The concise and passionate story of how a teenager formed his own school that is “intellectually demanding of all its...



The story behind one young man’s alternative school within a school.

By the time Levin reached his junior year, like many kids his age, he had resigned himself to having a couple of great classes, a few he hated, and the rest that were boring. He had interests outside of school that helped him get through his days, but what made him angry was how those with nothing beyond the regimented school day were missing out on life. They weren’t being stimulated in school and had no projects or part-time jobs to engage them. So Levin took matters into his own hands and started his own school. With the support of his mother, Engel (Developmental Psychology/Williams Coll.; The Hungry Mind: The Origins of Curiosity in Childhood, 2015, etc.), and other adults in his high school—and after months of planning—Levin created the Independent Project, a student-run school. The school focused on the students’ interests and passions rather than required curriculum. Though the plan incorporated some traditional subjects, Levin and his team switched things up by aligning science with the humanities and English with math. In alternating voices, Levin and Engel tell the story of how the IP evolved, giving readers an inside look at the entire journey, including the first irritated moments that sparked the original idea, getting approval from the school board, recruiting students, and initiating a trial semester. The authors address their triumphs, setbacks, fears, and concerns, analyzing the step-by-step process so that others may follow and create their own independently run schools. For those who have investigated home schooling, Levin’s methods are reminiscent of unschooling, the process by which learning occurs on a more personal, interest-driven level, without the need to use conventional grading systems. The authors clearly show that learning can be an invigorating, exciting experience for almost everyone—if approached in the right manner.

The concise and passionate story of how a teenager formed his own school that is “intellectually demanding of all its students, no matter what their academic history.”

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62097-152-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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.


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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