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The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards" Paperback – September 5, 2000

47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Teacher-turned-writer Alfie Kohn takes on traditional-education giants like E.D. Hirsch, along with practically every state government "raising the bar" and toughening standards, in this attack on the back-to-basics movement. An established critic of America's fixation on grades and test scores, Kohn has written a detailed, methodical treatise that accuses politicians and educators of replacing John Dewey, the father of public education, with test-tutoring king Stanley Kaplan. The current standards movement that demands students learn a list of dates and facts prepares kids for Jeopardy, Kohn argues, not real life. He joins David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle (The Manufactured Crisis) in questioning whether today's schools are truly floundering, warning that romantic memories of the old school, with its tests, worksheets, and drills, are purely that--memories romanticized by time and perception.

Kohn backs up his argument with research and observations from like-minded reformers such as Deborah Meier, but his position is nothing new. Rather, it is a volley back at traditionalists, a direct counter to Hirsch's 1996 book The Schools We Need, which Kohn critically dissects at length, even accusing Hirsch of incorrectly generalizing footnoted research. Kohn also takes issue with the backlash against the whole-language approach to reading instruction (though this argument wears thin, given that many schools have already moved beyond the debate to use a combination of whole language and phonics). The overall message of The Schools Our Children Deserve is a valid cautionary tale about the future of American education that deserves to be heard out by teachers, policymakers, and parents. --Jodi Mailander Farrell --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A devout critic of the American educational system's dependence on grades and test scores, Kohn (Punished by Rewards, etc.) has long questioned the priority given to basics, rote learning and other "mind-numbing strategies" in the traditional classroom. In his latest assessment, he advocates challenging students to relinquish their passive role in the learning process and to think critically. Tougher standards proposed by politicians and the business community, the author notes, may not be an effective cure-all since they put increased demands on students already overwhelmed by an abundance of facts and homework. "The difference between learning and achievement is hard enough to grasp; the difference between doing well and doing better than others is especially confusing in a society so obsessed with being Number One that the ideas of excellence and winning have been thoroughly conflated," he writes. While some sectors of American schools may be troubled, Kohn concludes, the overall state of the educational system is in better shape than previously thought, in part because negative statistics are blown out of proportion, and partly because standardized tests are flawed indicators of educational quality. Using current research, Kohn advances a series of well-reasoned arguments against traditional education without the usual storm of tree-shaking and excessive rhetoric. This is another balanced effort from an advocate who believes that taking our youth seriously and honoring their abilities and potential may be the first major step toward reform. Agent, Kim Witherspoon; 5-city author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Edition Unstated edition (September 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618083456
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395940396
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. He is the author of twelve books and hundreds of articles. Kohn has been described by Time Magazine as "perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades and test scores." He has appeared twice on "Oprah," as well as on "The Today Show," NPR's "Talk of the Nation," and on many other TV and radio programs. He spends much of his time speaking at education conferences, as well as to parent groups, school faculties, and researchers. Kohn lives (actually) in the Boston area - and (virtually) at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Renée Cole ( on November 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
A very powerfully written book by a former teacher turned author and lecturer, Alfie Kohn. Kohn criticizes the theories of behaviorists and traditionalists accusing politicians, parents, and teachers of continuing to 'drill and kill' students on a `'bunch o' facts'. The Old School manner of rote memorization joined now with standardized testing is missing the mark on the urgency to motivate students from 'how they are doing in school' to 'why are they doing what they are doing in school.' Kohn uses a remarkable genre of resources from comparing John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and John Holt to B. F. Skinner, Edward K. Thorndike, and E. D. Hirsch, Jr. Stating various research articles and quotes, Kohn supports his theory that classrooms are not failing the schools the issue is that reform is not being grasped and integrated into the classrooms. Kohn presents the facts of previous educational theories by explaining in two parts, first, of how the schools are missing the mark on motivation, teaching and learning, evaluation, reform, and improvement. Secondly, providing suggestions for teachers and parents to reform whether through internal efforts in the classroom or in the community. Kohn walks the reader through each category defining exactly how his research has shown the schools are presently poorly handling the previously mentioned categories. He then follows up with a blue print on how to overhaul the schools by understanding from the conception of the school the intent while not overlooking the importance of reading, writing, and arithmetic yet allowing a move beyond grades and standardized tests to true achievement and motivation of students.
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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Crowell on June 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a community college physics professor, I found Kohn's book interesting in some ways but unhelpful in others. He's right on target with his criticisms of bad textbooks, rote memorization, and "drill and kill." However, he forces every issue into his predetermined framework of "us" (people who agree with Kohn) and "them" (the traditionalists). Many of the real issues that cry out for reform are not being realistically addressed by either camp:
(1) The factory model. Both Kohn and the traditionalists implicitly buy in to the factory model of education, in which everybody has to move at the same pace because that's the speed of the conveyer belt. The traditionalists try to speed up the conveyer belt, but can only achieve that by turning learning into an exercise in memorization. Kohn wants to slow down the conveyer belt, condemning bright students to a day in school spent explaining things to their slower peers. In my opinion, the solution is a return to tracking.
(2) Quality of teachers. The traditionalists don't want to address this because improving teacher quality would cost money, which is anathema to their politically conservative values. Kohn hardly mentions it either, which is amazing in a book of this length. In the sciencies, there's a long history of failed reforms of the type Kohn describes, precisely because so few K-12 teachers are qualified to teach science.
(3) Textbooks. Traditionalists don't want to admit how bad textbooks are. Kohn never wants to have a child read a chapter from a textbook -- apparently even in high school? As a boy in the California public school system, I never even had _access_ to a textbook in any subject outside the three R's.
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful By K. Rocap on February 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Alfie Kohn's "The Schools Our Children Deserve" helps to make contentious educational insider debates on learning, standards and testing accessible to a general readership. Notably he does this, while making sure to bolster his ideas with copious references to educational research, encouraging more - and, importantly, more honest - appraisal of what research really tells us about learning, schools and the possibilities for public education. Kohn forcefully analyzes the "Tougher Standards" approach dominant in U.S. education reform, seeing it as fundamentally flawed.Read more ›
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