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John Taylor Gatto (1935-2018): Remembering America's Most Courageous Teacher


Gatto leaves behind a legacy that inspired thousands of people to challenge the premise on which our education system was built.

It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the passing of a revolutionary educator, John Taylor Gatto. Gatto spent nearly 30 years as a teacher in the infamously rough New York City public school system. He was awarded New York City Teacher of the Year three consecutive years while also being recognized as New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991.

Gatto understood that his students were not mere underlings, but individuals with unique skills and talents.

Over the course of his career, Gatto was recognized by other educators for the rapport he had built with his students. While other teachers were spending much of their day on behavioral management issues, Gatto's students were actively engaged in his lectures and genuinely excited about learning. When faculty members would come to him seeking advice, his prescription was simple: treat your students the same way you treat anyone else.

Above all, Gatto understood that his students were not mere underlings, but individuals with unique skills and talents to share with the rest of the world. They didn't want to be talked down to but longed to be treated with respect and dignity. He recognized that their worth was not determined by the neighborhoods where they lived, their parents' annual salaries, or the scores they received on standardized tests. He concluded that "genius," is "as common as dirt. We suppress genius because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves."

After three decades in the classroom, Gatto realized that the public school system was squashing individualism more than it was educating students and preparing them for the real world. To make matters worse, his later research would reveal that this dumbing down was not just by accident, but by design.

Gatto dedicated the rest of his life to repairing the damage done by the public education system.

Feeling the education system was beyond repair, Gatto could no longer in good conscience be an active participant. Rather than sending his letter of resignation to his superiors in his school district, he sent a copy of "I Quit, I Think" to the Wall Street Journal, where it was published as an op-ed on July 25, 1991.

In his biting resignation, he wrote:

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