Home homeschooling Schooling Has Nothing to Do With Real Education–John Taylor Gatto Part 1

Schooling Has Nothing to Do With Real Education–John Taylor Gatto Part 1

by Kelly Crawford

Few books have ever affected me the way John Taylor Gatto’s  A Different Kind of Teacher has. Gatto, a 30-year veteran school teacher in a NY city school, quit because, he said, “I am no longer willing to hurt children.

The book is so powerful, so profound, and so radically challenges everything most people believe about public education (going far beyond the academic failures of the classroom), that I can hardly live life right now.

I know, crazy. I’m consumed with thoughts of translating the ideas of a real, living education into an actual real, living education for my children, battling my own ingrained ideas about what it should look like.

And I’m consumed with grief for the millions of children who are being hurt by school, whose parents don’t even see it or remotely suspect it.

It’s hard to write about, even, because there is so much, so many things wrong, it feels like an ocean. And because to speak against government education is to invite the rottenest tomatoes, even though, ironically, my sole purpose is a deep care for people.

We homeschool for many different reasons; this goes so far beyond the “how-to-school” debates. Gatto reaches me because I share his heart: a passion, not for praising homeschooling for homeschooling’s sake, but for exposing the many ugly faces of compulsory education for the children’s sake. What I mean is, contrary to the accusations, it’s not a “trying to convince you to homeschool because I do”; it’s a sincere belief that children, people, families and society suffers because of the deliberate structure of the system.

I have seriously considered purchasing a case of his book to give to people,  because the message is so critical. And it’s so much more than a debate about academics. His message changes people. It changes families and communities. It would radically change our nation if only we would hear it.

For the record, while he highly recommends homeschooling, he is simply for massive change for all schooling (and I would suggest even the way we approach homeschooling). I mention that for those who may discount his wisdom based on the fact that many can’t or won’t homeschool. He is for children.

I urge you to go directly to Amazon (or your library) after you read this and purchase the book.

I must resist the urge to literally quote the entire book, but chew on a few excerpts:

“I don’t think we’ll get rid of schools any time soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we’re going to change what’s rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the institution “schools” very well, but it does not “educate”; that’s inherent in the design of the thing. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent. It’s just impossible for education and schooling to be the same thing.” JTG


“Among things you need to know about the kids I see is that they don’t like themselves very much. I’m not surprised. In schoolrooms people are useless. Schoolrooms are like an engine without a drive shaft. They burn up a lot of energy running but the power is useless. Useless people seldom like themselves very much. The children we capture sense the time they are losing is precious time, time that will never return. They dislike themselves for not knowing how to save their lives and turn time to real use.”


“A study of any list of great men and women will quickly disclose the host of personal methods they used to arrive at personal enlightenment–an education. No one I know ever gave much credit to the daily doses of abstraction prescribed by strangers and imposed on his life by compulsion. But plenty of autobiographies credit a mother, a father, a grandmother, a grandfather, an uncle, an aunt, or a chance accident happened upon while adventuring. maybe there’s a lesson there.”


“There isn’t a public school in this country set up to allow the discovery of real knowledge–not even the best ones…”


“The secret of American schooling is not that it doesn’t teach the way children learn. It’s that it isn’t supposed to teach about being a strong, self-directed man or woman…School was engineered to serve a modified command economy and an increasingly layered social order. It wasn’t made for the benefit of kids and families, as those people would define their own needs.”


“Schools train individuals to respond as a mass. Boys and girls are drilled in being bored, frightened, envious, emotionally needy, generally incomplete. A successful mass production economy requires such a clientele.”

I’m not certain yet that I can agree with everything Gatto has ever said or every detail of his solution, but I heartily agree with most of his brilliant, insightful and deeply discerning philosophies of the way people learn and become strong, self-motivated members of society.

