SCHOOLS ON TRIAL by Nikhil Goyal


How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice
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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. 16th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-385-54012-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2015


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