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A mediocre start
on August 11, 2013
This book is used in a graduate course at Mills College in California so people that will be making decisions in education have read it. However, if I was a recent immigrant to America or a new parent concerned about educating my child, I would definitely read this book as well as it clearly identifies many historical attitudes toward education and major changes implemented over two centuries in a country founded on principles of compromise and cooperation that still resonate today. Also, it draws attention to historic legislation that has impacted schools so it is good to know information given that school options differ from when you were a child. As the book is ten years old, it will be necessary to search for more recent legislation and it's impact. Despite some whining by other reviewers, this book does an adequate job of identifying issues raised by minorities and how they were addressed. Most chapters clearly identify sources of conflict, describe conflicting ideas and goals and tactfully point out that for many problems raised, there have never been easy solutions so it is unlikely that they will suddenly materialize in the near future. It may be that zigzagging through decades with rotating leadership is the only workable solution but it is helpful to know the score and major players.
In any case, this is a welcome chapter in American history currently missing from high school level American history textbooks so it is recommended reading for all. However, it is not even close to a panacea.
Obvious areas where the book is lacking identification or discussion
1) nothing beyond 2001 is discussed so it is over ten years out of touch yet the choice to gloss over many older well-known and well-researched topics is frankly embarrassing.
2) although the change from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy prompting a change in schooling methods is discussed in detail, a similar change from an industrial economy to a services economy is completely ignored yet this began in the 70s.
3) although the public school as an institution has always required public funding from a variety of sources prompting a never-ending debate over cirriculum as no single group will tolerate being disparaged nor allow other groups to appear to be favored, the recent impact of favoring race and immigrant based subjects over other subjects is ignored. have conditions changed so much that minorities now deserve special treatment in public schools or should that best be addressed from separate additional weekend schools given that despite the best efforts of most minority clubs, two generations later their grandchildren are indistinguishable from other Americans?
4) with immigrants begging or cheating to get in the door from a variety of nations, should immigrant students be held back until English skills are adequate to assimilate or are we doing them a favor by providing educational materials in their favorite languages and pushing them through the assembly line in as little time as possible? can those not yet represented file discrimination lawsuits rather than making an effort to assimilate? is this policy discouraging assimilation and creating integration problems for other institutions like potential employers, police, courts, hospitals and local governments as recent immigrants refuse to learn English? if grading on a curve, are students fluent in English at an advantage that encourages grade inflation in order to avoid failing those still illiterate in English? the book does not address these topics nor even admit that they exist.
4) globalization has allowed businesses to build branches across national borders, businesses to coordinate supply chains across national borders and labor to routinely migrate between nations. the end of the soviet - american stand off has allowed increased trade, travel and cooperation between nations on an unprecedented level. technology advances such as computers, the internet, mobile phones and the GPS have further increased curiousity, trade and travel. do the children of tomorrow need cultural or language knowledge of major trading partners in order to maintain these alliances and follow employment opportunities as they shift borders? the book is embarassingly silent on this topic.
5) public schools supposedly desperate for funding allowed private businesses to advertise at an unprecedented level in exchange for monopoly supplier status or donations, exposing children to a barrage of commercials targeted toward creating lifetime consumers of products or services, a dramatic decline in school meal programs that nutritionally can only be described as abysmal and encouragement of junk food purchases on campus resulting in an epidemic of obesity and type II diabetes. children unable to afford these newly defined standards of acceptance were no doubt marginalized by forced participation. the book is strangely silent on these topics as well yet they started in the 80s and 90s.
6) student drop out rates are not discussed. teacher union reluctance to accept any responsibility and stonewalling any new approaches is not discussed. american student ranks on an international level are barely discussed. colleges being forced to offer remedial classes and seriously test and track incoming freshman unprepared for college is not discussed. surely all of this is reflected in the on-going debate about the quality of education provided by public schools and yet the book is silent accept to imply that imposing testing and actually caring about the scores is somehow detrimental.
7) increased student pregnancy, abortion, alcohol, smoking and drug use on campus is not discussed. surely mores changed over two centuries?
