John T. Gatto: “Schools Hurt Children”

“David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first—the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school I label Rachel “learning disabled” and slow David down a bit, too. For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop. He won’t outgrow that dependency. I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, “special education” fodder. She’ll be locked in her place forever…

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.”

From John Taylor Gatto’s, “I Quit, I Think”, Wall Street Journal (Gatto is a former New York “Teacher of the Year” who quit his job after he decided “he was no longer willing to hurt children”.

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71 Responses to “John T. Gatto: “Schools Hurt Children””

  1. janine says:

    It’s fine if you don’t want to send your kids to school, but why must you try to convince everyone you are right? There are plenty of godly men and women who have been through the public school.

    BTW, since you haven’t been in public school for decades, you don’t know that kids in special education are re-evaluated every year.

    • Word Warrior says:

      I’m so glad you asked! In fact, I considered doing a whole post just to explain the answer.

      America is made up of a group of people. We are not autonomous. As a whole, we are all deeply affected by the choices of others. (Is this not obvious?) We are all affected by the epidemic of broken families, drug abuse, violence, down to the very character of each citizen. The generation being educated right now is our “FUTURE”. They will hold offices, become employers and employees, become mothers and fathers that raise the next generation. That affects me deeply. It affects you. Societies operate by domino effect, positively or negatively. We become who we are as a nation because of the mass influences and choices we make.

      So if I (and JT Gatto and thousands of others) perceive that “public school is harming children”, why on earth, if we are loving and caring people AT ALL, would we not want to try to make this known?

      What you’re asking is as silly as asking, “It’s OK if you don’t want your children doing drugs, but why do you have to convince everyone else you are right about the harm of drugs?”

      BECAUSE I CARE! And because if you’re children are doing drugs, it affects me. And if your children are “being harmed” by the system, it affects me. And if they’re receiving indoctrination of the state, it affects me. And if they are being robbed of their capacity to think and create and self-learn, it affects me. And if they’re being corralled into unnatural herds and forced into a mold and medicated if they don’t fit the mold, it affects me. If they’re being taught that a “family” is anything you want it to be and that they can have sex as long as they are protected, it affects me. I’m tired of typing, though I could write for pages.

      This quote about children being labeled, by the way, is only a teeny tiny problem Gatto has discovered with the system. Minuscule. I challenge you to read all his stuff. There is so much wrong with the system that it makes my head spin. Why are YOU so unwilling to consider that possibility? Because it’s just easier to follow the status quo? Because, perhaps YOU are brainwashed, just like they planned? Isn’t it just proof of a system that produces non-thinking people unwilling to challenge it, who will continue to defend the system?

      And finally, my “not having been in public schools for decades” doesn’t eliminate my ability to know what’s going on there. It’s much worse now than then, I assure you. Do you not have access to the news? Can you not research things beyond your physical limitations? Talk to others who are there?

      Besides that, these are Gatto’s observations, not mine. And he has been there and still is abreast of what goes on. It’s not a time-sensitive issue (Oh, they’re better at labeling now), nor is it about how a particular situation might be handled in a particular school. It’s a whole, broken system that doesn’t work on many, many levels.

      Study it. Don’t just make biased remarks.

      Are you willing?

  2. Kristen says:

    I completely agree with you on this, Kelly. Homeschooling my children has been challenging to say the least. They are bright and capable, but to say they are strong willed is putting it mildly. “Kicking against the goads” happens every waking moment with my oldest son. With all that said, I am completely committed to home educating my children. I cannot bring myself to put them in public school. It is not that the teachers are bad people, so many of them are wonderful people, committed to these children, but the whole system is corrupt, from the dominance and influence of the teachers unions, to the issues brought up in the article you sited and it just goes on and on.

    • Kim M says:

      Having a strong willed child can be a good thing if your son has a mother who re-directs that strong will toward good things. Strong willed children make great leaders in the future.

      I’ve heard testimonies from other mothers who have attested to this. Keep your chin up and keep up the good work! 🙂

      • Kelly L says:

        That is really true, my daughter was so strong willed I was in tears a lot when she was younger. Now she is a leader. If someone is doing something wrong, she will advise them to quit. If they don’t she’ll remove herself. The strong will is one God gave them. We have to teach them to use it for His glory, not their own desires.
        It is harder than hard, but so rewarding!

  3. Jill Farris says:

    John Taylor Gatto is worth reading. He does not claim to be a believing Christian but he was a deeply caring, committed teacher who won Teacher of the Year and his thoughts about why the public school “system” does not work are really important to read.He is well informed.

    I would also encourage every parent with a child in public school to follow the money trail. Children represent dollars to the government…period. Special Ed. services have expanded because schools qualify for more federal funding for each struggling learner.Each reevaluation has a dollar amount tied to it. They are not in a hurry to help a child succeed and get back to functioning well…they lose funds that way.

    BTW-I come from a long line of educators. An elementary school in Washington state is named after my grandfather who was Superintendent of Public Schools (in a very rural school district). During the depression my grandfather was given a raise but he refused to accept it and, instead, split it among the teachers. Compare that to the salaries of those in high positions in schools today.

    The Superintendent of Idaho public schools (for the entire state) makes more than the governor of Idaho….why, then, do we often see parents having to have bake sales so they can buy globes and other supplies for the classroom? Because the bureaucracy is not about educating and helping children.It is about keeping funding. I, for one, look forward to our government bankrupting itself and the schools no longer having the false props of federal dollars. How many teachers and parents would sacrifice personally to keep their children these schools. It will be interesting to see.

