This optimistic, anecdotal book offers useful ideas for changes in education.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

A veteran journalist and progressive educator presents a critique of America’s school system and a call to action.

In his debut book, Nelson, a principal at a progressive Manhattan school, tackles many of the issues in American education, from the achievement gap to standardized tests. He begins his treatise by reminding readers of the grave existential threats the world faces, from climate change to nuclear war, and the importance of education in the face of these dangers. He goes on to outline how progressive education can create students who will be more active participants in America’s democracy and who can cope with these perils. Despite his strong opinions about education, Nelson maintains a humorous, self-deprecating touch: “So-called reformers want rigid accountability, more structure…longer school years, more tests and more discipline. Undoing the damage of those loosey-goosey progressive practices is arduous work!” Part history lesson, part professional memoir, the work outlines the roots of America’s current “conventional,” “factory” educational model as well as the history of the progressive model. He advocates for the education of the whole child and seeks to remove stereotypes about project-based, community-oriented progressive education. Throughout, the text maintains a readable, conversational tone: “Beginning in the ’50s and ’60s, America has steadily moved away from intellectualism and toward business-focused pragmatism.” Nelson sprinkles in heartening anecdotes about success stories from his work in progressive schools. He also includes idealistic, flowery adages like “Seeds of brilliance need a dose of aimlessness to flower.” The author makes a concerted effort to maintain a balanced perspective on the place of privilege he writes from, noting that “privileged schools are also immune, in whole or in part, from the misguided public policies that drive bad education.” Occasionally Nelson’s suggestions and opinions are surprisingly simple and radical, such as “It is not hyperbole to suggest that millions of American children might be better served to skip school entirely.” After making his case for progressive education, the author concludes by urging educators to take action and agitate for more funding and smaller classes.

This optimistic, anecdotal book offers useful ideas for changes in education. 

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-942146-48-3

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Garn Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017




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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992



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

Close Quickview