Review: “Dumbing Us Down” by John Taylor Gatto

This book will change your life. Plain and simple. It’s actually not a book at all. It’s a collection of essays and each essay is just a speech the author gave at one point or another. Some of said speeches were delivered when he was receiving prestigious teaching awards. When you read them, you will understand why the delivery of such a speech in light of receiving an award for excellence in a field that is state-mandated can only be described as either “rude” or “incredibly gutsy”.

Had I read this book without ever working with children or without having a younger sister who struggled through public schooling with what was deemed a “severe learning disability”, I would have written this book off as lunatic ramblings of someone who was bitter over a system that told them they weren’t smart. But that’s not it. I’ll never again refer to public schooling in the US as an “education” because it’s not. It’s just not. Despite having been successful in it myself, I knew somewhere deep down that it was failing me. I knew that I was learning to pass a test and not learning.

There are a million takeaways from this book. From why we need less school to the difference between communities and networks (and why communities are lacking in America) to why all these Asian countries are “beating us” in academia to how to solve our crisis and how not to solve it. I can’t even begin to describe the gold that is almost every paragraph written in this book.

By far, my number one takeaway is that a de-emphasis is needed. The goal for young people should not be “A’s”. This was the main goal my parents instilled in me as a child so shaking it certainly won’t be an overnight endeavor. I don’t blame them at all for that goal. Our society instilled that goal in them. It’s an easy goal to communicate to kids. It’s measurable, it’s trackable. With so many fewer expendable adult hours (whether because both parents work or because we have so many more single parent homes), goals that were efficient to communicate and track were necessary. We just didn’t  notice the detriments until it was too late.

The number one goal for kids isn’t and should not be grades. I think we all know this somewhere deep down. The goal should be a character goal. Whether you want it to be spiritual (and I do) or integrity (which I think is based in spirituality), a child (and an adult and anyones) focus should be on developing themselves as a person. Sure,  knowledge/ intelligence may be a part of who you are and maybe there’s a correlation between upstanding character and IQ, but it’s not WHO you are. Our years spent being educated should not be based around feeling successful by “making the grade”. They should be based around feeling successful by BUILDING A PERSON.

Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto

Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto


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