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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a bad book for what it was designed to cover.
That a book entitled School : The Story of American Public Education is not all things to all people is not surprising. The book is limited in scope to a history of public education in the United States. It says so in the title. It is not a book on home schooling, private schools, schools outside the U.S., a history of people who disagree profoundly with the American...
Published on January 16, 2002 by A Librarian

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22 of 32 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT MUCH HISTORY, NOT MUCH STORY
I had looked forward to reading this book with great anticipation. After all, there are very few histories of American schooling available for those who are not academicians. Sadly, I must report that the book is a great disappointment on many levels.
First of all, it is a 'companion' book linked to a television series. This type of book, in general, has a difficult...
Published on August 23, 2001 by ALEX BERGER


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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a bad book for what it was designed to cover., January 16, 2002
By 
A Librarian (Chantilly, Virginia, USA) - See all my reviews
That a book entitled School : The Story of American Public Education is not all things to all people is not surprising. The book is limited in scope to a history of public education in the United States. It says so in the title. It is not a book on home schooling, private schools, schools outside the U.S., a history of people who disagree profoundly with the American Public School System or a broad study of educational methods. The title pretty much sums this up.
This book has several strong points:
1) It's written is a succinct prose style. This isn't necessarily a boon to education majors, but it's a good thing for the general public. It's hard to make education sound interesting, and this book does a pretty good job. As a special sidelight, this book will interest thinking people inside the school system. It may even be picked up by teenagers, those currently most ensconced in the U.S. system of public education.
2) It is one of the only books available to non-professionals. It's fairly easy to get information, dates, a rundown of the major players in educational theory/movements, and an idea about what those involved in the educational system thought about their schools at the time. It isn't one stop shopping, but it is a good start.
3)The accompanying photographs are marvelous. Nothing illustrates the crowding of the tenement schools, he desperate situation of child laborers in the early part of the 20th century, or the inclusion protests of the 1960's and 1970's quite like the pictures.
4) It is possible to read between the lines. Although the book doesn't explicitly link ideas like the push from German Immigrants to get their children out of the "shop" track and into college prep. and the current debates about bilingual education, a reasonable person is able to gather enough information to make that leap given the information in this book.
The books limits include:
1)Pollyanna does live here. The underlying message is that the public school system is a miraculous thing, and that if left alone will be able to solve any crisis it encounters. There isn't any criticism of this idea, but "a critical history" never appears in the write up.
2)Nobody wants to win one for the Gipper. After 1980 the book is biased against the "bottom line, business oriented" approach heralded in with "A Nation at Risk." This is where I was most disappointed in this book. I'm not looking for that kind of bias in my reference books, and it is undeniably there.
Final analysis:
Buy this book for your middle school and high school library. Let your home schooler read it with other texts. Do not base your Ph.D. in educational theory on this text. Try to use it with other articles critical of public education or positive about home schooling, charter schools, or vouchers. And, as always, please think about what you read.
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28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful Overview of the American Public School's History, August 5, 2001
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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On a school day, almost a quarter of the U.S. population is either in a public school or working in an administrative position for a public school. How are we doing with this enormous enterprise? To answer that question, School begins with the origins of the free public school in New England cities and takes it into the present experiments to follow the model of major corporations and the marketplace. Along the way, if you are like me, you'll come away more impressed with what has been accomplished.
The common themes have been local versus central control over education, honoring diversity versus meeting standards, and liberty versus equality. General progress has occurred in being more inclusive (minorities and women), helping people become assimilated into American culture (especially through literacy and citizenship), and learning talents needed to be a productive member of a more educated society.
Part one looks at the Common School from 1770-1900. These were formed in response to the Protestant concept that people needed to be able to read the Bible and interpret it for themselves. At the time of the Revolution, 90 percent of white males and 60 percent of white females could read a little and sign their names. Massachusetts led the way in making school conditions better under Horace Mann. A top priority of the new republic was to get rid of British texts so that American ideals could be learned. Thomas Jefferson had a visionary plan (which looks pretty inadequate now) that was rejected. By the end of the period, Catholic immigrants felt disrespected by the materials and methods directed by the Protestant elites. Private Catholic schools started to fill the gap.
