Reign of Error, by Diane Ravitch (reviewed by Keith W.)

Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public SchoolsReign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the largest on-going problems in this country is how to fix the issue of education. By many, our education system is considered to have many flaws. Here, Diane Ravitch recognizes these flaws and provides the backstory and solutions to them in her book Reign of Error. She explores many common myths, such as “The nation has a dropout crisis”, and then proceeds to debunk them with solid evidence from many statistics. After that, she provides us with probable solutions to many of the problems that are happening today in the country. I agree with many of these solutions, but most of them are only a dream to fixing our education. Diane’s hard-hitting propositions to correct our education dilemma all have smart intentions, but many of them do not consider the fact that drastically changing America is an extremely tough task.

One of the topics that is constantly debated is whether to invest loads of money to help all students in America to finish college. If we have the highest college graduation rate in the world, then more people would be making money, which in turn leads to more jobs, better lives, and a healthier country. However, going through college always includes the hassle of returning the used money that made it possible for you to finish. “Students should not leave college burdened by tens of thousands of dollars of debt”(87). Ravitch offers an obvious statement, but there’s a problem that lies behind it. Many students who finish high school don’t apply to college due to the heavy costs and debt that accumulate over time. “College graduates on average earn more money than high school graduates, [and they] have a lower unemployment rate than those with less education”(84). So, is fixing our education as easy as that? Just get more students to college? Ravitch describes college as “worth pursuing”(90), but she doesn’t take into account how much money it would take to allow all students to attend college, especially for those who are considered to be in poverty. They are the lower minority of students in grades and potential, but that’s only due to their inability to access higher education. The solution that Ravitch proposes needs a lot money, and since her method is simply to get people to college, she does not recognize the effort that the government or local communities must take in order to achieve this. In fact, that amount of effort would actually hurt America through the extensive costs and energy required to get more poor students the chance of a higher education.

Next up, the fact that test scores are falling and hurting our overall educational system is out-proven by Ravitch to be absolutely false. She used results from the National Assessment of educational Progress (NAEP) to provide solid data that shows rising scores for whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in both reading and mathematics. From this data she concludes that all of this “progress [comes from] the educators [and their] important work”(54). All of the data that she gives shows that the scores of all major races improved in two subjects, which signals growth in our educational system. All of the students in our system are improving, but it doesn’t prove anything about whether we’re improving as a country. Diane’s main point throughout the book is that fixing the problems in our education will hopefully lead to a better America. She claims that “test scores are not the only way to measure education, but to the extent that they matter, they are improving”(53). The test scores here don’t prove anything in the larger picture, but they do prove that we are making some sort of gains in our education. Every single year, the children are getting smarter with positive results from these test, but are these improvements actually going to help us and the children in the long run? Probably not because issues like poverty overpower any of these little gains in test scores.

Finally, the achievement gap is something that is prevalent throughout any society due to many issues. Any strategy to fix this would have to “address the problems of poverty, unemployment, racial isolation, and mass incarceration”(61). All of these issues are huge in our educational system, and all of these problems all link back to the proper education in one’s youth. Without this, it’s impossible to get anywhere in life. Because a proper learning experience is needed, “schools are part of the solution, [but] they alone cannot solve the problem of educational disparities” (60). As a matter of fact, nothing can completely close the achievement gap. Advantages and disadvantages between students are bound to happen as they are in any type of setting. Ravitch’s point that fixing schools and the poverty that’s intertwined with it is powerful, but yet again is it worth it to do so? Our next generation is made up of all the students that we have now, and without a proper education for them to have, we would all be doomed. However, linking back to a previous idea, spending a lot of money to fix these issues would actually hurt us, and they’re not guaranteed to work. Poverty can spring back as it’s bound to happen, and schools can deteriorate over time. The achievement gap is almost unsolvable, and as Diane Ravitch says, “there will always be achievement gaps”(62).

The book Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch addresses all the important virtues and ideas that make up the definition of our current state with education. None of the solutions that she provides is completely possible or helpful, but they all give insight to the problems that plague us today. Education is a topic that many dismiss due to its complexity within its root causes, but Diane Ravitch tackles it with solid proof that contributes possible solutions to the hardest-hitting of problems. ~ Student: Keith W.

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The Trouble with Boys, by Peg Tyre (reviewed by Katherine D.)

The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must DoThe Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do by Peg Tyre

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In preschool, boys are expelled almost five times as often as girls, and are four times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with an attention or learning problem (5). Only sixty-five percent of males graduate from high school, as opposed to seventy two percent of females (26). 57.2 percent of students enrolled in undergraduate college in 2005 in the United States were female (6). Many of these statistics may be surprising as they go against our preconceived notions that girls are the ones who require the most assistance in school. Peg Tyre’s The Trouble With Boys: A surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do confronts the common notion that girls are still trailing behind boys in academics and argues that our schools are too girl-friendly and are actually hurting the boys. Although Tyre is able to raise awareness for the issue of male underachievement and point to issues including a widening gap in performance, her data, solutions, and formatting are inadequate and only detract from her message.

