From Publishers Weekly
Using engaging personal narrative, journalist Stern explores the demand for school choice among inner-city families. He takes readers on his personal journey from left-wing politics in the 1960s, when he edited and wrote for the leftist magazine Ramparts, to his current position as champion for the libertarian right in its relentless crusade to privatize education. Stern excels in presenting historical detail, and his history of the politics of New York City public schools and their teachers' unions is both revealing and instructive. He is also a captivating storyteller, and his point of view, as a parent of New York City schoolchildren, sets his book somewhat apart from other ideological discourses in the annals of think tank-sponsored "school choice" writings. As a leftist turned "educational traditionalist," Stern uses political metaphors cleverly: there is a "Berlin Wall" between private and public schooling that must be broken down for liberty to flourish; teachers' unions are the "ruling class in education" and the school choice movement is "countercultural in the best sense of the word." Stern makes a strong case for dismantling public education and subjecting it to market forces. However, his book grasps educational theories and practices only at a superficial level. He calls well-researched theories of cognition progressive educational "fads" and sees multicultural education as "political correctness" that hurts black children. These weaknesses lessen Stern's credibility, but his account will be of interest to those engaged in the school choice debate.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
When his son Jonathan was accepted at New York's premier elementary school, P.S. 87, city-schools-educated Stern presumed the boy was off to a good start. He was, though not as good a start as Stern's own in 1941. In the intervening decades, the teachers' union (a 1950s innovation) and a mushrooming, politicized education bureaucracy had rendered most city schools ungovernable and scholastically ineffective. Even P.S. 87 and the secondary schools both Stern boys attended--all among the system's finest--were forced by union work rules to tolerate incompetent senior teachers and teachers who wouldn't put in a minute more than the contractual 6-hour-and-20-minute day. Ultimately, Stern and his wife had to resort to supplementary homeschooling to help their sons attain the highest scholastic levels. They succeeded at that, but what, Stern tellingly asks, are less well educated and more time-constrained parents to do? Ultimately, Stern advances education vouchers as a means for fostering better schools and argues for them more persuasively, because less ideologically, than do most other voucher-boosters. Meanwhile, he has told his case history in the union-and-bureaucracy-hamstrung New York system and presented a brief against the teachers' unions that vitally supplements such looser, more general arguments as Peter Brimelow's Worm in the Apple
[BKL F 1 03]. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved