A heartfelt but limited-scope plea for systemic change from a determined gadfly.



A journalist argues that conventional schools are oppressive, anti-democratic, and even harmful to children.

Goyal (One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School, 2012), currently an undergraduate at Goddard College, likens schools to prisons, where inmates are “cut off from the rest of society, stripped of your basic freedoms and rights, like free speech and free press, told what to do all day, and surveilled dragnet style.” He bases that harsh indictment on his own recent, frustrating experience at a well-regarded Long Island high school; three years spent visiting schools and interviewing students, administrators, and teachers; and reading works by John Holt, Jonathan Kozol, Ivan Illich, and George Dennison, famous advocates of education reform in the 1960s and ’70s. Unhappy students offer Goyal ample evidence “that schools are exhausting the gifts of creativity, curiosity, and zeal” that the author believes every child possesses. Happy students attend unconventional schools such as Brightworks in San Francisco (49 students, with tuition of $25,095); Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts (150 students, and a top tuition of $8,400 per year); and Brooklyn Free School, with 82 students and tuition ranging from $18,000 per year for preschool to $22,000 per year for high school. Goyal admits that these schools are tiny compared with the huge public school population, and because they charge tuition, they “generally attract students from upper-middle-class and affluent families,” the population Goyal seems most familiar with. He has little to say about the needs of disadvantaged students. All students, he insists, should pursue their “passions and interests,” preferably outside of classrooms. “The ultimate dream,” he writes, “is for the city and community to be reimagined as the school itself,” where students would take advantage of libraries, museums, community centers, and even coffeehouses, learning “however, whenever, whatever, and with whomever they choose.”

A heartfelt but limited-scope plea for systemic change from a determined gadfly.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-54012-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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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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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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