In part two, 1900-1950, the book looks at the role of the public school in "Americanizing immigrants." "The United States led the world in fulfilling the promise of universal access to schooling." In 1900, most left after the 8th grade. By 1950, most continued through high school and college attendance started to soar. Child labor laws were passed to get kids out of sweatshops and factories and into school with compulsory attendance laws, as well.
In part three, 1950-1980, you will see the challenges of Sputnik, a desire for science education, and the importance of integration and creating real equality of opportunity.
In part four, 1980-2000, we look at the vocationalization of the pbulic schools built around the "successes" of companies like IBM, Xerox, Ford, and others. As I read this, I was fascinated to see that these "models" are all companies that have faltered badly for at least part of the last two decades. The authors suggest that this last period for public schools has not been very successful. Charter schools seem like a potentially successful experiment.
The illustrations in the book are terrific, showing teachers, students, facilities, and texts.
The occasional statistics were very interesting to me, and I would have enjoyed much more of that. I mostly graded the book down for that lack.
If you are not involved in education, you will probably be interested in seeing what turned out to be right and wrong about famous reports like "A Nation At Risk."
I also learned that many of my perceptions of public schools when I was young compared to now need to be tempered by the fact that the schools were then designed to optimize experiences for people like me. A lot of the subsequent gains have been in helping those who were ignored or treated poorly in those days.
I usually find books that support PBS series to be pretty, but vacuous. School is a pleasant and informative exception. I hope you will enroll in finding out more about our public school heritage.
After you finish this book, think about what it is that students do not learn enough about today. Reports show that students are still likely to be poor in reading and math, have little understanding of the importance of civility in society, and not understand how the government works. I notice that traditional subjects are taught in traditional ways that do not reflect how adults learn and apply knowledge today. Perhaps we are ready for another part in the story where public schools get better in all dimensions! What can you do to help?
An underdeveloped mind is the greatest waste!
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22 of 32 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT MUCH HISTORY, NOT MUCH STORY, August 23, 2001
I had looked forward to reading this book with great anticipation. After all, there are very few histories of American schooling available for those who are not academicians. Sadly, I must report that the book is a great disappointment on many levels.
First of all, it is a 'companion' book linked to a television series. This type of book, in general, has a difficult challenge to overcome: It must communicate the ideas of the TV series to the book reader without sounding too much like a television program. Ric Burns' companion book for his series on New York City is one such example. Burns however, succeeded in writing a book for the casual reader as well as creating an informative & useful tool that added important information for the viewers of his series. "School..." however, appears to be little more than the cribbed narration from the TV series. Attached to that narration are the quotes used in the TV program. This makes for very poor, tedious, reading. The material is choppy and filled with clumsy attempts to stitch together the narration.
Secondly, the content of the book itself is even more disappointing. For the most part, all we hear, are the voices of 'experts' telling us about this or that moment of American public school history. There is very little substantiated factual evidence to support their assertions--something a book can and should do, but not appropriate to a documentary presentation.
The few 'facts' that are sprinkled throughout the book, are what I would call 'factoids', rather than useful bits of hard information. For example: There are lots of cost figures thrown around from different periods in history but no attempt to let the reader know how those figures compare in today's dollars; The creators of modern schooling are all presented as committed heroes: Horace Mann, John Dewey, Catherine Beecher, and Ellwood Cubberley. I suspect there is much more ambiguity surrounding their roles--Here would have been a good opportunity for a book to expand beyond the limited time available in the documentary format--But not so for this book. We are presented instead, with a black and white version of history complete with villains and good-guys.
The colonial period is barely dealt with, and background on the historical development of school in other countries is non-existent. One could finish this book with the impression that public school was invented in the United States in a vacuum, without inspiration from anywhere else.