More articles by Gatto:

Books by Gatto


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Emily @ My Love for Words September 24, 2013 - 6:36 pm

I love John Taylor Gatto! I’ve read Weapons and Dumbing Us Down, and portions of Underground History (the entire book is available for free on Gatto’s site!). I would love to meet him or hear him speak. That would be amazing. I hadn’t heard of this book yet. Thanks for sharing.

Tammy September 24, 2013 - 8:19 pm

Same here! Love his writings. I haven’t yet finished The Underground History of American Education ye but only because you can’t help but stop every few paragraphs to digest and examine the things you can now see. It quite literally yanks away the blindfold and shows you how the pieces of the puzzle fit.

shannon September 24, 2013 - 10:21 pm

Ooh, adding this to my hold list at the library! I wholeheartedly agree with you about your passion for homeschooling. One of the greatest reasons I am opposed to the current public education system is due to the control of the government. A school in California is paying to have a company supervise what students post on social media. I just heard on the radio today of a school that has said it can enforce what students do on their private property. The public school system is ushering in the Nanny State and Socialism. This is not a conspiracy- it is truth, all one has to do is look around at the fruits of public school system to see that. Just as many homeschoolers are passionate about homeschooling, many of the elite within the public education system are passionate about public education because they want to bring in Socialism and Communism.

Natalie September 24, 2013 - 10:53 pm

I met a homeschooling mom today who was very excited about starting Epic Charter school (government funded “homeschool”). She is happy that they are paying her a sum of money per child to use on school supplies (no Bible curriculum allowed). She has to test her children and they get a “teacher” assigned to them. I don’t know all the details, but I did not like the sound of it. She is encouraging other new homeschoolers to look into it, so I feel some responsibility to warn them. What do you all think? Would you say something to show your concern, or would you just stay quiet?

heidi September 25, 2013 - 6:20 am

Please Sister, SPEAK UP! The souls of her children and others’ children are on the line. She is obviously willing to share this danger, don’t be afraid to share the truth. Pray and be bold.

Natalie September 25, 2013 - 11:20 am

Thank you Heidi, I just wanted to be sure it is as serious as it seemed since I have not looked into it for myself. I cannot imagine that being paid by the government to educate my children could possibly be a good thing. I encourage new homeschoolers to have a clear educational philosophy, a vision for their family, before committing to any curriculum, co-op, program, etc.
What do we desire, by the grace of God, our children to look like 20 years from now? Not a product of a conveyor belt school system, instead we desire adults who love God, esteem the Word of God, love to learn , and desire to glorify God above all else….in whatever he may call them to do!

Natalie September 25, 2013 - 11:23 am

P.S. I also realize I need to be more educated about this program so I can speak the truth in love.

Joy September 25, 2013 - 3:13 pm

I currently go through a charter homeschool program, where I teach as I want, but must check in every 20 school days and show work samples. Also, students must test. So far, it has worked out well for us because I can check out books and get school supplies for free, and can participate in field trips. But, I may have to withdraw if the net is tightened. I would have been happy to go it independantly, but my husband likes the acountability and to periodically see how they compare to public schooled kids. I do not teach to the test at all.

I love homeschooling my children. The first hour, I just read out loud to them. Bible first, then a chapter from a good novel or poetry or a biography or history or a science topic. One hour of reading outloud, then math, spelling, phonics for the littler ones who haven’t taken off on reading yet. Then play and lunch. After lunch they write for at least half an hour. Then they are done unless I have some great science experiment planned or art project.

Once they are done with school, often they grab books to read on their own, and even sometimes write stories, poems, and essays on their own in the evenings.

It takes WAY less time than public school, and they learn so much. They have tested high on the standardized testing. They have time to play and run outside and be children. They also have time to practice thier music. So, they are learning real skills and reading real literature and yet still have time for more than just school, homework, babysitter, and bed. I feel sorry for my nephews who really seem to have no childhood.

