April 2000

This Issue
Vol. 11, Issue 07

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Reflections on reform, standards, vouchers, and alternative schools.
  • Rich Irony
  • The Rating Game
  • Chalk Talk
  • Take Responsibility
  • Mother Librarian
  • Aide Impact
  • Go For Gold
  • Border Bravo
  • Restraint
  • Bright Shining Lie
  • Go, Girls
  • New York City schools are doing away with an Industrial Age relic: The coal-fired boiler.
    Activists raise a ruckus about the milk mandate in the federal school lunch program.
    Unions go about reforming themselves.
    A reform model that accelerates instruction for disadvantaged kids picks up speed.
    John Dewey and the future of progressive education.
    Progressive education gurus have taken to the barricades to turn back a reform they claim is destroying great schools. Will teachers join the battle?
    Alex became a martyr for the MCAS resistance.
    Alex Sommerfeld is pretty much your typical teenager. Thin with close-cropped dark hair, he likes soccer, surfs the Internet for hours at a time, and is on intimate terms with profanity. He lives in a small, white-frame house in the Boston suburb of Danvers with his father. When his dad tells him to stop biting his nails, he tells his dad to shut up.
    An alternative school with a hip curriculum makes peace with the standards movement—for now.
    Author Jonathan Kozol lingers with teachers and children who haven't forgotten how to have fun.
    Five young leaders make the progressive tradition their own.
    We revisit books from the past that speak to the future.
    (Delacorte Press, out of print)

    It's 1969. The war in Vietnam is raging. The anti-war movement has reached a fever pitch. Militant leftists are bombing draft offices and ROTC buildings. The nation appears to be coming apart at the seams.

    (Houghton Mifflin, $14)

    Few people feel at home in a hospital examination room, surrounded by sterile, sinister-looking equipment. Or in a courtroom, where the somber, whispered rituals and plodding procedures are impenetrable to all but the members of the strange sect who inhabit the place. Everyone, on the other hand, remembers their high school days, and that's why most people think they have a pretty good idea of what goes on in American classrooms. Often, they're wrong.

    (Perseus, $13)

    Back in 1970, when I was in high school, I found myself one day at a talk by a noted education "expert." How I got there I don't recall. At the time, education did not interest me in the slightest. I'd experienced some 12 years of schooling; what else was there to know? I had not thought much about careers at the time, but I knew one thing: I would never be a teacher. Who in their right mind would want to spend their days trying to make smart-alecky kids like me do and learn things they had no interest in?

    (New Press, $14.95)

    With this exquisite collection of essays, academic papers, and articles first published between 1986 and 1993, Lisa Delpit addresses the original sin, and perhaps fatal flaw, of the progressive movement in American education: its failure to include, or even hear, the views and experiences of those outside the white mainstream culture.

    (Penguin USA, $12.95)

    Anyone familiar with Mike Rose knows better than to look for him center stage. Combing a crowded room for the author, you would most likely find him in a quiet corner—watching, listening, and then wowing you with a keen observation, some pearl of wisdom. His gentle spirit both encourages confidence and invites reflection. This same spirit animates Lives on the Boundary, Rose's immensely personal exploration of our education underclass. How is it, Rose wants to know, that in such a prosperous nation so many children are relegated to the precarious edges of our educational system?

    (MacMillan, $8)

    The 20th century bore witness to countless education trends, fads, and philosophies. Some of the more dominant strands include traditionalism, as in the Great Books approach; scientific efficiency, most closely linked with the psychology of behaviorism and the goal of social control; and romantic progressivism, represented at its extreme by the "free school" movement.

    Kids' obsession with Pokémon can be put to good use at school—or not.
    (New American Library, $13.95)

    In 1964, a young teacher and activist named Jonathan Kozol began teaching 4th grade in one of Boston's most over-crowded and dilapidated elementary schools. Like many inner-city schools at the time, the student population was slowly but inexorably turning from white to black. Most of his fellow teachers were white and not happy about the change. As Kozol reports in Death at an Early Age, the book he wrote about his year at the school, they routinely beat unruly students with a rattan and referred to their African American charges as "niggers" and "animals." Some of the black students, Kozol writes, felt so ignored and isolated that they sometimes invited beatings, preferring degradation to total neglect.

    Why lasting school reform is so fiendishly difficult.
    Cheese and crackers! It's a male elementary teacher.
    Do Something challenges children to do good.
    The parent trap at Disney's Celebration School. Plus: The kids are alright.
    A feisty girl detective tracks dognappers. A small boy's unusual growing pains. Japanese bullies, a mouse in Emily Dickinson's room, and more.
    THE TWO BULLIES, by Junko Morimoto. (Crown, $17; grades K-2.) Morimoto, a Japanese writer and illustrator, gives us a witty tale of two enormous strongmen—one from Japan, the other from China—each itching to prove that he can beat up the other. Big on bluster but short on brains, the two bullies scare each other away before their face-off. The story, adapted and translated from a Japanese tale, will grab kids' attention, but be warned: Morimoto's hilarious watercolors will have them rolling in the aisles. This little volume won picture-book-of-the-year honors in Australia, where the author lives.