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9/8/22, 10:59 AM
Project #1 ROAD MAP: START HERE!: 2022FA-ENGL-120-3166 – College Composition & Reading
Project/Essay #1 Roadmap:
Collegiate Reading and Writing & Me
Suggestion: Print THIS PAGE out and
check off EACH ITEM as you complete
We are going to investigate THREE Microthemes where we will read several shorter texts and
follow a scholarly approach which will be the content for three of your essays. This module will
take you through the collegiate process of reading for one key text as well as help you be
reflective about what you know already and what you need to work on to continue on your
scholarly journey. By the time you complete Project #1, you will have written an essay.
Thus, the GOAL for this Module is to dig deeply into the scholarly reading and writing process-regardless of where you are, you can always dig more deeply. Challenge yourself!
The KEY text that we will be using for
practice is Gatto’s “Against School.”
9/8/22, 10:59 AM
Project #1 ROAD MAP: START HERE!: 2022FA-ENGL-120-3166 – College Composition & Reading
Skim over the COMPLETE PROJECT, keeping in mind that EACH part of it will prepare you to write
your final Project that is based on the KEY QUESTION BELOW.
Key Question for Essay #1:
How does schooling affect one’s education?
A couple of hundred years ago, formal schooling was mostly reserved for the aristocracy or the
clergy. The hard-won fight for the funding and the right for public education is actually relatively
new. In 1821, Boston began the first public high school, and even then, not everyone had the
right to attend. Yet, the initial model created other problems for students, that is, major obstacles
that have stalled or even prevented learning. Educators and legislators continually try to improve
the system. Your writing project should let us know if Gatto is correct that there are still several
problems or if most of them have been corrected.
Jonathan Tayler Gatto in his essay “Against School” suggests several problems with the present
educational system. In a multi-paragraph 750+ word essay, summarize his main claims and
discuss whether or not YOU have been a victim of these negative lessons since you have
had so much experience being a student.
For our purposes, please follow the PARAMETERS:
Include at least 3 quotations quotations from the text
Include at least 3 personal anecdotal examples.
Please ONLY use the personal pronouns “I” and “me” for your personal anecdotal examples.
Beyond that, stick to the 3rd person.
Your peers–this writing project should help
The audience is vested in education. Your
them be aware IF there are problems so that
peers want to be prepared for their careers as
they can persevere despite them.
Your teachers–this writing project should
well as take time to explore their own beliefs.
help them as they prepare their classes to
Your teachers want to create learning
make sure that they are meeting the
educational needs of their students.
9/8/22, 10:59 AM
Project #1 ROAD MAP: START HERE!: 2022FA-ENGL-120-3166 – College Composition & Reading
One of the first steps is to more deeply consider
the needs, attitudes, and knowledge of your
audience as you read Gatto’s text and choose
experiences that help students move towards
their goals.
your own stories to share.
Process to complete during Weeks 2 & 3:
NOTE: Each item takes a different amount of time. Start early. You may want to use a
Time Management Calendar
KE/edit?usp=sharing) to plan your time.
Week 2
Week 3
My Current Scholarly Reading Strategies
Discussion Forum (August 31st, September
Submit a draft of Essay #1 for peer review
Annotation Key (August 31st)
Read Gatto + submit sample annotation
partner (September 7th)
Submit feedback to partner (September 9th)
page to discussion board (September 2nd)
Submit Essay #1 (September 11th)
Scholarly Inquiry for Gatto’s “Against
School” for Project #1 (September 4th)
Note: I want to see HOW you compose–this will help
me in preparing me to help guide you in your next
project. IF you follow the parameters as noted in the
KEY QUESTION area, you will receive full credit.
At the end of each page or assignment within a module,
you can click “Next” which is located to your bottom
right, OR you may choose to go back by clicking on
“Previous” which is located on your bottom left. If you
want to get back to the Modules, choose the Modules
link located to your left.
