November 14, 2007

Study Compares States’ Math and Science Scores With Other Countries’

NYTimes, November 14, 2007

American students even in low-performing states like Alabama do better on math and science tests than students in most foreign countries, including Italy and Norway, according to a new study released yesterday. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that students in Singapore and several other Asian countries significantly outperform American students, even those in high-achieving states like Massachusetts, the study found.

“In this case, the bad news trumps the good because our Asian economic competitors are winning the race to prepare students in math and science,” said the study’s author, Gary W. Phillips, chief scientist at the American Institutes of Research, a nonprofit independent scientific research firm.

The study equated standardized test scores of eighth-grade students in each of the 50 states with those of their peers in 45 countries. Experts said it was the first such effort to link standardized test scores, state by state, with scores from other nations.

Gage Kingsbury, a director at the Northwest Evaluation Association, a group in Oregon that carries out testing in 1,500 school districts, praised the study’s methodology but said “a flock of difficulties” made it hazardous to compare test results from one country to another and from one state to another. “Kids don’t start school at the same age in different countries,” he said. “Not all kids are in school in grade eight, and the percentage differs from country to country.”

Because of such differences, Dr. Kingsbury said, it would be a mistake to infer too much about the relative rigor of the educational systems across the states and nations in the study based merely on test score differences.

The scores for students in the United States came from tests administered by the federal Department of Education in most states in 2005 and 2007. For foreign students, the scores came from math and science tests administered worldwide in 2003, as part of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, known as the Timss.

Concern that science and math achievement was not keeping pace with the nation’s economic competitors had been building even before the most recent Timss survey, in which the highest-performing nations were Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan. American students lagged far behind those nations, but earned scores that were comparable to peers in European nations like Slovakia and Estonia, and were well above countries like Egypt, Chile and Saudi Arabia.

The Timss survey gives each country a metric by which to compare its educational attainment with other nations’. The nationwide American test, known as the National Assessments of Educational Progress, allows policy makers in each state to compare their students’ results with those in other states.

The new study used statistical linking to compare scores on the national assessment, state by state, with other nations’ scores on the Timss. Dr. Phillips, who from 1999 to 2002 led the agency of the Department of Education that administers the national assessment, likened the methodology to what economists do when they convert international currencies into dollars to compare poverty levels across various countries, for instance.

On the most recent national assessment, the highest-performing state in math was Massachusetts, and in science, North Dakota. The new study shows that average math achievement in Massachusetts was lower than in the leading Asian nations and in Belgium, but higher than in 40 other countries, including Australia, Russia, England and Israel.

Mississippi was the lowest-performing state in both math and science. In math, Mississippi students’ achievement was comparable to those of peers in Bulgaria and Moldova, and in science, to those in Norway and Romania.

In math, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York students were roughly equivalent with each other and with their peers in Australia, the Netherlands and Hungary.

The study’s contribution is the high-level perspective it offers on the nation’s education system, a bit the way a satellite image highlights the nation’s topography, said Thomas Toch, a co-director of Education Sector, an independent policy group.

“It shows we’re not doing as badly as some say,” Mr. Toch said. “We’re in the top half of the table, and a number of states are outperforming the majority of the nations in the study. But our performance in math and science lags behind that of the front-running Asian nations.”


October 30, 2007

1 in 10 Schools Are 'Dropout Factories'

Oct 29, 2007



(AP) Dontike Miller, 23, works on math problems at the YouthBuild Public Charter School's GED program in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON (AP) - It's a nickname no principal could be proud of: "Dropout Factory," a high school where no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year. That description fits more than one in 10 high schools across America.

"If you're born in a neighborhood or town where the only high school is one where graduation is not the norm, how is this living in the land of equal opportunity?" asks Bob Balfanz, the Johns Hopkins researcher who coined the term "dropout factory."

There are about 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide that fit that description, according to an analysis of Education Department data conducted by Johns Hopkins for The Associated Press. That's 12 percent of all such schools, about the same level as a decade ago.

While some of the missing students transferred, most dropped out, says Balfanz. The data look at senior classes for three years in a row to make sure local events like plant closures aren't to blame for the low retention rates.

The highest concentration of dropout factories is in large cities or high-poverty rural areas in the South and Southwest. Most have high proportions of minority students. These schools are tougher to turn around because their students face challenges well beyond the academic ones - the need to work as well as go to school, for example, or a need for social services.

Utah, which has low poverty rates and fewer minorities than most states, is the only state without a dropout factory. Florida and South Carolina have the highest percentages.

"Part of the problem we've had here is, we live in a state that culturally and traditionally has not valued a high school education," said Jim Foster, a spokesman for the South Carolina department of education. He noted that residents in that state previously could get good jobs in textile mills without a high school degree, but that those jobs are gone today.

Washington hasn't focused much attention on the problem. The No Child Left Behind Act, for example, pays much more attention to educating younger students. But that appears to be changing.

House and Senate proposals to renew the 5-year-old No Child law would give high schools more federal money and put more pressure on them to improve on graduation performance, and the Bush administration supports that idea.

The current NCLB law imposes serious consequences on schools that report low scores on math and reading tests, and this fallout can include replacement of teachers or principals - or both. But the law doesn't have the same kind of enforcement teeth when it comes to graduation rates.

Nationally, about 70 percent of U.S. students graduate on time with a regular diploma. For Hispanic and black students, the proportion drops to about half.

The legislative proposals circulating in Congress would:

_Make sure schools report their graduation rates by racial, ethnic, and other subgroups and are judged on those results. That's to ensure that schools aren't just graduating white students in high numbers, but also are working to ensure that minority students get diplomas.

_Get states to build data systems to keep track of students throughout their school years and more accurately measure graduation and dropout rates.

_Ensure that states count graduation rates in a uniform way. States have used a variety of formulas, including counting the percentage of entering seniors who get a diploma. That measurement ignores the obvious fact that kids who drop out typically do so before their senior year.

_Create strong progress goals for graduation rates and impose sanctions on schools that miss those benchmarks. Most states currently lack meaningful goals, according to The Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for poor and minority children.

The current law requires testing in reading and math once in high school, and those tests take on added importance because of the serious consequences for a school of failure. Critics say that creates a perverse incentive for schools to encourage kids to drop out before they bring down a school's scores.

"The vast majority of educators do not want to push out kids, but the pressures to raise test scores above all else are intense," said Bethany Little, vice president for policy at the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocacy group focused on high schools. "To know if a high school is doing its job, we need to consider test scores and graduation rates equally."

Little said some students pushed out of high schools are encouraged to enroll in programs that prepare them to take the GED exam. People who pass that test get certificates indicating they have high-school level academic skills. But the research shows that getting a GED doesn't lead to the kind of job or college success associated with a regular diploma.

Loretta Singletary, 17, enrolled in a GED program after dropping out of a Washington, D.C. high school that she describes as huge, chaotic and violent. "Girls got jumped. Boys got jumped, teachers (were) fighting and hitting students," she said.

She said teachers had low expectations for students, which led to dull classes. "They were teaching me stuff I already knew ... basic nouns, simple adjectives."

Singletary said a subject she loved was science but she wasn't offered it, and complaints to administrators went unanswered. "I was interested in experiments," she said. "I didn't have science in 9th or 10th grade."

A GED classmate of Singletary's is 23-year-old Dontike Miller, who attended and left two D.C. high schools on the dropout factory list. Miller was brought up by a single mother who used drugs, and he says teachers and counselors seemed oblivious to what was going on in his life.

He would have liked for someone to sit him down and say, "'You really need to go to class. We're going to work with you. We're going to help you'," Miller said. “Instead, I had nobody."

Teachers and administrators at Baltimore Talent Development High School, where 90 percent of kids are on track toward graduating on time, are working hard to make sure students don't have an experience like Miller's.

The school, which sits in the middle of a high-crime, impoverished neighborhood two miles west of downtown Baltimore, was founded by Balfanz and others four years ago as a laboratory for getting kids out on time with a diploma and ready for college.

Teachers, students and administrators at the school know each other well.

"I know teachers that have knocked on people's doors. They want us to succeed," 12th-grader Jasmine Coleman said during a lunchtime chat in the cafeteria.

Fellow senior Victoria Haynes says she likes the way the school organizes teachers in teams of four, with each team of teachers assigned to a group of 75 students. The teachers work across subject areas, meaning English and math teachers, for example, collaborate on lessons and discuss individual students' needs.

"They all concentrate on what's best for us together," Haynes said. "It's very family oriented. We feel really close to them."

Teachers, too, say it works.

"I know the students a lot better, because I know the teachers who teach them," said 10th-grade English teacher Jenni Williams. "Everyone's on the same page, so it's not like you're alone in your mission."

That mission can be daunting. The majority of students who enter Baltimore Talent Development in ninth grade are reading at a fifth- or sixth-grade level.

To get caught up, students have 80-minute lessons in reading and math, instead of the typical 45 minutes. They also get additional time with specialists if needed.

The fact that kids are entering high schools with such poor literacy skills raises questions about how much catch-up work high schools can be expected to do and whether more pressure should be placed on middle schools and even elementary schools, say some high-school principals.

"We're at the end of the process," says Mel Riddile, principal of T.C. Williams High School, a large public school in Alexandria, Va. "People don't walk into 9th grade and suddenly have a reading problem."

Other challenges to high schools come from outside the school system. In high-poverty districts, some students believe it's more important to work than to stay in school, or they are lured away by gang activity or other kinds of peer or family pressure.

At Baltimore Talent Development, administrators try to set mini-milestones and celebrations for students so they stay motivated. These include more fashionable uniforms with each promotion to the next grade, pins for completing special programs and pizza parties to celebrate good attendance records.

