Published Online: August 14, 2007
Published in Print: August 15, 2007, as New in Print

Book Review

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Early Education

The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics

by David L. Kirp (Harvard University Press,; 352 pp., $26.95 hardback).

Policymakers are in the midst of an exceptionally opportune moment in the effort to establish universal prekindergarten in the United States, contends Kirp, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Current estimates by economists put the return on investment for such programs at 3-to-1, he writes, while neuroscientists and developmental psychologists uncover new findings on the importance of the early years, all at the same time that politicians from both major parties are seeking to tap into the appeal of child-focused legislation.To explain how we have reached this point, Kirp examines the movement, both past and present, giving particular attention to the High/Scope Perry Preschool study of the 1960s, Head Start, the work of foundations and interest groups, and Chicago, a city he singles out for its progressivism in this area. The ground has been laid not only for a revolution in early education, but also for child-centered politics more generally, he maintains, pointing to the United Kingdom’s recent efforts, including universal free preschool, to eradicate child poverty. It behooves the country to seize this moment born of the prekindergarten movement, Kirp asserts, and not allow it to simply blow over.

Higher Education

Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action

by Peter Schmidt (Palgrave Macmillan,; 272 pp., $24.95 hardback).
See Also
Read the accompanying story, “Also of Note”

Many of those who wield power in the United States have at least one thing in common: a diploma from an elite college or university. And one of the most controversial determinants of who gains access to those institutions—affirmative action—increasingly benefits the children of the wealthy and influential, argues Schmidt, a longtime education reporter (formerly with Education Week) and a deputy editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Delving into college-admission practices, affirmative action’s 40-year history in education, and its legal and legislative challenges, he finds that the social-justice initiative has strayed far from its original intent of leveling the playing field. Today, he reports, its justification is more likely to be framed in terms of diversity training for white undergraduates coming from privileged suburban schools. Moreover, he contends, well-to-do white college applicants, even underqualified ones, are least likely to be rejected in favor of minority students; working-class white applicants, Asian-Americans, and low-income students of color face the toughest scrutiny. At a time of concern over achievement gaps, his research indicates another divide in American education: one between high school seniors who deserve a spot in the nation’s top universities and those who receive acceptance letters.


Faith in Schools? Autonomy, Citizenship, and Religious Education in the Liberal State

by Ian MacMullen (Princeton University Press,;
240 pp., $35 hardback).

A political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis and a native of England, where public funding of religious schools is common, MacMullen dissects the educational and political arguments for and against implementation of such a system in the United States. He outlines two primary camps in the debate, both of which invoke the ideals of liberalism. One maintains that in an egalitarian society, all children, regardless of family income, should have the opportunity to attend a religious school, while the other counters that children educated in such a setting might not be taught tolerance or to think for themselves—qualities vital to democracy. MacMullen questions their mutual exclusivity, and proposes a solution he believes can satisfy both the wishes of families and the requirements of citizenship: Government should fund religious public schools, he argues, because doing so is only fair; it should give primary students attending such schools a grounding in ethics through the confines of their faith, which will please parents; and it should order religious secondary schools to teach civic-mindedness and expose students to other beliefs. In education policy, he writes, the wisest course may be a rethinking of separation of church and state.

Culture, Identity, and Islamic Schooling: A Philosophical Approach

by Michael S. Merry (Palgrave Macmillan,; 248 pp., $69.95 hardback).

Compares Islamic schooling, its funding, and its future in the United States, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

The Last Freedom: Religion From the Public School to the Public Square

by Joseph P. Viteritti (Princeton University Press,; 294 pp., $27.95 hardback).

Explores religious tolerance as it applies to such issues as prayer in schools, textbook content, and school choice.

A Not-So-Still Life


As his 70th birthday neared, the well-regarded alternative educator and author Herbert Kohl found himself enrolling on a whim in an introductory Chinese-painting class, where, on the first day, he was delighted to discover that all his classmates were between the ages of 5 and 7. In his new memoir, Painting Chinese: A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth, Kohl reflects on aging, his career, and the artistic experience that became for him both a form of meditation and the rediscovery of a childlike joy in learning. The following is an excerpt:

"I think age has gotten me to think more about preservation, about what I’ve learned, what my life and writing have achieved, and more broadly, what has happened historically in education and society during my time. In education, I’ve participated in at least three cycles of reform and have seen shifts from open, student-oriented, and experiential learning to more closed, product-oriented schooling. Throughout these cycles, the persistence of failure in poor communities and questioning of the viability of public education systems has been persistent. In our society, as in the world, the growth of fear, cultural anxiety, and suspicion is endemic. Growing older at a time when there seems to be no large vision of healing or sense of hope, and at a time when it is hard to see much progress in democratic education or society, is troubling. I fear that the world I will leave behind will be the graveyard of the hope for decency and justice that has driven my life. The idea that the world is locked in a condition of endless warfare is demoralizing. At this time, I find myself working for the cycle to swing back toward decency. I long for what in [the classic Chinese mythological novel] Journey to the West was the renewed ascendancy of the Positive side. I also worry about how to age in hard and sad times; how to bend under stormy conditions and still show strength and refuse to be uprooted.

These thoughts have become symbolized for me by bamboo, and have led to another flight of imagination based in my painting Chinese and my essentially silent companionship with the children I paint with."

Copyright © 2007 by Herbert Kohl. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury USA.

Vol. 26, Issue 45, Page 31

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