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Title: Excellence Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too Paperback – 1 Jun 1971


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Amazon.com: 7 reviews
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Wisdom on America, Education, Excellence and Leadership 23 Oct. 2001
By Greg Feirman - Published on Amazon.com
This book packs alot of punch for it's conciseness (155 pages of text).
Gardner starts off with observations of some important tensions in the American value system, namely between a society in which one's rewards are strictly related to one's performance versus a society where equality of results is more valued; the conflict between freedom and equality.
Next, there is a discussion of education. "Education as a Sorting Out Process" is the title of one of the chapters. There is a discussion of how standardized tests and various degrees are used as markers of talent and merit. Gardner puts forth the controversial opinion, which I agree with, that too many people in our country go to college because they feel like it is the only path that is truly respected and valued in our culture (he wrote this in 1984 so I think this applies even more so to today). The idea is that college is only one kind of education, an academic one. But some people are more suited to technical or vocational education or simply to learn by working, rather than manipulating abstract symbols, composing essays, etc... Life and society require all kinds of different skills and math, science, literature, and other intellectual skills are just one dimension.
Third, there is a discussion of the many forms of excellence (related to the many kinds of education discussed previously). In our society, we value scientists and Phds and CEOs but there are excellent plumbers, excellent gardeners, excellent teachers, excellent volunteers, excellent parents, others who are excellent and contribute in big ways but are not given the same prestige in our society. He talks about continueing to learn through one's life; and not just academic, book learning, but learning about oneself, about relationships, about managing one's life, taking care of the ordinary business of life, developing character.
Lastly, there is a discussion of excellence and leadership in the context of the big organizations (government, large corporations, small companies) that most of us find ourselves working in day to day. He talks about expecting alot from people, holding them up to high standards and making them feel like they can make a difference.
Overall, this is a book about HIGH STANDARDS. It is about maintaining high standards in the activities we choose to pursue and thus contacting what is deepest and best in human beings: our desire to grow, develop, and be the best we can possibly be, as individuals and together as a society. As Socrates said to Bill and Ted, "Be Excellent to Each Other".
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Finding Our Way Through Competing Values 4 Dec. 2009
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on Amazon.com
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This is a book about America's love for two competing values: competition and equality. As Americans, we enjoy seeing excellence rewarded. But also, we Americans enjoy equality and abhor inequality of result. In education, for instance, there is a constant struggle between 'standards based education' (treating all equally), and 'tracking' (adjusting students instruction to their competence level). In economic matters, we dislike seeing economic inequality but enjoy the industry and efficiency that 'meritocracy' creates.

How do we navigate these waters? That is what former US Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare John Gadner writes about.

The first chapters of this book are devoted to pointing out that these competing values of excellence and equality are both part of the American consciousness. The next few chapters, particularly one consisting of a brief overview of the Civil Rights Movement, details how holding these conflicting beliefs can lead to confusion between equality of opportunity and equality of result. (The Civil Rights movement, for instance, at once seeks equality of opportunity but is often forced to measure it via equality of result.)

The next several chapters outline how this dilemma of competing values affect the world of education, where we are often hesitant to rank students by ability but do not want to treat all children the same either. The disadvantages of ranking by ability are numerous: (a) what do we mean by 'ability' and who defines it? (b) do we run the risk of consigning kids to 'their fate' too soon and missing vital opportunities for growth? (c) do we run the risk of judging on things other than actual ability (family background, ethnic origin, etc)? But there are also disadvantages to treating students the same: (a) some students may be hurt by being in programs beyond their ability level; (b) other students of higher level may not reach their potential; (c) we run the risk of ignoring the great plurality of talents and abilities and force all students into one mold (generally "college prep" which results often in the "dumbing down" of college curricula).

These issues and more are gone through in this clearly written and concise (a little over 100 pages) book. Gardner's conclusion is that we strive, when possible, for a middle-road that tries to offer true equality of opportunity and incentive for merit while, at the same time, limiting the amount and effect of disparities of reward. Gardner writes poignantly against extreme visions of equality (forcing us into a sameness that ignores the benefits of diversity) and extreme forms of meritocracy (which would punish the disadvantaged for being disadvantaged). Gardner wants to see a middle approach that strives for a minimum of equality that is still compatible with human plurality and competition.

Maybe due to its brevity, I found that this book didn't often approach matters deeply but, in some ways, glossed through them. How much equality is compatible with diversity? How can we structure schools that (as Gardner wants) offer differentiated education suitable to each child's abilities while avoiding the potential to consign students to 'fates' prematurely? (He mentions an intriguing ' principle of multiple chances" for students but doesn't explicate what this means in practice.) In other words, Gardner writes convincingly that these values of excellence and equality are, in some sense, conflicting but doesn't really do too much by way of reconciling them, but to advocate a poorly-defined "middle way."

I give the book four stars though because of Gardner's clear writing, thoughtful examination (even without resolution), and the fact that this book is every bit as relevant today as it was in 1961.
You must strive to be the best you can possibly be 4 Feb. 2015
By Mark F. LaMoure - Published on Amazon.com
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Mark F. LaMoure, Boise, ID

"Excellence," by John W. Gardner is a grade "A" book. Mr. Gardner discusses the many strengths and failings of our educational system, our confusion over the idea of equality and the nature of leadership in a free society. This is a book about high standards. We must strive to be the best we can possibly be, as individuals and together as a society. A great book for academics and everyone.
Five Stars 19 Feb. 2015
By Jeff Sparks - Published on Amazon.com
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Superb insights on education. Debunks the left wing myth of equity and excellence.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
not particularly for the better. 9 Mar. 2015
By Hart Williams - Published on Amazon.com
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revised since the original.. not particularly for the better.
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