"The kids are just starved for recognition and attention. Little social rewards matter to them," said Balfanz.

Balfanz says, however, that students understand the biggest reward they can collect is the piece of paper handed to them on graduation day.

Without it, "there's not much work for you anymore," he said. "There's no way out of the cycle of poverty if you don't have a high school diploma."

Mentoring, alternative high schools on rise to reduce dropouts

By Stephanie Reitz,
Associated Press Writer  |  October 29, 2007

HOLYOKE, Mass. --When Jessica Burgos entered Holyoke High School, more than 460 fellow freshmen crowded its halls, homerooms and cafeteria.

Four years later, about 260 graduated in the Class of 2006. The classes dwindled and the desks emptied over the years as many of Burgos' classmates moved away or dropped out, often to get jobs or care for unplanned babies.

"There were definitely a lot of people who were there in the beginning, and then as the years go by, you'd go, 'Hey, where'd that person go?' " said Burgos, a 19-year-old sophomore at Westfield State College.

At Holyoke High and 22 other Massachusetts public high schools, no more than 60 percent of students who start as freshmen make it to seniors in an average year. Nationwide, about 1,700 schools fit that criteria, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data conducted by Johns Hopkins University for The Associated Press.

Lawmakers are considering tightening the federal No Child Left Behind Act to put more pressure on these schools, dubbed "dropout factories" by some education researchers, to retain students and improve graduation performance.

Some of the Massachusetts schools have boosted their mentoring programs and opened alternative schools with smaller class sizes. Others are intensifying their elementary and middle school curricula to prepare students for a smoother transition into high school.

Gov. Deval Patrick also has proposed raising the age when Massachusetts students can leave school from 16 to 18.

Many of the state schools with high dropout rates are in lower-income, urban communities, where a teen's academic success can be influenced by poverty or social problems in their families and neighborhoods.

Some schools, recognizing the need for some students to help support their families, have boosted their work-study programs so teens can get jobs without dropping out. Several also have thriving General Equivalency Degree (GED) programs, a chance for dropout teens and adults to get diplomas while still working.

In Springfield, which has four high schools on the dropout list, middle school and the period between eighth and ninth grade is considered key -- especially because frustrated, underachieving ninth-graders often comprise many of the dropouts once they reach 16.

Now, summer-school sessions are mandatory for incoming Springfield ninth-graders whose skills are at the seventh-grade level or lower. The district also is considering adding more hours and days to that summer school program.

About 2,000 Springfield children are enrolled in each grade level except its freshmen class, which had almost 2,700 students in the 2006-07 school year.

Springfield Superintendent of Schools Joseph Burke said that bulge -- caused partly by a large group held back from progressing to 10th grade -- represents students at a critical crossroads.

"Lots of these students are ninth-grade repeaters who are staying in school and trying to move forward, and the good news is that lots of them eventually do," Burke said.

Burke and several other educators say getting students to feel involved and interested is critical, and that schools should be centers of encouragement and high expectations rather than frustration and anonymity.

Kevin McCaskill, principal of Putnam Vocational-Technical High School in Springfield, said separating the 1,500-person student body into smaller groups -- each with their own teachers and administrators -- has made a significant difference.

In the last three years, Putnam's graduation rate has increased from about 27 percent to 49 percent and daily attendance has jumped significantly, he said.

"I think for years, students may have felt they were just numbers," he said. "When teachers and administrators know you by name, when you're in a smaller learning community where an adult is responsible for you, school becomes personal again."

October 17, 2007

GOP leaders call for statewide grad standards

By Erika Gonzalez
By Associated Press

Republican state legislators unveiled a package of education proposals today that would set higher graduation requirements and mandate that students pass a proficiency exam in order to graduate.

"We are one of five states that has no standards," said Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, who plans to sponsor a bill on graduation requirements. "We have no choice but to increase the rigor ourselves."

Graduation requirements vary from district to district, but Penry's bill would require public school students to take four years of math, four years of English, three years of science, three years of social studies and two years of world languages to graduate. A year of physical education and arts classes would also be required.

Under the Republicans' plan, students would also need to demonstrate proficiency in English to earn their diplomas. A similar bill tying graduation to English proficiency failed to pass the legislature last year. The measure was sponsored by Chris Romer, D-Denver.

In addition, the package includes bills that would provide tuition for special-needs students and a grant program to reward high-performing teachers.

Gov. Bill Ritter has appointed a statewide panel to study education reform from pre-school through college. He will receive bill recommendations from that committee in mid-November.

October 06, 2007

Why Go To School

by Steven Wolk
Phi Delta Kappan, May 1, 2007
If the purpose of our schools is to prepare drones to keep the U.S. economy going, then the prevailing curricula and instructional methods are probably adequate. If, however, we want to help students become thoughtful, caring citizens who might be creative enough to figure out how to change the status quo rather than maintain it, we need to rethink schooling entirely. Mr. Wolk outlines what he considers to be the essential content for a new curriculum.

LAST YEAR my son's homework in second grade was 400 worksheets. The year before, in first grade, his homework was also 400 worksheets. Each day he brought home two worksheets, one for math and one for spelling. That was two worksheets a day, five days a week, 40 weeks a year.

The math was little more than addition or subtraction problems. The other worksheet was more insidious. My son had 15 spelling words each week. On some days his worksheets required him to unscramble the spelling words. On other days he had to write a sentence with each word. And on still other days he had to write each spelling word five times. The school was teaching my 7-year-old that the wonderful world of learning is about going home each day and filling in worksheets.

Actually, that was his "official" homework. We were given permission to give him alternative homework. In place of his spelling worksheet, we set up a writing workshop at home in which he was free to write something real, such as a letter, a poem, or a story. Unfortunately, this was often a struggle because Max wanted to do "school." He learned at the ripe age of 7 that he could whip out those spelling sentences without a single thought, so that's what he usually insisted on doing.

My son's worksheets are a symptom of a far graver educational danger. More than the practice of a few teachers, they represent the dominant purposes of schooling and the choices of curriculum in our nation. We are engaged in fill-in-the-blank schooling. One of the most telling statistics about our schools has absolutely nothing to do with standardized test scores: on a typical day most Americans 16 years oldand older never read a newspaper or a book. (1)

My son's experience of school is little different from my own whenI was his age. My schooling was dominated by textbooks, teacher lectures, silent students, and those same worksheets. And it is identicalto what my current teacher education students endured when they werein school and also to what they see today in their clinical experiences. My college students are, by their own admission, poster childrenfor our factory-model 400-worksheet schools and their superficial and sanitized curricula.

We are living a schooling delusion. Do we really believe that our schools inspire our children to live a life of thoughtfulness, imagination, empathy, and social responsibility? Any regular visitor to schools will see firsthand that textbooks are the curriculum. A fifth-grader is expected to read about 2,500 textbook pages a year. For all 12 grades that student is expected to "learn" 30,000 pages of textbooks with a never-ending barrage of facts, most of which we know are forgotten by the time the student flips on his or her TV or iPod after school. Far more than reading to learn, our children are learning to hate reading. More than learning any of the content, they learn to hate learning.

Will those 30,000 pages of textbooks and years of sitting at a classroom desk inspire a child to be a lifelong reader and learner and thinker? Who are we kidding? I'm inside schools a lot, and I usually see what John Goodlad described a generation ago in his classic study,A Place Called School. After observing classrooms across the countryand more than 27,000 students, he wrote, "I wonder about the impact of the flat, neutral emotional ambience of most of the classes we studied. Boredom is a disease of epidemic proportions.... Why are our schools not places of joy?" (2) Our nation is afflicted with a dearth of educational imagination, a lack of pedagogical courage, and rampantanti-intellectualism. Our schools should be think tanks and fountains of creativity, but most of them are vacuum chambers. Nearly 70 years ago John Dewey wrote, "What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win the ability to readand write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul?" (3)

Our textbook-driven curricula have become educational perpetual motion machines of intellectual, moral, and creative mediocrity. We dumb down and sanitize the curriculum in the name of techno-rational efficiency and "American interests." It is Frederick Winslow Taylor--theturn-of-the-century father of scientific management--run amok. For example, when some middle school teachers developed an inquiry-based social studies unit that required their students to actively participate in creating a curriculum that would make them think for themselves, the teachers were repeatedly confronted with the silent passivity of what they called "the glaze." As one teacher commented:

The students are so used to having the teacher spoon-feed them what

they're supposed to know.... Students accustomed to efficient,

predictable dissemination of knowledge were confused, silent, even

hostile when told they must decide for themselves how to proceed on a

project or when confronted with an ambiguous question such as, "What

do you think?" (4)

When our children's school experiences are primarily about fillingin blanks on worksheets, regurgitating facts from textbooks, writingformulaic five-paragraph essays, taking multiple-choice tests, and making the occasional diorama--that is, when they are devoid of opportunities to create an original thought--we should expect the obvious outcome: children--and later adults--who are unable to think for themselves. None of this should surprise us. Passive schooling creates passive people. If we want people to think, learn, and care about the many dimensions of life, if we want neighbors who accept the responsibility of tending to the world and working to make it a better place, then we need schools and curricula that are actually about life and the world. Instead, we have schools that prepare children to think likea toaster.


Each day millions of American children enter their classrooms. Why? What is the purpose of school? What should its purpose be? As our children leave our classes and graduate from our schools, how do we want them to be? Not just what do we want them to know, but how do we want them to be? What habits of mind? What attitudes? What character? What vision? What intellect? Yes, we want them to have acquired certain factual knowledge, such as the dates of the Civil War, how to workwith fractions, how to write a letter, and at least an acquaintance with the miracle of photosynthesis. But what do we want them to care about? Do we want them to watch TV for three hours a day? Do we want them to look at trees with awe? Do we want them to read great books? Do we want them to wallow in political and cultural ignorance? Do we want them to vote? Do we want them to feel empathy for the poor and oppressed? Do we want them to appreciate the poetry of William Carlos Williams? Do we want them to define their self-identity by the walls of an office cubicle? What life do we want to inspire them to live?

