Published Online: March 21, 2006
Published in Print: March 22, 2006, as New in Print

Book Review

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Civic Engagement

Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy

by David Mathews (Kettering Foundation Press,; 165 pp., $9.95 paperback).

Mathews, the president of the Charles F. Kettering Foundation and a former U.S. secretary of health, education, and welfare under President Gerald Ford, writes that Americans increasingly perceive themselves as having no influence over what happens in public schools, and proposes solutions for bridging what he sees as the chasm between educators and citizens. He cites as a primary reason for this divide the differences between the ways citizens view problems in the schools and the ways educators and policymakers discuss them. Rather than recommending that school improvement be the catalyst for change, Mathews urges educators and citizens to first build an engaged citizenry joined in collective action, explaining that a community must have the public it needs before it can have the schools it wants. When a democratic public is formed, he concludes, it will work to improve the education of all Americans.

Higher Education

Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More

by Derek Bok (Princeton University Press,; 424 pp., $29.95 hardback).

A former president of Harvard University who will begin serving as its interim president in July, Bok in this book criticizes the state of undergraduate education. His findings bear a similarity to those of secondary education reformers: Students, he writes, improve much less than they should in writing, critical thinking, quantitative skills, and moral reasoning; few can speak a foreign language or have the knowledge needed to be an active and informed citizen; and many are increasingly being overshadowed by their Asian counterparts. He also critiques undergraduate teaching, contending that important college courses are often left to the least-experienced teachers, and that most professors continue to teach in ways that have proved to be less effective than other methods. His research suggests that common problems in education extend beyond K-12.

Language and Child Development

Boys of Few Words: Raising Our Sons to Communicate and Connect

by Adam J. Cox (Guilford Press,; 344 pp., $14.95 paperback).

Drawing on clinical work conducted over a decade with boys between the age of 4 and late adolescence, Cox, a child psychologist, advises parents on ways to help foster the social and communication skills of boys who struggle to express themselves through language. The reasons for boys’ reticence he describes include innate brain differences, societal pressures, learning disabilities, and attention deficits. Stating that good parenting is key to boys’ development, he presents 10 principles to guide child-centered families, as well as exercises for promoting communication. One chapter focuses on schools, with advice for parents on choosing the right one, collaborating with teachers, getting learning disabilities assessed, and preventing bullying.

Race and Education

The Color of Success: Race and High-Achieving Urban Youth

by Gilberto Q. Conchas (Teachers College Press,; 168 pp., $23.95 paperback).

To discover why some racial-minority students flourish academically despite limited opportunity, Conchas interviewed high-achieving, low-income African-American, Latino, and Vietnamese students, along with educators, from one urban public high school in California. Their responses, supplemented by data from the National Center for Education Statistics, form the basis of his study. He reports that for such students, a school structure that partners rigor with close relationships between students and teachers is instrumental to their success, and he praises small learning communities for their effectiveness. He also finds that the strongest school communities are racially well-integrated and promote educational and career opportunities. Such programs, Conchas concludes, serve as a model for how institutional mechanisms can advance the social mobility of urban minority students.

Generational Change: Closing the Test Score Gap

edited by Paul E. Peterson (Rowman & Littlefield,; 224 pp., $24.95 paperback).

In 2003, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the U.S. Supreme Court majority in Grutter v. Bollinger, the affirmative action case involving the University of Michigan law school, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary.” This compilation of essays examines a combination of education policies that, the contributors propose, can close the black-white achievement gap within that deadline. The authors identify school desegregation, revitalized preschool education, greater student accountability, and policies giving black parents more control over the schools their children attend as the initiatives most likely to raise African-American students’ achievement to a level of parity. Contributors include David J. Armor, Chester E. Finn Jr., Eric A. Hanushek, and Margaret E. Raymond.

White Teachers/Diverse Classrooms: A Guide to Building Inclusive Schools, Promoting High Expectations, and Eliminating Racism

edited by Julie Landsman & Chance W. Lewis (Stylus,; 256 pp., $24.95 paperback).

A collection of essays and memoirs, this book offers practical advice for teachers and administrators on ways to improve the education of students of color. Topics include recognizing white privilege, reforming multicultural education, confronting institutional racism, addressing the challenges of educating minority students in predominantly white schools, holding black student-athletes to the same academic standards as their classmates, and forging alliances with students’ parents and communities. The contributors stress that white teachers must avoid assuming that children of color do not possess the necessary skills, knowledge, or desire to learn, emphasizing that low expectations are the worst form of racism.

Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America

by John McWhorter (Gotham Books, an imprint of Penguin,; 352 pp., $27.50 hardback).

In this sequel to Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America—a 2000 best-seller, in which McWhorter argued that academic underachievement among African-Americans is the result of a culture of victimhood, separatism, and anti-intellectualism in the black community—the author traces the origin of current problems in black America to the civil rights era and what he perceives as unintended by-products of that movement. He asserts that anti-authoritarian and countercultural attitudes, sparked by activism in the 1960s, have persisted in black society despite gains made against racism, resulting in a culture defined by defiance and out of touch with reality. One chapter explores how McWhorter believes such a mind-set has played out in the black-white student-achievement gap, affirmative action in college admissions, and charges from peers of “acting white” when black students succeed.


Collective Bargaining in Education: Negotiating Change in Today’s Schools

edited by Jane Hannaway & Andrew J. Rotherham (Harvard Education Press,; 312 pp., $29.95 paperback).

This book brings together research and opinion on teachers’ unions with the aim of strengthening and spurring public debate over the role of collective bargaining in education reform. Contributors lay the groundwork for understanding the controversy by relating the 40-year history of collective bargaining among teachers, explaining differences between public- and private-sector unions, and analyzing the legalities of the bargaining process. Research on the effects of collective bargaining is reviewed, such as the long-term costs of such agreements and the ability of unions to influence implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. But the book also shows that few empirical studies have been done on such fundamental issues as the impact of unionism on teacher quality and whether unions benefit students. A variety of viewpoints are represented, from those who support collective bargaining or its reform to those who believe unions’ power should be lessened or eliminated. Contributors include Susan Moore Johnson, Richard D. Kahlenberg, Julia E. Koppich, and Terry M. Moe.

Vol. 25, Issue 28, Page 35

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