Albert Jay Nock vs. John Taylor Gatto

January 10, 2007 at 11:59 am | Posted in Homeschooling | 4 Comments

Albert Jay Nock wrote “On the Disadvantages of Being Educated” opposing state education, arguing that many people are just not cut out to receive a liberal education and are better off learning trades.

John Taylor Gatto wrote “The Underground History of American Education” opposing state education, arguing with quotes from the most influential people in power that the state never intended a liberal education for the common people. Their “education” was intended to have a false appearance of liberal education, but was in reality just preparing them for being peons and cheap labor for wealthy elites and industrialists instead of competition..  Nock and Gatto are superficially at odds, but not deeply so. Nock argues against the common advocates of liberal education for all at state expense. Gatto shows that such advocates were really just useful idiots providing a superficial excuse for those who created and controlled compulsory state schooling.

The compulsory liberal education advocates, by combination of hypocrisy and negligent ignorance, sought to dumb down the common man, training them to exchange a school desk for a work desk without a second thought, without attempt for something better. The worst aspect is those who received the false liberal education and think they have one. These are your average people who think they are cut out for making political decisions to force on everyone else, i.e. voters. Also there are those who become disillusioned by the false liberal education and do poorly but could have excelled if allowed a real education. You will rarely hear about these, except a few who later educate themselves despite the distaste for it bred by public schooling and later become famous, such as Albert Einstein.

As my oldest child turns five, my wife and I are homeschooling. Unschooling may work in an era when learning is a leading source of entertainment, but for us, unschooling would mean our oldest would become a professional video game player. How is it, although I’m no slouch at video games when I play, I can’t even once beat my four year old at competitive New Super Mario Bros?



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  1. Great blog!

    I’m not a big Nock scholar, but taking the quote of his at face value I don’t think Gatto and him are that far apart. One of the big things Gatto is interested in is taking kids out of the schoolroom and getting them involved in real life. There’s something about the feedback mechanism of actually engaging in the real world that schoolrooms short circuit by doing every in the abstract.

    I’m no elitist but I do think some people are more inclined towards dealing with abstractions than others. That doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the kids must pick up a trade. It does mean that there is no one path that is right for all students. I’d imagine getting ones hands dirty is good for the brainiacs, too, because staying in your head too much doesn’t teach you to actualize your abstract thoughts. A liberal education is great – it’s just not complete.

    The best way for students to learn is for them to be interested and engaged in what they’re doing, and it’s unlikely a top-down classroom model will often accomplish this. I think both Nock and Gatto would agree on that problem (especially in light of the extensive evidence Gatto has compiled against the agenda of schooling).

  2. Complete agreement here. I think the Nock vs. Gatto difference is very superficial, but nevertheless makes for an engaging blog title.

  3. Never even heard of those Nock v. Gotto people. I’m going to talk anyway. Because I’m so happy to hear I’m not crazy, or at least not alone and the only one who ever had those thoughts you mentioned above. I think to fail to educate your children (or your citizens) is neglect. I also cannot believe that there were not many very well intentioned (and yes, even in the right) people who fought for a public school sytem. However, making it compulsory (in the manner of not allowing other forms, rather than being a fail safe for those who could not or would not have an education otherwise), disallowing personal religous freedom, using it as a source to indoctrinate, and as a means of preparing workers for factories while making them think they’ve been “educated,” doesn’t sound like the free country we’re taught to believe we live in. There’s a difficult balance between aiding a functioning society and the socialism and communism we suppossedly oppose. Yes, not having any clue about Nock and Gatto, I think many people have realized that education cannot be a one size fits all and that we’re really just schooled to remain an underclass. Even many (but not all, as they are in the end taught by individuals) of the so called ‘gifted’ placements. Just try actually questioning something. Why do I hear no alarm at the ever increasing bids to conglomerate schools into huge pools of children all one age, and all at one level of learning? That doesn’t allow for maturation, self determination, or true socialization. This idea that homeschooled kids are not socialized is a false stereotype. Seriously, how many misfits did you meet in school? And didn’t it upset you that not all of them had to be? And didn’t anybody read the literature they gave us? Yes, in the public school we read George Orwell and many other books, we like to cry out “big brother,” yet we endorse mass education. My family, too, homeschools, but I don’t want to just sit outside the system and complain about other people’s failings. I want a way to rejoice in their many successes, and reform their many failures, just as we should in our homeschools. Why has no one considered going back to one room schoolhouses every three miles? We could still allow a coming together for sports and music and other extra curricular activities. School choice would be easier. Staying at your needed learning level rather than a “grade by age” would be easier. And so would cutting out discrimination against those attempting the self determination our textbooks told us we have. I.e. those who would opt for homeschool or trade school. And just to ramble on due to first opportunity…how does “bullying happens in the workplace” make it okay and necessary to allow it to go on at school? OH my God, and that’s not said in vain, when did we decide to just roll over and say uncle? Evil will always be a struggle of society, shouldn’t we be working to socialize against that type of society, not telling our children, oh well, you’re principle didn’t do anything about it? Our work places will continue to be such atmospheres of unethical managers and bullying coworkers when we teach them it is perfectly alright to do so as children. We will never fix the world, that doesn’t mean I have to join it’s game.

  4. @Heather: Spoken as someone who has developed a passion for your homeschooling perspective. I’m right there with you.

    You ought to check out Gatto’s website sometime: Also, the book of his I mentioned is now available there online for free.

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