John Gatto on school as a form of adoption

John Gatto has a way of cutting straight to the core issues in education:

“Schooling is a form of adoption. You give your kid up in his or her most plastic years to a group of strangers. You accept a promise, sometimes stated and more often implied that the state through its agents knows better how to raise your children and educate them than you, your neighbors, your grandparents, your local traditions do. And that your kid will be better off so adopted.”

“But by the time the child returns to the family, or has the option of doing that, very few want to. Their parents are some form of friendly stranger too and why not? In the key hours of growing up, strangers have reared the kid.”[1]

In a few words, Gatto encapsulates the main reasons we’re homeschooling. These remarkable years of childhood are full of opportunity and openness to every possibility. Turning kids over to a school regardless of how well-meaning that school may be, means that you must tacitly agree to a set of values and priorities with which you may not agree.

In school districts around the country, the state has decided that music is unimportant relative to other subjects that it wishes to teach. If you send your child to public school, you either agree to their ordering of priorities or you do it on your own time. But there is no time left. Apart from the extraordinary kid, there’s is just too little energy, time, and enthusiasm left. But aside from the logistical difficultes, there remains the fundamental problem that when you leave your children to be adopted by schools, you agree to a set of cultural values that may lie in opposition to your own.

“Before you can reach a point of effectiveness in defending your own children or your principles against the assault of blind social machinery, you have to stop conspiring against yourself by attempting to negotiate with a set of abstract principles and rules which, by its nature, cannot respond. Under all its disguises, that is what institutional schooling is, an abstraction which has escaped its handlers. Nobody can reform it. First you have to realize that human values are the stuff of madness to a system; in systems-logic the schools we have are already the schools the system needs; the only way they could be much improved is to have kids eat, sleep, live, and die there.”[2]

Ordinarily I don’t harbor the sort of paranoia and hyperbole that seems to drive most libertarians; and there is a libertarian streak in what Gatto stresses about contemporary public education. But the system turns out kids by design who follow a concept of the good life that is too foreign from our own.

  1. Gatto, J. (Original date unknown). The Open Boat. Retrieved August 10, 2014, from

  2. Gatto, J. (Original date unknown). Two Social Revolutions Become One - John Taylor Gatto. Retrieved August 10, 2014, from