This book argues that the politicisation of education has undermined its true mission and that education must now be allowed "to discover its future direction for itself" (206). Education, which should be about the transmission of intellectual and cultural achievements from one generation to another, has been hijacked by politicians bent on using it to re-engineer society. Teachers have been elbowed aside by managers, behavioural experts, and social workers, and their authority (and so ability to do their job) has been undermined. Under the influence of these 'outsiders', traditional subject knowledge-based education has been replaced by child-centred learning to the detriment of all. The expansion of testing and league tables and the inflation of paper qualifications has led to a lot more education but of much poorer quality. All of this has been made worse by an erosion of adult authority generally.
I'm sympathetic to many of these arguments and the book's questioning of much of the rhetoric that surrounds education is welcome. But it falls down badly on its own mission -- it is scathing about the poor quality of much of what is being taught in classrooms, yet it is itself poorly argued. Professor Furedi makes a reasonably good job of attacking the weaknesses of the current consensus, but fails to ask hard questions about the positions he himself is advocating. This, for a senior academic (he's Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent at Canterbury), is depressing. It may be, for instance, that subject knowledge-based education should lie at the heart of education, but it is a case that has to be argued rather than a proposition that can simply be asserted. Otherwise the argument descends to the 'I'm right, you're wrong' level that renders so much debate on education unproductive.
The book is also badly written, highly repetitive, and at times verges on the ungrammatical. Almost every page cries out for the attentions of a decent book editor. Professor Furedi, for instance, complains repeatedly of a lack of faith by teachers in their pupils' ability to deal with difficult material. Yet he seems to lack faith in his own readers. He begins one sentence: "As the well-known nineteenth-century man of letters, Goethe, observed...". I think "As Goethe observed..." would have displayed rather more faith in his readership.
The book raises some important and interesting issues. But because it is poorly argued and badly written, it is unlikely to trouble those who oppose its claims. All in all, a wasted opportunity.