Weapons of Mass Instruction, is a book written by John Taylor Gatto, that 5touches extensively on what he considers to be negative aspects of the public school system. Gatto sees the compulsory public schooling as a tool used in orchestrating the development of a mediocrely minded population that is highly manageable due to the lack of ability to think for oneself. Gatto can be quoted saying, “we have been taught (that is, schooled) in this country to think “success” is synonymous with, or at least dependent upon, “schooling”, but historically that isn't true in either an intellectual or a financial sense” (Gatto 2010, p. xv). Throughout this critical analysis I will touch base on Gatto’s ideologies, as well as my own reflections on today’s education system and its many pitfalls. This book is a result of Gatto’s experience teaching in the public system and he goes on to state that, “after 30 years in a public school classroom serving this creature, when I quit teaching in 1991 I promised myself I would bear witness to what I had seen and, forgive me, done. This book is my way of keeping that promise.” (Gatto 2010, p. 14)
Gatto certainly believes that everything we thought we knew was right about school is actually wrong. (Gatto 2010, p.60). According to Gatto, the reality is “our schools today are laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands” (Gatto 2010, p. xxii). In other words the true purpose of school is successfully dumbing down our population so we can’t think for ourselves, and so we can be controlled with ease. I can relate to him by thinking back to high school when students would speak out against teachers by asking why we had to learn certain material. Not once do I recall a teacher offering any answer other than “its just the way it is, and it is part of the curriculum.” Some teachers would even go as far as to instruct students to leave the classroom if they dared to ask any questions why. This goes to show that you’d better keep your head down, and get in line, because any questioning of why we must follow these orders will be viewed as rebellion.
While I do not consider education in itself to be harmful to our youth. It is the way in which it is conducted that astounds me. With the set schedules and mandatory classes, it is obvious that this itinerary is far from ideal for many students. Not to mention the one main form of testing one’s knowledge by forcing students to memorize and regurgitate on paper. I recall seeing an image of a teacher and seven different animals lined up in front of a tree; a monkey, a fish, a seal, a dog, an elephant, a bird, and a penguin. The teacher is saying, “For a fair selection everybody has to take the same exam: Please climb that tree” (Appendix A). In this situation it seems absurd that all animals are told to do the same test, strictly on the basis of being fair. Clearly not all the animals are going to be strong climbers. I find this to be a very accurate representation of today’s education system. For some reason we still find it logical to test individuals who are completely different, in the exact same manner.
Doesn’t make much sense does it? Could it be that the processes required to excel at our tests today are playing a hand in dumbing us down? Gatto openly expresses his opinion, when he says “The rigid stupidities of forced schooling, its linear logics, its bell curves, its buzzers and tests and multiple humiliations, its resorts to magical spells, fills me with rage these days as an old man” (Gatto, 2010). Understandably so.
Another reason why we are possibly being dumbed down is because the government wants us to consume more. Essentially they want us to keep spending money on things we don’t necessarily need. Furthermore, when you look at this idea in depth, it falls perfectly in line with a possible secret agenda by our schools, to ensure that children never grow up. “Childish people are not only obedient, but they make the best consumers because they have little natural sales resistance” (Gatto 2010, p. 41). This is possible because schools are able to “convert the most crowded inner life into a virtually blank slate” (Gatto 2010, p.42). These blank slates sit in front of TV’s and read advertisements on the internet that tell them what to buy, and they listen. The vast majority of people nowadays don’t wait until their phone crashes to buy a new one, they only wait until the next one comes out.
Then lo and behold, it is effectively the same product that was bought the last time. The government doesn’t want you to grow up and be someone who sees how corrupt this is. They don’t want you to be a business owner or a self made man or woman. They want you to be in low level management working under one of the big corporations. Someone who works nine-to-five on a relatively low salary while helping them make their millions.
I believe it is up to the young people of the world to do something about this madness. It may not be fair, but the responsibility has fallen onto our laps whether we like it or not. In the words of James Martin, “We have reached a situation where grand-scale decisions have to be made. [...] If we get it right, we have an extraordinary future” (Martin 2007, p.04). Martin is calling for a transition generation to act during the twenty-first century. A generation to stand up against the ways of the world and change the direction that we are heading in. If Gatto were to speak on the transition generation the first thing he would want is for us “to acknowledge how radically irrelevant school offerings actually are” (Gatto 2010, p. 124). He would want us to get out of the system and think for ourselves.
Some of the greatest and most influential American minds such as; “George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, [and] Abraham Lincoln” (Gatto 2010, p. xv) were not brought up through the public school system. As a result of being encouraged to think for themselves, these innovative thinkers managed to make many positive changes to our world. Who knows what could have became of our world if they would have fallen victim to public schooling.
I find Gatto’s opinion to be very influential due to his first hand experience working as an educator. On the whole, it is quite difficult to argue that public schooling is the best option for a twenty-first century education system. While it is true that education is extremely important, we do not necessarily have to be educated through these public systems. Systems which may be training us to remain childish, in order to be controlled. And if it is in fact control they are after, the definitely have it. They want people to buy different products and not think about it, then buy more. Consumerism is a plague that has a hold on Canada and the United States, as well as most of the rest of world.
It is up to us, the Transition Generation, to plan for our future and not succumb to the forces attempting to hold us back. “Our government thinks some companies are too big to be allowed to fail, and that schooling is too important to allow education to get in its way” (Gatto, 2010 p. 191). Even if Gatto holds just a morsel of the truth, then we need to do our best to recognize what its really going on here and put a stop to it. I would recommend Weapons of Mass Instruction, to anyone who is interested in educating themselves, rather than by someone who holds power over your head. Allow Gatto’s words to resinate, and maybe we might get inspired to take the next step forward.