98. How Did American Education Get So Bad?

The American education system isn’t what it used to be. Instead of encouraging individualism and critical thinking skills, schools have become production lines where kids are taught to all think the same things and hold the same opinions. But how did things get so bad? Today Connor and Brittany discuss what went wrong in our American education system.


Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: Hi, Connor.

Connor: I wanna share a story with you. okay. When I was dating my wife, who would become my wife, I was, introduced to a book called Dumbing Us Down, by this gentleman named John Taylor Gatto. He was a teacher for like 30 years. He had won all these awards. All these people thought he was a great teacher, but he quit, like at the peak of his career when he was like the same year he won this award, he was in New York. He won the New York State Teacher of the Year, and he quit.

Brittany: that’s two of them. I think he won more than once too.

Connor: Yeah. And he quit by writing this article in the Wall Street Journal, this really big newspaper where the title of his article, it’s called an Op-Ed, but basically an article. And he said, I quit, I think. And he goes on to talk about how, you know, in the public school system, he was actually hurting kids and he was getting really tired of being in a system that had all these problems. And so he quit. He started writing books, he went speaking across the country. And so I came across one of those books when I was dating the woman who became my wife. And I remember reading this book, I, went to public school. I grew up in San Diego. You know, I just, I went the high school and college and everything else. My parents didn’t really know any different. And as I was reading this book, like my eyes were just opened to finally understanding why I struggled so much in school and, the systemic problems I had the problems with the system. Like, you know, Hey, I want to spend a lot of time learning this. Nope, the bell just rang. You have to go switch analogy, right? Like, nope, stop. And, you know, and, being forced to learn things that had no relevance to my life or what I wanted to do in the future. Someone else was deciding for me what I needed to learn. And so I remember reading this book and I was like, oh my gosh, this finally helps me understand the problems with why I struggled in school and why after school, after college, I was starting to thrive. I had, free time, I had curiosity, I had mental energy where I could spend time thinking about what I was curious about. And I was loving it. I was loving learning. And I had never really had that experience, before until after I was totally done with schooling. So I read this book, and I was like, okay, I was talking to this gal that I was dating. And I start to think like, all right, well if we get married, I’m gonna wanna homeschool our kids. You know, was she okay

Brittany: With that before? But when you guys talked about it,

Connor: You know, she was open to it. My wife was new to a lot of these ideas. She was not raised in like a political household, but she quickly, I like to think it’s because I’m so persuasive, you know, but she, quickly came to agree with, you know, most everything that I believe and think, which was, obviously what led to marriage. And so, you know, that book for me was kind of our start to homeschooling to say, we gotta figure out something different. And it took us a little while to kind of, you know, figure out that blend of what that would look like as we started having some kids. but I owe so much to John Taylor Gatto this amazing, man who really was trying to help people understand true education, how we all learn. And look, there’s a ton of awesome teachers in the school system. that’s not to say these are evil people or that they have bad intentions. They don’t, these people entered the profession cuz they want to help and teach kids. But the way the system is created, maybe we’ll talk about this in a minute. It’s kind of designed to fail. It’s designed to, you know, have every child treated the same and put them on this conveyor belt in a factory where everyone turns out similar. So tell me a little bit, Britney, what’s your kind of familiarity with, John Taylor Gatto?

Brittany: Yeah, so I used to be a teacher, and it’s actually funny. So I had already quit teaching, but, I was going to kind of go to the same similar private school that I went to in the beginning when I moved. That was my plan, or a similar one, find a similar one. And then I read a same book, dumbing us down. And I had a real, conscience, like what’s the, what’s the term? Like, I had like a real conundrum actually. Isn’t that your blog, isn’t it Conner’s conundrum. to say that, where I started wondering if what I was doing wasn’t actually helping children. So, I was keeping them at desk for eight hours a day. They were getting maybe 30 minutes of recess, and that’s including lunch. And I started feeling very guilty about that. So I started reading the book and I started seeing the way that you can kind of encourage someone’s individualism and, and really encourage critical thinking, which I don’t think we have a lot in schools today. So I decided to leave education. I decided to not continue teaching. I did do education policy because I wanted kids to have school choice. I wanted them to have more options available to them. But I just kind of fell in love with this man because everything he has to say is so brilliant and so great that I started just kind of working my way through every single one of his books. and it was, I’m a history buff. So when I started reading about the actual history of where we went wrong, that’s what really got me. So yeah.