Joy September 25, 2013 - 3:21 pm

Note: I only have to show 4 work samples per child – usually one of writing, one of math, and two additional. I can’t turn in scripture based samples (for instance, scripture copywork for handwriting samples), but the charter program has no problems with participants using christian based materials. The program I am in is quite minimal in its requirements. But I totally get the concern. If my husband did not prefer it, I would be completly free from the governmental ties.

Susan September 27, 2013 - 3:54 pm

We are part of a homeschool charter, and though I cannot speak for every charter obviously, I can speak about ours. There is also a varying degree of requirements depending on the charter, but for ours, we receive $850 per semester per child (starting in K and the amount increases as the child gets older) to purchase curriculum, school supplies, or to use for extracurricular activities.

We meet with an educational facilitator (EF) every 20 days, and she comes to our home to just ask if we completed the work we said we did and to collect 6 samples of work, which can range from a photo of planets my son made out of clay to a photocopy of a workbook page. We are not bound to do even what we said we would do at the beginning of the month, and can just show her what we ended up doing instead.

We can teach our children with whatever Christian curriculum we want; we just don’t use that as our work samples. The school is fine with that. The school is very hands-off and we don’t feel like they’re infringing on our desire to give our children a Christian worldview at all. We like the fact that we can borrow materials or curriculum or instruments or instructional DVDs from the school library for free, and our children have an opportunity to do things like swim or music lessons or purchase and learn from Rosetta Stone, which would be extremely expensive especially in Los Angeles for multiple children. That would not be reason enough to keep them in the school if we felt like “the government” was trying to control or indoctrinate either our children or us as parents, but we haven’t felt that thus far. Our children haven’t felt “entitled” to those funds either, but rather are extremely grateful they’re able to do extra fun things.

Rebecca September 25, 2013 - 8:44 am

J.T.G. is the reason we’re homeschooling. 10 years ago I was feeling vaguely uncomfortable with sending my baby off to someone else’s care for 6 hours a day. I checked the ONLY book on “alternative” education out of my library – Dumbing Us Down. I read it, handed it to my resistant husband who read it and (no exaggeration) our entire lives changed. We are homeschooling, homesteading, questioning just about everything (except Jesus)…and it all started with that book.

Word Warrior September 25, 2013 - 1:01 pm

Wow. That is encouraging to me on a number of levels, but particularly as a writer. Often and especially when people don’t like something I say, the rebuttal goes something like, “Why don’t you just live your life and stop telling other people how to live theirs”, which is to say, “I don’t like what you’re saying.”

Writers have the peculiar privilege of probing into the thoughts of people and challenging them to see the world differently. Gatto has a remarkable gift in that and I am reminded that I need to keep writing about topics I feel matter.

6 arrows September 25, 2013 - 1:47 pm

Please do, Kelly.

This statement blessed me so much: “I’m consumed with thoughts of translating the ideas of a real, living education into an actual real, living education for my children, battling my own ingrained ideas about what it should look like.”

That’s exactly where I’m at. I spend much time thinking things like “Is this the best way to approach my children’s education? How do we get from where we are to where I hope to be?” Lots of thinking and re-thinking, tweaking, and sometimes just completely scrapping one thing for another.

I’ve asked myself at times, “Why, after 15 years of homeschooling, is there this almost constant (it sometimes seems) readjusting? How come I haven’t found what works by this time and just stuck with it?”

But then I think of my children, each unique, and how they are changing and growing, and I see how a living education needs to take into account who they are now, and I think, why would I just want to set a course and stick to it, no matter what, as in, this grade you do this, the next grade you should be covering that, etc.?

Traditional schooling, including homeschooling that doesn’t do much more than bring the school mindset home, especially when God is taken out of the education, fails children, our future adults, on so many levels.

So I’ll gladly go back to tweaking, revamping, etc., to tailor an appropriate education for my children, something a traditional school system could never do in a far-reaching or meaningful way for them or anyone else’s children.

