Education Book Review

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By Anne E. Das — August 14, 2007 3 min read
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A political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis and a native of England, where public funding of religious schools is common, MacMullen dissects the educational and political arguments for and against implementation of such a system in the United States. He outlines two primary camps in the debate, both of which invoke the ideals of liberalism. One maintains that in an egalitarian society, all children, regardless of family income, should have the opportunity to attend a religious school, while the other counters that children educated in such a setting might not be taught tolerance or to think for themselves—qualities vital to democracy. MacMullen questions their mutual exclusivity, and proposes a solution he believes can satisfy both the wishes of families and the requirements of citizenship: Government should fund religious public schools, he argues, because doing so is only fair; it should give primary students attending such schools a grounding in ethics through the confines of their faith, which will please parents; and it should order religious secondary schools to teach civic-mindedness and expose students to other beliefs. In education policy, he writes, the wisest course may be a rethinking of separation of church and state.

Compares Islamic schooling, its funding, and its future in the United States, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Explores religious tolerance as it applies to such issues as prayer in schools, textbook content, and school choice.

Early Education

Policymakers are in the midst of an exceptionally opportune moment in the effort to establish universal prekindergarten in the United States, contends Kirp, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Current estimates by economists put the return on investment for such programs at 3-to-1, he writes, while neuroscientists and developmental psychologists uncover new findings on the importance of the early years, all at the same time that politicians from both major parties are seeking to tap into the appeal of child-focused legislation.To explain how we have reached this point, Kirp examines the movement, both past and present, giving particular attention to the High/Scope Perry Preschool study of the 1960s, Head Start, the work of foundations and interest groups, and Chicago, a city he singles out for its progressivism in this area. The ground has been laid not only for a revolution in early education, but also for child-centered politics more generally, he maintains, pointing to the United Kingdom’s recent efforts, including universal free preschool, to eradicate child poverty. It behooves the country to seize this moment born of the prekindergarten movement, Kirp asserts, and not allow it to simply blow over.


As his 70th birthday neared, the well-regarded alternative educator and author Herbert Kohl found himself enrolling on a whim in an introductory Chinese-painting class, where, on the first day, he was delighted to discover that all his classmates were between the ages of 5 and 7. In his new memoir, Painting Chinese: A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth, Kohl reflects on aging, his career, and the artistic experience that became for him both a form of meditation and the rediscovery of a childlike joy in learning. The following is an excerpt:

Higher Education

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Also of Note

Many of those who wield power in the United States have at least one thing in common: a diploma from an elite college or university. And one of the most controversial determinants of who gains access to those institutions—affirmative action—increasingly benefits the children of the wealthy and influential, argues Schmidt, a longtime education reporter (formerly with Education Week) and a deputy editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Delving into college-admission practices, affirmative action’s 40-year history in education, and its legal and legislative challenges, he finds that the social-justice initiative has strayed far from its original intent of leveling the playing field. Today, he reports, its justification is more likely to be framed in terms of diversity training for white undergraduates coming from privileged suburban schools. Moreover, he contends, well-to-do white college applicants, even underqualified ones, are least likely to be rejected in favor of minority students; working-class white applicants, Asian-Americans, and low-income students of color face the toughest scrutiny. At a time of concern over achievement gaps, his research indicates another divide in American education: one between high school seniors who deserve a spot in the nation’s top universities and those who receive acceptance letters.

A version of this article appeared in the August 15, 2007 edition of Education Week


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