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Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

4.17  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,210 Ratings  ·  537 Reviews

A highly praised bestseller for over a decade, Dumbing Us Down is a radical treatise on public education that concludes that compulsory government schooling does little but teach young people to follow orders like cogs in a machine. This Special Collector's Hardcover Edition celebrates 100,000 copies of the book in print, and the book's on-going importance and popularity.


Paperback, 142 pages
Published March 1st 2005 by New Society Publishers (first published 1991)
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The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise BauerDumbing Us Down by John Taylor GattoA Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMilleHow to Read a Book by Mortimer J. AdlerHow Children Learn by John Holt
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jun 17, 2008 Jen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book gets a big "meh" from me. First of all, it's not so much a book as a group of essays. And I had to laugh when I opened the book and the print was freaking 18 point. (Like maybe we're not bright enough to follow along with typical 12 point print?)

I also have a problem with someone who spent his whole career in New York school systems making broad sweeping statements about public education in general. I have a hard time believing that a New York City educator understands ANYTHING about t
Umm Layth
Apr 20, 2008 Umm Layth rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: parents, children, and anyone who cares about education
Recommended to Umm Layth by: Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
Before reading this book I really thought I was 100% sure about my reasons to homeschool. Boy, was I wrong. I guess I was only half way there because now that I have finished this book, I realize that I never really saw the harms of the public school system 100%.

Our children are being limited every day by being locked away. Our children are struggling with learning more than they did before the system was in place like today. The role models they take on during school really are harming them. B
Debbie "DJ" Wilson
Nov 29, 2015 Debbie "DJ" Wilson rated it really liked it
Wow, this read really had me questioning our educational system. Informative and fast read!
Oct 17, 2007 Ben rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Teachers
While worth reading as an wake up call to all who think the only problem with our educational system is that it needs more money it should be taken with a grain of salt, or rather a slat block. Gatto is correct that schools act as mainly propaganda for the elite class and he may even be correct that compulsory education should not be the law of the land. (At least at the high school level) What he is not not good at is showing the whole picture.

He says that he wants a fair discussion about the
Emma Sea
Feb 04, 2013 Emma Sea rated it really liked it
Ugh, this book may have brought on my mid-life crisis. Not because Gatto is wrong, but because he's right. The education system isn't just broken, it's taking completely the wrong approach. It's designed to kill the spirit of enquiry.

I've attended several hearings addressing formal student complaints where the student is alleging the college-level education they received was substandard because they were 1) asked to read a text book, and not given a teacher-written summary of all material that
Apr 29, 2007 Claire rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Don't read this if you have or plan on having children that you won't be able to home-school, but a must read for everyone els. This is a damning indictment against the public school system written by none other than a teacher who lived it. Sure to cause riots once more people realize that twelve to thirteen years of their lives were utterly wasted.
Feb 27, 2008 Kristy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: It is a must read for anyone who wishes their children to be educated, not just "schooled".
Recommended to Kristy by: Dallas Cox
This was an excellent book written by a NY teacher of the year who taught for 26 years in the "government controlled monopoly school system". It is an eye opener that what is needed is less money, not more. More choices, more freedoms, more time with children home, more time for children to be children, allowing them to learn HOW to think, not WHAT to think. Interesting to learn that the literacy rate in colonial America was close to total, and hasnt been that high since just before the Civil Wa ...more
Sep 01, 2013 Mark rated it did not like it
Shelves: education
I checked this book out after a friend recommended John Taylor Gatto to me after an argument on a Facebook thread that started with a post about how we seem to be producing people who have contempt for science and reason.

Gatto spent a few decades as a NYC public school teacher, so in theory he should have interesting ideas about what's wrong with education and how to address the problems, but in practice, he doesn't.

