New York Times Book Review Goes Back to School

By Mark Walsh — August 25, 2014 2 min read
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Pick up The New York Times on a Sunday and there are lots of nooks and crannies where you might find education coverage.

There’s Page One and the national news section for major trend stories. The quarterly Education Life section is, naturally, packed with articles, graphics, quizzes, and small bites, mostly about higher education. And The New York Times Magazine, besides carrying meaty education pieces with some regularity, has an entire education issue once a year. (The next one comes out Sept. 14.)

I don’t recall The New York Times Book Review having an education-themed issue before. But that’s what came on Sunday: a cover package on “The Way We Learn.”

There were reviews of some major higher education and K-12 books of recent vintage. The main K-12 choice is Claudia Wallis’ review of The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, by Dana Goldstein. Wallis calls the book “a lively account of the history of teaching” and says that Goldstein demonstrates that “almost every idea for reforming education over the past 25 years has been tried before—and failed to make a difference.” (One example, Wallis writes in the review: “35 years before the Gates Foundation became the 2,000-pound gorilla in American education, the Ford Foundation was throwing its weight around the classroom chasing a similar goal of closing the achievement gap between rich and poor.”)

There is a separate piece reviewing two other recent books on teaching. Sebastian Stockman examines Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone), by Elizabeth Green; and Getting Schooled: The Reeducation of an American Teacher, by Garret Keizer.

The main higher education piece is Anthony Grafton’s review of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, by William Deresiewicz. This is the book sending shivers through the ranks of Ivy League admissions officers with its critique of elite private higher education.

There are also reviews of How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens, by Benedict Carey; The Brown Reader: 50 Writers Remember College Hill, edited by Judy Sternlight (tied to the 250th anniversary of Brown University); and Whatever Happened to the Metric System?: How America Kept Its Feet, by John Bemelmans Marciano, a book reflecting an effort that for Americans of a certain age was a memorable part of their schooling.

But wait, there’s more. The Book Review‘s fall children’s books section includes the Back to School Bookshelf, a set of mini-reviews of five books for children about coping in school with such challenges as the first day, terrifying teachers, and being small and little-noticed.

And in a column called Open Book, several past and present Times education reporters discuss their favorite books about school.

The education-themed Book Review is a welcome idea, and a reminder that in addition to the political arena and the classroom, the printed page is a key battleground over the future of schooling in America.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.