Of tremendous importance to parents, educational reformers, and anyone concerned with the myriad failings of the present...

THE LANGUAGE POLICE

HOW PRESSURE GROUPS RESTRICT WHAT STUDENTS LEARN

Johnny and Janie can’t read, can’t find the Pacific on a map, can’t even think—all thanks to official censorship that “represents a systemic breakdown of our ability to educate the next generation.”

So argues conservative pundit and Bush I assistant secretary of education Ravitch (Left Back, 2000, etc.) in a hard-hitting attack on the educational establishment and the interest groups, left and right, that control it. It’s not so much that youngsters today are coddled with sensitive textbook language that bars reference to Africans as slaves or Jews as classical musicians or that dances around the non-niceties of Islamic fundamentalism, though this sort of censorship is awful enough in Ravitch’s estimation; it’s that contending political groups, from the Christian right to gay and lesbian alliances, have so thoroughly inserted their agendas into the classroom that it’s become practically impossible to depict anyone doing anything, whether it’s George Washington crossing the Delaware or George Washington Carver finding economic uses for peanuts, without arousing someone’s ire. The governing idea in the resulting content-free, actor-free, active-verb–free educational scene is that no one be offended by any idea he or she is ever exposed to in the classroom—European Americans excepted, Ravitch writes, for they “are the only group that must be taken down a few pegs; their self-esteem is too high.” Battles over curriculum and textbooks are nothing new, of course, as Ravitch shows; still, those battles have become particularly bitter in just the last few years: school boards, educators, and textbook publishers have so utterly given in to political pressure that no opinion—and almost no piece of literature—can be aired in a venue that once prided itself as a forum for the free expression of ideas, and that can now no longer teach anything of real value. Ravitch’s assault is far-reaching, admirably complete, and generally nondoctrinaire. She takes on ideologues of whatever stripe, finds them all wanting, and offers, in detail, a reasonable alternative in the form of a curriculum that explains that sometimes history hasn’t been very nice while allowing historical actors to speak for themselves.

Of tremendous importance to parents, educational reformers, and anyone concerned with the myriad failings of the present culture.

Pub Date: April 21, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-41482-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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