Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Review - Weapons of Mass Instruction

What It’s All About

I was very excited to read this book as I enjoyed the authors other book, Dumbing Us Down.  I was not disappointed. As with Dumbing Us Down, this book is more like a collection of essays. Each chapter can stand alone or be read together. Occasionally JTG (John Taylor Gatto) does reference previous chapters, but not to the extent that chapters cannot be read independently. As I read I discovered some central themes running through most chapters.
  • The belief (with evidence to back it up) that the public school system is purposely designed to retard human potential.
  • The idea of school extending childhood into teens, 20’s & beyond.
  • The idea of open source learning as the best option. In a nutshell this is the idea that education can come from a variety of unlimited sources.
  • The value of dialectic reasoning & how it has vanished from our schools.
  • Schooling & education are mutually exclusive

There are many others but these stand out in my memory.

What I Liked

This book got my questioning all my assumptions about education. Which is the essence of dialectic reasoning. I realized that I am still affected by my own school experience & it has an influence our home education. I am now thinking about what a true education is and realizing it has nothing to do with knowledge base and everything to do with knowing who you are and being able to use your brain! 

This book, unlike Dumbing Us Down, uses evidence and facts, that can easily be verified on the internet, to support his conclusions. Now I know about the documents and evidence that support his experience with the dumbing agenda of schools. I can reference these and speak intelligently on the topic.

The aspect of this book I enjoyed the most is stories of those who did not fit into school, devised their own plan and achieved success.  Many of these stories showcase very young people, as young as nine, doing what we would call adult things. They are making a contribution to their families & communities. This has got me thinking about how to incorporate this aspect into our lives.

What I Didn’t Like

I did feel some of the book was rather self-indulgent. One chapter is a letter to his granddaughter, but it reads like it is for the book, not written by a grandpa giving advise.  Also, as much as I enjoyed the stories of success without school, some of them where undeveloped or depicted immoral behavior. One example is the 16 year old girl who sailed around the world alone without any sailing experience. He tells the story in a paragraph and you are left wondering ~ How did this girl get food & supplies in the 2 years she was out there completely alone? Another example is the pornography website owner & stripper who dropped out of high school and wrote the script for the movie Juno that won her an academy award. It seemed as though he was condoning her involvement in the sex industry because it contributed to her success.

Lastly, I feel JTG can be a little too extreme. As if there is no hope for kids in school. I think that is a little extreme. While I do agree that schools have an outright agenda to stifle creativity and personal growth, I also believe that the human spirit is too strong in some to be quenched. After all, I was the kind of kid who did well in school and liked most of it, yet here I am a free thinking, always questioning, homeschooling libertarian. Explain that. I cannot.

The Bottom Line  -  My rating - ★★★★☆

This is a great read for everyone. There is enough information and examples to make the most committed standardized schooling believer think twice.  I think it is a must read for all parents. The problem with books like this is that it will not be read by books those who need to read it. As a homeschooler, you will find it encouraging and affirming. You may find yourself making a pledge to NEVER send your kids to school!

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