The history of public education in America is insane. Literacy was almost universal, and was even more common than not among slaves in jurisdictions where it was illegal to teach them to read (due to concerns of a revolution such as occurred in Haiti, where the revolutionaries massacred the white population). It was well understood how to teach children to read and much more, when some innovators decided to try some new methods. the new methods were a disaster - the students did much worse than with the traditional methods: so the government (starting in Massachusetts, where many of these ideas originated) made it compulsory for students to attend government schools, and mandated the use of these new methods for instruction.
Of course it was gradual, they didn't make the changes all at once, but gradually they made schooling worse and worse, until eventually even most of the teachers no longer knew the traditional teaching methods that worked. Thus they are continually reforming the education system, but it never improves the outcomes because the system is working exactly as the people who designed it intended. They did not want a public that understood things, because it is difficult to be a tyrant if the public is educated - thus they controlled the "education" system to ensure that the public would be ignorant.
As you say, John Taylor Gatto exposed a lot of this - particularly in "The Underground History of American Education".
With all this in mind, I noted this comment of yours:
"The irony is not lost on me, to be someone attracted to kids and warning parents that the ideology of "get em while they're young" applies to well-funded political movements with tentacles reaching into the public school system for decades. "
Specifically, about 17 decades now since the first state made attendance in government schools compulsory.
And I don't think this irony is unintended. My view is that these people engaged in a campaign against pedophiles precisely because they knew we would care about children and want them to learn and to develop into their best selves. Pedophiles are Nature's way of providing children with guidance and protection - and the people who pushed the idea that we were dangers to children knew this, and wanted to strip children of that protection because they wanted to prey on them.
But before the Sexual Revolution, sex was a topic that was not discussed publicly, and most people did not see the connection. Even many pedophiles didn't really see their interest in children as sexual - although by our modern understanding it certainly is. They also were not expecting an attack from within - and whereas the process was gradual and slow few people really understood what was happening until quite late.