Weapons of Mass Instruction

John Taylor Gatto

Created on Friday, September 2, 2011.

An award-winning public school teacher talks about how deeply the current education system is failing American children.

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“After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress genius because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.”


“How were we ever tricked into believing that specialists are needed for matters well within the reach of ordinary people? How did we come to think so little of ourselves? If unschooled peasants can demolish and re-erect a steel plant three times faster than professionals, then you and I need to re-examine everything we’ve been conditioned to accept as truth. Everything. That’s called dialectical thinking. Once dialectics was central to school, but we don’t teach it anymore. Not even to the so-called "gifted and talented:’”


“What have we done? Filling blackboards and workbooks, running videos, cramming heads with disconnected information we have driven even the idea of quality from the field. And by constantly bathing the young in passivity, showering them with petty orders and bells for their own good, we have created a foundry where incomplete men and women are forged.”


Grandpa John’s Real Learning Index 1. Self-knowledge: This is the biggest prize of all. Without it you are lost and will flounder again and again through life. By now you should have introspected enough to know your own character: its proclivities, strengths, weaknesses, blessings, curses. How much assistance has your high school given you to accomplish this?

2. Observation: Your powers of observation in any situation should be razor sharp; at will you should be able to function like an objective cameral tape recorder sucking in accurate data for later analysis. Can you “read” the primary documents and images from every age and place? Or must you take someone else’s word for their meaning?

3. Feedback: Are you rigorously trained to pick up cues about yourself from the reactions of others and from signals out of the environment? Do you have trouble accepting criticism and evaluating its worth? If you rely on test scores and teacher evaluations as stars to steer by you are in for a shock when you discover discrepancies between what you’ve been taught to think and reality.

4. Analysis: Can you take a new problem, break it into structural and procedural elements, gauge the relationships among those, reckon major outside influences, and do all this without expert help?

5. Mirroring: Have you learned to be everyone else as well as yourself? Can you be a chameleon at will? Or are you trapped in your own tight skin the way little people are. Can you fit into every group, even a group of your enemies, opting in and out as you please, yet remaining yourself?

6. Expression: Do you have a voice that’s your own? Can you deliver that voice with clarity, style and force in writing and speaking? Without that, your ability to recruit allies will be feeble, and you will likely be swallowed up by someone whose expressiveness is superior to your own.

7. Judgement: Can you evaluate dispassionately? Can you see through falsehood? The society you are entering is a house of mirrors; little of what you see and few of those you meet will be what they appear. The most attractive personalities are invariably dishonest. How much chance did you have to develop judgement and test it?

8. Adding Value: Do you add value to every encounter, to every group of which you are a part? Do you even know what that means? If you aren’t worth something to others, then truly you are worthless. That’s Kurt Vonnegut speaking in one of his books, Slaughterhouse Five, I think.

That's all there is, there isn't any more.
© Desi Quintans, 2002 – 2016.