Thank you for all these links, Kelly. I enjoy reading Gatto — it renews my enthusiasm for what I’m doing — and I love reading your thoughts on the subject, too. 🙂

P.S. I’m another one who has placed a hold on the book you referenced above. I see I’m second on the reserve list, and I wonder if one of your other readers is the one ahead of me. 😉

Word Warrior September 25, 2013 - 3:04 pm

6 arrows, you’re so right. Because a real education is living, naturally it’s changing, growing, stretching. We’ve just been in a box for so long it’s difficult for us to burst out of it 😉 I’m constantly second guessing myself but reading authors like Gatto reinforces my resolve too.

6 arrows September 26, 2013 - 7:55 pm

Here’s to bursting out of that box! How about tomorrow we just decide we’re going to break free, Kelly? (A little friendly peer pressure, ya know.) 😉 We could call it Freedom Friday 😀

Erica September 25, 2013 - 8:07 pm

6 Arrows –
You pointed out the KEY ingredient of home schooling…INDIVIDUALS! Each child being different and learning different. Heck, one year they might learn best hands on and then the next only from a book. I think it’s key that as home educating parents we are constantly revamping what/how/etc because what works one day might not the next!

I am learning that my girls will just shoot off and teach themselves if they want to learn something. Whereas my 6 yr old son with his ADHD/ODD is different EVERY day. I can get him to do it one way one day and the next he absolutely refuses to do it the same way. I use to get frustrated about it. I handed it over to God.

Now I realize from spending time with God that since we are all works in progress…we all DO need a different approach from time to time. What works one minute just won’t get the same results the next. I use to get so frustrated having to keep reviewing what I was doing and what I could do differently. I got so frustrated one day I said (out loud mind you) – “I GIVE UP! It never matters what I do or how I do it…it NEVER works!” Yes Mommy was having a meltdown. Not proud of it but it happens, right? It took my precious 7 yr old daughter reminding me of God not giving up on His people. She even began to tell me Bible stories! Bless her heart. In the end I did spend some time with God. I discovered that most people DO spend a lot of time revamping certain aspects of their lives on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis…why should it be any different with our children’s education?

Such a freeing thought actually. Something that I am thankful that I CAN do. I shudder thinking about the kids stuck in a public school being trained like little robots. Some kids never do “get it” and they don’t have anyone to revamp things for them. It’s just the same old thing year after year for them.

On a positive note – I have a neighbor with 5 kids that are all public schooled. We spent a good hours talking the other day and she couldn’t stop commenting on how well behaved my kids were and how intelligent. She finally asked where they went to school. I told her they stay right here for their education. She is now doing her own research (with lots & lots of stuff I gave her) and looking into pulling her kids out of school. YEAH! I’ll be sending her this info now!


6 arrows September 26, 2013 - 7:52 pm


“…we are all works in progress…”

AMEN to that! 🙂

Rebecca September 26, 2013 - 6:20 am

Please keep writing! We are the only homeschoolers in our church and the only serious questioners of certain aspects of the culture. You are a necessary encourager for me. But apart from that, you are a reminder that kindness and boldness CAN exist in the same conversation. So often I keep my mouth shut out of a misguided attempt to keep the peace, avoid offense, lead by example, etc., etc.
I fear I’m actually avoiding the opportunity to let my light shine.

Word Warrior September 26, 2013 - 7:40 am


This…”you are a reminder that kindness and boldness CAN exist in the same conversation” was so encouraging to me. Thank you.

Ginger September 25, 2013 - 8:46 am

Emailing interlibrary loan today. . .

Joy September 25, 2013 - 3:07 pm

Why does he wear two watches? Does it explain that in the book? Honestly curious about the photo with two watches.

I have not read any books, but have read a couple of articles by him.

Word Warrior September 26, 2013 - 7:41 am


Ha, I didn’t even notice! I have searched for the reason and can’t find it anywhere. 😉

Kathy @ Teaching Good Things September 25, 2013 - 3:26 pm

Checking in to read the comments, not many compared to the usual. Wonder why? Guess you can’t argue with TRUTH! 😉

Word Warrior September 25, 2013 - 3:55 pm

My guess is lots of links people are following. That is usually the case. But yes, it’s hard to argue with Gatto.

