Education Commentary

New in Print

By Anne E. Das — November 15, 2005 3 min read

Black History

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A pre-eminent scholar of African-American history, John Hope Franklin is commended throughout the world for his lifelong commitment to civil rights as an academic, public servant, and active participant, perhaps most notably in helping Thurgood Marshall prepare to argue Brown v. Board of Education. He was the first black historian to assume a full professorship at a white institution, taught at numerous universities, including several abroad, and has received honorary degrees from more than 130 institutions. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1995. Now 90 years old, he chronicles in his autobiography both his life and the nation’s racial transformation in the 20th century. Described by Toni Morrison as an “astonishing, beautiful, deeply intelligent record of an extraordinary life,” Mirror to America is lauded by former President Bill Clinton for the way it “calls upon all Americans to look at our nation’s past so that we may destroy the color line that continues to divide our country, and progress together into the future.”

Culture and Education

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Drawing on survey fieldwork and interviews with low-income African-American and Latino youths in New York, the author challenges the belief that such students perform poorly in school as a form of rebellion against “acting white.” She finds that these students do value education and view it as a means to success, but that their definition of success differs from that of their primarily white school administrators, who in turn misinterpret students’ celebration of their racial and ethnic identities. Students who excel academically, she contends, do not adopt white culture, but are adept at switching between it and their own. These culturally agile students and similar principals, teachers, and parents should be enlisted to discover better ways of communicating between students and educators if African-American and Latino youths are to succeed in school, the author concludes.

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Asian-Americans make up 4 percent of the U.S. population, but 20 percent of Ivy League students. To explain this statistic, the authors—sisters and first-generation Korean-Americans—discuss values and parenting techniques pertaining to education that are common among Asian families, and describe how they can be adopted by others. Their suggestions include cultivating respect for elders and authority figures, particularly teachers; praising academic achievements more than social accomplishments; and guiding children toward intellectually fulfilling and financially rewarding careers, not “whatever makes them happy.” They also caution, though, against putting too much pressure on children, noting the high suicide rate among Asian college students. Above all, they stress that instilling a passion for learning in children will have the greatest effect on their educational and professional success.

High School Reform

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The result of conversations with school and community members engaged in converting large comprehensive high schools into new small schools, this book outlines the process, from creating a strategic plan, to developing alternative teaching techniques, to refashioning school culture. The authors, who are based at the Coalition of Essential Schools, also propose methods to involve parents, students, and community organizations; investigate how leadership in a small school differs from that in a large one; and consider logistics, such as the revision of teachers’ contracts and ways for schools to share the same building. Asserting that reform has failed and will not work in the future, they call for a total reinvention of the education system.

School Funding

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This compilation of essays by researchers and practitioners examines the role of private funding in public education. The authors analyze the amount of money major donors currently give, the programs it sponsors, how it affects schools, and how far its influence extends. They find that while philanthropy constitutes only a small portion of total K-12 spending, it has a disproportionate impact in shaping reform efforts. The primary goals of recent philanthropic ventures—building new schools, supporting troubled districts, promoting school choice, and advancing education research and policy—are discussed, and challenges facing foundations are explored. The authors also suggest ways that private funding could be invested more effectively. Contributors include Richard Lee Colvin, Jay P. Greene, Andrew J. Rotherham, and Stephen P. Heyneman.

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