    BTW-in Northern Idaho there were so many private and homeschooled students that the enrollment in the local schools dropped and an elementary school was going to close. My husband attended the school board meeting and they had a moment of silence for the teachers who were going to lose their jobs (!?). What other business would act like a job loss is a death? But wait! They found a solution! They bussed children from another school across town, rearranged the neighborhoods/districts….made sure that families were inconvenienced and managed to get enough students to the school to keep it open!! Unbelievable.

    Jill Farris

    • Word Warrior says:

      Thank you for that, Jill. So many good points. I have scads of excerpts from Gatto that I plan to post over the next few weeks.

      I was pretty sure Gatto didn’t claim to be a Christian, or at least doesn’t speak about it. Though I hope he is a Christian, the fact that he comes at this subject apart from a religious motivation is a benefit to those who could easily write off his observations if he didn’t. He has no motive for his campaign except what he has observed as truth.

      It’s easy for me and other homeschoolers to be ignored as it might appear we are only trying to defend our choices, which isn’t the case at all (see response to Janine).

      So I love that Gatto is so well-researched, has earned the credibility to speak, and nails the topic with such clarity and passion. One is hard-pressed to ignore him.

    • Cathy says:

      For Jill–For the record, it is disheartening when ANYONE loses a job. Furthermore, other businesses ARE saddened when they have to lay people off. We are in the throes of a crippled economy, and job losses are horrid. My question to you is why should you NOT feel sad when someone loses their job? It is their livelihood, and, as believers, we are the ones who should have compassion, and feel sympathy–regardless of your leanings. I think that your statement sounded pretty heartless.

      And, yeah, my husband (and daughter) are teachers. They both love Jesus, are strong believers, and both teach in a public school. They could work non stop until the end of the school year, and still not be done w/their work load. Neither one makes six figures–not even close.

      I will read Gatto’s material when I have a chance, and I would love to see “Waiting for Superman,” as well (it is on my list of movies to see). I’m sure that my husband would agree w/much of what Gatto has observed. We are not entrenched drones who can’t think for themselves, so we would agree w/much of the criticism of public schools.

      However, what any of you failed to mention is the parental involvement. My husband teaches in an area of Norcal that is affluent, where the parents EXPECT their kids to go to a top-notch four-year school. Therefore, if a student isn’t cutting my husband class (AP and Honors Chemistry), then they’ll start looking for tutors. They’ll TRY To get a diagnosis of ADD so they can get a 504. A 504 will allow the student to have extra time to take the test, and have different kinds of advantages to somehow perform at the same level as the other students. It’s all about gamemanship, and whatever it takes to achieve their goals, so, by all means, do it. It’s disgraceful. And then there are parents who want to mainstream their disabled students. However, there is nothing “mainstream” about it. Those students who have disabilities have aides, and access to other benefits to which the average student doesn’t. And, Jill, your statement about special ed isn’t really true. The drain in the local school IS the special ed. Even if, as you say, there are extra federal dollars attached to it, a large percentage of hte budget goes to special ed. The ratio in special ed classes is often two aides/teacher to one student.

      I’m rambling, but I DO start to get a little tired of people teeing off on teachers and public schools. And, I will restate, I homeschooled all ten of my kids to a particular level, my kids have also attended public schools, w/the exception of my last two who I homeschooled, and then they went on to attend Christian schools. SO, I have some knowledge of the system, the different ways to school kids, and this hasn’t been written thoughtlessly or carelessly.

      Finally, Kelly L, my daughter was a softball pitcher, and my daughters all played high level softball. My husband coached ASA ball, and one of my daughters went to school on a full-ride softball scholarship. The idea that only homeschooled kids “care about the why” of pitching is another example, from my perspective, of painting w/a broad brush. It is not only a sloppy paint job, but it is untrue, as well.


      • Cathy says:

        I try to write on a Word doc first, because writing in these boxes doesn’t allow me to see what I’m writing as clearly. The comment I left is convoluted…I cut and pasted the wrong version. Ah, technology–actually, I can’t blame the technology. It was MY fault. How’s that for owning my mistake?

  4. Kelly L says:

    Great article. To give an example of how different HSers can be from the public schooled, I’ll tell you one instance.
    We feel led for our daughter to be a pitcher in softball. We get her lessons twice a month. Her pitching coach is a Christian with no children. She has over 30 students at any given time. She remarked to me how she has to teach home schooled children differently (she has about 4). She said she actually has to go through the whys and the physics of her instruction with HSers because they want to know why and how to make it work the best. She told me public schooled kids just do it, and don’t care about the why.

    Now, I know this isn’t a scientific study. This woman has taught children for over 20 years, though, and her experience is valid. And as a woman without any children, seems unbiased.
    One of the goals of public education is to make ‘better citizens’ (in their original charter). What better citizen could the government want than those taught to blindly follow anyone in leadership/authority?

    • Laura says:

      In theory I don’t have anything against homeschoolers, but in practice I hate the “we are better than everyone else” mindset. Makes me want to find a way to really stick it to them.

      • Lori says:

        Laura, you’re reading something that is not there. While Kelly does refer to homeschoolers, she’s talking about the form of education, giving an illustration of Gatto’s comment “I (the teacher) adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop. He won’t outgrow that dependency.” She’s not talking about how hs’ed children are better, but that public schooled children are taught to not question.

        I don’t know why you’re so sensative, but Kelly (WW) and Kelly L are both very gracious ladies who care about children, and are certainly not interested in any alleged “mommy wars” (as you put it further down).

