Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Why schools are the way they are: the story of reform
If you agree with Emerson that "there is no history; only biography," then you will love the way Peterson describes the history of educational reform in American through its major players.
Before Horace Mann there was no State Board of Education, no "normal schools" to teach the teachers, no standard textbooks. After Horace Mann there was. John Dewey, sick of monotonous drilling and memorization, thought that teaching methods must match the student (not the other way around) and that arousing curiosity mattered. Before Martin Luther King Jr. there was black and white schools; after MLK they were mixed. Albert Shanker headed the teachers' rights movement, creating powerful unions. William Bennett used political sway to make school excellence a national issue. James Coleman was disgusted that schools resembled factories, and he thought more school choice was the answer. And last he looks at Julie Young and the potential of Virtual (online) Learning.
It's a gripping story and all the fun is in the details, especially since most of these reformers created unintended consequences, monsters they didn't see coming. And whether they indended or not, schools began as local, small, religion-based, women-taught, extensions-of-the-home. They ended as large, centralized, heavily regulated, state-run giants. The author also makes much out of unions and there tendency to block certain reforms, and you get a sense that the author is coming from a fiscally-conservative republican perspective. This book is fascinating even if you're democrat.
For similar books check out Left Back: a century of failed school reforms, The Little Red School House, Don't Whistle in School, The Underground History of American Education, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: how testing and choice are undermining education.
On segregation, check out Root and Branch and Silent Covenants. On pro-union history, try NEA: the first hundred years; for anti-union, check out Teacher Unions: how the NEA and AFT sabotage reform and hold students, parents, teachers and taxpayers hostage. On school choice, try Voucher Wars andBreaking Free and Rethinking School Choice.