Through her book, Tyre is able to put the issue of male underachievement up for discussion. In the beginning of this book, Tyre states that she wants to “look at the boy problem fairly, clearly, and compassionately” (13). Tyre’s goal of approaching this problem could be very beneficial, especially since many people today are unwilling to even bring up the issue of boys performing worse than girls in school since girls have historically been given fewer opportunities than boys were. By bringing up the issue of male performance in school, Tyre helps the reader to understand and be more aware of the underlying biases in our society and sets up the grounds from which we can proceed to work against our society’s predispositions and prejudices.

Tyre is also able to address some of the major inadequacies in our educational system and shows that our problems are deep rooted and begin very early on. Tyre includes a study published by the United States Department of Education which compares the average reading scores of kids aged nine, thirteen, and seventeen on a standardized reading test. Although nine-year-old males only trailed females by five points (out of 500), thirteen-year-old males trailed by ten points, and seventeen-year-old males were behind by fourteen points (27). Although many believe that kids only begin to fall behind in middle school or high school, Tyre argues that this gap may begin to develop as early as Preschool, and that the problem may be deeper engrained than many may have thought. For example, one of the reason that boys are believed to not read as much as girls is because they perceive reading to be a “feminine activity” (143), and therefore tend to stay away from it. If this idea could eliminated from our society, it is possible that boys’ reading and writing would improve. Tyre also maintains that we must begin by reforming our preschools and elementary schools instead of only focusing on secondary education. This novel addresses the issue that an achievement gap develops early on and worsens as the years go by, and calls for reforms in early education.

Tyre, however, does not provide the reader with sufficient solutions to the issue of male underachievement. Although Tyre offers some ideas such as increasing recess time, reading books that are more interesting for boys, and promoting reading time at home, many of these solutions are only relevant for teachers or parents who had not previously realized that boys learn differently than girls. Additionally, Tyre tends to overgeneralize her solutions. For instance, Tyre claims that adding more recess time would be beneficial for boys, and while this is true, Tyre never mentions that recess is also beneficial to girls. Many of Tyre’s solutions could help for both genders, and yet Tyre presents them as beneficial for only boys. Moreover, Tyre never addressed class size as an issue. Most of the solutions proposed in this book call for change in the teachers and parents rather than with the school system. Although many teachers can improve their classes by being more boy-friendly, class sizes are not within their control, and classes that are too large can often be unmanageable and can leave kids with less attention and support. Tyre does not provide enough solutions and does not address other issues such as class size, which makes it more difficult for the reader to realize how to instigate change.

The Trouble With Boys also lacks clear organization and sufficient concrete evidence. This book often jumps around, at one point going from brain imaging to video games to single sex education, and does not have a clear flow or organization, which can confuse the reader and detract from the book’s message. Tyre also often uses profiles and anecdotes instead of hard data to make generalizations. For example, Tyre concludes that boys tend to more active than girls solely based on one study (68). Although it is possible that boys truly are more energetic and move more, it is not enough to only include one study or story. The organization and some of the evidence in Tyre’s book does not help to explain Tyre’s argument.

Although lacking in organization and sufficient, actionable solutions, The Trouble With Boys conveys an important message and brings a pressing issue to light. We often ignore the troubles that boys may face in schools due to our tendencies to claim that boy and girls are equal and our efforts to allow girls to catch up to boys after years of unequal opportunities. In order to create a truly equal education system, we must cater to both girls and boys. It is also important for all of us to consider both sides of every story and not get caught up in our prejudices. ~ Student: Katherine D.

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The Global Achievement Gap, by Tony Wagner (reviewed by Jacob S.)

The Global Achievement Gap: Why Our Kids Don't Have the Skills They Need for College, Careers, and Citizenship—and What We Can Do About ItThe Global Achievement Gap: Why Our Kids Don’t Have the Skills They Need for College, Careers, and Citizenship—and What We Can Do About It by Tony Wagner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Everything we ever thought we knew about schooling in this country is wrong. Not only are our underfunded high schools in impoverished, crime-stricken areas ineffective and in need of vast reforms, even our best-regarded schools in affluent suburbs – the Newton Souths of the nation – are failing our students. This is the provocative and lofty argument central to Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap. Through a combination of masterful prose, extensive research, and numerous insights into real schools and classrooms, Wagner succeeds remarkably well in the ambitious task of convincing his readers of this startling fact. It is in his attempts to provide solutions to the truly bleak situation that he portrays with such clarity and persuasiveness, however, that he falls short. In failing to supply a satisfactory plan for the improvement of a broken system, Wagner leaves his readers not -as he intends – inspired to affect a change, but rather discouraged and overwhelmed at the scale of the problem and at the dearth of ideas and influence claimed by the those working toward its solution.

