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Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through The Dark World of Compulsory Schooling

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  2,060 ratings  ·  287 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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Brian Ayres
May 01, 2009 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
May 15, 2011 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
Aug 18, 2010 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
Ben Ritchie
Apr 08, 2013 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
Nov 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: homeschool
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 30, 2009 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.
Apr 09, 2010 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 d ...more
Ben Nesvig
Jul 27, 2012 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
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
Jeremy Zilkie
Jan 09, 2013 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
Jul 21, 2009 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
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
So, I started this book a couple years ago, and got about halfway through it. It's one of those books that you really need to focus on and commit some brainpower to, and life has gotten more and more busy for us, so I never got around to finishing it. I finally picked up the audiobook and listened to the whole thing starting back at the beginning.

If you've never heard of John Taylor Gatto, he's a former Teacher Of The Year, who quit and has spoken out against compulsory schooling since then. In
May 11, 2017 rated it did not like it

This irresponsible author could successfully write for any fake news site because his misinformation game is strong. This book is riddled with made up alternative life stories for many of his examples. He has opinions such as:

"Our civil war changed everything for the worse. Forget the propaganda you heard in school, it had nothing to do with slavery"

I felt like I was watching an episode of ancient aliens with all his conspiracy theories. Its as if he decided to make up whatever he wanted to su
Aug 06, 2009 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 t ...more
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very thought provoking, though not surprising. I have always felt that my own education did not truly begin until after I had left school for good, and Mr Gatto puts a finger on exactly why that has been the case. I love the distinction he makes between education and schooling - it's a very useful distinction. ...more
Oct 22, 2013 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 n ...more
John Barbour
Oct 31, 2012 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 13, 2010 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
Dec 16, 2011 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
Feb 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
I got my GED 13 years ago. As time went on I regretted not just getting it freshmen year and using the time I was in school to actually develop an education. John Gatto hits the nail on the head in this book that exposes the school system. You’ll have to get over how angry this guy is though. He served in the education system for 30 years and the book really gives off an “old man yells at cloud” vibe, but despite his contempt and hyperbole he does make some decent cases as to how the school syst ...more
Larry LaFreniere
Aug 10, 2013 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
Dec 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
Some interesting observations from an experienced teacher. However, his argument is completely undermined by the fact that his "solution" neglects an entire segment of the population whose parents are no good. What are the children to do who have no one that cares enough to educate them? Who have no one willing to teach them skills and talk to them? Isn't that what public education is about? There are plenty of children who would be left to fester if the threat of jailtime didn't incline their p ...more
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
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, school-related
This book is an eye-opening introduction into the dark underbelly of compulsory schooling. I feel that Mr. Gatto’s books should be a must-read for any parent with children in the public school system (as well as public school teachers and administrators). Whether or not you agree with all of his ideas/theories, I think it’s an important read. It made me angry enough to order his Dumbing Us Down so I can learn more. Knowledge is power. I wish I’d stumbled across these years ago.
Dewin Anguas Barnette
Jun 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sheer and utter truth. Gatto can get down to the absolute zero of situations and somehow organize the multitude of layers of shit in a clear and concise way. What most of us can only feel is true (as we are confused by and too weak to fight the multitude of layers of shit to prove it) Gatto has defined succinctly. If I could buy one book for everyone in this nation, it would be this one.
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Necessary reading for anyone who has been schooled, which is to say, everyone. While it may specifically speak to a US audience, it nonetheless brings into question for anyone who has been or is part of the school system, what said system was designed for. If we think the purpose of schooling is an education, this book might make you rethink that notion.
Colin Baumgartner
Sep 03, 2020 rated it liked it
I picked this up at a critical juncture in education. With so much of school happening online now, this book is very prescient. As teachers scramble to figure out how to make education work without the traditional structures in place, there is so much probing of the aims and values of school to be done.

Gatto has strong opinions. His libertarian, anti-capitalist underpinnings are often somewhat extreme and questionable, but the strength of his beliefs and his way of viewing the world make for gre
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing

This book makes you think why schooling is not education and why it needs abandonment.

We need to know the history of schools before happily abandoning the system.

The very first schools were created by Prussiun Empires to create a population of citizens that doesn’t ask questions. Because it is much easier to rule over a bunch of dummies. Other countries looked at this interesting system that ensured unquestionable power to Prussians.

The politicians started recreating it in their own countries.
Nov 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: education, nonfiction
I like Gatto; he's earnest and intelligent. I'm 100% on board with everything he has to say about standardized testing! But there were a few moments in this book that puzzled me (e.g., Charles Darwin was inherently elitist; the U.S. Civil War wasn't about slavery). I agree with another reviewer that he comes across as a bit radical in this book, even venturing into conspiracy theory territory. Also, this is more of a hodgepodge of his writings rather than a coherent whole. You could get the esse ...more
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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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