THE STUDENTS ARE WATCHING

SCHOOLS AND THE MORAL CONTRACT

A passionate argument that moral education should be seen as an intrinsic part of high school life suffers from the very abstraction the authors seek to avoid. Sizer, noted author of a trio of school-reform books (Horace’s Hope, 1996, etc.) and his wife, who trains teachers at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, believe that most educators view character education as an “extracurricular” activity designed around a series of “absolute” nouns: respect, integrity, honesty, and so forth. The authors, on the other hand, insist that “the routines and rituals of a school teach, and teach especially about matters of character” and that becoming an ethical person ought to be an active struggle that engages students’ minds as much as calculus does. For even as the typical high school preaches a “civil religion” intended to turn out young people of good character, the Sizers point out, the sights and sounds of a typical school day may undermine these same values. Students who walk into broken-down school buildings learn that their education is not a priority. Teachers who come to school ill-prepared also teach their students how to cut corners. Schools with predominantly white honors classes teach that academic winners and losers break down along racial and class lines. Though the Sizers do a wonderful job of highlighting the hypocrisy that students see all too clearly, the authors frequently use “real-life” situations as springboards for airy theorizing. Rather than discussing the frightening rise in student violence, for example, the chapter on “Shoving” contemplates pushing in the hallways, dirty jokes, and rudeness, before redefining ’shoving” past the point of absurdity to mean breaking new intellectual ground. This book makes an eloquent case that schools need to practice what they preach. But because the authors define their moral categories so broadly, the values they champion lose their power. When words mean too much, they ultimately mean too little.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 1999

ISBN: 0-8070-3120-8

Page Count: 131

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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THE ABOLITION OF MAN

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

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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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