Of course, my question, Why go to school? is not new; it has been vigorously debated for millennia. Plato, Thomas Jefferson, Rousseau, Leo Tolstoy, Dewey, Franklin Bobbitt, and Alfred North Whitehead, among countless others, have joined the debate about the aims of schooling. More recently, people from all over the political and pedagogical map, from E. D. Hirsch to Alfie Kohn to Maxine Greene to James Moffett to Carl Rogers, have argued for their vision of what and why our schools should be. And once each of us answers that question, we are morally bound to create curricula and classrooms that strive to fulfill those purposes. Otherwise our words and passions are nothing but empty rhetoric, just like so many school mission statements with their language of "global citizens" and "critical thinkers." So we must publicly reinvigorate what Nel Noddings refers to as the "aims talk" of school. (5) We must deeply question the schools and curricula we have; we must ask what it means to be educated and what it means to be human.

There is no neutral ground here; we have decisions to make. Either we remake our schools into vibrant workshops for personal, social, and global transformation, or we must own up to our complicity in perpetuating a superficial, unthinking, and unjust world.


The real barometer of the aims of our schools today is what's being said in our newspapers and our legislative assemblies. These mainstream voices and the proclamations emanating from the bully pulpit--bethey newspaper editorials or speeches by the President--rule the public conversation and create our national school identity. And what do these powerful voices have to say? What is the "official" public discussion about the aims of our schools?

If aliens from outer space landed on Earth and read our newspapers, listened to our elected representatives talk about our "failing" schools, and observed inside our classrooms, what would they conclude are the aims of our schools? That's easy. Our children go to school tolearn to be workers. Going to school is largely preparation either to punch a time clock or to own the company with the time clock--depending on how lucky you are in the social-class sorting machine called school. Why else give kids 400 worksheets? Why else give children so little voice in what to learn? Why else teach children a curriculum that avoids controversy and debate and open inquiry? When the United States was building up to attack Iraq, some of my graduate students were forbidden by their school administrators to discuss the war with their students. Not talk about a war? How can a democracy silence its schools and teachers? What are we afraid of?

Virtually every newspaper article and editorial, every radio report and discussion, every political speech and government policy that Iread or hear says, either implicitly or explicitly, that the aim of our schools is to prepare future workers. The specific language may differ, but the message is the same and crystal clear. Remember the opening paragraph of A Nation at Risk:

Our nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce,

industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by

competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only

one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the

one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. (6)

And there we have the primary aim of our 400-work-sheets-a-year schools: money. The United States is the richest and most powerful country on Earth, and our schools exist to keep it that way, even if our role as citizens should be to question those assumptions and the exercise of that power. Here is a typical example from an article in the New York Times on the push to move away from so-called fuzzy math andteach more math "basics":

The frenzy has been prompted in part by the growing awareness that, at a time of increasing globalization, the math skills of children in the United States simply do not measure up: American eighth-graders lag far behind those from Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan
and elsewhere. (7)

While the article does quote an advocate of "fuzzy" math, the assumption that adapting to globalization--that is, maintaining American economic dominance--should dictate our math curriculum goes completely unchallenged.

A recent issue of Time bore the cover line "How to Build a Student for the 21st Century" (an unintentionally ironic title using a 19th-century metaphor of manufacturing). The authors of the cover story articulated their vision of the schools we need. In the entire article,they mentioned just one purpose for school: preparing our children to succeed in the "global economy." (8) That's it. The bottom line.

These economic purposes of our schools are so entrenched that theyhave seeped into our children's consciousness. Ask adolescents why they go to school, and you will almost universally hear a response solely concerned with their future employment. What does it say about a nation whose children define "education" as little more than preparation for work? Nel Noddings writes:

It is as though our society has simply decided that the purpose of schooling is economic--to improve the financial condition of individuals and to advance the prosperity of the nation. Hence
students should do well on standardized tests, get into good colleges, obtain well-paying jobs, and buy lots of things. Surely there must be more to education than this? (9)

Adults like to tell children that they will be judged by their actions. The same is true for our schools. Here are the values of our schools based on their actions: kids don't need to appreciate art to compete with South Koreans; they don't need intellectual curiosity to sit at a desk and do tax returns; they don't need creativity and imagination to plan a business meeting; they don't need to be media literate to sell heating and cooling systems; they don't need to promote peace to manage a grocery store; they don't need to care for the environment to be a lawyer; and they don't need to nurture a happy family to be a chemist. So the content that would foster these unnecessary dispositions gets little time in school. While a thoughtful democratic nation requires people who read widely, a nation of workers just needs people with the technical ability to read a manual or product distribution report. A nation of workers does not need to vote, feel historical empathy, be informed of current events, act to end prejudice, question cultural assumptions, or care for people in other countries. Workers just need to produce and fulfill their role as consumers. In the end, the only educational data that really matter aren't our children's GPAs, they're the GDP and the Dow Jones Industrial Average.


While the preparation of "citizens" may be in every school mission statement, our performance in that area is dreadful. We barely get half of our citizens to vote, and our youngest voters--18- to 24-year-olds right out of high school and college--continually shun the ballot box in the greatest numbers. In 2000, only 36% of that group cast a ballot for President; in 2004, only 47% voted; in our most recent 2006 midterm elections--with a war raging in Iraq--only 24% of 18- to 29-year-olds voted. (10) In one survey less than 10% of American 17- to 24-year-olds reported they "follow public affairs." (11) In anothersurvey barely 13% of 18- to 24-year-olds agreed with the statement "I am interested in politics." (12) In yet another survey almost twiceas many Americans could name the Three Stooges (73%) as could name the three branches of government (42%). (13)

My college students know virtually nothing of current events. Evenmost of those who do vote admit they do so with little understanding of the issues and the candidates' positions. I assign my social studies methods class to write an "ideology paper" setting forth their personal opinions on three controversial political issues. I tell them they cannot inspire their students to shape their ideologies if they are not actively shaping their own. My students fret about this assignment; they don't know what to think. As one student blurted out in class, "But I was never taught how to do this!" And we wonder why so few Americans read a newspaper or understand foreign policy. It's the schools, stupid.

Why are there no blazing headlines condemning our schools for failing to prepare an educated and active citizenry? Because, contrary tothe political and educational rhetoric, civic engagement for "strongdemocracy" isn't really an aim of our schools. (14) If it were, thendramatically different things would be happening inside our classrooms. Rather than reading the Disney version of our democracy in a textbook, our students would be living the complex and "messy" realities of democracy in their classrooms. Rather than being places where students sit in silence as their teachers talk all day, our classrooms would be dynamic public spaces where the authentic and vibrant discourse of daily democracy would be an essential part of the school experience. (15) Rather than providing all of the "answers" in the form of textbooks, our schools would use critical and moral inquiry as a way to shape individual identity, build a better nation, and create a morecaring world. Our schools would be helping students to ask the questions and then to seek out--as true communities of learners--the possibilities.


Over 20 years ago Alex Molnar asked, "Are the issues studied in school the most important issues facing mankind?" (16) He surveyed teachers and administrators and asked them to list the most important issues facing our world and to indicate whether they were studied in school. They listed nuclear disarmament, environmental destruction, poverty, racism, sexism, genetic engineering, and "alternatives to existing forms of U.S. political, social, and economic organization."

Overwhelmingly the respondents felt these topics should be an important part of school, but not many felt they were a significant part of any curriculum. Why not? How can a nation as "smart" as the United States ignore the knowledge and dispositions essential for creating a thoughtful, just, and joyful citizenry? How can adults allow such a superficial and damaging vision of what it means to be "educated" to persist?

To see the gaping holes in the curricula of most of our schools, we need to get specific. I'll now offer a brief overview--quite assuredly incomplete--of what our schools choose not to teach because of their unquestioned devotion to preparing workers, rather than educating people. Of course, all across our nation there are heroic schools and teachers that make this neglected content a vital part of their students' school experiences. Unfortunately, these are the exceptions tothe rule, and they usually exist within a system of schooling that is hostile to those who question the status quo and the economic purposes of our schools. Creative and critical teachers are working more often in opposition to the system than with it.

There are several ideas common to all of the following suggestions for content schools should be teaching but aren't. First is the idea of making school inquiry-based. A curriculum built around inquiry--that is, questioning, investigating, and analyzing our lives and the world in depth with authentic resources and projects--makes the inquiry process itself part of the content to be learned. By doing "inquiry" across the curriculum, children learn to ask questions, seek knowledge, understand multiple perspectives, and wonder about the world. Second, this content is not just for middle school or high school but should be an important part of every grade beginning in kindergarten. And third, we must honor our children's uniqueness. There is not justone way to learn anything. The fact that our schools take children who are very different and seek to force them into the same schooling and learning mold is just further evidence of their disrespect for children as individuals.

Self. Who are you? What defines you? If your entire being were turned into a list of ingredients, what would be listed first? Parent? Veteran? Poet? Pacifist? American? Artist? Friend? Or would it be Employee? I doubt many people would list their job first. While our jobs are important to many of us, they do not define who we are; they are just one part of our being. Yet our schools operate as if the only part of us worth educating is the part that will determine our future as an economic cog. When Johnny graduates, do we really know Johnny asa distinctive being? Did we appreciate his unique self? Have we helped Johnny to know Johnny at all?