Lucy September 26, 2013 - 10:03 am

Don’t forget this link for updates on Mr. Gatto’s health http://www.thejohntaylorgattomedicalfund.com/

Re the two watches…maybe he is into horology? There are pictures of Schwarzkopf wearing two watches, so it’s at least high profile company 🙂

Jane September 26, 2013 - 1:17 pm

I like this guy, but he should be honest. When you “quit” after 30 years in the school system, you really are retiring. With a pension.

Cathy September 26, 2013 - 9:20 pm

This morning, I actually wrote (to Kelly by email) something similar to what Jane wrote, but saved it as a draft, and didn’t send it. I also talked with my husband, who is a teacher, about it. I think that to be intellectually honest, it should be pointed out that he retired with an undoubtedly fat pension (we are talking about NY, after all), and, if he didn’t retire, but quit of his own volition, what in the world took him 30 years to figure out that he was “no longer willing to hurt children?”

Like Jane, I don’t doubt the validity of his arguments, but it seems disingenuous to say that he taught in the same cesspool he now eschews, and now has a second career writing books about his bad experiences in the school system.

Again, to be clear, I have no problem with his arguments, and no problem with him making an extra buck, but thirty years, and he suddenly has an ephiany?! I think that if it was something other than this subject, we’d be looking at it more subjectively, and with a jaundiced eye. As I do with most issues in our upside-down culture, I follow the money.

Word Warrior September 26, 2013 - 9:30 pm


From what I know of his experience in the system, he spent many years, in his own words, “sabotaging the system.” He was suspended (I don’t know the number of times) and reprimanded, I’m sure frequently, for his fight against the injuries done there. He did what I think most teachers do, tried to help the children, for which he was there in the first place. He just finally gave up hope that any real change would occur. Also, now as he has had a stroke, his medical fund site speaks of “a small, dwindling pension” and apparently he’s having difficulty covering his medical needs.

Word Warrior September 26, 2013 - 9:43 pm

I should have added, “Jane” doesn’t like Gatto. Or me. Or any of us. She is a troll (by many other names) that just happened to slip by the spam folder this time 😉

Cathy September 26, 2013 - 11:28 pm

Fair enough. You and I have certainly had our disagreements, but I think that’s healthy, And, despite not seeing everything through the same prism, we are blood relatives–because of the Cross–so I like you, even if Jane doesn’t. A smiley face should go here…and if I knew how, that’s where it would go.

Good night from the Bay Area of NorCal.

Word Warrior September 27, 2013 - 8:22 am


Brus September 26, 2013 - 6:42 pm

That’s not even close to being his best book.

For the short read, try Dumbing Us Down or Weapons of Mass Instruction.

For the long read, Underground History of American Education is worth the time and effort.

Word Warrior September 26, 2013 - 7:28 pm

I’ve read Dumbing Us Down and part of Underground History. Gatto has never written anything less than spectacular.

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resume templates October 11, 2013 - 12:20 am

Right here is the right site for anyone who really wants to find out about this topic. You know a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really would want to…HaHa). You certainly put a fresh spin on a topic that has been discussed for decades. Great stuff, just wonderful!

Jennifer October 16, 2013 - 5:59 pm

How in the devil does he imagine schools train kids to be emotionally needy and bored? And gee, if he just hurts kids by teaching them in school and they’re just IMPOSSIBLE places to train kids, why’d he become such a celebrated teacher? How is it kids have still come out, especially in the past, knowing how to read and write? That alone shows they LEARNED something, big. So yeah, sometimes it is because of bad teachers or a particularly faulty system that they come out with defected education. I agree with you about a great many things regarding schooling, including that I can’t possibly agree with every finding of his!

