John Taylor Gatto’s Weapons of Mass Instruction focuses on mechanisms of traditional education that
cripple imagination, discourage critical thinking, and create a false
view of learning as a byproduct of rote-memorization drills. Gatto’s
earlier book, Dumbing Us Down, introduced the now-famous expression of the title into the common vernacular. Weapons of Mass Instruction adds another chilling metaphor to the brief against conventional schooling.
demonstrates that the harm school inflicts is rational and deliberate.
The real function of pedagogy, he argues, is to render the common
population manageable. To that end, young people must be conditioned to
rely upon experts, to remain divided from natural alliances, and to
accept disconnections from their own lived experiences. They must at all
costs be discouraged from developing self-reliance and independence.
this trap requires strategy Gatto calls “open source learning” which
imposes no artificial divisions between learning and life. Through this
alternative approach, our children can avoid being indoctrinated—only
then that can they achieve self-knowledge, judgment, and courage.
Softcover, 214 pages
from Chapter 1
It was from James
Bryan Conant—president of Harvard for 20 years, WWI poison-gas specialist, WWII
executive of the atomic-bomb project, high commissioner of the American zone in
Germany after WWII, and truly one of the most influential figures of the
twentieth century—that I first got wind of the real purpose of American
schooling. Without Conant, we would probably not have the same style and degree
of standardized testing that we enjoy today, nor would we be blessed with
gargantuan high schools that warehouse 2,000 to 4,000 students at a time.
Shortly after I retired from teaching I picked up Conant’s 1959 book-length
essay, The Child, the Parent and the State, and was more than a little
intrigued to see him mention in passing that the modern schools we attend were
the result of a “revolution” engineered between 1905 and 1930. A revolution? He
declines to elaborate, but he does direct the curious and uninformed to
Alexander Inglis’s 1918 book Principles of Secondary Education, in which
one “saw this revolution through the eyes of a revolutionary.”
Inglis, for whom an
honor lecture in education at Harvard is named, makes it perfectly clear that
compulsory schooling on this continent was intended to be just what it had been
for Prussia in the 1820s: a fifth column into the bourgeoning democratic
movement that threatened to give peasants and the proletarians a voice at the
bargaining table. Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a
sort of surgical intervention into the prospective unity of these underclasses.
Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant ranking on tests, and
by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of
mankind, separated in childhood, would ever re-intergrate into a dangerous
whole. Inglis breaks down the purpose—the actual purpose—of modern schooling
into six basic functions, anyone of which is enough to curl the hair of those
innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals of education listed
The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish
fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical
judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or
interesting material should be taught, because you can’t test for reflexive
obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish
and boring things.
The integrating function. This might well be called “the conformity
function” because its intention is to make children as alike as possible.
People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish
to harness and manipulate a large labor force.
The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each
student’s proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically
and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in “your permanent record” Yes, you
do have one.
The differentiating function. Once their social role has been “diagnosed”
children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination
in the social machine merits—and not one step further. So much for making kids
their personal best.
The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to
Darwin’s theory of natural selection as applied to what he called “the favored
races” In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to
improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit—with poor
grades, remedial placement, and other punishments—clearly enough that their
peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the
reproductive sweepstakes. That’s what all those little humiliations from first
grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.
The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules
will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the
kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch
over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order
that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want
for obedient labor.