Education Commentary


By David Ruenzel — February 01, 1993 3 min read

SCHOOL’S OUT: Hyperlearning, the New Technology, and the End of Education

by Lewis Perelman (Morrow, $23.)

Almost 200 pages into what is both an unrelenting diatribe against public education and a celebration of the technological wizardry that will soon replace it, author Perelman catches his breath and writes, “Actually, the point of this book is that tools are far more important than schools.” The tools, collectively labeled “hyperlearning,” include everything from “compact PC-like machines” able to reason and perceive to virtual-reality systems that, among other things, will enable “kids hundreds or thousands of miles apart to act out Macbeth with computer-generated costumes.” Hyperlearning, according to the author, not only has the advantage of being truly interactive but also of saving billions of dollars, for in Perelman’s utopian free market there are no buildings, no schoolrooms, and no classroom teachers. In fact, there are hardly even any parents and children, only machines and happy consumers, such as the vacationing 11-year-old who enacts a Civil War battle on her Discman-sized knowledge box. How will students acquire these marvels? With micro-vouchers, which will enable families to pick and choose from what the author calls “an intellectual food court,” as if a PC could somehow be equated with a taco. Bizarre as this Toys R Us scheme may seem—what, one wonders, is to stop consumers from merely choosing the most spectacular gizmos?—it’s bound to appeal to those who see unfettered free enterprise as the answer to our educational dilemmas. Dismantle schools, eradicate superfluous teachers, and trust in technological progress—that’s essentially Perelman’s message. He only wishes “education were organized like the highly competitive, consumer-focused, profit-seeking business that Hollywood is.” Parents who have witnessed firsthand the effects of Hollywood’s excesses on their children may beg to differ. Perelman, who began his career as a public school science teacher, is now at the Hudson Institute, where his work has been supported by numerous corporations. Unfortunately, his book reads all too much like an impassioned flier for their products.

TEACHERS AND CRISIS: Urban School Reform and Teachers’ Work Culture

by Dennis Carlson (Routledge, $7.)

It was inevitable, author Carlson suggests, that the progressive experiments of the 1960s would be followed in the next two decades by a resurgence of the basic skills movement. Under the auspices of urban school reform, school administrators, politicians, and business leaders pushed basic skills in the 1970s and ‘80s not because they made educational sense—indeed, research suggests that such rote learning only further alienates bored students—but because the basic skills movement protected their powers while diminishing those of students and teachers. As little more than purveyors of worksheets and overseers of the “time on task” classroom, unengaged teachers posed little threat to entrenched interests. And while politicians crowed about rising but rigged test scores—teachers were, in effect, rewarded for teaching to the test—students learned little. Teachers, too, Carlson argues, have been accomplices in this state of affairs. If things are to change, they must see beyond the union “contract game” in which they, in essence, relinquish their professionalism in favor of better wages and more agreeable work rules.

THE SCHOOLHOME: Rethinking Schools for Changing Families

by Jane Roland Martin (Harvard, $24.95.)

The title of this intriguing book may be misleading, as the “schoolhome” refers not to homeschooling but rather to the author’s conception of a new kind of school that would function as an ideal home. Loosely modeled after Maria Montessori’s Casa dei Bambini, a school and sanctuary for beleaguered children, the schoolhome is necessitated, Martin claims, by the massive removal of parents from America’s homes. Filling this void, the schoolhome is to be a place of “care, concern, and connection,” where children and teachers relate to one another as a kind of benign extended family. Domesticity, then, is at the heart of the schoolhome; boys and girls, in a spirit of free collaboration, do everything from cooking to putting on plays. One wonders, though, just how feasible the schoolhome is. Martin herself astutely argues that domesticity is scorned in a society that overvalues self-sufficiency. And it would take an army of unusually dedicated teachers to perform the vital duties so many parents have abdicated.

A version of this article appeared in the October 03, 1984 edition of Education Week as Books