Education Book Review

New in Print

September 25, 2007 6 min read

Oh, the Places He’ll Go

While there have been many compilations of humorous mistakes by schoolchildren published, only one, Boners, can claim the distinction of having launched the book-publishing career of then-26-year-old Theodor Geisel, better known today as the children’s-book author and illustrator Dr. Seuss.

Prior to the book’s release in February of 1931, Geisel had earned a reputation as a magazine contributor and advertising artist—his tag line for an insecticide campaign, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!,” would become a national catchphrase—prompting the Viking Press to seek him out as an illustrator. Boners went through four printings in two months and quickly established itself as a fixture on The New York Times’ best-sellers list. Demand for the book was such that Viking printed two sequels, More Boners and Still More Boners, only a few months later, and Boners ultimately became the fourth-best-selling nonfiction book of 1931.

Geisel continued his previous work after Boners’ publication, but, according to his authorized biographers (and friends for 30 years), Judith and Neil Morgan, the book marked the point at which he began to actively pursue the idea of writing children’s books.

While the text of Boners received mixed reviews, Geisel’s illustrations were highly praised. The American News, as reported by the Morgans, wrote that it would have predicted the book to fail, except that “the inimitable illustrations of the renowned Dr. Seuss, of Judge, Life, and Flit fame, are not unlikely to put this over. They are simply swell.” The New York Times was more complimentary, calling the quotations from students “gems of wisdom and mirth,” and concluding its review, “The drawings by Dr. Seuss are hilarious.”

This reprint edition of Boners from Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers makes Geisel’s illustrations available for the first time in a decade (a previous Viking edition, now out of print, was published as Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls in 1997).

Boners: Seriously Misguided Facts—According to Schoolkids by Alexander Abingdon (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, www.blackdogandleventhal.com; 144 pp., $12.95 hardback).

Childhood

Mercogliano, a teacher for 34 years at an inner-city alternative school, sees a world of difference between describing a child as “highly active” or “hyperactive”—and criticizes overbearing parents and test-driven educators for contributing to what he views as American society’s treatment-focused approach to children’s innately unruly behavior. Far from being allowed to expend their energy in adventures of their own making, children today have become entrapped by the “domestication of childhood,” he writes, which systematically deprives them of unstructured play, access to nature, and solitude, quelling their curiosity and natural exuberance. Even as this taming of children forces them to behave as mini-adults, he continues, it infantilizes teenagers, who are prevented from learning self-sufficiency or engaging in meaningful work. Mercogliano offers common-sense recommendations for reversing this trend, stressing that adults must first confront the fears underlying their desire to control children. Childhood is too important to be regulated away, he says, for “only those fortunate young people who are allowed to lead unscripted, authentic childhoods will find themselves ready to become the authors of their own experience and lead lives filled with satisfaction, excitement, and distinction.”

The Generation Gap

Technology has defined young people born since home computers and the World Wide Web became commonplace like no generation before them, writes Montgomery, a professor of public communication at American University and the director of its Project on Youth, Media, and Democracy. This shift is so pronounced that it has spurred a rethinking of what childhood and adolescence are, she asserts. But, depending on which interest group you ask, she finds, “digital natives” are drivers of online culture or consumers easily entranced by advertising, innocents in need of protection or delinquents who flout copyright laws. Montgomery examines how children and teenagers became technology’s target audience, and what federal legislative efforts have been made to safeguard them. She also looks closely at how new media have been used to positively influence young people—by youths themselves to fuel early political activism, and by adults through public-service campaigns such as those discouraging smoking and teenage pregnancy. Only time will show whether this generation and its technology will leave their mutual adolescence eager to effect social change—or more self-obsessed than ever.

Combating ennui and high dropout rates in high schools.

School Reform

Formerly the chancellor of New York City’s public schools and currently the superintendent of Miami-Dade County’s, Crew argues that for the United States to reclaim its intellectual and economic prominence in the globalized 21st century, the nation’s education system must be radically overhauled to place schools at the center of communities. Under the strategy he sets forth, these “connected schools,” as he calls them, would bring together not only families and K-12 educators, but also lawmakers, institutions of higher learning, businesses, artists, service groups, philanthropies, and faith-based organizations. Through such combined efforts, schools will graduate well-rounded, civic-minded young people grounded in ethics and possessing life and social skills, he writes, qualities whose development in him he credits to his hardworking single father, whose tough-love lessons he sprinkles throughout the book. Parents and the federal government, as two of the primary bearers of responsibility, receive a significant share of his advice—the former to demand more of themselves, their children, and schools, and the latter to equalize educational opportunity. Says Crew of the task ahead: “The world may be flat, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve been rolled over.”

An education scholar’s indictment of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Presidents’ School Days

If an in-person viewing of the National Archives’ special exhibit “School House to White House: The Education of the Presidents” isn’t a possibility, a companion volume of the same name, released earlier this month, can satisfy a curiosity to see Harry S. Truman’s middle school essay on courage, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 5th grade class picture, or Gerald R. Ford’s University of Michigan letter sweater. These and other artifacts, report cards, and photographs from Presidents Herbert Hoover through Bill Clinton are reproduced in the book’s 130 color illustrations, complemented by text adapted from the exhibit.

Also of Note

Essayists examine what constitutes good work across nine professional fields, including education.

Reflections on the K-12 experience from writers such as Robert Coles, Annie Dillard, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Richard Rodriguez.

A psychologist best known for documenting the steady rise of IQ scores explores a new definition.

How-to information complements an extensive podcast directory.

Aligning the electronic assets of two public institutions to serve the greater good.

A former policy adviser to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the benefits of choice in education and health care.

A celebrated author and illustrator of children’s books makes the Cold War visible to those for whom it is ancient history.

By Anne Das