About halfway through the book you get the idea that you are reading a thinly disguised puff-piece designed to do little more than praise the institution of American Public School--You are told that it has its problems of course. But, we are assured, they are being addressed from within and will be taken care of in due course. There is barely any debate or controversy regarding the history of schooling. Shouldn't historians have divergent opinions regarding their subject? Not according to 'School...' History always seems to move smoothly forward excising the bad and replacing it with the good. When criticism is allowed to enter the book it is immediately 'corrected' by the next salvo of "experts". The last (Fourth) part of the book is ths most blatantly propagandistic of all. The recent critics of public school are portrayed as shrill, conservatives, the victims are the poor minorities. And the credible challenges to the public school system that have been mounted in the past twenty years from many different philosophical positions: Home-schooling, Vouchers, Charter Schools, A growing private-alternative school movement, are each given very short shrift indeed. Yes this is supposed to be a history of American public schooling, but if the writers of the book, and by extension, the producers of the documentary, want to give us a history they must first create a context for understanding that history. We should not be presented with a patronizing sermon and expected to believe it to be a good substitute for history. There is no humor, no wit, and very little passion in this slim volume. The voices of children, parents and teachers, which should echo loudly in a work on this subject, are almost completely absent.
I, for one, am tired of listening to a bunch of experts trotted out, either to support or to apologize for a particular point of view. The only palatable aspects of this book are its pictures and graphics from the early years of schooling. I would have much preferred to view them alone, without all the excess verbiage.
As a strong, lifelong supporter of public schooling in general, it is sad for me to note that this book will have the opposite of its intended effect of enlivening and informing the ongoing debate about one of the most important and far-reaching institutions in our society. One must ask then, who is this book aimed at? Certainly not scholars and academics. It would, as well, be shameful to introduce it into the course work of teacher training institutions. And, as an introductory survey for families trying to get a better understanding of the place their children will spend the majority of their childhoods, at best, it will put this key audience to sleep, at worst, it will leave them with a dangerously simplified version of history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy Read, Historical and Informative, September 2, 2012
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This review is from: School: The Story of American Public Education (Paperback)
I enjoyed the book. It was pretty easy to read and straight forward. It was a decent amount of information about the ever changing history of our school systems.

As a history buff, it was a good overview. If you're looking for more specifics, this probably isn't the book for you. But for a basic overview and idea of it all, this is the book.

Check it out
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I own this book and love it., November 27, 2010
By 
prince of reviews "Jack" (Orlando, Florida United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: School: The Story of American Public Education (Paperback)
I love this book. It is about how education was taught way back to the colonial days of America. There is a picture of a hornbook. It also talks about the best result of the Revolutionary War. Simpified spelling. Without this war from England, then we would be still spelling words like they do. Examples are labour,labor; programme,program. The first words is how they spell their words. The shorter version is the american way. The other thing that use to be done long time ago is corporal Punishment. The related words are caning, spanking, birching. Now in America that practice is nearly eliminated. Conformity of behavior was strongly expected. If a child napped during class, then he might get rapped by a teacher with whatever the teacher used. There is plenty of photos to look at.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars educational and interesting, September 17, 2010
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This review is from: School: The Story of American Public Education (Paperback)
I bought this book as part of my required reading and was able to finish it in a few days during my commute to and from work. As far as required reading goes, this is one of my better purchases. Beautiful black and white photos.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential history if we are to understand and improve our current schools, September 7, 2010
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I am an educational researcher and I found this book essential in helping create a basic understanding of the challenges we as Americans have faced in creating our public schools. Too often history glosses over the tough issues, avoiding the times when we failed or only met the needs a select group of people. This book helps us understand that living in a democratic society requires us to learn from our struggles. Essential reading if you are an American citizen looking to understand where we have been and what lessons we should reflect upon as we move forward.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars School:The Story of AMerican Public Education, March 8, 2009
By 
Carole F. Smith (Northern California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: School: The Story of American Public Education (Paperback)
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It gives you an overall view of our public school system in an easy to read format much like a novel. I recommend this book to all educators or students of education.
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24 of 36 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Whistling Past the Graveyard, September 6, 2001
By A Customer
Let's ignore the fact that this 200+ page book (with a publisher's price of $30) is little more than a transcript of the PBS series --
What bothers me most is that this diatribe seems determined to "whistle past the graveyard" of problems in American public education by insisting that public schools are doing everything Thomas Jefferson ever wanted them to do and that the real problem are "those people" who want to see change and more effective schools.
