Opinion
Education Commentary

New in Print

By Anne E. Das — February 14, 2006 5 min read

Anthologies

A compilation of 23 papers judged by the author to be among his most significant, this book reveals the evolution of the research and thinking of a leading developmental psychologist and educator. He presents the major claims of his theory of multiple intelligences, critiques what he views as misconceptions about it, and describes how the theory has been updated over the past 20 years. Other chapters discuss education in the arts, disciplinary understanding, assessment, the progressive tradition, globalization, and professional ethics. He also pays tribute to the mentors and teachers who had the greatest influence on his work, such as Jean Piaget and Jerome Bruner. The book contains a brief biography of the author as well.

In this collection of essays, the author calls for higher expectations for American schools and more-straightforward assessments of education and reforms. Major topics addressed include the relationship between presidential politics and education reform; the role of business and philanthropy in school reform; the impact of vouchers and charter schools on public school systems; the politics of school choice, race, and the urban-suburban divide; mayoral control of school boards; and teacher licensure and principal preparation. He also makes predictions about the future of education reform, through analyses of such developments as the federal Institute of Education Sciences, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the use of technology in the reinvention of schooling.

Gender

The authors propose a wide variety of public policies to improve the educational and employment prospects of America’s 1.5 million young men ages 16 to 24 who have been out of school and work for over one year. They identify three primary policy areas: expanding education and training, improving financial incentives to work, and removing barriers faced by noncustodial fathers and former prisoners. Their study of education and training policy includes after-school and mentoring programs for adolescents, career and technical education, school-to-work programs, career academies, charter and alternative high schools for at-risk youths, community colleges, and second-chance training programs for out-of-school youths. Citing the rise in enrollment and employment rates among low-income young women, the authors assert that similar gains can be made by disadvantaged young men when greater notice is taken of them by policymakers.

Nationally recognized for his understanding of juvenile violence among boys, the author—whose 1999 book Lost Boys was much discussed at the time of the Columbine High School shootings—turns his attention now to the burgeoning problem of aggression among girls. He contends that this aggression is an unintended consequence of girls’ becoming more physical and assertive overall, even in positive ways. He offers as an example girls’ increased participation in athletics: While playing sports in high school makes girls less likely to use drugs and improves their self-esteem, it also has been shown to heighten combative behavior, he finds. The issue, he writes, is not that girls have become more forceful, but that popular culture has simultaneously become more toxic, linking violence with sexuality and materialism. The author therefore stresses character development as a means of combating this trend, along with teaching girls how to express their aggression in socially acceptable ways.

Health and Mental Illness

The contributors to this book examine why so many children in the United States are being diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, and why drugs, rather than psychotherapy or counseling, have become the preferred method of treating them. They find that psychological, philosophical, political, and economic factors have led us to perceive normal variations in children’s development or behavior as pathology. They challenge the belief that most psychological disturbance is genetic by analyzing how emotional, social, cultural, and physical environments influence psychological growth and brain development. While the writers agree that there are extreme cases for which drugs are the only treatment, they warn that U.S. society is medicating children into a state of conformity, and urge that the nation instead embrace its children’s differences.

History

The author recounts how social reformers, philanthropists, and scientists launched the field of child development during the early part of the 20th century. Before then, she writes, most Americans opposed the idea of studying children, regarding it as an infringement on the privacy of the family and potentially harmful to the children themselves. She relates how, during the Progressive era, social-welfare reformers undertook research on children for humanitarian purposes. But in the years following World War I, she reports, people began to view improving the lives of children as a method of strengthening the nation as well, with science as the instrument of change. The book shows how interrelated movements, both social and scientific, combined to transform the study of the child, laying the foundation for the child sciences as they are known today.

Public Policy

Combining U.S. Census data with national public-opinion data regarding government spending on public education, the authors provide a statistical examination of how closely the financial policies of local school boards correspond to the wishes of the citizens in those school districts. In their investigation of what determines district spending levels, they consider public opinion on education funding, the influence of special interests such as teachers’ unions and senior citizens, and local political institutions such as the town meeting. They also look at how school board members are selected, how well boards represent minorities, whether the public can bypass the board through referendums, and how schools are financed. They conclude that there is a high degree of correlation between the amount school boards spend and the preferences of their constituents, with spending levels reflecting communities’ commitment to funding their schools.