Wagner aims to portray the shortcomings of American schools as the product of systemic misalignment, namely an outdated model and “definition of rigor” (pg. 130) based on content rather than skills. Wagner argues that this, combined with phenomena such as the recent emphasis on standardized test “accountability”, detracts from the teaching the “Seven Survival Skills” (first introduced on page 14), which include communication and critical thinking, that he asserts every student needs for success. With such an argument, Wagner initially appears to have the odds stacked against him in convincing his readers. To start with, he highlights a problem where many don’t see one. While the original “achievement gap” – the one between poor, underperforming schools and affluent, high scoring ones – is widely recognized, few see a problem in the way that our country’s elite public high schools operate. Wagner is thus tasked not only with analyzing a complex problem, but also with convincing his readers that the problem even exists to begin with. Wagner’s task is further complicated by his assertion that the dilemma facing American schools lies not in specific, relatively easy-to-fix inadequacies (such as low funding or the teacher’s unions onto which Waiting for Superman heaps blame), but rather in the fundamental approach and values of the system. As Wagner puts it, the country must engage in “a reflective discussion that is driven by the important questions rather than the easy answers” (pg. 271) In proving his thesis, Wagner bravely and effectively challenges numerous concepts that claim strong general acceptance, such as the idea that more content equals more rigor. By providing ample evidence, both in the form of data and (arguably more effectively) real-classroom experience – the later of which is especially valuable in humanizing a topic so dominated by bureaucracy and impersonal systems – Wagner leaves his readers with little doubt that the inadequacies of American schools are not unique to those traditionally viewed as “underperforming,” and that the resolution of those issues will require not just minor readjustments, but overarching systemic realignments.

Given the clarity and persuasiveness with which Wagner argues his view of the causes of the current system’s deficiency, the reader likely holds high expectations for the author’s ideas for potential solutions. Said reader, however, soon begins to see signs of disappointment. The simple fact that Wagner dedicates only sixty-four pages to the discussion of what can be done to right the flawed system (in contrast to the over two hundred pages he dedicates to meticulously identifying and exploring its problems) should pique the reader’s suspicion. Wagner spends the majority of these pages discussing schools that take a “very different approach” (pg. 208), “refuse to teach to the tests” (pg. 208), and claim enormous accomplishments in terms of college matriculation and completion, “all… on the… budget that the state provides charter schools” (pg. 208). This is a logical place to start; after all, the first step in bringing effective reform to America’s public schools must be to study the practices that have seen success on a smaller scale. However, Wagner fails to provide a feasible plan for how such models can be adopted on a much larger scope. Doubt also remains concerning the effectiveness of these methods even on a small scale; Wagner himself admits that “for every [success], I can show you nine others… no different from the tradition comprehensive high school…” (pg. 253). If even small independent and charter schools see only a ten percent rate of success, why are we to believe that this type of school, if replicated, would perform any better than existing public high schools, which surely boast at least one successful outlier in every ten as well?

The problems with Wagner’s proposed solutions (or, rather, lack thereof) continue into the last section of the book. Here, in the “conclusion”, Wagner attempts to instruct his readers on what they can do to contribute to the improvement of the American educational system. He begins by restating his oft-repeated assertion that education reform must center around “what happens between students and teachers in real classrooms…” (pg. 255), rather than on ideology – a valid and important point, but not particularly helpful in the discussion of concrete initiatives. He then continues to answer some questions and criticisms he has received in the past, finally arriving at his suggestions for what inspired readers can do with less than two full pages remaining in the book. He urges his readers to “sponsor thoughtful, reflective discussions about what our children need…” (pg. 270), suggesting venues such as “the dining table” (pg. 207) and “reading groups” (pg. 207) – which offer little promise for an audience capable of affecting any substantial change, and “your state legislature” (pg. 207) where one voice, or even that of many, stands little chance against the bureaucracy surrounding both education and politics. He also adds a request that the reader view “an important new documentary” (pg. 271) which, while perhaps a valuable resource, can only either reiterate that points he’s already made in his book or offer novel information or theories that Wagner should have included in his own work. While it is true that a sizable section of his book, entitled “Reinventing the Education Profession” focuses on the value of teacher collaboration, only administrators and perhaps bold teachers are in a position to make use of the information contained in this section, and Wagner even admits that whether or not “this approach actually improve[s] student learning” (pp. 163-164) has yet to be seen. The reader will likely be left wondering whether Wagner would have been better off not addressing solutions at all; his analysis of the problem stands alone as valuable and complete, and his ideas for solutions appear insubstantial and fragmented, and unnecessary at best. Wagner provides a compelling picture of the system’s problems; one only wonders if he would have been better served to have stopped there.

Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap is an effective tool for understanding and critiquing the aims of the modern American educational system. A stunning and provocative exposé, Wagner’s book highlights these shortcomings with exceptional clarity and expertise. While the weakness of his proposed solutions and his lack of attention toward the more specific issues of teacher quality and policy highlighted in Waiting For Superman do detract from the reader’s overall experience, it is important to realize the value of identifying the problems at hand. Readers will find in Wagner’s work a meticulous and compelling articulation of the current system’s problems; a valuable read despite its weak spots. ~ Student: Jacob S.

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Soar: How Boys Learn, Succeed, and Develop Character, by David Banks (reviewed by David B.)

Soar: How Boys Learn, Succeed, and Develop CharacterSoar: How Boys Learn, Succeed, and Develop Character by David Banks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In schools all across the US, boys are twice as likely to be held back and five times as likely to be expelled compared to girls. Boys have 70 to 80 percent of behavioral problems and consistently score lower on tests than girls. This reality is even more pronounced in African-American and Hispanic communities, and schools in bad neighborhoods. Just over 50% percent of black and hispanic students graduate high school, and more than 30% of those high school dropouts serve time behind bars. How can we expect great things in our country’s future when half of our population is misunderstood by their teachers, dropping out of high school, and being coerced into gangs and illegal activity?

David Banks has solved this problem, at least for the boys who attend his all-boys schools known as the Eagle Academies. The first of the Eagle Academies for Young Men opened in New York City, and Banks writes his new book, Soar: How Boys Learn, Succeed, and Develop Character, to explain how these schools are so influential and successful. Eagle Academies specialize for boys with troubled home lives, in neighborhoods where many of the public schools are labeled “drop-out factories” by Dr. Robert Balfanz in the documentary Waiting for Superman. Banks articulates his message concisely: boys in our country are in need of a new method of education, or the future of our young men will continue to worsen. In general, he points to two main solutions in male education. First, schools must use boys’ energy and competitiveness to help them learn passionately, instead of constantly punishing all those who don’t just sit quietly in their seats throughout the day. Second, boys must have a community around them to guide them through their education, and to lead them away from troubles in their lives outside of school. Banks writes, “If it takes a village to raise a child, then our method is not just a guide to raising that child, but a system of mutual reinforcement for the hard-working villagers.” With regular-length school days, a community is built from houses the school assembles, in which students eat and participate in extra-curricular activities together. Especially for those in low-income areas, boys need adults to look out for their safety and make sure education is a priority in their lives, but Banks argues that “the Eagle Method is not specific to race or socioeconomic status, it is a philosophy… to embrace and support young men of any background to achieve their promise and potential”. These principles have been proven through the schools and communities David Banks has created in many impoverished districts, and Soar displays his opinions clearly and precisely, constantly reminding the reader of his experience and expertise on this subject.

As if to complete the realistic approach to Bank’s approach to education, Eagle Academies are all public schools. He advocates that there is no testing in order to attend, but instead a test of consistent parental support during the process of admission. These parents and their support is pivotal to the success or failure of their son’s education, so after the school’s open house where a student and parent must show up to apply, “we will keep asking them to show up as a family for the sake of their son’s education, and in increasing ways”. Banks has found a way to morph the public school system to mold troubled boys into influential adults, dwarfing the success of alternatives such as charter schools and expensive private schools.

David Banks seems to have cracked the code. With Eagle Academies boasting more than 90% graduation rate with almost 100% of those graduates going on to college, these schools are exactly what the young men of the United States need to get back on track. For those trying to strategize ways to improve their son’s education, or for those invested in the direction of our country’s youth, Soar: How Boys Learn, Succeed, and Develop Character brightens one’s eyes to the struggles faced by disadvantaged boys, and proven tactics to improve boy’s education. ~ Student: David B.

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The Homework Myth, by Alfie Kohn (reviewed by Taylor B.)

The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad ThingThe Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When most students hear the word “homework”, chills run up and down his or her spine. Homework has gained itself a negative connotation over the years and nationwide research has been done to test its effectiveness. Alfie Kohn’s novel, The Homework Myth, takes a stand on homework and opposes homework for any grade level. Kohn explores many homework arguments, such as choice, time consumption, and effects on nonacademic life. He does this to persuade readers of homework’s uselessness and possibly adverse effects of the long-established educational tradition. Kohn’s take on homework’s negative impacts on students’ lives is a completely accurate representation of how students feel and how I believe parents feel. His arguments opened my eyes to the facts behind “the homework myth” that takes students’ time and takes their stress levels through the roof.

