Like a spray of buckshot—some pieces hit the target, but the impact is limited.

EDUCATIONAL COURAGE

RESISTING THE AMBUSH ON PUBLIC EDUCATION

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.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8070-3295-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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INSIDE AMERICAN EDUCATION

THE DECLINE, THE DECEPTION, THE DOGMAS

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.

COLUMBINE

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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