Resources

These books are essential reading for anybody with school age children. Make a truly informed decision about how to educate your own children.

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John Taylor Gatto

John Taylor Gatto (born December 15, 1935) is an American retired school teacher of 29 years and 8 months experience in the classroom and author of several books on education. He is an activist critical of compulsory schooling and of what he characterizes as the hegemonic nature of discourse on education and the education professions.

He is an internationally renowned speaker who lectures widely on school reform. He taught for thirty years in public schools before resigning on the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal during the year he was named New York’s official “Teacher of the Year.” On April 3, 2008, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard credited Gatto with adding the expression “dumbing us down” to the school debate worldwide.
(View his website here.)

Read an interesting interview with John Taylor Gatto. The interview is in pdf form so you can even download it and save it.

Against School

An essay on how public education cripples our kids, and why. Originally published in Hapers Magazine, September 2003. I’ve only been able to find this online.

(downloadable pdf version here.)

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

From Library Journal: In this tenth-anniversary edition, Gatto updates his theories on how the U.S. educational system cranks out students the way Detroit cranks out Buicks. He contends that students are more programmed to conform to economic and social norms rather than really taught to think.
Product Description: This radical treatise on public education has been a New Society Publishers’ bestseller for 10 years! Thirty years of award-winning teaching in New York City’s public schools led John Gatto to the sad conclusion that compulsory governmental schooling does little but teach young people to follow orders as cogs in the industrial machine.

The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling

The Underground History of American Education is a freewheeling investigation into the real – as opposed to the `official’ – history of schooling, focused on the U.S. but with examinations of other historical examples for the purposes of comparing and contrasting, as well as for tracing where ideas and concepts related to education originated. You will discover things you were never told in the official version, things that will, at times, surprise, disgust, and scare you. You will also be introduced to the little-known historiography of the the darker side of the construction of compulsory government schooling.

Weapons of Mass InstructionWeapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling

This book focuses on mechanisms of traditional education that cripple imagination, discourage critical thinking, and create a false view of learning as a byproduct of rote-memorization drills. Gatto’s earlier book, Dumbing Us Down, introduced the now-famous expression of the title into the common vernacular. Weapons of Mass Instruction adds another chilling metaphor to the brief against conventional schooling.

Gatto demonstrates that the harm school inflicts is rational and deliberate. The real function of pedagogy, he argues, is to render the common population manageable. To that end, young people must be conditioned to rely upon experts, to remain divided from natural alliances, and to accept disconnections from their own lived experiences. They must at all costs be discouraged from developing self-reliance and independence.

Escaping this trap requires strategy Gatto calls “open source learning” which imposes no artificial divisions between learning and life. Through this alternative approach, our children can avoid being indoctrinated—only then that can they achieve self-knowledge, judgment, and courage.
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Charlotte Iserbyt

Charlotte Iserbyt is the consummate whistleblower! Iserbyt served as Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education, during the first Reagan Administration, where she first blew the whistle on a major technology initiative which would control curriculum in America’s classrooms. Iserbyt is a former school board director in Camden, Maine and was co-founder and research analyst of Guardians of Education for Maine (GEM) from 1978 to 2000. She has also served in the American Red Cross on Guam and Japan during the Korean War, and in the United States Foreign Service in Belgium and in the Republic of South Africa. Iserbyt is a speaker and writer, best known for her 1985 booklet Back to Basics Reform or OBE: Skinnerian International Curriculum and her 1989 pamphlet Soviets in the Classroom: America’s Latest Education Fad which covered the details of the U.S.-Soviet and Carnegie-Soviet Education Agreements which remain in effect to this day. She is a freelance writer and has had articles published in Human Events, The Washington Times, The Bangor Daily News, and included in the record of Congressional hearings.

the deliberate dumbing down of america: A Chronological Paper Trail

the deliberate dumbing down of america is a chronological history of the past 100+ years of education reform. Each chapter takes a period of history and recounts the significant events, including important geopolitical and societal contextual information. Citations from government plans, policy documents, and key writings by leading reformers record the rise of the modern education reform movement. Americans of all ages will welcome this riveting expose of what really happened to what was once the finest education system in the world.

Readers will appreciate the user-friendliness of this chronological history designed for the average reader not just the academician. This book will be used by citizens at public hearings, board meetings, or for easy presentation to elected officials.

Publication of the deliberate dumbing down of america is certain to add fuel to the fire in this nation’s phonics wars. Iserbyt provides documentation that Direct Instruction, the latest education reform fad in the classroom, is being institutionalized under the guise of “traditional” phonics thanks to the passage of the unconstitutional Reading Excellence Act of 1998.

The eBook version is available for free online.
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John Holt

After many years of working within the school system, Holt became disillusioned with it. He became convinced that reform of the school system was not possible because it was fundamentally flawed, and began to advocate homeschooling. However, it would be pointless to simply remove children from the school environment, if parents simply recreated that environment at home. Holt believed that children did not need to be coerced into learning; they would do so naturally if given the freedom to follow their own interests and a rich assortment of resources. This line of thought came to be called unschooling.

John Holt invented the word unschooling in 1977 when he printed it in the early issues of Growing Without Schooling magazine. Holt’s Growing Without Schooling (GWS), founded in 1977, was the nation’s first home education newsletter. He also set up John Holt’s Bookstore, which made selected books available by mail order. This brought in additional revenue that helped sustain the newsletter, which carried very little advertising.

