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What Does it Mean to be Well-Educated?: And Other Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies Paperback – 30 Jun 2004


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Product details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (30 Jun. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807032670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807032671
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.2 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Katyann on 9 May 2011
Format: Paperback
What a great read. Kohn really does ask the right question. So much of our education systems are about factory fodder - or the modern equivalent, call centres, that we don't really understand anymore what it is to be well-educated. We seem, in the west to have accepted that economy and money are king, whereas Kohn reminds us that the world is about people, not cash. Listen hard everyone and enjoy this read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 12 reviews
71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
A MUST Read for Anyone Who's Read Anything About Education 2 Jun. 2004
By Abby - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It is quite unusual to find a book that is a collection of articles and essays as pageturning as What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? by Alphie Kohn. As I was reading, I found myself becomming excited by Kohn's ideas, even at times verbalizing agreement with him and nodding my head as if he and I were talking.
When Alphie Kohn has an idea he takes it, runs with it, and never looks back. His book is thoroughly researched, but what I really enjoyed about this book is that there is no other author (or very few, rather) who has expressed such a defiance to the public school system as it currently is. Kohn has qualitative and quantitative research backing him up left and right, as well as plenty of moving testimonials, as to why the public school system is in desperate need of reform.
To most critics, reform means "higher standards", "raising the bar", more testing and less recess. Not to Kohn. He delves into the true meaning (or lack there of) of those now cliché terms politicians have created (politicians mind you, not educators) to drum up support for the regression of our country's educationals system. Kohn takes the next step and frankly explains why they are wrong and what we can do to fix a broken system.
Quite the revolutionary, Kohn boldly suggests ridding the public school system not only of annual standardized tests and college enterance tests (i.e. ACT, SAT), but of grades as well. Sound intriguing? It is. And Kohn does a spectacular job of presenting his arguments with ample reasoning and research as well as what he believes the alternatives should be, and does it all in an easily readable manner without being pretentious.
I did feel like at times, however, that Kohn may have gone a bit too extreme even for me. His chapter on how saying "good job" to children is actually detrimental and creates approval-seaking zombies (my words, not his) may have gone a bit too far. At the same time, eventhough I felt the chapter became a little ridiculous, there were still many very valid arguments made and research presented. Despite disagreeing to an extent, I truly learned and thought about something I had never considered before, and if only for that reason I am very happy I read it.
What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? is a perfect read for teachers wanting ideas to make their classrooms more education friendly, students (high school level or above) who are fed up with all the pressures, uselessness, and arbitrariness of standardized tests and grades, administrators and school board members looking to improve their school on their own standards, and anyone wanting a fresh breath of air and an original, enthusiastic voice added to the debate of public school reform.
Even if you disagree with all of Kohn's ideas, I still recommend you read this book if only for the simple fact that you know what you're up against. This is by far one of the most original, intriguing, thought provoking, and intellectually stimulating critiques of public education I have ever read. You won't find this stuff coming out of the mouth of your average politician, that's for sure.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A must read book with few unecessary distractions 22 Oct. 2009
By SHISHIR - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an insightful book outlining some of the things that do and do not work in education and what could be done to improve those.

For example, emphasis on passing standardized test does not necessarily improve learning and knowledge but only helps students become good at cracking a specific type of test. Learning often takes back seat compared to learning tricks to crack the test. It may even become a measure of resources to join courses to help crack such tests, which does not necessarily measure knowledge or intelligence.

There are sugestions like making work at schools more project, problem solving and discovery oriented, where students have to cooperate, show initiative and think logically to solve problems rather than simply learning tricks to solve certain type of questions.

I only found the section on capitalistic conspiracy theory a bit distractive from main idea. However, I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in education.
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Excellent book! 8 Oct. 2004
By K. Duff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you are truly interested in what can be done to improve our schools, and tired of the rhetoric fed to you by politicians and the media, this book will definitely give you some meat to chew on and think about. I recommend it for all who believe in the value of education.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Good but... 16 April 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Alfie Kohn always does a good job of bringing a lot of enthusiasm and emotion to books like this. He definitely has a lot of good points, and at least attempts to make reference to studies. You will find yourself agreeing with a lot of the little observations he makes and many of his big ideas. However, as many have pointed out, a book like this tends to end up sounding like a collection of complaints more than a systematic discussion of what it actually means to be well-educated. I have implemented a number of his ideas in my own classroom with good success. The problem is that while he is clear about what shouldn't happen in a classroom, his discussion of what should happen always tends to be a little more open-ended and general. For example, he claims that students don't need to pack their heads with facts for a successful career, but rather need to be enthusiastic problem solvers and thinkers. So he suggests teachers shouldn't focus as much on rote memorization and factual knowledge. What is lacking is an in-depth discussion of how to foster thinking skills and problem solving in a classroom and maintain some sort of expectations of what kids should and will know or be able to do. This is the kind of book that makes for good, light reading about education and that can get you thinking. It is not the kind of book that should be widely quoted in serious research papers.
A compilation of Kohn 17 Nov. 2014
By Dienne - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I love Alfie Kohn. This is my fourth of his books, plus I’ve read every article he has available online. I picked this one up because I’ve been doing a lot of background reading on progressive education for a potential book that is in the early stages of development. I don’t disagree with anything in this book, but I’m glad I checked it out of the library rather than spending money on it. This book is a compilation of pieces written for other publications, many of which are available online and many of which just re-state themes that he has developed better in other works. But if you’re looking for a quick digest of Alfie Kohn’s often-controversial perspectives on various educational topics, this may be a good book to check out.

