Book Review – Dumbing Us Down

You know, I don’t even remember how I came across this book or why I even ordered it from my library. Maybe I was listening to a podcast about finding flow and the author’s name (John Taylor Gatto) was referenced at one point. And I was impressed with the idea of the book – more specifically the title: Dumbing Us Down which I believe is a widely-used term now globally. The book was first published in 1992.

Being attracted to the title, I had high hopes about what I would benefit from after reading the book. Like how are we going to solve the problems of kids being damaged by compulsory schooling (ie. discouraging critical thinking or preventing imagination and creativity). And attaching high hopes with anything can only mean that I might feel disappointed afterwards, which I was!

The main premise is there – the current school system is not a place of learning but rather a place for following rules (ha! I can say that about a lot of government and corporate workplaces, oh wait isn’t that where the schooling system comes from?). But what should society or the government do about it? Some of his arguments aren’t articulated well – it just reads as if he wrote it for the sake of it. Although, to give him credit he did suggest we need less school, not more.

Anyway, Gatto made a speech when he received the honour of New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991 about the Seven-Lesson School Teacher.

Teaching means different things in different places, but seven lessons are universally taught from Harlem to Hollywood Hills. They constitute a national curriculum you pay for in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what it is. You are at liberty, of course, to regard these lessons any way you like, but believe me when I say I intend no irony in this presentation. These are the things I teach; these are the things you pay me to teach. Make them of what you will. ~ John Taylor Gatto

The seven lessons that Gatto is referring to are the following, which I believe are still being taught today:

  1. Confusion
  2. Class Position
  3. Indifference
  4. Emotional Dependency
  5. Intellectual Dependency
  6. Provisional Self-esteem
  7. One Can’t Hide

It’s interesting to note that at the time of his writing, television was the culprit for taking much of kids’ time left after school for lessons of home and community life. If only Gatto was still alive today, he would have a field day and most likely have a big say or two about the internet, social media and mobile devices; and how they’re affecting the young generation’s learning abilities and how they’re being incorporated in the school system! Heaven forbid!

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