John Taylor Gatto is an American writer and an editor of numerous books about education, consultant, speaker, and a former school teacher with nearly thirty years of experience. As such, Gatto is a person who possesses incredible insider knowledge about the United States schools system and curriculum. In his essay “Against School”, author tracks history of American school education in order to investigate deficiencies of the school system and roots of these problems. He investigates how prevailing boredom and misguided values and objectives of compulsory education play a counterproductive role and undermine the quality of education. In order to effectively demonstrate inherited deficiencies of American education, Gatto uses historical perspective of events related to development of American schooling to show that the US school system does not serve its purpose of educating children and youth, but it is a historically constructed invalid tool used by authorities to mold young people to fit predetermined social roles.
John Gatto starts his essay with the description of an utter and prevailing boredom that reigns in American schools. The author depicts the problem very graphically and vividly to enable a reader to get glimpse into the hopelessness of formal education and pervasiveness of boredom in schools, “Boredom was everywhere…kids felt bored…their teachers felt every bit as bored as they were” (Gatto 683). Once the picture of the failure of a school system is obvious and convincing, the author brings in historical perspective to explain to his readers why the schooling is dull and uninteresting for all involved. This transition to historical roots seems logically sound and provides answers that a reader might start seeking about how to counter the lacks of this system.
Gatto uses several historical examples to develop his argument as he draws a clear distinction between education and schooling. Firstly, the author brings up numerous examples of presidents, inventors, scholars, politicians, and writers who were highly educated, but they were not the product of a school system (Gatto 684, 685). The author states that education and schooling are not the same. Therefore, he questions the validity and effectiveness of the compulsory education forced upon children, parents, and teachers. Gatto said, “Throughout most of Ameican history, kids generally did not go to high school, yet the unschooled rose to be admirals…inventors…captains of industry…writers…and even scholars” (684).
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Secondly, in order to further build up on his argument more effectively and show the flaws in the very origins of an American schooling system, Gatto brings up historical evidence that suggests that American schooling system was designed after the Prussian model of education deliberately aimed “to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens – all in order to render the populace “manageable” (686). Thirdly, the author cites Alexander Inglis who stated at the dawn of the twentieth century that compulsory schooling was designed to educate peasants and prevent them from integrating into political and economic processes. By citing historical examples, Gatto shows how modern day schooling inherited all of the aforementioned disadvantages and resulted in a system of failed educational philosophies and teaching techniques. The author points out to the historical foundation of inequality in approach to education as a core issue that explains ineffectiveness of education. It appears that in a historically constructed tradition of favoring rich and withholding from the poor, the governmental and educational authorities failed to provide equal educational opportunities for children that come from different social backgrounds. Gatto employed cited historical events and analysis as arguments that indicate that American educational system is rather socially constructed than education-driven. It failed since it was not designed to benefit the US citizens, but to make them obedient puppets in the hands of the ruling class for fitting predetermined social roles.
Besides retrieving historical data, the author uses specific examples of personalities to make the US education system look nearly repulsive. It appears that Bryan Conant, the president of Harvard for twenty years was the person who influenced American school system for decades; he was the one of those who promoted standardized testing and “gargantuan high schools that warehouse 2,000 to 4,000 students at a time” (Gatto 687). Notably, Conant was “WW I poison-gas specialist, WW II executive of atomic-bomb project” (Gatto 687). This fact should startle the reader with the question, “What kind of people influence the schooling of our children?”.
Once the author established the historical foundation that explains inferiority of contemporary schooling and made readers well-versed in the issues of modern education, he took readers on an informational journey to reveal the truth about functions and purpose of modern schooling. The author uses this part of an essay to show all convincingly how modern schooling demoralizes and divides people and enhance reader’s understanding of the destructive logic behind formal schooling. Lastly, in order to offer a ray of hope to anyone disappointed with the US school system after reading of the essay, Gatto offers solutions in the form of advice on how to avoid traps and ticks of modern schooling (689-690). Finally, the reader can let out a sigh of relief as he/she learns about the need to tech kids to be leaders and adventurers with rich inner life who think critically and engage serious material, not consumers and employees who obey reflectively.