Schooling: The Hidden Agenda

School_on_HillThis is the transcript of a talk given by Daniel Quinn, to an audience of homeschoolers .  Quinn first caught my eye with his novel, Ishmael. Several friends of mine had read the book and spoke highly of it. Later, when I began studying modern schooling, I discovered this little gem. Enjoy!

I suspect that not everyone in this audience knows who I am or why I’ve been invited to speak to you to day. After all, I’ve never written a book or even an article about home schooling or unschooling. I’ve been called a number of things: a futurist, a planetary philosopher, an anthropologist from Mars. Recently I was introduced to an audience as a cultural critic, and I think this probably says it best. As you’ll see, in my talk to you today, I will be trying to place schooling and unschooling in the larger context of our cultural history and that of our species as well.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my work, I should begin by explaining what I mean by “our culture.” Rather than burden you with a definition, I’ll give you a simple test that you can use wherever you go in the world. If the food in that part of the world is under lock and key, and the people who live there have to work to get it, then you’re among people of our culture. If you happen to be in a jungle in the interior of Brazil or New Guinea, however, you’ll find that the food is not under lock and key. It’s simply out there for the taking, and anyone who wants some can just go and get it. The people who live in these areas, often called aboriginals, stone-age peoples, or tribal peoples clearly belong to a culture radically different from our own.

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History of Our Modern Educational System

sodschoolJohn Taylor Gatto

Perhaps the greatest of school’s illusions is that the institution was launched by a group of kindly men and women who wanted to help the children of ordinary families — to level the playing field, so to speak. Let’s see what’s really behind these illusions:


The real makers of modern schooling weren’t at all who we think.
Not Cotton Mather
or Horace Mann
or John Dewey.

The real makers of modern schooling were leaders of the new American industrialist class, men like:
Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron.
John D. Rockefeller, the duke of oil.
Henry Ford, master of the assembly line which compounded steel and oil into a vehicular dynasty.
and J.P. Morgan, the king of capitalist finance.

Rich white men like these, and the brilliant efficiency expert Frederick W. Taylor, who inspired the entire “social efficiency” movement of the early twentieth century, along with providing the new Soviet Union its operating philosophy and doing the same job for Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany; men who dreamed bigger dreams than any had dreamed since Napoleon or Charlemagne, these were the makers of modern schooling.

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