Patrick Shannon writes that schools are in the "identity creation business." (17) We may think school is about math and history, but it's equally about shaping who we will be and who we will not be. Ask Johnny what school is about, and he will list school subjects like math and reading, but what he will never say is that school is about me.The identities that our schools purposely shape are directed by the demands of American capitalism rather than the needs of human beings.School defines people by test scores, stanines, and GPAs. Johnny thefourth-grader is no longer Johnny; he is 4.3 and 3.9 and 5.2.

In contrast, schools could help children explore the questions "Who am I?" "How did I become me?" and "Who do I want to be?" Then the most important "subject" in school is no longer reading or science, but Johnny. Environmental educator David Orr writes, "We must remember that the goal of education is not mastery of knowledge, but the mastery of self through knowledge--a different thing altogether." (18) If school is not helping children to consciously shape their cultural, political, and moral identities, then we are failing to educate our children to reach their greatest potential.

A love for learning. Is it really possible to inspire people to live a life of learning and wonder, if throughout their schooling children are always told what to learn, when to learn, and how to learn? How will we ever own our learning--and even own our mind--outside of school if we are rarely allowed to own either inside our classrooms? If we're serious about nurturing lifelong learners, then we must allowthem some significant ownership of their learning. This means giving students some control over what they study and how they show their learning. Children should have regular opportunities across the curriculum to initiate learning, explore their own questions, and learn about their own interests. Choice and ownership can easily be made part of every school day. We can allow children to choose what books to read for independent reading, what topic to research in a unit on South America, what genres to write in during writing workshop, and what project to create to show what they learned in their science unit on ocean ecosystems. And by allowing students some control over their learning, we are honoring their "intelligences" and respecting their unique strengths.

We can also give children one hour each day to study topics of their own choosing. I did this as a teacher, and our "morning project time" was bustling with students pursuing their questions about the world. For example, at one time my fourth- and fifth-graders were studying cheetahs, the CIA, turtles, Georgia O'Keefe, becoming a teacher, the history of pencils, architecture, bats, dinosaurs, Beethoven, pandas, the court system, roof shingles, the space shuttle, the atomic bomb, dolphins, artificial intelligence, jaguars, the history of pizza,Native Americans of the Northwest, and endangered species of Africa.(19) These projects were not done frivolously; I had high expectations for their work. The students initiated the topics and then, collaboratively with me, shaped them into meaningful and purposeful inquiry-based projects. There is little that is more important for our schools to teach children than to pursue their own intellectual curiosity about the world.

Any school aiming to nurture a love of learning must also aim for a love of reading. A lifelong reader is a lifelong learner. But schools must do more than teach a love for reading; they must reduce or eliminate practices that teach children that reading is a laborious "school thing." I have never met a child who ran home to crack open The Rise of the American Nation. We know perfectly well that children hate reading textbooks, because we hated reading them too. Using textbooks should be the exception, not the rule; instead, students should be immersed in reading authentic, fascinating, interesting, critical, thoughtful, and relevant texts. And school must surround students with the astonishing children's and young adult literature available today, which, besides including great stories and beautiful writing, is one of the very best ways to teach the content advocated in this article.

Caring and empathy. Nel Noddings has written extensively and eloquently about the vital need to teach for caring in our classrooms. She writes that caring should be the foundation of our curriculum and that its study should include caring for self, family, friends, "strangers and distant others," animals and plants, the Earth and its ecosystems, human-made objects, and ideas. (20) What can be more essential to the health of a democracy than caring citizens? Yet explicitly teaching "caring" rarely goes beyond kindergarten. In schools obsessed with teaching "technical" knowledge and questions with single correct answers, the idea of teaching children and young adults to care is seen as not being sufficiently "rigorous." Rather than being applauded as essential to nurturing empathetic and thoughtful people, caring is considered a "touchy-feely" hindrance to preparing workers who can win the game of global competition.

Each day 30,000 children die from poverty. Half of our planet--that's three billion people--lives on less than two dollars a day. Recently we celebrated our new millennium, yet the century we left behind was easily the bloodiest and most horrific in human history. We say we must teach about the Holocaust so that we never forget, yet since the defeat of the Nazis we have witnessed at least half a dozen more genocides. It certainly seems the more "civilized" we become as a species, the more brutal we become as people. What does the 21st century hold in store for us? Will we survive? What are schools doing to improve our chances?

Environmental literacy. In 2001 Ari Fleischer, President Bush's press secretary at the time, held a White House press briefing on American energy issues that included the following exchange with a reporter:

Question: Is one of the problems with this, and the entire energy field, American lifestyles? Does the President believe that, given the amount of energy Americans consume per capita, how much it exceeds any other citizen in any other country in the world, does the President believe we need to correct our lifestyles to address the energy problem?

Mr. Fleischer: That's a big no. The President believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one. (21)

If there is anything that should be ripe for critical inquiry inside our schools, it is the "American way of life" and its effect on the environment. School should be the primary place we engage children in a collective critique of how we live. There are serious global consequences to our "blessed" American way of life. Yet once again, rather than helping children to analyze how we live, our schools actuallyperpetuate--even advocate--the unquestioned habits of our daily lives.

An honest study of the environment would address one of the gravest dangers to our planet: rampant consumerism. Rather than teaching consumerism as simply the good engine of economic growth, we should engage children in inquiry about how we spend and what we buy--both individually and collectively--and the moral and ecological implications of our actions.

Schools also must get kids outside. I don't mean just at recess. I mean that we must take children outside to experience nature. Schools should accept the responsibility of having their students walk through forests, look at clouds, feel the desert, wade through streams, canoe rivers, and witness our astonishing ecosystems. The best field trip I took my students on was to see the sunrise. My school was just a 20-minute walk away from Lake Michigan, and about a hundred of us--kids, teachers, some parents, a few dogs--gathered at school at 5:30 on a dark, crisp morning to walk to the beach. It was extraordinary watching the sun lift over the horizon.

Multicultural community. It is essential for our schools to accepttheir role in healing our cultural divides. Race, culture, and economic class are some of the most dominant themes in the story of our nation, and they fuel violence, perpetuate inequality, and tear our social fabric.

Across our country there are schools that make multicultural education a priority. But what makes a curriculum multicultural? We must move far beyond simplistic notions of teaching about holidays and food. Teaching children to appreciate cultural differences is important, but that alone will never help us to embrace diversity. Any curriculum that does not study prejudice in all its forms--at the individual, systemic, national, and global levels--and that does not explicitly teach to end intolerance is not a multicultural curriculum.

Social responsibility. Sheldon Berman defines social responsibility as "the personal investment in the well-being of others and the planet." (22) This notion is connected to teaching caring and empathy. To accept stewardship of the planet and its ecosystems, as well as a personal responsibility toward all peoples of the planet, we must livefor the common good over our individual gain. Needless to say, this orientation is usually the opposite of the American way of life, which is dominated by this axiom: Who dies with the most toys wins. Social responsibility means understanding that a democracy is not just about our rights but equally about our responsibilities.

While teaching social responsibility is the job of all teachers, it is the direct duty of social studies teachers. Unfortunately, perhaps more than any other school subject, the social studies are dominated by textbooks, which do an outstanding job of teaching students that studying history, democracy, citizenship, our Constitution, and theworld and its peoples is boring and irrelevant.

Nearly half a century ago Shirley Engle published his seminal article, "Decision Making: The Heart of Social Studies Instruction," which condemned textbook- and rote-memorization-driven social studies and advocated a curriculum that prepares children to participate in the everyday decision making necessary to a healthy democracy. (23) Little has changed in our schools in the intervening years.

From the day we are born, we learn to conform to social norms. We are inundated with conscious and subconscious expectations for how we should behave and what we should believe. Certainly, some of these expectations are necessary to live in a civilized society. But many become unquestioned truths, dictating what is "normal" and "correct." School should be the place where all citizens are helped to question assumptions. Teaching for social responsibility is about providing children with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to critique today's society and to work for a better world. But how can we inspire students to work for a better world without schools that help children tohonestly investigate the world and the country we have?

Peace and nonviolence. Violence is as American as apple pie. In 2005 there were nearly 1.4 million violent crimes in our nation, including 16,700 murders, 863,000 aggravated assaults, 417,000 robberies, 94,000 reported rapes, and 64,000 acts of arson. (24) The U.S. has more than two million of its citizens in prison, a much higher percentage than in any other democracy. There is no democracy in the world as violent as ours. Yet our curricula pretend we live in Shangrila. Open an eighth-grade social studies textbook, and you will not see one word about crime, violence, or our criminal justice crisis. A more peaceful nation will not happen by magic. If we want caring and less violent communities, then our schools must teach for caring and nonviolence.

Our planet is ravaged by war. And though it can seem that we are powerless to alleviate this condition, our schools can do a great deal. By awakening children's consciousness to the brutal realities and psychologies of war, we can encourage them to make more peaceful decisions, arouse their compassion for the victims of war, and help them to make connections between personal actions and world violence. We can also help them to understand propaganda and hypocrisy. Yet once again our social studies textbooks are silent. In the 956-page eighth-grade textbook Creating America, "war" is mentioned throughout the index, yet the word "peace" is entirely absent, and "pacifist" is listed just once--in reference to the Quakers during the American Revolution. (25) We will never create a more harmonious world by ignoring the realities of violence and war and silencing those who have worked for peace throughout history.

