Critical Reading of John Gatto's Article "Against School"

Paper Type:  Critical thinking
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1540 Words
Date:  2022-09-07


John Taylor Gatto wrote an article in the September issue of Harper's Magazine titled "Against School." In the article, Gatto is criticizing the education system of the united states, by giving all the disadvantages compulsory school systems have on children. Gatto has been a teacher in Manhattan and has over 30 years of experience making him an expert on the subjects of schools. His experience in the public schooling system enables him to critically analyze and give an honest opinion of the factors that affect the schooling system in the US. This paper is a critical analysis of this article, and I will attempt to identify the relevant elements of his article such as themes, assumptions, use of evidence, the point of views and other issues that are evident after reading the article.

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Main Point of the Article

The main point of this article is the problem of public schooling. The author believes that public education in the US produces citizens who are only useful as employees and consumers, and this system limits critical thinking and creativity in students. The author has an issue with the schooling system and not education. To defend his view, the author gives examples of notable historical figures who did not go to school but were educated and achieved great success, this can be found on the sixth paragraph; "throughout most of American history, kids generally didn't go to high school, yet the unschooled rose to be admirals, like Farragut; inventors, like Edison; captains of industry, like Carnegie and Rockefeller; writers, like Melville and Twain and Conrad; and even scholars like Margaret Mead" (Gatto, p.1). The author proves his point because being educated does not depend on attending compulsory secondary schools, because motivated individuals find other ways of teaching themselves without attending school.


The paper is written from a historical perspective. The author traces the history of the public school system and its focus on compulsory schooling from its beginning between the years of 1905 and 1915. According to the author, there were three main reasons which led to the adoption of this system, and they are; "To make good people," "to make good citizens" and "to make each person his or her personal best" (Gotta, p.2). The author does not agree with these reasons, and to him, the public schooling system was developed to support other hidden agendas that favor the government and not the children involved. The author quotes freely from other people such as H.L Mencken to support his view. For example, he quotes Mencken because he shares his view that the only aim of public schooling is to reduce "as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality (Gotta, p.2).

On the history of the US schooling system, Gatto traces its origin to the Prussian State. By determining the history of our current education system, the author can show the concerns he has of using such a system. The author goes as far back as to the Washington administration, Washington had a Prussian aide working for him. The Prussian effect is so significant that the government almost published a German edition of the federal laws. To the author this is not bad, the sad aspect of this is the adoption of the Prussian education system. To the author this system is designed to "produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens all to render the populace manageable" (Gato, p.2).

The paper is written from a teacher's point of view. The author has been a teacher for three decades, and this has given him the experience and such he is an expert in the schooling system. The perspective of a teacher comes in when we look at some of the words he uses to describe his teaching experience, "my own experience had revealed to me what many other teachers must learn along the way, too, yet keep to themselves for fear of reprisal: if we wanted to we could easily and inexpensively jettison the old, stupid structures and help kids take an education rather than merely receive a schooling" (Gotta, p.1).

Strengths and Weaknesses

One advantage of this article is the use of historical evidence. The author uses quotes from other authors who have dealt with the subject of compulsory public schooling. Prominent historical figures such as; James Bryant Conant, Alexander Inglis, and Houghton Mifflin to mention the author quotes a few. The works by these authors are essential in proving the point of the article; the US schooling system is not suitable for children.

Another strength of the article is the way the author gives views that contradict his opinion, and then goes ahead and challenges them. For example, the author read the essay titled The Child the Parent and the State by James Bryant Conant. In this essay, Bryant is praising the revolution that occurred between 1905 and 1930 which led to the current public schooling system, by giving us views that oppose his opinion the author can counter these opinions by providing evidence to support his own.

The lack of many historical sources that contradict his opinion to me is a weakness of the article. Gatto provides adequate historical evidence to support his view, but he does not give the reader with enough evidence on those who do not support his opinion. The author mainly has focused his attention on the negative aspects of the education system, and he does not attempt to give benefits to the schooling system. Another weakness, in my opinion, is the way he offers a brief solution to the problem he has stated. The author only provides this as a solution to the problem "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" (Gatto, p 4).

Assumptions Raised

The primary assumption this article rests on is that modern schooling, its central premise is that modern education has "done a pretty good job of turning our children into addicts, but it has done a spectacular job of turning our children into children" (Gatto. p. 3). This is just one of the many assumptions the article raises as you read it. The main focus of the author is to prove that the current education system only benefits the government. These assumptions are supported by the evidence the author quotes, for example, the author quotes Inglis who gives six primary functions of education. These six functions in my opinion help in supporting the author's assumption that school is only good for producing employees and consumers.

This assumption is supported by the author view of the education system as being only useful for creating "a harmless electorate and a servile labor force but also a virtual herd of mindless consumers. In time a great number of industrial titans came to recognize the enormous profits to be had by cultivating and tending just such a herd via public education" (Gatto, p.3). The use of the word herd by the author to refer to children and people who attended the public schooling system, in my opinion, shows the extent in which the author is biased towards the public schooling system.

Implications Raised by This Article

After reading this article, the author has raised several critical issues which affect contemporary life. The author firmly believes that the public education system is only good for producing employee and consumer. I agree with the author on this, by using standardized tests and permanent records the government can sort among the different students and label those who do not meet specific standards as inferior to the others, this is true in my opinion since good grades and certificates of merit make one feel superior to those who have failed.

Another implication raised is the support of the education system by businesses engaged in mass consumption and marketing. The author is of the view that the school system "school didn't have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume nonstop because it did something even better: it encouraged them not to think at all. And that left them sitting ducks for another great invention of the modern era-marketing' (Gatto, p. 3). I agree with this because in the modern era, the advertising industry has grown and it influences our choices profoundly leading to consumption of goods and services that are not essential to our survival.


The author has provided good evidence to support his view that the current US education system needs reforms. From his perspective, the current educational system is tailored to create employees and consumers. He offers evidence from historical figures and uses quotes to support his view. The only drawbacks are that he does not provide a lasting solution to this problem and he does not state how the government can help to improve this system. Education is , and it should focus on producing well-rounded students who are not only good at consuming and obeying laws.

Works Cited

Gatto, John. "Against school." Harper's Magazine. New York: Sep 2003. Vol. 307, Iss.1840, p. 33-38.

Cite this page

Critical Reading of John Gatto's Article "Against School". (2022, Sep 07). Retrieved from

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