Kohn’s first claim is that children are “missing out on their childhoods” (3). It is evident throughout the novel that Kohn believes children spend seven hours every day in school, and that should be enough. Therefore, children, whether they are ten or 17, need more time for family, friends, and extracurricular activities. I agree that students should have more time to spend with their families or to participate in sports or the arts. Because of the rigor of high school homework, I was forced to quit dance, both the Varsity Dance Team and my many classes at a ballet studio. I also find myself not being able to spend as much time with my parents or siblings.

Kohn also takes social class into consideration when proving why homework does not cause a student to have greater achievement. For example, “being born into a more affluent and highly educated family might be associated with getting higher test scores and with doing more homework (or attending the kind of school where more homework is assigned)” (29). Not all parents have the finances to send their children to a more rigorous school where teachers care to give more homework, therefore the children’s education is negatively affected.

Another argument that Kohn makes in his novel is that homework is assigned to communicate between school and home. He says that parents want to be informed and know that their children are learning something, thus resulting in homework. However, “one frustrated father declared that homework is ‘a curse put on parents’” (10). When parents say that they want to know their child is learning more, that does not mean that should have to know how to do every math problem to double check that their child has gotten them correct. When topics are not understood, homework becomes ineffective because the answers filled in would just be guesses. This confusion supports Kohn’s notion that practice does not necessarily make perfect: “It wouldn’t make sense to say ‘keep practicing until you understand’ because practicing doesn’t create understanding…” (107). If students do not understand his or her homework, continuing to do it will not make them understand. I agree with Kohn that when related to school, people really mean to say practice until what you’re doing is automatic.

Alfie Kohn’s book The Homework Myth has a clear stance on homework that I completely identify and agree with. Kohn touches on each aspect of the cons and some pros of homework, in addition to giving multiple perspectives from teachers, parents, and students. The Homework Myth is a great book in which everything Kohn says is true to how students feel, especially when he writes, “Children cannot be made to acquire skills. They aren’t vending machines such that we put in more homework and get out more learning” (117). This is the most accurate point made in this novel because students, especially myself, feel that not every homework assignment is necessary. We as students have multiple essays, tests to study for, and other assignments thrown at us each night and we may not be able to handle it all. If we are able to handle it, we become too obsessed and compulsive. As Kohn mentions, homework not only becomes something to be finished, but also overwhelms those who are struggling and removes joy from top students. ~ Student: Taylor B.

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The Homework Myth, by Alfie Kohn (reviewed by Edward F.)

The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad ThingThe Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“A study published in 2002 found a direct relationship between how much time high school students spent on homework and the levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and other mood disturbances they experienced.” The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn is an analysis of homework that challenges the age-old belief that homework is a productive practice and essential to learning. Packed with facts, observations, and suggestions, Kohn debunks common assumptions and states that teachers, parents and school districts owe it to students to create a homework policy based on “what’s true and what makes sense.” On the very first page of his book, Kohn finds it a curious fact that the homework habit is taken for granted, even while many educators and parents “are troubled by its impact on children.” Kohn states that because of homework, kids are “missing out on their childhoods” because of the upward trend in the amount assigned, and that it has a “negative impact” on the family, essentially “giving the parent a new role as teacher or enforcer.” Kohn challenges the widespread belief that homework enhances learning by examining research and studies that go as far back as 1897, and that are as current as within the last decade. He includes the topic of competition in his review of the evidence by looking at the assertions that U.S. students get less homework than students in other parts of the world, and that foreign countries far excel the U.S. on test scores. He finds that “ . . . research was too sparse or poorly conducted to allow trustworthy conclusions.” Kohn’s in-depth investigation into the topic of homework explores the possibility of nonacademic advantages as well as reasons why homework is a tenacious practice. Time and again Kohn argues that claims about homework turn out to be “dubious and unsubstantiated”; he highlights stories about parents and educators who have pushed back, and he offers examples of schools that demonstrated academic distinction is possible in the absence of homework. While it can be tedious and boring to get through some of the points, the overall message in Kohn’s book is intriguing and thought-provoking, forcing the reader to look at the concept of homework with an eye of scrutiny. ~ Student: Edward F.

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Degrees of Inequality, by Suzanne Mettler (reviewed by Cameron P.)

Degrees of InequalityDegrees of Inequality by Suzanne Mettler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For­profit colleges are harming every single citizen in America, and although politicians are aware of the damage it is doing to this country, they still fail to take any serious action. Suzanne Mettler looks at these flaws in our education system at the post­secondary level in her book, Degrees of Inequality. While many educational reformers tend to look at the inequality in education at the primary and secondary level, Suzanne Mettler points out the inequalities that exist at the post­secondary level by closely examining the costs of college. These costs place many disadvantaged students from achieving the same level of education as wealthy Americans, an issue portrayed in Waiting for Superman as well. The book Degrees of Inequality by Suzanne Mettler is a dry and often slow read, but it effectively proves, with thorough research, a strong thesis: inequality in the post­secondary level of education exists and for­profit schools are harming America without any effective political legislative stopping them.

