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CLASS WARFARE

INSIDE THE FIGHT TO FIX AMERICA'S SCHOOLS

An in-depth, impeccably researched examination of the education-reform movements that have swept America over the last several decades, as well as the obstacles they've faced.

The last 20 years have seen drastic changes to the American public-education landscape. For the first time, the United States is not the dominant player on the global scene, and in fact is lagging drastically behind most developed nations. Graduation rates are dropping and, even more disturbingly, students that are graduating are often not proficient in basic skills. Which much of this has been blamed on factors such as poverty and lack of community motivation, most reformers agree that it can be almost directly tied to teacher performance. The problem is clear, but the solution is anything but, as teachers are represented by one of the country's fiercest and tightest unions. Public school teachers are locked into lengthy contracts protecting them but, many argue, often neglecting the students. A bevy of passionate individuals, organizations, philanthropists and even politicians have cropped up with innovative solutions to these problems, and Brill (Journalism/Yale Univ.; After: How America Confronted the September 12 Era, 2003, etc.) follows their efforts closely. From his account, patient zero in the reform movement seems to be Teach for America (TFA), founded in 1990 by Princeton senior Wendy Kopp, which sends outstanding recent college graduates to needy school districts for a two-year stint. Not only has TFA grown exponentially, but it has also produced several other leaders of the reform movement, such as Michelle Rhee, the former controversial Washington, D.C., school superintendent, and David Levin, founder of the massive network of KIPP charter schools. With Obama's election, the reform movement saw a major boost, as the president championed a plan called Race to the Top, which awarded states with unprecedented funding in exchange for reform. The problem with all this reform, however, is determining whether it actually works. Brill appears to be pro-reform and anti-union, though he concedes in the final pages that real change has to come not from band-aids like TFA and charters, but from the regular teachers that reach the vast majority of students across the country. The author tackles this beast of a topic admirably, creating a lucid, often riveting history that will be invaluable to the next generation of reformers.

 

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-1199-1

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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