        The point is about the education and which is better for the child, allowing for difference (diversity!) in personality and learning style – not which mommy is better or which child is better, as you have chosen to take it.

      • Word Warrior says:

        In addition to Lori’s reply, you obviously haven’t even read enough of the post/comments to realize Gatto is not primarily a supporter of homeschooling, though he does think it’s an excellent model. His solution to the educational dilemma is “free market”, giving parents control over their children’s education. Letting parents figure out for each child what he thinks is best, eradicating compulsory, government schooling which forces us to swallow whatever the elites (who do not have the best interest of children in mind) decide is best for our children.

  5. J says:

    Actually, I am in the public schools every day. For that reason, I feel I am well-equipped to have opinions about them. While they are not perfect, I repeat that thousands of godly men and women have gone through the public schools and grown up to be good, productive Christian members of society.

    And since you haven’t been in a public school in decades, I do question the validity of your opinion. What are you basing your opinion on, things you read on the internet? A handful of publically educated kids that you see sporadically? I am in and out of the public schools everyday, and if I saw anything hurting my kids, I would have pulled them out long ago.

    My kids love school, and would be terribly sad and lonely to leave it. And I know many adults who were homeschooled, who said those years were among the loneliest of their lives.

    Public schools are not Christian. They are often overcrowded. They sometimes teach to the test. But they do a lot of good, too. I’d never make a vast generalization like “all schools hurt all kids”, especially if I hadn’t set foot in a PS for decades.

    • Lori H says:

      Kelly is, if I recall, in her mid-to-late thirties. She was also an educator prior to becoming a SAHM. It has not been “decades” since she was in the public schools.

    • Word Warrior says:

      J/Janine (could you please use one name so readers aren’t confused?)

      First, you keep pressing me about “my opinion”, even in this post where we’re discussing Gatto’s opinion. I often think you’re more about disagreeing with me in general, than actually listening to the discussion and considering all the various facts being presented.

      So, my answer is not necessarily to you, as I don’t think you’re interested in hearing. But, to others reading who may have the same questions/concerns, your comment offers a good springboard for answers.

      The biggest problem I see with your reasoning is that you are peering through a small, personal and fragmented view of the problems Gatto is addressing. You’re looking at “a school” and its caring teachers, and the “fun” students have and all that is a very common part of public school experience. Gatto is not (nor am I) addressing a surface danger, though there are enough of those to make any cognizant parent wary. He was one of those “good teachers”. Most teachers I know are wonderful, caring people. This isn’t about the local level appearance of school.

      As I said earlier, you really have to read all his different conclusions to even discuss this rationally. He addresses the very problem with the way a school system approaches teaching; the problem with cloistered children, being fed information, being conditioned to start and stop to a bell, being robbed of integral family/community relationships and experiences, the lack of exploration and creativity in a classroom, the very intent ADMITTED by public school founders to “create a social servant”, the crushing of the spirit and will that happens when children must be hoarded in masses, graded by a system that can’t handle the enormous differences in learning types, learning speeds and bents.

      Some children would be entrepreneurs and their education should look quite different from the engineer. Mass schooling doesn’t allow it. The children drugged because they can’t still are not disabled; they’re bored and they need something completely different than a classroom all day. (I was once that teacher guilty of trying to squeeze the mechanic into Shakespeare, bringing his 200 pound frame to angry tears.) The talents, gifts and abilities being crushed by the system is tragic.

      Now perhaps you don’t see anything wrong with training children to be subservient to the state, to be docile, to rely on the “experts” for information and to be robbed of their ability to really think, critically analyze and discern truth for themselves. If so, that’s where our problem in this discussion lies. I don’t believe that.

      Gatto, by the way, offers an “answer”. Of course he advocates homeschooling, but broader than that, he suggests a “free market” as it was in the beginning of our nation’s history. The very structure of the ps system is wrong. It’s unconstitutional. It’s a monopoly with high financial stakes.

      “Schooling is not education”, Gatto poignantly notes, after decades of being party to the system. If we cared about our children, our society–really and truly, we would be willing to look at the evidence and see the problems. That is, if our state schooling hadn’t taught us not to.

      • Tricia says:

        Kelly, I read “Underground History of American Education” (which is available to read online free of charge), and you did an amazing job of summarizing Gatto’s criticisms. Bravo!

  6. Taryn says:

    I recommend John Taylor Gatto’s book-The Underground History of American Education(2001). If it doesn’t open someone’s eyes I don’t know what will. An interesting book at is Little Lame Walter. This post reminded me of this powerful small book(64 pages-$1.95). I like their (homeschool) catalog.

  7. Danielle says:

    Wow! What a great quote! It is an encouragement to me… I have had severl “early” readers and one “very late reader.” It is nice to know he will eventually catch up… with no harm done.

    On the other side… I always love reading the comments you get:0) I equally love your replies!

    My children will effect those around them. So will yours. It is scary to think others don’t believe that!

  8. Lori H says:

    As a gifted child who started reading at age 3, my experience in the public schools was largely positive. Because I have a very high IQ, I was classified as gifted early on. A gifted label IS a special education label, and schools get money accordingly. Nobody ever tried to slow me down in school. My ability to learn and achieve was pretty limitless, even aside from my pull-out gifted classes. I understand this may not be typical of what students experience these days, but it’s one woman’s experience.

    I don’t have children yet. When I do, I’m not sure what schooling choices I will make. What I do know is that I will make careful choices, weighing pros and cons, but I will not become involved in the “mommy wars.” I will also not perceive a person’s defense of his/her own choices about schooling or parenting as a judgment on my own choices. Each parent is different; each child is different; each teacher is different; each school is different.