Media literacy. The typical American 8- to 18-year-old interacts with media for six hours 21 minutes per day. For a quarter of that time, he or she is media multitasking (e.g., on the Internet while listening to music), which increases the daily media time to eight hours 33 minutes. Of that time, about three hours is spent watching TV, which increases to four hours a day when DVDs, videos, and recorded showsare included. The typical American youth spends an average of one hour 44 minutes listening to the radio, CDs, tapes, and MP3 players andis on a computer for a little more than an hour (not including schoolwork). He or she plays video games for about 50 minutes a day. American children spend more time each week with media than they do in school. (26) In one year an American child will see 20,000 television commercials. By the time American children are 18 years old, they will have seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 16,000 murders. By the time they are 70, they will have spent seven to 10 years watching television. (27) American adults watch nearly three hours of television a day and get the majority of their "news" from TV.

Our schools operate as if none of the above were happening. Though media have overwhelming power in every aspect of our lives (including our obesity epidemic), I rarely meet a child or an adolescent who has participated in any in-depth study of media in school.

Media literacy gives us the skills and knowledge we need to critique what we see and hear. To ignore the media in our schools is to perpetuate an ignorant and disempowered citizenry.

Global awareness. How much do Americans know about the rest of the world? How much do Americans care about the rest of the world? Here's an example from my son's school district. Out of the 13 years of the Chicago Public Schools' required K-12 social studies curriculum, only two years have any focus on global knowledge. And in one of those years (sixth grade), that global knowledge is limited almost entirely to ancient history. (28) That leaves just one year of high school--180 days out of 13 years in school--for my son to explore the life and people and problems in the entire rest of the world. Should we be surprised that in a recent study 63% of Americans aged 18 to 24 could not find Iraq on a map, and this was after three years of war and 2,400 American soldiers killed? (29) There is only one solution to this crime of rampant educational nationalism. Every school year in every grade should have a global curriculum.

How can our citizens possibly make decisions on American foreign policies--from economic aid to human rights, from such health crises as AIDS in Africa to the most serious decision of all, going to war--if they have so little understanding of the world? The United States is seen as the "leader of the free world," wielding a mighty military presence and controlling unimaginable wealth. With that power comes responsibility for us, "the people," to be involved. And of course, our daily decisions--the cars we drive, the food we eat, the stuff we buy--have a direct impact on the health and well-being of complete strangers across the oceans.

Creativity and imagination. Our schools do a negligible job in thevisual, musical, and dramatic arts. But creativity and imagination are not just about art and aesthetics. For Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, "Creativity" (with a "big C") is about using innovative thinking that nurtures cultural change. While some schools encourage their students to "be creative," most schools do little, if anything at all, to helpchildren think creatively. Based on his interviews with people who are considered to have some of the best minds, Csikszentmihalyi writes:

It is quite strange how little effect school--even high school--seems to have had on the lives of creative people. Often one senses that, if anything, school threatened to extinguish the interest and curiosity that the child had discovered outside its walls. (30)

Elliot Eisner, one of our grand advocates for the arts in school, connects the arts to inquiry and lifelong learning:

The sense of vitality and the surge of emotion we feel when touched by one of the arts can also be secured in the ideas we explore with students, in the challenges we encounter in doing critical inquiry, and in the appetite for learning we stimulate. In the long run, these are the satisfactions that matter most because they are the only ones that ensure, if it can be ensured at all, that what we teach students will want to pursue voluntarily after the artificial incentives so ubiquitous in our schools are long forgotten. (31)

Maxine Greene sees the arts as encouraging schools to teach socialimagination, which she defines as "the capacity to invent visions ofwhat should be and what might be in our deficient society, on the streets where we live, and in our schools." (32) By helping children develop social imagination, we give them the skills, civic courage, andboldness to envision a better world. If we want better communities--from the local to the global--then we must help children to imagine abetter world so that we can act together to make that world a reality.

Money, family, food, and happiness. There are few things more central to our daily lives than money, family, and food. Yet our schools pretty much ignore all of them. Nel Noddings writes, "Why do we insist on teaching all children algebra and teach them almost nothing about what it means to make a home?" (33) Sure, units on "family" and "money" are taught in the early grades, but when do children study any of them in depth? When do they investigate them from critical and moral perspectives? To truly educate children on these issues would require exploring such questions as: Why do some people and countries haveso much money and others have so little? Do those with a lot of money have any responsibility to those in poverty? What is life like for the poor? How much money will make me happy? What does "family" mean?Why do the people we love often cause us frustration? Where does ourfood come from? Why does our country eat so much unhealthy food? Howhas industrial farming changed our nation?

Why don't our schools engage children in investigating and debating questions about our present and future well-being? Imagine a teacher first having her students write about and debate such questions andthen having them interview senior citizens or genocide survivors or war veterans on these same issues. Jonathan Cohen writes that an essential factor in our well-being and happiness is "finding a sense of meaning and purpose in life." (34) An aim our schools should embrace is to help our children articulate the meanings of their lives.


It can be overwhelming to see how much indispensable knowledge is not part of going to school for the vast majority of American children. Yet my list is far from complete. There is much that we can add toit.

Today schools present an even greater insult to our children. Manyof our schools do not allow children to play. All across our country, recess has become endangered. This happens far more often in our urban schools. Only 18% of Chicago Public Schools have daily scheduled recess, and only 6% of those schools have recess for at least 20 minutes. (35) Why, in a six- to seven-hour day, do so many schools deny children a chance to relax and play? Because there is no play in the world of work!

As I look at our schools today, I don't think we have any right tocall what goes on there "education." If we were honest, it would be called "work training." If we want the right to claim that we are educating children, then we must honor them as unique people and make dramatic changes to our curricula.

I am not naive about the political realities of actually teaching much of the content I advocate here. Many people--including some of my education students--say we can't teach this content because it's "too political" or because "schools can't teach morals." But our current school curricula are not somehow magically apolitical and morally neutral. How can a nationwide system of education that unquestioningly adopts economic purposes for schooling not be up to its neck in political and moral beliefs?

All knowledge inherently has moral and political dimensions because someone has to choose what will be official school knowledge. The moment a teacher, school board, or textbook publisher chooses knowledge to teach and to test, a political and moral decision has been made.Having eighth-graders debate genetic engineering or gay marriage is no more value-laden than having a spelling bee--because by choosing to have a spelling bee, we are choosing not to use that time to teach about peace or global poverty.

Given that our schools have a finite amount of time and that our teachers are already stressed with overstuffed curricula, how are we supposed to find the time to teach the content I'm advocating? There are at least three ways to make this content an important part of school. First, teachers can teach this knowledge through the content and disciplines they are already teaching. By teaching about cultural understanding in social studies and global awareness through young adultliterature, we will not only bring greater and more authentic purposes to those disciplines, but we will be making them infinitely more interesting to students. For example, when students learn to make graphs, they could graph real data about crime and the U.S. prison system, read multiple texts, engage in debate, and perhaps take some form of civic action. By combining disciplines into integrated inquiry-based units, we can help children make dynamic connections across the curriculum.

Second, this content can be taught as separate inquiry-based units. This means making choices. It means eliminating some of the existing curriculum. This wouldn't be difficult; there is plenty filling ourchildren's school day that is superficial, damaging to the human spirit, and simply unnecessary. By opening up just one hour a day, we can rotate through teacher-created inquiry units on the environment, media, peace, multicultural community, and so on. Imagine entire schools having exhibitions and presentations at the end of each quarter to share their students' intellectual and creative work on such important issues.

And third, schools can create entirely new classes to teach this content. Why do schools almost universally limit classes to the standardized math and history and language arts? Surely we can be more creative. How about classes called "What Is Justice?" or "Who Am I?" or "Media and Power"? And how about having electives throughout K-12 schooling? Schools could give students choices among a variety of electives each quarter, such as yoga or documentary photography. Of course, some schools already have classes such as these, but they usually areafter school when they should be school. As Stephen Thornton writes,"If we take seriously the claim that education is supposed to prepare each young person to realize his or her own potentiality, given their different interests, aptitudes, and aspirations, how can a standardized curriculum be justified?" (36)

So why go to school? We can no longer tinker with a broken and inhuman paradigm of schooling. We must stop schooling our children as ifthey were products and reclaim our schools as sacred places for human beings. We must rethink our classrooms as vibrant spaces that awaken consciousness to the world, open minds to the problems of our humancondition, inspire wonder, and help people to lead personally fulfilling lives. If our democracy is to thrive, our schools must change into these exciting spaces. Otherwise, we will not be a democracy "of the people," but a corporate nation of workers, TV viewers, and shoppers. As professional educators, it is our responsibility to challenge our curricula and to create schools that are personally and socially trans-formative. That's why we should go to school.

1. National Center for Education Statistics, "National Assessment of Adult Literacy," available at See also Bureau of Labor Statistics, "American Time Use Survey," available at

2. John I. Goodlad, A Place Called School (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984), p. 242.

3. John Dewey, Experience and Education (New York: Collier, 1938),p. 49.

4. John Kornfeld and Jesse Goodman, "Melting the Glaze: Exploring Student Responses to Liberatory Social Studies," Theory Into Practice, vol. 37, 1998, p. 309.

5. Nel Noddings, Happiness and Education (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 4.

6. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983), available at

7. Tamar Lewin, "As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics," New York Times, 14 November 2006, pp. A-1, A-22.

8. Claudia Wallis and Sonja Steptoe, "How to Bring Our Schools Outof the 20th Century," Time, 18 December 2006, pp. 50-56.

9. Noddings, p. 4.

10. Data available at and at

11. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, "Youth Civic Engagement," available at

12. David T. Z. Mindich, Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don't Follow the News (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

13. Zogby International, available at

14. Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). Frances Moore Lappe calls it "living democracy." John Dewey called it "creative democracy." You can read his essay "Creative Democracy--The Task Before Us" at

15. Susan Adler, "Creating Public Spaces in the Social Studies Classroom," Social Education, February 2001, pp. 6-7, 68-71.

