“Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto – Chapter Two

Welcome back to the third installment of my review of “Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto. If you have missed the Prologue or Chapter One, simply click on the links to read those first. We will be returning to Mr. Gatto’s book each week for another chapter.

*Note: Typical book reviews are ONE post, but Mr. Gatto’s book was so chock full of information that I decided to take it one chapter at a time. Believe me, the wait each week is worth it, but if you grow tired of waiting, you can purchase this book through the link below.



Mr. Gatto opens Chapter Two with a story about his Uncle Bud, a high school dropout who went on to become the manager of the Rockwell plant and supervised thousands of workers. It is the beginning of a theme centered on the concept of Open Source Learning as opposed to our current “rule-driven, one-size-fits-all, ‘testable’ schooling.”

He goes on to introduce us to Jonathan Goodwin, Danica Patrick, Nick Schulman, and Diablo Cody. All of them are dropouts, and all of them have self-educated themselves and broken ground in remarkable areas.

Johnathan, who dropped out of school at age 13, makes over $1 million a year converting all kinds of cars to run on french fry oil – he’s even converted cars for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the music legend Neil Young – showing the world that even a Hummer can get incredible gas mileage if properly adapted.

Danica Patrick dropped out of high school at age 16 to learn how to race. Ten years later she beat out a two time Indy 500 winner in Motegi Japan.

Nick Schulman dropped out of school to play poker and won $2 million in a poker tournament at age 21.

And the list goes on and on.

Mr. Gatto goes on to use the example of how a steel plant in Germany lost their shirts in a deal with China, by making the mistake of assuming that only ‘specialists’ could handle such an overwhelming project as dismantling the plant and shipping it to China. A group of Chinese peasants proved him wrong, and then the steel industry went nuts, setting China in place to control much of the world market on steel production.

Mr. Gatto then goes on to explain why Merilee Jones, the director of admissions at MIT was canned, after 28 years of outstanding service in which she tripled female enrollment at the male-dominated college, was granted MIT’s highest honors, and had become a heroine of the college admissions world nationally. Ms. Jones, it turns out, had lied on her application nearly 30 years before, claiming she had three college degrees, when instead she had been a nightclub singer.

Now lying on your application is not exactly laudable, but not only did she do the job she had been hired to do, she did it exceedingly well. If I had been her employer, I wouldn’t have liked the lie, but I would certainly have acknowledged her abilities and left her with her job intact.

Mr. Gatto points out that in America, 7,000 students drop out each day. He later points out that there is an overwhelming problem of stigma against dropouts – only a few fight and rise above it, and scores who are defeated and crushed by it.

I learned that each year the International Happiness Survey ranks us as ‘mediocre’ in happiness, along with other Anglo-Saxon countries. Mr. Gatto asks, “Does the phony pecking order created by degrees, and by elite colleges like Yale and Stanford, have anything to do with this?”

Other notable dropouts include Thomas Edison and George Bernard Shaw. And I can hear you now, you are saying, “Yes, but many of those people were GENIUSES!”

To which Mr. Gatto wrote at the end of his Prologue,”I have concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress genius because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.”

How beautiful a concept that is.

Mr. Gatto goes on to point out that in a recent study, in 16 of 50 colleges (including Yale, Brown and Georgetown) graduating students scored lower than incoming freshman in five academic areas – after four years of schooling, negative growth had occurred!

Mr. Gatto asserts that school provides an artificial extension to childhood. I am reminded of my grown daughter’s comments about some of her college classmates and their whining over not having enough spending money (and this with their parents paying for their tuition and room and board as well). My daughter is responsible for her own bills as well as her own education, since we, along with scores of other families, have suffered greatly from the downturn in the economy. In the end, I find this is a good thing, she is fully an adult and expected to care for herself and make her own choices in regards to her education and life. She may wish that life were easier, but she does recognize that she is answerable to no one but herself for the choices she makes.

In an interesting turn, Mr. Gatto also presents another reason behind the Civil War – Northern leaders wanted a population of workers, not slaves, because they could get more work out of them and for a cheaper price. Once the slaves were freed, and education became compulsory, then school became a method of CONTROL not Education

Throughout this chapter, Mr. Gatto continues to return to stories of dropouts and their pursuit of open-source learning (usually by DOING). I greatly enjoyed reading about the example of Warren Buffett, who started his own business at the age of six, selling iced Coca-Cola in un-airconditioned Omaha, Nebraska. By age 18, after a string of different income-producing jobs and opportunities, Mr. Buffett had over $100,000 in the bank and had been supporting himself since age 13. He applied to Wharton Business School and was turned down. Wow.

I looked up the school on Wikipedia, which states, “The admissions process at Wharton is highly selective; it is one of the most competitive business schools in the United States. A high GPA, high GMAT score, and very strong non-quantitative credentials are typically required for admission.”

I guess it didn’t want to bother with people who were already actually SUCCESSFUL in business. I doubt Mr. Buffett missed out on much.

Gatto writes, “It [compulsory education] breaks families, intellects, characters.”

There is an overwhelming aspect of corporate mind think that is prevalent, inside and out of corporations. A year ago, I was invited to co-chair a talk on creativity at a local organizational development meeting. The host paired me with the Director of Talent Recruitment at Sprint. I called him and we spoke for a while about the upcoming talk, he complained that “no one is willing to think outside of the box or take chances anymore.” I found this deliciously ironic, when you consider a) the culture of fear Sprint and other corporations induce on a regular basis with layoffs, and b) the products of public school education being recruited as ‘creative talent’.

In the end, after several emails back and forth, I realized I could not in good conscience work with this person. His beliefs and mine were so different, so completely at odds, that I ended up pulling out of the talk.

Gatto ends Chapter Two, by writing, “Real education can only begin out of a foundation of self-awareness. Know the truth of yourself or you are nothing but a pathetic human resource. Your life will have missed its point.”

This reminds me of my favorite quote from Henry David Thoreau…

I went into the woods
To live deliberately. To front
The essential facts of life
And see if I could not learn
What they had to teach
And not when I came to die
Discover I had never lived.

I can think of no worse fate then that of an unrealized life. How many of our children are we condemning to a future of unrealized potential, one vacant of happiness, individuality and creativity?

Join me next Tuesday for Chapter Three of “Weapons of Mass Instruction” which is titled “Fat Stanley and the Lancaster Amish” for more information on how compulsory schooling is not the answer for your child.

Meanwhile, if you have questions or comments on what has been presented so far, please email away, I look forward to hearing from you!

Interested in hearing/reading more from John Taylor Gatto? Check out his well-known book, “Dumbing Us Down”…


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