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Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  1,128 Ratings  ·  188 Reviews
“Gatto draws on thirty years in the classroom and many years of research as a school reformer. He puts forth his thesis with a rhetorical style that is passionate, logical, and laden with examples and illustrations.” ForeWord Magazine

“Weapons of Mass Instruction is probably his best yet. Gatto’s storytelling skill shines as he relates tales of real people who fled the scho
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published October 1st 2008 by New Society Publishers
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Sociology Books
106th out of 386 books — 299 voters
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5th out of 18 books — 8 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Brian Ayres
May 03, 2009 Brian Ayres rated it really liked it
If you have, like me, spent much of your life as a student and teacher in the public schools (24 of the last 28 years), John Taylor Gatto will make you angry and want to throw his book out the window. His libertarian views on institutionalized public schooling are blunt and harsh. Compulsory schooling is a weapon that destroys the joys of knowledge, motivation to succeed, creativity and family cohesion. As I look out on my graduating seniors who have spent the last 13 years in a rat race of GPA, ...more
Aug 18, 2010 RP rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This seems mostly like an abbreviated version of his "The Underground History of American Education" which I am currently reading. I thought it served its purpose effectively and agree with its conclusions.

My wife commented on the book's lack of formal foot- or endnotes, but the author describes his reasons for doing so, calling out many references on the fly in the text and opining that the ideas are more important than the specific location of facts anyone can check online. This may or may not
Jun 17, 2011 Robina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-reads
I really enjoyed this book, respect John Taylor Gatto, and agree with most of what he's saying. But a few things stopped me from giving _Weapons of Mass Instruction_ 4 or even 5 stars. Most importantly:

1. His overblown admiration of the colonial and early national period of American history. Arguing that that period was a time of unparalleled promise and opportunity is not only morally suspect (in my opinion) but also historically inaccurate. Sure, maybe if you weren't one of the one-fifth of th
Nov 30, 2010 Spinneretta rated it it was amazing
Shelves: homeschool
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 03, 2009 Tracy rated it liked it
I almost gave this just 2 stars. The author raises some good points, and I give him a full third star for clueing me in to the idea that 12-13 years of compulsory schooling is not the best use of our time, at least not the way we go about it. However, his arguments are anectdotal, he meanders all over the place, and has a few post hoc fallacies going, never mind the borderline conspiricy theories.
May 21, 2010 Christy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: PARENTS-students-educators-school board members-community leaders
While it might seem heretical to recommend this book on teacher appreciation "week" (yes, it used to be a day of thanks, but has been perverted into a week-long orgy) but I cant hold back my own anger over all the time wasted by compulsory schooling. While I don't want this to sound like a rant against teachers, of whom there are many I am very fond of and have a great deal of respect for. As parents we need to critically examine the system in which our children are trapped in 6 hours a day, 5 ...more
Ben Ritchie
Apr 08, 2013 Ben Ritchie rated it did not like it
Massively disappointing. I had been looking forward to reading this for ages, ever since I heard a positive review on boing boing's podcast. The topic is one that I completely identify with - which is probably why I was so diappointed, i.e the book contain a germ of a great idea but has no substance.
From the start my alarm bells were set off by the number of unsupported assertions the author was making (no footnotes or references).
The examples of successful people that Gatto presents do not supp
John Taylor Gatto is one of those... voices in the wilderness that we all really need to listen to. And one of the things that really sticks out to me is that he is a very gentle man: just watch his interviews on youtube.

I have both read this book, in my early days of homeschooling, and listened to it on audio. I think the thing that really strikes me, here, is: What Exactly is the role of public school in our society?? I won't get into my own homeschooling journey (and search for answers to tha
Jeff Raymond
I'm extremely sympathetic to the homeschooling/unschooling movement. It may be something my wife and I have an epic battle on when it's all said and done, but I get it - I see the inherent flaws in the current way we do schools, and I don't want my future spawn to be a part of it.

