Published Online: October 11, 2005
Published in Print: October 12, 2005, as New in Print

Book Review

New in Print

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Childhood

Real Kids: Creating Meaning in Everyday Life by Susan L. Engel (Harvard University Press, www.hup.harvard.edu; 240 pp., $24.95 hardback).

The author, a Williams College psychologist, mother, and former teacher, writes that the past century of research about childhood development has resulted in a distorted view of children—one that emphasizes linear development and adult qualities, and overlooks their playfulness and whimsicality. Focusing her criticism on Jean Piaget’s theory of children as little scientists (creating ideas about the world and systematically testing and revising them), she argues that it encourages teachers and parents to expect more logical reasoning and emotional self-control from children than they possess. She recommends that researchers think from the child’s point of view and study children in settings familiar to them, not in psychology labs. The results of such research could have implications not only for models of development, she contends, but also for the way teachers work with children in schools.

Civil Rights

She Would Not Be Moved: How We Tell the Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Herbert Kohl (New Press, www.thenewpress.com; 144 pp., $22.95 hardback).

The author—an acclaimed educator and best-selling author of more than 40 books, including 36 Children—re-examines the events surrounding Rosa Parks’ arrest and the start of the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott 50 years ago this December. He expands upon Ms. Parks’ involvement in civil rights activities before that celebrated event, including her previous refusals to move from bus seats, as well as her work with the naacp and in support of school desegregation, and outlines the planning of the boycott since 1949. Citing historical inaccuracies in children’s books and textbooks, the author provides a revised account that, he asserts, tells the story in a way that enables children to view themselves as potential activists. The book also contains a teachers’ guide to materials about Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement.

History of Education

Schooling America: How the Public Schools Meet the Nation’s Changing Needs by Patricia Albjerg Graham (Oxford University Press, www.oup.com; 288 pp., $27 hardback).

One of the country’s most respected historians of education presents a compelling picture of how and why American schooling changed over the last, tumultuous century. Using a wide range of sources, from government reports to personal anecdotes, the former dean of Harvard University’s graduate school of education shows readers how historical forces such as immigration, industrialization, and the civil rights movement shaped and reshaped the public’s expectations of what schools should be and how they should operate. Her historical insights provide a valuable backdrop for the study of current debates.

Schools and Politics

Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education by Joe Williams (Palgrave Macmillan, www.palgrave-usa.com; 272 pp., $24.95 hardback).

An education reporter, the author explores the dual role of public schools as educator of children and employer of adults, and concludes that special-interest groups’ efforts to promote and maintain the latter role have resulted in a system that severely shortchanges students. The groups benefiting from the status quo, he writes, include teachers’ and school employees’ unions, politicians, philanthropists, higher education institutions, vendors, consultants, and both major political parties. He contends that reform will be successful only when parents begin to act like customers, demanding better service and more accountability, and, if necessary, willing to take their business elsewhere via charter schools and vouchers.

World History

A Little History of the World by Ernst H. Gombrich (Yale University Press, yalebooks.com; 304 pp., $25 hardback).

Since it was first published in 1936, this classic children’s history has been translated into 18 languages and become an international best seller. Now available in English for the first time, the text was updated and translated primarily by the author himself, who died in 2001 while working on the project. The book encompasses much of human history, from the Neanderthals to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Though events that may be difficult for children, such as the Holocaust, are discussed, the author maintains an optimistic view of humanity. The last three sentences of his epilogue seem particularly timely: “Whenever an earthquake, a flood, or a drought in a far-off place leaves many victims, thousands of people in wealthier countries put their money and their efforts into providing relief. And that, too, used not to happen. Which proves that we still have the right to go on hoping for a better future.”

Applying to college 101

College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy edited by Lloyd Thacker (Harvard University Press, www.hup.harvard.edu; 224 pp., $16.95 paperback).

In this collection of essays, deans of admission and college presidents—from such schools as Harvard University, Pomona College, and the University of Chicago—react to what they perceive as the commercialization and focus on status permeating the college-admissions process. The editor is a former admissions officer and guidance counselor who quit his job to found the Education Conservancy, a nonprofit organization committed to improving admissions processes. In both the editor’s chapters and the essays, magazine rankings and the test-prep industry are repeatedly singled out for censure. But the overarching theme of the book is not one of criticism; instead, the writers encourage students to view choosing a college as a matter of fit, and invite them to seek knowledge for its own sake.

Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting Into College by Sally P. Springer & Marion R. Franck (Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley, www.josseybass.com; 320 pp., $14.95 paperback).

This handbook walks families through the college-admissions process, from taking the sat or act and selecting schools, to completing applications and comparing financial-aid offers. Having read applications and interviewed prospective students, the authors write with an insider’s view on what admissions committees look for in an applicant and how they make their decisions. Above all, the authors urge both parents and students to maintain a sense of perspective, and they give suggestions for working together harmoniously.

Going to College: Expanding Opportunities for People With Disabilities edited by Elizabeth Evans Getzel & Paul Wehman (Brookes Publishing, www.brookespublishing.com; 336 pp., $34.95 paperback).

A compilation of articles by disability researchers, this manual not only counsels high school students with disabilities and their families on preparing for and applying to college, it also discusses strategies for success after enrollment and calls attention to support services available on campus. Students’ rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act are outlined, as are the specific needs of students with psychiatric, learning, and developmental disabilities.

How They Got Into Harvard: 50 Successful Applicants Share 8 Key Strategies for Getting Into the College of Your Choice by the Staff of The Harvard Crimson (Griffin, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, www.stmartins.com; 192 pp., $12.95 paperback).

This book profiles 50 successful Harvard applicants; each student’s section includes a résumé and an article on the student’s approach to the admissions process written by a staff member of Harvard’s student newspaper. The applicants are grouped by common tactics used, such as emphasizing talents or leadership experience and networking.

Students’ Guide to Colleges: The Definitive Guide to America’s Top 100 Schools Written by the Real Experts—The Students Who Attend Them edited by Jordan Goldman & Colleen Buyers (Penguin, www.penguin.com; 608 pp., $18 paperback).

Written and edited entirely by college students, this guide was begun by two then-freshmen at Wesleyan University. They received contributions from more than 30,000 students nationwide; nearly 1,000 are quoted. Each college’s chapter includes three lengthy reviews by current students.

—Anne E. Das

Vol. 25, Issue 07, Page 30

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