8/24/22, 4:00 PM
Against School – John Taylor Gatto
Against School*
John Taylor Gatto**
How public education cripples our kids, and why
I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best, and during
that time I became an expert in boredom. Boredom was everywhere in my world, and if you asked the
kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave the same answers: They said the work was
stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real,
not just sitting around. They said teachers didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clearly
weren’t interested in learning more. And the kids were right: their teachers were every bit as bored as they
Boredom is the common condition of schoolteachers, and anyone who has spent time in a teachers’ lounge
can vouch for the low energy, the whining, the dispirited attitudes, to be found there. When asked why
they feel bored, the teachers tend to blame the kids, as you might expect. Who wouldn’t get bored teaching
students who are rude and interested only in grades? If even that. Of course, teachers are themselves
products of the same twelve-year compulsory school programs that so thoroughly bore their students, and
as school personnel they are trapped inside structures even more rigid than those imposed upon the
children. Who, then, is to blame?
We all are. My grandfather taught me that. One afternoon when I was seven I complained to him of
boredom, and he batted me hard on the head. He told me that I was never to use that term in his presence
again, that if I was bored it was my fault and no one else’s. The obligation to amuse and instruct myself
was entirely my own, and people who didn’t know that were childish people, to be avoided if possible.
Certainly not to be trusted. That episode cured me of boredom forever, and here and there over the years I
was able to pass on the lesson to some remarkable student. For the most part, however, I found it futile to
challenge the official notion that boredom and childishness were the natural state of affairs in the
classroom. Often I had to defy custom, and even bend the law, to help kids break out of this trap.
The empire struck back, of course; childish adults regularly conflate opposition with disloyalty. I once
returned from a medical leave to discover that all evidence of my having been granted the leave had been
purposely destroyed, that my job had been terminated, and that I no longer possessed even a teaching
license. After nine months of tormented effort I was able to retrieve the license when a school secretary
testified to witnessing the plot unfold. In the meantime my family suffered more than I care to remember.
By the time I finally retired in 1991, I had more than enough reason to think of our schools – with their
long-term, cell-block-style, forced confinement of both students and teachers – as virtual factories of
childishness. Yet I honestly could not see why they had to be that way. My own experience had revealed
to me what many other teachers must learn along the way, too, yet keep to themselves for fear of reprisal:
if we wanted to we could easily and inexpensively jettison the old, stupid structures and help kids take an
education rather than merely receive a schooling. We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight – simply by being more flexible about
time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids to truly competent adults, and by giving each student what
autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then.
But we don’t do that. And the more I asked why not, and persisted in thinking about the “problem” of
schooling as an engineer might, the more I missed the point: What if there is no “problem” with our
schools? What if they are the way they are, so expensively flying in the face of common sense and long
experience in how children learn things, not because they are doing something wrong but because they are
doing something right? Is it possible that George W. Bush accidentally spoke the truth when he said we
would “leave no child behind”? Could it be that our schools are designed to make sure not one of them
ever really grows up?
8/24/22, 4:00 PM
Against School – John Taylor Gatto
Do we really need school? I don’t mean education, just forced schooling: six classes a day, five days a
week, nine months a year, for twelve years. Is this deadly routine really necessary? And if so, for what?
Don’t hide behind reading, writing, and arithmetic as a rationale, because 2 million happy homeschoolers
have surely put that banal justification to rest. Even if they hadn’t, a considerable number of well-known
Americans never went through the twelve-year wringer our kids currently go through, and they turned out
all right. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln? Someone taught
them, to be sure, but they were not products of a school system, and not one of them was ever “graduated”
from a secondary school. Throughout most of American history, kids generally didn’t go to high school,
yet the unschooled rose to be admirals, like Farragut; inventors, like Edison; captains of industry, like
Carnegie and Rockefeller; writers, like Melville and Twain and Conrad; and even scholars, like Margaret
Mead. In fact, until pretty recently people who reached the age of thirteen weren’t looked upon as children
at all. Ariel Durant, who co-wrote an enormous, and very good, multivolume history of the world with her
husband, Will, was happily married at fifteen, and who could reasonably claim that Ariel Durant was an
uneducated person? Unschooled, perhaps, but not uneducated.