    I think Kelly and John Taylor Gatto have some really important points. Thank you, Kelly, for presenting your viewpoint so clearly. We may not always agree (here I’m neutral), but at least you are upfront and honest about the position you’re advocating.

    • Word Warrior says:


      Thank you…I appreciate your understanding that it’s not just about “defending my choice”…I truly am concerned that parents really know and understand what is happening (and has been happening) and my passion comes from that concern. Nothing else. It’s good to know you are considering the issue carefully.

    • Kristen says:

      I was also labeled “gifted” when I was younger, but my experience killed my love of learning and made me lazy. What they did with “gifted” kids in the 70’s was give us enrichment classes after school. When I finished the math book half way through my 6th grade year my teacher sent me to the kindergarten room as a TA during math time. Seriously. I used to teach in a Christian school and basically you teach to the middle group of learners. The slow learners don’t get the attention they need and the gifted learners don’t get challenged and it gets worse as the kids get older. I taught jr. high and by the time the kids get there, the slower ones have shut down due to repeated failures and there’s no way the gifted ones are going to do “extra” work. It’s a tough situation.

    • Christie P says:

      I was also labeled gifted and pulled out of classes one day a week to be bussed to the next town where I had 4-5 hours of class with other ‘gifted’ students. Then I was returned to my school where I always had to walk in during the middle of math. Everyone knew where I’d been and why I had been singled out – it was humiliating and definately hindered social development. I was “different”, and in the public school system, that is not a label you desire!

      Outside of this experience, I have found that my public school education really robbed me of the opportunity to be self-disciplined and self-determining. I literally stayed in college and finished my Master’s degree simply to delay the onset of real life where I’d have to make real choices. I was so conditioned to have my choices mapped out for me (AP History, Adv Math, if it was advanced, I was signed up for it) that I was scared to death of going out into the wide world, picking a company, making a career where there were no pre-determined roads for me to travel.

      Now as a SAHM mom, I find a severe lack of self-discipline on my part especially in the use of time. I trully believe it’s from years of conditioning to the bell. Yes, part is just the struggle of the flesh, but how much is public school conditioning? I believe a large part.

    • Laura says:

      I really hate these “mommy wars” too.

  9. Becky S says:

    JT Gatto is quite an interesting fellow and well worth reading. We had the experience of sending our bright, inquisitive daughter off to school in kindergarten and finding ourselves with a sullen, disspirited child by the end of 1rst grade. Now she is in her 3rd year at home and what a difference! So important not to crush the spirit of young children. Along the same lines, my husband and I watched “Waiting for Superman” last weekend. Quite eye-opening regarding the public school system, I would recommend it.

  10. Kim M says:

    I was just cleaning out my closet this week. I found the papers that the pediatrician had sent home with us several years ago. They were an evaluation to determine whether or not my easily distracted, day-dreaming boy needed an ADD diagnosis. Thankfully-shortly after the visit to the doctor- I read a life changing article by another mother. She said that when a lot of these children are medicated, we parents lose the opportunity to help them with their character training.
    I am so glad that shortly after what we thought were “trials” and our almost tragic decision to do the ADD testing, were led to home educate. My son has had character training instead of Ritalin. He has had encouragement and help instead of labels. He is a different boy today.

    Thank you, Kelly, for your courage. You may have an impact on some other mother just like that lady had an impact on us. Her article caused us to think before we made a bad decision.

  11. Word Warrior says:

    Another, possibly one of the best, explanation by Mr. Gatto…

    “The daily misery around us is, I think, in large measure caused by the fact that – as Paul Goodman put it thirty years ago – we force children to grow up absurd. Any reform in schooling has to deal with its absurdities.

    It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety, indeed it cuts you off from your own part and future, scaling you to a continuous present much the same way television does.

    It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct buildings, or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of buildings when you want to read poetry.

    It is absurd and anti-life to move from cell to cell at the sound of a gong for every day of your natural youth in an institution that allows you no privacy and even follows you into the sanctuary of your home demanding that you do its “homework”.”

    This is just a small excerpt…Every word elicits an “Amen”.

    • Cathy says:

      I don’t think that it’s necessarily “anti-life and absurd” to be exposed to other genres just because you don’t plan to make it your life’s work. To be exposed to math when you want to write isn’t absurd, is it? Math gives us powers of logic and reasoning. Furthermore, when a kid is young, they may think that they want to build buildings, and, later on, change their minds. BTW,I read up on Gatto last night, and agree w/him on some issues (my husband also knows the disadvantages of teaching to the masses), but not on this one.

      • Word Warrior says:


        Is he really saying it’s absurd to “be exposed”? Read more carefully and it changes things. He says it’s absurd to “sit in confinement and be compelled”. Day in, day out. That is, the basic premise is that humans gravitate to what they need to learn as they need to learn it. It might be that the architect/construction worker loves attending the symphony. But if he is “compelled” to listen to poetry, in this desk, in this hour, until the bell rings, maybe the very confinement and forcing makes him detest art. (There is a part of the human spirit that simply rebels against coercion.)

        I think the underlying problem Gatto seeks to expose is the lack of natural, free learning–the ability and freedom of a human to gravitate, on his own, toward what intrigues him (which would make his retention far higher). It’s this notion of others telling a person exactly what they think he needs to know, when and how. It’s very unnatural if you really think about it.

