An examination of the quandaries surrounding the teaching profession from various angles.

Cohen (The Ordeal of Equality: Did Federal Regulation Fix the Schools?, 2009, etc.) discusses the complexity of teaching, and in starting with the task of defining the profession, he illustrates the byzantine nature of the American education system. He explains some underlying problems that are often neglected, such as how teachers “do not play a central part in setting standards of occupational quality,” and he touches upon conflicts concerning testing and controversies surrounding what the results mean. Cohen emphasizes how educators are not practicing in isolation, which further complicates the matter. If there are limited connections between school and real-world experiences, he writes, then students’ investment in the system is compromised. “Teaching in such circumstances is the human improver’s version of unrequited love: the prospect of success is appealing, but its costs can be enormous when students’ and teachers’ work is not framed by contracts to work hard together. The responsibility for improvement is one-sided,” he writes. The author mentions societal influences such as the emergence of “well-educated and engaged young teachers in Teach For America” and charter schools as a positive response to the issues, but he does not explain how or why. Cohen’s focus seems to drift in his exploration of types of instructional discourse. He does not offer solutions to the predicaments of the book’s title, but he does prove that “US public education is not organized to help teachers manage the predicaments of their occupation.” Uneven but ultimately useful for educators and reformers.


Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-674-05110-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.


Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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The sub-title of this book is "Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools." But one finds in it little about education, and less about the teaching of English. Nor is this volume a defense of the Christian faith similar to other books from the pen of C. S. Lewis. The three lectures comprising the book are rather rambling talks about life and literature and philosophy. Those who have come to expect from Lewis penetrating satire and a subtle sense of humor, used to buttress a real Christian faith, will be disappointed.

Pub Date: April 8, 1947

ISBN: 1609421477

Page Count: -

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1947

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