One can agree with most of Merrow’s points without seeing the path forward to the more studentcentric schools he envisions.

From an award-winning career as an education correspondent, Merrow (The Influence of Teachers, 2011, etc.) sees a nation desperately in need of recovery from addiction to testing and pouring good money after bad.

There is no quick fix for our failed schools, writes the author, who has won the George Polk Award and two George Foster Peabody Awards. Instead, we need radical reform of a system that has become obsessed with data and metrics, with graduation and dropout rates that can be easily manipulated, and with schools that would rather their students be obedient and easily controlled, regurgitating the facts they have been fed, than to have their creativity and intellectual curiosity unleashed. Employing the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous as the organizing principle for his manifesto, he writes, “I am convinced that we as a nation are ‘hooked’ on what we hope will be quick fixes for deep systemic problems. We are in denial.” The comparison and the book’s format only work to a point, as Merrow’s analysis, not surprisingly, does a better job detailing the problem than the solution. The major problem, as so many have previously suggested, is that standardized testing encourages teachers to teach to the test rather than engage young minds, particularly when those test results will be used to evaluate those teachers. There is big money in those testing services and in school reform in general, some of it going to administrators who are stronger on rhetoric than on real education, some to the likes of Amazon and Apple for technology that is often misused or misunderstood, and some to big pharma within the overdiagnosed, pill-popping culture that would prefer to see students medicated than stimulated. The author mixes his diagnoses and prescriptions with four decades of anecdotes and reporting, insisting that the current system “is flawed beyond repair.”

One can agree with most of Merrow’s points without seeing the path forward to the more studentcentric schools he envisions.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62097-241-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017




American schools at every level, from kindergarten to postgraduate programs, have substituted ideological indoctrination for education, charges conservative think-tanker Sowell (Senior Fellow/Hoover Institution; Preferential Polices, 1990, etc.) in this aggressive attack on the contemporary educational establishment. Sowell's quarrel with "values clarification" programs (like sex education, death-sensitizing, and antiwar "brainwashing") isn't that he disagrees with their positions but, rather, that they divert time and resources from the kind of training in intellectual analysis that makes students capable of reasoning for themselves. Contending that the values clarification programs inspired by his archvillain, psychotherapist Carl Rogers, actually inculcate values confusion, Sowell argues that the universal demand for relevance and sensitivity to the whole student has led public schools to abdicate their responsibility to such educational ideals as experience and maturity. On the subject of higher education, Sowell moves to more familiar ground, ascribing the declining quality of classroom instruction to the insatiable appetite of tangentially related research budgets and bloated athletic programs (to which an entire chapter, largely irrelevant to the book's broader argument, is devoted). The evidence offered for these propositions isn't likely to change many minds, since it's so inveterately anecdotal (for example, a call for more stringent curriculum requirements is bolstered by the news that Brooke Shields graduated from Princeton without taking any courses in economics, math, biology, chemistry, history, sociology, or government) and injudiciously applied (Sowell's dismissal of student evaluations as responsible data in judging a professor's classroom performance immediately follows his use of comments from student evaluations to document the general inadequacy of college teaching). All in all, the details of Sowell's indictment—that not only can't Johnny think, but "Johnny doesn't know what thinking is"—are more entertaining than persuasive or new.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1993

ISBN: 0-02-930330-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992



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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