John Taylor Gatto

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John Taylor Gatto
John Taylor Gatto.jpg
Gatto in 2009
Born(1935-12-15)December 15, 1935
DiedOctober 25, 2018(2018-10-25) (aged 82)
Other namesJohn Gatto
EducationCornell University
University of Pittsburgh
Yeshiva University
Hunter College
Reed College
University of California, Berkeley
  • Author
  • Speaker
  • Teacher
Known for
  • Educational activist
  • Scholar
  • New York State Teacher of the Year
Spouse(s)Janet Gatto

John Taylor Gatto[1] (December 15, 1935[2] – October 25, 2018) was an American author and school teacher. After teaching for nearly 30 years he authored several books on modern education, criticizing its ideology, history, and consequences. He is best known for his books Dumbing Us Down: the Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, and The Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling, which is sometimes considered to be his magnum opus.

He was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991.[3]


Gatto was born to Andrew Michael Mario and Frances Virginia (née Zimmer) Gatto in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, a steel town near Pittsburgh. In his youth he attended public schools throughout the Pittsburgh Metro Area including Swissvale, Monongahela, and Uniontown as well as a Catholic boarding school in Latrobe. He did undergraduate work at Cornell, the University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia, then served in the U.S. Army medical corps at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Following army service he did graduate work at the City University of New York, Hunter College, Yeshiva University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornell.

He worked as a writer and held several odd jobs before borrowing his roommate's license to investigate teaching. Gatto also ran for the New York State Senate, 29th District in 1985 and 1988 as a member of the Conservative Party of New York against incumbent David Paterson.[4] He was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991.[3] In 1991, he wrote a letter announcing his retirement, titled I Quit, I Think,[5] to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, saying that he no longer wished to "hurt kids to make a living." He then began a public speaking and writing career, and has received several awards from libertarian organizations, including the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Excellence in Advancement of Educational Freedom in 1997.[6]

Gatto promoted homeschooling, and specifically unschooling and open source learning. Wade A. Carpenter, associate professor of education at Berry College, has called his books "scathing" and "one-sided and hyperbolic, [but] not inaccurate"[7] and describes himself as in agreement with Gatto.[8]

Gatto was featured in the 2011 documentary film, IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America.

In 2011, Gatto had two major strokes which occurred after he completed the filming of The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto[9] which was released in early 2012 by Tragedy and Hope Communications.[10]

Main thesis[edit]

Gatto asserts the following regarding what school does to children in Dumbing Us Down:

  1. It confuses the students. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials, this programming is similar to the television; it fills almost all the "free" time of children. One sees and hears something, only to forget it again.
  2. It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.
  3. It makes them indifferent.
  4. It makes them emotionally dependent.
  5. It makes them intellectually dependent.
  6. It teaches them a kind of self-confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
  7. It makes it clear to them that they cannot hide, because they are always supervised.[11]

He also draws a contrast between communities and “networks,” with the former being healthy, and schools being examples of the latter. He says networks have become an unhealthy substitute for community in the United States.[12]

An article published online by the Foundation for Economic Education described John Taylor Gatto as having mentored "millions of people in writing their own scripts". In his book, Dumbing us Down, John Gatto urged parents to control the education of their children. He made a critical analysis of state education and described the system as comprehensive, informal, historical, and philosophical. John wrote several lectures which disclosed a significant conclusion which encouraged splitting institutional schools and removing certification from teaching. His belief was privatization of education along with a free market system was the most viable option.[13] Gatto's book aimed to inspire education advocates and the inception of Praxis tests. This testing measured academic competence and knowledge of specific subjects required for teaching. Praxis tests are taken by potential educators as part of certification required by state and professional licensing entities.[14]

Gatto demystifies the apparent confusion and meaninglessness of public schooling system by exposing its real purpose and function. According to Gatto, the purpose of public education can be boiled down to six functions:[15]

  1. The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are designed to establish fixed habits of response to authority.
  2. The integrating function. The purpose of this function is to make kids as like as possible.
  3. The diagnostic and directive function. Schools determine each student's proper social role.
  4. The differentiating function. Students are trained no more than to meet the standards of determined social role.
  5. The selective function. Unadopted students are treated like inferiors in order to prevent their reproduction.
  6. The propaedeutic function. Small fraction of selected students is created in order to continue the schooling system.

Selected bibliography[edit]

Articles & essays[edit]

  • "Against School." Harper’s Magazine (September 2003), pp. 33-38. "How public education cripples our kids, and why."


  • Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: A Critical Commentary. New York: Monarch Press (1975). ISBN 978-0671009663. OCLC 5687233.
  • Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers (1992). Foreword by Thomas Moore. ISBN 0865714487. OCLC 926842308.
  • The Exhausted School: The First National Grassroots Speakout on the Right to School Choice: Carnegie Hall, New York City. New York: Oxford Village Press (1993). Preface by Patrick Farenga. ISBN 978-0945700029. OCLC 1010741721.
  • A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling. Berkeley, Calif.: Berkeley Hills Books (2002). ISBN 978-1893163218. OCLC 1043481859.
  • The Underground History of American Education. New York: Oxford Village Press (2001). ISBN 978-0945700043. OCLC 45004688. Revised edition (2017) by Oxford Scholars Press (New York) features a foreword is by U.S. Congressman Ron Paul, MD, an introduction by David Ruenzel, and an afterword by Richard Grove of Tragedy & Hope media.[16]

Book contributions[edit]

Letters to the editor[edit]

Public speaking[edit]



  • Human Resources Documentary (2010)
  • IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity (2011), with Samuel L. Blumenfeld.
  • Thrive (2011)


  • The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto (2012). An interview with Richard Grove by Tragedy & Hope.[17]

See also[edit]

Other critics of public education:


  1. ^ After learning he was regularly confused with another teacher named John Gatto, he added Taylor to his pen name.
  2. ^ "Birthdatabase (.com)". Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  3. ^ a b New York's Teachers of the Year, New York State Education Department (accessed April 5, 2014).
  4. ^ "THE ELECTIONS; New York State Senate". New York Times. November 10, 1988.
  5. ^ "I Quit, I Think". Jerry Mintz. 7 October 2011. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
  6. ^ "[1]". Alexis de Tocqueville Award. April 5, 2014.
  7. ^ Wade A. Carpenter (2007). "For Those We Won't Reach: An Alternative" (PDF). Educational Horizons. 85 (3): 153n8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-22.
  8. ^ Wade A. Carpenter. "Behind Every Silver Lining: The Other Side of No Child Left Behind" (PDF). Educational Horizons. 85 (1). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-08-21.
  9. ^ "The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto (Intro + Hour 1 of 5)". YouTube. 2012-01-01. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  10. ^ "The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto". 3 February 2012. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  11. ^ See John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down. The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, Iceland Gabriola: New Society Publishers, 2005, p. 2–11
  12. ^ John Taylor Gatto, "Why Schools Don't Educate", The Natural Child Project
  13. ^ "John Taylor Gatto Taught Millions to Write Their Own Scripts | C. Edward Kelso". 2017-03-02. Retrieved 2018-05-24.
  14. ^ "Praxis". Retrieved 2018-05-24.
  15. ^ "Against School". wesjones. September 2003. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  16. ^ The Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteachers's Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling. WorldCat. OCLC 992978582.
  17. ^ "John Taylor Gatto". IMDB. Retrieved 18 March 2015.

External links[edit]