“I Have No Degree. How Do I Get Others to Value Me?” – Ask John #11

Dear Mr. Gatto,

I am an auto-didactic learner. How do I get others to value me and to value what I know without the degree?

I run into this all the time even from people who profess to be promoting self directed education and selling this idea to families. I come to the table with my knowledge in a given area and am dismissed or treated as less than because I do not have the degree with letters after my name. The guy with the PhD still trumps 30,000 hours of self directed learning.   It’s soul crushing.


Lisa M.


Dear Lisa,

You know the answer to the question you asked, but apparently, like most of us, would rather not face it squarely in all of its implications. Are you an outstanding human being who gives more value to the community than an ordinary citizen?

As cruel as it sounds, others value those whose value is apparent to them and disvalue those who appear to be ordinary. Kurt Vonnegut, the writer, put it this way: “Find a way to be useful; if you aren’t useful you are useless.”


Think of Lula da Silva, longtime president of Brazil, a dirt poor ghetto kid from the deepest slums in Rio, who observed the society around him closely enough to crack its class-obsessed social code enough to gradually step-by-step climb from the sewers to the highest rank in the nation (by what exact means I do not know), and led his country into prosperity and freedom from fossil fuels––without any degrees or diplomas or social graces except those SELF-taught; and even more striking, think of another poor kid from the country village of Linz, in Austria, WHO ROSE WITHOUT DEGREES, MONEY, OR FRIENDS to dominate the most intensely educated nation on earth.


Germany, after WWI, in another miracle of self-teaching which nobody could have predicted except Adolf himself, subsequently led the conquest of major nations like France and Russia without any academic military training.

One thing that might help you, Lisa, is to INVENTORY YOUR STRONG POINTS and try to develop them to a pinnacle that you could put at the service of your community; also I recommend to you (and everyone for that matter) that you read as many biographies and autobiographies as you can of people who distinguished themselves without college degrees––hundreds, even thousands, of those are readily available.


Millions of people grow pumpkins, but a tiny percentage of the total know, from self-teaching and experiment, how to grow thousand pound pumpkins. You needn’t go to college, neither did Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, nor Ted Turner, but you must have accomplishments other than a good heart to win attention and respect, although Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus, seem to have done OK with that credential alone.


In real communities, among decent God-fearing people, just BEING is enough to win respect, but in our over-commercialized corporate culture, a star system has taken hold where notoriety from accomplishments acknowledged by journalists (and on occasion by word-of-mouth) dominates. I can’t change those rules; you must comply or remain anonymous.

Degrees are a way to beat that system, requiring no intelligence to secure, or talent, but only patience and money; yet have you noticed that over time they lose all power to impress anyone?

Accomplishment, adding value to others, somehow is the only lasting currency that works, and it always works better than college degrees. Good luck, Lisa, start today, inventory yourself and your community needs––find a match between the two and you will be on the way.

Your well-wisher,

John (Gatto)

State Teacher of the Year, New York, 1990*, 1991**

City Teacher of the Year, New York City, 1989-91

“The World’s Most Courageous Teacher”

* – from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., in addition to being nominated for National Teacher of the Year.

** – from The University of the State of New York, Education Department. Also, he was the 1st Runner-Up for State Teacher of the Year in 1990, and a finalist in 1989.

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