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An American Affidavit

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

6. The New Dumbness: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The New Dumbness 

Ordinary people send their children to school to get smart, but what modern schooling 
teaches is dumbness. It's a religious idea gone out of control. You don't have to accept 
that, though, to realize this kind of economy would be jeopardized by too many smart 
people who understand too much. I won't ask you to take that on faith. Be patient. I'll let 
a famous American publisher explain to you the secret of our global financial success in 
just a little while. Be patient. 

Old-fashioned dumbness used to be simple ignorance; now it is transformed from 
ignorance into permanent mathematical categories of relative stupidity like "gifted and 
talented," "mainstream," "special ed." Categories in which learning is rationed for the 
good of a system of order. Dumb people are no longer merely ignorant. Now they are 
indoctrinated, their minds conditioned with substantial doses of commercially prepared 
disinformation dispensed for tranquilizing purposes. 

Jacques Ellul, whose book Propaganda is a reflection on the phenomenon, warned us 
that prosperous children are more susceptible than others to the effects of schooling 
because they are promised more lifelong comfort and security for yielding wholly: 

Critical judgment disappears altogether, for in no 
way can there ever be collective critical 
judgment. ...The individual can no longer judge for 
himself because he inescapably relates his thoughts 
to the entire complex of values and prejudices 
established by propaganda. With regard to political 
situations, he is given ready-made value judgments 
invested with the power of the truth by... the word of 

The new dumbness is particularly deadly to middle- and 
upper-middle-class kids already made shallow by multiple 
pressures to conform imposed by the outside world on their 
usually lightly rooted parents. When they come of age, they 
are certain they must know something because their 
degrees and licenses say they do. They remain so 
convinced until an unexpectedly brutal divorce, a corporate 
downsizing in midlife, or panic attacks of meaninglessness 
upset the precarious balance of their incomplete humanity, 
their stillborn adult lives. Alan Bullock, the English historian, said Evil was a state of 
incompetence. If true, our school adventure has filled the twentieth century with evil. 

Ellul puts it this way: 

The individual has no chance to exercise his 
judgment either on principal questions or on their 
implication; this leads to the atrophy of a faculty not 
comfortably exercised under [the best of] 
conditions. ..Once personal judgment and critical 
faculties have disappeared or have atrophied, they 
will not simply reappear when propaganda is 
suppressed... years of intellectual and spiritual 
education would be needed to restore such faculties. 
The propagandee, if deprived of one propaganda, 

will immediately adopt another, this will spare him 
the agony of finding himself vis a vis some event 
without a ready-made opinion. 

Once the best children are broken to such a system, they disintegrate morally, becoming 
dependent on group approval. A National Merit Scholar in my own family once wrote 
that her dream was to be "a small part in a great machine." It broke my heart. What kids 
dumbed down by schooling can't do is to think for themselves or ever be at rest for very 
long without feeling crazy; stupefied boys and girls reveal dependence in many ways 
easily exploitable by their knowledgeable elders. 

According to all official analysis, dumbness isn't taught (as I claim), but is innate in a 
great percentage of what has come to be called "the workforce." Workforce itself is a 
term that should tell you much about the mind that governs modern society. According to 
official reports, only a small fraction of the population is capable of what you and I call 
mental life: creative thought, analytical thought, judgmental thought, a trio occupying the 
three highest positions on Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Just how small 
a fraction would shock you. According to experts, the bulk of the mob is hopelessly 
dumb, even dangerously so. Perhaps you're a willing accomplice to this social coup 
which revived the English class system. Certainly you are if your own child has been 
rewarded with a "gifted and talented" label by your local school. This is what Dewey 
means by "proper" social order. 

If you believe nothing can be done for the dumb except kindness, because it's biology 
(the bell-curve model); if you believe capitalist oppressors have ruined the dumb because 
they are bad people (the neo-Marxist model); if you believe dumbness reflects depraved 
moral fiber (the Calvinist model); or that it's nature's way of disqualifying boobies from 
the reproduction sweepstakes (the Darwinian model); or nature's way of providing 
someone to clean your toilet (the pragmatic elitist model); or that it's evidence of bad 
karma (the Buddhist model); if you believe any of the various explanations given for the 
position of the dumb in the social order we have, then you will be forced to concur that a 
vast bureaucracy is indeed necessary to address the dumb. Otherwise they would murder 
us in our beds. 

The shocking possibility that dumb people don't exist in sufficient 
numbers to warrant the careers devoted to tending to them will seem 
incredible to you. Yet that is my proposition: Mass dumbness first 
had to be imagined; it isn't real. 

Once the dumb are wished into existence, they serve valuable 
functions: as a danger to themselves and others they have to be 
watched, classified, disciplined, trained, medicated, sterilized, 
ghettoized, cajoled, coerced, jailed. To idealists they represent a 
challenge, reprobates to be made socially useful. Either way you 
want it, hundreds of millions of perpetual children require paid 

attention from millions of adult custodians. An ignorant horde to be schooled one way or 

Putting Pedagogy To The Question 

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