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The Schools Our Children Deserve Paperback – 1 Mar 2001

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Arguing against the "tougher standards" rhetoric that marks the current education debate, the author of No Contest and Punished by Rewards writes that such tactics squeeze the pleasure out of learning. Reprint.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 47 reviews
85 of 96 people found the following review helpful
Excellent book for student teachers, teachers, and parents. 3 Nov. 1999
By Renée Cole ( - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A very powerfully written book by a former teacher turned author and lecturer, Alfie Kohn. Kohn criticizes the theories of behaviorists and traditionalists accusing politicians, parents, and teachers of continuing to 'drill and kill' students on a `'bunch o' facts'. The Old School manner of rote memorization joined now with standardized testing is missing the mark on the urgency to motivate students from 'how they are doing in school' to 'why are they doing what they are doing in school.' Kohn uses a remarkable genre of resources from comparing John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and John Holt to B. F. Skinner, Edward K. Thorndike, and E. D. Hirsch, Jr. Stating various research articles and quotes, Kohn supports his theory that classrooms are not failing the schools the issue is that reform is not being grasped and integrated into the classrooms. Kohn presents the facts of previous educational theories by explaining in two parts, first, of how the schools are missing the mark on motivation, teaching and learning, evaluation, reform, and improvement. Secondly, providing suggestions for teachers and parents to reform whether through internal efforts in the classroom or in the community. Kohn walks the reader through each category defining exactly how his research has shown the schools are presently poorly handling the previously mentioned categories. He then follows up with a blue print on how to overhaul the schools by understanding from the conception of the school the intent while not overlooking the importance of reading, writing, and arithmetic yet allowing a move beyond grades and standardized tests to true achievement and motivation of students.
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
rigid "us" versus "them" outlook 3 Jun. 2000
By Benjamin Crowell - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As a community college physics professor, I found Kohn's book interesting in some ways but unhelpful in others. He's right on target with his criticisms of bad textbooks, rote memorization, and "drill and kill." However, he forces every issue into his predetermined framework of "us" (people who agree with Kohn) and "them" (the traditionalists). Many of the real issues that cry out for reform are not being realistically addressed by either camp:
(1) The factory model. Both Kohn and the traditionalists implicitly buy in to the factory model of education, in which everybody has to move at the same pace because that's the speed of the conveyer belt. The traditionalists try to speed up the conveyer belt, but can only achieve that by turning learning into an exercise in memorization. Kohn wants to slow down the conveyer belt, condemning bright students to a day in school spent explaining things to their slower peers. In my opinion, the solution is a return to tracking.
(2) Quality of teachers. The traditionalists don't want to address this because improving teacher quality would cost money, which is anathema to their politically conservative values. Kohn hardly mentions it either, which is amazing in a book of this length. In the sciencies, there's a long history of failed reforms of the type Kohn describes, precisely because so few K-12 teachers are qualified to teach science.
(3) Textbooks. Traditionalists don't want to admit how bad textbooks are. Kohn never wants to have a child read a chapter from a textbook -- apparently even in high school? As a boy in the California public school system, I never even had _access_ to a textbook in any subject outside the three R's. At least the traditionalists recognize that schools need more books.
(4) The disorganization of the curriculum. Although Kohn pooh-poohs the popularly accepted idea that fuzzy-headed reformers took over education, there's more than a grain of truth in it. As a boy, I never saw any hint of a system when it came to subjects outside the three R's like science and history. Kohn is correct when he says standards should be far less detailed, but there is indeed a need for standards.
46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Kohn Opens the Standards Debate and Issues a Call to Action 13 Feb. 2000
By K. Rocap - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Alfie Kohn's "The Schools Our Children Deserve" helps to make contentious educational insider debates on learning, standards and testing accessible to a general readership. Notably he does this, while making sure to bolster his ideas with copious references to educational research, encouraging more - and, importantly, more honest - appraisal of what research really tells us about learning, schools and the possibilities for public education. Kohn forcefully analyzes the "Tougher Standards" approach dominant in U.S. education reform, seeing it as fundamentally flawed. He describes faulty historical and research perspectives that have led to the standards fixation and describes five specific ways that "Tougher Standards" are troublesome: (1) they create a preoccupation with achievement, constantly focusing students on improving performance, which, according to Kohn, is "not only different from, but often detrimental to, a focus on learning;" (2) the approach favors "Old School teaching," as opposed to progressive, developmental learning, and creates a misguided focus on so-called "basic skills" and "core knowledge;" (3) the movement is "wedded to standardized testing," with teach-to-the-test activities routinely displacing higher level learning opportunities for children; (4) their implementation has created rationales for top-down control, "imposing specific requirements and trying to coerce improvement by specifying exactly what must be taught and learned;" (5) "Tougher Standards," so-called, create assumptions about "rigor" and "challenge" that can be summarized as "harder is better," with the notion that if teaching goes down like distasteful medicine that that is how it should be, regardless of whether it turns large numbers of students off to learning, and doesn't even succeed in providing the "just the facts" kind of education often touted by "basic skills" or "core curriculum" advocates.