        • Cathy says:

          And, unbelievers would say the same thing about church, i.e., forcing a child to go to church may make them hate church. And?

          Let’s use an example of a child who can’t read. As a homeschooling mom, how old do you allow a child to be before you take steps to ensure that your child can read? One of my daughters didn’t read until she was 7, and I was cool w/that. But, when you start allowing children to “gravitate to what they need to learn as they need to learn it,” where does a lazy, slothful fit in to that scenario? Is it open-ended? Yeah, the IDEA of a free-wheeling school day sounds just fine, but your kids’ employers are going to expect certain abilities of them, and if they don’t have them, they’re not going to allow that free spirit to continue working at that establishment.

          I really find it ironic that you’re actually attributing rebellion to coercion. Rebellion is a matter of the heart, and it is a choice. Don’t you coerce your kids to brush their teeth, to sit during devotions, etc., because it’s good for them? Since when is coercion a bad word? I don’t think that kids should be allowed to dictate what they want to learn, and leave the rest behind. I think that they need exposure to a myriad of subjects, issues, etc. It makes for a well-rounded student, and human being.

          You act as though being “compelled” to, say, listen to poetry at a certain time of day, is ruinous. Do you have a schedule? How ’bout if your kids don’t feel “compelled” to eat dinner w/the fam @ the time of day that you dictate?

          I think that you’re guilty of a double standard. You may defend your position, but, from my perspective, it has gaping holes. Gatto may or may not be a believer, but, as believers, we are held to a higher standard. Obedience trumps free-wheeling. And, I daresay, I would lay odds that there are times during the day when your kids are “confined” and “compelled.” If they’re not, they may “feel” that way. I “feel” confined myself. If my kids are to eat dinner, it is probably me that is going to be “compelled” to make it. My husband is terrific, and he would make it, but the love of Christ “compels” me. I am not being pedantic, BTW.

          I know that you and I are completely at odds in terms of our viewpoints on public schooling. I’m of the persuasion that God leads us all differently…even to public schools.

          • Word Warrior says:


            “I know that you and I are completely at odds in terms of our viewpoints on public schooling.”

            You’re right. And also, if you take what Gatto is saying (and I’m trying to reiterate) to extremes, you enter a different debate altogether.

            The issue is not “free-wheeling” without discipline. You know I’m the first to emphasize the need for discipline. I do happen to think life affords plenty of opportunities for discipline (you mentioned some of them) and still leaves room for more freedom in learning.

            My children have to do math. But what they can learn in the context of real life, is superior learning to me. That’s the stuff that will stick. We have a school schedule, they have to read and do their work, but we’re completely free to tailor it to their specific interests and drives. Instead of a worksheet or fragmented text book about a particular part of Creation, it makes more sense to them to study the real thing, in the context of real life, perhaps from a “professional” like a neighbor or grandfather. Children are not cookie cutters so their education needn’t be…I think that’s a big part of Gatto’s point. He simply believes it’s quite unnatural to remove children from LIFE, and from those who have lived it, for the better part of the day and then tell them about it in an unrelated sequence.

            Requiring disciplined behavior from my children doesn’t eliminate the freedoms of learning and exploration and family/community influences that “schooling” makes difficult.

            Gatto doesn’t advocate a “lazy” educational setting where the parents just turn their children out and forget about them. He’s talking about creating opportunities, modeling the love of learning, surrounding them with educational influences and people living out those things, and practicing discipline in all of these.

            I think his biggest concern is that every child is SO different, and yet the “box” that the system demands barely fits any of them. Most boys in general aren’t even created to sit in a desk all day and do written work. It’s crippling. There are a few who will thrive, many who will be drugged and/or shamed into complying, but most have interests and drives that would take them far beyond where the classroom does. This is just one of many examples. It doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of being disciplined or committed to a task; it’s just not the way most of them were created to learn.

            So no, I don’t feel I’m holding a double standard. I would challenge you to try to understand what I’m saying, even though I’m probably doing a very poor job 😛

            One thing I think we’ve lost is the understanding of how powerful God made a child’s curiosity. They are not naturally lazy if they haven’t had that curiosity squelched and they are provided with proper stimulus and motivation.

            I sense your tension, and I don’t mean to arouse that at all. I’m just bringing up a very real observation made by many credible educators (Gatto isn’t the only one) about some problems with the way we coral children and then treat them all as “the average student” when there are actually very few of those.

            I can’t remember if I linked to this article, but I thought it explained some of Gatto’s concerns quite well…it’s worth the read.

            • Tricia says:

              Just to add a teeny bit to Kelly’s good answers here, Gatto saying that to compel a child to do those things “for every day of your natural youth in an institution” is absurd and unnatural. I fully agree.

              “Every day of your natural youth in an institution” is a far cry from simply being exposed to those things.

        • Michelle says:

          I am a product of 13 years of public schooling and still have another decade or so until I finish my degrees, and I mostly disagree with Gatto. Yes, the public school system is fraught with problems, but I think compulsory education with some form of defined standards is crucial to the future of this nation. Public schooling is a way of ensuring that the most kids come out with the best education. Is it right for everyone? Not necessarily, but I don’t think it’s quite the traumatizing, spirit-crushing institution that it’s made out to be.