Connor: Let’s talk a little bit about that because it’s so interesting, right? We’ve got, several people who were involved, you know, early on in American, education and you know, back in the colonial days, the constitution days, you know, uh, education was very individual. It was families, it was maybe a few families together like having a teacher like the one room schoolhouse for the community. And, you know, there were, some of the most notable founding fathers were basically homeschooled, right? And yes, had very little formal education. It was learning from books and, you know, they’d learn how to read. Their parents would teach ’em, and then they would just read and read and read and have access to these books. and mentors and so forth. And, so a lot of this was kind of self-directed. But then there were people later on in America, especially kind of in the 18 hundreds, but more so in the early 19 hundreds where there were people who thought that education should be mandatory, education should be required. And not just educated, cuz everyone is educated, it’s everyone learns. So it’s, I’m saying it wrong. It’s not that education would be mandated, school would be mandated and it would be taxpayer funded and the government would make kids, attend, which is called compulsory education, or I like to say compulsory schooling. cuz you can’t actually force someone to learn. It’s not compulsory education. And so, like Horace Mann is the name of one of these guys. He, you know, in Massachusetts, they were starting to set up the first like, official government schools and then it kind of spread like wildfire. You had people later on, like John Dewey, who were very kind of, socialist progressive. They believed in big government. They saw individuals as kind of cogs in a machine. rather than like unique individuals. They th this of course was at the same time as the industrialization of America when you have big factories and, you know, batch processing of things so that you can produce a lot of stuff. And so that was really helping the economy, but the same mentality became applied to schooling. They saw kids as being batched processed. They were little widgets, right? Little yes. you know,

Brittany: got a production line

Connor: Yeah, yeah. On a production line. And so these people wanted to kind of tinker with the system and funnel all these children down the same system. Elijah, our amazing illustrator, did a phenomenal, kind of rendition or drawing of this in the TuttleTwins, and education vacation, which is based on one of John Taylor Gatto’s books. It talks about this topic and you can see the kids, you know, getting like the suction cup on the brain and all this, all these scannings and stuff. And they’re kind of, you know, is this an A student, a B student, a C and they’re all going down the same conveyor belt line. And, so you had these people involved early in the system that were passing these laws and making these changes to these schooling system that treated kids like this bulk product to be from beginning to end. Everyone has to go through the same thing. Everyone has to be the grade A product and this is all the testing we have to do. And, it’s these early, like the ho mans, the John Good lads, the John Deweys who set up this system that even though they’re amazing teachers working within the system, it’s still that industrialized, production line conveyor belt process that I think just ruins individualism. It did for me. And, you have to like find a way to save yourself the, you know, look, a lot of people listening Britney, are not homeschoolers, right? They, prefer public school, they like their school, they can’t financially, whatever the reasons are. But, speaking from my own experience, it’s so important that especially if your kids are in public school, that your eyes are kind of wide open to some of the things that John Taylor Gatto talked about so that you understand some of the system’s shortcomings so that you can try and, you know, counteract them, come up with alternatives, come up with supplemental ideas, ways to help your kids who are in public school to still maintain curiosity about things that have nothing to do with all their assignments. it’s important I think, to be kind of eyes wide open about the historical side of all of this too.

Brittany: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And I know that that’s one thing that really got me is to, I didn’t know and I’m sure you probably didn’t know either, maybe I know your parents are a little bit more, I was gonna use the term woke, but I was gonna use it in the good way mine are. I think yours are probably a little bit more politically savvy or even just talked about stuff. Mine didn’t. And so I did not know anything. You know, my parents took the opinion of public school is free, it’s great, let’s send you there. But I had no idea the murky roots. when I worked in a private school, part of the reason I worked for private schools. I started seeing that there were some things wrong with public school, but mostly my problem was with the curriculum, I didn’t understand that it was the whole foundation of it that was bad. But when I started taking a look, what was crazy to me is there was a man named John Dewey, who I grew up in public school to think is great cuz I don’t know if kids, do kids even still use the Dewey Decimal system? Probably not because they’re not single libraries. Weird. That’s kind of a weird outdated reference now. But there was a man named John Dewey who used the a decimal system word. That’s how we used to check out books from the library. They would be coded like with decimals. this is so old, I feel so old. So you hear this name and it was like, oh yeah, John Dewey, you know, invented that. And that was just something you learned from multiple choice test. But then I started looking into people like this and he started saying that this guy was actually pretty murky and he kind of changed school from being about education. You know, reading, writing, arithmetic. He wanted it to cure society’s ills, which, you know, basically he wanted to use it to mold kids into what he thought would’ve been the model citizen. And that just stuck out as a red flag to me for a few reasons. First, I am a really big advocate for parent rights. So I think that parents are the only people who should be directing, you know, the morality or ethics of their children. Now, when their children get older, they can make their own choices, but I don’t think it should come from a teacher in a classroom. And John Dewey took an opposite approach where he wanted it to be, he wanted the teachers to be the ones kind of guiding society, shutting down individualism and putting, you know, making collectivism like the thing. He wanted that to be a place of individuals. And that really, really scared me. So that’s kind of how I got, red-pilled, I guess would be the term, right? That’s how I really got into this. And I got really vigilant on, you know, how can we expose this? How can we let other parents know that this is what’s going on?

