An informative analysis of elementary education that highlights pervasive problems.

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THE KNOWLEDGE GAP

THE HIDDEN CAUSE OF AMERICA'S BROKEN EDUCATION SYSTEM--AND HOW TO FIX IT

Education journalist Wexler (co-author: The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades, 2017, etc.) mounts a compelling critique of American elementary schools, which, she argues, focus exclusively—and futilely—on boosting reading and math test scores, ignoring social studies, history, and science.

As a reaction to the drilling and rote memorization that characterized 19th-century public schools, child-centered progressive education systems began to emphasize “hand-on activities” that would respond to students’ interests and minimize teachers’ roles in “the transmission of knowledge.” By the mid-20th century, the “bitter, long-running conflict known as the Reading Wars” pitted those who supported teaching phonics against “whole language” theorists who believe that children will “naturally pick up the ability to read and write if allowed to choose books and topics that interest them.” Neither approach accounts for content. Wexler distinguishes between decoding, which she asserts can best be taught by “systematic phonics,” and comprehension, which she finds is now taught by systematic strategies—finding the main idea, summarizing—rather than by building a student’s knowledge base. The author finds this lack of teacher-directed knowledge egregious: There is little evidence that practicing skills improves test scores. In contrast, “nine countries that consistently outrank the United States on international assessments all provide their students with a comprehensive, content-rich curricula.” Comprehension is related not to skills but to a student’s familiarity with a subject, Wexler argues, and yet some educators believe that teaching history to young children is “developmentally inappropriate.” Besides citing various studies, the author offers vivid anecdotal evidence from classroom observation of a content-rich curriculum. Like E.D. Hirsch, whose 1987 book Cultural Literacy unleashed “a political firestorm,” Wexler admits the considerable challenge of creating curricula that foster critical thinking abilities, build logically from grade to grade, reflect “a diversity of viewpoints” with texts that “appeal to different constituencies,” and can be assessed by “general knowledge tests.”

An informative analysis of elementary education that highlights pervasive problems.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1355-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avery

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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THE ABOLITION OF MAN

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.

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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