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[…] familiar with what I call a relaxed approach to homeschooling, there are lots of posts like “Schooling Has Nothing to Do With Real Education, parts 1, 2 & 3” as well as my ebook Think Outside the Classroom, to familiarize yourself with this […]

Vibrant Homeschooling » My Homeschool Isn’t Working Part 2: The Beauty of Simple Everyday Learning November 4, 2014 - 10:28 am

[…] love what John Taylor Gatto says in this post says, “We do not have to worry so much about educating children; a normal child would have to be […]

Relaxed Homeschooling: How to Fuel Your Children’s Passions | Encouragement for Christian Moms with Homeschooling, Saving Money and Raising Children January 4, 2015 - 2:56 pm

[…] years of research, we decided long ago that the traditional classroom approach wasn’t the best method of educating children. (Read John Taylor Gatto for more information.) We take a more relaxed […]

Joe M May 11, 2016 - 3:36 pm

Personally. I hate the words “home school”. That makes it sound as if its an alternative to what is considered normal. As if public school is normal. It only seems so because of the many decades of brainwashing by social norms.

Let me tell you. I understand from both sides. I was 43 years old. And I was raised in public school. Although I was a borderline prodigy that had high potential to excel academically, I instinctively knew something was wrong with the school environment. My mother sheltered me. So I learned early how to cook, clean, garden, and care about family. We didn’t go to church. But we acknowledged GOD. I learned there were moral implications in all things. And all I really found in academic excellence was self praise. And that really stands for nothing.

Years later, and three college degrees later, I have been down the long traditional road. My wife of 20 years and I have three children at home whom do not attend school. We teach them here. But academics are the slower paced “back burner” type of so called education. We emphasize daily life. All the things we miss out on as public school property, those are the things we focus on. Living and learning. Its hard for a child not to learn how to read and write. They desire. Therefore, a little goes a long way. It does not matter if they do well at those things later than the other children. It will come. Meanwhile, they learn real skills and how to truly be smart and wise.

We moved off grid to avoid the distraction of traditional life. Now living in the deep countryside, we can raise our kids right. After a few years it has paid off. I am both amazed and disturbed. What I see with typical children today is sad. In my opinion, any parent who sends their kids to public school or daycares are unfit. That may sound harsh and one sided. But I concur that I was once that type of person. But its high time to forget the candy coating and get on with the cold hard truth. Its high time that parents are shaken and stirred. Kids need a caring parent at home to “mother” them.

I am a husband and a father. But I am also a mother. Because my wife has the career job. Someone must stay at home with mentor the children. As well as do all the labor to help us survive. I am very good at being many things, thanks to my mom and dad. But my wife was never really taught how. So she works a job. But she would love to be at home full time. And we are working on making that happen.

But the important thing is for children to have a role model or two in their life that is literally in their life 24/7. Two parents working a job, worrying about money and social status is not fit for raising a family. And that sums up a big percentage of people in today’s world. It’s a scam. Its a conspiracy. Call it what you will. But the rich evil forces in this world are threatened by the empowerment of family. Because wisdom makes it hard for greed to thrive. Bring your children home where they belong. Don’t let other adults and the heathens of corruption rub off on them. Children will be close to whatever they grow around. And an institution of careless employees is NOT the way to go.

Joe M May 11, 2016 - 3:42 pm

I apologize for poor grammar. But my poor eyes do not allow me to check my structure or spelling.

Bonnie August 3, 2016 - 7:50 pm

I love that you have highlighted his work – it has been life changing for us too! So much so, that my husband and I have just purchased an old church to repurpose into a educational ‘studio’ drop in centre for home educators! Living the dream…. outside of the box!

Check it out if you’re interested: http://www.wonderworksstudio.ca 🙂

Kelly Crawford August 3, 2016 - 10:07 pm

Oh. my. goodness. Bonnie! That is the coolest thing every. I’m perusing your incredible website. I would love to hear more from you about how it’s going!


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