“An Underground History of American Education” is a mostly great book that delves into the various aspects of compulsory schooling.
Most of it deals with the founding and history of compulsory schooling; how it came to be; which people made it come to be; and what purposes for compulsory schooling they had in mind.
These purposes were all but commendable.
Gatto explains, with quotes from important people involved with compulsory schooling since its beginnings, that schooling was mostly meant to turn the young into a dependable, predictable and obedient mass of citizens, fit to do whatever was expected of them by the elites of the day.
The elites being, in various times, big business (such as the coal industry), the state, and anybody else being in power and having special interests at the fore- or background at any time. Mostly one can deduce that a power elite as such, that might nowadays be called a “shadow government” were behind it.
Gatto also proves that, especially in earlier times, pure racism lay at the foundation of compulsory schooling, with elitist proponents having outright Nazist beliefs.
Classism seems to have always lay at the foundation. The very notion of classes has been transported into schooling precisely for the creation of stratification in society; of indoctrinating kids to know their place in the social order. Schooling ultimately was used to create a dependence on those above them in this order. Nothing is to be done without their approval. Orders must be followed without question. They dictate what is good or bad, correct or incorrect, through the grading of students. They claim to know much better about all these things than parents, whose influence schooling sought to diminish as much as possible. The belief of the elite behind compulsory schooling was the children belonged to the state.
In practical terms, schooling serves to extinguish the light in students lives, to accept their predetermined role in life and to not think outside the box. For those whom were regarded as talented enough to take part in the eventual power elite and upper class, there were elite schools, where loyalty to one’s own class was the basic value, along with contempt for those beneath them. Politicians, intellectuals, and business leaders are spawned from this.
There really is too much in the history of compulsory schooling to describe here in any detail, in terms of how it determines the shape of politics, economics, society and life itself. It can become almost overwhelming at times to see how compulsory schooling genuinely serves to create an entirely docile and obedient mass of people to serve the powerful elite that wants to shape the destiny of the world.
Of course Gatto also goes into the specifics, and the various other ways in which compulsory schooling leads to corruption at the expense of the innocent, including it functioning as a job creation program for useless administrators and as a “consumer” for a school materials industry. Even today, the very concept of compulsory schooling has many special interests intertwined in it, making it a necessity not so much for children as it is for people making their living off of it.
While all of this may seem much like a conspiracy theory, Gatto uses actual quotes from compulsory schooling’s proponents, which leave nothing to the imagination. The sources are there, but are in places where ordinary people may not have much interest in looking. The point of compulsory schooling from its very inception is quite open, and its proponents are not so much trying to perpetrate a scam as they have been, and continue to be, true believers in its merits. Also, Gatto points to the facts of compulsory schooling in such a way, that rudimentary logic dictates he be absolutely right.
All of this is absolutely eye opening for those whose minds are already open and are willing to investigate, rather than dismiss something that slaughters a holy cow.
The problem of the book, unfortunately, is author John Taylor Gatto himself, just as it was in his other work, “Dumbing Us Down.”
As long as Gatto explains the actions and views of others, he is on the money. It is when he reveals his own views on how things ought to be, that he goes off the rails and runs the risk of losing many readers.
Make no mistake, Gatto is clearly a very devout Christian and deeply conservative in his social values, to the point of making several rants against science and singing the praises of his own Christian mysticism.
It mars his point of view because any reader not equipped to separate the actual facts and the objective information from the personal opinions of Gatto himself, may end up believing that Gatto merely has a problem with compulsory schooling because it is not in awe of Christian and conservative orthodoxy. He sometimes comes off as a man lamenting that schooling is bad merely because it does not teach the beliefs he himself cherishes.
By allowing his personal religious and social views to intermix with the objective facts and history, he is making it very difficult for his reader to believe that this is not a work with a blatant self-serving agenda. Gatto does not seem to realize that he is at the point of repelling readers that have different views on science, religion and social values than he himself holds, and thus making it much easier for them to dismiss what otherwise is a book of absolute importance.
I would say that in the books of Gatto i have read thus far, Gatto is his own worst enemy, in terms of trying to find as wide an audience as possible. Although i have not yet read Sheldon Richman’s secular version of this material (“Separating School and State”), i wager to believe it may offer a much less self-serving account of the subject matter, and for that reason alone Richman’s version may have actually been necessary, even as some others claim it offers nothing new.