John Taylor Gatto

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John Taylor Gatto
Born (1935-12-15) December 15, 1935 (age 87)
Monongahela, Pennsylvania, USA
Residence Oxford, New York
Nationality American
Other names John Gatto
Education Cornell University
University of Pittsburgh
Yeshiva University
Hunter College
Reed College
University of California, Berkeley
Occupation Author and speaker
Known for Educational activist, scholar, New York State Teacher of the Year
Spouse(s) Janet Gatto

John Taylor Gatto[1] (born December 15, 1935[2]) is an American author and former school teacher with nearly 30 years of experience in the classroom. He devoted much of his energy to his teaching career, then, following his resignation, authored several books on modern education, criticizing its ideology, history, and consequences. He is best known for the underground classic "Dumbing Us Down: the Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling", and The Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling, which is sometimes considered to be his magnum opus.

He was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991.[3]


Gatto was born in the Pittsburgh-area steel town of Monongahela, Pennsylvania. In his youth he attended public schools throughout the Pittsburgh Metro Area including Swissvale, Monongahela, and Uniontown as well as a Catholic boarding school in Latrobe. He did undergraduate work at Cornell, the University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia, then served in the U.S. Army medical corps at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Following army service he did graduate work at the City University of New York, Hunter College, Yeshiva University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornell.

He worked as a writer and held several odd jobs before borrowing his roommate's license to investigate teaching. Gatto also ran for the New York State Senate, 29th District in 1985 and 1988 as a member of the Conservative Party of New York against incumbent David Paterson.[4] He was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991.[3] In 1991, he wrote a letter announcing his retirement, titled I Quit, I Think,[5] to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, saying that he no longer wished to "hurt kids to make a living." He then began a public speaking and writing career, and has received several awards from libertarian organizations, including the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Excellence in Advancement of Educational Freedom in 1997.[6]

He promotes homeschooling, and specifically unschooling and open source learning. Wade A. Carpenter, associate professor of education at Berry College, has called his books "scathing" and "one-sided and hyperbolic, [but] not inaccurate"[7] and describes himself as in agreement with Gatto.[8]

Gatto is currently working on a 3-part documentary about compulsory schooling, titled The Fourth Purpose. He says he was inspired by Ken Burns's Civil War.[9]

In 2011 he had two major strokes and received hundreds of messages of support from friends and fans worldwide. He suffered financial hardship since his medical insurance did not cover all his medical bills for rehabilitation.[10] The stroke occurred after he completed the filming of "The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto"[11] which was released in early 2012 by Tragedy and Hope Communications.[12]

Main thesis

What does the school do to children? Gatto asserts the following in "Dumbing Us Down":

  1. It confuses the students. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials, this programming is similar to the television; it fills almost all the "free" time of children. One sees and hears something, only to forget it again.
  2. It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.
  3. It makes them indifferent.
  4. It makes them emotionally dependent.
  5. It makes them intellectually dependent.
  6. It teaches them a kind of self-confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
  7. It makes it clear to them that they cannot hide, because they are always supervised.[13]

He also draws a contrast between communities and “networks,” with the former being healthy, and schools being examples of the latter; in the United States, networks have become an unhealthy substitute for community.[citation needed]



  • The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto (2012) - interview [14]
  • Thrive (2011) - appearance
  • Human Resources Documentary (2010) - appearance

See also

Other critics of public education:


  1. After learning he was regularly confused with another teacher named John Gatto, he added Taylor to his pen name.
  2. "Birthdatabase (.com)". Retrieved 2014-03-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 New York's Teachers of the Year, New York State Education Department (accessed April 5, 2014).
  4. "THE ELECTIONS; New York State Senate". New York Times. November 10, 1988.
  5. "I Quit, I Think". Jerry Mintz. Retrieved 2015-05-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "[1]". Alexis de Tocqueville Award. April 5, 2014.
  7. Wade A. Carpenter (2007). "For Those We Won't Reach: An Alternative" (PDF). Educational Horizons. 85 (3): 153n8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Wade A. Carpenter. "Behind Every Silver Lining: The Other Side of No Child Left Behind" (PDF). Educational Horizons. 85 (1).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. The Fourth Purpose Documentary Series, Fourth Purpose Films (accessed March 21, 2008).
  10. "Natural Born Learners : What will you do for John Taylor Gatto?". 2012-06-25. Retrieved 2014-03-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto (Intro + Hour 1 of 5)". YouTube. 2012-01-01. Retrieved 2014-03-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto". Retrieved 2014-03-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. See John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down. The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, Iceland Gabriola: New Society Publishers, 2005, p. 2–11
  14. "John Taylor Gatto". IMDB. Retrieved 18 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Writings and lectures