16. Alex Molnar, "Are the Is sues Studied in School the Most Important Issues Facing Mankind?," Social Education, May 1983, pp. 305-8.

17. Patrick Shannon, Text, Lies, & Videotape (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1995), p. xi.

18. David Orr, "Educating for the Environment," Change, May 1995, p. 45.

19. Steven Wolk, A Democratic Classroom (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1998).

20. Nel Noddings, The Challenge to Care in Schools (New York: Teachers College Press, 1992).

21. Ari Fleischer, press briefing, 7 May 2001, available at

22. Sheldon Berman, Children's Social Consciousness and the Development of Social Responsibility (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997).

23. Shirley H. Engle, "Decision Making: The Heart of Social Studies Instruction," Social Education, November 1960, pp. 301-6.

24. Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Crime in the United States 2005," available at

25. Jesus Garcia et al., Creating America: A History of the UnitedStates (Evanston, Ill.: McDougal Littell, 2005).

26. Henry K. Kaiser Family Foundation, "Generation M: Media in theLives of 8-18 Year-Olds," March 2005, available at:

27. American Academy of Pediatrics, available at

28. Chicago Public Schools, "Social Science Standards," available at

29. "Study: Geography Greek to Young Americans," 4 May 2006, available at

30. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 173.

31. Elliot Eisner, "What Can Education Learn from the Arts?," Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, vol. 18, 2002, pp. 14-15.

32. Maxine Greene, Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education,the Arts, and Social Change (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995), p. 5.

33. Noddings, Happiness and Education, p. 5.

34. Jonathan Cohen, "Social, Emotional, Ethical, and Academic Education: Creating a Climate for Learning, Participation in Democracy, and Well-Being," Harvard Educational Review, vol. 76, 2006, pp. 201-37.

35. Elizabeth Duffrin, "Survey: Recess, Gym Shortchanged," Catalyst, October 2005, available at

36. Stephen J. Thornton, "Forum: What Should Schools Teach? What Should All High School Students Learn?," Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, vol. 16, 2001, p. 131.

STEVEN WOLK is an associate professor in the Teacher Education Department at Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago (e-mail:

High numbers of students in Gaza UN-run schools fail math, Arabic tests

By The Associated Press

Large numbers of students in United Nations-run schools in Gaza have flunked achievement tests in math and Arabic, the agency said Thursday, attributing the poor showing to violence, overcrowding and poverty.

More than two-thirds of students in grades four through nine failed math, and more than one-third did poorly in Arabic, said the UN Relief and Works Agency, which runs schools for more than half a million children of Palestinian refugees across the Arab world. Ninety percent of Gaza sixth-graders failed the math test, UNRWA said.

In contrast, Palestinian students at UN schools in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan are doing better than their counterparts in government schools, indicating that a stable environment is key to learning, UNRWA said.

The UN agency said it will try to improve results in Gaza by hiring 1,500 classroom assistants, decreasing class sizes to 30 students, adding more classes in Arabic and math, and building a teachers' training college.

The achievement tests were administered during the summer at about two dozen UN schools in Gaza, for students in grades four through nine, said UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness.

The agency did not administer tests in the West Bank.

Shaher Said, 13, who attends a UN school in the Shati refugee camp near Gaza City, said he has been distracted by violence. ?How do you expect me to concentrate in my class?? he said. ?If it's not an Israeli air strike, it's a friend of our family or a neighbor being killed in the internal confrontations.?

Gaza's children have been exposed to horrific violence for years, including gun battles fought right in their neighborhoods. Since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000, Israeli troops have frequently raided areas of Gaza to hunt Palestinian militants, and aircraft have fired missiles at wanted gunmen driving in crowded streets.

For the past two years, the Islamic militant Hamas and the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas have also waged an increasingly bloody power struggle in Gaza. In June, Hamas launched a full-scale assault on Fatah-affiliated security compounds, defeating its rival.

"The cumulative impact of years of violence and closures, of disrupted schooling and endemic poverty is clear from the stark exam results of Gaza's school children," said John Ging, the UNRWA director in Gaza. "In spite of the challenging environment, we are determined to ensure that our reforms and our drive for excellence in UNRWA schools will be successful."

In all, about 195,000 children in Gaza, a territory with 1.4 million residents, attend UN schools.

The achievement test was administered for the first time in the summer, meaning there's no way to tell for how long students have been doing poorly.

Without such tests, problems are difficult to detect.

As a rule, Palestinian students, both in government and in UN schools, are advanced to the next grade even if they flunk key subjects. The Palestinian Education Ministry says it wants to keep as many students as possible in school, and that teachers are therefore only permitted to hold back up to 5 percent of children per class.

Carpenter Suleiman Arafra, 38, who has five children in UN schools in Gaza, said he didn't expect rapid changes.

"We don't have enough room in our house for our children to have an environment in which study," he said. "We are victims of the occupation, overpopulation, political conflict and a bad economic situation."

September 18, 2007

The 2007–2008 American Civic Literacy Program Survey

Civics Quiz

College students struggle on history test

Students don't know much about history, and colleges aren't adding enough to their civic literacy, says a report out today.

The study from the non-profit Intercollegiate Studies Institute shows that less than half of college seniors knew that Yorktown was the battle that ended the American Revolution or that NATO was formed to resist Soviet expansion. Overall, freshmen averaged 50.4% on a wide-ranging civic literacy test; seniors averaged 54.2%, both failing scores if translated to grades.

"One of the things our research demonstrates conclusively is that an increase in what we call civic knowledge almost invariably leads to a use of that knowledge in a beneficial way," says Josiah Bunting, chairman of ISI's National Civic Literacy Board. "This is useful knowledge we are talking about."

CIVICS QUIZ:  Take the full quiz

Failing Our Students, Failing America: Holding Colleges Accountable for Teaching America's History and Institutions analyzes scores of a test given to 14,419 freshmen and seniors at 50 U.S. colleges last fall on American history, government, international relations and market economy. Freshman and senior scores at the schools, 25 selective and 25 randomly chosen, were compared to gauge civic learning.

The report generally echoes the results of a similar study done last fall by the ISI, which promotes civics in higher education. This year:

•Average scores for the 25 selective colleges — chosen for type, geographic location and U.S. News & World Report ranking — were much higher than the 25 randomly selected schools for both freshmen (56.6% vs. 43.7%) and seniors (59.4% vs. 48.4%), but the elite schools didn't add as much civic knowledge between the freshman and senior years. At elite schools, the seniors averaged 2.8 points higher than the freshmen vs. 4.7 points for the randomly selected schools.

•Harvard seniors had the highest average at 69.6%, 5.97 points higher than its freshmen but still a D+. A Harvard senior posted the only perfect score.

•In general, the better a college's U.S. News & World Report ranking, the less its civic literacy gain. Yale, with the highest-scoring freshmen (68.94%), along with Princeton, Duke and Cornell, were among eight schools with freshmen outscoring seniors.

•The average senior had taken four college courses in history, economics or political science and scored 3.8 points higher than the average freshman, a civic knowledge gain of about one point per course.

•Raw scores did not correlate to voting or civic participation, but the more seniors outscored their school's freshman average, the more likely they were to vote and be involved in civic activities.

"Several of the colleges at the lower end of our survey are some of the most prestigious in the country, with average tuition, room and board somewhere north of $40,000 a year," Bunting says. "These are the schools, although their stated mission is to help prepare active citizens, that are the most derelict in their responsibility."

While freshmen at elite colleges tended to score higher to start with, there is not much of a "ceiling effect" in which gains get harder to make closer to the top, as their scores are still not that high, says Kenneth Dautrich of the University of Connecticut's Department of Public Policy, which administered the study.

Still, "in many cases, these students are coming from high schools where the subject matter has already been covered," notes Tony Pals of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "It would be a waste of their tuition dollars to sit through the courses again."

To William Galston, Brookings Institution senior fellow of governance studies, the distinctions between schools aren't as clear as the general decline in the civic mission of high schools and colleges. More students are getting more formal education than students 50 years ago, he says, but today's students have fewer civics requirements as the value of higher education is more often defined in economic terms.

"Less is being expected of secondary and post-secondary education in the way of civic education, and because less is expected, less is achieved," he says.

No one would argue that college students know enough about history or the world, but a civics test may not be the best measure of civic engagement, says Debra Humphreys of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, which promotes liberal education. Other studies have shown that college students are much more likely to vote and be civically engaged than non-students, she adds.

Says Humphreys: "It would be wrong to conclude from this study that the leadership of these selective schools is not committed to educating their students about these subjects."

September 16, 2007

For a School, Hope and a Fresh Start

Raising the Scores

from the NYTimes



STUDENTS at the Newton Street School of Humanities are told they are better than average so they should strive for A’s and B’s. The principal says it, and the teachers, and the mayor when he drops by to quiz them on current events.

But Ernest Whitaker, the head science teacher at this school with 500 students in prekindergarten to eighth grade, goes even further and bans C’s altogether from his classroom because, he said, too many students and their parents settle for middling grades. Now a test score in the traditional C range (70 to 79) is marked a D instead.

“Huh? No C’s?” exclaimed Algernon Gordon, 13, a self-described B and C student, as he read the grading chart in the first class.

Mr. Whitaker was unmoved. “You have to learn now not to accept average,” he told the class.

The lessons being taught in Mr. Whitaker’s classroom have taken on new urgency this fall as Newton’s administrators and teachers rally behind the school in an effort to turn around its lagging standardized test scores or risk being completely overhauled because it has been unable to meet federal testing benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind law. Newton is one of 4 schools in Newark, 38 schools in New Jersey, 6 in Connecticut and 57 in New York that have faced escalating sanctions under the law for seven years — the longest for any school — or one year beyond the time frame for improvement mandated by federal law.

