Book Club: An In Depth Review of The Seven Lesson School Teacher

Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling is a book written by John Taylor Gatto. Gatto was an author and a school teacher for over thirty years. He won many awards for teaching in New York however he is best known for both of his books, Dumbing us Down and The Underground History Of American Education: A School Teacher's Intimate Investigation Into The Problem Of Modern Schooling. In his resignation letter, he said he no longer wants to hurt kids, so that gives you a good idea about where he stands on public schooling after being a huge part of it for thirty years.

The Book Dumbing us Down is a collection of various speeches that John Taylor Gatto has delivered at various times. It is about his career as a school teacher and his thoughts on what we should do to reform the public education system in America. The first speech in the book is about the seven lessons he taught as a school teacher. This is the only part of the book I will be covering in this post.

The first lesson he teaches is confusion. I really liked the way he described this part of teaching. He teaches confusion and disconnection. All teachers do is teach things in ways that do not make sense. One hour children are learning about photosynthesis and the next they are learning long division. What if we changed that? What if instead of learning a bunch of different facts all day that have no correlation we took our children on a journey. Instead of reading about photosynthesis in a book, the children started their own garden, and instead of learning from a math book they measured and cut wood to create a flower bed for their garden. They wrote hypotheses about how high they believed their plants would grow. The school is just teaching a series of facts for children to spit back out on a state test so the school can get more money. If we just let children learn on their own without our constant guidance or confusion they might actually learn something. When babies learn how to walk they do not learn by sitting down and being told how to walk, they learn to walk by doing and falling and getting back up again.

The second lesson he teaches is class position. The children are all put into one class despite their intelligence level and they are all numbered. Gatto believed that numbering children was a way to make them less human. The school already sees children as numbers and now so do their teachers and classmates. This has always been an interesting concept to me. As a child, I would always write a name and a number on my paper. I would be sorted in a single file line according to a number assigned to me. This is incredibly dehumanizing to do to a person, but they are children so it's okay to treat them like just another number right?

The third lesson that Gatto talks about is indifference. He uses two main points to suggest that school teaches indifference. Teachers expect enthusiasm out of children when they are teaching a lesson but as soon as the hour is up they have to turn their enthusiasm off immediately and move on to the next thing. The bell does the same thing. When the bell rings the children must immediately put their work away. Gatto says that this teaches children that their work is not worth finishing. I remember as a child being very interested in something and then needing to switch gears immediately. This is hard at first but as the years go by you slowly get trained into never caring about something quite enough to be disappointed when you need to wipe your head clean of that subject to then be taught a list of other unrelated facts. It, like the first lesson, mainly teaches confusion.

Gatto's fourth lesson is emotional dependence. Children are taught from a very young age that they have no rights once they walk through the gates of your school. It's not true. However, that is what I was told until I was able to look it up myself. My rights can be given and taken and whatever I do that threatens the control of the adults around me I will be punished. To me, it seemed like the authority in schools were scared of an uprising. They needed to constantly punish the children who act out and question their authority for fear of a mutiny. Because there are more students than teachers. So they tell children once they walk through that gate they lose all of their rights. They lie and manipulate children into submission. They create emotional dependence. After all, how will anyone grow up to be exploited by capitalism if we don't break their will starting when they are young. Like Rockefeller said when he established the school system "I want a nation of workers, not thinkers."

The fifth lesson Gatto teaches is intellectual dependency. Gatto talks about how we have built a life on people doing what they are told. Children are reliant on others to tell them how well they are doing. They rely solely on another person telling them how smart they are. Regardless of how smart the children actually are the only person they are taught to rely on for that knowledge is their teachers and the teachers rely on what to teach them from their higher-ups. It is just another way to use control as a way to create good workers. Teaching children from a young age is what makes you smart this is what makes you good. I get to decide if you are smart and I get to decide if you are good. Their worth and their importance is based on a letter on a piece of paper. Probably the best analogy of this I have heard is a story about a teacher failing the entire class during their midterms to combat the children from slowing down in their efforts during the final months of school. This again is a great example of control. These children will now not only feel like a failure but it could lead to abuse at home. The way school is set up trains children from a very young age that their intelligence and worth are decided by someone else and told to them through arbitrary letters.

The sixth lesson that Gatto teaches is provisional self-esteem. This goes hand in hand with his last lesson. Children's self-esteem is reliant solely on the teacher's evaluation of their work. On how well the child can regurgitate facts. The funny thing is these facts that we were taught, may not even be facts anymore. Yet we were forced to memorize and produce this information on a test to make other people money. Are these facts important to the development of a child? No of course not. Are they important for the school's budget and funding? Yes or else they wouldn't be learning it.

The seventh and final lesson is to teach the children they are always under surveillance. This one was the most shockingly obvious one I saw. From the beginning of their educational career children are taught they are always being closely monitored. From the playground to the classroom. I remember even being required to write personal journal entries for the teachers to read. Gatto takes this further. Children are not only under surveillance when they are in school they are also under surveillance when they are at home. If you think about it the concept of homework is very interesting. Teachers or their higher-ups are not only deciding what information they are learning when they are at school but they are also deciding what information the children are learning when they get home. They are assigning hours of homework for these children and not letting them have any time with their families or be taught anything by their families. Everything they are taught even what they are taught at home is all approved by the higherups all the information that they are taking in is from what the government says that the children should learn never giving the parents their opportunity to be able to teach them any different. This even goes to the way that parents help their children with their homework. I remember having a lot of arguments and very stressful evenings with my parents because the way I was taught how to solve the math problems given to me was different than the way they were taught. I would return to school more frustrated and confused than when I left. Children need to be closely watched in order to keep society under control.

Wrapping up his speech after the seven lessons he teaches he talks about what he thinks school should be. He says that schools would never survive without exploiting the fearfulness and selfishness of children. He also claims that no one, not even the teacher comes out of the seven lessons okay. He proposes a free-market type of schooling similar to pre-civil war. He also said something interesting in the speech that I had not thought of before. He called school a government monopoly. He says that these seven lessons will continue until we dismantle the government monopoly. Gatto also states something very interesting. That the future will require us to live more natural lifestyles. We can see that that coming to fruition now with these formula shortages and food shortages.

I really enjoyed reading Gatto's book. I found a lot of his ideas very interesting and I connected a lot of his descriptions of public education to what was taught to me as I went to school. My opinion is that school is incredibly successful at what it was intended to do. I think about it as breaking in horses. You bring a child into school at kindergarten. Then over the years you continuously break their will until they are completely obedient and compliant. Any child not broken enough to blindly follow all rules is labeled as bad and given medication to sit down and shut up.

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