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"By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge
the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches." ~Proverbs 24:3-4

The Underground History of American Education

John Taylor Gatto never fails to impress us. It was his speech at the 1994 AFHE convention that convinced my husband to homeschool in the first place. Gatto’s first book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, was a real eye-opener. However, his current book overshadows everything else. Unfortunately, this review can only touch the surface of the many fascinating and important insights contained in his 400-page book. Its encyclopedic scope is breathtaking—and its details are frightening.

In this book, as the title indicates, Gatto reveals the little-known facts about the historical development of modern schooling. Everyone talks about school reform these days, but what they don’t realize is that the schools are doing exactly what they were designed to do. This is why all the money that is being pumped into the system is not doing anything to improve public education. The school system’s primary goal is not the education of our children, as they would like us to believe. Gatto’s conclusions are shocking, but they make sense and are backed up with hundreds of footnotes, references, and quotations.

Gatto explains how the leaders of industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan, to name just a few— influenced, guided, funded, and at times forced compulsory schooling into the mainstream of American society. This was when the basic structures of the public education system were first being set down. These emerging corporate giants knew they needed three things in order for their interests to thrive: 1) compliant employees; 2) a guaranteed and dependent population; and 3) a predictable business environment. It is toward these ends - and not education - that modern compulsory schooling was established.

America at the time of the birth of modern schooling was not conducive to the formation of a corporate consumer society. Businesses were mainly operated by individual proprietors on a small scale. Entrepreneurs were in control of their own livelihood. Americans like Ben Franklin, George Washington, Abe Lincoln and Thomas Edison were independent, free thinkers. (None of these men spent more than two years in any kind of school, yet all led productive, successful lives.) However, powerful leaders of large corporations knew the development of such individuals would hinder their goals. The solution: remove children from the stable influence of their families, place them in public schools, and mold them into the kinds of people upon whom big business depends. Just in case parents were unwilling to comply, compulsory schooling was made into law.

At the same time, there were many other social influences that fed and accelerated the process of mandatory state schooling. For one thing, forced government schooling was a means to transform the diverse array of incoming immigrants into homogenized Americans. In addition, popular ideologies of the time such as Social Darwinism justified the intervention of public schooling into the lives of everyone, because it was believed that the best should wield power over the rest, and lead the ignorant masses to happiness under the enlightened and benevolent guidance of the elite.

While history is Gatto’s focus, it is the fate of all the compulsorily schooled children that concerns him the most. If only they could be given an opportunity to live and think freely, to find their own purpose through self-chosen activities, to develop insight, knowledge, creativity, and individuality - goals that modern government schools are actively working against.

Gatto’s intention is not to spread conspiracy theories. Rather, he simply wants to point out that the founders of public schooling operated on falsehoods which need to be exposed and their ideas rejected. In order to do this, Gatto insists that we refuse to accept the idea of school reform. Charter schools, higher standards, rigorous demands on teachers, and smaller class size are all diversions aimed at keeping us from striking at the real heart of the problem. In the end, he argues, the notion of school itself must be challenged. He suggests seeking out one of the many truly alternative schools that are now in existence, or joining the millions of American families that are homeschooling their children.

Find out more and read selected chapters from the book online at

This article may be reproduced in its entirety by non-profit homeschool associations. Please click here for details.


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