John Taylor Gatto, former teacher, gets it as well. As someone who was a teacher for 30 years, he possibly gets it better than most, and this book is his treatise against modern education and what needs to change about
Aug 15, 2009 Melissa rated it really liked it
Having long ago accepted Gatto's arguments that compulsory schooling is an invention designed to control and manipulate the masses, as much due to my own experiences as to other books that I've read, much of the material in this book came as little surprise, but it nonetheless makes me sick to my stomach, and Gatto does a fine job of tracing the history of schooling in America, pinpointing who benefits...and who loses out, big time. (My only complaint is that he seems to repeat himself a bit, ...more
Dec 16, 2011 Naum rated it really liked it
An infuriating book… …not that there is no truth to be culled from it; rather, the author, Mr. John Taylor Gatto is on target with most of his rant. But within his harsh condemnatory words of the U.S. education system is a lack of imagination, at least at a macro level.

After purchasing, I discovered a great bit of this material is already accessible on Gatto's website -- The Underground History of American Education, and this newer published installment just a culling and rehashing of the same
Aug 20, 2009 TheRose rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
Undoubtedly Gatto's best work thus far! PREPARE TO CHANGE YOUR PARADIGM. This book is an excellent treatise on why our schools just keep getting worse, no matter how much money we spend, and what they need for TRUE reform (you'll be surprised by his answer!). Learn about the roots of our public education system (this might shock you, too!). He also explains the difference between education and schooling. This book is NOT for the closed-minded.

Weapons of Mass Instruction is hard-hitting and does
Ben Nesvig
Jul 27, 2012 Ben Nesvig rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012-reads
If you always hated school growing up, this book articulates why. The purpose of compulsory school isn't to prepare you to enter the real world and make a living doing what you love. The purpose is to teach you compliance and get in the habit of doing mind numbing tasks you don't enjoy for eight hours a day.

"The possibility that dumb people don't exist in sufficient numbers to warrant the many careers devoted to tending them may seem incredible to you. Yet that is my proposition: mass dumbness
Oct 22, 2013 Rachel rated it really liked it
"There were vast fortunes to be made, after all, in an economy based on mass production and organized to favor the large corporation rather than the small business or the family farm. But mass production required mass consumption, and at the turn of the twentieth century most Americans considered it both unnatural and unwise to buy things they didn't actually need. Mandatory schooling was a godsend on that count. School didn't have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume ...more
Jeremy Zilkie
Feb 14, 2015 Jeremy Zilkie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-books
During my years as a student in the Romeo public school system, I always felt as if something was broken. I could never put my finger on it though as a student and product of the system. There were so many fractures within the student body based on appearance, grades, athletic ability, popularity, disciplinary action, etc. Also, it was "frowned upon" to mingle with those a grade or two younger than you and you were in danger if you tried to mingle upwards in grade and age. These are just to name ...more
Ben Wood
May 30, 2011 Ben Wood rated it really liked it
A great antidote and partial explanation into the world of schooling in the US and elsewhere. I felt there was sometimes too much ranting without any admission of the positive role schooling can and does play for children. It feels that the author is to the point of merely demonizing the entire establishment b/c that is easier than dealing with the nuances of reality.

Additionally, the book is very poorly edited. For instance, on pages 52-53, we see different versions of the same paragraph (begi
John Barbour
Feb 18, 2014 John Barbour rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
America’s Educational System

The problem with America is in her educational system. Until this is addressed the rest will not be solved. John Gatto's book is a good place to start. The following is what I gleaned from the book along with some of my own thoughts that were stimulated from the reading.

At the beginning of compulsory education (1920s) there were some 135,000 independent school boards representing the people of those districts. America was the freest, most literate, and most classless
Apr 25, 2010 Crystal rated it really liked it
Wow, this was a hard read. There are times that it read like a conspiracy theory and there were times I felt a complete dread over come me. He made various points that hit so close to home with me and my own personal experience with schooling. The thought of putting my children through that same misery scared the hell out of me.

