THE GREAT SCHOOL DEBATE: Which Way for American Education? by Beatrice & Ronald Gross--Eds. Gross
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THE GREAT SCHOOL DEBATE: Which Way for American Education?

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From the 1983 flurry of grim education reports--A Nation at Risk, etc.--and the ensuing controversy, the Grosses (co-editors of Radical School Reform, authors singly or jointly of numerous other works on education) have now produced a volume that undercuts the educational-excellence forces even as it puts their major texts and spokespersons on display. There are 64 selections, divided into nine categories, but the tenor and thrust of the collection could be summed up in a single editorial comment, prefacing Carl Singleton's ""Let There Be 'F's' "": ""In a sense he's right: many parents and children will snap to if they are motivated by F's. It's also true that many will be motivated to drop out, which would, of course, improve the average SAT scores profoundly."" The book begins with the text of the Nation Commission on Excellence in Education report, A Nation at Risk, followed by a summary of that report and eight others (including Mortimer Adler's Paideia Proposal, Boyer, and Goodlad); then comes ""the best reactions""--a positive appraisal by Chester E. Finn, Jr., an analytical blast by Lawrence C. Stedman and Marshall S. Smith (""Weak Arguments, Poor Data, Simplistic Recommendations""), and various other critiques, serious and satirical (among them Paul Peterson on ""the organizational and political realities of commission decision-making""). There's a section of classroom reports, across the board from Boyer to James Herndon: ""They make reform seem even more necessary--but also far more difficult."" Then come ranges-of-opinion on curriculum (conservative prescriptiveness, liberal ""flexibility""), on ""the perils of permissiveness"" and the pitfalls of reliance on test scores (with divergent black views, a general leaning away from ""legislated excellence""). That brings us to the overriding issues: ""Can We Be Excellent--and Equal, Too?"" and ""The Schools in the Body Politic."" (Here's where the liberal pluralists mount their strongest arguments, where ""educational conservatism"" is dissected.) Later sections include a sampling of official responses and considerations of cost. Though weighted as a representation of the Great Debate, the book does ultimately present an integrated liberal-reform alternative--as well as a lot of meaty, often zesty documentation. (By contrast, the Bunzel et al. Challenge to American Schools, above, consists of educational-excellence support papers.)

Pub Date: April 9th, 1985
Publisher: Simon & Schuster