Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Weapons of Mass Instruction

Weapons of Mass Instruction
John Taylor Gatto

The author of this book is famous for being New York state teacher of the year who quit, convinced that government schools are bad for children.

This book contains lots of interesting material, but it is so disorganized that it is hard to recommend. It feels as though it consists of material that was cut from another book.

Gatto argues that the real purpose of government ("public") schools is not to help students learn and flourish. Instead, it is to make them submit to authority, make them alike, determine proper social roles, sort them accordingly, disadvantage those deemed less fit, and select the next generation of the elite. He cites a number of quotes from the architects of the modern government school system to support this.

Gatto adds several personal stories of his battles with the school system including an attempt to fire him on false pretenses and a principle who called the police to interrupt his school assembly speech.

He cites a number of examples of people with little formal education inventing products, building large businesses, and otherwise achieving great things. While the examples are interesting, these may well be the exception, rather than a reliable model.

Gatto is an advocate of 'unschooling', in which students are basically left free to explore their interests, and there is no formal curriculum. While there merit to encouraging students to follow their interests, I am skeptical that you can do without any curriculum.

Gatto inveighs against standardized testing, and advocates that students refuse to take them.

Gatto believes that most students are capable of much, and their abilities are being suppressed by the system. He is on the political right, but his views contrast sharply with another segment of the (paleoconservative) right, which argues that intelligence and genes largely determine academic outcomes, and there is relatively little room for improvement. It would be interesting to see each discuss the others' views.

Weapons of Mass Instruction is interesting, but often frustrating due to its lack of organization.

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