He does a good job of defining the difference between schooling and education. His message? School trains children to be employees and consumers, to obey reflexively, to
Aug 06, 2009 Jmswtsn rated it really liked it
Much better than "Dumbing Us Down," this book rationally lays out a case against public schools and some amazing things done by some famous/accomplished drop-outs. While those annecdotes are powerful in their own right, they ignore the larger issue of what happens to 90% of the rest of the public school dropouts. In that sense, while I believe his years of experience and other school visits add a lot of validity to his criticisms of the current state of affairs, I cannot go along with his call ...more
Христо Блажев
Oct 30, 2011 Христо Блажев rated it it was amazing
“Оръжия за масово обезличаване”, втори шокиращ “урок” от Джон Гатоу

Можем ли да мислим наистина вън от матрицата? Да се опитаме да приемем нещо абсолютно различно, в разрез с обичайния ни начин на мислене, с убежденията, дори със спомените. Да, двете книги на Джон Гатоу – “Затъпяване: скритата цел на държавното образование” и “Оръжия за масово обезличаване” влизат в битка именно със спомените и всичко, което сме мислели досега за институцията, наречена “уч
Vasil Kolev
Mar 05, 2011 Vasil Kolev rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Гатоу (John Taylor Gatto) ми е интересен отдавна, бях попаднал на негови работи от slashdot. На може да се намери другата му книга, която си струва да се чете.

Проблемът на образованието (той говори за американското, но много от нещата важат и за българското) някакси не е нещо, на което обръщаме внимание. Фактът, че училището е близо до затвора като социална динамика и търсен ефект някакси ни се губи, и на мен ми трябваше да почна да го чета, за да го осъз
Marion Husband
Mar 18, 2014 Marion Husband rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very unusual book, made me think although I hated the way he kept writing that 'the London Underground was closed down' by the July 05 bombing' as though no one was killed, only inconvenienced. He's a bit of a rambler, too, there is a lot of repetition in this book. Also he talks rot about diet and exercise, yes, kids need to do more running about, but it's not fat in the diet making them fat (unless its man made trans-fats) I wish intelligent people like him wouldn't spout the government lies ...more
Larry LaFreniere
Aug 10, 2013 Larry LaFreniere rated it it was amazing
WARNING! Read this book at your peril because--if you care about education--it will make you angry.

Here's one amazing fact:

"By 1940, literacy as a national number stood at 96 percent for whites, 80 percent for blacks. Four of five blacks were literate in spite of all disadvantages. Yet, six decades later, the Adult Literacy Survey and the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported a 40 percent illiteracy rate among blacks -- doubling the earlier deficiency -- and a 17 percent rate for
Cosmic Arcata
I think that this book was very well balanced in giving a concise look at the history of education and it's design. The blueprint of what was intended by those that wish to enslave us because they felt superior. Also was demonstrated that school was not necessary to success. That success was more meaningful when measured in relationships and experiences and engaging processes rather than grades and test. That even Harvard was not interested in test takers but exceptional distinction.

I really lik
Extremely thought provoking... definitely counter culture. I think anyone educating children and/or parents of children should read this book. At the very least we should all have our education presuppositions and ideology challenged. I would love to discuss with others who have read the book. I would have given the book 4.5 stars - I wish goodreads allowed half stars.
Sep 16, 2010 Mark rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure how to say enough good about this book. It doesn't just criticize public education; it challenges our temptation to conform to the corporate fascism of the modern world. And it is a personal encouragement. The book will give you confidence both that your children can learn and that you can do so too.
Sarah Healy
Sep 11, 2014 Sarah Healy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an eye opener. Changed my perceptions of schooling and education. The motives of schooling may not be as sinister as they are portrayed in this book, but the outcomes ring true and feel he is telling my story as one gone through formal education.
Only solidifying my anger against the public school behemoth & strengthening my resolve to homeschool my non-separatist child through high school ( and continue to pray & press for my oldest to "come home"). People, we can SO do better.
Ann has a dirty mouth
A very unique perspective on education, however, Gatto is much better at describing problems than proposing solutions.
Daniel DeLappe
May 21, 2009 Daniel DeLappe rated it it was amazing
Every parent in this country needs to read this book. Also when reading this book go back to your own school days. Best of all is Mr. Gatto spins a great story.
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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 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.” 21 likes
“How many schoolteachers were aware of what they actually were a part of? Surely a number close to zero. In schoolteaching, as in hamburger-flipping, the paycheck is the decisive ingredient. No insult is meant, at bottom this is what realpolitik means. We all have to eat.” 1 likes
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