Holt’s sole book on homeschooling, Teach Your Own, was published in 1981. It quickly became the “Bible” of the early homeschooling movement. It was revised by his colleague, Patrick Farenga, and republished in 2003 by Perseus Books.

In addition to home schooling, Holt also espoused many of the principles now taken up by the youth rights movement, including eliminating the voting age, and allowing young people to sign contracts and obtain employment.

Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling (originally a Hopeful Path for Education)

The classic work on teaching children at home, updated for today’s new laws, new lifestyles, and a new generation of homeschooling parents. Today more than one and a half million children are being taught at home by their own parents. In this expanded edition of the book that helped launch the whole movement, Pat Farenga has distilled John Holt’s timeless understanding of the ways children come to understand the world and added up-to-the-moment practical advice.

Rather than proposing that parents turn their homes into miniature schools, Holt and Farenga demonstrate how ordinary parents can help children grow as social, active learners. Chapters on living with children, “serious play,” children and work,and learning difficulties will be of interest to all parents, whether homeschooling or not, as well as to teachers. This new edition is supplemented with legal advice as well as a guide to cooperating with schools and facing the common objections to homeschooling. Teach Your Own not only has all the vital information necessary to be the definitive reference for parents teaching their own children, it also conveys John Holt’s wise and passionate belief in every child’s ability to learn from the world that has made his wonderful books into enduring classics.

Escape from Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children

The case for treating children like real people, not pets and slaves, and for making available to them all the adult rights and responsibilities as outlined in the US Bill of Rights. This book will challenge not only your ideas about what constitutes “childhood” in today’s society, but your ideas about society as a whole.

For most of John Holt’s career as an author he wrote primarily about schooling. Escape from Childhood still holds ties to the messages of his other books, but it focuses on Holt’s thoughts and beliefs about the rights of children in society in general rather than schooling specifically. This book is remarkable for its advocacy for youth rights and against adultism and ephebiphobia, as evidenced in Holt’s opening statement,

“I propose…that the rights, privileges, duties of adult citizens be made available to any young person, of whatever age, who wants to make use of them.”

How Children Learn

Rather than give an overarching theory of how children learn, John Holt, the father of the modern home school movement, uses anecdotal observations that question assumptions about how children acquire knowledge and learning skills.

Holt rejects the idea that children are “monsters of evil” who must be beaten into submission or computers whom “we can program into geniuses.” Neither are they the passive receptacles of knowledge that can only learn in a schoolroom. Instead, he calls upon parents and educators to “trust children.”

The book focuses on Holt’s interactions with young children, and his observations of children learning. From these experiences he attempts to make sense of how and why children do the things they do. The central thesis of his work is that children learn most effectively by their own motivation and on their own terms. He opposes teaching in general, believing that children find it just as patronizing as would an adult, and that parents should only provide information as it is requested.

Children learn best when they are not pressured to learn in a way that is of no interest to them. For example, the first thing all educators should do is evaluate which type of multiple intelligence students’ possess and teach and assess them individually on the basis of this.

How Children Fail

Since its first publication in 1964, this book has helped two generations of parents and teachers understand what actually happens in the classroom. Holt’s astute observation of children, his clear simple style, and his lifelong conviction that we can do better by our children make How Children Fail an enduring classic.

In How Children Fail John Holt states his belief that children love to learn, but hate to be taught. His experiences in the classroom as a teacher and researcher brought him to the conclusion that all children are intelligent. They become unintelligent because they are accustomed by teachers and schools to strive only for teacher approval and for the “right” answers, and to forget all else. In this system, children see no value in thinking and discovery, but see it only in playing the game of school.

Children believe that they must please the teacher, the adults, at all costs. They learn how to manipulate teachers to gain clues about what the teacher really wants. Through the teacher’s body language, facial expressions and other clues, they learn what might be the right answer. They mumble, straddle the answer, get the teacher to answer their own question, and take wild guesses while waiting to see what happens- all in order to increase the chances for a right answer.

When children are very young, they have natural curiosities about the world and explore them, trying diligently to figure out what is real. As they become “producers”, rather than “thinkers”, they fall away from exploration and start fishing for the right answers with little thought. They believe they must always be right, so they quickly forget mistakes and how these mistakes were made. They believe that the only good response from the teacher is “yes”, and that a “no” is defeat.

They fear wrong answers and shy away from challenges because they may not have the right answer. This fear, which rules them in the school setting, does their thinking and learning a great disservice. A teacher’s job is to help them overcome their fears of failure and explore the problem for real learning. So often, teachers are doing the opposite — building children’s fears up to monumental proportions. Children need to see that failure is honorable, and that it helps them construct meaning. It should not be seen as humiliating, but as a step to real learning. Being afraid of mistakes, they never try to understand their own mistakes and cannot and will not try to understand when their thinking is faulty. Adding to children’s fear in school is corporal punishment and humiliation, both of which can scare children into right/wrong thinking and away from their natural exploratory thinking.

Holt maintains that when teachers praise students, they rob them of the joy of discovering truth for themselves. They should be aiding them by guiding them to explore and learn as their interests move them. In mathematics, children learn algorithms, but when faced with problems with Cuisenaire rods, they cannot apply their learning to real situations. Their learning is superficial in that they can sometimes spit out the algorithm when faced with a problem on paper, but have no understanding of how or why the algorithm works and no deep understanding about numbers.

Holt believes that end of year achievement tests do not show real learning. Teachers (Holt included) generally cram for these tests in the weeks preceding. Meanwhile, the material learned is forgotten shortly after the tests because it was not motivated by interest, nor does it have practical use.

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