We have been taught (that is, schooled) in this country to think of “success” as synonymous with, or at
least dependent upon, “schooling,” but historically that isn’t true in either an intellectual or a financial
sense. And plenty of people throughout the world today find a way to educate themselves without
resorting to a system of compulsory secondary schools that all too often resemble prisons. Why, then, do
Americans confuse education with just such a system? What exactly is the purpose of our public schools?
Mass schooling of a compulsory nature really got its teeth into the United States between 1905 and 1915,
though it was conceived of much earlier and pushed for throughout most of the nineteenth century. The
reason given for this enormous upheaval of family life and cultural traditions was, roughly speaking,
1) To make good people.
2) To make good citizens.
3) To make each person his or her personal best.
These goals are still trotted out today on a regular basis, and most of us accept them in one form or
another as a decent definition of public education’s mission, however short schools actually fall in
achieving them. But we are dead wrong. Compounding our error is the fact that the national literature
holds numerous and surprisingly consistent statements of compulsory schooling’s true purpose. We have,
for example, the great H. L. Mencken, who wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of
public education is not
to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. . . . Nothing
could be further from the truth. The aim.. . is simply to reduce as many individuals as
possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down
dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States . . . and that is its aim everywhere
Because of Mencken’s reputation as a satirist, we might be tempted to dismiss this passage as a bit of
hyperbolic sarcasm. His article, however, goes on to trace the template for our own educational system
back to the now vanished, though never to be forgotten, military state of Prussia. And although he was
certainly aware of the irony that we had recently been at war with Germany, the heir to Prussian thought
and culture, Mencken was being perfectly serious here. Our educational system really is Prussian in
origin, and that really is cause for concern.
The odd fact of a Prussian provenance for our schools pops up again and again once you know to look for
it. William James alluded to it many times at the turn of the century. Orestes Brownson, the hero of
Christopher Lasch’s 1991 book, The True and Only Heaven, was publicly denouncing the Prussianization
of American schools back in the 1840s. Horace Mann’s “Seventh Annual Report” to the Massachusetts
State Board of Education in 1843 is essentially a paean to the land of Frederick the Great and a call for its
schooling to be brought here. That Prussian culture loomed large in America is hardly surprising, given
our early association with that utopian state. A Prussian served as Washington’s aide during the
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Against School – John Taylor Gatto
Revolutionary War, and so many German- speaking people had settled here by 1795 that Congress
considered publishing a German-language edition of the federal laws. But what shocks is that we should
so eagerly have adopted one of the very worst aspects of Prussian culture: an educational system
deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students
appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens – all in order to render the
populace “manageable.”
It was from James Bryant Conant – president of Harvard for twenty years, WWI poison-gas specialist,
WWII executive on 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 purposes 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, like the famous Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado.
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 the 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 a 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 burgeoning democratic movement that threatened to give the peasants and the proletarians
a voice at the bargaining table. Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a sort of
surgical incision into the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by agegrading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the
ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever reintegrate into a dangerous whole.
Inglis breaks down the purpose – the actual purpose – of modem schooling into six basic functions, any
one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals
listed earlier:
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) 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.
5) 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.
8/24/22, 4:00 PM
Against School – John Taylor Gatto
6) 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.
That, unfortunately, is the purpose of mandatory public education in this country. And lest you take Inglis
for an isolated crank with a rather too cynical take on the educational enterprise, you should know that he
was hardly alone in championing these ideas. Conant himself, building on the ideas of Horace Mann and
others, campaigned tirelessly for an American school system designed along the same lines. Men like
George Peabody, who funded the cause of mandatory schooling throughout the South, surely understood
that the Prussian system was useful in creating not only a harmless electorate and a servile labor force but
also a virtual herd of mindless consumers. In time a great number of industrial titans came to recognize
the enormous profits to be had by cultivating and tending just such a herd via public education, among
them Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.