Plagued by stubbornly low test scores, Newton has now enlisted the help of two groups — the politically powerful Newark Teachers Union and Seton Hall University — in an unusual experiment that is being touted as a model for education reform. Although the state has oversight of the Newark school district, Newton in April formed a governance committee that gives the teachers union and Seton Hall, along with district and state education officials, approval of its daily operations. From academic policies and budgets to teacher training and hiring, the committee rules by consensus on matters that were once decided largely by Newton administrators.

The partnership has allowed Newton to make some significant changes and difficult decisions. For instance, with the support of the teachers union, Newton replaced 6 of its 44 teachers — some against their will — with teachers who demonstrated a higher commitment to change or who had expertise needed in a particular subject. The teachers union also signed off on a plan to lengthen the school day by an hour for students in the middle school grades beginning in October, and has committed more than $100,000 for teacher training, supplies and student field trips, among other things, in the next year.

In addition, Seton Hall’s College of Education and Human Services is equipping every Newton faculty member with a free I.B.M. laptop. It will also station professors at the school each day to answer questions and to provide feedback, and will dispatch as many as 50 undergraduates three days a week to tutor Newton students in reading and math.

The “new Newton,” as it is already being called, may be the last chance for one of the city’s oldest schools, which has evolved into a second home for generations of black and Hispanic families in an impoverished neighborhood in the Central Ward. If the school does not improve its overall test scores in two years, district officials say that it faces drastic reorganization that could lead to the removal of its popular principal of 32 years, Willie Thomas, and many, if not all, of its teachers.

Mr. Thomas, 65, a soft-spoken man who is tightly woven in the fabric of Newark, said it frustrated him that people were so quick to judge Newton. He said that Newton received a $25,000 district achievement award in 1998, which is also the last time that its students passed every testing benchmark. The school, with a $2.5 million budget, has rolled out enrichment programs, added reading experts and tutors, and started homework clubs.

Though test scores have risen in some grades in recent years, the gains have not been consistent enough to affect the school’s overall standing. And far too many students still fall short of state standards. On the 2006 state tests, 41.1 percent of Newton students in grades six through eight passed reading and 25.2 percent passed math, compared with state averages of 78.2 percent and 68.6 percent.

“It bothers me, and that’s why we’re trying a different way of approaching things,” Mr. Thomas said. “We’re trying to find out what’s causing it, and once we get a handle on it, those scores will go up.”

The frustration is shared by many students and parents here who say that Newton has been unfairly branded a failing school. About 30 students transfer out of Newton every year, but nearly all of them do so because they are moving. “I have not heard one parent tell me they wanted a transfer to a better school,” said Roberta Singletary, a senior school clerk who has been at Newton since 1980.

Crystal Cobb said the education her daughter, Tyjohnnah Hairston, 11, is receiving at Newton is as good as anywhere. “I’ve seen the curriculum, and I know what my child is required to do,” said Mrs. Cobb, 45, a parent coordinator for a community agency that runs preschools in Newark.

Newton’s students learn their lessons in a rambling, red-brick building dating to the 1870s. Inside, freshly painted hallways lead to roomy classrooms papered with bright colors.

But outside, a rundown asphalt playground is hemmed in by overgrown weeds and splotchy walls where graffiti was hastily painted over. The school is raising money through community grants and donations, more than $140,000 so far, to rebuild the playground. A security guard keeps watch over the front door, and metal grates cover windows that overlook a low-income housing project.

School begins at 8:25 a.m. with a free breakfast of cold milk and cereal for every student, served from plastic tubs delivered to their homerooms. About 98 percent of Newton students are poor enough to receive a free lunch, while the rest pay a reduced price. Many are from single-parent homes supported by welfare, some are in foster care and a few children are homeless, though the school does not track exact numbers.

Every year, the school organizes as many as five support groups for students who are coping with losses, like the imprisonment of a parent or the shooting of a sibling or a friend. A newspaper article posted in the main office told of a former Newton student gunned down this month.

Sarah Paul, the school counselor and a former teacher, said that she knew of a half-dozen Newton alumni killed by street violence in the last few years. When she was teaching sixth grade, Ms. Paul said she once had a student who kept laying his head on the desk. He told her, “I didn’t sleep well last night because they were shooting around my way.”

Newton teachers say they are keenly aware that such hardships can distract their students and undermine their academic progress.

Mr. Whitaker, 45, gives out spiral notebooks and pencils at the start of the school year because, he said, welfare and child support checks are usually cashed for food at the beginning of the month. Mr. Whitaker, who was raised by a widowed mother in Rochester, said he did not want students to fall behind waiting for money to buy notebooks.

Since arriving at Newton last year, Mr. Whitaker has spent more than $2,000 of his own money to buy supplies for his students, including $800 for five additional microscopes. He introduced $1 quizzes in his classes (doling out cash for correct answers) and ordered a $300 Chinese-food lunch last spring to reward eighth graders who passed the state science test.

“Don’t put that down, my wife’s going to kill me,” he said while setting out supplies for the nine students in his class, Properties of Matter. Only four students showed up.

The extra incentives worked for Saweh Julu. He took Mr. Whitaker’s class last year and earned B’s, along with $10, because he said he paid attention. “If the students listen in class, and stop hanging around the hallways and bathrooms, the school will get better,” said Saweh, 15. “They’re not trying, that’s the problem.”

In coming up with a plan to turn around Newton, Seton Hall’s professors spent nearly a year observing classes, interviewing teachers and analyzing testing data. They studied classroom strategies that had worked in other schools, and adapted them for Newton. Last month, Seton Hall and the teachers union sponsored five days of training for Newton teachers that included workshops on how to manage their classrooms and change their instruction to focus on weaknesses revealed by the test data.

Dr. Charles P. Mitchel, an associate dean at Seton Hall and a former elementary school principal in Newark, said, “If you go to the doctor because you have a long-term illness and he doesn’t give you a thorough examination, just ‘the pill of the month,’ your chances of getting healthy are slim.”

But Seton Hall professors first had to overcome skepticism from some teachers, and resistance from others, several of whom were eventually moved aside.

Jerome Hancock, a math teacher at Newton for the last decade, said that when the plan for Newton was announced at a school meeting last year, he stood up and asked Dr. Mitchel, “What magic pill do you have?”

More than most, Mr. Hancock, 35, knows what it will take for students here to succeed. Born to a teenage mother on welfare, he graduated from the Newark public schools to attend Howard University on a football scholarship. He said things would be different this time because Seton Hall was not offering a quick-fix program but instead building a support network for the school. “You’ve got this new fire behind you now,” he said.

After years of promising starts, followed by disappointing test scores, some teachers say they are looking less for a miracle than for something to give them hope.

Tawana Watson, a second-grade teacher whose students come in at reading levels ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade, said: “We’re not looking for a big spike. It’s more like, ‘Let’s show steady growth and then we’ll reach that final point.’ ”

The first day of school at Newton on Sept. 6 started much the same as any other year, except that the teachers all wore name tags because there were so many new faces. At a faculty meeting the day before, the old teachers welcomed the new ones with a round of applause, followed by yellow goody bags of vanilla chai tea.

Mr. Whitaker arrived about 6:45 a.m., after more than an hour’s commute from his home in Beachwood on the Jersey Shore. When the bell rang, he shepherded students up and down the halls, delivering them to their new homerooms. He then sprinted upstairs to his third-floor science lab.

In keeping with the school’s new focus, he said, he has adjusted his science lessons to emphasize the basic reading and math skills being measured on the standardized tests. For instance, he said, students will write essays analyzing the technology shown on old “Star Trek” episodes. They will read aloud more in class, do more calculations in the lab, and summarize scientific research from the Internet.

“I think it’s got a good chance if everyone steps onboard,” Mr. Whitaker said. “And Newark is all about adapting and modifying.”

The Newton faculty members had planned to introduce the “new Newton” to students during a schoolwide assembly in the afternoon. But it was postponed after Mayor Cory A. Booker stopped by as part of a tour of some of the city’s 77 public schools. Mr. Booker bounded from room to room, dispensing $1 bills to students who had mastered New Jersey history (what is the capital?) and politics (who is the governor?).

Then Mr. Booker came up with a stumper, worthy of $5.

“Who is the vice president of America?” the mayor asked a fifth-grade class. “Come on, I know some people want to forget...”

“George Bush?” guessed one boy.

“George Washington?” said another.

“George Washington Carver?” a third chimed in.

Though the mayor prodded the eager students, no one could name the vice president. Finally, Mr. Booker put his money away.

“All right,” he said. “You have a lot to do this school year.”

September 15, 2007

Review of Ravitch's and Finn's What do our 17-year-olds know?

by Deborah Meier and Florence Miller
The Nation, January 9, 1988

When Jean Piaget noted that 6-year-olds gave surprisingly ignorant answers to his simple questions, he didn't rush into print with the information. How interesting, he thought. The answers I expected are not self-evident. Thus began a life's work of examining children's ignorance.

Seventh-grader Mariette points to the sky when asked which way is north. How interesting, thinks her teacher! For Mariette, "north' is "up.' How shall I help her think about north and south as opposed to up and down? Reframe my question? Dig up useful evidence? Explore with her the way she thinks and be mindful that once told she's wrong, she is like to mask her ignorance with the right answers yet still be confused about "north' and "up.'

Ignorance is interesting and useful to many thoughtful toilers in the vineyards of education, and while Diane Ravitch and Chester E. Finn Jr. also toil in those vineyards, she at Columbia, he at Vanderbilt University and in the U.S. Department of Education, their view of ignorance is familiar and fruitless. They miss the vital connection between knowing and not knowing, and because they do so, not knowing is failure, or bad schooling--a case in need of a remedy, a cause for alarm, a reason to rush into print.

