Ah, for the good old days, back before child labor laws, back when no had time for such inventions as "adolescence"...moreBook online at the author's website
Ah, for the good old days, back before child labor laws, back when no had time for such inventions as "adolescence", back when one could sing a cute song about darkies or niggers without being a racist, back when flogging children in the name of civility was a good thing, though Gatto seems to be of mixed opinion about his own whipping for mispronouncing French verbs.
This book could have started in Chapter 17 and made many of the same points without the self-indulgence of the previous 16 chapters of "research". Then again, such is the world of self-publishing.
I agree that the American school system is far from ideal. Most people I know would agree that the one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work for many. There's no accommodation of different developmental schedules for different children, different learning styles, different personalities. The current "epidemic" of ADHD and similar "disorders" indicates that we have pathologized a normal aspect of childhood behavior. Bullying is tolerated, conformity is required. We have devalued vocational education, relegating it to kids who are considered "too stupid" to make it on the college track, by which we also devalue university education by making it an expectation for everyone.
Several of the suggestions Gatto makes in the very last subchapter even make sense. And I love this description of school administrators: "Their job isn't about children; it's about systems maintenance."
But overall, this book is a collection of anecdotes, irrelevancies, and faulty logic presented as a coherent treatise.
Much of my criticism is also commonly leveled against many critics of conventional education. Not every parent or set of parents has the skill and income level for homeschooling or unschooling. And it's very impractical to get education in subjects the parents may not be able to cover without attending a classroom, presumably in an institution of learning. A parent who can homeschool well can also steer and support all but the most square of pegs through the conventional school system.
Not all schools are the bureaucratic extreme Gatto describes; I'd venture to say most aren't. Mine wasn't, and mine was hardly the epitome of progressive schooling. And most kids I knew seemed to come from similar schools to mine, Gatto's pile of fan mail notwithstanding.
Gatto claims that the school system makes us a nation of drones. I defy him to prove that today's society is any less drone-like, for the average person, than anything else that has come along before. A few anecdotes about successful self-educated people from days of yore doesn't mean that the average person's life was any less dreary than it is today, any more than a few anecdotes about people thriving in today’s system should prove to Gatto that he’s all wet.
Homeschooling will not make everyone "Benjamin Franklin, the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, or Henry Ford". In the days before compulsory education, most people were not "Benjamin Franklin, the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, or Henry Ford". Not everyone left to their own or their parents' devices will become a great scholar. Not every child can be counted on to create an unschooling program that will really get them what they need. Some people really are lazy. Some simply lack the big picture. And we no longer have the kind of culture or economy where there's a lot of room for the uneducated. The industrial revolution can't be reversed. Big capitalism is here to stay too.
Sure, we've had some crappy societies since the advent of compulsory education in the U.S. and Europe. Institutional racism, McCarthyism, the worse aspects of Communism...but it's not like there weren't crappy societies before. Feudalism? Slavery, hardly something to be blamed on compulsory education? Can we blame the Asian sex trade on compulsory education too?
Gatto doesn't much care for higher education either. And he makes a particular point of slamming the Seven Sisters. Institutionalized education is bad enough; apparently institutionalized education for women is that much worse.
One of Gatto's most egregious bits of rhetoric is his linking the charter school movement to "the same institutional consciousness which once sent river ironclads full of armed detectives to break the steel union at Homestead, machine-gunned strikers at River Rouge, and burned to death over a dozen women and children in Ludlow". And he dares complain about propagandizing in schools? One would think he'd be in favor of the charter school movement, as a lessening of institutionalization and a return to more local control of schools, but I suppose at this point it's homeschooling/unschooling or nothing for him.
Then again, throughout the book there is a thread of bias, mostly Christian, and particularly Catholic, with just the right dash of libertarian fear of the New World Order. (Gatto describes himself as a lapsed Roman Catholic, but he doesn't seem to have lapsed far.)
For instance, Gatto makes a point of linking modern-day Planned Parenthood to Margaret Sanger's views on eugenics. There is a historical link, to be sure, but what is the point of bringing up Planned Parenthood at all, in a book on education? A snarky aside about free condoms is more evidence of his bias against birth control, though he does mention completely neutrally that his mother had an abortion (in an autobiographical section of questionable relevance). Then there's the abrupt by-the-way dismissal of Kinsey as "bogus" with no further discussion.
Gatto bemoans the omission of the religious beliefs of various important scientists in the teaching of science. And the omission of religion from school, in general. But in this day of creationism returning to the classroom, I hardly think de-religionizing is much of a concern, not to mention that taking religion out of schools is NOT the same thing as taking religion out of people's lives.
He claims that religion was removed from schools because "spiritually contented" people can't be controlled. Apparently the control that churches exert over the "spiritually contented" is just fine. He also goes back to that same old argument that only religious people have a moral code.
He rants about just about every foundational aspect of our society (including the purfuit of happineff) and yet goes on to talk about the "natural genius of the United States".
In addition to tried-and-true anti-UN implications, Gatto also makes sure to inform us about the great Quaker conspiracy. You see, private schools are disproportionately run by Episcopalians and Quakers. No mention of how the Catholic school industry, except in the above-mentioned autobiographical segment. And that's not to mention the contaminating thread of the Old Norse Religion ("the only known major religion to have no ethical code other than pragmatism") that apparently runs through our educational system. Let us not forget, also, that leadership, sportsmanship, courage, disdain for hardship, team play, and devotion to duty are pagan values. Also, only "western religion" (whatever that is, since the Quakers and Anglicans are or at least used to be out to get us) "grant[s] dignity and responsibility to ordinary individuals, not elites".
Lest he appear biased, though, Gatto adds in a footnote that "The reader is expressly cautioned not to infer that I mean to imply Buddhism is either hedonistic or without moral foundation." If he hadn't written a paragraph that pretty much implied exactly that, he wouldn’t need the footnote.
There are more bizarre claims, like how school makes kids forget how they learned to walk and talk. I doubt that most homeschooled kids remember those events either. He also states that dissecting frogs leads to being willing accomplices to the humiliation of classmates.
Random bits of irrelevant information are scattered throughout the book. His one-clause stand against our Social Security system is irrelevant to his case. And a footnote informs us that half a million school trips have been made to the Bronx zoo. Is this supposed to be further evidence of the ills of public schools that they contaminate their pupils by exposure to a facility founded by a racist? Or just an irrelevant footnote? Does it matter that the foreword to a racist book was written by a man who also wrote textbooks used in the 1950s? Does it matter that USC was founded by another racist? (And by "racist" here I mean a very large segment of the intellectual class of the 1920s.) Are we to judge Ford automobiles by the anti-semitic views of the company's founder going back a century?
Or are these irrelevant bits of agenda just lack of editing, and the arrogance that publishing without an editor implies? Even a proofreader would have helped with mis-numbered and misplaced footnotes, but Gatto couldn't be bothered.
And with all his fondness for footnotes, Gatto doesn't give evidence for claims that "a number of old-family Anglo-Saxons still consider themselves to be the real Jews", or that one of every 15 American millionaires is a dropout. His footnote collection does not include a cite for a Harvard study showing the poor have better diets than the rich. (I ain't sayin' there wasn't one, but looking online, all I found were studies showing the opposite.)
In a more bizarre use of footnoting, he gives a quote attributed to the Caliph Umar, and then he calls the quote's authenticity into question with a footnote. What's the point? Putting in something he knows isn't true, justifying it with a footnote, all the while hoping his readers will skip the footnotes? Getting the statement into the reader’s unconscious just before "Your honor, I object"?
It's an indictment of my own obsessive personality that I finished the book and wrote this review, but there you have it.(less)