There you have it. Now you know. We don’t need Karl Marx’s conception of a grand warfare between the
classes to see that it is in the interest of complex management, economic or political, to dumb people
down, to demoralize them, to divide them from one another, and to discard them if they don’t conform.
Class may frame the proposition, as when Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said
the following to the New York City School Teachers Association in 1909: “We want one class of persons
to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in
every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult
manual tasks.” But the motives behind the disgusting decisions that bring about these ends need not be
class-based at all. They can stem purely from fear, or from the by now familiar belief that “efficiency” is
the paramount virtue, rather than love, liberty, laughter, or hope. Above all, they can stem from simple
There were vast fortunes to be made, after all, in an economy based on mass production and organized to
favor the large corporation rather than the small business or the family farm. But mass production required
mass consumption, and at the turn of the twentieth century most Americans considered it both unnatural
and unwise to buy things they didn’t actually need. Mandatory schooling was a godsend on that count.
School didn’t have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume nonstop, because it did
something even better: it encouraged them not to think at all. And that left them sitting ducks for another
great invention of the modem era – marketing.
Now, you needn’t have studied marketing to know that there are two groups of people who can always be
convinced to consume more than they need to: addicts and children. School has done a pretty good job of
turning our children into addicts, but it has done a spectacular job of turning our children into children.
Again, this is no accident. Theorists from Plato to Rousseau to our own Dr. Inglis knew that if children
could be cloistered with other children, stripped of responsibility and independence, encouraged to
develop only the trivializing emotions of greed, envy, jealousy, and fear, they would grow older but never
truly grow up. In the 1934 edition of his once well-known book Public Education in the United States,
Ellwood P. Cubberley detailed and praised the way the strategy of successive school enlargements had
extended childhood by two to six years, and forced schooling was at that point still quite new. This same
Cubberley – who was dean of Stanford’s School of Education, a textbook editor at Houghton Mifflin, and
Conant’s friend and correspondent at Harvard – had written the following in the 1922 edition of his book
Public School Administration: “Our schools are . . . factories in which the raw products (children) are to
be shaped and fashioned.. . . And it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the
specifications laid down.”
It’s perfectly obvious from our society today what those specifications were. Maturity has by now been
banished from nearly every aspect of our lives. Easy divorce laws have removed the need to work at
relationships; easy credit has removed the need for fiscal self-control; easy entertainment has removed the
need to learn to entertain oneself; easy answers have removed the need to ask questions. We have become
a nation of children, happy to surrender our judgments and our wills to political exhortations and
commercial blandishments that would insult actual adults. We buy televisions, and then we buy the things
8/24/22, 4:00 PM
Against School – John Taylor Gatto
we see on the television. We buy computers, and then we buy the things we see on the computer. We buy
$150 sneakers whether we need them or not, and when they fall apart too soon we buy another pair. We
drive SUVs and believe the lie that they constitute a kind of life insurance, even when we’re upside-down
in them. And, worst of all, we don’t bat an eye when Ari Fleischer tells us to “be careful what you say,”
even if we remember having been told somewhere back in school that America is the land of the free. We
simply buy that one too. Our schooling, as intended, has seen to it.
Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are
fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders
and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and
independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner
life so that they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in
history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology – all the stuff schoolteachers know well
enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own
company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they
seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow
friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life,
and they can.
First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young
minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education
serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don’t let your own have
their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British
warship as a preteen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin
could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that
would choke a Yale senior today), there’s no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and
thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our
genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women.
The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.
** 09/2003 Harper’s Magazine.
* John Taylor Gatto is a former New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year and the
author, most recently, of The Underground History of American Education. He was a participant
in the Harper’s Magazine forum “School on a Hill,” which appeared in the September 2001 issue.
You can find his web site here.
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8/24/22, 4:00 PM
Against School – John Taylor Gatto
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