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 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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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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