An informative analysis of elementary education that highlights pervasive problems.

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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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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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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