An impassioned call for radical educational reform.

THE RISE AND FALL OF PUBLIC EDUCATION

THE POLITICAL DILEMMA

A scathing indictment of America’s educational system.

In this well-structured treatise, Tull (The Rise and Fall of the Unions’ Empire, 2013) gives an overview of what he sees as the sad state of affairs in American schools. In it, he offers a history of public education, a diagnosis of what he sees as its problems and “several choices to reverse the descending freefall.” Many readers may agree with him that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has been a colossal failure, with lots of unintended consequences. The author specifically criticizes the use of standardized testing as the ultimate indicator of student achievement and teacher effectiveness. As he flatly states, “Incentives based on student grades needs [sic] to be eliminated.” Some of his proposals, such as proper nutrition and increased parental responsibility, easily fall into the mainstream. He also advocates for giving parents and students more choices, among a wider network of options: “Charter schools, online schools, home-schools and private school voucher programs must become fully implemented.” However, some readers may question a few of his suggested corrective measures, such as the establishment of military schools for repeatedly disruptive students and mandatory uniforms for all. According to Tull, teachers’ unions must also accept a marked decrease in benefits and end the practice of granting tenure. The author hasn’t worked as an educator himself, so he relies upon a wide array of data and anecdotal evidence to support his claims. To that end, he provides an impressive array of statistics in appendices that comprise half the text. This data is perhaps the author’s most valuable contribution to the contentious debates surrounding educational reform, as it allows readers to compare the United States with other countries and to evaluate figures for individual states. He also includes a helpful key for acronyms and a list of recommended readings. Ultimately, although readers may find some of his arguments unconvincing, they’re nonetheless worthy of consideration.

An impassioned call for radical educational reform.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500482558

Page Count: 218

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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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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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

COLUMBINE

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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