          I do, however, agree that education should be more tailored to students’ interests. A certain amount of well-roundedness is without a doubt a good and necessary thing, but at a certain point a budding scientist will not only have no use for poetry, he or she may begin to resent it. Kids should be introduced to all subjects and given a chance to really explore them from an early age so they can begin to get a sense of what they like and want to pursue and what they hate and will never use. This is something that I think should be guided up to a certain age, but once kids hit mid-high school age (16 or so) they’ve had an introduction to most subjects and are at an age where they know what they like and can defend why they like it. My literature classes in high school did nothing for me except waste my time and fulfill graduation requirements. I’d be in a much better place today if I’d been allowed to devote more time to the science and language classes that I actually enjoyed and planned to pursue at a higher level.

          So, no, I don’t think public schools are hurting kids, and I don’t think homeschooling is always (or even most of the time) the best alternative. Public schools need to be reexamined so they better reflect the times – we’re in an era where you don’t get much benefit from being a jack-of-all-trades, and where most people don’t want to be jacks-of-all-trades. Allowing students to specialize earlier (if they so choose) and be more involved in decisions regarding their education would, I think, vastly improve the system.

          • Word Warrior says:


            I’m not surprised at all that you feel this way, given that you are an atheist. Most of us come at this thing with a completely different world-view though, so the discussion would be virtually futile.

          • Michelle says:

            I don’t think it’s entirely a matter of religion (or a futile discussion!). I know a lot of your (and many Christians’) opposition to public schooling is based on its mostly secular nature, and that’s understandable. Naturally, my perspective on it will be different and quite a bit more positive because I don’t take that into account. But Gatto doesn’t seem to oppose public school on religious grounds – even without factoring in belief, he sees quite a bit wrong with public schools. It’s definitely worth considering what, from a secular perspective, would be required to make public schools what they should be: institutions where students enjoy learning and come out happy and well-prepared for whatever future they choose for themselves.

            Like I said, I’ve spent a good 3/4 of my life in public schools, and I’d be the first to say they’re far from perfect (though I think our reasons why are where you and I disagree). I was lucky – I did very well in school and had supportive parents – but I know many, many students weren’t so lucky. Many didn’t do well from the start, for whatever reason, and ended up essentially lost in the system, taking the easiest classes just to get the diploma, and sometimes taking an extra year or two to graduate because they failed so many times. I’m sure we can both agree that that’s heartbreaking – I truly believe that (barring severe mental handicaps) any kid can excel academically, and enjoy it, under the right conditions. The fact that public schools often aren’t those right conditions just means to me that they’re doing something wrong – not that they’re hopeless.

            From my experience, one of the most fundamental changes in public schools needs to be in requirements for teachers. They should have a passion for their subject, and should want to impart that passion to their students in a way that they can see the beauty of the subject. How many students hate math, history, whatever, just because they had a bad teacher? I think education needs to become more individualized, too – something that I’ll admit is a benefit of homeschooling. If a few kids don’t understand long division, that doesn’t mean the entire class needs to learn alternative methods of division; it means those kids need more work, and the other kids need to move along so they don’t start to see education as boring. Kids should be able to explore their interests in a structured environment that ensures well-roundedness without repeatedly forcing them to learn what they know they’ll never like.

            I realize this is a pretty long post, and I don’t mean to force you into a discussion you think is futile. I know you see the problems of public schooling and think “homeschooling” and I see the problems of public schooling and think “how can we fix them?” – but I wanted to offer a perspective that doesn’t see public schools as lost causes. 🙂

            Best of luck in the last days of your pregnancy!

  12. Carmen says:

    I went to P.S. for most of my education. I went to a Christian School in High School. The only difference was that there was a Bible class and Chapel Service. The students were the same as the P.S. students, but more secretive. The teachers taught what we were learning in the P.S. environment, except for the Bible class. So now my husband and I homeschool our 4 kids. We can teach them about the Bible and all other subjects without distractions from the other kids in the classroom (there is always 1 or 2 behavior problems that cause the entire class to have to stop learning on a daily basis in school). Also, we don’t have to worry about their teachers’ worldview. What a difference it makes when you can train up your children in a dedicated God-centered environment.

  13. Tia says:

    I was educated in the Public School system, taught (recently) in the public schools both “regular” ed and “special” ed, and have a husband teaching in the public school system now. And we both make the decision that homeschooling is the absolute best choice for our family and children.

  14. Karyn says:

    Wow, yes, yes!! I agree wholeheartedly. I wish I was as brave as you in speaking the truth 🙂 THANK YOU. It does affect us all. Thank you Lord for Homeschooling!

  15. Meridath says:

    I appreciate this posting, it came at the perfect time for me and my family (as things often do when God is leading). We have recently become entirely disenchanted with the p.s. our children attend and had decided that next year we would either homeschool or send them to a private Christian school. It has been a hard decision between homeschooling and private school, but God has been working on both our hearts and this article has truly helped me see what His plan is for our family.

    I am somewhat saddened, though, to hear some of the negative comments, especially those that seem to pit “homeschoolers” against “traditional schoolers”. It is similar to the rift between “stay-at-home moms” and “working moms”. Most of the ideas one group has about the other are biased and wrong and at some point we need to all see that we are just wives and mothers trying to raise our children in the ways of the Lord. Don’t get me wrong, I think differing opinions are good and lead to open and honest discussion, but when it turns into labeling and stereotyping, it ceases to be productive.

    Thanks for all you do with your site, Kelly!

    • Kristen says:

      It is difficult to have any kind of decent debate regarding homeschooling vs. regular school, or even SAHM vs. working moms because we are all so emotionally involved in our choices, this is our identity and it becomes a personal attack instead of a debate. It gets ugly because we as moms have thought long and hard about our choices and are convinced we are doing the right thing. So, when someone comes along and questions that, of course we get angry and defensive.

