No, the venturesome author of $6 Children hasn't gone over to McGuffey's Readers. Rather, he is bucking the current back-to-basics trend by offering his own liberal manifesto--for teaching children the basic skills ""needed to become effective and decent citizens in a democratic society."" After a brief description of the ills of the public schools, Kohl presents an engrossing fictionalized account of a family of Ohio teachers from the Revolution to the present--to demonstrate that the problems are not new ones. Over the years before 1900: money is scarce; immigrants want their children taught in their own language; racism divides the community; children are able only ""to read clumsily, to write badly, to spell wretchedly, and to do the simplest math problems with difficulty."" At the same time, Kohl clearly shows that educational practices condemned by conservatives also stretch back to the earliest days of the Republic. For the present, Kohl rebuts the argument that skills can be divorced from content: even the most elementary reading skill must be applied to some content (what text? and who decides?), in some context (is learning to be competitive or cooperative? are questions to be encouraged?), for some use (is reading for ""confirming current school and business authority""? or for personal pleasure and ""empowerment""?). ""Empowerment"" is a basic goal underlying Kohl's advocacy of ""basic skills."" Not surprisingly, he would have students learn ""to use language well and thoughtfully""; ""to think through a problem and experiment with solutions""; ""to understand scientific and technological ideas and to use tools""; ""to use the imagination""; ""to understand how people function in groups""; and ""to know how to learn something yourself."" To accomplish this, he would have them talk, listen, experiment, and observe. Behind the whole program, those with long memories will recognize the precepts of progressivism--but Kohl has given them a persuasive, up-to-date popular presentation.