Under the aegis of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ravitch and Finn and a panel of experts they chose developed two lengthy questionaires designed to determine at mideleventh grade whether students know what the authors think they should about history and literature.

The literatute section is a mixed bag that includes Moses, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, Aesop, Hemingway, Goliath, Gulliver's Travels, Mars, Cain and Abel, Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Jonah, Sherlock Holmes, Hamlet, Pandora, Genesis, Martin Luther King Jr., Dickinson, Melville, Zeus, Atlas, Macbeth, the Iliad, Poe, Noah, A Raisin in the Sun, "Blood, Sweat and Tears' (the speech, not the group), Byron, Pip, Beowulf, Fitzgerald, Yeats, Wordsworth, Chaucer, Ibsen, Ellison, Joyce, Blake, Bunyan, Conrad, Dostoevsky, Hughes, London, Dickens, Daedalus, "Rappacini's Daughter.' And more.

The history section includes Harriet Tubman, Pear Harbor, Watergate, Lindbergh, Jamestown, Prohibition, the cotton gin, secession, Susan B. Anthony, the Brown decision, Sputnik, checks and balances, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Gold Rush, Hitler, the Ku Klux Klan, the Bill of Rights, Winston Churchill, Jim Crow, the Magna Carta, Betty Friedan, Reconstruction, Common Sense, D-Day, Jane Addams, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Ida Tarbell, the Seneca Falls Declaration, Lyndon Johnson, isolationism, John Winthrop, the Scopes trial, the Three-Fifths Compromise, John D. Rockefeller, Eisenhower, the Dust Bowl, Stalin, the Monroe Doctrine, laissez faire, the Missouri Compromise, Joe McCarthy. And more.

The questions are in the familiar multiple-choice format.

The Return of the Native, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge were written by:

a. Sir Walter Scott

b. Thomas Hardy

c. Oscar Wilde

d. Robert Louis Stevenson

Which of the following was NOT addressed by New Deal legislation?

a. Agricultural price supports

b. Labor unions

c. Social Security

d. Restrictions on immigration

The authors score the test with 90 as A, below 60 as failing. They correlate the results with demographic data, tell us what it all means and offer recommendations. Graphed and in tables, their findings confirm their suspicion that our schools and pedagogy are failing.

There are major and minor irritants throughout. People is sniffed at, TV Guide gets a footnote. Public funding paid for six pages of acknowledgements, with special thanks to the woman who spent Mother's Day reading a draft of the manuscript. Under the scary heading "A Generation at Risk,' Ravitch and Finn offer fifty pages of dusty recommendations, all of which recall undergraduate papers for Aims of Education 101, written in the hope that the professor wouldn't notice how wide the margins were:

Devote more time to the teaching and learning of history.

Devote more time and attention to teaching literature, beginning in the earliest grades and continuing in every year of elementary school, junior high school and high school.

A hefty dose of good literature should be part of all students' English studies.

Only those who are well educated in history or literature should teach those subjects in the schools.

The historical interconnections among different nations and societies should be understood.

There are statements that defy analysis:

The power of the facts-versus-concepts dichotomy has grown so great within the social studies field that some professionals now harbor an instinctive distrust of facts per se.

It is fatuous to believe that students can think critically or conceptually when they are ignorant of the most basic facts of American history.

When public libraries and museums celebrate Black History Month, for example, exhibitions should be designed not merely to commemorate some aspect of black history, but as an education for visitors who know little or nothing about the past.

They flip and they flop. Multiple-choice tests have "defects.' "We were aware that many thoughtful people mistrust multiple-choice tests . . . we shared most of those doubts.' Nevertheless, test data are "hard documentation' and "the results of this assessment reveal serious gaps in 17-year-olds' basic knowledge of history and literature.'

The study comes down against teaching skills without content but insists that students cannot engage in critical thinking unless they have "prior knowledge of the material they are reading.' In other words, teach content without thought. They approve of student discussion and Paideia-like seminars, but given the prior knowledge requirement, the chances of struggling through the masses of prerequisite information to the cool reaches of reasoned thought seem remote indeed. Theodore Sizer, author of Horace's Compromise, seems to be one of their good guys, but they weren't paying attention. Less, Sizer says, is usually more.

For Ravitch and Finn right answers mean good schooling. Twenty-four percent of those tested matched Thomas Hardy with The Mayor of Casterbridge. That's bad schooling. A stunning 94 percent got Noah right. Good schooling? They call their 60 percent cutoff for passing "generous,' but few junior high math teachers or graduate school professors would risk using that figure on an exam given a year or more after their courses were taken. So, what exactly is being measured here? If the 8,000 students questioned had all scored 90 percent or more, would that mean schools were successfully teaching literature and history?

There are good and proper reasons to scrutinize the state of American education. Too few students have read any of the books on the questionnaire from cover to cover. Most have experienced our best authors in a hit-and-run fashion as they rush through curricula oriented to tests like this one. Too few have had the opportunity to engage in thoughtful discussion about the books they've read. Too few have been directed back to the text to support their feelings or opinions or preferences.

Too few express strong convinctions about anything they are exposed to in school. Seldom have they been encouraged to abandon their present identities long enough to enter the unfamiliar worlds created by authors, thus making themselves vulnerable to the expansion of experience and insight that good literature offers. It is not the nod of recognition nor crossword puzzle savanterie that identifies the well-schooled person. It is habits of the mind.

There's a ferment in the world of school policy today and a lively discourse is going on, for a change. Good minds have been set to work figuring out how pesky human beings actually learn and are trying to relate that knowledge to schooling. It's a lively and unfinished conversation. Best of all, there's an exhilarating consensus that there is no one best answer to many of these questions, although there are clearly some very bad ones.

It is a time too of discussion about the aims of education. The business community sees the goals of education as outperforming Japan, curing the ills of our economy and providing a useful labor pool. Academics call for schools that produce students prepared to handle subject matter in the way college professors dish it out. But there are those who point out that neither the employer nor the academy is the rightful beneficiary of a good education. Such people declare that the principal function of secondary education is to create a lively and strong civic culture, an active citizenry with the knowledge and understanding requisite for engaging in reasonable and responsible discourse, an education as rigorous for those who go straight to work as for the college-bound. In other words, the cosmetic surgeon and the cosmetician need an equally sound liberal education.

The argument for the humanities, which Ravitch and Finn are so passionately eager to strengthen, traditionally rests upon this latter claim. In the foreword to What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, Lynne Cheney writes that the study of the humanities "can expand the mind and enlarge the soul.' She quotes Thomas Jefferson to the effect that the study of history "will qualify (people) as judges of the actions and designs of men.'

Oh, the dangers of fooling around with original intent! Repeating well-worn phrases about history and literature as guarantors of democracy is naive or cynical. Free schooling in a democratic society was a noval and exciting prospect in Jefferson's time. Two hundred years later, we are forced to acknowledge that successful, universal schooling can coexist with tyranny and gulags. Education alone is no guarantor of democracy.

How schools educate is then critical. Schools can cherish or ignore, prize or disdain habits of mind. Schools may preach respect for knowledge of the past, but if students are rushed through hundreds, perhaps thousands of years using generalizations as mileposts, such respect is not demonstrated and not learned. Sweeping survey courses given to the young and inexperienced student are essentially disrespectful of the complexities and subtleties of history. We telescope a thousand years of ancient Greek history so that we seem to be looking at a single coherent society that barely changes over ten centuries. There is no time to consider the nature of evidence, the credibility of witnesses. To help youngsters who, by virtue of their youth, distinguish poorly between a hundred and a thousand years, we pin catchy labels onto events, labels that often hide more than they reveal. In the rush to cover the curriculum, there is no time to examine those who stood in the way of Progress. Only the winners are remembered. The Vince Lombardi school of history.

History as a discipline for citizenship needs to be treated with the respect we ask our students to use in examining the present. Only thus will history serve to assist in developing the dispositions that might serve our society well, that might "expand the mind and enlarge the soul.' With such habits of mind people are ready to consider alternate viewpoints and possibilities, weigh evidence with care, look cautiously at claims of cause and effect. Such habits of mind include a romance with the past that stays in place long enough to come alive.

And time is a factor. The current interest in re-examining schools and education's goals won't last long, if an educated backward glance means anything. The struggle to put deeper and more authentic content and pedagogy into our schools will not be easy, at best, and will require its proponents to do battle with well-entrenched customs and interests. The textbook publishers and the testing corporations--the two are often the same--are waiting in the wings to see which way the wind will finally blow. Then they will rush in with sure-fire solutions: Curriculum from Kindergarten to Twelfth Grade, Guaranteed to Improve Scores on the Latest National Assessment in History; Sixty Days to Mastery of the 5,000 Words Every Cultured Person Should Know by the Age of 17; 100 Days to 100 Great Books.

Following the publishers and the testers will come the busy local and state curriculum teams, with their scores, sequences, stanines, pretests and post-tests at the ready. What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? seems written for just such a constituency. Given the influence of Ravitch and Finn, new curriculums are probably already in the making. If so, we will have foreclosed on the real debate and be witness to one more cycle of alarm and reform, swinging from fad to fad and never digging deep. We'll move from the mindless teaching of skills to the mindless teaching of content as measured by mindless multiple-choice tests. We'll have missed the opportunity to develop a responsible approach to schooling, one that disdains the quick fix, that probes beneath the obvious, one undismayed by ignorance and ambiguity, one patient in the face of tough and persistent issues, one first and foremost attentive to developing thoughtful, educated citizens.