Can you tell me about John Taylor Gatto?

June 7, 2015 by Joshua
in Education, Freedom

Most Sundays I comment on The New York Times’ Sunday Magazine column The Ethicist. This week looks like they have a special issue without it. Normally I comment on one from their archives, but today I’m so caught up in a couple videos I watched, and I believe I have a fair number of educators who question the system, that I’d love to learn if people can give me background on John Taylor Gatto.

So far I watched this video

and this one

and I plan to watch more.

His subject—education as a system and its results as opposed to our desired results, also what is most valuable to educate—is close to my main goals today. He also sounds like my uncle from Pittsburgh, which makes me smile.

I find his message fascinating and inspiring, since I consider what and how I teach different than what he criticizes and consistent with education he promotes, to the extent I agree with him, though some things he says raise flags. I haven’t looked hard but haven’t found much critical, positive or negative, about his message.

Do you know more about him so I can get a well-rounded view?

EDIT: I found this post, “Gatto on the Evils of Public Education,” that criticized his referring to sources without citing them, so you have to take his word on many points and that he cherry-picks stories and anecdotes to support his story rather than to represent history. It says

Gatto’s cavalier attitude and sloppy use of sources unfortunately makes it easy to dismiss his ideas as the work of a crank or crackpot.  This is a real shame, for much of what he says is profound and powerful.  But given his predelictions he will likely never be taken seriously by anyone not already predisposed to agree with him.

I found this post, “All Criticism and No Leadership Make Jack a Bad Instructor,” that criticizes him for describing problems but not proposing solutions. It quotes Jack Welch saying,

Something I hate more than failure is people who say, “I knew it!” after the fact.  If you see a problem then either fix it, make enough to get it fixed, or shut up.  I told you so does nobody any good at any point.  It’s not the sign of a leader.

I found this post, “Reflection on, and Review of, Gatto’s “Weapons of Mass Instruction”,” which also criticizes Gatto for criticizing without proposing solutions and pointing out problems with Gatto’s perspective and argument. It states,

All in all, Gatto provides us with about 30-35 examples of people who have achieved a lot without formal education. I am sure, if you give me about a week, I could come up with at least as many examples of students who did not achieve much without a formal education and an equal number of examples of those who have achieved a lot that would credit formal schooling as a key component to their success. Unfortunately, Gatto’s argument here is so highly anecdotal that one is tempted not to call it an argument (but an appeal to emotion).

I consider the criticisms fair but still find Gatto’s arguments and illustrations valuable. He’s also very entertaining and funny, so I recommend watching the videos above, long as they are. I hope you’ll come up with solutions he doesn’t.

I should also note that I bet Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia doesn’t have nearly all the faults Gatto ascribes to government education, but is a government school. Many are learning from its success.

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