Reading for Homeschooling Encouragement: The Works of John Taylor GattoPC: Angie Runyan

As a former homeschooling mom of three young adults, all homeschooled, the current revived interest by younger parents who are being either awakened or forced into considering homeschooling their children sent me into my personal attic library to revisit the packed shelves of collected resources. With the goal of encouraging parents to embrace an at home learning lifestyle for their families, I was in search of titles to review and share.

Parents of school age children newly embarking on the wild (unconventional) adventure of teaching their own, tend to be in search of the best curriculum options, directives on the how-to of home education, daily schedule ideas of educational activities, tasks to complete and goals to reach.

What I reached for however, were not the held onto curriculum or even the beloved copies of read aloud titles we had shared (more on those another time) but instead the titles that were influential in my thinking about the significance of the journey we were headed into. What I dusted off were some of the most encouraging and convicting resources of our homeschooling days, the writings of John Taylor Gatto. The work and words of John Taylor Gatto, an award-winning New York city teacher were profoundly convicting to me in those days as I mulled over the what and the why of what we were getting ourselves into.

My plan for this summer was to re-read The Underground History Of American Education: A Schoolteacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem Of Modern Schooling and post a review for those new to homeschooling. It was published 22 years ago, and I proudly own an autographed pre-publication edition. The thinking presented by this 40- year career teacher reinforced my own thoughts regarding all of education, not just homeschooling. Reading John Taylor Gatto was one of those ‘you can’t go back’ influences and further informed my reasoning’s each year for recommitting to family-based learning for our children.

Amazingly, this title held prophesies of what we are experiencing in our world today. As I began to re-read The Underground History this spring, the idea of completing an entire read through with its length and depth (about twenty hours with the thoughts and research of the author) became a daunting task even as a second time read. Mr. Gatto presents an extensive view vital to understanding education in our culture. He provides many pieces of the puzzle of how we got here and why you should homeschool your children, but if you are brand new to homeschooling, his shorter title, published earlier in 1991, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling is probably a better suggestion for motivation to get started. You can save the more in-depth title for when you have a quiet family reading routine established. I did do a quick re-read of this concise book. Both of these titles hit hard, striking at the concepts and assumptions of what is best for children and families and learning. Take heart – he does not determine the solution to be a highfalutin curriculum in the classroom of an institution!

John Taylor Gatto includes many firsthand stories from his years of classroom teaching. His compassion for his students shines through as he shares his observations regarding their development and what experiences he facilitates for them to best support their learning. John Taylor Gatto was a national treasure who has, unfortunately for us, moved on to the realms of heaven. Perhaps for him, it is a magnificent blessing not to have to witness the results happening in education today while his words go unheeded.

The recent experiences endured by families through a pandemic and lockdowns revealed what has been happening in our schools. Awareness of the deficiency and blatant disregard for the well-being of students and the rights of parents in the government school system has increased. It is a good time to stop and consider what your goals for the education of your children are and if your basic beliefs and convictions support them. Deliberately considering your responsibility to their learning now and in the future is imperative. If you need more impetus than what you’ve seen for yourself let John Taylor Gatto’s writing give you more resolve. His is an honest assessment from an experienced educator as to what the ideal could and should be for your children and your family.