A brick hurled at the windows of the K-12 educational establishment for serving up content-lite curricula that leave US elementary and secondary schools among the worst in the developed world. Hirsch, whose Cultural Literacy helped launch the culture wars, traces the origins of ``Thoughtworld'' (the lock-step ideology pervading elementary education) to three elements— American exceptionalism, Romanticism, and professional separatism- -which when combined culminated in an anti-fact, supposedly child- centered ideology first propagated by Columbia University's Teachers College in the 1920s. With the best intentions, educators, pointing to today's information explosion, have forsaken rigorous, subject-based instruction for buzzwords he claims are unproven in practice, such as ``critical thinking skills,'' ``project- oriented,'' ``hands-on,'' ``developmentally appropriate,'' ``multiple intelligences,'' and the like. Despite his best efforts, Hirsch cannot easily dismiss the complaint that many of America's educational ills spring from a society disrupted by clashing ethnic groups and crumbling families. He is on safer ground in arguing that, because of these social problems, a demanding curriculum is needed to mitigate the effects of class on America's poorest children in their crucial formative years. Hirsch calls for national educational standards. Critics might argue that critical thinking skills serve as the only constant in periods when the conception of cultural literacy repeatedly changes. But without specific content-based objectives, Hirsch observes, children are likely to get little of substance—a dire outcome for all, but especially for disadvantaged children, who transfer in and out of schools the most. He is also likely to vex educational reformers in pointing out that bolstering student self-esteem does not raise achievement if praise comes without work. Hirsch sometimes sounds like Dickens's Thomas Gradgrind, harping on ``facts.'' Still, an on-target indictment of an educational system that refuses to recognize the madness in its teaching methods. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-385-48457-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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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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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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