Kohn goes on to describe, in a "back to the future" way (citing John Dewey and Jean Piaget as representative educational thinkers) that good, progressive approaches point the way towards something better, something our children deserve. He hopes that there are three ways to convince skeptics: theory, research and examples from practice. Kohn's prose is written in a popular-style, generally stripped of jargon, in order to be more inclusive of parents and community members outside of the education system who may not be privy to many of the coded debates and conflicts that have taken place within the walls of the formal education system. Kohn takes on standardized testing and grading as central culprits in the education reform drama, even outlining social action strategies to oppose current approaches to standardized testing. Alfie Kohn's voice offers a refreshing counterpoint to the sea of unchallenged standards rhetoric, worth listening to, for its attention to both research and a genuine concern for our children's educational future.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Standardized Testing Revealed 13 Jan. 2002
By Joy Lopez - Published on
Format: Paperback
When asked what a set of national standards should look like, former U.S. commissioner of education, Harold Howe II, stated, "They should be as vague as possible". Alfie Kohn makes a powerful stance against the use of specific standards and standardized testing in his book, The Schools Our Children Deserve.
Education heads the news around the nation today. Everywhere you hear the cry for tougher standards for teachers and students, and accountability for schools and districts. Headlines scream that American children are falling behind their counterparts in other countries. The solution: an educational system that is `back to basics' and has `tougher standards'. Is this the answer? Alfie Kohn states a resounding `No'.
Mr. Kohn's book takes you on a journey to explore how the American educational system is really doing. He then presents standardized tests for what they are: norm-referenced tests in which 50% of all children taking the test will fail. Kohn dissects how the tests are created and changed from year to year, indicating that if too many students get an answer correct, it is thrown out of the test. He delves into how standardized test scores are published in newspapers, and used by the government and school districts to hold schools and teachers hostage. He shows how the use of such scores are creating an educational community that teaches to the test, is devoid of meaningful learning, and does not address the needs of the individual child.
The Schools Our Children Deserve is written for parents and educators alike. It aims to educate its readers, so that they can become informed participants in the design of the schools our children deserve.
W.Joy Lopez
Pepperdine University Doctoral Student
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Focus on "what they're doing" not "how well they're doing." 2 Feb. 2000
By Dr. TOMAS GARCIA - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In times when students, teachers, administrators, and parents become discouraged at society and government's overwhelming emphasis on accountability, words of hope and encouragement are much needed. A fortunate stroke of serendipity, this book could not have been published at a better time. Alfie Kohn's The Schools Our Children Deserve provides valuable insight, clarifies ambiguities, and sheds light on some of the most controversial issues in education today. Kohn's overall goal and recurrent theme is to redirect our focus on not "how well he/she did today" but "what did he/she do today." Kohn's writing style and prose provides an overall clarity and ease of reading. Although he is adamant in his opinions and observations, he provides undeniable, conclusive, and thought-provoking research evidence throughout the entire text. This foundation of citations and quotes from leading experts in the field (Piaget, Holt, and Dewey to name a few) adds an unquestionable credibility to his ideas and their feasibility. The Schools Our Children Deserve taps into and elaborates on five issues:
Kohn brings to light a detrimental preoccupation with achievement that has been subtly forced upon students. Students often worry about their achievement and focus on the end-result (the grade) and neglect the valuable process of learning. Paradoxically, this obsession with achievement does not provide us with a student with a well-rounded education but one who knows how to get good grades. Kohn calls for a focus on "what they're doing" rather than on "how well they're doing."
"Drill and Practice" and/or "Drill and Kill" methods of teaching are slowly resuscitating themselves. Traditional methodology is resurfacing as schools and teachers renew their focus on raising the bar on standards. This renewed focus on "basic skills" or "core knowledge" is actually proving to be detrimental. Ironically, Kohn states this methodology never left but has been present under the guise of different names.
If your school's results are published in the newspaper for all to see, and you are scrutinized for failing to meet or exceed expectations, then standardized testing could not possibly be good. A call for higher scores does not fix the educational system, as this is what it is attempting to do (school reform and accountability). Standardized testing, on the contrary, transforms the entire educational community and instills it with fear, anxiety, and shame. Interestingly, Kohn states that there is no other country in the world that requires standardized testing for students.
Kohn briefly describes the different meanings implied by the word "standards". One reference to standards is the specific set of guidelines devised by districts and curriculum groups. These guidelines are imposed upon classrooms as required knowledge to be met by a certain timeframe. The very fact that there is so much rigidity and fixedness in standards makes it altogether difficulty for students and teachers alike to focus on learning. Instead of seizing unique opportunities for discussion and learning, for example, teachers are forced to neglect these occasions and focus on measurable paper output and frequent traditional standardized assessments.
Harder is not necessarily better. This is perhaps the underlying notion and recurring theme expressed throughout the entire book. Kohn makes an important point by discussing the ramifications of assuming that everything must be made harder, challenging, and rigorous for it to improve. As a whole, education and its quality deteriorates and disintegrates. Education is undermined and numbers, statistics, and percentiles are valued. The focus is much greater on the quantity than on the quality of education.
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