The title article of the book, as you might expect, explores what we mean by the phrase “well-educated”. Is it something about the person or about the quality of his schools? Is it being able to spout a bunch of facts? Is it being able to perform one’s job? Does it vary depending on what job one does? And how can “well-educated” be assessed, or does it even need to be? If you know Alfie Kohn, you won’t be surprised to hear that the answer is a resounding, “well, it depends”.

The second essay is basically a polemic against turning education into a “business” and using business terminology, which then sets the stage for the following several chapters about “standards” and testing. “Standards”, of course, suffer from the same problems as defining “well-educated” – few people can agree on what all students need to know to be “educated” or “college and career ready” or whatever term du jour we’re using these days. And testing is designed to “measure” how students are performing on the “standards” which we can’t agree on, so it’s a little murky what standardized tests even “measure”, except perhaps family socio-economic status. And Kohn devotes one chapter to the (premature) celebration of the demise of the SAT.

Given Kohn’s criticisms of testing – that they reduce students to a number, that they rate and rank students against each other, that they take the focus off of learning itself – it’s no surprise that Kohn is no fan of grades either, which is the subject of the third section of the book. Kohn instead argues for more authentic means of assessment that can actually communicate more information than a simple letter grade. But, in fact, Kohn isn’t really keen on the whole concept of evaluation, at least not external evaluation. In the essay “Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job”, Kohn returns once again to one of his primary themes throughout his work – the difference between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. The problem with any external evaluation is that it tends to shift the focus to the evaluation itself, and away from the activity being evaluated. Even (especially) positive external evaluation can decrease intrinsic motivation – kids will do what they need to do to get an A or a “good job” rather than focusing on their own internal sense of satisfaction in doing the activity for its own sake.

The next three essays are lumped together under “Moral, Social and Psychological Questions”. The first two are bound to be controversial as the explore school shootings and September 11 in a context that tries to make sense of why the perpetrators might have done what they did. Kohn is careful to distinguish between understanding and justifying, but nonetheless these two are bound to upset the “personal responsibility” crowd who don’t accept that social forces may play any causal role individual behavior.

The final essay in this section was a piece that I thought made the book as a whole worthwhile, even for one who has read a great deal of Kohn’s work. It’s an exploration – and a critique – of the work of Abraham Maslow and a musing on whether humans are inherently “good” or inherently “bad”. Based on the body of Kohn’s work, I would have placed him squarely in the “good” camp, but this is one of the most subtle and nuanced articles I’ve seen from Kohn, and one which suggests that the answer isn’t that easy – for either side. This is an essay well worth reading multiple times, as well as an encouragement to look more deeply at Maslow’s work.

The final section of the book deals with education “reform”. The first essay is about behavioral management of the classroom and the underlying rationale therefore. In typical Kohnian style, we’re challenged to look beyond the “what” and see the “why”. Why is a quiet classroom necessarily better than a noisy one, for instance? Is it better to have students obedient or engaged? This essay is addressed primarily to educators who may see the problems with more traditional, authoritarian classroom management styles and who may want to move in a more progressive direction, but get caught up in common stumbling blocks in which they may think they’re “working with” rather than “doing to”, but they’re actually just using kinder, gentler methods of top-down control.

The next essay addresses the idea of compromising by using multiple approaches together. Why not use a combination of letting kids figure out problems for themselves and direct instruction? Why not use grades and narrative reports? The reason, the research seems to show, is that one approach often undermines the other. For example, the negative effects of letter grades are not offset by the addition of narrative comments – the narrative is undermined by the presence of the letter grade. The final two essays are one about merit pay (which doesn’t seem terribly related to the question of being well-educated) and one encouraging education professors to be more activist in the face of the encroach of education reform.

I always enjoy reading Alfie Kohn’s work. Even if you don’t agree with him, it’s still refreshing to hear an alternate perspective and an encouragement to question underlying assumptions about the way we do things. Maybe there are benefits to such traditional procedures as letter grades or standardized testing that Kohn is overlooking (although, what those benefits might be is beyond me), but it seems like it should be incumbent upon proponents of such methods to prove their benefits, not incumbent upon the rest of us to simply go along like meek sheep because that’s the way it’s always been done or because they are somehow “good” for children without demonstrating that that good in fact exists.
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