John Taylor Gatto doesn't call for reform—he calls for a complete overhaul of our educational system that leaves kids more time to form themselves and less time in slavery to the state and blind consumerism. Already a classic, Dumbing Us Down gave us a now-household phrase and pulled the blanket from the wizard's closet, a wizard that is old, decrepit and sick enough to die.
The purpose of compulsory schooling, Gatto claims, is not education. The purpose of public schooling is to create manipulable citizens who are too bored, disinterested and ignorant to care about anything or form their own opinions, who will sustain the economy through constant and mindless buying, and who will do what the government tells them to. And he should know—Gatto was a decorated public school teacher for 30 years.
Unlike many public school critics, Gatto doesn't infuse his arguments with religious rhetoric, which in the end makes his claims all the more terrifying. It's easy to be against something if one's religious convictions are on the line; what Gatto describes are simple crimes against humanity, widespread mental control designed to prop up a dead system.
As a teacher, he cares about children, their education, their journey toward adulthood. When he says we need less school, not more, he isn't telling parents to neglect their children's academic and social growth, he's encouraging them to take a vested interest in it, to not simply abandon it to the whims of a system that reduces them to numbers and grades.
It's all very materialistic, in both senses—consumer-oriented and marginalizing belief in the soul. By making kids bored, the system (and he's careful to blame the system, not the individual teachers) withholds the possibility of true learning or development, and thus of true freedom. Gatto is erudite and yet approachable, and every American citizen would do well to at least heed his warnings before we're collectively sunk too far to climb out.