Public Education as Social Engineering

Weapons of Mass Instruction

by John Taylor Gatto

New Society Publishers (2010)

Book Review

Free PDF: Weapons of Mass Instruction

This book is the culmination of decades of research into the history of universal compulsory education in the US. It confirms my long held intuitive sense that the primary purpose of public schools is to produce obedient and compliant factory workers. In Weapons of Mass Instruction, Gatto unequivocally establishes that public education was deliberately designed this way – mainly by Andrew Carnegie, John D Rockefeller, George Peabody, and other Wall Street oligarchs through their charitable foundations.

Gatto leaves absolutely no doubt that public schools go beyond suppressing the truth about slavery, Native American genocide, and US empire building. From the beginning, US educational planners have consciously engaged in social engineering that discourages resistance to authority and deliberately conditions American children to become compliant workers and consumers. According to Gatto, the primary tools used are continuous enforced boredom and punitive regimentation that prevents children from developing the  self-awareness necessary for maturation. The end result is a society where most people remain perpetual children.

He traces what he refers to as the “Prussianization”* of US education to the 1840s. He also identifies Darwin and his cousin Dalton (founder of modern eugenics) as having a major influence over US public schools.

Gatto quotes from Harvard education professor Alexander Inglis in his 1918 book Principles of Secondary Education, regarding the six specific functions schools must perform in facilitating “Social Darwinism,” ie weeding out inferior human beings from the national breeding stock:

  1. The Adaptive Function – establishing fixed habits of reaction to authority (thus precluding the development of critical judgement).
  2. The Integrating Function – conditioning to induce conformity.
  3. The Diagnostic and Directive Function – ascertaining a student’s ultimate social  status as an adult.
  4. The Differentiating Function – sorting children by social status and training them for their ultimate destination in society.
  5. The Selective Function – clearly tagging the unfit (with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments) to enable to their peers to recognize them as inferior and reject them as breeding partners.
  6. The Propaedeutic Function – training a small fraction of students to assume elite authority roles while deliberately dumbing down and “declawing” students of lower status.

Gatto also writes at length about the invention of the artificial concept of “adolescence” by Johns Hopkins behavioral psychologist G Stanley Hall in 1904. Educationalists would use Hall’s definition of adolescence (“dangerous irrational state of human growth”) to justify extending compulsory schooling (which prior to the Civil War ended at age 12) into the teen years.

Most of the book consists of historical vignettes about major innovators who dropped out of formal schooling. Among other examples Gatto gives are Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Melville, Twain, Conrad, Hitler, Lula, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and George Bernard Shaw.


* Prussia and Britain were the first countries to use universal compulsory education to suppress creativity, originality, self-awareness, and similar traits that tend to lessen compliance and obedience in factory workers. Owing to the role Prussian (Hessian) auxiliaries played in the Revolutionary War, Prussian customs and culture were greatly admired in early US society.

10 thoughts on “Public Education as Social Engineering

  1. Reblogged this on The Most Revolutionary Act and commented:

    This book is the culmination of decades of research into the history of universal compulsory education in the US. It confirms my long held intuitive sense that the primary purpose of public schools is to produce obedient and compliant factory workers. In Weapons of Mass Instruction, Gatto unequivocally establishes that public education was deliberately designed this way – mainly by Andrew Carnegie, John D Rockefeller, George Peabody, and other Wall Street oligarchs through their charitable foundations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love getting affirmations like this. What should we do about it? Is compulsory education (indoctrination) really necessary? I know I speak anathema, but having gone through the US educational system, I have to wonder if it stifles more than it stimulates learning, creativity, and curiosity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too, Katherine. Gatto argues that we should end compulsory education and helped promote a Montana bill ending compulsory education in Montana. I must say that after reading his book I agree with him. My preference would be to offer young people access to publicly subsidized tutoring to learn basic skills, such as math and reading, as many may not be able to rely on parents to teach them. And then from age 12 on offer them publicly subsidized apprenticeships, either through existing businesses or community college.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Anything can start out as a boon and end up as a bane to society. Any “system” can be hijacked by certain forces to use it for their own ends and it’s a guarantee that any “system” will be so used. Take a look at religions, politics, finance and business, now corporate business. Everything is producing the opposite of that it started out to do, and continues to claim it does.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Actually, Sha’Tara, the main premise of Gatto’s book is the compulsory education accomplished exactly what its architects intended it to accomplish: it turned the US into a nation of fearful dependent children.

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          • Which proves the point, that government and think tanks being already hijacked, they have corporate architects to craft a public education system to suit their needs and the brainwashed have nothing to fight with even if they suspect something stinks.

            Liked by 1 person

      • This may be where individual states could become truly creative. The federal government’s one-size-fits-all-top-down dominance has become far too cumbersome and certainly does not represent anyone well.

        What can you expect from a debt-backed system that has borrowed $21 trillion against the future to pay for today’s excesses? And this is the outfit that is in control of teaching math?

        Liked by 1 person

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