest & KW--Happy to see that the two of you are ONE, If we take the time to help each other, WE can get the job done.



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