Are Schools Dumbing Us Down?  Blog Podcast Video.  Listen to the HomeSchool ThinkTank Parenting Podcast.

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto.

The late John Taylor Gatto was known as the Seven Lesson School Teacher because he declared that “Seven lessons are universally taught from Harlem to Hollywood Hills.” This article is a summary of the seven lessons of Mr. Gatto’s enlightening book.

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Do You Want to Know What is Really Being Taught in Schools?

After teaching in New York City’s public schools for over 30 years, and receiving the New York State Teacher of the Year Award, here is a glimmer of what the late John Taylor Gatto shares in his book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.

“What’s being taught isn’t new. In fact, generation after generation has been learning the same hidden lessons. The lessons are so well disguised that even well-meaning teachers and administrators don’t realize how well this agenda has been packaged.”

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. By John Taylor Gatto
John Taylor Gatto’s Seven Lessons from Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Agenda of Compulsory Schooling. 1. Confusion 2. Class Position 3. Indifference 4. Emotional Dependency 5. Intellectual Dependency 6. Provisional Self-Esteem 7. One Can’t Hide. Book summary by HomeSchool ThinkTank

Do You Recognize the Seven Lessons?

“Teaching means different things in different places, but seven lessons are universally taught from Harlem to Hollywood Hills. They constitute a national curriculum you pay for in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what it is.

You are at liberty, of course, to regard these lessons any way you like, but believe me when I say I intend no irony in this presentation.

These are the things I teach. These are the things you pay me to teach. Make of them what you will.”

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. By John Taylor Gatto
Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Agenda of Compulsory Schooling Book Cover.  John Taylor Gatto.

Decades Later: The Same Hidden Lessons are Still Being Taught In Schools

The late Mr. Gatto first shed light on the seven core lessons taught in schools in his first edition of Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. However, in the 25th Anniversary Edition, we can see that these lessons are still being taught throughout school systems today.

As John Taylor Gatto states in the introduction of his book, it is better to share the things that he does that are wrong, rather than what he does that is right.

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Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

Book Summary of the Seven Lessons

Here is a quick overview of the seven lessons. However, please be advised, that if this book interests you, you’ll want to read the book. While the book is quick to read or listen to, a review or summary cannot do justice to the late John Taylor Gatto’s outstanding book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.

Introduction to Dumbing Us Down

What led Mr. Gatto to wonder if the school system was dumbing down his students? His thoughts are best stated in the introduction of Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Agenda of Compulsory Schooling.

“The trouble was that the unlikeliest kids kept demonstrating to me at random moments so many of the hallmarks of human excellence: insight, wisdom, justice, resourcefulness, courage, originality – that I became confused.

They didn’t do this often enough to make my teaching easy; but they did it often enough that I began to wonder, reluctantly, whether it was possible that being in school itself is what was dumbing them down.

Was it possible that I had been hired not to enlarge children’s power but to diminish it? That seemed crazy on the face of it. But slowly, I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act – to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior.

Bit by bit, I began to devise gorilla exercises to allow as many of the kids I taught as possible the raw material people have always used to educate themselves: privacy, choice, freedom from surveillance, and as broad arrange of situations and human associations as my limited power and resources could manage.

In simpler terms, I tried to maneuver them into positions where they would have the chance to be their own teachers, and to make themselves the major text of their own education.”

John Taylor Gatto. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.

As a Profession, Teachers Have Good Intentions

To be clear, Mr. Gatto did not believe that, as a profession, teachers had poor intentions. In fact, Mr. Gatto taught in the public school system for over 30 years. He even received the New York State Teacher of the Year Award.

Chapter Four of Dumbing Us Down: We Need Less School, Not More

Schools Teach Us to Obey Orders

In chapter four of Dumbing Us Down, Mr. Gatto states the following.

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 do care and 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 derived from a common ancestor.”

John Taylor Gatto. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.
What Is Deschooling? Quote by Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society book

Lesson One: Confusion

According to Mr. Gatto, he shares that as a school teacher, the first lesson he teaches is confusion. He says that he teaches too much. He shares that “Quality in education entails learning about something in depth.”

“In schools, too much is taught. Everything is out of context, and there is no particular reason for any of it. There is a lack of coherence.

Mr. Gatto states that the first lesson he teaches students is “Confusion is their destiny.”

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Lesson Two: Class Position

Mr. Gatto shares that the second lesson he teaches students is “to stay in class where they belong.”

He is to make them “like being locked together with children who have similar numbers to their own.” If he does his job well, “the children won’t even be able to imagine themselves somewhere else.” He is to remind them “that future employers will hire them based on their test scores and grades, even though his own experience tells him otherwise.”

