One would think that someone who has been teaching in the public school system for 30 years would have minimal complaints about their job. John Taylor Gatto, however, has a nearly endless list of criticisms about America’s public school system in Dumbing Us Down. In this book, which is a collection of his own essays and speeches, he brings up many radical, uncommon ways to fix problems that he believes are catastrophic to students, teachers, and entire communities. Gatto is successful in opening the reader’s eyes and bringing up thought-provoking ideas, all with the aim of showing that the public education system is teaching students to function like machines. On the other hand, some of his ideas aren’t strongly backed up with quality evidence, as there are few legitimate statistics.
One example of an idea that Gatto strongly persuades readers to consider is that school is hindering the amount of family time students have. In his own words, he claims that “[Schools] separate parents and children from vital interaction with each other and from true curiosity about each other’s lives” (65). He blames the long days of school as the main reason for this, as it limits the time students spend with their families. This concept is relatable to all readers of Dumbing us Down, as it is in everyone’s interest to spend more quality time with their family, making this a successful point.
However, some of Gatto’s ideas leave the reader scratching their head. When talking about the benefits of being homeschooled, and that “…you don’t need officially certified teachers in officially certified schools to get a good education” (48), he doesn’t bring up a single statistic, whether it be about a difference in scores, social abilities, or overall satisfaction. Rather, he demolishes the idea of networks and how they “do great harm by appearing enough like real communities to create expectations that they can manage human social and psychological needs” (51). Also, he fails to mention the massive number of job losses that would occur if legitimate school systems didn’t exist, whether it be teachers, janitors, or parents who now have to educate their children full-time. A major lack of direct evidence to support some of his ideas makes this collection a less reliable source, as there are often not facts, but weakly supported opinions.
Waiting for Superman is an excellent example of the benefits of facts. The film appears to be reliable, as strong facts are thrown left and right, leaving the viewer with more confidence in agreeing with the points made. Yes, the film is like Dumbing Us Down, created based on an opinion, but the abundance of facts in Waiting for Superman provides exactly what Gatto is missing: evidence-based arguments.
Overall, Dumbing Us Down brings up many ideas on the issues of public schools, including many that are unconventional and interesting. Gatto pulls the reader in successfully with a book that immediately starts with bashing the public school system, showing what he is expected to do as a teacher and how it is harming students. Nevertheless, the arguments in his book have an aggressive tone, and his immense use of strident, unconventional opinions hang in the air, unsupported by facts or statistics, making his argument weaker. ~ Student: Phoebe B.