Video: Six Purposes for America’s Government Schools (Harvard, 1917)

Gary North – August 13, 2020

John Taylor Gatto was teacher of the year in New York City in 1989, 1990, and 1991. He was teacher of the year in New York State in 1991.

Then he quit.

On July 25, 1991, The Wall Street Journal published his article, “I Quit, I Think.” It began with this declaration:

I’ve taught public school for 26 years but I just can’t do it anymore. For years I asked the local school board and superintendent to let me teach a curriculum that doesn’t hurt kids, but they had other fish to fry. So I’m going to quit, I think.

I’ve come slowly to understand what it is I really teach: A curriculum of confusion, class position, arbitrary justice, vulgarity, rudeness, disrespect for privacy, indifference to quality, and utter dependency. I teach how to fit into a world I don’t want to live in.

I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t train children to wait to be told what to do; I can’t train people to drop what they are doing when a bell sounds; I can’t persuade children to feel some justice in their class placement when there isn’t any, and I can’t persuade children to believe teachers have valuable secrets they can acquire by becoming our disciples. That isn’t true.

Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents.

It has been re-posted here.

Gatto became a proponent of homeschooling. He wrote several books, including this masterpiece: The Underground History of American Education. It is expensive to buy, but you can read a free version here:

He died in 2018.

In 2007, he submitted to a 5-hour interview. You can view it here. [Note: skip the long introduction by the man who conducted the interview.]

The outfit that posted the full interview posted this extract. It really is crucial. It discusses two key figures in the World War I era who helped shape public school policy. Gatto found out about them. When he began following the trails back to them, he was deliberately blocked by the institutions that gave both men their platforms. This was at least 70 years after the fact.

Here, he discusses his search. He also presents the six goals of public education, as summarized in 1917 by the man who formulated them, and who used his influence to get them implemented nationally.

This was the Progressive movement’s view of public education in 1917. It was Darwinist. It was based on the eugenics movement, which was launched by Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin. His book was Hereditary Genius (1869). The movement favored scientifically planned selection of genetically superior people. It also favored sterilization of inferior members of the species. This view was the basis of the U.S. Supreme Court’s authorization of forced sterilization, Bell v. Buck (1927), which has never been overturned. The eugenics movement went into disfavor during World War II because the Nazis were the consummate eugenics advocates. But it remained on the books of state governments until the 1950’s in the form of state-mandated sterilization of suspected low-IQ mothers.

He referred to his suppressed essay, “Against School.” Its subtitle: “How public education cripples our kids, and why.” It is available here. Here are its final paragraphs.

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.

For more from Gatto, read my recent article on the most important threat to our liberties. It’s not political.

Originally published at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *