Less a revelatory exploration of policy gone wrong than a heartfelt call to action, Owens’ account of a lower-income school...

CONFESSIONS OF A BAD TEACHER

THE SHOCKING TRUTH FROM THE FRONT LINES OF AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION

A publishing professional’s account of his detour teaching in a Bronx public high school and of the scapegoating he experienced at the hands of its administrator.

Owens, whose 2011 Salon article “Confessions of a Bad Teacher” inspired this book, taught for less than one year at a school he renames Latinate Institute. Spearheaded by “Mrs. P,” an ambitious principal who emphasized data and visionary statements (and who was later discovered to be inflating graduation numbers), the school suffered from an emphasis on “pageantry.” Often blaming staff for situations beyond their control—including students with behavioral problems and disabilities—Mrs. P exemplified (for the author) problems with contemporary school reform, which often insist on teachers bearing responsibility for “classroom management” even when they are plagued with obvious problems, from minimal parental involvement to a lack of administrative support and special education resources. Owens’ optimism toward teaching diminished once he realized he was "at the bottom of an organizational chart that had more arrows than Custer’s last stand." With a mix of genuine frustration and occasional weary humor, the author reveals his views on the school’s goal-oriented expectations, which often masked the fact that many students lacked basic skills, and on the unfairness of the teacher-evaluation system, among related topics. Though Mrs. P emerges as a tyrannical personage, most of Owens' anecdotes, such as those involving fellow teachers, underscore his point: In the wake of No Child Left Behind, education is failing, and the American public cannot ignore some of the fundamental reasons, including wealth disparity.

Less a revelatory exploration of policy gone wrong than a heartfelt call to action, Owens’ account of a lower-income school does not tread surprising ground for readers familiar with the topic. Still, he offers a worthy perspective on the need to change the ways in which teachers are viewed and concludes with useful suggestions to get started.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-8100-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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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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