Schniedewind (Humanistic and Multicultural Education/SUNY-New Paltz; Open Minds to Equality, 2006, etc.) and Sapon-Shevin (Inclusive Education/Syracuse Univ.; Widening the Circle: The Power of Inclusive Classrooms, 2007, etc.) curate a mixed bag of essays and stories on education that will resound with some readers but are unlikely to sway others.
Joining the swollen ranks of strident, well-intentioned books about the problems facing public schools is this collection by educators of their experiences with the downside of "market-driven initiatives." This loosely refers to standardized testing, both in quantity and in bearing on whether schools receive funding; merit pay; charter schools and their detriment to public schooling; and the sharp division across cultural lines observed in the effects of Race to the Top–style incentives. We learn of a superintendent faced with students wracked with anxiety over a mandatory test (some literally to the point of pulling out their hair) who, while empathizing with them and agreeing the pressure has become too intense, couldn’t do anything because "it's the law." Another story follows a teacher who quit a hard-won job with Teach for America in a high-poverty school, because there was no discussion of "institutionalized racism and classism as root causes of the achievement gap." Many of the pieces concern how we define excellence in academics—is it by intrinsic motivation in students, uniformity, rigor, specificity, or victory? At the strongest points in the collection, educators make solid, non-pedantic cases for a rethinking of local and national education standards. Other stories seem marginally related to the topic, serving as vehicles for various left-wing bugbears that, while worthy of discussion, limit the effectiveness of the book as a whole.
Like a spray of buckshot—some pieces hit the target, but the impact is limited.