Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves but Can't Read, Write, or Add
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 A scathing critique that grabs America's educational establishment by the scruff of the neck and shakes it until its trendy goals of building self-esteem, clarifying values, and evaluating feelings rattle hollowly where the three Rs ought to be. Education journalist Sykes (A Nation of Victims, 1992, etc.) gives no quarter to what he calls ``educrats,'' the educational oligarchy that descends from the Department of Education through the hierarchy of the National Education Association to administratively bloated school districts and undereducated teachers. Students and their parents don't fare much better. Despite studies that show American scholastic achievement has dropped by almost every measure in recent years, Americans are complacent about the quality of their education, rating themselves far higher than their employers do or than comparisons with other countries allow. Part of the blame, says Sykes, goes to schools where, in the interests of leveling the playing field, hard grades have been replaced by softer evaluations such as ``area of stregth.'' For the most part, none of Sykes's criticisms of such educational innovations as Outcome-Based Education (students repeat the material and the test until they get the right ``outcome'') or boring and politically correct textbooks are new, but marshalled together, they present a terrifying prospect for American education. He does add historical perspective, tracing the evolution of authoritarian classroom to ``child-centered education'' from Jean-Jacques Rousseau via John Dewey. There's a revolution coming, Sykes predicts, and it should begin with school choicefollowed by, among other things, abolishing the Department of Education and undergraduate schools of education. While not successfully addressing the important question of whether school choice will further ghettoize public schools, he does agree with critics who suggest that not holding poor and minority children to a high standard is racist. A telling attack. Parents and visionary educators, if not educrats, should sit up and take notice. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-13474-6
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1995


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