HOPE AGAINST HOPE

THREE SCHOOLS, ONE CITY, AND THE STRUGGLE TO EDUCATE AMERICA'S CHILDREN

Education reporter Carr debuts with a balanced account of the growing charter-school movement in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Deftly weaving in background on the abysmal historical performance of New Orleans public schools and the strong focus on discipline and routine of charter schools aimed at preparing students for college, the author shows how the charter approach is working on the ground through the eyes of individuals in three randomly selected schools: 14-year-old Geraldlynn Stewart, who struggles to find her way as a high school student; Aidan Kelly, a 24-year-old teacher and Harvard graduate who sees his school as an academic boot camp; and Mary Laurie, veteran principal of one of the first schools to reopen after Katrina, who asks students, “Would you come along with me on this journey?” Their closely reported experiences in schools of the national chain KIPPS (Knowledge Is Power Program) illustrate the issues, challenges and satisfactions of the demanding, no-excuses charter way. Like the other charters, Sci Academy, where Aidan teaches, emphasizes success on standardized tests; it is “a technocrat’s dream: run by graduates of the nation’s most elite institutions, steeped in data, always seeking precision, divorced from the messiness…of democracy.” With their missionary zeal and outsider status, its young teachers “resemble the settlement house workers of a century ago,” writes Carr. Principal Laurie hopes her students will journey on to college; Geraldlynn’s parents, too, hope the new charter schooling will open a longed-for door. While often repetitive, the book evokes the realities of a city school system in transition. The schools are improving and test scores are up, she writes, but only college graduation rates in future years will tell whether charters make a difference.

Detailed and thoughtful.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-60819-490-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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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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Moving and motivating—a must-read for practicing professionals and would-be musicians.

STRINGS ATTACHED

ONE TOUGH TEACHER AND THE GIFT OF GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Inspirational lessons from the life of one tough teacher.

Today’s parents who lament their children stressing over tests may be horrified by the themes of tough love and tenacity offered by this biographical tribute to the late Jerry Kupchynsky, “Mr. K,” a gifted high school strings teacher from East Brunswick, N.J., whose exacting methods helped spawn the careers of generations of musicians and educators. Journalist Lipman and Kupchynsky, a violinist and Mr. K’s daughter, met as children when Mr. K joined his daughter’s exceptional talents on violin with Lipman’s on viola to form half of a string quartet that would also include Kupchynsky’s younger sister, whose disappearance decades later reunited the authors. The bond forged through the intensity of creating music is but one of the storylines running through this engrossing account of Mr. K’s life. Born in 1928 in the Ukraine, Mr. K endured a litany of wartime atrocities before immigrating to the United States as a refugee in 1946. But prior to fleeing to the U.S., it was the sound of a German soldier playing the violin that sparked his love for classical music. Surviving these early hardships helped instill in Mr. K an appreciation of adversity as a motivator, an unflagging belief in the value of hard work and a willingness to fight for the underdog. With a booming Ukrainian accent and “trim” mustache, Mr. K’s battle-ax demeanor and perfectionist drive struck both fear and a ferocious desire to succeed in the hearts of his pupils. One of his more unforgiving approaches involved singling out a section’s weakest player—“Who eez deaf in first violins?”—and forcing the guilty party to play alone with a stronger player until the weak one improved. While tactics like these may not have earned his students’ immediate devotion, they never forgot him and often found they could achieve more than they ever dreamed.

Moving and motivating—a must-read for practicing professionals and would-be musicians.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2466-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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