Kozol sounds the alarm—and the news is alarming—but offers fewer solutions than does Chris Whittle in Crash Course (reviewed...



Just in time for the new school year, a furious assault on separate-but-unequal education.

If you want to see a segregated school, reports National Book Award–winning author Kozol (Amazing Grace, 1995, etc.), then “start by looking for a school that’s named for Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks.” Whereas affluent parents are given to putting their children into preschools at the age of two or three, most children in poor urban neighborhoods have no such experience; the principal of one of the poor schools on which Kozol focuses estimates that fewer than five percent of its students has had the two years of pre-kindergarten instruction that are the norm among the well-to-do. The inequalities continue: Throughout a poor child’s school career, fewer amenities are available, whether desks or books or heaters or computers. And, Kozol maintains, things are getting worse, yielding a de facto system of educational apartheid across the country, markedly in minority-heavy venues such as Los Angeles and New York, but visibly everywhere, there are poor people. Just as bad, poor schools are increasingly regimented along pseudo-military lines, Kozol notes, with silent lunches and silent recesses to punctuate long periods of “active listening,” meaning silence; bright children who in better circumstances would be college-bound are shunted off into unchallenging vo-tech courses such as sewing and auto shop, whereas the kids at Beverly Hills High get to take electives in computer graphics, broadcast journalism and sculpture. No wonder poor children graduate in such small numbers: Of 1,275 ninth-graders in one school, Kozol reports, only 400 were enrolled in the 12th grade three years later, and of these, “not quite 15 percent . . . met the requirements for graduation in June of their senior year.”

Kozol sounds the alarm—and the news is alarming—but offers fewer solutions than does Chris Whittle in Crash Course (reviewed below).

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-5244-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992

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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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