In a nutshell his thesis is the public school system produces conformist non-thi
Mar 24, 2008 Viv rated it it was amazing
Excellent. As with all my favourite books, I have lent it out and it is still out there! This book is proof that home educators are not obsessive nutcases, as he provides inside information on schooling in New York which spanned over 30 years. When I first got this book it followed me everywhere until I had finished it, even into the bath. This author can share my bath anytime, as long as I don't drop the book in, of course!
Dec 18, 2013 Mel rated it really liked it
Written by a man that taught in the monopoly called public school system, won awards for it, and lists what he taught;
confusion, class position, indifference, emotional dependency, intellectual dependency, and provisional self-esteem.
The national curriculum is a joke. And what is different from this book compared to others, he doesn't just list the things that are wrong with the system or bash the system. Mr. Gatto gives suggestions of tearing the institution apart and rebuilding it. Something
May 03, 2013 Kierstin rated it it was amazing
Wow I just wrote a thoughtful and brilliant review of this book and then pushed the wrong button and lost. I will try to recap my brilliance. I just sat down and read this book this afternoon while watching my kids play at the park and in the yard and it was amazing and powerful. I am truly moved in ways that are uncomfortable. Do not read this book unless you are prepared to feel extremely uncomfortable with the statues quo of the educational system in this country. Before reading this I had al ...more
Dennis D.
Feb 19, 2009 Dennis D. rated it did not like it
Author John Taylor Gatto is a two-time NYC Teacher of the Year whose treatise here takes exception to the quality of compulsory public education in America. He suggests that public education’s primary purpose these days seems to be the perpetuating the institution of public education. I can see his point here. As with most government programs, once they get rolling, you can add to them, you can tweak them, but you’re never going to blow them up, even if you’d like to start over from scratch.

Apr 11, 2008 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: parents that want their children to learn. homeschoolers and teachers
Shelves: my-books-read
After reading this book I was reassured that homeschooling my children was the best answer. The author is a teacher, and writes why he feels the school system is failing our children and our family. He is very big on interacting as a community rather than a network. He mentions things that had happened in the past, as far back as the time of Plato. The last chapter, did focus on religion, which made me a little uneasy. If it wasn't for that, then I would have given this book 5 stars. I would rec ...more
May 27, 2011 Seth rated it it was amazing
No other book has shaped my view about public school as much as this one. Gatto's analysis of the damage done to a student's curiosity is so incisive as to wake any educated parent to our failing school system.

I decided that normal people can home school their children after having read this book. Very influential and formative to how I want my children's education to be administered.
May 21, 2015 Taylene rated it it was amazing
This guy really hits the nail on the head. This book is definitely worth reading if you care at all about the education of your children.

Update (5/21/2015)
I just re-read this book. And I would change what I wrote from "definitely worth reading..." to "AN ABSOLUTE MUST READ if you have kids!"
Havebooks Willread
Aug 02, 2015 Havebooks Willread rated it it was amazing
Absolutely outstanding! Must read! I have been hearing about this book in all of my 14 years of home education and can't believe I waited so long to read it.

John Gatto is an award-winning public school teacher who insightfully hones in on the invisible lessons the public educational system is teaching the children of this country: confusion, class position, indifference, emotional dependence, intellectual dependence, conditional self-esteem, and acceptance of surveillance.

Gatto's book, as summar
Whitley Birks
May 03, 2014 Whitley Birks rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
Not bad, but not great, either. For such a short book, there's a hell of a lot of repetition in it. Nearly everything this author has to say gets said in the first chapter; the rest is just other speeches in which he expounds the virtues of small-town life or goes into anecdotes or repeats "school sucks" with different words.

This collection of speeches is basically an overlong op-ed. While I agree with the content, that's sort of the thing. I already agree. This book is preaching to the choir, a
Angie Libert
Jan 25, 2014 Angie Libert rated it it was amazing
I so appreciate Gatto's courage to write this book, even if at times I am put off my his brashness. But, if anybody is to know the real intention of America's schools it is this man, with over 30 years of public school teaching, and a fair shake of rule breaking to see what his students were really capable of. The "7 Lesson School Teacher" is the real gem of this book, although his other chapters have something to gain from too.


"School is a twelve-year jail sentence where bad habits are t
Jun 20, 2015 Jennifer rated it did not like it
Let me start out by saying that I am a public school teacher, so I may have some bias and will admit that I could feel defensive as Gatto derides public education, even though he was in public education for almost 30 years. I will say there were things I agreed with, such as the idea that schools are built like factories. I am a secondary teacher, and it is a shame to have students learning something and getting into it, only to have the bell ring and to usher them off to their next class. I thi ...more
Oct 14, 2007 Heather rated it it was amazing
When I finally found time, I read this in one sitting. Gatto is really a brilliant writer. I may not agree with each and every point that he makes, since I find him to be a bit extremist in some situations, but he is beyond thought-provoking. I keep a notebook for research purposes with quotes that I think I might use for future articles, and even after I finished reading this, I had to reopen it to copy down quotes that were still on my mind. AND I'm going to have to check it out of the library ...more
May 02, 2014 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant summation about the fatal flaws of Modern Education

