Cover image for The schools our children deserve : moving beyond traditional classrooms and "tougher standards"
The schools our children deserve : moving beyond traditional classrooms and "tougher standards"
Kohn, Alfie.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999.
Physical Description:
vi, 344 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Part one : Tougher standards versus better education -- Getting motivation wrong : the costs of overemphasizing achievement -- Getting teaching and learning wrong : traditional education and its victims -- Getting evaluation wrong : the case against standardized testing -- Getting school reform wrong : the arrogance of top-down coercion -- Getting improvement wrong : confusing harder with better -- Part two : For the love of learning -- Starting from scratch -- Education at its best -- Getting the 3 r's right -- The way out -- Appendix A : The hard evidence -- Appendix B : What to look for in a classroom.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library LB2822.82 .K65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
Eden Library LB2822.82 .K65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In this "lively, provocative and well-researched book" (Theodore Sizer), AlTe Kohn builds a powerful argument against the "back to basics" philosophy of teaching and simplistic demands to "raise the bar." Drawing on stories from real classrooms and extensive research, Kohn shows parents, educators, and others interested in the debate how schools can help students explore ideas rather than filling them with forgettable facts and preparing them for standardized tests.
Here at last is a book that challenges the two dominant forces in American education: an aggressive nostalgia for traditional teaching ("If it was bad enough for me, it's bad enough for my kids") and a heavy-handed push for Tougher Standards.

Author Notes

Alfie Kohn was described by "Time" as "the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades & test scores." The author of the influential "No Contest" & "Punished by Rewards," he writes & speaks widely about human behavior, education, & social theory. He lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

A devout critic of the American educational system's dependence on grades and test scores, Kohn (Punished by Rewards, etc.) has long questioned the priority given to basics, rote learning and other "mind-numbing strategies" in the traditional classroom. In his latest assessment, he advocates challenging students to relinquish their passive role in the learning process and to think critically. Tougher standards proposed by politicians and the business community, the author notes, may not be an effective cure-all since they put increased demands on students already overwhelmed by an abundance of facts and homework. "The difference between learning and achievement is hard enough to grasp; the difference between doing well and doing better than others is especially confusing in a society so obsessed with being Number One that the ideas of excellence and winning have been thoroughly conflated," he writes. While some sectors of American schools may be troubled, Kohn concludes, the overall state of the educational system is in better shape than previously thought, in part because negative statistics are blown out of proportion, and partly because standardized tests are flawed indicators of educational quality. Using current research, Kohn advances a series of well-reasoned arguments against traditional education without the usual storm of tree-shaking and excessive rhetoric. This is another balanced effort from an advocate who believes that taking our youth seriously and honoring their abilities and potential may be the first major step toward reform. Agent, Kim Witherspoon; 5-city author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Kohn, an outspoken critic of standardized tests as a means of measuring educational achievement, criticizes the "aggressive nostalgia" that supports misguided reforms and a return to back-to-basic concepts in education. He cites B. F. Skinner and Edward L. Thorndike as traditionalists, advocates of obedience to authority, rote memorization, and standardized tests. Nontraditionalists, such as John Dewey and Jean Piaget, advocate an unstructured, more active approach, with an emphasis on critical thinking. Kohn concedes that neither approach is in evidence in a pure form in any school system. But the pendulum in educational trends is currently at a decidedly conservative, "even reactionary," cycle. Kohn notes the backlash against any nontraditional effort when the accepted measure of quality education--standardized test scores--shows any decline. Urban schools and minority students are most scrutinized, most tested, and most vulnerable to the politics of school reform. Kohn advises parents and educators on how to critically examine teaching methods that emphasize achievement as measured by test scores. (See The Big Test in August 1999 Upfront.)--Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