  16. Rhonda says:

    I am a former public school teacher and what I saw go on and how so many children get the short end grieved me so much. I am now home homeschooling my teenage boys in a peaceful setting. I think many just choose to avoid the problems and see them as the norm. I appreciate that you bring facts to light.

    • Word Warrior says:

      “I think many just choose to avoid the problems” You are right. Amazing isn’t it? Even when those who have earned full credibility to speak on the real issues they have observed…like you have done.

  17. Margaret says:

    Dearie me, Kelly, you had to go and get all controversial. :p

    I think people get upset because pointing out the flaws in an overall system or belief feels to them like you are kicking them, personally, in the head. Even if you’re not. Discussing flaws and failures of a *system* has nothing to do with the character, intent, and heart-state of those who use or are within that system. I am sure as can be that there are many loving, well-meaning people who are teachers, and many loving, well-meaning people who went through institutional schooling and sent their children to the same.

    My children are not learning at home because I hate those people or despise their children, because that’s not true. My children are learning at home because I believe that is the best place for them, and will provide them with the best education and spiritual and emotional health. Because I do believe the system is flawed.

    Now, my children are learning with a public cyber school, which has plenty of detractors. We picked that primarily at my husband’s wishes, but as we went along I saw that again this was something that was helpful to our family and our individual children. There are flaws in this system too, though fewer than I had assumed. And I am not mad that we’re not radical unschoolers because I see flaws there as well. We’re doing our best, as a unique family, by our unique children in the situation God has given to us.

    • Word Warrior says:


      “Discussing flaws and failures of a *system* has nothing to do with the character, intent, and heart-state of those who use or are within that system.”

      I so wish I could drive this point home. I have VERY close friends AND family who are school teachers/principals, etc. And I love them all dearly. This discussion has absolutely nothing to do with attacks against the personnel of the system (although plenty HAVE adopted the flawed ideology) . It’s about the flaws of the system itself.

  18. Daisy says:

    A Christian CHILD should not be in a public school system. I don’t like the fact how some will say, we’ll they will be USED there. Really?
    There are 5000 animals, and your daughter/son is the one LIGHT. Who’s going to get devour now? We need common sense. Don’t try to get all religious by saying that they will be USED in their (public) school. Sure it can happen, but the chances are rare. That’s why God’s given us common sense and discernment.

    Government have their own AGENDA and Christians (Godly) people will always oppose their agenda, putting your child in a public school is saying just as much as. “I condone, approve, accept and abide the AGENDA.”

    Mine is in a private Christian school, with only a few staff at the school and very family oriented.

  19. Margaret says:

    Addressing the system itself, and children…

    My three children are similar in many ways, but in learning style there are differences. My middle son would quickly be pegged as ADD and problematic (He got kicked out of VBS the first time he went, lol). While we are working on learning to sit quietly, speak clearly, not interrupt, etc. I wouldn’t want to inflict him on a teacher who already has a dozen other kids to deal with. And frankly, he’s a little wierd and would happily take to the “class clown” label. None of that would help him learn what he needs to learn.

    My older son is the opposite and would be bored in a classroom setting at this stage. He has been taking live online classes, and we have seen first hand how the class has to be paced according to the slowest runner. And aso how learning is displaced for week on end by PSSA (state testing) practice and preparation. Which I could write a book of rants about. We are definitely rethinking the online classes for next year, and might go back to our beloved Calvert books at our own pace.

  20. Emily Blaisdell says:

    Thank you, Kelly, for bringing darkness into light.
    Personally, I’m deeply saddened and confused as to why there is even a debate (between followers of Christ) on Biblical education vs. public school education!? I can’t even fathom desiring anything less for my children….

  21. Amber says:

    When parents want to send their kid into the p.s., it probably means that they don’t want to take on the responsibility to teach their children themselves. It wouldn’t matter how much evidence is provided. Bottom line; people love their freetime, don’t want to be bothered, or they value a career more. After all, public education is free…..All of this probably sounds a little harsh and cynical but, if we are honest, these reasons are valid. I know there are exceptions such as single parents, but that situation is not as prevalent as the attitude of indifference.
    I don’t say any of this to seem “holier” than anyone else(only Christ is Holy and Righteous), but it is just what I have observed in conversations with others.

  22. Margaret says:

    Amber, that is very unfair of you. You think anyone who doesn’t home school is lazy? Maybe they just disagree with you as to the best method of educating their own children.

    You are very out of line, I’m sorry.

    • Amber says:

      I am sorry if I hurt your feelings. I am just speaking from actual comments from others. I have heard everything from ” I could never do that because I would go crazy” to “I am a better mom when I am not with my kids”. Those comments and attitudes make my heart break for the kids. Most kids I come in contact with would give anything for their parents to take a more active role in their lives.

      Kelly, sorry for getting off the topic! You are right about there being good teachers and administrators out there, but the system itself is highly flawed!

  23. Kendal says:

    For me, this is a no brainer. It’s not even up for debate in my mind. Christian parents are obligated to give their children a Christian education. It’s that simple. I can not even believe that government run school would even be an ok option for Christian families. It’s truly baffling.

  24. Ginger says:

    I am so very thankful for the freedom to homeschool. I just can’t thank the Lord enough for it!

