The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Weapons of Mass Instruction

Tonight, at 9:30 ET, the next #edfocus chat will take place, this time focused on the second half of John Taylor Gatto’s book, Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling. I believe this to be the fifth or sixth book our group has read, and I am certain that none of our earlier titles have generated more questions as I read.

Gatto made me think about:

  • The difference between schooling and education. Gatto argues that schooling is organized by command and external, while education is self-organized and internal.
  • Gatto’s presents a “Learning Index” that he wrote for his granddaughter on pages 162 and 163, listing several skills such as self-knowledge, observation, analysis, judgement, and adding value. These are the outcomes that I think we all want our students to walk away from graduation with.
  • The notion of intellectual freedom. While never specifically addressed, the underlying argument of his book, that people should be free to engage in topics and learn what interests them made me think not only of students, but also teachers. What would curriculum look like if it was not mandated by the state or federal government?
  • The need to think as producers, not consumers. Gatto writes about this in the first half of his book, and it is an idea that really resonated with me. What would the impact be on the entrepreneurs of tomorrow if kids were pushed to create, rather than report on a topic?
  • Dialectical thinking. Moving away from mass answers to genuine creativity and thinking for yourself. This reminded me of one of my favorite TED videos by Sir Ken Blanchard.


As I read the second half of the book, I wondered:

  • As institutions of education, do we do enough to have students take on and wrestle with the big social issues of our day?
  • How has the internet changed our profession?
  • How different do schools look today than they did in the year 2000?
  • Are schools really too centered on adult issues? Are we really focused too much on our teachers rather than our students?

I’m hopeful my friends from #edfocus will consider discussing the above questions, as well as:

  • How can we, as educational leaders, promote students taking ownership of their own education both inside our schools and in their everyday lives?
  • Are all three of our school groups (administrators, teaching staff, and students) pushing toward the same goals and outcomes?
  • I learned far more about being a teacher from student teaching than from my undergraduate coursework. Is this unique to me? If not, how can we transfer this knowledge to our professional practice?

I saw connections to other titles we’ve read, specifically:

  • The emerging realities talked about in Teaching 2030. Berry and the authors talked about personalized curriculum, seamless connections in and out of cyberspace, different pathways to becoming a teacher, and teacherpreneurism. When I thought about Gatto’s book, specifically on page 153, I saw strong overlap. He talked about flexible time, a broad definition of teaching, learning inside and outside school, and personalized learning. It was clear to me that major reform in our profession hinges on these ideas. Putting these ideas into place will make certain our schools look different tomorrow than the do today.

Overall, I’m looking forward to getting together, via twitter, to talk about another title, hope to see you this evening!


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