Kohn, a former teacher and now an award-winning author and education expert, here challenges the two important forces shaping American education today: the aggressive "back-to-basics" teaching approach that looks at children as passive receptacles into which facts and skills are poured, and the test-driven, "raising-the-bar" version, a heavy-handed push for "tougher standards." Drawing on a wealth of research as well as numerous stories from real classrooms, Kohn illustrates how each of these methods reflects a fundamental lack of understanding about how and why children learn. He also describes how the best teachers help students become critical, creative thinkers rather than filling them with forgettable facts or preparing them to take standardized tests. Parents as well as educators should read this remarkable book and rethink our most basic assumptions about the nature of learning and the possibilities of education in the 21st century. Recommended for all types of libraries.√ĄSamuel T. Huang, Northern Illinois Univ. Libs., DeKalb (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



FORWARD... INTO THE PASTAbigail is given plenty of worksheets to complete in class as well as a substantial amount of homework. She studies to get good grades, and her school is proud of its high standardized test scores. Outstanding students are publicly recognized by the use of honor rolls, awards assemblies, and bumper stickers. Abigail's teacher, a charismatic lecturer, is clearly in control of the class: students raise their hands and wait patiently to be recognized. The teacher prepares detailed lesson plans well ahead of time, uses the latest textbooks, and gives regular quizzes to make sure kids stay on track. What's wrong with this picture? Just about everything. The features of our children's classrooms that we find the most reassuring--largely because we recognize them from our own days in school--typically turn out to be those least likely to help students become effective and enthusiastic learners. That dilemma is at the heart of education reform--or at least at the heart of this book. On the relatively rare occasions when nontraditional kinds of instruction show up in classrooms, many of us become nervous if not openly hostile. "Hey, when I was in school the teacher was in front of the room, teaching us what we needed to know about addition and adverbs and atoms. We paid attention and studied hard if we knew what was good for us. And it worked!" Or did it? Never mind all those kids who gave up on school and came to think of themselves as stupid. The more interesting question is whether those of us who were successful students "achieved this success by memorizing an enormous number of words without necessarily understanding them or caring about them."' Is it possible that we are not really as well educated as we'd like to think? Might we have spent a good chunk of our childhoods doing stuff that was exactly as pointless as we suspected it was at the time? It's not easy to acknowledge these possibilities, which may help to explain the aggressive nostalgia that is loose in the land. Any number of people subscribe to the Listerine theory of education: the old ways may be distasteful, but they're effective. Doubtless, this belief is reassuring; unfortunately, it's also wrong. Traditional schooling turns out to be as unproductive as it is unappealing. Thus, we ought to be demanding non-traditional classrooms for our kids, and supporting teachers who know enough to reject the siren call of "back to basics." We ought to be asking why our children aren't spending more time thinking about ideas and playing a more active role in the process of learning. In such an environment, they're not only more likely to be engaged with what they're doing but also to do it better. Parents have rarely been invited to consider this point of view, which is why schools continue operating in pretty much the same way, using pretty much the same set of assumptions and practices, as the decades roll by. In this chapter, I'll try to e Excerpted from The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and Tougher Standards by Alfie Kohn All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1 Forward ... Into the Pastp. 1
Part 1 Tougher Standards Versus Better Education
2 Getting Motivation Wrong: The Costs of Overemphasizing Achievementp. 25
3 Getting Teaching and Learning Wrong: Traditional Education and Its Victimsp. 47
4 Getting Evaluation Wrong: The Case Against Standardized Testingp. 73
5 Getting School Reform Wrong: The Arrogance of Top-Down Coercionp. 93
6 Getting Improvement Wrong: Confusing Harder with Betterp. 101
Part 2 For the Love of Learning
7 Starting from Scratchp. 115
8 Education at Its Bestp. 131
9 Getting the 3 R's Rightp. 159
10 The Way Outp. 183
Appendix A The Hard Evidencep. 209
Appendix B What to Look For in a Classroomp. 235
Notesp. 238
Referencesp. 303
Acknowledgmentsp. 333
Indexp. 334

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