John Taylor Gatto (born December 15, 1935) is a retired American school teacher with nearly 30 years experience in the classroom, and author of several books on education. He is an activist critical of compulsory schooling, of the perceived divide between the teen years and adulthood, and of what he characterizes as the hegemonic nature of discourse on education and the education professions.
Gatto was born in the Pittsburgh-area steel town of Monongahela, Pennsylvania. In his youth he attended public schools throughout the Pittsburgh Metro Area including Swissvale, Monongahela, and Uniontown as well as a Catholic boarding school in Latrobe. He did undergraduate work at Cornell, the University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia, then served in the U.S. Army medical corps at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Following army service he did graduate work at the City University of New York, Hunter College, Yeshiva University, the University of California, and Cornell.
He worked as a writer and held several odd jobs before borrowing his roommate’s license to investigate teaching. Gatto also ran for the New York State Senate, 29th District in 1985 and 1988 as a member of the Conservative Party of New York against incumbent David Paterson. He was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. In 1991, he wrote a letter announcing his retirement, titled I Quit, I Think, to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, saying that he no longer wished to “hurt kids to make a living.” He then began a public speaking and writing career, and has received several awards from libertarian organizations, including the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Excellence in Advancement of Educational Freedom in 1997.
He promotes homeschooling, and specifically unschooling. Wade A. Carpenter, associate professor of education at Berry College, has called his books “scathing” and “one-sided and hyperbolic, [but] not inaccurate” and describes himself as in agreement with Gatto.
Gatto is currently working on a 3-part documentary about compulsory schooling, titled The Fourth Purpose. He says he was inspired by Ken Burns’s Civil War.
What does the school do with the children? Gatto states the following assertions in “Dumbing Us Down”:
It makes the children confused. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials that programming is similar to the television, it fills almost all the “free” time of children. One sees and hears something, only to forget it again.
It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.
It makes them indifferent.
It makes them emotionally dependent.
It makes them intellectually dependent.
It teaches them a kind of self-confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
It makes it clear to them that they cannot hide, because they are always supervised.