Which documents trace the history of school’s purpose? -Ask John #3

Hey John,

What are some central documents that you would recommend reading in order to trace the history of the purpose of school in the West?

I’ve read your Underground History of American Education, as well as several others, so this isn’t a blind or benighted question.

With eternal gratitude,



Dear Shane,

Documents on the history and purpose of schooling hardly exist, because publishers won’t touch them and risk offending important book-buying interests, but they can be assembled from scratch by making your synthesis yourself from various sources. Here are a few of the best I used:

Charles Glenn, The Myth of the Common School

Ray Callahan, Education and the Cult of Efficiency

Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics

Christopher Lasch, The True And Only Heaven

Lloyd deMause, ed., The History of Childhood

A longer list is on page 392 of the original edition of my Underground History of American Education.

When I was researching for my own purposes, I was disgusted and frustrated to learn that most History of Education college course books were full of outright falsehoods and romantic distortions written to conform with pro-school propaganda, so I set out to patch together what really happened, and why.

Read Darwin’s Descent of Man and Malthus’ Essay on Population to find out WHY, and any history of eugenics to open your eyes. Pay close attention to the memoirs of schoolmen like John Dewey, noticing random quotes like “school is a religion.” Take those seriously.

When the first U.S. Education Commissioner, William Torrey Harris, says their purpose is self-alienation, don’t assume he is joking, and especially when the wealthy, like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, refer to education, consider that to be GOSPEL TRUTH. Overseas commentators, as in Canada, tend to be more honest than Americans.

MIT’s Langdon Winner has a book, Autonomous Technology, that exposes critical ideas behind curriculum, and the global master plan can be gleaned from Tragedy and Hope by Carroll Quigley better than anybody else; the consciousness that created schooling is exposed in Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer.

This was a dream of utopians since Plato, so study utopian theory as it plays out in various phases of American history, and in different regions of the world.

Comparing colonial America to modern times is an illuminating thread to follow, and private schools like Groton with the so-called “public” variety opens eyes, too.

I have to go to bed now, hope this helps.

-John Taylor Gatto

State Teacher of the Year

(New York, 1991)

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Due to his energy limitations, every question will not be answered, but all questions are welcome.

John’s Book Release in Summer, 2015:

“The Underground History of American Education”

Foreword by Ron Paul, M.D., Former U.S. Congressman & Candidate for President of the United States of America.

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