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Jefferson's Children: Education and The Promise of American Culture Hardcover – September 15, 1997

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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From Kirkus Reviews

A heavyweight educator springs out of the liberal corner bobbing and weaving, dealing a hail of punishing body blows to the neoconservative establishment. Botstein, the president of Bard College, is sick and tired of hearing neocons moan about how bad education is now and how good it was back in the old days of privilege. True: Education now is not so good, as he realistically concedes, but it was always pretty bad and has only been getting better over the years. Instead of indulging ourselves in such self-aggrandizing nostalgia, we must look with pride at our accomplishments (inclusion of traditionally excluded groups, programs like Head Start). We ought to be able, suggests Botstein, to set in motion a national enthusiasm for mental excellence along the order of our longstanding national craze for physical fitness. The value of learning must be emphasized in the home and community. But centrally we must transform our schools by creating ``a flexible system with new options that meet the new realities facing us.'' Among the new realities he cites is the fact (or maybe factoid) that the onset of puberty is now much earlier than it used to be. Our system was created in an era when children matured later. Consequently, Botstein advocates abolishing high school altogether. At 16, students would be dispersed into different kinds of educational options: four-year college for some, community college for others; vocational and professional training or national service would also be options. Teachers should be trained in a discipline rather than in ``education,'' and they should be better paid. We must break down the irrational preoccupation so many college-bound students (and their parents) have with getting into the ``best'' schools. A good undergraduate education is a good education, no matter whether it comes from the Ivy League or a less prestigious institution. Though this book is not destined to be popular among high- school administrators, Botstein makes a strong, shrewd, sensible case for his radical proposals. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (October 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385475551
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385475556
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,137,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There is something freightening about Leon Botstein's astute critique about American culture in our time. He has an overreaching and encompasing view of American culture and the current state of education that is alarmingly accruate. His percetions of what is weak, and what is needed, should be heeded by every perosn interested in culture and cultural history. His theories tend to be paradoxically radical, liberal, and conservative at the same time, and are, in the end, in the very best interests, not only of individual students at large, but for the country in general. As I read, I kept thinking, if only this man were given free reign over educational reform at the highest governmental level, then we would really see revolutionary change. The most radical proposal is that high school as we know it, and have known it for the past century, be abolished. This comes from a study, not only of the weaknesses and failures of the kind of education our students now receive, but also from the biological and medical standpoint that students mature physically and sexually at much earlier ages now than in decades past, and that the educational system has not kept up. It is this linking between biology and education that is most strikingly innovative in his study. Instead of high school, a variety of options will become available to 15-16 year olds, including 2 year community college, 4 year college, vocational school, or work. Here, it is the 2 year college and vocational school that take on a much greater importance than they currently do. With more importance placed on better education at all levels, the current importance and snobism of "elite" education will be lessened.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I got the feeling from this book that Leon Botstein is very very good at paying attention. His entire adult life has been devoted to education and several other passions (music and art) and he hasn't missed anything. This book combines fiery and opinionated scholarship, a humane and humanistic approach, and years of practical experience in education. Botstein: "Going to school should be like taking swimming and driving lessons: preparation for something adults continue to wish to do." It's so on-the-mark that as I said above, I believe it should be required reading for anyone interested in education and/or the future of American culture. Botstein is a 'visionary' and fortunately also President of Bard College, so one would hope that he gets to put some of his ideas into practice. One point he makes is that students would be well served if teachers expended the same amouht of energy and enthusiasm on each child that, for example, coaches do on their student athletes. He wants schools to change, but he's utterly down to earth at the same time. He recognizes that "school is not life, and life is not school." He has sensible and intelligent prescriptions for 'fixing' American education. He seems trustworthy and wise. Definitely worth reading and discussing.
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Format: Hardcover
As a university professor at a prestigious and highly "diverse" institution, I find it extremely unclear just how we are to transform today's American population into the spontaneously reflective, bibliophiliac, broad-horizoned culture-vultures that Botstein proposes we refashion our schools to create. I LOVE the ideal, but that's as a person of literate, upper-middle-class background who grew up stepped in those very ideals. I am not sure Botstein has been exposed to the true depths of anti-intellectualism in America, or perhaps among humans in general -- most people WORLDWIDE simply do not LIKE to "think" for its own sake, and today's universities are much more deeply permeated by unthinking radicalism than Botstein's experience has apparently shown him, which will make it almost inconceivable that the typical college student will be taught with the truly broad horizons Botstein sings of.
As much as I applaud Botstein's general vision, I cannot help thinking that it would much more practical if we were dealing with a student body composed entirely of white kids from Scarsdale, a demographic type which dominates the Bard students he has the most experience with.
His proposal that high school be eliminated, however, is thoroughly sound, as are his calls for what should be taught before students either go to college or elsewhere. It is curious, however, that he does not mention Simon's Rock, a school exemplifying this very principle, which he even heads. I am an alumnus of it and can attest that describing the place would have made his argument even more compelling.
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Format: Hardcover
I first heard Len Bostein give a talk on education and then bought his book. He offers a fresh way to look at our schools and offers some new ideas. It will have some difficulty gaining any kind of acceptance since it is a challenge the the current "educational structure." He like Jacques Barzun question the need for Education Departments ay universities and colleges. They both are quite articulate on this subject and point out that teachers teach and that teachers are not "educators" nor are "educators" teachers. Read Jacques Barzun's book entitled Teacher IN America. It was first published in 1941 and remains current today. Both these books offer sensible ideas which have great difficulty becoming accepted since they differ from thos ideas of the establised interests.
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