Lesson Three: Indifference

The third lesson Mr. Gatto teaches is indifference. He is to “teach children not to care too much about anything, but appear as if they do.” When he plans a lesson well, “students will be eager to win his favor.” However, when the bell rings, they are “expected to move quickly to the next station.” Clearly, nothing of importance is ever finished.

Mr. Gatto states: “Indeed, the lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything.”

Lesson Four: Emotional Dependency

“The fourth lesson I teach is emotional dependency. By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors and disgraces, I teach kids to surrender their will to the predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld by authority without appeal because rights do not exist inside a school.

Not even the right of free speech as the supreme court has ruled, unless school authorities say that they do.”

John Taylor Gatto. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schoolng.

Mr. Gatto is sure to mention that he must not encourage individuality amongst his students, as this threatens his control. He may allow a child to deceive him, so the child will be conditioned to depend on his favors. He states, “Children are hostages to good behavior.”

Image of original book cover for Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto.  A must read for every parent.  Available as ebook, paperback, audiobook.  Book summary by HomeSchool ThinkTank.

Lesson Five: Intellectual Dependency

Intellectual dependency is the fifth lesson Mr. Gatto teaches.

“Good students wait for a teacher to tell them what to do.

This is the most important lesson of them all.

We must wait for other people better trained than ourselves to make the meanings of our lives.”

In Dumbing Us Down, Mr. Gatto shares that the power to control what children think allows him to separate the successful children from the others very easily.

Successful children do the thinking he assigns them with ease, some enthusiasm, and very little resistance.

He also notes that curiosity has very little place in the classroom. Mr. Gatto & the faceless system choose what the children will learn.

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Breaking the Will of Children

“When children don’t comply with what they are told they ought to do, there are tested procedures to break the will of the children who resist. It is more difficult when a parent comes to the aid of a child, but this happens less and less despite the bad reputation of schools.”

Connection Before Curriculum: Connecting with Your Kids Blog Article Podcast Video

An Especially Remarkable Quote from the Book: Dumbing Us Down

“No middle class parents I have ever met actually believe that their kid’s school is one of the bad ones. Not one single parent in many years of teaching. That’s amazing and probably the best testimony to what happens to families when mother and father have been well schooled themselves – learning the seven lessons.

John Taylor Gatto. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.
How do you define learning? Blog, Podcast, & Video.

John Gatto goes on to say, “Good people wait for an expert to tell them what to do.”

“Think of what might happen if people didn’t wait to be told what to do.

People might become self-sufficient unless a “guaranteed supply of helpless people continue to pour out of our schools each year. Don’t be too quick to vote for radical school reform if you want to continue getting a paycheck. We’ve built a way of life that depends on people doing what they’re told, because they don’t know how to tell themselves what to do. It’s one of the biggest lessons I teach.”

While Mr. Gatto passed away a few years before the COVID Pandemic, his words rang very true in the midst of this global crisis.

Lesson Six: Provisional Self Esteem

“The sixth lesson I teach is provisional self-esteem. If you’ve ever tried to wrestle into line kids whose parents have convinced them to believe that they’ll be loved in spite of anything, you know how impossible it is to make self-confident spirits conform.

Children are taught to value themselves based on test scores, grades, and report cards. They make decisions about themselves and their futures based on their ability to learn curriculum mandated by the teacher or the public education system.

Instead of looking inward to judge themselves, children are taught to rely on others to tell them how good they are or are not. In essence, one of the greatest lessons we learn in school is to depend upon others to tell us what we are worth.

John Taylor Gatto. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.

Lesson Seven: One Can’t Hide

As John Gatto reflected upon his own years of teaching, he realized that the seventh lesson he taught was that, “One can’t hide.” In school, “children quickly learn that they are always watched and that there is no private space or time.

Mr. Gatto states,

“Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, or even tattle on their own parents. Of course, I encourage parents to file reports about their own child’s waywardness too. A family trained to snitch on itself isn’t likely to conceal any dangerous secrets.

I assign a type of extended schooling called homework, so that the effect of surveillance, if not the surveillance itself travels into private households, where students might otherwise use free time to learn something unauthorized, from a father or mother, by exploration, or by apprenticing to some wise person in the neighborhood.”

He goes on to say that…

…. all the childless men who wrote these books [of long ago] discovered the same thing. Children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society under tight central control. Children will follow a private drummer if you can’t get them into a uniformed marching band.

It is the great triumph of a compulsory government monopoly mass schooling, that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among the best of my student’s parents, only a small number can imagine a different way to do things.

John Taylor Gatto. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.
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