Connor: So to that end, on the show notes page for today, we will link to some resources about John Taylor Gatto link to some of his books. so head to Tuttletwins.com/products or excuse me slash podcast. You can also go to slash products and buy more Tuttletwins books if you’re missing any, but slash podcast, check out the show notes page. We will also link there to a book that I wrote, John Taylor Gatto actually wrote the forward for this book, called Passion-Driven Education. And, this is about my journey through education. But then more importantly, and that’s only a brief part at the beginning, but then we get into how true education works, how we can honor the individuality of each child and build an education around each child’s interests, because that’s how we all learn. And so we need a educational approach that is adapted to each child. And rather than this one-size-fits-all, system where every child has to learn the same thing at the same time, that just is insanity in my opinion, having gone through it and not wanting my children to go through it. So head to the show notes page, check out Passion, driven Education. In that book, I share one of the stories I found so interesting,  this valedictorian, which means that she was like top of her class in high school, graduating high school, with top grades and everything else. Her name is Erica, and she was valedictorian about a decade ago in New York. And so she stands up at the graduation ceremony and you know, in front of her is all her other, peer, high school seniors who are all graduating parents, you know, family members, everyone. And then behind her on stage is all of the, you know, the principal, the administrators, the teachers, all the people responsible for, you know, the education. And if you think about our education vacation book and that drawing Elijah did, right, it’s all about the kind of grade that the factory product is given, right? The story in the book starts out talking about food and how food is graded and labeled based on its quality and how we do the same thing in this factory model of schooling, that is done today. And so here’s Erica the valedictorian top of her class. She’s clearly grade A, she’s clearly like the supreme product of the public schooling system, which is why she’s valedictorian. So she proceeds to say in her remarks, and for those of you who have or get passion-driven education for the parents, you’ll see more of this story. But she proceeds to say, I’m terrified. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I saw schooling as kind of its own purpose. I did every extra credit I could, every assignment. I tried to get perfect grades while my friends were, you know, doodling in class to later become an artist or, you know, tapping on the desk and, being distracted playing music in their head to later become a musician or to be, you know, playing video games instead of doing homework to become a video game developer. While my friends, she says, I’m summarizing here, while my friends were finding ways to focus on their own interests and what they wanted to do in their life, she said, I have no clue what I wanna do with my life and I’m really nervous. And so here was this girl who was just stuck on the conveyor belt, right? This is the grade a product of the system. She gets to the end of the conveyor belt. And rather than like a shining example, she’s actually like, what, what? Now? Like, I don’t know what I want to do and I have no interests because school was her interest and now school was done. And, so it’s really interesting to me to see what John Taylor Gatto said and recognize that the exact warnings he gave about the kind of modern American schooling system he here in this one example, we see those, those exact warnings play out.

Brittany: Well. And I think you and I have both had the same experience, right? Where I don’t feel like I was given an individualized approach to education if I was told, you know, I got to write a little bit cuz you had writing class. But like you said, when the bell rang, I had to switch gears and go to another assignment. So I know I personally think I would’ve benefited from, a model where, where I get to explore different talents. You know, I like to sing maybe instead of just having 20 minutes once a week for quire, if I was able to do that and learn music theory, you know, during class, but I didn’t get that option. So right now you don’t have an individualized approach to education and then what you’re all gonna come out with the same skills. Like what, value can you create with that? And you know, we say college can help you with that, but you and I both know that that’s not always the case either. So we think it’s really tricky, but I think it’s, really important to understand where these problems came from because like you said, identifying the problems are going to help us find solutions. So it’s not about honing in on, oh no, this is so bad, it’s what are we going to do now?

Connor: That’s exactly right. Well guys, head to the show notes page, Tuttletwins.com/podcast. You can check out some of these resources, learn a little bit more. sadly, John Taylor Gatto passed away not too long ago. after kind of some health challenges. we were planning on doing a TuttleTwins book based on one of his books later on in a year or two or three. But after he passed away, we decided to kind of accelerate it, move it to the top of the list. and so he passed away, you know, just, some months before we did the twins books, kind of in his honor, to kind of, continue his legacy and these ideas. and so very exciting that we can honor him, and, keep those ideas alive. So head to the show notes page. Thanks as always for subscribing. Keep on listening. Hope you guys are having a lot of fun. And until next time, Brittany, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.


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