In Degrees of Inequality, Suzanne Mettler argues that the post­secondary education system in America is flawed and prevents many disadvantaged students from being able to obtain a college degree. These issues start with the government and its refusal to increase aid for disadvantaged students. The value of Pell Grants have depreciated as inflation continues to grow and colleges raise the price of tuition. There has been little increase in the amount of money Pell Grants give to students since the program was established in 1972. The Obama administration has fought to “increase Pell grants…annually at the rates derived from the Consumer Price Index (CPI)” and “make Pell grants an entitlement…so that any student who met the eligibility criteria so that any student would receive a full grant” (147) but to little avail as many sweeping education reforms had to become more moderate in order to pass with Obamacare to avoid a filibuster. The average costs to attend a public four­ year institution has increased over time and is not affordable to many. Today, it costs “29% of income…for those in the middle income quintile” and “for those in the lowest income quintile…114% of income” (121) to attend a public four ­year institution. As a result, a quality education is only available to the rich, an idea also portrayed in Waiting For Superman. As the author explains it, “‘public’ education has become, in reality, increasingly ‘private’ in its actual funding” (122). This is also true at the primary and secondary education level; public schools in less wealthy neighborhoods aren’t receiving as much aid, putting these schools behind other wealthier public schools. A quality post­secondary education is difficult to obtain due to the failures of the government, an intriguing argument presented throughout the book that provokes the reader.

Suzanne Mettler launches a full on attack, demonizing for­-profit schools as degree factories only worried about making money. A for­-profit school is a university or college that does not invest profits back into the school. Examples would include the University of Phoenix, Universal Technical Institute, and DeVry University. These schools “earned between 60.8 and 85.9 percent of their total revenues in 2010 from Title IV of the Higher Education Act, meaning predominantly student loans and Pell Grants” (168). The majority of large for­profit colleges have around 35% of their students repaying student loans, and “39 percent (of students) defaulted compared to 10 percent of those in the public and nonprofit sectors” (96) leaving the government to pay for the loans to the schools. This directly affects citizens who must pay, in taxes, for the defaulted loans and the financial aid funding these institutions. These taxes add up to tens of millions of dollars that American citizens must pay annually. Suzanne Mettler dedicates a large portion of the book to explaining how “the political relationships that have developed between public officials and the industry have promoted…extensive profits for company owners and shareholders, at the expense of students and taxpayers” (109). Like Waiting For Superman, the politics behind education are constant throughout. The author effectively shows how such injustices to the American public can continue without any intervention from the government. Just like teacher labor unions, the for­-profit colleges spend a large amount of time and money lobbying against regulations that could harm their institutions and profits in the case of for-­profit colleges. For-­profit colleges are still able to be funded by the government and indirectly, taxpayers, by winning the support of politicians from lobbying. The in­-depth look at politics may turn some readers away from the book and the overall message, but it is very intriguing for those who are interested in politics.
Degrees of Inequality by Suzanne Mettler is a slow read, but the information and knowledge gained from this book are well worth the challenge. The book reads as an academic study as Mettler elects to prove her arguments through stats and charts rather than personal stories. It would have been very simple for the author to find a deeply indebted low­ income graduate from a for­-profit university to show that for-­profits are making money off their students, but instead, the author writes the book as if it’s a thesis paper. Waiting For Superman proved how effective a story behind a message can be, especially regarding social reform. I could not recommend this book to any normal person; it takes a great deal of patience and interest in politics to be able to finish and fully appreciate the insightful and well-­researched book that is Degrees of Inequality by Suzanne Mettler. ~ Student: Cameron P.

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Dumbing Us Down, by John Taylor Gatto (reviewed by Virgil W.)

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory SchoolingDumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

John Gatto argues that schooling is a broken institution that does not create productive members of a community, but rather fragments a community, creating a society of dependent materialistic consumers that will listen to orders. He highlights the individual problems that schooling creates, along with their causes. From this point on Gatto becomes increasingly radical, accusing the government of monitoring and manipulating children into formulated obedient beings. He uses very heavy handed rhetoric, referring to school communities as a “vampire network [that] needs to have a stake driven through its heart and be nailed into its coffin” (52). He even makes an allusion to George Orwell’s 1984, referring to the control of the school system as “Big Father”. The products of such dystopian institutions, Gatto claims, are unable to function in meaningful communities and the way to fix this, along with all the other problems in schooling, is to remove the institution as a whole; Gatto insists that family should be “the main engine of education”, and that any other learning can take place simply through involvement in community. However, Gatto leaves many issues with his “solution” unaddressed, and his philosophy of community and education are full of contradictions and erroneous notions.

