Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review: Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

I finally finished reading Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Tayor Gatto.


First, the quibbles. I think in some areas Mr. Gatto may have gone a bit overboard. Kids do need some structure, after all in the real world we have schedules and deadlines. He also has a common but erroneous view of Calvinism, seemingly thinking that it leads to public schooling. It might be connected to those who hold to Calvinism but there is nothing in Calvinism itself that supports (or rejects) compulsory public schooling.

Having said that, this little collection of essays and speeches exposes the flawed premises and practices that define public schooling. As a long time (and award winning) public school teacher, Gatto both has credibility and an insiders view of what is going on and why it went wrong right from the beginning. Mr. Gatto argues quite convincingly that the flaws in public schooling are not a modern invention. Instead the flaws are fundamental and tied to the system itself. The very institution is in a way successful because it does exactly what it was designed to do. Unfortunately, what it was designed to do has very little to do with education. As a product of the public schools, I can say with confidence that what is going on in the government mandated school system has very little to do with education.

Mr. Gatto rightly describes school as a bunch of kids unnaturally forced together in age segregated confines, shuffling from one class to the next at the sound of a bell. The kids are bored, the teachers are disengaged and the system is concerned more with self-preservation than education. All things I have suspected for a long time and I found more confirmation in reading what Mr. Gatto has written.

This is one of those rare books where on almost every page there was something noteworthy. If I owned it instead of getting in from the library, it would be overrun with underlining and highlighting. I dogeared over a dozen pages because of especially good comments, a series of quotes that I am planning on posting in bits and pieces very soon. He has another huge book as well but you can read it online at his webpage. I think every parent, not just those who have already rejected the compulsory government schools, needs to read this book and take a long, hard look at where this nation sends its children for the majority of their day during their formative years.

Next up for review, Reimagining Church by Frank Viola. I am about 100 pages into it and other than a view of gender egalitarianism that seems to be a capitulation to the culture and a few places he goes overboard in assigning meaning to the text, I find very little that I can argue with. I hope to have it done this week so I can read and review Dave Black’s new book and then Kevin DeYoung’s book in defense of the institutional church.

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