8) education about public health is alluded to in two photographs but never mentioned in the text yet forced innoculation before enrollment did much to combat childhood diseases and is not being enforced with the new wave of immigration. do we want a return of polio and smallpox? oddly, this topic is ignored.
9) while the shift from urban living to suburban living is unfairly classified as White flight, nothing is said about the shift in the opposite direction by their children, gentrification and the overall global trend toward urbanization. surely this impacts schools in some fashion.
10) while the recent wave of immigration has been primarily from Latin America, it is no different than prior waves from Europe in that public services are initially overloaded and schools are forced to train immigrants how to assimilate. the book chooses to gloss over this need or emphasize the struggle for acceptance of bi-lingual teaching of subjects rather than objectively compare the advantages and disadvantages of integration and assimilation vs. favoritism for one group and reaction by other groups that suddenly feel disenfranchised or are reminded that they were once forced to compromise so why can't the newcomers?
11) cirriculum taught is euphemistically classified as religious, homemaker, vocational or college prep despite initial chapters espousing the benefits of critical thinking and access to information that impacts lifestyle choices and economic or political opportunities. career planning is apparently irrelevant in an age where business requires cooperation and sensitivity to differing tastes and cultures at an unprecedented level due to micro markets and short windows of opportunity for sales and scientific knowledge is growing at an unprecedented rate triggering the introduction of unimagined products and services at an increasingly accelerated pace. unions have been critiqued and properly blamed for deliberately restraining consumer choice and employee opportunity with the unexpected outcome that employees are no longer guaranteed pensions and must learn to plan for their own retirement. similarly, widespread adoption of birth control methods hugely impacts future expenditures and lifestyle choices. lastly, as capitalism clearly trumped socialism/communism and globalization abolished the school-work-retire life cycle, adults must plan for a life with multiple careers and sudden job loss requiring re-training. if these topics are not taught in school, when will citizens or residents learn? it would seem that a chapter on tolerance, cooperation, acceptance, compromise and finance is missing.
12) the market acceptance of rapid change due to technological advances, relatively stable world peace and globalization have introduced much shifts in employment opportunities forcing sudden loss by adults with years of working experience. how should they be retrained and what educational institutions bear responsibility? the book is silent here as well.
13) most appalling in the long standing debate about the quality of public schools is the fact that many students are content to regularly disrupt the classroom impacting the educational experience of their peers and their families are not at all embarrassed when asked to discipline their unruly children preferring instead to sue or threaten to sue forcing tolerance of undesirable students that serve no purpose and provide no redeeming value to society at large. while some will be quick to cite the Constitution and amendments in particular that demand equal opportunity, minimum standards are implied. as Benjamin Franklin said, "Your freedom to stretch your arms stops at the edge of my nose." many parents choose alternatives to public choose because of this climate yet this embarrassing fact is ignored. the leave no child behind policy is controversial at best and needs at least a footnote.
14) historical corporal punishment meted out in schools in implicitly referred to with a photograph of a caning chair but school discipline as a topic is simply ignored as were controversial policies like forcing students to write or play right-handed.
15) many immigrants are not children yet do not speak English or understand American culture and laws. what strategy should be employed to educate adults? the book is silent despite the fact that many states already offer free English classes.
16) the internet has been popular since 1995 so how long did it take for completed exams and essays that earned a passing grade to be exchanged digitally? it is now a fact that many schools must upload student work to websites to compare them and detect cheating implying that many students would rather cheat than learn. in addition to the extra effort required to make each assignment or exam unique, what must teachers do to ensure that the portion of knowledge that need be memorized was in fact studied and learned? aside from viewing past teaching methods of toe-the-line unfavorably, this topic is not discussed.
17) the controversial switch away from rote memorization and learn new vocab by example in favor of phonics is overlooked. is denying students access to famous works because they lack the vocabulary to comprehend preferring to limit themselves to spoke vocabulary really the way to go? surely, there are better ways to increase one's vocab than adopting the latest hip-hop slang?
18) the increased complexity of our world has generated a strong need for leaders knowledgeable in multiple disciplines rather than possessing expertise in merely one and collaborating with other single discipline experts. shouldn't preparation for this role begin in primary or secondary school?