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
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.)
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