Book Review: Dumbing Us Down

Book Review: Dumbing Us Down

I’m not from the States, so this book wasn’t an obvious read for me, but when I got to it, I realized how essential Gatto’s ideas of schooling are. With his more than 30 years of experience as a teacher, and being the recipient of the New York State Teacher of the Year award, it’s safe to say that Gatto knows what he’s talking about. He knows how the system works, how to hack it, and what it does to the students. Let me assure you: the issue with schooling is global. Everything that Gatto points out as problems in the US, are issues that originated there, and then spread out to other countries.

The book is short, sort of a manifesto against traditional schooling, which is why I recommend it for anyone that still believes that traditional education is the best option for learning. Start here, if you dare. Get your beliefs questioned, become aware of the effect of schooling in all institutional levels, and carve your own educational path for you and your loved ones. Gatto does a brilliant job of articulating why schools were a corrupt enterprise from the start. The fact that we believe in them so blindly is only more evidence of their success. Perhaps, Gatto’s biggest point is the impact he sees from schools on our communities. By creating individuals disconnected from their own ideas and each other, it’s society that sees the greatest impact.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Dumbing Us Down:

“Confusion is thrust upon kids by too many strange adults, each working alone with only the thinnest relationship with each other, pretending, for the most part, to an expertise they do not possess.”

“Good students wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson of them all: we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. The expert makes all the important choices; only I, the teacher, can determine what my kids must study, or rather, only the people who pay me can make those decisions, which I then enforce.”

“Look again at the seven lessons of school teaching: confusion, class position, indifference, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, and surveillance. All of these lessons are prime training for permanent underclasses, people deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius. And over time this training has shaken loose from its original purpose: to regulate the poor. For since the 1920s the growth of the school bureaucracy as well as the less visible growth of a horde of industries that profit from schooling exactly as it is, has enlarged this institution’s original grasp to the point that it now seizes the sons and daughters of the middle classes as well.”

“In our secular society, school has become the replacement for church, and like church it requires that its teachings must be taken on faith.”

“In centuries past, the time of childhood and adolescence would have been occupied in real work, real charity, real adventures, and the realistic search for mentors who might teach what you really wanted to learn.”

“Networks divide people, first from themselves and then from each other, on the grounds that this is the efficient way to perform a task. It may well be, but it is a lousy way to feel good about being alive. Networks make people lonely. They cannot correct their inhuman mechanism and still succeed as networks. Behind the anomaly that networks look like communities (but are not) lurks the grotesque secret of mass schooling and the reason why enlarging the school domain will only aggravate the dangerous conditions of social disintegration it is intended to correct.”

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