You can't train fleas until you break their will

John Taylor Gatto resigned from teaching in 1991, just after being named New York City teacher of the Year for the 3rd year running. The reason he gave for quitting was he, no longer wanted to hurt kids to make a living.

In a talk he gave in 2007, he expanded on his reason for retiring by relating a story of how fleas are trained for a flea circus: you can't train fleas until you break their will. If you put a thousand fleas into a Petri-dish all the fleas will immediately jump out in all directions and get on with their own agendas. However, if you put a lid on the Petri-dish and leave it for a couple of hours, when you come back and lift the lid not one of the fleas will try to get out of the dish. In a couple of hours the fleas have had their personal agendas eliminated through hurting themselves so badly by leaping and bashing themselves against the immovable glass lid. Now they are in a state in which they can be trained.

It was on first hearing this story and instantly seeing the similarity between the glass lid and the job he was doing as a teacher which convinced him to quit after 30 years of teaching: "As long as I and my colleges could frustrate the personal agendas often enough, very few if any would survive and they then could be conditioned to the purposes of...let's say management, let's call it management."

Since then he has promoted homeschooling, unschooling and open source learning primarily through an independent study of how we have arrived at the present system of education.

Gatto summarises the evolution of compulsory schooling, in the first 12 minutes of this video, from Calvin's 16th century notion of predestination to Spinoza's call for institutional public schools and Darwin's scientific justification for them in the 19th Century.


In 2011, shortly after completing the filming of "The Ultimate History Lesson, a 5 hour long conversation about his work, John Taylor Gatto had two major strokes. He has been confined to a wheel chair ever since and he and wife struggle to meet their medical bills. At the end of last week's the New World Next Week, James Corbett put the importance of John Taylor Gatto's work into perspective :

....I don't know about you but John Taylor Gatto has really changed my life and really affected me in so many ways with the incredible work that he's done over the years, the decades bringing a truth and light and information to the education space in what education can be rather than indoctrination......

Please register to post comments