To listen to them, standards are bad, testing is driving people nuts, the idea that parents should have choices about where their children go to school is dangerous, and charters are nothing more than efforts by businesses to make money (nevermind that most charters are non-profits).
I looked extensively at the latter portion of the book -- the one dealing with modern day reforms and found it fascinating that the authors can't seem to find any problem with flat SAT scores, decreased student achievement and a lack of school accountability -- or at least they can't find a problem that can't be solved by money.
The reality: poor kids are doing worse than ever because the public schools have no incentive to pay attention to them or their parents, and the only way to solve that problem with money is by using it to let parents have choices. As it stands now, the public education system is a monopoly Bill Gates could only dream of in his wildest dreams.
Readers deserve better than a biased screed that seems to "circle the wagons" and attack anything remotely suggesting change.
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61 of 93 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Disgraceful Book, September 23, 2001
Let me say a few unkind words about School: The Story of American Public Education, the companion volume to the four part PBS television series being proclaimed by luminaries such as Ted Sizer as a "wonderful and timely book...on how and why Americans constructed the schools with wich we live today." (back cover blurb).
Where shall I begin? This expensive production on coated paper is neither the story of American public education in any but a mythological sense, nor even a competent consideration of the questions which continue to surround the institution of mass compulsion which assembles children by the police power of the state for centralized indoctrination. Instead it is, from start to finish, a shameless piece of propaganda, advancing the romantic notion that in spite of its shortcomings, school is truely a progressive miracle, growing better and better in spite of mean-spirited critics. This is a celebration of what is.
If potential readers could examine the list of funding sources for the documentary series at the back of the book, they would be able to anticipate the entire "argument" and save themselves thirty bucks. The Carnegie Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Stanford University, the list of villains who visited this form of mutilation on the young is well-represented among the building-blocks of this project. But absent some prior understanding of the school institution and its creators/maintainers, it's probably a good idea to specify a few of the shortcomings.
Nowhere is any attempt made to seperate the terms "schooling" from "education." Throughout the ideas are conflated, as if to say "school" is to imply "education." Unsophisticated readers (and viewers) thus are led to build their understanding on sand, and to allow the writers to neatly sidestep the fact that SCHOOL as we have it descended to us from Prussian Germany and from the British conquest of Hindu India. In both places it was plain and simple, a tool for mass indoctrination of the young in the interests of, shall we say, "management." Indeed, the entire connection of ideas of the Prussian state to our form of schooling, both rigorous versions and progressive versions, (thus creating a Hegelian dialectic) is concealed.
William Wirt, the front man for the Rockefeller Foundation's introduction of dumbed-down schools to America just prior to WWI, is presented as an innocent do-gooder professional, riding the hobby horse of a good idea introduced before its time in Gary, Indiana. That Gary was the company town of the U.S. Steel Corporation, a totally artificial creation, is neatly overlooked. And that Wirt provoked a national scandal in the early 1930's by "confessing" before a Congressional hearing that he had been part of a conspiracy to overthrough American sovereignty is also left out.
The homeschooling revolution, which currently occupies about 2 million kids and grows by leaps and bounds regularly in both its secular and religious manifestations occupies about 30 seconds in this travesty of scholarship, even though it presents a hideous danger to the very existence of ill-named public schooling.
I could go on but the point is made. Although rich in commentary by many familiar big names who speak often in the public arena about school policy, the level of ignorance evinced by one and all is horrifying--perhaps indifference to the truth would be an equally relevant judgement.
No one who speaks favorably about schooling in this book is not a person who also draws an easy, comfortable living from its existence, its existence pretty much as it is. Even honorable people like David Tyack lend their names to this tapestry of flummoxing.
I've said enough. This is a disgraceful book, made more disgraceful by its pretty packaging, its use of a Hollywood star to sugar coat the pill, and its guaranteed infiltration into every school library in America.
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School: The Story of American Public Education
School: The Story of American Public Education by Sarah Mondale (Paperback - August 16, 2002)
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