This book gives excellent words and insight into the sense that so many of us have about the perpetual decline of our "national education." Watching the national Common Core debacle that has engulfed our country we can see how prophetic this has become.
Jan 30, 2015 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: homeschool
Enjoyed this book, though it seemed a bit extreme, it made me feel good that I am homeschooling my kids.
John Martindale
Jan 11, 2013 John Martindale rated it it was amazing
Gatto seemed to me at first, a bit to polemical and unbalanced, but I still thought he made some excellent observations. The content was definitely thought provoking and worthy of consideration. But now I listened to the audiobook again, he seemed increasingly reasonable and sound to me.

I wonder if my being home-schooled, played part in why I have a genuine interest in learning. As I've grown up, I've learned how odd, peculiar and strange I am in my curiosities. In my current job, I get to work
Nov 29, 2012 Cathy rated it it was amazing
John Taylor Gatto was awarded Teacher of the Year in the New York City school system -- twice. I would say that qualifies him to know something about teaching as well as the system within which he functions.

Gatto is convinced our public school education system is broken. We're graduating illiterate kids year after year, and the only solution we're ever given is to throw more money at the problem. Gatto contends that a federal one-size-fits-all school system cannot meet the needs of America's ch
Mar 24, 2012 Kent rated it really liked it
Best book I've read on education so far. Makes it hard to take on the job I'm preparing for. It has its problems, like talking about how great and successful students were before compulsory schooling. I hear that a lot. The problem with this is that only people who wanted or were talented enough to be there, were. So, he isn't the first and won't be the last to neglect this fact when using statistics to shock the shit out of readers. He still has a point, and that is the main thing. I am not goi ...more
This book made me wish I had those little sticky tabs to mark my favorite pages because I had so many and I ended up folding little corners.

Let me begin by saying it had a tremendous impact on me. It gave me goosebumps, brought tears to my eyes several times, and made me gasp and read pieces out loud to my fiance. Those pieces I read out loud, I knew, would convince him to read it. This is a book I will re-read many times to come.

There are five pieces of work in this book, not including the fore
Megan Blood
Jan 25, 2012 Megan Blood rated it it was ok
Let me just begin by saying that I am fully aware of the failure of the public school system. In fact, I am 95% sure that I will be homeschooling my son for the first few years because I don't think a 5 year old needs to be in school 7 hours a day, 5 days a week. Oh, and his school is, by definition, failing. I am 100% for school reform and school choice.

That being said, this was, generally speaking, a TERRIBLE book. For a man who laments the lack of logic taught to schoolchildren, he shows a re
Dec 08, 2009 Rachel rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book, whether you're interested in the education debate or not! After 30 years as a New York public schoolteacher, Gatto has incredible insights into our culture's obsession with consumerism, production and efficiency, the breakdown of the family, how "networking" has miserably failed to meet the need for true community, and the kind of culture our method of schooling produces.

Until we change our definition of "education" and leave the government school monopoly in the f
Sep 30, 2011 Josephine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't expect to fall in love with this book, but I also didn't expect to be so put off by it. The best part of this book is that it was short. That is the only reason I finished it. The author spends 100 pages ranting about the horrors of public schools. It's funny because I was thinking to myself, "it sounds like this guy is blaming public education for all the problems in this world." and then at the very end of the book he say's, "This system doesn't work, and it's one of the causes of our ...more
Mar 12, 2009 Janet rated it really liked it
I’ve had this one on the shelf for some time and needed today that extra bit of Homeschooling High School encouragement to keep proper parental vision, especially as winter has returned to visit with bitter winds and blinding rain.

John Taylor Gatto, an award winning public school educator for over 30 years reveals how compulsory schooling indoctrinates students with secular liberal ideologies creating a society designed for “total state control of human life.” The most frightening aspect of Mr.
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Book List 1 10 Jan 17, 2014 06:12AM  
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John Taylor Gatto is an American retired school teacher of 29 years and 8 months and author of several books on education. He is an activist critical of compulsory schooling and of what he characterizes as the hegemonic nature of discourse on education and the education professions.
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“I've noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don't really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers to care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic -- it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.” 107 likes
“What's gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is ONE RIGHT WAY to proceed with growing up.” 36 likes
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