The Underground History of American Education

underground_history_education_john_taylor_gattoThe Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling is a critique of the U.S. education system by John Taylor Gatto.

Gatto, a former teacher, left the classroom the same year in which he was named New York State Teacher of the Year. He announced his decision in a letter titled "I Quit, I Think".

Using anecdotes gathered from thirty years of teaching, Gatto presents his view of modern compulsion schooling, describing a "conflict between systems which offer physical safety and certainty at the cost of suppressing free will, and those which offer liberty at the price of constant risk". Gatto argues that educational strategies promoted by government and industry leaders for over a century included the creation of a system that keeps real power in the hands of very few people.

From the book's Introduction:

"... Underground History isn’t a history proper, but a collection of materials toward a history, embedded in a personal essay analyzing why mass compulsion schooling is unreformable. The history I have unearthed is important to our understanding; it’s a good start, I believe, but much remains undone."

"... what I’m trying to describe [is] that what has happened to our schools was inherent in the original design for a planned economy and a planned society laid down so proudly at the end of the nineteenth century."

Russ Kick offers this in summary:

"In other words, the captains of industry and government explicitly wanted an educational system that would maintain social order by teaching us just enough to get by but not enough so that we could think for ourselves, question the sociopolitical order, or communicate articulately."



The shocking possibility that dumb people don’t exist in sufficient numbers to warrant the millions of careers devoted to tending them will seem incredible to you. Yet that is my central proposition: the mass dumbness which justifies official schooling first had to be dreamed of; it isn’t real.