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Popular Educational Classics

A Reader

Edited By Joseph L. DeVitis

The last half century has created deep tensions in how we analyze educational and social change. Educators, policymakers, and concerned citizens have had to cope with competing belief systems in evaluating and acting upon school policies and practices. This illuminating book untangles many of the roots of those persistent debates that have divided the nation for so long. It offers readers a critical opportunity to reflect on our continuing ideological struggles by examining popular books that have made a difference in educational discourse.
The editor has specifically selected key books on social and educational controversies that speak to wide audiences. They frame contextual issues that so-called «school reformers» have often neglected – much to the detriment of any real educational progress. Ultimately, this text is meant to stir our consciences, to disorder our certainties, and to compel us to treat education and culture with both reason and passion. It is highly relevant for courses in social foundations of education, school reform, educational policy studies, philosophy of education, history of education, politics of education, curriculum studies, and teacher education.
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Chapter Thirty: Alfie Kohn, The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” (1999)


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Alfie Kohn, The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” (1999)

Tian Yu

No one writes like Alfie Kohn. The freelance author of more than a dozen books about education and human behavior has certainly made his voice heard across an unusually wide spectrum. Not many academics have been profiled by newspapers such as The New York Times and USA Today, or featured on TV and radio programs such as Oprah. The “public intellectual” orientation of his work may be responsible for the very accessible and engaging style of his writing, which is evident in the book we will discuss in this chapter. To add one more testimonial to his appeal as a major critic of American education, Time recently described him as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grade [and] test scores.”

Grade-oriented traditional pedagogy and the test-driven standards movement are the two powerful forces shaping American education, according to Kohn, and he puts both under scrutiny in The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” (1999). But before we introduce the main themes and arguments of the book, let’s say a little bit about the last several decades of the twentieth century in the United States and the state of its educational system during that time. This contextual analysis may help us to better understand Kohn’s purpose in writing the book...

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