In order to understand Gatto’s quarrel with the existing form of compulsory education, it is important to first understand what Gatto’s idea of a healthy community is. Gatto asks that we, as a society, “look to the Congregational principle for answers”. The congregational principle Gatto speaks of is essentially the idea that people should be their own leaders and self-regulate themselves, a principle practiced in Congregational churches during American colonial times. Each congregation would take care of its own unique problems and responsibilities, and Gatto believes this model was truly successful; people could self regulate without a central authority telling them what to do, and act on the interest of the community, not on the interest of some higher up. The community collectively made choices based on its member’s interests. However, such an archaic model has no place in today’s modern global society. With so many immigrants of differing cultures so close together, it is nearly impossible for interests to align. Gatto does reference the fact that during colonial times, it was common for those who departed from the general community’s interest to be ostracized. Gatto speaks of this ostracization as a good thing, claiming that having to “accept everyone, no matter how hostile they may be to your own personality, philosophy, or mission” would cause any operation to become “paralyzed by fatal disagreements” (78). In other words, Gatto insists that the correct way to deal with conflict of interest is to push disagreeable people out of the community, thus, creating a homogenous community of like minded people. In other words, rather than separating people by age, social class, and achievement level as classrooms do, Gatto’s solution is to separate people by interest. Additionally, the level of inter-communal homogeneity Gatto speaks of is not only impossible, but also remarkably similar to the homogeneity found in classrooms, a uniformity Gatto rightly defines as anti-community and “anti-life”. What makes Gatto’s ideal community any better?

With a flawed foundation of communal philosophy, Gatto offers a solution that is, unsurprisingly, flawed as well. Gatto marks two weak alternatives to compulsory public schooling: home schooling, and simply learning through the community. Gatto makes his case for homeschooling as a superior method of teaching, citing the fact that “[home schooled children] seem to be five or even ten years ahead of their formally trained peers” (22). However, parents who homeschool their children are typically highly educated themselves and are thus qualified to educate their children. If, as Gatto suggests, public schools were to be removed, the number of parents who could actually provide their children with an education would be staggeringly low. Many parents are poor immigrants who can hardly read themselves; how would the children of these parents learn? One might suggest such a child learn from their community, as the Gatto did in his nostalgic recount of his childhood by the Monongahela river. In this recount, Gatto described how he learned from men on passing trains and boats, lessons more important than any he ever learned in a classroom. Through this recount, Gatto tells of how one can learn valuable lessons from the surrounding community. But Gatto didn’t become a teacher of renown by hanging out by a river, he gained the fundamental skills of teaching through a formal education. Community can supplement one’s academic learning experience for sure, but it cannot replace it entirely. The reality is, even among native born parents, very few would be able to educate their children to the level that public schooling could have, and education through communal involvement does not pave a path a financial viability for a child. The “caste system” that Gatto claims is created by institutionalized education would only be reinforced by it’s removal, denying a way for the uneducated to better themselves.
The problems Gatto addresses are by no means illegitimate. It is important, however, to understand Gatto writes with heavy handed rhetoric and almost heretical radicalism, standing for the localism, community, and decentralization that the confederates fought for in the Civil War. His observations of the current state of children, education, and community were for the most part, accurate. However, he fails to address several major issues, and the ones he does address are of questionable viability at best. ~ Student: Virgil W.

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Multiple Intelligences, by Howard Gardner (reviewed by Kathy Z.)

Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and PracticeMultiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice by Howard Gardner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For the casual reader, Howard Gardner’s bookMultiple Intelligences: New Horizons, is a too-large mouthful. An updated version of its predecessor, readers read with the expectation of explanations on the multiple intelligences (also referred to as MI theory) as well as maybe a few examples of its real world applications. What the reader will get is more than that, with discussion and analysis as to why MI theory has been so embraced by the academic community, and how that has affected the perception of education.

Gardner’s own Multiple Intelligence theory rivals the traditionally held ideas that intelligence was only in quantitative skills, such as math and language. The MI theory speaks of people possessing a combination of seven different “intelligences,” such as Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Logical-Mathematical, Linguistic, Spatial, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal intelligences. His new categories of intelligences further expands the definition of genius, acknowledging brilliance in the arts and sciences. Not only that, his theory acknowledges the contributions of skillful human interactions and understanding, which is something that is not commonly appreciated in today’s society.

One of the most interesting parts of the book was the discussion of the application of MI in an academic setting, for example Project Spectrum. Gardner himself admits the practicality of widespread application of the Project Spectrum set-up, having been an expensive experiment in of itself. The intentions of the project was noble though, monitoring each individual student’s talents to help inform instructors and parents of where students’ strengths and weaknesses lay. Another interesting proposition Gardner returns to is the call of bringing back apprenticeships. Gardner mentions improving schools by allowing students to be placed in apprenticeships that have their strong skillsets, predicted using MI theory, which brings to mind vocational programs at some high schools.