  25. I would also like to recommend another book that dovetails Gatto’s Undergound History book. It is also online and free and called The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America by Ronald Reagan’s former head of Policy in the Department of Education, Charlotte Iserbyt. It’s an enormous book that goes decade by decade quoting social planners and the architects of the pubic education system. I guarantee it will curl your hair, some of their quotes are outright demonic. For example:

    “In our dreams we have limitless resources and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive rural folk.”
    –Fred Gates, General Education Board, Occassional Paper No. 1 -circa 1905

    “I could make a pigeon a high achiever by reinforcing it on a proper schedule.” – BF Skinner B.F. Skinner: The Man and His Ideas by Richard Evans, 1968 pg 10

    “We want him [the student] to come under the control of his environment rather than on verbal directions given by members of his family.” – BF Skinner from B.F. Skinner: The Man and His Ideas by Richard Evans, 1968 pg 64

    BF Skinner is one of those few who put into practice the educational philosophies that the public school system are based upon. This is just a small glimpse at what low regard these people hold the American people. You will learn from Mrs. Iserbyt’s book that an well-organized network was formed about 100 years ago for the express purpose of commandeering the minds of Americans through the schools. It is truly baffling why anyone would hand their children over to these people after seeing the foundation of this system. Historically, control of children is the basis of the totalitarian state.

  26. Word Warrior says:

    Everyone needs to watch this video clip from Charlotte Iserbyt, former Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education…some SHOCKING stuff, right from someone who was in the thick of the system.

  27. Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn explain very well in their book Teaching the Trivium, how school weaken family ties and how homeschooling make them stronger.

    Families are much more important than we think. If we have the chance to do it -health and finances- we should keep our children close to us for most hours of the day.

  28. Katy says:

    To the person that said children with special needs are reevaluated every year, you live in a nice district obviously. God bless them for caring that much. But that’s not the law. So they are doing more than, but know that’s rare. I have TWO children with special needs and it’s been a real eye opener to the lack of concern, knowledge, and care. We homeschool. I first thought it would be impossible due to the diagnoses. All of our doctors and therapists said to put our oldest in PPCD (this was when our youngest was still in the DX land of not sure yet), they would serve him well. Yeah, after we fought like cats and dogs to get things IDEA protected for our child, he walked away with 19 minutes/week of group speech therapy… 19 minute for a child that couldn’t speak… GROUP speech therapy.

    Now, in the new state I am in, I have had the school distrist tell me, point blank, “yeah XXX state is really good, they have far better services than we do” when I tell them about the above scenario. Really, that’s good? And my son had a diagnosis that is supposed to set the wheels in motion for all the top servics, helps, and aids. Yeah, guess that’s a picture of “top” for the government run schools. Sad.

    Add in the pathetic academics and it was a lose-win situation. They won, our son lost. This is why we brought him home. I knew I could do far better than that. And I did. I am. He’s thriving in at-home school. It’s the best thing for him. The more we learn about public education, the happier we are that we don’t have our children in it.

    I know, and am related to, many public school teachers. Goodness, nearly my entire Sunday school class is comprised of teachers, and most of their husbands are in the school system as well (teachers, coaches, principals, etc). I love them very much as my fellow sisters in Christ. There are teachers in the system that love kids and want what’s best. But they are in a broken, very broken, system. How can you ever walk properly if you have a broken leg and no doctor wants to fix it? This is what good teachers are trying to do, work in a very broken system. This system doesn’t need more money, that’s proven time and time again. They are broken and I don’t think they can ever be repaired. No one with the authority to repair wants to. Oh, they say they do. They give good lip service. They have great talking points. But they are talking heads saying what the public wants to hear. They aren’t really concerned with fixing it. Add in a broken union system and it’s a disaster that leads to the failure of our children, all children. Success in our schools as a student doesn’t mean that they have not had the system fail them greatly.

    We always wanted to homeschool. We talked about it even before we got married. After what my husband sees each and every week in the public schools he works in, after what we first hand experienced with our older son, we are very happy to have a higher quality option for our children.

    And lest you think we lived in a horrible district, our district won award after award and recognition after recognition.

  29. Rachel says:

    I definitely agree that the public school system needs lots of change. I have so many family members and friends that work in the public schools and they all pretty much agree that things need to change. The district that most of them work at is out of money and doesn’t have enough to pay for books and supplies, yet the top admin has 6 assistants with each getting $100k/yr. And they wonder why they can’t afford to keep teachers…

    Another issue I have with public schools is the “mainstreaming” of the classes. I was always one of the over-achievers and luckily my parents supported me all the way through my schooling. I was put into a lot of advanced classes for a challenge, but unfortunately those same advanced classes are disappearing in favor of “mainstream” classes. If it weren’t for those more advanced classes (and the opportunity to go to community college while still in high school), I probably would have been bored out of my mind and gone down a really bad road.

    I am definitely going to home school my kids because I want to challenge them. I want them to stay interested in learning and not get turned off by it so early in life. And I would love to do more hands-on activities that are also disappearing in public schools.

  30. […] Because, according to John Taylor Gatto, “schools hurt children“. […]

  31. ann says:

    i read very attentively comments form homeschooling parents and i am almost convinced that it is the way to go in properly educating my children; however, due to the fact that both me and my husband have to work to make ends meet i am left with no options but to send kids to the local public school. therefore, I am heartbroken that now my kids will be doomed for life; they will be mediocre and non creative, bored and mistreated by their teachers and the system–it pretty much looks like they will be in the real world where shit happens. Any thoughts?

    • Ann,

      My first advice would be to really see if you both must work outside the home to make ends meet. Most Americans feels this way because they are spending all the money they’re making and they feel like they can not live on less. But when forced to, you might be surprised at how much less you can live on.

      Secondly, most learning can be done on a students own and/or when you return from work.

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