As for the organization of the book, there is a bit to be desired. Chapters jump from topic to topic, with no clear common denominator between them. A few chapters with the common theme of discussing educational applications are separated in between each other with analysis of the human condition as well as other topics. Also, instead of discussing about MI theory itself (for example, how the idea came about, as well as further evidence of its actual existence), half the book was praising the newfound educational application and experimentation.

All in all, the book Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons was an interesting read, from an educational standpoint. After reading the book, the effect MI theory has had on teaching and the view of people’s intelligence can be appreciated. Gardner has written a thorough response to the attention MI theory has received, and its fame can only grow larger. ~ Student: Kathy Z.

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Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson (reviewed by Isabel T.)

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a TimeThree Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Would you travel to Pakistan to build a school with only $12,000? Greg Mortenson, writer and acclaimed humanitarian responsible for the stories depicted in Three Cups of Tea, changed the educational dream for the people of Pakistan. Although he allegedly stretched the truth about what exactly happened during his time in Pakistan as a humanitarian and education reformist in writing, the message and outcome is still something to praise. Published in 2006, the inspirational accomplishments that the book tells spread all over the world and for his work Mortenson was given the honor of Pakistan’s highest civil award (Sitara-e-Pakistan) and two nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. He began his humanitarian work on a hiking trip in northern Pakistan in the early 90’s, where he promised to build a school for the children of a village that nursed him to health after he suffered from malnourishment and exhaustion. Moved by the people in the village and wanting to do something in return, Mortenson returned a year later to Pakistan with money that he desperately raised from people all across America to build the village its first school. Haji Ali, the leader of the village Korphe gave away his entire village’s wealth (12 rams) to a landlord in order to have the school built. He told Mortenson, “Long after all those rams are dead and eaten this school will still stand. Haji Mehdi has food today. Now our children have education forever… I’ll pay any price so they have the education they deserve (153)”. Success of the opening of the school spread around other villages in Pakistan and he continued his humanitarian work for a decade as the co-founder of the Central Asia Institute, building 171 schools for children, water pipelines and fighting to connect the Islamic and Western cultures by promoting peace. No matter the criticism that Mortensen was at fault for whether it was telling the stories in an untruthful order or poorly using his foundation money at times, he did build schools out of nothing and created futures for thousands of children. Since the book was written before Mortenson was accused of wrongdoings, his message and accomplishments had a huge forward thinking impact on people all over the world as they were donating money and their volunteer work to aid in the building of schools. Unfortunately, after the accusations were made in 2011, many people took back their funds and the CAI lost its popularity. Reading the book now, while knowing about the accusations of Mortenson, the book is still able to convey a strong message of helping people even in remote areas of the world starting with nothing and ending up with everything; an education.

Mortenson sacrificed most of his time in order to travel back and forth from Montana to Pakistan leaving behind his wife and two children for months at a time in order to construct and direct education reform in the most remote areas of Pakistan. He also faced threats and complaints from Americans and CIA Investigators after 9/11 for helping Muslim children get a free and basic education. Syed Abbas, a conservative Shiite recognized Mortenson’s good heart which saw the good in Muslim people. In a speech he says, “Why have we not been able to bring education to our children on our own? Fathers and parents, I implore you to dedicate your full effort and commitment to see that all your children are educated. Otherwise, they will merely graze like sheep in the field, at the mercy of nature and the world changing so terrifyingly around us. I request America to look into our hearts and see that the great majority of us are not terrorists, but good and simple people” (257). Despite the difficulties Mortenson faced for his continuous work abroad, many Pakistani children are now the first in their family to go to college or even read, which will reshape the job force and general intelligence of the next generation. His mission, although was judged by many Americans for helping Middle Eastern people, greatly outweighed the criticism because education is the backbone of a successful future for a person, no matter their religion or what country they live in. It was very moving to read about the native people that Mortenson met in Pakistani villages and see how he became lifelong friends with them. Through the course of the book, the facts about the CAI and Mortenson’s life are interwoven through memories and dialogue that Mortenson shared with natives during his frequent trips to Pakistan. The reader can watch the lives of children and families change from having no future, to an education and dreams fulfilled just because of one American man wanting to make a change. The people of Pakistan were truly grateful for for Mortenson’s leadership which brought them what they might’ve never gotten. No matter the criticism that Mortensen was at fault for, he did build schools out of nothing and created futures for thousands of children.

The desperation of wanting an education but can’t have one is heartbreaking and something that David Mortenson was able to fix in many places in Pakistan and something that the American school system has yet to fix entirely. Pakistan and America’s social and religious divide with each other was mended by Mortenson in many places through education. America has yet to fix the divide between its social classes within the country and give a good education to people who do not have access to it. Three Cups of Tea does a fantastic job of engaging the reader through dialogue with real people who have real problems and showing that there is always room for progress in the world. ~ Student: Isabel T.

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